cPDH Cryptic Serpent
02 Feb 2022 - 10 min read
On the quest to brew my first cPDH deck, I poured over countless Scryfall pages of uncommon creatures, searching for that one gem to make my heart flutter. After hours of mulling over options of which could support a fresh take on various combos or if there was a new niche just waiting to be uncovered, I took a rest beneath the tree in the garden of paradise. It was there that a snake whispered in my ear. Enter our slithery boy: Cryptic Serpent .
Despite the name, Cryptic Serpent is not so cryptic of a card when it comes to formulating a game plan. Aside from being in the best color, having an easily exploitable mana reduction mechanic, and his stunning good looks, Cryptic Serpent had one more key attribute that made him a worthwhile brewing candidate: he can punch REALLY hard. With Voltron generally underrepresented in the format (a fact that is quickly changing), especially when blue could be doing all sorts of swanky control and combo, I felt this was the time to strike. Operation attack, swallow, and digest our opponents as quickly as possible was a-go.
But when I really sat down to build this seemingly simple homage to mono-blue voltron, I found there’re a lot of interesting and nuanced deckbuilding decisions to consider to really make things tick.
First things first, I knew Cryptic Serpent needed diamond levels of density (a lil’ geo reference for y’all) of instants and sorceries; if the snek doesn’t cost UU, then I don’t want it. Luckily, we’re in mono blue and 95% of the most busted instants and sorceries (even at common) of all time are our bread and butter. If you’ve been around the block in terms of any pauper format, you may take these staples for granted. Don’t, we’ve been spoiled with this bounty. If you’re new to cPDH, take notes because these cards are essentials in basically any blue deck and will form the foundation for a powerful and resilient build.
The three essential pillars upon which we will build our serpentine temple are counterspells, removal, and draw spells. Let’s start with that sweet sweet removal because-… wait, we’re not in black, how are we dealing with opposing permanents?!
Get ‘Em Gone
Boomerang - a veritable classic all the way from the formative years of Legends, Boomerang illustrates two vital points regarding blue (especially mono-blue) in cPDH. First, blue’s “removal” comes primarily in the form of tempo, and usually this means bounce. As long as the problematic permanent isn’t on the field, we don’t need to worry. And who’s to say that the card in question won’t get countered on its way back down…
Second, modality and versatility is key. Boomerang can remove a blocker sure, but it can also function as a disenchant by bouncing an enchanted permanent (like an Overgrowth -ed land in a Ley Weaver / Lore Weaver deck, or something scary in Satyr Enchanter ). It can also function as a counterspell by bouncing something targeted by a Freed From the Real or other combo piece, and can even function as a protection spell by saving our Cryptic Serpent from a Snuff Out . I’ll point out other sweet synergies as we go, but applying this virtual modality lens to any deck you’re playing or brewing in cPDH will get you incredibly far.
Run Away Together - Surprise, surprise, another bounce spell. This time though we can hit two things for only two mana (something that past Julian never even conceived of when playing tempo in Eldraine Limited). The potential for politics (in my cPDH? blasphemy!) and sheer power and rate are unparalleled. But once again, this is a sneaky way to protect our snek at all costs (another theme of this deck), while taking out something of our opponents’.
Vanishing - I honestly have always treated cards with phasing as utter memes (minus Teferi’s Protection in EDH, but that’s a different format). So imagine my shock when this card single handedly kept Eric from winning for several turns in our most recent games. Not only can Vanishing make our Cryptic Serpent nearly untouchable, but it can also lock an opponent out of their powerful creatures for the low price of UU. While cPDH decks that rely more on their commander for incidental value and play a more “midrange” style game exist, many decks heavily rely on their commander for a combo or heavily synergistic win. Being able to brick the core strategy of an opposing deck is nasty and disrespectful in all the right ways.
I’ve highlighted a few of my favorite and the spiciest removal pieces here, but we run a few more solid staples such as Blink of an Eye and Echoing Truth (which is clutch against a certain other cPDH deck recently featured… or just deleting an army of Tormod’s zombies. What a coincidence that those are both decks Chev plays). Other staples such as Ravenform , Deep Freeze , and Frogify have been omitted because leaving our opponent with blockers is so 2021.
Please, Just Stop.
Next, we’re in blue so clearly we’ve gotta load up on everyone’s favorite, say it with me now, COUNTERSPELLS. We’ve got classics like Mana Leak , Negate , and actual factual Counterspell , but the few interactions I want to highlight are…
Deprive - Basically OG counterspell, but with the added cost of returning a land to hand. Cryptic Serpent should generally be extremely cheap, so this isn’t a great harm to our mana generation. If you’re flooded, being able to return a Lonely Sandbar to cycle or a Halimar Depths to stack the top of your deck scratches all the right itches. However, the most potent and silly synergy is being able to loop Deprive with a Mystic Sanctuary . Trust me from experience, as soon as this happens once, your opponents will not look kindly upon you, so act accordingly.
Muddle the Mixture - Another solid counterspell, but with the added ability to tutor. Transmute spells are known quantities in PDH and cPDH and this is one of the best. At two mana, we have a ton of good hits, some of the best being Merchant Scroll , Run Away Together , and One With the Wind (more on that later).
