Enchantments Matter

Tom Anderson Design

In today’s column, I’m speaking from my soul. Enchantments are my favorite card type in Magic, and I want to be able to play more of them! While creatures are the fundamental drivers of interaction and decision-making in most formats, enchantments add layers to those decisions, making them more complex. That also applies to card evaluations – I love how many niche cards become more potent when combined with the right build-around enchantment.

Magic is about to return to Theros, home of the only real “enchantments matter” sets in the game’s history. (If you weren’t around for that one, Michelle Rapp made an excellent summary!). The return of constellation confirms that Theros: Beyond Death will also focus on enchantments, but what should we expect as a result? What sets enchantment cards apart in the Magic design space, especially from their perennially more powerful and popular siblings, artifacts?

MAKING ENCHANTMENTS EXCEPTIONAL

The enchantment card type has been around since Alpha, when card mechanics were based on what “made sense” for a Castle or Animate Dead spell to do in an imagined wizards’ duel. While this type of “top-down” design has been vital to Magic’s success, it’s worth taking another look at what enchantments “should” be.

In fantasy and folklore, an enchantment is an ongoing magical effect — one which changes the land or person or thing so enchanted until it is lifted. An enchantment can be a curse, or a blessing, or simply the manifestation of an area’s inherent magic.

In a gameplay sense, enchantments should either apply a broad effect to the battlefield or modify a specific object (as auras). As opposed to artifacts, which are often tools we activate or turn on to produce an effect, enchantments are far more likely to have static or triggered abilities. This precedent has been set since Alpha: any non-static ability is more likely to be repeatable and non-targeting, like card draw and token creation. Enchantments will virtually never have a tap cost, designed instead as mana sinks or conditional responses. In this way, enchantments modify how the game works instead of acting directly on the pieces.

MAKING THE STATIC DYNAMIC

Because enchantments tend to have effects which “change the rules” of the game, it can be hard to imagine them as the focus of a set. Certainly the last few sets have pigeonholed them as foundations for specific archetypes, rather than the bricks-and-mortar we expect them to be in Theros: Beyond Death.

Using enchantment designs to replicate the important reactive effects in Magic can require creative thinking, but the original Theros had some good ideas. Negative auras like Weight of the Underworld or the newly-spoiled Mire’s Grasp and Inevitable End provide a unique style of creature removal, which can be printed with flash just as positive auras can. White already has plenty of enchantment-based removal to use as a template, and the inclusion of sagas like The Akroan War allows other colors to get in on the act.

Other one-off effects such as ramp and discard can be achieved through triggered effects; the “Ordeal” cycle from original Theros has already demonstrated how this can tie into the plane’s theme of heroic myths. The triggers need not come from the enchantments themselves, either. Some effects may be more appropriate or balanced on a creature with constellation, like Doomwake Giant or Eidolon of Blossoms

To plug any remaining gaps, we have the precedent of “Seals”: typically-instant effects stored in an enchantment on the battlefield until it is sacrificed to trigger them. While Wizards is cautious with this type of design due to its power and arguable departure from the original intent of enchantments, it produces many interesting play patterns and I’d love to see some new ones in Theros: Beyond Death

COLORING OUTSIDE THE LEYLINES

Many of the mechanics Wizards have previewed for the new set are actually returning ones, although sagas are still very new and weren’t around for original Theros. Devotion fills a necessary role, synergizing with fundamental features of enchantments (sticky permanents on the battlefield and auras targeting your creatures) without making the set too narrowly focused. That being said, there does seem to be room for some innovation in enchantment design while the card type is in the spotlight.

I would love for new enchantment cycles or keywords to tie back into the core identity of enchantments. Their very nature as permanents can help tie them into set design; you can find enchantment-based removal with Trail of Crumbs, or sacrifice the “leftover permanent” from an effect like Oath of Kaya for future value with Korvold, Fae-Cursed King

This is doubly true of enchantment tokens, which is a shockingly underused design space. Planeswalker emblems are an undoubtably cool effect, but must be designed carefully since they exist outside the game and can’t be removed. Enchantment tokens would allow for more flavorful cards like Obsidian Fireheart and Palace Jailer to create effects which aren’t tied to the originating card, but in a way which can still be answered. Generic tokens like food also make sense as enchantments, as artifact synergies tend to be more powerful and create balance constraints on token creation.

WRITTEN IN THE STARFIELD

The other key source of inspiration for new enchantments is the flavor of Theros as a plane. Enchantment creatures are already portrayed as coming to the mortal realm from either Nyx or the Underworld, which we can have a card type I’ve wanted for ages: delayed summons! Enchantments with a vanishing counter mechanic, counting down each turn and creating a creature token when the last is removed (or perhaps simply gaining a creature type, as seen on Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle). 

While slow to impact the board, such cards can easily have an “enter the battlefield” trigger or a static ability to make the wait less painful; they can also simply be costed far below the upfront price for such a creature. This is similar to suspend creatures from Time Spiral, but tying this effect to a permanent on the battlefield creates far more possibility for interaction and a broader design space overall. 

Another type of enchantment I really enjoy are double-sided auras, which can either affect your own creatures positively or act as a form of removal. Such cards get around the typical criticism of auras, i.e. they’re dependent on a creature to suit up. Nyx Infusion was an example in the original Theros block, but I prefer more subtle cards with single effects which play out differently attached to opposing creatures. Prime examples include Pariah, Ghostly Possession, Laccolith Rig, Errantry, Cloak of Invisibility, and Spirit Link. Each of these can neutralize an enemy attacker while also having a positive use on your own creatures! 

The setting of Theros also provides the ideal flavor to tie this strange medley of cards together: the prophecy of an oracle. In the antiquity which inspired Theros, the counsel of oracles was often ambiguous, worded so it could be interpreted either positively or negatively. These double-edged auras could be flavored as such ambiguous prophecies, with the destiny they predict changing depending on whose creature they are delivered to!

A DESIGNER’S BLESSING

Despite being around since the dawn of Magic, enchantments still feel fresh. And, since they aren’t a top-tier threat in eternal formats, Wizards has room to really push these synergies in Standard. I can hardly wait to see the new myths this most enchanting set will bring!