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The Magic Chest 31: Volrath's Shapeshifter
I remember buying a few Volrath's Shapeshifters a few years ago, back when they were still reasonably cheap. I planned to make them the cornerstone of a fun deck, because I felt they had potential. A friend who was with me at the time just raised his eyebrows. Sure, a Volrath's Shapeshifter can be turned into a big creature with relative ease, but it's not much harder for any opponent to undo the change, simply by destroying a land or forcing a counter, turning it back into an easily killed 0/1.
In the end, I agreed with him and my Volrath's Shapeshifters sat around, collecting dust. Until, out of nowhere, the Full English Breakfast deck surfaced. For those who don't know, it combines Volrath's Shapeshifter and Survival of the Fittest to devastating effect. With both in play, GG can get you any creature out of your deck and effectively into play. Want a Lord of the Pit in play? Simply activate the Survival and look for it in your library, then activate it again, discarding the Lord and fetching the next creature you want to turn your Shapeshifter into.
As good as the combination of Volrath's Shapeshifter and Survival of the Fittest is, I decided not to use it, precisely because it is so good. In casual play, a deck should never be so good that it plays itself. There should always be plenty of room for surprises. The fact that Survivals are pretty expensive may also have had something to do with my decision.
As a replacement for Survival, I used Tortured Existence (B, Choose and discard a creature card: Return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand.) Just like Survival, it gives the ability to discard creatures at instant speed. Sure, it can't tutor for them, but on the up side, it allows you to reuse the creatures in your graveyard.
The Full English Breakfast deck just needs a Survival and a few creatures in hand to start up, because the Survival can fetch a Shapeshifter. Without the Survival, our deck will need some tutoring power. The first card that springs to mind is Intuition. It can fetch either a Shapeshifter or an Existence and it can also fill your graveyard with various useful creatures. On top of that, it's an instant, which means you can use it to play tricks on your opponent ("Terror my Shapeshifter? Whoops, it's black!")
Another way to get a few useful creatures into your graveyard is by using Buried Alive. It's a lot more limited than Intuition, though. Although I like Buried Alive a lot, I decided to go for Fact or Fiction instead for the extra card advantage and searching power. Plus, it's an instant as well.
This deck should have an easy time filling the graveyard, so a Living Death or two wouldn't go amiss. Especially for late in the game.
With the basis of the deck out of the way, let's get down to the meat: creatures. For consistency, it'd probably be a good idea to go with plenty of duplicates, but I prefer to go for variety, so most of the time I'll use only one copy of a creature.
First, we need some heavy hitters. One of the biggest is Polar Kraken at 11/11. It has trample too and its only drawback is a cumulative upkeep to sacrifice a land. Of course, if at all possible, you'll change the Shapeshifter to something else before your upkeep and change it back after, so even that drawback won't be a big deal. The drawback of coming into play tapped is a non-issue, because we're not planning for it to come into play, except possibly late in the game or with a Living Death.
Marjhan is another big creature I've always wanted to find a spot for. Sure, it has islandhome, but you can just attack with a Shapeshifter and turn it into Marjhan later. The ability to ping attackers is just extra.
Nicol Bolas is another fun surprise. Attack with something small and, after blockers are declared, turn it into a flying 7/7 that eats away your opponent's whole hand. The downside is that it's a legend, though, so you have to be careful. If you have more than one Shapeshifter out, you can't use it or they'll all die.
The Shapeshifter has to be able to protect itself, so I've added Jolrael's Centaur for untargetability, Silver Wyvern for redirection, Rainbow Efreet to phase it out and Blinking Spirit to return it to your hand. Paladin en-Vec will work well against most traditional removal as well.
Stopping an opponent's weenie rush is important as well. False Prophet seems like a good choice for that. After you're attacked, turn the Shapeshifter into a Prophet and block something that will kill it. All creatures are removed from the game and you can use Tortured Existence to get your Shapeshifter back. Another option is Crypt Rats. Activate the Rats for as much damage as needed and in response, shift into a Paladin en-Vec or something with a high enough toughness. Thrashing Wumpus does pretty much the same thing.
Another nice trick is to blow up the Crypt Rats for a lot of damage and in response change it into a Zebra Unicorn (For each 1 damage Zebra Unicorn deals, gain 1 life.)
Protecting yourself from direct damage can be done with the Zebra Unicorn trick, but some additional lifegain would be useful. Gerrard Capashen springs to mind. Of course it also has the problem of being a legend, but the potential of gaining several life each turn makes up for that.
Morphling can provide a few useful additional abilities and, because they're activated, they'll hang around even after the Shapeshifter has shifted into a different form. These abilities are so useful, I'd be tempted to play four if I had them.
I haven't found an easy way to deal with artifacts and enchantments without splashing white for Old Faithful (Disenchant), but Reliquary Monk will do. Blow up a Crypt Rats and change it into a Monk to also destroy a pesky artifact or enchantment.
Vebulid seemed like a good addition to the deck as well, because it slowly lets the Shapeshifter accumulate +1/+1 counters, while the drawback can be circumvented. I overlooked a pesky little detail, though: it's a 0/0 creature. If you turn a Shapeshifter into one, it'll die because it never comes into play and doesn't get the free +1/+1 counter. Oh well.
Now the deck still has a few vulnerabilities. One is against cards like Tormod's Crypt or Repopulate. Both can destroy your graveyard, making your Shapeshifters vulnerable. The only solution I've found to that is to counter the offending spells. Daring Apprentice offers a cheap way to do that. Ertai is more expensive to use and is a legend, but it doesn't require sacrificing itself.
The other vulnerability is against anything that can touch the Tortured Existences. Fountain Watch is a good solution to that problem.
Dodecapod is a good choice against discard, especially because I see a *lot* of Ravenous Rats around here.
Finally, the deck needs two blue mana early, to be able to cast Volrath's Shapeshifter, yet it also needs a lot of black mana to use Tortured Existence and to blow up the Crypt Rats. That makes the mana a bit tricky, but it's nothing a few non-basics can't solve.
Dutch Recycled Breakfast