Pet Project: Unnatural Selection

(Lord of the Unreal | Art by Jason Chan)

Appetite for the Unnatural

There are good Magic cards, from Black Lotus to Oko, Thief of Crowns, and there are bad Magic cards, from Scornful Egotist to Storm Crow. But what players often miss are that the cards that aren't really good or bad - instead they are, if you like, so bad they're good. These are the cards that serve a function that is so niche and hyper-specific, they seem useless – but in the right deck, can become the lynchpin of an entire strategy. Today, we’re building around one of my favourite examples of this kind of card:

I first stumbled across Unnatural Selection years ago and found it a fascinating card almost immediately. It's the kind of card that immediately gets the brewing gears in my brain whirring; how exactly do we make such a bad card good? Today, that's what we hope to answer, as we find this forgotten Apocalypse rare - which sees play in fewer than 3000 decks, with many of them revolving around a few specific infinite combos - a loving home.

The Gameplan

Unnatural Selection most commonly sees play in Shapeshifter typal decks – a surprisingly popular theme, aiming at messing with creature types to get value from niche typal payoffs like Lord of the Unreal.

But don’t worry – we’re making a much spicier list than a Shapeshifter typal deck today. The real advantage of Unnatural Selection over similar cards like Maskwood Nexus is that the Selection allows us to fiddle with our opponents' creatures as well. This allows us to do two of my favourite things possible in Commander– do ridiculously wacky things our opponents would never expect, and slot some of the most unplayable cards ever printed into our list.

Take King Suleiman, for instance: bizarrely non-legendary, and unfortunately costing hundreds of dollars thanks to his place on the reserved list. Unless you keep getting crushed by your friend’s Djiin typal deck, he usually isn’t worth playing – indeed, the King sees play in only 93 decks on EDHREC. But combine him with an Unnatural Selection, and suddenly we’ve got a repeatable Murder for only one mana. Even spicier than the King is Spirit Mirror, allowing us to repeatedly gun down a number of creatures equal to the amount of mana at our disposal.

Picking a General

Immediately, I knew we wanted to be in five colors – the weird typal hosers we’re looking for come in all colors of mana. My first pick was Karona, False God, once one of the go-to commanders for any five color typal deck – but not only did her name conjure up bad memories, I soon found an infinitely better option: Sliver Overlord.

There's a reason why decks commanded by the Overlord are among the most popular homes for the Selection: the two pair together to give us a repeatable Control Magic effect. In my experience, some players find Slivers a salt-inducing archetype. According to EDHREC's salt score index, for instance, The First Sliver is an even saltier card than extra turn effects like Beacon of Tomorrows - and I can't think of a better way of managing that salt than making a deck built around wanting our opponent's creatures to be Slivers.

Filling the Deck Out

The first thing to do when building around any secret commander is to find similar effects. I achieved this by combing through Shapeshifter typal lists, and was surprised to find a number of similar cards:

Standardize almost challenges Unnatural Selection in terms of power in this deck; with the aforementioned Spirit Mirror, for instance, we’ve built a two mana Plague Wind, while with a card like Karthus we've got ourselves an indefinite Insurrection. My favourite combo with Standardize, however, has to involve Floating-Dream Zubera. With a board wipe on the stack, cast the Standardize naming Zubera and suddenly your opponents will learn the power of Zubera typal as you draw dozens of cards. Not bad for a creature type without a single deck built around it, according to EDHREC's typal page. Also worth noting is the fact that our general's tutor ability can grab several of these cards from our deck - Amoeboid Changeling, Blades of Velis Vel and Shields of Velis Vel - due to their Changeling ability technically making them into Slivers.

The bulk of our deck, however, is going to consist of weird typal hosers. Since the majority of these effects remove creatures of the given type, in many ways our list plays out, in practice, as perhaps the world's weirdest control deck.

Finding all these cards was far from easy - I'm probably not the only one who's never heard of the Prophecy powerhouse Mercenary Informer. EDHREC was an enormous help here - using Advanced Filtering to search exclusively for decks including cards like Unnatural Selection and Amoeboid Changeling was infinitely more efficient than relying on endless Gatherer searches.

Among the cards in the deck that, on first glance, look relatively nonsensical, are the effects that give creatures of a certain type shroud – notably, Eladamri and Steely Resolve. These aren’t just protection for our creatures once we've got an Unnatural Selection, or similar effect, in play, but a way to mess with other players. Say an opponent goes to equip one of their creatures; make that creature into an Elf with Eladamri in play, and suddenly it’s got shroud, causing the ability to fizzle.

From here, with our synergies and wincons established, it's mostly a case of filling in the gaps with the usual effects - ramp, card draw and redundancy.

As usual, we're going to want to be running enough tutors to consistently assemble the pieces crucial to our synergies - thankfully, being in all five colours gives us access to both black's universal tutors and white's enchantment tutors. Indeed, our plentiful access to tutors, combined to the numerous cards offering similar effects to the Selection mean this is one of the few times that, with a hidden commander deck, I haven't bothered shoring up a back-up plan very much.

Regarding ramp, meanwhile, this is one of the few lists where I'd argue that the omnipresent staple Sol Ring isn't even the best ramp option we've got - generating two mana a turn is great, but Training Grounds and Biomancer's Familiar, paired with our general, often generate a lot more.

That leaves us with the following list:

Reverse Shapeshifter Typal

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Commander (2)
Creatures (22)
Enchantments (11)
Sorceries (15)
Instants (10)
Artifacts (7)
Lands (34)

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Wrapping Up

Well, that's another item crossed off my commander bucket list - finally building a deck around Unnatural Selection. Play testing revealed this deck wasn't up to the same power level as last week's list, but it more than matched it in terms of fun. Indeed, this is a deck that really epitomizes what Commander is about to me. I largely got bored of constructed Magic because, after a few turns at most, I could usually tell exactly what my opponent was playing - even the healthiest, most diverse constructed metagames will only have a dozen or so truly competitive decks. But Commander is truly the Wild West of Magic, where you can play whatever strategy you want - imagine an opponent's surprise when they discover your Sliver Overlord plays hardly any Slivers, and is instead interested in stealing enemy creatures to grab the win.

That’s all for this episode of Pet Project. Feel free to leave your ideas, criticisms and propositions for the next episode in the comments. Until next time!

Read More:

Pet Project - March of the Mirrors

Conditions Allow - Gor Muldrak, Amphinologist


Since around M14, Magic has been taking up far too much of Martin's time, to the detriment of his wallet and his social life. When he isn't arguing mono-white is superior to all other color combinations in EDH, or claiming MTG peaked during original Kamigawa, he lives a (relatively) normal life as a student.

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