Confound / Intervene - I’ve lumped these together because they basically do the same thing. Generally, these will serve the same role as our Mizzium Skin s and Dive Down s (remember, protect the snek AT ALL COSTS). However, due to the way they’re worded, we can also use these as clutch ways to disrupt opposing combos. Banishing Knack , Ghostly Flicker , etc. all fall to these inconspicuous powerhouses.
Finally, let’s discuss the draw spells. We have a staggering 29 inclusions that will put one or more cards in our hand, which is good because we want to be churning through our library at an alarming rate. Remember, the more spells we play, the more we have in our graveyard to make Cryptic Serpent cheap and ready to rumble. With literally half of our deck being instants and sorceries, the issue isn’t quantity, but speed. We’ll need to constantly have a full grip to make the Cryptic Serpent dream a reality.
I don’t think you need me to extoll you on the power of playing Brainstorm , Preordain , and Ponder . These are known quantities even in the most powerful of 60-card formats. However, there are several, seemingly less powerful, cards that can turbo charge our deck via putting additional cards into our graveyard. Now, not only are we getting better selection from seeing more cards, but each individual spell cast is counting for a three or more mana discount on our Serpent. That’s Dargo rates right there.
Thought Scour / Mental Note - Thought Scour has seen some play in Modern and Legacy at points, so it’s a powerful enough card, and I think it illustrates what a lot of our draw spells want to do very nicely. Mill two cards and then draw. A single blue mana gives us likely two or three instants and sorceries in the graveyard and gets us closer to other key pieces. If you play this turn one, Cryptic Serpent now costs probably four or five mana. Play a second effect like this on turn two and you can easily have the Serpent out and about by turn three.
Careful Study - The “original” faithless looting. This doesn’t have instant speed value like Thought Scour, but drawing an additional card and getting to actively choose how to stock our graveyard for the low, low cost of one mana is too good to pass up.
Organ Hoarder - I couldn’t resist the opportunity to include this in the deck and talk about it. First, I love this card because Midnight Hunt Limited was baller and this card put in work. Second, this gives us nice card selection while stocking our graveyard. Third, while four mana is basically the top of our curve, this is an important body in our generally spell-heavy deck. Blocking (whether chumping, trading, or eating), fodder for ‘edict’ effects, or for attacking to put on the extra pressure; Organ Hoarder does it all.
Due to the unique nature of how we want to accrue card advantage and graveyard value, our draw suite has quite a few cool and underrepresented cards, such as Pieces of the Puzzle and Thirst for Meaning that I would recommend considering when brewing your next cPDH deck.
No Anti-Venom for Commander Damage
And now, at long last, we’ve arrived at the fated hour. The crux of this win condition is that Cryptic Serpent starting with six power makes it alarmingly easy to get the snek to eight power and set up for a two-hit commander damage kill. After stocking our graveyard so Serpent will always be on fire sale. After carefully crafting our hand into the ultimate selection of protection, counters, and removal. Now the time comes to inflict the lethal bite.
One With the Wind / Spectral Flight - Besides ruining Ixalan Limited One With the Wind (and its functional pre-print(?) Spectral Flight ) put Serpent at that sweet spot of eight power while also giving crucial evasion. Add in the ability to be tutored for by Muddle the Mixture and these are A+ inclusions.
Bonesplitter / Darksteel Axe - These kindred cleaving utensils are perfect for giving Cryptic Serpent extra ‘fangs’ on the cheap. They don’t give flying, but that doesn’t matter when we can You Come to a River our snake past an army or just bounce a solitary blocker to force tempo down our opponents throat (virtual modality, once again so key). Also, these can be easily tutored by format allstar Trinket Mage or a transmuted Dizzy Spell . It’s never been easier to get a large bladed weapon, so call now while supplies last.
Cave of Temptation / Opal Palace - I’m just now realizing that I’ve been cheating and giving two cards per bullet point, but basically I love all these cards and want to talk about them, so deal with it. Speaking of which, the fact that we can buff snek using our freaking lands is insanity. These are essentially ‘free’ in mono-colored decks and they give even more redundancy for buffs. Plus, Opal Palace is reusable and scales up if people have been frequently putting serpent in a time-out.
All of these buffs come with only the choicest evasion granters, namely Artful Dodge and Distortion Strike which give us two turns of damage for only a single card. That’s called efficiency. Or, if you only need a single hit to finish someone off, might I offer you a Shadow Rift complete with a refund of a card?
So there you have it y’all, the Cryptic Serpent in all its glory! Hit the ground running by churning through your deck and filling your graveyard. Cast the snek on the cheap and protect him at all costs with various counterspells. Give him a power boost to eight and evasion and get into the red zone. Thanks to everyone who gave crucial feedback and helped make this deck a reality!
Snake's Phantom Pain
1x Careful Study
1x Compulsive Research
1x Deep Analysis
1x Distortion Strike
1x Gitaxian Probe
1x Merchant Scroll
1x Pieces of the Puzzle
1x Serum Visions
1x Slip Through Space
1x Strategic Planning
1x Treasure Cruise
1x Behold the Multiverse
1x Blink of an Eye
1x Dive Down
1x Dizzy Spell
1x Echoing Truth
1x Frantic Search
1x Into the Roil
1x Mana Leak
1x Mental Note
1x Mizzium Skin
1x Muddle the Mixture
1x Otherworldly Gaze
1x Run Away Together
1x Scattered Thoughts
1x Shadow Rift
1x Think Twice
1x Thirst for Meaning
1x Thought Scour
1x You Come to a River
1x You See a Guard Approach
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