The Secret Lair – Endless Enchantangels

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Friday, September 11th – Everyone is getting excited about the forthcoming Zendikar set, so I will deliberately ignore it and talk about something else instead. Trust me, this is a good thing. I don’t exactly have good form for when it comes to rating new cards (aside from Greater Gargadon).

“Mr. Editor… About the new column title…”

“What’s up, Prof? don’t you like ‘The Secret Lair’?”

“No, no, it’s fine. I was just wondering why we couldn’t use the old one. You remember, ‘From the Lab’.”

“Well… um… we can’t.”

“We can’t. Why not?”

“It’s in use. The mothership grabbed it for one of their weekly columns.”

“They what?”

“Yep, sorry dude. You’re ‘The Secret Lair’ from now on.”

Stares straight into camera. Tilts head slightly down. Puts on best Death Metal growl.

“They. Shall. Pay.”

This conversation was, of course, entirely fictitious. To be fair, I didn’t give Craig much to work with. My other suggestions were ‘Sinister Synergies’ (yuck!) and ‘Casual Cruelties.’ (I hadn’t decided whether that referenced: what the decks did to opponents, or just the effect of this column on an unsuspecting audience.)

Anyway, down to business.

Everyone is getting excited about the forthcoming Zendikar set, so I will deliberately ignore it and talk about something else instead. Trust me, this is a good thing. I don’t exactly have good form for when it comes to rating new cards (aside from Greater Gargadon). It’s also partly because I only play online now, and what the world sees as a lame duck Standard format I see as two months of playing with janky rares that cost next to nothing as everyone is trying to dump their Lorwyn and Shadowmoor cards.

A trio of junkish rares from Shadowmoor that caught my eye just after the set was out for a while were Greater Auramancy, Enchanted Evening, and Fracturing Gust. I picked them up as cards that might do something interesting then tried to throw some decks together.

When I talk about throwing a deck together, that usually involves putting appropriate keywords into the Magic Online search function and adding any card that looks like it might have some kind of synergy with at least some of the other random cards I’ve already added. I usually start with the cards I have lying around from blatant rare grabbing drafting and then look to pick up whatever budget/mid-priced options will make the deck more interesting when it starts to evolve into something that’s fun to play. The first pass usually results in something that’s less a deck and more some kind of wretched abomination, and I end up hoping to get matched against people with RandomSealedDeck.dek so I have a chance of surviving long enough to figure out if any of the cards I added actually do anything.

As an aside, I don’t want you to think I’m making fun of person with RandomSealedDeck.dek. You play with what you’ve got, and when people are just starting out that’s inevitably not going to be a great deal. What should they do, not play?

This would be a nice spot to put the boot in on people that play tournament decks in the casual room, but I’d suspect it’d be a little hypocritical of me. Some of the ‘fun’ decks I’ve thrown together have been very mean indeed. Playing a deck based around recurring suspend cards and Rift Elemental in a largely counterspell-free environment definitely qualifies as evil.

In a room of a thousand players of varying skill levels/deck strengths, you have to accept that random pairings are going to throw up some total mismatches as well as really interesting, tight games.

Anyway, less preachy asides and more gratuitous face smashing… with cards painted by Rebecca Guay.


Enchantments… not very hardcore. Very much light on the “boot to the happy sack followed by nose splattered across knee” violence.

The first random concoction I threw together was fairly bad. It was full of lovely synergy, such as Greater Auramancy followed by Enchanted Evening followed by drawing Fertile Ground… oh. But that’s kind of the point of throwing random cards together. You get to see the stuff that doesn’t work and then get ideas for alternate decks. Such as finding out that while trading Fertile Grounds and Pacifisms for their guys with Puca’s Mischief is nice, trading Colfenor’s Plan’s for anything of theirs is just downright savage.

This was back with Xth, and the surprising thing about Xth edition is there was no Enchantress. Okay, so that’s not strictly correct. Xth had Yavimaya Enchantress (quite a monstrosity with Enchanted Evening, by the way), but that’s not what I consider a real enchantress. A real enchantress is one that draws a card every time you play an enchantment. The original was Verduran Enchantress, but the best was probably Argothian Enchantress (with honourable mention to Enchantress’s Presence).

The problem with a flimsy creature like Verduran Enchantress in a largely creature-free deck is that she tends to be a lightning rod for, well, Lightning Bolt, Terror and just about everything that makes critters dead. Argothian Enchantress ducked this with shroud, which made sure you actually had a chance to untap and draw cards with her.

Right when Urza’s Saga came out, I had plans to build decks around Argothian Enchantress, the various Hidden Cards, and Endless Wurm.

Yes, this was the same Urza’s Saga with Tolarian Academy, Yawgmoth’s Will, Time Spiral and other cards so ludicrous an entire R & D department was offered up to Yawgmoth as penance.

There were still decks based around the Enchantress. They usually involved building a land up with Fertile Grounds, Overgrowths and other similar enchantments, finding ways to untap that land and basically combo out.

They were quite complicated so I just played AuratogRancor instead.

