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Building a Better Enchantment

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Casual Magic

Enchantments are a quandary in Magic. We all know what they do, but don’t at the same time. One of the test questions for the Great Designer Search asked the following (paraphrasing here): if you could get rid of one card type, what would it be? A popular choice was enchantments. The thought process was that artifacts could adequately substitute for enchantments by simply adding color requirements. Their differences are awfully thin. I agree with that statement in the current incarnation of enchantments. The key word is current.

Grokable Magic Art

I thought I was going to talk about enchantments?

I am, but we need talk about the fundamentals for a second. Art is very important in Magic. Its importance sometimes gets overlooked because it’s pretty. An overlooked example is that art facilitates game play. If you ever played with handwritten proxies, you know what I mean. Searching for a card takes considerably more time. Art helps shortcut the thought process and expedites in game procedures. More importantly for this argument, art helps connect the flavor of the card to its text. It helps. Although, I think most people give art way too much credit for flavor.

For example, if I showed you a picture of a big hammer and asked what it did? It could do almost anything. What if I told you that it grants trample, lifelink and gives your creature +3/+0? Yes, it is Loxodon Warhammer. Does this make any sense though? You play Magic. If I walked around a mall with a hammer and asked people what it did, I’m guessing it wouldn’t be even close to Loxodon Warhammer’s card text. I’m guessing I would also get arrested, but that is for another time.

This is true for a lot of Magic art. The worse is probably enchantments. There is nothing that says this is an enchantment. A creature, equipment, or planeswalker at least gets people in the same ballpark. The reason is these things are tangible. They are designed after something. Enchantments? What are they again? There is no inspiration. For an equipment, I can go out and research for interesting pieces of armaments. I can look at biology for interesting organism to inspire me. A designer doing top-down design with enchantments is almost impossible (neglecting Theros’s design for the moment). Where would you even start?

Storage Wars

The answer is batteries. What? Seriously, just hear met out.

I didn’t start out with this idea. I did what Mark Rosewater has preached over and over again. To understand the cards, you need to play with them. That is exactly what I have been doing. To get a feel for it, I’ve been playing lots and lots of my Treva, the Renewer – Enchantress Commander deck online. The more I played the deck, the more I came to appreciate my “seals” in the deck. This included cards like Seal of Removal, Seal of Primordium, Angelic Shield, Aura of Silence, and Molting Skin. It finally dawned on me that these enchantments were stored mana/spells. I didn’t even need to have a target to cast them. I could just play and leave them on the battlefield until the appropriate opportunity came along.

Even when this occurred to me, I was doubtful. I liked my analogy, but wondered if there was enough design space to be had. Before looking outside the box, I decided to look through Magic’s history to find any cards that had a battery like feel. Parallax Wavd and Saproling Burst are two of the more famous examples. Parallax Wave was utilized in the day to save creatures or remove blockers. Saproling Burst was famous in “Fires” decks that dropped an early Fires of Yavimaya and would swing in with four 4/4 creatures on turn four. Sixteen damage is impressive by any standard. Anyway, these cards resembled that storage feel.

Maybe I am being too presumptuous that everybody is following. What does a battery do? It stores energy. That energy can then be used in something like a flashlight. However, once you use up that energy, your flashlight is dead. What do you get then? You get more batteries. Parallax Wave is same. You invest a bunch of mana. You get a limited amount of effect(s).

Enhancing Design and Play

Finding more examples is a little bit of a stretch. I could bore you with loose logic, but I’ll spare you the bull. However, this is one of the reasons I believe this is more or less uncharted design space. It’s not how enchantments are designed (for the most part). The current design of enchantments are more of a mechanical/game design instead of a flavor design.

Even if I am correct in my analysis, there is a bigger question; Why? Why should we design cards like Parallax Wave and Seal of Removal?

The answer is that it adds another element to the style of play. There is already an example of this from past Standard. Seal of Fire was utilized to great effect during the original Ravnica block. You played it first turn followed by a Scab-Clan Mauler on turn two. Seal of Fire helped to ensure Bloodthirst would be active. Without it, Scab-Clan Mauler would have had a more difficult time being a 3/3 creature.

The beauty of enchantments is that I don’t have to wait. I can just place these enchantments onto the battlefield. I can use them to form quasi-combos later in the game. For example, one of my hidden combos in my Commander deck involves Angelic Shield, Eternal Witness and Replenish. I play Eternal Witness to get back Replenish. I sac Angelic Shield to return Eternal Witness. I play Replenish to get back all my enchantments including my Angelic Shield. Rinse and Repeat.

