Auras aren’t getting a lot of play in Commander world. The simple fact is that if someone offs your creature, then you’ve lost card advantage. Also an aura
requires someone to cast it on, so if you have no good targets, then you have a card sitting in your hand and just sucking. Even if you have a great aura
that’ll provide card advantage, someone will invariably destroy the creature you were going to enchant before it arrives, or soon after, and you are
sitting on the bad side of a two-for-one trade. At a multiplayer table you are being outdrawn 3:1 (in a four-player game, and it scales up from there).
That means the card advantage toll of using auras is too pricey.
So as a general rule, positive auras don’t see a lot of play.
Negative auras still do. You can steal a creature with Control Magic or Enslave while you send a card to the bleachers with Faith’s Fetters, or even run
Song of the Dryads. Those still see some play. But positive auras typically don’t.
Now, there are some great exceptions to this. There are some legendary creatures that require auras to be any good. So if you have an Uril, the Miststaker
deck or a Bruna, Light of Alabaster or even a Krond the Dawn-Clad, then you understand the power of the right aura. But these decks are rare. You can also
encounter some very specific situations that require the right aura. A deck that wants to untap its mana and keep using it could run Bear Umbra, and a
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind deck wants to run Curiosity as an auto-kill combo with its leader. But these situations tend to be pretty rare as well.
Another problem is that for most players, equipment has replaced auras in their decks and minds. Why should I bother running something like Giant Strength
when you can toss out Vulshok Morningstar? And equipment has gotten really powerful as it’s grown in popularity. You can now toss one of a full five-set of
Swords of X and Y (like Sword of Fire and Ice) to dominate a table without hurting your mana too much. You have powerful stuff like Umezawa’s Jitte and
Batterskull, and that’s alongside great cards at giving you haste or protecting you, like Lightning Greaves. There’s no aura variant for Lightning Greaves
Equipment lasts beyond the removal of the equipped. And I can swing with a creature with some equipment, and then move it over to another creature for
defense. And I can play tricks with “Tap: Ability” equipment like Viridian Longbow, and I can tap one creature for damage, equip a second and tap it, and
so forth, as long as I have mana and creatures. And don’t forget that virtually every aura ever printed has a color, while most equipment can be played in
any deck. That is a massive amount of flexibility that auras cannot overcome.
So what auras are actually getting played at Commander tables? What positive ones see the sun? What auras are strong enough that they overcome their
various inherent weaknesses?
I ran into this issue in my Commander Cube. I wanted to run Uril, the Miststalker as one of my
leaders for Naya, but the problem was that I would be forced to run a ton of auras that no one wants to draft or play outside of one specific deck. No one
wants to be forced to take a crappy aura for their non-aura themed deck, you know? And they’d rather draft a card like Behemoth Sledge than Armadillo
Cloak. If you aren’t running an aura-specific deck, you would too. It’s also difficult since white already had a pro-artifact and pro-equipment build to
it. It’s hard to layer in these cards.
And even worse is the lack of playable cards. For example, in mono-white, there are just 166 auras in the history of Magic. I went and counted, and around
35 of those are negative auras like Pacifism. Many of the others are sheer crap, like the Red Ward cycle or the Red Scarab cycle. Toss out old and janky
cards like Farmstead and Fylgja and Seeker. Most of the remaining auras are variants of Holy Strength that give bonuses to power, toughness, and maybe a
keyword or two. Most of those are pure junk in Commander as well, like Siegecraft, Abzan Runemark, Hero’s Resolve, or Holy Strength. So finding mono-white
auras for my Commander Cube is rough, since only a handful could even apply. As a result, I couldn’t run a Commander like Uril or Bruna. It’s too hard.
Having experienced that issue with my Cube, what else is out there that we could tag team on?
I think the best auras are those that play well in Commander or multiplayer, are cheap, can break a game open, and have a durability or way of fighting
against card advantage.
The Rancor Problem
Rancor is probably the best example of a cheap, durable aura. It requires just one mana to play. It gives you a good +2/+0 and trample for your investment
as well, so even by modern power-creep standards, it works. It can last a long time, and you can easily drop it. And Rancor can work in wonky decks too,
with things like heroic triggers or something like Faith Healer. It can be abused, and that’s great!
But other than trample, it’s mostly outclassed by Bonesplitter. That’s colorless and can be used again and again. And Rancor has the same issue other auras
have. If I Murder your creature as you Rancor it, that Rancor is gone. But I don’t see that play very much in 40 life formats like Commander (I still see
it in 20 life chaos multiplayer). Because of that, Rancor is more reliable than it has been in the past, which is good for fans of auras everywhere.
I haven’t found that to be true of other auras though. Take Angelic Destiny. That’s a great card for multiplayer and Commander, right? The creature gets
+4/+4 and flies with first strike – two pertinent abilities and all for the low low cost of four mana. And you can even reload the Destiny for another
round, since it does its best Rancor impression. The benefits it gives are on par with the best equipment too, so you can get a useful result from it. But
people fear it more often, so it’s more likely to get the whole “Kill your creature while it’s on the stack” routine. And while you can try to shield
yourself with hexproof tricks such as Swiftfoot Boots, I invariably see an Arcane Lighthouse or a way to pop the Boots. And the creature still dies, the
Destiny with it. When you make yourself vulnerable like that, people often take advantage of you simply because they can. (Of course, the Destiny is also
weaker. If you Disenchant it, then it does not come back, only if the creature it’s on goes bye-bye.)
So how else can we be durable without the ability to come back?