Sadly Argothian Enchantress didn’t come back in M10. Instead we got a return of the Planeshifted Mesa Enchantress. Shifting Verduran Enchantress into White is not a bad move. Most of the enchantments that do things tend to be in that colour anyway including the highly versatile Oblivion Ring. I’d already seen a Mono-White enchantment deck before M10. Bringing Mesa Enchantress in is just icing on the cake.

While I’d like to claim the following deck is a masterpiece of design, it was actually a case of running a search on ‘Enchantment’ and then putting anything white that did something in the deck. I couldn’t really detune this much either as the options were a little more limiting than I though. So much so I didn’t have any great hopes for the deck turning out to be interesting and was pleasantly surprised at how well it played.

The core of the deck is fairly straightforward. Sigil of the Empty Throne and Mesa Enchantress turns every enchantment into + draw one card, + 4/4 flying monster, and Endless Horizons means you never draw a land again. Once you get that combination you’re going to bury your opponent in angels very quickly.

One of the things I like about this deck is it’s an Enchantress deck, but it can function perfectly well without an enchantress in play. That’s a good thing giving that the average life expectancy of an enchantress is (or should be) very short.

Aside from the obvious Sigil of the Empty Throne, the really dangerous card is Endless Horizons. So long as you already have five lands you don’t even care if they kill it. At this point you’re happy enough that you’ll never draw another land again. Endless Horizons is one of those interesting cards that has a powerful effect, but never really made it as a tournament card. As powerful as the prospect of never drawing a land is to an aggressive deck like Kithkin, they’d still rather spend that fourth turn doing something that actually, you know, kills the opponent. But we’re casual, so the cool and unloved is exactly what we’re looking for.

Outside of the core we’re looking for cards that offer some protection and also fit in with the synergy of the core deck.

Oblivion Ring is obviously really good, versatile defence. I normally like sneaking Wickerbough Elders into casual Green decks just so I have some defence against odd Enchantments and Artifacts. Oblivion Ring does that and also takes on the more typical critter defence duties as well. On one level the card annoys me because it crops up so often, but I understand how useful it is as budget piece of control for any deck. If you’re starting out and have a limited card pool, getting up to four Oblivion Ring is a good start to building the defensive capabilities of a deck.

Pacifism and Recumbent Bliss serve as more critter defence. Curse of Chains and Prison Term are also additional options for these slots. This is also an example of how synergy comes into play. In a vacuum Path to Exile is a considerably better removal spell than Pacifism, but in this deck Pacifism might also draw you a card and make you a 4/4 angel.

You might have noticed that the deck is very top-heavy on the rares. In this case those rares are not exactly sought after. The majority are less than half a ticket each online. The only exceptions are the Runed Halo. When I was putting the deck together I thought they were essential and splashed out 3.5 tix each to get a playset.

This wasn’t a particularly sensible move. Most of the time the decks you encounter are so varied that the only thing Runed Halo ends up doing is naming an existing creature in play. In which case I could have saved the tix and gone for Curse of Chains or Prison Term instead.

I mean, the only real use for Runed Halo is managing to guess exactly what an opponent is about to cast, and then put them on tilt and so paranoid that you must be cheating or have some hack to see their hand that they go berserk, scream a lot and disconnect.

Have you ever felt the urge to do that? You know, let someone start whinging and then wind them up even further.

Fun, isn’t it!

You know what I mean. Claiming you’ve just topdecked the Incendiary Command to kill them when it should have been really obvious from the way you’ve played the game that you had it in your opening hand.

Ah, good times…

I used to be bothered by the random abuse I got from frothing morons, the kind that tell me they hope I get AIDS or other such pleasantries. Now I find it’s far more amusing to make fun of them and wind them up even further. I could point out that they lost through the many misplays they made both in building their deck or during the games themselves, but it’s far more fun to go on about all the cards I was so lucky to draw at exactly the right points and see them get angrier and angrier until I’m sure at some point, on the other side of the world, I can fancy hearing the sound of wet brains striking a monitor as their head explodes like an angry boil.

I never understand why people get so worked up about these things (although on particularly frustrating runs I have had to stop to save my laptop from being defenestrated out of the nearest window). Does losing an inconsequential game of Magic mean no girls will ever talk to you in your life ever, and you’ll be consigned to an existence of hosing congealed crap from ancient sewer walls?

I don’t understand, but I sure love messin’ with them.

To be fair, that kind of random frothing doesn’t seem to happen so much nowadays, or maybe I’m just lucky with who I play against.

What was I talking about again?

Ah yeah, Runed Halo. If you’ve got them, play them, but there are any number of less expensive alternates that do kind of the same thing. If your play environment is more the kitchen table type than Magic Online’s casual room then obvious Runed Halos are better as you can use them more pre-emptively if you know what your friends like to bring to the table. And sometimes you’ll really need Runed Halo when Ajani Vengeant is about to go ultimate on all your lands.

The other big chunk of protection is stopping them messing about with your enchantments. Most decks don’t pack much in the way of targeted enchantment removal so leading off with Greater Auramancy is going to make Endless Horizons or Sigil of the Empty Throne very difficult to deal with. Of course, some decks don’t bother with any enchantment removal at all, in which case you’ll have to console yourself with the fact your deck is probably prettier than theirs.

