Is Unbreakable Formation … Broken?

Unbreakable Formation has more than meets the eye! So much more, in fact, that Tom Ross is doing all he can to break the card. He starts with Mono-White Aggro, but he ends with … well, you will have to read it to believe it!

There’s a lot to unpack on Unbreakable Formation.

  • Vigilance
  • Indestructible
  • +1/+1 counters

It does three different things for your creatures. How good is vigilance on small creatures? Is indestructible useful on your turn? Are +1/+1 counters better than the +2/+2 from Pride of Conquerors? Is it possible to maximize all three effects at once?

To begin, Unbreakable Formation reminds me of a card I had a lot of success with a couple of years back:

There are some similarities here between Always Watching and Unbreakable Formation. Both are three mana, both grant vigilance to your creatures, and both offer insurance against sweepers, as Always Watching is a permanent and Unbreakable Formation grants indestructible.

People’s first instinct with Always Watching was to create a battlefield full of great attackers and blockers. The individual creature that gained the most from an Always Watching on the battlefield was Dragonlord Ojutai. The shields were never down to target it and a 6/5 flyer was a great blocker too. This wombo combo saw play early in the season after the release of Shadows over Innistrad. However, I wanted to squeeze more juice out of the card.

Go small or go home.

Always Watching worked best when you already had creatures on the battlefield, so a density of them was key. You also wanted to make use out of the vigilance aspect, which is where Town Gossipmonger and Anointer of Champions came to play. Both could be used during combat on your own turn and, most importantly, after the opponent had declared blockers.

What Does Vigilance Really Mean?

You can attack. Then, on your opponent’s turn, you can block. On a card like Serra Angel, which is both good at attacking and blocking, vigilance carries a lot of weight. Not so much on small ground creatures and creatures you don’t want to get into combat.

There aren’t any great white creatures with activated abilities that only require tapping like Town Gossipmonger or Anointer of Champions. White does, however, get a keyword that’s great with vigilance called convoke.

In the case of Mono-White Aggro, vigilance means: “You may convoke post-combat as if your creatures didn’t attack.”

This is pretty close to what I played in the Team Constructed Open this past weekend in Baltimore and likely to be close to what I’m playing this weekend at Dallas. Unbreakable Formation was great every time that I drew it, and I’ve begun to wonder if Unbreakable Formation is better than Benalish Marshal

I’ve been lower and lower on History of Benalia as the format progresses. After sideboard, opponents tend to have sweepers like Cry of the Carnarium or Fiery Cannonade so your History of Benalia isn’t the two-for-one it once was. I’ve been sideboarding them out often for more resilient creatures and Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants.

This is a lifegain take reminiscent of the list that Luis Scott-Vargas finished second with at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica. The goal is to grow a large Ajani’s Pridemate with your one-drop creature with either lifelink or a lifegain trigger in Leonin Vanguard. Here, Unbreakable Formation is protecting Ajani’s Pridemate instead of Dauntless Bodyguard protecting it. The three-drop space is opened up by removing History of Benalia, which is a strong card but a Plan C in this style of Mono-White Aggro.

This Mono-White Aggro version with a bunch of flyers has shown up on Magic Online from time to time. The goal is to play a bunch of small flying creatures and very few ground creatures, hoping that you can win in the air before the opponent can stop you.

Gird for Battle and Pride of Conquerors were in previous iterations of the Birds deck before Unbreakable Formation came along. I used to call Gird for Battle the “one-mana Ajani” since it did most of what Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants would do for you if cast.

We finally get to see a creature with an activated ability that you can use mid-combat if it has vigilance. Duskborne Skymarcher can screw up combat math when it’s attacking with other Vampires like Skymarcher Aspirant, Adanto Vanguard, or the token from Legion’s Landing. Unlike with Anointer of Champions, you do need a white mana to activate Duskborne Skymarcher, making it more of a Turn 4 play.

Azorius Aggro with Deputy of Detention has been popular on the SCG Tour in the hands of Andrew Elenbogen, Jim Davis, and many others. Deputy of Detention is an amazing card that solves some of white’s toughest problems – it resets Wildgrowth Walker, outright kills Hydroid Krasis, and gives you an out to Wilderness Reclamation.

An issue that comes up with Azorius Aggro is that sometimes you don’t draw blue mana for Deputy of Detention if you have only eight blue sources. It’s also a three-drop in a deck with eight good three-drops in History of Benalia and Benalish Marshal.

In the above build I have Unbreakable Formation replacing Benalish Marshal. A huge downfall to splashing blue was how poorly basic Island and Benalish Marshal go together. If you remove the triple white spell, you can more openly play basic Island and thus have more constant blue mana for Deputy of Detention and your sideboard counterspells.

Boros Tokens is another example of a deck that could benefit from a pump effect like Benalish Marshal but couldn’t afford to in the manabase. Divine Visitation is a payoff that rewarded you going wide with so many tokens but is a little pricey for a maindeck card.

Unbreakable Formation is a midrange payoff that turns draws full of Healer’s Hawks, Hunted Witnesses, and Goblin Instigators into respectable pressure. I really didn’t like drawing multiple Heroic Reinforcements while stuck on three mana and it ought to occur less often in this build.

Unbreakable Formation doesn’t combo with Emmara, Soul of the Accord, but does with basically everything else in Selesnya Midrange. There are more convoke cards here than the Mono-White builds so you’re going to get even more value out of vigilance. Of course, Unbreakable Formation is another payoff for having a ton of tokens too.

Against sweepers, you can use Unbreakable Formation for its “alternate mode” of only indestructible. If the opponent doesn’t have one, you can go ahead and cast a March of the Multitudes instead.

Growth-Chamber Guardian and Unbreakable Formation are a subtle combo too. The adapt and Unbreakable Formation both cost three mana so you can hold up mana for both simultaneously. The counter from Unbreakable Formation main phase will trigger Growth-Chamber Guardian without having to invest mana into the adapt activation.

The idea for Bant Merfolk that splashes for Unbreakable Formation came from scouring all Standard creatures for good activated abilities requiring tapping. Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca was the best I could find. Typically, you need to choose whether to attack or to draw a card or (if you have five Merfolk) to give them all +1/+1 counters. Unbreakable Formation lets you do all the things with Kumena.

The +1/+1 counters from Unbreakable Formation work with the Simic adapt theme too. Benthic Biomancer gets a loot and Zegana, Utopian Speaker is more likely to be active. Combine Guildmage is likely too cute and low on power but does work better when it has vigilance and when there are more +1/+1 counters to work with.

Merfolk Mistbinder was one of those creatures that never wanted to get into combat if it didn’t have to. Indestructible is really beneficial here to make combat super easy. All-purpose protection against sweepers like Kaya’s Wrath or Cleansing Nova takes away some of the pressure of wanting a bunch of Spell Pierces in your deck.

Of the decks that can include Unbreakable Formation, I’m finding the Merfolk deck the most fascinating. Many playable Merfolk didn’t make the cut.

Extracting the maximum value from vigilance, +1/+1 counters, and indestructible on creatures that really need it is the formula to pushing Unbreakable Formation to the extreme of potency.

We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of how to best utilize Unbreakable Formation.

Will someone attending SCG Dallas discover Unbreakable Formation’s full potential?