nchantments in their various forms have been with us since Magic's first set. Arguably the first notable enchantment was what we would today call an Aura. Some of the tournament game's scariest foils of the early years were enchantments. Over time, powerful enchantments—both cards that offered access to more cards and cards that enabled compelling interactions with other cards—demanded that decks be built around them, to take advantage of their various advantages.
And all that time, players have—or at least had the option to have—destroyed enchantments using Magic's multifold tools.
How did the ancients approach attacking Auras? How will our generation gut the gods?
The Bygone Days of Shutting Down "Everything" (and More)
In the beginning, we might have given too much respect to enchantments, main deck anyway. Perhaps that respect—nay, senses-shattering sweat—was justified due to enchantments' game-concluding speed and ubiquity (it was not uncommon to see five or even six Disenchant-type effects in a white mage's main), although in retrospect the legendary decks are named after their signature enchantments—Tax/Rack, LauerPotence, Survival of the Fattest—not the answers we may have brought to bear. One thing is for certain, though, for good or ill: We built our decks then with far different numbers than we do now.
Where today's preeminent White Weenie player Craig Wescoe might play zero Disenchants in his main deck, the 1996 World Champion Tom Champheng played not only the full four copies of Disenchant in his main deck... but a Sleight of Mind he couldn't cast.
World Champion 1996
To be fair, some of the best enchantments of the early years of tournament Magic were color-hosers that could shut down a deck with no other help than hitting your land drops. Circle of Protection: Red simply asked that a player not make any egregious errors; the only enchantment 1996 US National Champion Mark Justice played in his GR at all was Lifeforce (two in the side but two also in his main!) that carried him past the popular Hypnotic Specter decks of the day... and then there was Gloom.
We can assume Champheng's living in terror of Gloom. After all, he made room for a pretty specific sort of anti-enchantment card (one that would be ineffective against other enchantments but could still move with mana efficiency under Gloom). But as they say:
Champheng cowered in such fear of Gloom that he remembered to play the narrow anti-Gloom in his main... but neglected to play any lands to cast it.
Champheng ran an otherwise straight white deck. A Dark Ritual into a Gloom could end the game on the first turn! Under Gloom, Champheng could not even play Disenchant until turn five ... if he hit all his land drops! Sleight of Mind was meant to be a wall against such an eventuality; only Tom forgot to write down "Adarkar Wastes" on his deck sheet. Oops! Still, he ended up the World Champion, and he gives us an important insight today into the level of respect 1990s deck designers had for enchantments... or at least this particular one.
Because if you Sleight a Gloom from white to black? The opponent is not only as slow as he was trying to make you, but he probably wouldn't have the Disenchant necessary to bust out.
1990s and early 2000s decks—white decks in particular, as this was an era of Disenchant, long before Naturalize or any of its descendants—often played five or more "Disenchants" main to fight not only color-hosers (with both threats and answers often coming main deck) but some of the defining Flagships of the day...
The Card-Advantage Centerpieces
Between the first and maybe fifth Pro Tours there was a prevailing sentiment that you could not realistically win in Standard without playing either Land Tax or Necropotence. This might not have been strictly true, but it was a sentiment pretty aggressively advocated by a famous big-team player who made Top 8 of the first two Pro Tours. While it might have been the case that strategies like Turbo-Stasis, Sligh, or Big Blue gave players other options, it still shouldn't be hard to see how cards offering tons of card drawing with very little mana investment could give their masters substantial advantages if operated correctly and left unopposed.
Necropotence and Survival of the Fittest were contemporaries in Extended a few years later. Zvi Mowshowitz once famously commented that, at least for some decks, the two enchantments did essentially the same things, surrounded by otherwise similar shells of card drawing, acceleration, and Force of Will.
Although what these cards did for you—and how to gain card advantage with them—was fairly straightforward once you understood how to make them work... playing against them was long misunderstood. Do you want to destroy Necropotence? Isn't locking the opponent under Necropotence good? SO YOUR OPPONENT CAN'T DRAW! The first generation of Necro players, for instance, were obsessed with having some way to destroy their own Necropotences; and the first PTQ that sent a Sligh player to the Pro Tour featured an ultimately victorious Necropotence deck (back then, the second-place finisher also got a blue envelope) siding his Necropotences out .
A redundant Necropotence was a different thing than a redundant Survival of the Fittest. Over his Pro Tour Chicago win, eventual Rookie of the Year, Hall of Famer, and Grand Poobah of Magic: The Gathering Randy Buehler would often Demonic Consultation for a Necropotence even if he had a Necropotence to make sure he could survive an opponent's hand destruction for turn three.