Then we’re into detune territory. All those exotic one-offs just to make the game interesting.

I managed to miss off one of the other reasons for detuning — they’re the only cards you have available at the time.

In this case there weren’t many options.

Mark of Asylum is a nasty little card against certain types of deck for making Enchantress much harder to kill. It also helps when they don’t read it and use Jund Charm to wipe their side of the board and… well, that’s it really.

Rise of the Hobgoblins is a card I keep wanting to get rid of as a do-nothing, but it sort of has its role as an alternate threat and the fact you don’t pay for the goblins until it hits play means it’s fairly good counterspell bait.

Idyllic Tutor has been less impressive than I would have expected. The lack of good singleton options means there isn’t really a tutor package as such. It’s sort of a fifth Endless Horizons/Sigil or Oblivion Ring, but you often always have more active things to do with your mana anyway.

Enchanted Evening costs one mana too much. It was the same when I played around with Fracturing Gust. That five mana is enormous and means it often doesn’t end up getting played even though giving Enchantress shroud in combination with Greater Auramancy (and making your angel army untargettable) is nice.

I did have Hoofprints of the Stag but it never really did anything. It’s kind of a redundancy in that you get to do stuff even if the main plans are disrupted, or don’t come together. Never really used the ability though. There was always better stuff to do.

So how does the deck play?

On the playability stakes it’s fairly enjoyable. There’s a good range of mana costs so the deck often curves nicely up to Sigil of the Empty Throne. A good mana curve is just as essential for casual decks as it is for tournament decks, but I’ll go over this in more detail in a later article.

On the flash/overkill factor we get a big minus for playing with wussy enchantments and girly angels, but we get big positives for an endgame that really abuses the triumvirate of Mesa Enchantress, Endless Horizons and Sigil of the Empty Throne. When it gets rumbling, you draw a ton of cards and generate a very large Angel army. It passes the ‘Deck do Cool Things’ test.

Power level. I reckon it’s around a five or a six, maybe seven, which is roughly how many games I was winning out of ten against other random casual decks. This feels about right. While the deck is very cool and looks powerful when it gets rolling there are some fairly basic strategies that give it problems.

The weaknesses I noticed were:

Counterspells. Even a fairly casual counterspell deck should stop you if they know what they’re doing. No sir, you may not put that Sigil of the Empty Throne into play. I don’t mind this weakness as playing proper, dedicated counterspell type decks in the casual room is largely considered bad form.

Tokens. No mass removal, and Story Circle didn’t make the jump to M10. Runed Halo can’t handle them either, as tokens are not a card. It’s easy to get swarmed over as pacifying or using Oblivion Ring to remove single 1/1’s is not very exciting.

Mass blow-up-the-world type stuff. Austere Command is going to make you very unhappy.

This is actually a good point to distinguish why this is most definitely a casual deck rather than a serious tournament contender. For me one of the distinctions between casual decks and tournament decks is that casual decks tend to want to do cool stuff while tournament decks want to stop their opponents from doing cool stuff. The exception to this is when a tournament deck can do its cool stuff so fast it kills the opponent before they get a chance to break it up.

This is a cool stuff deck, but it’s a slow cool stuff deck with defence only against cards in play (although Runed Halo can function pro-actively against known decks). A dedicated aggressive deck with burn can kill you before you get the busted stuff going and a proper control deck can concentrate on dealing with the threats (Sigil of the Empty Throne) and ignoring virtually everything else.

That’s the cold harsh realities of tournament style decks and why a lot of fun ideas can only ever be fun ideas.

But they can still be, you know, fun to play.

It’s not always hopeless. Sometimes a tweak here and there can give a deck more bite. In the pre-M10 environment I knew the Primalcrux deck was vulnerable to mass sweepers like Wrath of God, but by including Treetop Village and making the sensible plays such as rationing the creatures on the battlefield, the deck had a backup plan to fall back on. It’s a case of looking for where the holes are thinking of how best to plug them.

The surprising thing about the current crop of enchantments was I couldn’t find a decent life gain or protection option to invalidate an opponent’s burn strategy. Recumbent Bliss is probably the best option for getting a trickle of life back and has proved decisive in some games. Which is mainly why I upped the count to two at the expense of Hoofprints.

The best hole-filler might come outside of enchantments. Elspeth provides both token creatures of her own to fight token swarms and also has an ultimate ability that gets round the problem of opponent being able to blow up the world at their leisure. Unfortunately Elspeth is very expensive online, way too much to try out on a whim. I’d put her in the try out if you happen to have some lying around.

Despite the weaknesses, the deck is fun to play and does do some busted stuff when it gets going. The repeatable effects of spitting out Angels for every enchantment might make it a reasonable mulitplayer choice, but to be honest I’m not so strong at figuring out the political nuances of multiplayer.

Anyway, a fairly fun deck, and hopefully enough general tips to apply to building other decks.

Thanks for reading…