Pattern Recognition #27 - Enchanted
4 May 2017
4 May 2017
Hello everyone! I am berryjon, your resident Old Fogey , and TappedOut.Net's regular contributor of articles regarding the past, present and possibly future of Magic: the Gathering. Any references I may make to the Time Spiral block are completely intentional. Especially the ones I didn't intend to write.
This week comes about as a response to a long standing comment about the meta of the game that I have observed both first and second hand.
Now, I've said 'Meta' before, but for all you new people, let me explain. "Meta" is a word from Greek that describes the existence of an abstract concept behind an actual physical thing. I could say "the TV", and you would know what I was talking about, even though I could be talking about my dad's old 8 inch black and white CRT television that he got from his father when he was younger. Or I could be talking about some 60 inch, 4k definition plasma screen like the one that is to my left that my brother gave to me. The word 'TV' is the meta behind those two examples. You know what is being talked about without needing a specific example.
In Magic though, the definition is slightly different. It describes an abstract state of the game as a whole, a conglomeration of all the games that have been played, are being played and could be played using all the potential decks that are real and imagined out there.
Today, I'm going to talk about something that has been bitten hard by the state of Magic's meta-game, one that I see pop up time and time again with no real resolution in sight. It's something that players don't use normally because they think it's a bad call on the whole (i.e. provides less reward than the risk) and because they don't use it, they will also know that their opponents don't and thus don't bother to prepare for it.
At least, in theory.
Well, enough distractions! Let's talk about Auras!
Auras are the currently existing subtype of the Enchantment card. It's also the second iteration of the mechanic in the game. When Magic first started, they were called "Enchant Creature", as on Lure . This, despite Creature not being a card type at the time! (They were called "Summon"s back then, as on Serra Angel .) Then, the rules got changed around 10th Edition, and all the Enchantments that targeted and became 'attached to' another permanent were described as Auras with rules text describing what was a legal target for them, like on Lure .
But I want to examine Creature Enchantments in particular this time, and not other things like Phantasmal Terrain 's Enchant Land. or the like.
On paper, Creature enchantments - those being cards that you play and attach to a creature in order to provide some benefit for you, either directly or indirectly - are a neat idea. They allow you to reinforce your position by magnifying or improving an existing creature, which can in turn either escalate your tempo or simply do something about your opponents own tempo.
And on paper, they're a great idea! Auras can make the game deeper by making any other card better, or having more to it. And it's not a constant as it can go one to any creature, and that can change from instance to instance, from game to game. It's the best kind of unpredictability! You will know what is possible, but you're not sure how to calculate a response because it can show at any time and modify any creature!
The truth is, it doesn't work like that. Well, half of the time anyways. There are two major sections in which Aura operate, those being Aggro and Control. Yes, there are Combo Auras, but for the most part, I would lump those in with the more prevalent Aggro style.
A large chunk of the Meta's response to Auras is the inherent weakness of Aggro type Auras. These are cards like Serra's Embrace or Battle Mastery or Cartouche of Ambition . Cards that make your guys better. So, what is the problem? Well, I would like you all to take a guess.
And every last Spike in the audience just raised their hands and said "Card Advantage".
Which is the answer I was hoping you would give!
Card advantage is, for those still new to the game, another vital concept at any level past 'starting out'. It is the level of trading one card for more damage to the opponent than you receive in return through using that card. An example of a neutral card advantage is casting Lightning Bolt on Soulfire Grand Master . You use one card, they lose one card. Net gain or loss of zero.
Damnation is an example of a case of either-or in that regard. You can gain more by destroying more of your opponents creatures, or it could backfire horribly if your opponent casts something like Ghostway to prevent that. You lose your creatures and the card, while they only lose a card in the exchange.
The problem then arrives when you use Auras. You are indelibly tying two cards together in such a manner that removing one will automatically take out the other. If you put Battle Mastery on your Graceblade Artisan (a legitimate thing I've done back in Limited), and then in response your opponent casts Flatten (which did not happen to me), then you not only lose the creature and the Aura.