Randy Buehler's WBR "Lauer-Potence"
Extended – Winner, Pro Tour Chicago 1997
*You might want to note that this -fielding, Lake of the Dead–boasting Necropotence deck splashed white for main deck Disenchant.
Foolish Magicians (I was one of them, briefly, truth be told) tried to ape Buehler's play with sequences like Vampiric Tutor for Survival of the Fittest on turn one (even when we had a Survival of the Fittest), given theoretically the same motivations. There are lots of reasons why this is awful: Vampiric Tutor costs you 2 life and a card while Demonic Consultation doesn't; Necropotence can allow you to over-draw and burn a redundant Necropotence with Firestorm or Contagion and Survival of the Fittest can't; Survival of the Fittest as a card-advantage engine only keys on creature cards and not enchantments. But sure, if someone destroyed (or forced you to discard) your Survival of the Fittest, you'd probably be happier than not with a backup.
Tricky, Trixie Combos
In the summer of 1999, Standard saw a particular set of combo decks using Delusions of Mediocrity as a kind of "draw ten cards" playmate to Yawgmoth's Bargain.
A more powerful version of the same was developed a few short months later with Extended's Trix decks, where Illusions of Grandeur (twice the life-point punch of Delusions of Mediocrity) was paired with Necropotence (half the cost of Yawgmoth's Bargain). The Trix deck also combined Illusions of Grandeur with Donate to actually kill the opponent (whereas the Standard version just used life for card-drawing fuel).
When Standard and Extended were bound on one side by these kinds of enchantments—each with a particular vulnerability—we had some very specific reactions:
Kyle Rose's White Lightning
Again we see a White Weenie deck with full Disenchants main. Kyle Rose won the insanely competitive 1999 US National Championships (a tournament with multiple Hall of Famers in the Top 8) despite the presence of several different super-powerful combo decks, including Zvi Mowshowitz with the aforementioned Delusions of Mediocrity.
Disenchant allowed a player to play Delusions of Mediocrity, put the "gain 10" on the stack, and respond by destroying it. The player would lose 10 life—possibly killing him or her—with the "gain 10" still on the stack. This was, of course, much more decisive with the 20-point swings boasted by Illusions of Grandeur.
Rose was successful because he could (1) put the opponent on a clock, while (2) presenting a fairly compelling answer to enchantments. Allay was an interesting redundancy on Disenchant: A combo player could not really stock up and try to overwhelm a fair deck over time. Erase was a popular sideboard option that gave White Weenie more flexibility. Not only could the player answer an enchantment a turn earlier but play more actively by being allowed to leave up only one mana rather than two.
Trey Van Cleave's Three-Deuce
One thing you might have noticed about cards like Disenchant is that they need to be timed in a particular way to be effective against Illusions/Delusions. That was less of an issue in Standard, but the Extended Illusions/Donate deck played Force of Will and sometimes other counterspells. If you could get down your anti-enchantment when you're not under pressure, that would give you one less thing to worry about.
In Trey Van Cleave's Three-Deuce deck—a deck that won the then-largest-ever Grand Prix, in a format littered with Necropotence-Illusions-Donate "Trix" decks—Elvish Lyrist could come down as early as turn one and preempt an eventual Illusions of Grandeur. Trey also played four copies of Disenchant in his main deck... but probably would have run Seal of Cleansing in the same slot if only it had been printed. He ran the similar, more powerful, but substantially more difficult-to-play Aura of Silence in his sideboard as a Disenchant (and Elvish Lyrist) redundancy. And how foolish of an Illusions of Grandeur player would you have to be to tap six into an Aura for a likely-to-be-lethal response?
Over the course of tournament Magic history, reaction to enchantments has largely come hand-in-hand with a level of perceived danger. Cards like Gloom, working in concert with cards like Necropotence, might spur a mage to playing more answers—and more answers main deck—than one from a less-enchantment-heavy-handed format. Tournament winners like Champheng and Rose played lots of answers main deck and sideboard, while contemporary White Weenie players like Craig Wescoe have shown the ability to score Top 8s with nothing in the enchantment-hating department at all:
Craig Wescoe (USA)
Pro Tour–San Diego Top 8
Sure, an Oblivion Ring can stop an enchantment, but Craig would probably have to go to his sideboard to get his fight on.
It's really just a product of format. Craig had to fight Bloodbraid Elf and Maelstrom Pulse so chose White Knight and Kor Firewalker to build his strategy around. He just didn't have super-fierce enchantments defining the opposite side of his tournament table... so didn't build to beat them.
Some formats resist even the Disenchants and Disenchant redundancies (your Allays, Erases, or Aura of Silences) of the world. You either go specific or you go home.
