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Nerdarchy > Blast from the Past  > Looking Forward to Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms and Strixhaven: School of Mages for MTG Arena
MTG Cunning Nightbonder Slitherwisp

Looking Forward to Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms and Strixhaven: School of Mages for MTG Arena

D&D-izing Galvatron from Transformers: The Movie

While it’s true creating content related to fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons and Fifth Edition generally keeps Nerdarchy the Lights on we all enjoy plenty of other games too. And since this site remains primarily our blog it’s fun to share those other game experiences from time to time. Makes us relatable and whatnot. Way back when I was a junior in high school and got into Magic: The Gathering with the Revised Edition it was exciting to eagerly await The Dark’s release. Here I am 26 years later looking ahead to a Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms in a few months along with Strixhaven: School of Mages at some point. I’ve dug when the MTG multiverse crosses over with the D&D one and it’s neat to see worlds colliding the other direction now too. But most of all I’m wondering what juicy bombs I’ll find in those sets.

MTG arena spoiler alert

There’s no spoilers, previews or if I’m honest even great insight into MTG or the expansions Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms and Strixhaven: School of Mages in this post. I’ve only been playing MTG a lot lately and having a great time with a deck so I thought sharing it here might be fun and useful for someone. So more of an anti-spoiler alert to save you some time if this isn’t what you’re looking for. It’s okay. You can go read sometime else and I won’t feel bad.

The impetus for this deck came from one too many counterspells. Shutting down a crucial spell so abruptly can really feel deflating and one night a week or so ago I’d had it. MTG Arena makes it so easy to search for exactly what you want! I play sporadically so it had been a bit and I noticed there’s a handy tooltip showing a guide to refined searches in your collection. I sold my TCG and comics collections decades ago to finance a backpacking trip through Europe (cliche, sure, but also totally awesome) so I love whenever stuff I enjoy transitions to digital formats. D&D Beyond spoiled me for 5E D&D print material the same way.

Anyway it wasn’t long before I came across Cunning Nightbonder. Keep in mind I’m not super duper into MTG. Maybe just a little duper. So if there’s a lot of conversation, reputation or meta circumstances surrounding this card I’ve got no idea. But a card that prevents being countered and makes spells cost less for two mana?

Hell. Yeah.

Clearly this was the card to exploit. As it turns out not only do a lot of awesome blue and black cards have Flash there’s also no small number of creatures with Mutate too. I dig this mechanic a lot and it’s really fun to see some kooky mutations play out during games. I’ve been playing this deck with small changes here and there exclusively since putting it together and without a doubt experienced my most success. Bear in mind I’ve never been championship material at all. My first TCG tournament ever was back in 1995 and I got smoked very quickly there along with tons of other games and related tournaments over the years too.

Fed Up with Counterspells!

So many of the cards in this deck become tremendously more versatile and useful with Cunning Nightbonder. Mutating creatures or removing spells from the game completely become huge bombs strung together on crucial turns. The most important thing I learned playing this deck is patience. Flash means you don’t have to cast your spells until the very moment they’re needed most. This includes creating blockers for attacks, countering key spells from your opponent and in many ways keeping them confused, paranoid and on their toes. I won a game just today coming back from holding out at one point. Cunning Nightbonder and Slitherwisp make a devastating combination when all those lower cost cards that can’t be countered also deal 1 damage to the other player and draw you a card.


  • Blacklance Paragon (2). One moment you’re facing down a big beefcake creature and one black mana later the attacker is dead and you’re up 3 points. One game I played this was an early play and with a Starlit Mantle on it the other person scooped. I was like, “Wait, come back! I didn’t even get to do the fun stuff yet!”
  • Brazen Borrower (2). A chef’s kiss of a card to bounce unwanted stuff back to the opponents hand and offer a juicy start for mutations galore.
  • Cunning Nightbonder (4). Almost everything in this deck gets exponentially better with these rogues. I like to play them on the opponents turn 2 when they swing with a 1/1 creature against an open board. Sorry! One of these surviving a clash with another creature or as a target of something nasty thanks to Starlit Mantle can stay out there for a long time. In multiples it’s off the hook. The game I came back from one to win was enabled by several of these and Slitherwisps — I just cast a bunch of Flash spells for a mana each and the burn took care of the rest.
  • Dirge Bat (1). I like the surprise factor of mutating this onto another creature already on the board so for me it’s a potential later game bomb. This can make it a bit painful when it gets milled away but there’s plenty of other toys in the chest to play with too.
  • Lochmere Serpent (1). Like Dirge Bat this one’s a surprise for later in a game. That being said I’ve had a couple of you know what’s out and dropped this big boy in a big bad way rather early a few times. In the graveyard it does a wonderful job chewing up all the fodder for Escape and other forms of recursion.
  • Pouncing Shoreshark (2). My precious. I love this card! It’s beefy enough to survive as a Flash blocker sometimes and phenomenal to Mutate onto something like a flyer to keep it a little safer. Followed up with a Sea-Dasher Octopus for 1 blue mana and another bounced enemy has saved me so many times.
  • Sea-Dasher Octopus (4). Mutating this onto Threnody Singer early on is very useful. I like to leave the siren on top for the extra toughness — it’s all about drawing those extra cards. The times this creature made an entire match smoother from early on are uncountable. Despite what I wrote about Dirge Bat earlier dropping one of those for two black and mutating it with this for one blue turns the tables around in a Flash.
  • Slitherwisp (4). I really like the nightmare creature types. The art is always very cool and they’ve got weird abilities. This critter nets you extra cards and dings the opponent every time you cast a Flash spell, which is almost every time you cast a spell full stop. Dropping one at the end of the opponent’s turn three puts you in a great position for your next turn. Be wary though! I once got three or four of these out and wound up decking myself trying to survive an endgame rush. If I hadn’t run out of cards I could have won. Careful with your elemental nightmares y’all.
  • Threnody Singer (2). Faerie Rogue used to hold this spot until I noticed people seem to really hate them with a mutated Sea-Dasher Octopus. Even though I’d often get a counter on there they had a huge target on their back. These sirens don’t come across quite so dangerous and they can turn a dangerous attacker into barely a scratch (or nothing!) under the right circumstances. A little extra toughness is nice and of course they’re a terrific target for mutation just like Brazen Borrower.
  • Voracious Greatshark (1). It’s got to be pretty demoralizing to cast your big creature and get noped out by a giant shark not only countering it but hitting the board themselves. Facilitated by Cunning Nightbonder this terror from the deep is most satisfying against ramp decks dropping huge cost creature early on who get snatched from the jaws of victory.


