Mind Flayer: Let’s Play the Hidden Commander Game
Our commander is like Fblthp hidden among the humans

Most of the time when you build a deck you will construct it around your commander. Your goals and card selections are based on what your commander does. However, there are times a deck can be constructed around a certain card in the ninety-nine as opposed to the commander. There can be several reasons why this occurs. The first is a card that grabs your attention is not legendary and it can not be your commander. Another reason could be the card could be good in the color it’s but exceptionally powerful if you add a color or two to its color identity. The final reason is that a card could be so strong that when it is seen in the command zone the other players at the table will target you for player removal before the game starts. 

Back in October Commander Clinic MTG did a First Look at Mind Flayer, The Shadow. We did a quick mono black deck list that those who want to make a deck could template around. We also hinted that this would be an excellent card to use as a hidden commander and to play in a Dimir Deck. This is the build that was hinted at. 

The Hidden Commander

It was hinted that Mind Flayer would be our hidden commander. Actually that is a misleading statement. We are going to build a deck that compliments this card. However, we are not going to put all our eggs in the Mind Flayer’s basket. One exile effect and our strategy can be shot to hell.

Instead we will construct a deck that has several creatures that can be our hidden commander. This greatly reduces the risk of exile effects. It also adds some variety and “random” into the way the deck plays. Each game will be different not only because of the creatures we capitalize on in our deck but the cards we utilize from opponents decks. The deck becomes as strong as what our opponents bring to the table. This is wonderful at casual tables. It also has us thinking on our feet to capitalize what is in our opponent’s deck. This deck will work best in a battlecruiser meta.

Gisa, Glorious Resurector

In this deck we will have four options for hidden commanders. All will synergize with a reanimation shell. There will be some consistency to the deck while providing varied gameplay. First up is Gisa, Glorious Resurector. For her we will want to focus on our removal package for each creature that dies we will get it as a decayed version. Since we will not want to attack with them we will be looking for creatures that have strong special abilities to abuse. When we target our spells we are targeting for creature abilities. We take them away from our opponents and give them to use us. It’s a significant swing in power. Imagine taking a Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger and giving it to us with a two mana removal spell.

Mind Flayer, The Shadow

Then there is Mind Flayer, the Shadow. He is a big beater who we will manipulate the bottom of thier library to play our opponents permanents. .We will want to focus first and foremost on cards that generate mana then when we have a large enough mana base we can start casting cards to win the game. By targeting cheap mana it speeds up to Mind Flayer becoming a creature. Once The Shadow is online we can tap him to mill cards in our opponents graveyard to increase our selection of cards to place on the bottom of the library. We can then utilize that selection to win the game.   

Tergrod, God of Fright

Next is Tergrid, God of Fright. When she becomes our hidden commander we want to focus on the sacrifice and discard effects in the deck. This will give us control of our opponent’s permanents. From there it’s cobbling together a battlefield that will win us the game. We will need to be ready to be hated on so we will need to be ruthless with the permanants we acquire to shut down our biggest threat at the table. Tergrid is not for the weak willed of the soft-hearted. 

Xanathar, Guild Kingpin

Finally the deck includes Xanathar, Guild Kingpin. When you get him you want to focus on the counterspell player. This shuts them down so that they can not counter your spells. It doesn’t matter how many cards you cast from the top of their deck, the important thing is that they can not hinder you as you reanimate your creatures from your graveyard and control the battlefield. You can cast the occasional spell that could upset your balance of power rather than have them draw it. . 

Making the Deck Work

With four potential cards that have similar but different abilities that can be the focus any game creates some challenges with the cards that each will want to utilize and which to select for a deck. First we want a larger than normal tutor package. This allows us to get our hidden commander but also allows us to go searching for our support cards for our specific focus for the current game. Removal is important as it fuels one of our hidden commanders but it also will help keep the board clear of threats. Allotting fifteen cards to this category is wise as it overlaps with what one of our hidden commanders want to do as well as what every deck wants to do. 

Finally, reanimation and mill is a strong strategy in Dimir and if we target our opponents creatures in the graveyard it fits in theme with what the deck does. These cards can be universal support to any strategy we employ. It’s a bonus that the cards that place cards on the bottom of a players library come from the graveyard and is a part of the process for utilizing The Mind Flayer, the card that inspired this deck, to the best of his ability. Because of this, Phenax becomes a valuable tool from the command zone to generate value on the battlefield for us.

