In days gone, enchantments — and auras, in particular — were often deemed quite risky, especially if you had to untap with them to get any value. I’d say those days are over.
OLD SCHOOL EDH
When I first started playing Commander around five years ago, the game was centered around enter-the-battlefield effects, incremental value, recursion, and combos. It might have been my playgroup, to an extent — as there were a few more “battle cruiser” tables on offer — but by and large, games were grindier and players were more skittish about committing to the board.
Even back then, playing a card like Oblivion Ring was risky business, and Return to Dust was the favored card. Auras? Well, those were even more risky, and if I’m being honest, a card type I quickly learned were almost “unplayable” except in Enchantress-style builds.
Fast forward to today, and we’re in a completely different metagame, particularly when it comes to casual and social games. The new epoch ushered in by webcam Commander has players aiming, consciously or not, toward tighter, shorter games, and toward more social gaming. Tables are less cutthroat on average, and fewer infinite combos threaten to go off unless previously agreed.
I’d say that that’s enough of a reason to reconsider one of the more “unplayable” permanent types — auras. Let’s dig in.
THIS ONE AURA THAT ONE, IT DOESN’T MATTER
I started on the train of thought that eventually led to this article when I looked at Bound in Gold from Kaldheim. It’s an excellent piece of removal for Draft, sure, but more than that, there was a phrase that really piqued my interest: “enchant permanent.”
Not only is this able to lock down creatures, it’s also able to stop any other permanent type from activating its abilities. So, whether that’s a land like Maze of Ith, a pesky Planeswalker, or a commander like the new Lathril, Blade of the Elves, you’re onto a winner. What makes it even more attractive is how it can enchant something like a Mirage Mirror or other value piece that might otherwise evade removal — or be easy to recur from the yard in a deck like Muldrotha, the Gravetide.
Being able to enchant a permanent is a marked increase in power level that you might not pick up on straight off, and one that makes me excited for the future. It’s flexible, and it can answer a multitude of things.
Scott mentioned Reprobation in his recent article on brewing on a budget in white, and it’s another example of removal that answers a problem without immediately giving it back. I’m finding that, in recent games I’ve played, players have tended to wipe the board a little less often, but turn the corner to winning positions a little quicker. A lot of the time, these effects can answer a problem for longer than if it simply went to the graveyard — or in the case of a Commander, to the Command Zone.
Of course, these effects aren’t exclusive to white. Mono-blue and mono-green decks worth their salt generally take an Imprisoned in the Moon or Song of the Dryads to achieve the same effect.
Some you might not see as often are Soul Tithe and Teferi’s Curse. Soul Tithe is a great way to stop anyone who has just played a haymaker from taking over a game. If you’re worried about the new Koma, Cosmos Serpent, Soul Tithe can keep them tapping low and unable to gain any more advantage than they already have.
Teferi’s Curse, meanwhile, says that your opponent can only have their creature every other turn. Remember that phasing won’t cause ETBs to trigger, so you don’t have to worry about those. A newer card, Lithoform Blight, is also worth mentioning, given it lets black decks answer lands while being a cantrip. It’s playable beyond Ghen, Arcanum Weaver.
WE DEALT WITH IT… AURA’VE WE?
Auras aren’t just good for dealing with an opponent’s permanent — they also buff your own. Hyena Umbra is a card I’ve been high on for a very long time, and one I can’t shout about enough. It’s a one-time protection from “destroy” removal, board wipes, and creature combat that also gives a relevant keyword and buff — all for just one mana.
Being able to set yourself up like this is underrated, and there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to getting this protection. Whether it’s Kaya’s Ghostform — which also protects from “exile” removal — or Spider Umbra — which gives green the ability to do the same for just one mana — it’s a strategy worth considering. Totem armor gets better the more you pay into it, but it’s the cheap ones we’re interested in here.
Of course, totem armor is a one-time thing, so if you can get that effect more than once for a similar cost, then why wouldn’t you? Blessing of Leeches can offer repeated regeneration, and you can cast it at instant speed. The one life loss is negligible, and even beneficial in some decks like Vilis, Broker of Blood. Jolrael’s Favor also comes in at instant speed, while Keldon Mantle is a choose-your-own-adventure. So much value!
If you’re in the market for wiping out a lot of opposing creatures, I think Sadistic Glee and Eternal Thirst warrant a look. Aristocrats decks love these, and there are many places you can slot them in, if you get creative. I built Massacre Girl last year, and they’re a great way to save a creature and have it become swole.