You lose two cards for the price of one. In fact, it's sometimes called the 241 Problem! (say it slowly, not as a whole number to get it)
And that is the card advantage the Spike wants to keep. They want to trade fewer resources for maximum damage to their opponent. And Auras provide that for them.
Before I move on, I want to point out the other type of Aura - the Control type. These are cards like Pacifism , where you don't target your own permanents, but rather those of your opponent. In this case, you can't remove the more easily targeted underlying card as in doing so, your opponent is the one losing card advantage. These sorts of cards turn the Spike's natural tendency around, and for good effect.
Now, Wizards knows this is a problem, and has tried various solutions over the years to try and rectify it. The first is to allow Auras to come beck to your hand if they would enter the graveyard. Cards like Rancor and Fool's Demise are examples of this. The idea behind them is that when the creature they are attached to dies, you don't lose the enchantment.
Or course, this was in the days before Exiling cards was a major thing. We still called it "Removed from play" in those days for Urza's sake! But if you start making an entire class of cards recurring like that, where do you stop? Would people demand that their creatures have Persist before Persist was a mechanic? What about getting their lands back because someone cast Stone Rain ?
No, that was a can of worms that Wizards didn't want to open. It would lead to too many problems down the line.
Nor could they get into a situation where Wizards could limit direct removal. This is something that Red, Black and Blue are all highly in flavor of, what with Lightning Bolt , Flatten or Unsummon as options.
Starting in Theros though, another thing was tried. Bestow was a mechanic that allowed an Enchantment to be a creature as well, which meant you could avoid the 241 loss. But also they started to give Auras an "Enters the Battlefield" effect in addition to a consistent effect. Something like what we see on Cartouche of Ambition from Amonkhet. It combines a minor effect that would be found on a sorcery, while maintaining a persistent bonus for staying in play.
But that, once again, doesn't solve the problem, it just encourages play by leaving a lasting mark after the Aura is gone.
So, what was there to do?
They couldn't just print cards like Geist of Saint Traft or Slippery Bogle , as making creatures outright immune to enemy targeting can do bad things to the format if done in large amounts. Or making more cards like Shielding Plax that can offer the same protection while not being protected itself.
Another possible solution was to raise the reward for casting Auras. Make them bigger and better, or providing more benefits. I won't say that Daybreak Coronet was a good example of this, or Splinter Twin , but you can see the idea there. Except this didn't actually fix the problem, it just escalated the effect of having the in play, and the wasted advantage when they hit the graveyard.
Well, the answer, sad as it is to say, was to not abandon the concept, but to rather change how it works. You see, if the problem was the card going away when the one it was attached to hit the graveyard, well, why not make it stick around? Except that by the way the rules and the cards worked, you couldn't do that with an Enchantment.
But there was something that existed at the time that could stick around, and there was precedent to be had to make things work.
You see, Flying Carpet , which was also Flight in a way, helped give rise to the idea of an artifact that could sort-of act as an Enchantment. Although the idea of an Artifact Enchantment is something that Wizards hasn't really touched on yet. That would be a curious space to explore.
Well, I don't know who came up with the idea, but the final version was sheer brilliance. And you just saw five examples.
Equipment, introduced in Mirroden, was Wizard's attempt to rectify some of the problems with Auras by putting them in a position where they could make the benefit a discrete object on the battlefield, and allowing it to become attached to new creatures as the situation demanded or as the old creature died.
This has several advantages. Artifacts, by their very nature (before Shards of Alara) were colorless, and thus could fit into any deck where the Auras, which were colored (before Rise of the Eldrazi) could not. The mechanisms for removing Artifacts and Enchantments are different, allowing for both to exist in different niches with different cost ratios. It's not like Disenchant is reprinted any more, and Naturalize isn't run that often either. And with Kaladesh being in Standard for a while longer, I expect more in the way or Artifact removal than Enchantment removal for a while.
You still see Auras - the latest set of Amonkhet still has them, but they also have Equipment. Because of this, there is not as much pressure on either one from either providing too much benefit, or from being too much of a target. In many ways, the meta-hate on Auras is a legacy of a time before Mirroden, but in the more modern (and Modern as a format) era, they tend towards being higher risk and reward than Equipment. Not always though, but enough of a trend in my opinion.