 Phenax, God of Deception opens up blue as a support color for most of our hidden commanders. Dimir is a solid color combination that controls the board. It’s tempting to include counterspells to the packages we assemble for the deck (See BLU 9 Your Deck has Packages and Part Two). However, because we want versatility with the creatures that will impact the game the space is not there to include counterspells. For Johnny players who like to tinker, you can create such a counterspell build. If you do then remove the Gisa package and reduce the amount of removal spells in the deck to use them.

Which Commander do you Get?

The question becomes from game to game which hidden commander do you use. This is part of the fun and strategy of such a deck. It is one of many decision points in the game. There is no one specific line of play that will win you the game. Here are few guidelines to help you decide.

First, did you draw any of hidden commanders in the early turns of the game? This decides it for you as you can then spend your tutors for support cards to help you optimize your hidden commander. If you don’t draw one or happen to have multiple of them in your hand, then use these other considerations to choose. 

Other Considerations

Is there only one player that is playing blue? Are you playing a deck that has a lot of counterspells? If so, then consider Xanithar. You can shut down the counterspell deck on your turn and protect yourself. Your opponent will still use the counterspells he just can’t use them on your turn. This is a bonus for you as it slows down your other opponents. 

Are there two or more removal pieces in your hand? If so, then Gisa is a great choice. You can use your removal spells and gain extra value from them with her ability. There are a lot of utility creatures out there that you can benefit from. This hand will help you capitalize on it.

Does your hand contain any wheels? If so, then Tergrid can help you jump out to an early lead as your line of play becomes Tergrid and then wheel.

Does your hand contain Grave Pact or Dictate of Erebos? If so, then consider Tergrid you have the beginnings of a sacrifice engine that can net you value. If Tergrid is too mean for your play group, then grab Gisa instead. 

Does your hand contain either Reito Lantern, Reito Sentinel or Junktroller? If so, then grab Mind Flayer as these cards set you up to maximize the Flayers ability.

Finally how is your mana situation? If you have a lot of ramp in the opening plays of your game, then grab Mind Flayer as he will be easier to cast. Otherwise look to grab Tergrid as the quicker play line.    

The Key Three 

Every deck has key cards that help the deck function to its optimal level. Even a deck that has four different routes to winning the game has such cards. Your first set of critical cards to make the deck function is any of the hidden commanders. After them, here are some key cards to help you realize your strategy better. You can find a full deck list sorted by card type at the end of the article. You can also find the decklist sorted by card utility on archidekt. 

Geth Lord of the Vault

Mill is a large part of this deck’s strategy. Any cards that can mill cards and animate them is a boon to this type of deck. Geth, Lord of the Vault mills, but he’s also a five toughness creature. With Phenax on the battlefield this is a significant amount of cards to fill someone’s graveyard. With Phenax you wait until the end step before your turn, then tap, mill, then spend any left over mana with Geth, After that  untap and start your turn. This eliminates summoning sickness to any creature you just stole.

Creatures help dissuade your opponents from attacking you. If you leave mana up there is the surprise factor of what you are going to get, however; this card can also pull artifacts from the graveyard as well. There is a lot of utility in reanimating your opponents artifacts. It can open up abilities that your deck would not have access to. More importantly it gives you another avenue to reanimate mana rocks. This ability IS NOT a tap ability. It can be used multiple times if you target low CMC cards. In today’s fast mana meta, this is a real possibility. This deck has some high mana value late game finishers. Geth is an excellent source to supplement them. 

Syr Konrad the Grim

With Phenax out this deck can mill a lot of cards. Syr Konrad, the Grim will help punish your opponents no matter who you mill. Most Blood Artist triggers are death triggers, but not with Syr Konrad. It doesn’t matter how a creature enters any graveyard he triggers. If you reanimate your creature or if someone has the audacity to exile your graveyard he triggers. This alone is enough but Syr Konrads trigger is damage to EACH opponent which are words that commander players and Commander Clinic love. You are going to be milling no matter what you do. Syr Konrad helps keep the pressure on everyone. Finally, he is a must answer card. He can bait out removal allowing your hidden commanders to do their work in this deck. 