How effective is any kind of an enchantment point-removal card against an Attunement?
It's not. Good luck hitting it. Attunement's job is to fill the graveyard with enchantments to set up the big Replenish. Replenish offers so much card advantage with one spell there is almost no amount of fair one-for-one removal you can possibly play to stay ahead of it. Worse, unless your removal is on the order of Erase (i.e., exiling enchantments entirely) the next Replenish (found by the Attunement you couldn't hit) will just put anything you killed up against you as well.
Playing against Replenish in Block, for example, you basically had to go with Harmonic Convergence.
This wasn't a perfect solution, but unlike a card like Hush, you would at least force the opponent to spend a bunch of time and mana setting back up again. You could essentially trade a Harmonic Convergence one-for-one with the Replenish instead of its enchantment progeny (which was a no-win fight).
Legacy specialist Drew Levin once described Krosan Grip as the best sideboard card in that format. Krosan Grip is not an obvious card to love, but it has put in work in formats like Extended as well, boasting two advantages (one that looks like a disadvantage).
- Split second allows you to force your Krosan Grip through an opponent who has a Counterspell.
- Because it costs three, Krosan Grip is much less likely to get countered by a blind Counterbalance than an answer that costs two. So, basically, the opponent has to have left a three on top of his or her deck in anticipation of your Krosan Grip in order to stop you from blowing up Counterbalance.
"In this day and age, no Aura is too situational to be considered unplayable." —Luis Scott-Vargas
How about these sorts of enchantments?
Many of the most defining enchantments of recent months and years are Auras, specifically those that enchant creatures.
Reaction to these enchantments—and the deck that plays them—has bred a specific kind of anti-enchantment that isn't specifically anti-enchantment at all.
Enchant creature spells have been around since the first Alpha pack. But the only notable one for some years was Control Magic... A card that enchanted the opponent's creatures. Enchant creature spells have a specific problem that has been ironed out a little bit at a time over the years: If you kill the creature that is wearing the Aura, you kill the Aura, too. It's always a double whammy if you are on the wrong side of a removal exchange.
Empyrial Armor was perhaps the first enchant creature to make a splash in Constructed. Matt Linde won the 1998 US National Championship by sticking Empyrial Armor onto the appropriate Soltari creature (Monk against black, Priest against red) or Paladin en-Vec . Empyrial Armor made enchant creatures playable only because the creatures it was playing with had built-in resistance to the removal that had made viability so elusive for enchant creature spells for so long.
Curiosity and Rancor were next. Curiosity was played first in Mono-Blue decks. First of all, it would immediately replace itself. If you could get just one hit in with Curiosity on a Hammerhead Shark or Manta Riders, it had paid for itself and the dreaded one-for-two would be mitigated to a two-for-two; every subsequent hit was pure profit.
Rancor explicitly took care of the card-advantage issue. Kill the creature... I keep the Rancor. These new cheap, incredibly compelling enchant creature spells gave life, finally, to a card type that had been neglected for the first half-decade of competitive Magic.
Today, of course, we see Auras aplenty, from Spectral Flight to Unflinching Courage, helping to define the Standard metagame. Pro Tour Hall of Famer Brian Kibler first made his name—or at least his defining fame as the Dragonmaster—by playing an Armadillo Cloak onto his Rith, the Awakener and hitting fellow Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz with it... during a Constructed Pro Tour Top 8 match.
The difference with this breed of enchant creature spells is how a player aims. Either you are playing a card like Curiosity or Rancor that itself protects you from the one-for-two... or you are going the route of Empyrial Armor and enchanting specifically a creature that is not going to get removed. Invisible Stalker and Geist of Saint Traft, with their hexproof, fall into the latter camp.
The resistance to these kinds of enchantments is extremely specialized!
Oftentimes it doesn't look like enchantment hate at all...
Much of the past summer has been a study in fighting Bant Auras without actually aiming a single card at an Aura.
Dimir-influenced decks have used Devour Flesh and the like to hit hexproof creatures with and without Auras already attached, taking the edge off of their inherent advantages.
Their white cousins (usually Azorius-influenced) have used Renounce the Guilds to kill specifically Geist of Saint Traft with a big Aura on the stack (although things can get tricky against a Voice of Resurgence or if an Unflinching Courage has already resolved).
The entire success of the BG The Rock deck in Standard began with Mutilate—the Supreme Verdict that can work through Boros Charm or Rootborn Defenses—and Desecration Demon... and the deck just kept on coming.
Interestingly, we saw relatively little hate for the enchantments themselves, even though Unflinching Courage in particular was so troublesome, and Ray of Revelation would have been a great answer in many cases.