So, whenever you see an Equipment being played, just remember that before Mirroden, that would have been a Creature Enchantment, and then think if it would still be played.
Join me next time when I actually pretend to be relevant, and go back to Top Decking and why spinning in circles isn't always a good thing.
Until then, I'm selling out! Or is that tapping out? Basic donors get a preview copy of the final article, while advanced donors get that as well as the opportunity to join me in a podcast version of the series where I talk and you respond!
Enjoyed the article thought, I had never quite thought of Equipment as the solution to the badness of Auras, though I did know Auras were generally card disadvantage.
Would you also consider Bestow from the Theros block also a solution to Auras? I never thought they were that great as cards, but on paper it looks like a good solution.
May 4, 2017 12:28 p.m.
Bestow is a solution in that you csn cast the card as a Creature with the ability and its own P/T rather than depending on a vulnerable creature at the base.
May 4, 2017 2:14 p.m.
Don't forget that a bestowed creature-enchant becomes a creature itself when the thing it was enchanting dies; a big change that mitigates the loss of card advantage.
May 4, 2017 2:32 p.m.
Were you going for Serra's Embrace with one of your early examples?
May 4, 2017 4:28 p.m.
At least Sigarda's Aid turned Auras into combat tricks...which helped immensely. Yes, equipment can help mitigate the 241 problem, but it won't help you with your Daxos the Returned Commander deck...or your Bruna deck...or anything else relying on enchantment-based strategies. And while bestow was a decent mechanic, the bestow cost was usually so high that people usually just cast the card as its significantly cheaper creature cost.
May 4, 2017 6:36 p.m.
May 4, 2017 7:06 p.m.
I feel like Cipher could have been dropped into this conversation somehow. Thoughts on one of Dimir's signature keywords?
May 4, 2017 8:24 p.m.
Nope, no words. Not Auras, not enchantments. It's a very Red style of casting though. Do damage, get a free spell?
May 4, 2017 8:43 p.m.
Guess I could have been more specific :P
You spoke how they tried different ways to balance out aura's, whether through return to hand mechanics, bestow, and equipment. Was Cipher also a result of this attempt to balance? Necromantic Thirst, Sigil of Sleep, Sixth Sense versus Last Thoughts, Hidden Strings, Mental Vapors. I ask because the mechanic itself is unusual, and aura's are probably the only comparison you can make with it; it's like the inverse of an aura. Instead of placing a permanent onto the battlefield that can be targeted, or brought back from the graveyard...you have a spell exiled so it can't be targeted (in most cases) onto a creature but also can not be returned from the graveyard. You switch out a triggered/activated ability for a spell cast. But in both cases you still have the 241 issue.
May 4, 2017 9:30 p.m.
Calliber: I think you're looking in the wrong direction. Cipher was a new version of the Imprint mechanic - Isochron Scepter for example. Yes, it attached to creatures, but the effect and trigger was so narrow that trying to compare them to each other is like comparing apples to oranges by saying they're both round and you eat them.
May 4, 2017 10:13 p.m.
I have a 241 problem. I only decks with 241 cards. Help me berryjon! Its my only hope :)
Great article, thatnk you very much
May 8, 2017 2:01 p.m.
Your problem is solved when you win a Battle of Wits with yourself. ;)
May 8, 2017 2:27 p.m.
honestly imo, the "auras let the opponent 2 for 1 you" argument is just as weak as saying "that creature dies to removal". worst case scenario, they're able to use instant speed removal on your creature immediately after you play the aura, but an aura worth using is worth that risk. and if they don't have the removal immediately, the effect should be good enough that even if you only use it once, its already served its purpose by then. just gotta be smart when you build your deck.
also, im not sure how you can make claims about what wizards was thinking when it made certain card types. if equipment were made to "fix" the problem with auras, then why would they still make auras? do you work for wizards? do you have a link to an interview their R&D did where they stated that equipment were made to "fix" the problem with auras?
May 9, 2017 12:56 a.m.
colton815: Have you ever considered why any Voltron Commander deck depends on the Commander having Hexproof or similar levels of protection? And why Auras are the single most recurrable card in the game?