From Squee with Love
There’s another useful way to bring out some durability. What if, instead of the aura coming back, the enchanted card did? If we can ensure that something
good could survive removal or something untoward, then we could use the aura as a security blanket for a strong card. Like Squee’s Embrace, which not only
gives you +2/+2 but also brings the dead creature back to your hand.
And we have a core of these cards. I think they started with stuff like Puppet Master and False Demise. You could drop them on a creature, even an opposing
one, and then when it died, you’d get it back. Both of those began this sort of concept of pre-investment in the death of a creature. Every creature
eventually dies, right? So why not plan ahead and get a good creature (maybe even someone else’s) when they die?
Later on, we had the mechanic move to black with Shade’s Form, and later, Unhallowed Pact. There are multiple versions of this card out there. But one of
my favorites is Gift of Immortality. After the enchanted creature bites it, it immediately returns, and you’ll even get the Gift back later on as well, and
you can enchant it again. Toss a Gift on a major beatstick like Akroma, Angel of Vengeance in order to keep the beats going despite the occasional removal
spell that might otherwise end your Akroma-laden love.
There is an interesting cycle of auras that come back from the graveyard under the right condition – the Dragon auras from Scourge. These are a
powerful cycle of auras – Dragon Shadow, Dragon Fangs, Dragon Scales, Dragon Breath, and Dragon Wings. All of them give you an ability, three will also
help power and/or toughness, and two can add in useful firebreathing or cycling. The result is an interesting cycle that can be used over and over again
Do you have a deck that is dumping a lot of cards from your library to your graveyard? From Sultai to Grixis, there are a lot of ways you can benefit from
slipping a Dragon Shadow or Dragon Fangs into your deck. As you play your deck normally, you can drop a powerful creature to the battlefield, and then give
it the aura for free. Note that this cycle of auras can pump anything expensive, so if you have a commander that’s plus sized–with at least a six mana
cost–then you can Dragon-up your leader easily enough, and after it dies once, you can always get that boost again. Tossing Dragon Breath into a deck
gives your commander haste and firebreathing constantly. That’s just worth the price of admission.
Don’t forget that you can play politics with them as well. You can enchant any creature that hits the battlefield, so if Steve needs a Dragon Shadow to get
past Marsha’s defenses, you can toss it on his Silvos, Rogue Elemental and sit back and laugh as the beats begin. You can get a surprising amount of
longevity and value from this cycle.
Quality vs Quantity
So if your aura can’t provide some aspect of card advantage or at least card neutrality, then it has to be really good to make the cut. Luckily there are a
few entries out there that pack a pretty powerful punch. One of the places you can look is running a cheap aura that works in your deck without you being
forced into the theme.
For example, consider Steel of the Godhead. It gives any blue/white creature +2/+2, unblockable, and lifelink. That’s a pretty powerful aura to toss onto
your leader. Toss it into Rafiq of the Many and begin to initiate a 6/6 unblockable, double strike, and lifelink body that will kill a player in two turns
from Commander damage. And before you think that’s just a Rafiq-centric quality and that few other blue/white leaders would qualify for a Steel, take
another look. There are a full fifteen legendary creatures that would benefit from Steel of the Godhead in the red zone: Dragonlord Ojutai; Brago, King
Eternal; Numot, the Devastator and even something like Ruhan of the Fomori can stay alive after being forced to attack.
And Steel of the Godhead is hardly the only card from its ten-card uber-cycle that works well. Shield of the Oversoul and its indestructible, flying and
+2/+2 to a lot of leaders is also suitably nasty. It can work quite well in a large number of decks.
The quality doesn’t end with Steel and Shield either. Rakdos gets a nice cheap one with +2/+2, first strike, and wither for just two mana with Fists of the
Demigod. And Shadowmoor wasn’t the only set with these either. Eventide has the enemy-colored ones. Clout of the Dominus is my favorite,
giving +2/+2, haste and shroud all for just one mana to any red/blue leader. Adding in that shroud for such a cheap price is extremely good since it helps
to protect your best commander. Favor of the Overbeing is nice too since vigilance in green/blue doesn’t happen as much, and it’s an underappreciated
keyword in multiplayer. The only one from the cycle in Eventide I don’t like overly much is the five-mana Gift of the Deity.
And while these aren’t the only ones, they are certainly one of the more beloved and useful.
There are a few auras that I want to put on your radar as well that I don’t see much but can do some serious damage:
Giving a creature hexproof is a great way to keep it alive. We’ve seen lots of auras (and even equipment) that does just that, so Canopy Cover works. It
also adds a strong element of evasiveness to the enchanted creature as well. The combination of both is something that I think a lot of people would
I like the Authority the best of this lot since it replaces itself after it arrives and gives the enchanted creature the super-charged protection from
creatures as well. But you can also pump your creatures while giving them protection with the Mantles, and don’t forget that protection from creatures
means you also have unblockable.
I like this card for a few reasons. First of all, if you are swinging at people’s faces, then you can start to draw cards. Getting extra cards is awesome,
right? Second of all, you are also giving your creature +1/+1, so it gets a bit of a boost as well. Don’t ignore that, I’ve seen it be pertinent. Finally,
if your enchanted creature would have died, instead you can do the whole totem armor trick instead. The combination of all three tricks creates a card that
is quite useful.
Since it replaces itself, it’s not subject to the whole card disadvantage problem. Then you add a nice hexproof to the mix and stir. The result is a solid
way to protect a key creature while drawing a card and keeping the game going.
Today we took a tour through all things aura in the Commander world. We looked at a variety of ways to amp up your game with various options. What positive
auras have you run successfully in the past? Are there some secret forces that you want to recommend? What distance have you seen in your playgroup from
something like Dragon Breath or Runes of the Deus?
Your commander wants its missing pants returned.