Whispersilk Cloak 

When you get your hidden commander out you want it to stick on the battlefield. Whispersilk Cloak does an excellent job protecting it by giving your creature shroud. The deck isn’t looking to target your hidden commander other than getting it to your hand. This means it doesn’t matter that the ability is shroud versus hexproof or ward. Shutting down targeted removal is excellent for your deck. There is added utility with Mind Flayer. As a 9/9 he is a significant threat to take someone out and with the cloak he is unblockable. There is an excellent chance that in casual commander attacking has already happened and with a swing or two from him you can remove someone from the game.   

Pet Cards 

When commander is casual there is always room for cards that you enjoy playing or are not the strongest staples out there. Often these cards synergize well with your deck to create fun and often exciting turns in the game. They are called pet cards. Here are a few pet cards and why they are in the deck. 

Duskmantle Guildmage

While not an each ability this card still pings an opponent for additional damage when you mill. This is an excellent card to help close out a game as you can target one player and then mill him to death. While not on the pet card list Consuming Aberration is a devastating mill card that most mill players should know about. He synergizes well with Duskmantle Guildmage to help close out a game. Think of these two cards as chocolate and peanut butter. They are two great tastes that taste great together. Each spell you cast this turn will mill cards making him larger and dealing damage to your opponent. Then tapping him when you are done casting spells to deal a fuckton of damage and kill someone. Yes, to quote Mona Lisa Vito from My Cousin VInny “It’s an industry term.” 

Jin-Gitaxias, Progress Tyrant

This card is more battle cruiser for your commande games. Then again with reanimator decks battle cruser cards become viable as you can cheat mana costs. Jin-Gitaxias, Progress Tyrant can provide some exceptional value with the focus on copying artifacts to ramp you and give you various extra abilities. He can also ramp you if the first card you play in a turn is an artifact land. There can be plenty of juicy spells you can play to take advantage of this ability as well.

His real strength is in countering an opponents instant, sorcery or artifact each turn. This is excellent value as it will cost additional cards and mana at the table to cast removal. It helps slow the tempo of the game down, benefiting your battle cruiser deck. For those who like to tinker with deck lists, Deadeye Navigator can reset Jinn’s counterspell ability and quite effective. This version of the deck doesn’t utilize ETB effects. Thus it’s an inefficient card and wasn’t included in this list

Lim Dul’s Vault

Lim-Dul’s Vault is a different sort of tutor and is a pet card. It’s two mana to cast making it very efficient in what it does. If we were tutoring for just one specific card we could end up losing ten or more mana in order to find the card we are looking for. With this tutor instead we will take any of our hidden commanders and will possibly stop if we draw into a tutor as well. This greatly reduces the risk of life loss and we get the card on top of our library. Yes we would prefer it to go to hand. However, it is an instant so we can tutor on the end step before our turn to reduce the risk of losing the card.  

Scheming Symmetry

Yes we all know tutors are excellent inclusions in decks. This one has some extra synergy for one mana you get your card and so does your opponent. But when you have Phenax out with a creature you can mill the card they just tutored for. As long as you do not choose the reanimator deck that is playing against you the downside of Scheming Symmetry is negated. The first time you use it you may get your opponent actually tutoring for the card they want but they will learn quickly it’s a lost card and will stop grabbing that card they need unless they have an instant to be able to draw the card.  

Shadow Kin

This is another card that mills your opponents and provides some value for you as well. Shadow Kin is random and depending on the meta you play in it can be excellent value and become a very powerful card. What is great is that it becomes the creature only if the card was milled. That creature is still in the graveyard for you to target in future turns. Even if it is shuffled back into the deck or leaves the battlefield in any way Shadow Kin still can become a copy of it. I am still waiting for the day of Magical Christmas Land where my opponent mills an Ulamog, The Infinite Gyre and I turn my Shadow Kin into it.

Whispering Madness 

When cipher was spoiled in Return to Ravnica block I was excited to use it because of the value it offered. Then I was disappointed at the lack of cards to turn it into something extremely powerful. Wizards did a good job of balancing it. Unfortunately, it left commander players out in the cold.