  • Omen of the Sea (2). For a spare blue mana getting to check out the next two cards then draw one is just straight up dope. Plus it’s got Flash so with a Slitherwisp out there you’ll draw two cards!
  • Starlit Mantle (3). I like to think of this as the workhorse doing the tough jobs so everything else runs smoothly. Seriously for one blue mana making a creature untargetable for a turn is awesome. There’s so many come into play effects, sagas and on and on and on to ruin your day by destroying a key part of your board. This stops them plus anything else for the whole turn and sticks around as a permanent buff to power and toughness. It’s one of those seemingly simple common cards but when you need one it can really vex the opponent.


  • Ashiok’s Erasure (2). For what it’s worth I often avoid counterspells and the like even when I’m playing a deck with blue cards. It’s annoying but at the end of the day it’s part of what blue does best. And this has Flash, which means for as little as two blue mana you can put the kibosh on basically anything — permanently. (Or until this card gets removed from the board.) If you know a deck’s key card and exile it with this it’s crippling. Good luck, Cycling Zenith Flare decks! This saved the day against a deck I played that used Wicked Wolf and a bunch of sacrifice and return to battlefield effects too.
  • Eliminate (2). Nothing fancy here. Low cost creatures — and planeswalkers — get destroyed. If only there were instants to destroy creatures with Flash. Maybe in Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms or Strixhaven: School of Mages…
  • Heartless Act (2). I like a little variety in my destruction and more than a few times removing counters from creatures proved fatal too.
  • Rewind (2). I already had Ashiok’s Erasure in here and I could not resist another counterspell option. This is amazing! If it had Flash it would be ridiculous but as it stands countering an important spell on an opponents turn and untapping enough land to do tons of stuff afterwards is very often when the game quickly spirals towards the end whether through concession or a major turn of the tides.


  • Castle Lochtwain (1). I almost never use this and more than once it’s been troublesome thanks to coming in tapped without a Swamp in play. But beyond this scenario it makes black mana and maybe you’ll snag a card or two out of it along the way. I think this will cycle out when the next set releases so I’ll be looking for a replacement.
  • Castle Vantress (1). Like Castle Lochtwain this can be troublesome and the extra ability is expensive but I’ve made use of it plenty of times. Sometimes all you need is to make sure there’s a Flash card coming up to get your Slitherwisp going.
  • Clearwater Pathway (1). I love these dual lands from Zendikar Rising. You can hang onto them until you know what you need and there’s no delay from coming in tapped or anything. I’ve only got this one copy at the moment and getting more is definitely on my to do list.
  • Island (9). Makes blue mana. I got some neat 3D versions a while ago from somewhere.
  • Swamp (8). Makes black mana. I got some neat 3D versions a while ago from somewhere.
  • Temple of Deceit (4). As dual lands go these are nice in this deck. A sneak peak at what’s coming up is handy.

Perhaps the greatest result of playing this deck is experiencing something for the first time — being the person for whom the opponent simply walks away and makes all their timers burn out to waste your time. I’ll admit I’ve done this before when a degenerate combo goes off in your face. It’s frustrating and I don’t condone the behavior but it can really get me steamed sometimes. Usually it’s when I feel like I’m just an audience to watch someone play solitaire. But when it happened to me I actually felt really great. The deck I came up with was validated!

For all I know this is a commonly used deck with a name so I apologize for my ignorance. I do play against a heck of a lot of decks with that Ruin Crab and a bunch of rogues in a mill deck. In fact I used to very often scoop against those and save us both the time. But I’ll put my black and blue mutations up against one any time. And maybe I’ll win? It’s like 75% win rate. I did make it to the Diamond Tier for the first time ever — that’s gotta count for something, right?

Would you play this deck? Does it have some descriptive name out there in MTG metagame world already? What are your favorite decks to play at MTG Arena? Are you excited about Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms or Strixhaven: School of Mages? I’m already a D&D fanboy so seeing stuff from one game I love show up in another game I love is pretty thrilling and I can’t wait.

*Featured image — Cunning Nightbonder and Slitherwisp are both from the super fun Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths MTG set. [Illustrations by Ekaterina Burmak and Yigit Koroglu]

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Doug Vehovec

Nerditor-in-Chief Doug Vehovec is a proud native of Cleveland, Ohio, with D&D in his blood since the early 80s. Fast forward to today and he’s still rolling those polyhedral dice. When he’s not DMing, worldbuilding or working on endeavors for Nerdarchy he enjoys cryptozoology trips and eating awesome food.


  • Allen Childers
    April 13, 2021 at 9:08 am

    I would love to see a D&D setting come out for Strixhaven eventually or just run a homebrew game in that world. Love the magical academy concept!

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