I’m also still convinced gaining life is better than you think, and Eternal Thirst and Light of Promise offer ways to enable that — or just take advantage of it.
I COULD PLAY RAMP, AURA COULD PLAY THESE INSTEAD
While land-based auras — like Overgrowth or Wild Growth — aren’t always great outside of Enchantress builds, there’s other ways to get ramping that can slot into any deck.
Bear Umbra is arguably best in class for this, and I find myself struggling not to shortlist it every time I build a green deck. Being able to untap your lands in the same way as Sword of Feast and Famine, but without needing to deal combat damage? Card’s great, even if you only get one untap with it.
Rituals are some of the strongest cards in Commander, and more and more decks benefit from them. Taking a Mana Geyser in a red deck — or the new Jeska’s Will — is a strong option, and you can even get the High Tide effect with a Vitalize or Mobilize in an Elf deck. Mark of Sakiko is one I never see, and it’s probably because players don’t like to play auras. The truth is, though… that’s a really strong effect for just two green mana. If you have any kind of evasion on your creatures — trample or flying, for instance — you can generate some serious gains with this card.
Finally, if you’re a fan of Sword of the Animist, fear not — there’s a one-mana version available without an equip cost. One with Nature is a great card in Enchantress builds, but even outside of those, it’s well worth a look. You’ll be able to accrue serious advantage with this little aura.
I’M SENSING AN AURA OF JEALOUSY
Sometimes, taking an opponent’s cards is just the better option. If you see something you like, then why not borrow it? Steal Enchantment is a card that ages like a fine wine, and isn’t brought to the table often enough. Animate Dead, meanwhile, is a card I like more and more these days, as it offers ways to cheat the cost of expensive commanders while having utility outside of that.
If you’re running a cheap commander with evasion or an easy way to gain double strike, and you really hate ramp decks, consider Destructive Urge. It can punish the Simic ramp players without punishing other players, too, and it’s a great way to keep people in check.
Frenzied Fugue, on the other hand, is a way to repeatedly borrow an exciting permanent from an opposing player. You’ll exchange control of it each turn, and you both get to enjoy the privilege of powerful cards.
AURA-N’T YOU GONNA SHOW US A DECK?
Yes, I am. I’ve been wanting to build Sigarda, Host of Herons for a long while, and this week, I put together an initial brew I’m pretty happy with.
The deck is an Enchantress build that wants to finish games with big combat damage. It has a lot of tools to enable it to keep a board presence, and some powerful “swingy” cards. While a dedicated Voltron Sigarda deck would punch harder, and a Siona, Captain of the Pyleas deck might be better for a pure aura-Enchantress build, I feel this deck sits in a great place between the two.
I also endeavored to keep the power level from peaking too high, forgoing the likes of Collector Ouphe, Smothering Tithe, Sylvan Library and tutors like Enlightened Tutor. By all means, include those cards if you like, but I feel they take away some of your more fun slots, like Vernal Equinox.
The threats are diverse, and where possible, the card draw creatures can fight on their own. Likewise, Eidolon of Countless Battles can be a flexible way to add damage to the board, and Nylea’s Colossus and Archon of Sun’s Grace rack up the damage quickly.
We also play a lot of ways to ensure our creatures and enchantments can stick. Reidane is a card I’ve been particularly impressed with, but don’t miss out on how versatile Vigilant Martyr can be.
If you want to shave off a cool $300 off of the price of the deck, consider making these swaps:
The deck’s power won’t be drastically different — I’m just lucky enough to be sitting on a few Reserved List cards. I also managed to find a few more auras to share with you.
Faith Unbroken is surprisingly good in a deck that can either recur enchantments or benefit from casting them, and even better when your commander is hard to interact with. Getting a boost to commander damage is even better. Keen Sense is a Curiosity effect for a single mana, and Stamina is a way to provide vigilance and the ability to dodge some removal.
All of these spells, while suited to Sigarda in particular, are all playable outside of Enchantress. Auras aren’t anywhere near as bad as people claim — heavy control playgroups aside — and I think players are missing out by dismissing them outright. Have a think about what you can include in your decks for a little boost of value.
Like today’s article? Let me know on Twitter — and let me know of any cool auras I missed today.
Kristen is a lover of both Limited and Commander, and can most often be found championing the Boros Legion when called upon to sit down and shuffle up. As a member of the Commander Advisory Group, Kristen lives and breathes Commander. When she’s not playing Magic, she works as a freelance writer and editor in the UK.