Let’s change directions and talk Molting Skin. It is probably the card that turns most people’s heads when I show them my enchantress deck. That card works overtime for me. It does more than regenerate. It makes 4/4 angels with Sigil of the Empty Throne. It draws a card with Argothian Enchantress. It’s a resource I can use over and over again. And, it also regenerates my creatures. Most unknowing players think the newb is playing a cute card. Aw. That is, until it kills them.

There should be more enchantments like Molting Skin. For one, it fits what enchantment decks want in a card. It wants cards it can keep playing to draw cards and make nasty angels. If I was to make my case, as it appears I am, I would say that Parallax Wave, Seal of Removal, and Molting Skin are the target for future enchantment design. It makes enchantments unique and distinctive. These abilities help separate themselves from artifacts. More importantly, maybe, is that it provides for target to hit and/or direction.

What I am not proposing is getting rid of the current design of enchantments. Cards like Oblivion Ring are perfectly fine designs. However, those are mechanical designs. What I am proposing is analogous to artifacts getting equipment. Just because equipment is around doesn’t mean the end of artifacts. These designs are simply another arrow in enchantments quiver. They simply add design space and direction. This is not only direction for design, but for artist as well.

Thoughts on Origins

It appears fans of enchantments are getting some love in Origins. While I love the powerful new toys available to me for my Commander deck, it’s hard to say whether a strict enchantment deck is viable in Standard. Timing may be an important factor. While these cards aren’t enough now, Zendikar in the fall may prove to have the missing pieces to make enchantments a viable archetype.

Part of the problem with playing an enchantment deck is it plays like a combo deck. The biggest problem is trying to stay alive while setting up the combo. It is the reason I run cards like Ghostly Prison and Propaganda in my Commander deck. What I like about Herald of the Pantheon is that it helps to keep you alive. Don’t get me wrong. The minus one for playing enchantments is nice, but the life gain is crucial for survival. The auto include of Courser of Kruphix will also help to stem the bleeding. With all the creature removal in Standard, I just don’t believe these two creatures are enough. Siege Citadel and Monastery Siege are cards that I would test.

Here is a small lesson I’ve learned about playing an enchantress deck. Lands suck. In a quasi-combo deck like enchantress, drawing a land disrupts the combo. An enchantress deck wants to chain spells. Drawing a nonenchantment spell just hurts. I don’t get a 4/4 angel from Sigil of the Empty Throne with a land or other spell. It is the reason I play Courser of Kruphix, Future Sight, and Magus of the Future in my enchantress deck. While they all have their benefits, the true purpose is to keep lands off the top of my library and to keep the flow of enchantments coming so I can keep the chain going. Monastery Siege not only can protect your creatures, but it may be more important in helping to form that chain.

One of the reasons I credit the success of my enchantress deck online is that I have built in a lot of recovery into the deck. I have things like Replenish, Eternal Witness, Sun Titan and etc. to reboot if the board gets wiped. This is important with a quasi-combo deck like enchantress. Getting your board wiped hurts more than some other decks. Most decks contain individually powerful spells and creatures. Enchantment decks are inherently weak individually. Enchantress decks thrive on forming a critical mass of permanents and combo pieces. Starting from scratch hurts. It hurts a lot. It is the reason that Starfield of Nyx will be integral in an enchantment deck is Standard. Sure, it doubles as a win condition, but its ability to recover is very, very important.

While I’d like nothing more to say that there is a viable deck to be had, it is very difficult to promote. There is a lot of pressure in Standard these days. Decks are powerful and fast. Just staying alive will be a challenge. Enchantress decks are often non-interactive. This means our opponents can run amok. An unchecked Ashiok, the Nightmare Weaver can get nasty quick. Even if the deck was semi-viable, there is also a lot of hate. There’s Reclamation Sage, Back to Nature, Dromoka’s Command and etc. There is also a lot of disruption like Thoughtsieze and various counterspells to push through that prey on combo decks like enchantment decks. It’s a tall order to overcome.

The short answer is no.

However, this could all change in Zendikar and I have some faith in that there will be more toys in that set. The reason is Origins. While there are quite a few good toys in Origins, the archetype isn’t very draftable in the set. I don’t believe these cards were meant to coincide with the Theros block. Enchantment creatures feel too fragile or weak to make a viable deck. The enchantments in Origins very much feel like seeded cards for the future rather than the past.

Anyway, that’s my two cents. Thanks for reading.
Derrick Heard

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