Because you lose them too fast when you depend on them without additional protections. Equipment doesn't have that vulnerability.
And as for your requests for citations:
May 9, 2017 9:06 a.m.
My little playgroup used quite a bit of Bestow back in the day. Granted, we were defaulting to casting Boon Satyr and Herald of Torment as creatures, but my friend usually bestowed Nighthowler, often onto a Herald or something like High Priest of Penance. On the other hand that does leave a lot of Bestow creatures... pretty sad still.
May 9, 2017 12:07 p.m.
I dont play commander, i think its a garbage format. and you're comment about Auramancer was just ignorant. rarity doesn't affect how useful a card is. the effect of the card determines how effect it is. Auramancer is no more "useful" as a common than it would be if it were a rare.
May 9, 2017 7:54 p.m.
Ladies and Gentleman: Before you is a fine example of why the "Troll" creature type gets Regenerate.
(Hrm, there's an idea. There are 27 Trolls in the game, only two of which don't have Regenerate. I might be able to do something with that!)
Once again, you're looking at things from an extremely narrow and ultimately blind point of view. Auramancer is Common to encourage the use of Auras, as it is a readily available tool. Printing it at a higher rarity would deter players from using it.
Auramancers was last printed in a full set in Magic Origins, which had 12 Auras in it. Four of which were white - Grasp of the Hieromancer, Knightly Valor, Murder Investigation, and Suppression Bonds. Of those, Auramancer synergizes best with Murder Investigation due to the requirement of a dead creature, and with Suppression Bonds to help re-lock a creature after the card is removed.
Oh, and I'll let other people express their disappointment in your opinion of Commander. They can do that so much better than I, as I don't particularly care for it either, but I'm not going to demean it for that. It's a part of the game, and I have to accept it for that.
May 9, 2017 8:56 p.m.
I mean, Maro doesn't even like Commander, so as much as I love it it's a pretty valid opinion.
He doesn't express it like that though.
May 9, 2017 11:18 p.m.
berryjon: I know You wrote that you wanted to discuss enchant creatures specifically, but the wasn't the enchant creature a version of a local enchantment (it's too long ago, it's too fuzzy). If so, then I am slightly disappointed (just joking :), I don't think I could be disappointed, you write so well ) you didn't mention the quirky Global and Local enchantments - at least I believe they were named such back in the day, but I am looking at you for confirmation. Now that I am on the subject, these are certainly not creature enchantments but they are exemplary of the long way the 'wording' of cards has come: the lovely world enchantments, such as Storm World and Pillar Tombs of Aku
May 10, 2017 9:05 a.m.
There were World Enchantments, which acted as a sort of 'Super Legendary' where only one could be on the table at a time.
Global Enchantments are an obsolete term describing any enchantment that didn't attach to a specific permanent. In effect, Crusade was a Global Enchantment. But the word was never printed on a card.
Local Enchantment was, yes, an old way to describe Auras. Before ... 9th Edition, Auras had the card type of "Enchant Creature" or "Enchant Land". Not Enchantment. Which meant that there was some confusion when the type of card described what it could target, and not that it was an Enchantment first.
May 10, 2017 10:19 a.m.
Just thought it would be worth mentioning another attempt at fixing aura's was the whole totem armor concept from things like Hyena Umbra, where you lost the enchantment instead of the creature. The flipside of that was also attempted with the Genju cycle, with cards like Genju of the Realm (incidentally this was the first of those two cycles).
Personally I would like to see a revisit of mechanics behind the genju cycle, I feel like it has some interesting applications, and is more balanced in limited than the Totem armor cycle.
May 10, 2017 6:31 p.m.
Bear Umbra is usually my "worth the risk" aura. It helps that the critter just has to attack for an instant benefit. Kind of has that Rewind effect potentially... But it is a good point that "worth the risk" auras make for such a juicy target right away
May 11, 2017 2:06 p.m.
You skimmed over limiting removal as am answer to auras, but it has been done.
ISD draft had both a toned down removal sweet and a GW Humans "tron" esque theme with equipments, auras and counters that was able to thrive due to that. The low removal made auras very good. Spectral Flight and the "Pacifism, but if its on a human they get +2/+2" were quite good.