Which Brings Us to Today...
Coming into Theros we are entering a world that asks very specific questions.
Enchantments are going to be a big part of Constructed... probably.
But it is not a world like the middle 1990s, when we just knew that enchantments were coming and that some were particularly dangerous.
It is more like fighting Replenish or Counterbalance... where specific answers are needed to deal with specific jobs.
And, moreover, the bestow mechanic is offering a different look at Auras... one that may solve the longtime Aura issues.
Like Harmonic Convergence and Krosan Grip before it, Fade into Antiquity may be one of the most specialized and important anti-enchantment cards of the upcoming Standard... and again we see the specific contributor at .
Simple: The God Cycle.
Every one of these high-profile enchantments (and legendary creatures) is indestructible!
It's exile or nothing!
Fade into Antiquity | Art by Noah Bradley
How many turns do you want to let the opponent have Purphoros, God of the Forge going? How many turns can you survive if he or she does?
I don't know about other blue mages, but I don't know if I care if my Thassa, God of the Sea ever becomes a creature. I have already started imagining decks that don't have enough devotion to blue to see that happening consistently. Thassa might just be a three-mana investment that pays me back handsomely in a long game, given just a couple of turns. How can another control deck hope to win an attrition war if I can ensure—with zero mana investment after the third turn—that I will hit all my land drops, push all my redundant removal, and never draw another copy of this particular legendary creature (if I don't want to)? The "card advantage" is not obvious, until you realize the opponent keeps pulling irrelevant answers and will have to discard at some point before you do.
Bestow is intriguing for its possibilities. There aren't a ton of bestow cards that scream "Play Me!" the same way as, say, the God cycle... but when I look at a Leafcrown Dryad I remember fondly the Brilliant Halo that predated Rancor by a set.
There are a couple of bestow creatures that might prove viable in Standard; they do so largely by solving the traditional problems of Aura cards.
Leafcrown Dryad is a 2/2 for two with a little up-side. If you remove the creature wearing it (in Aura form) you get to keep the creature. So you get the flexibility of a traditional two-drop, or if you are running a bestow Aura-style, a safety net preventing the dreaded one-for-two. Cards like Devour Flesh are not going to prove the anti-Aura aces they have for the past couple of months.
Nighthowler actually looks pretty good. For you get a card that we used to be happy to play for . For the full cost of a traditional Lhurgoyf you can bestow Nighthowler and really start doing math.
Did the creature wearing Nighthowler die? Well that is a live Nighthowler and +1/+1. How did it die? Was it in a tussle? That might even be +2/+2 or more. Leafcrown Dryad is a little better than a Grizzly Bears, but a Grizzly Bears is a low bar. Being quite a bit better than a Lhurgoyf can start a much more interesting conversation.
Most of this article was about how players have answered enchantments over the years. Gods are probably going to need to be answered. I anticipate a world where Gods are pretty commonly played, and if Fade into Antiquity isn't the answer card of choice... there is going to have to be something specialized to take care of these threats. Bestow is another animal—literally another animal after the original enchanted creature dies—entirely. I am not sure how to approach answering bestow cards, at least not with the natural advantage that Auras have traditionally ceded to the opponent.
Now, I know that Phyrexian Obliterator is not an enchantment, but it bears mentioning here to illustrate a point.
Phyrexian Obliterator was the un-fixed Phyrexian Negator. Phyrexian Negator was a powerful card that defined some of Magic's greatest champions and helped both beatdown and combo players claim dozens of blue envelopes over the years. But it was quite poor against the color red for obvious reasons.
Phyrexian Obliterator was meant to be the thematic, aesthetic, inheritor to Phyrexian Negator; and one with no such vulnerability to red. Vapor Snag? Ouch. Mana Leak? Obviously. Celestial Purge? Match made in heaven and/or hell. But red spells? Phyrexian Obliterator was meant to be the one card no red mage could match.
Until the discovery of Wrack with Madness.
You have not heard of this "combo?" Well perhaps it is because the Wrack with Madness players so thoroughly killed not only all the Phyrexian Obliterators but burned down all the Swamps where they once lived.
If there is one thing that tournament Magic players have proven about themselves, time and time again, it is their reactive adaptability. Give them a threat, a defined format, and they will find some interesting way to battle back. Whether it is main-deck Lifeforce and Whirling Dervish attacking the Black Summer; Into the Roil annoyingly resetting the counters on Pyromancer Ascension; or the offbeat answers of Dismember and Torpor Orb to Splinter Twin, solutions will be found—some (like Wrack with Madness) will be glittering jewels of absolute genius.
Legends will be written from both sides of the table. The next several months will begin spinning those tales.
Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."