Our deck wants wheels so even if this card does that only once at four mana it is not too poor of a rate of return and it’s castable. With Tergrid out four mana should still be low enough of a mana cost that I should break even in the permanents I get or gain a little value. There is also a chance that I can find an open opponent that is shields down to gain additional value off of Whispering Madness. It synergizes with the Whispersilk Cloak and I can swing at somebody that can’t be blocked. In this case, I must cipher first, and then move the cloak onto the creature with cipher.

Why no Traumatize

The main reason is that the deck alots too many cards to add flexibility to the multiple commander aspect of the deck. Our allotment is stretched as far as it can go with four potential hidden commanders. As such card space is limited and in allocating the cards for each commander it leaves precious little room for a card like Traumatize which is a tertiary strategy at best. Traumatize will not win the game in and of itself despite milling a player for half their library. It‘s a win-more card and not really necessary.

I also find this card makes a player desperate when they lose so much of their library with just one card. That can be a dangerous situation to be in. If you were not their target already you will be. They also have a tendency to buckle down and play things less casually so that they are not knocked out of the game. This makes the traumatized player more dangerous than a mama bear protecting her cubs. 

Dramatic Scepter

This deck is prime to create infinite mana and the Dramatic Scepter Combo is worth putting into this deck. When you can generate infinite mana you can play your hand and then wheel away your hand on your last card in order to cast more cards from your library for a very explosive turn. This combo was not included in the deck due to space as well as it’s built in such a way that there is no specific win condition. You will be using your opponents’ win condition against them to cobble together a victory. One single artifact creature would be enough to win the game with infinite mana and Phenax out so the build is reasonable if you want to adjust the decklist. 

What’s Your Preference

As always there are several ways to build a Mind Flayer Deck. This one takes the hidden commander route in order to add blue to its pool of cards. The deck can achieve different strategies by pulling out Gisa and inserting some combo pieces or even a fall back win condition to the deck. Do you prefer the hidden commander aspect for the Mind Flayer or would you prefer to play mono black? What cards would you include in your deck as opposed to this one? Drop us a line and happy brewing.   

The Deck List


  • Phenax, God of Deception


  • Consecrated Sphinx
  • Consuming Aberration
  • Crypt Ghast
  • Doomed Necromancer
  • Duskmantle Guildmage
  • Geth, Lord of the Vault
  • Gisa, Glorious Resurector
  • Fleshbag Marauder
  • Jace’s Archivist
  • Jin-Gitaxias, Progress Tyrant
  • Junktroller
  • Mikaeus the Unhallowed
  • Mind Flayer, the Shadow
  • Nirkana Revenant
  • Plaguecrafter
  • Profaner of the Dead
  • Rankle, Master of Pranks
  • Reito Sentinel
  • Shadow Kin
  • Sheoldred, Whispering One
  • Sidisi, Undead Vizier
  • Syr Konrad, the Grim
  • Tergrid , God of Fright
  • The Reality Chip
  • Xanathar, Guild Kingpin


  • Altar of the Pantheon
  • Arcane Signet
  • Dimir SIgnet
  • Felwar Stone
  • Lightning Greaves
  • Reito Lantern
  • Sol Ring
  • Swiftfoot Boots
  • Talisman of Dominance
  • Vessel of Endless Rest
  • Whispersilk Cloak


  • Animate Dead
  • Dictate of Erebos
  • Grave Pact
  • Rhystic Study


  • Cyclonic Rift
  • Deadly Rollick
  • Lim Dul’s Vault
  • Pongify
  • Rapid Hybridization
  • Resculpt
  • Snuff Out
  • Soul Shatter
  • Vampiric Tutor


  • Beacon of Unrest
  • Curse of Swine
  • Dark Deal
  • Drawn from Dreams
  • Demonic Tutor
  • Feed the Swarm
  • Ghoul’s Night Out
  • Grim Tutor
  • Profane Tutor
  • Reanimate
  • Scheming Symmetry
  • Toxic Deluge
  • Whispering Madness


  • Liliana of the Dark Realms


  • Cabal Coffers
  • Command Tower
  • Crypt of Agadeem
  • Hawkins National Laboratory
  • High Market
  • 10 Island
  • Myriad Landscape
  • Polluted Delta
  • Port of Karfell
  • Springjack Pasture
  • 13 Swamp
  • Temple of Deceit
  • Watery Grave
  • Westvale Abbey

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