Tuesday 24 July 2018

Auras .dec

Slippery BogleFor some reason or other, I have always struggled with building enchantress decks. I have been doing them as long as I have been cubing, yet Ive never felt like I’ve gotten things right, as they always feel a little vulnerable, and a little slow. I roughly know why I have had so many issues in the past - there isn't quite the depth in the core cheap cards for the archetype, so while it looks like you have limitless depth, most of that depth is well below par on power level and often a mana or two above where you would like such effects on your curve.

A big issue effecting the slower control builds using Sigil of the Empty Throne, Elephant Grass and Solitary Confinement, is that you have very limited card quality and ramp in enchantment form. Even when playing blue, cards like Attunement are a far cry from cards like Preordain. Sure, Wild Growth is largely better than a Llanowar Elf as a pure ramp card, but there is only it and Utopia Spawl on one, and only a couple on two as well. It just isn't enough to get the required consistency and power. If you start supplementing your build with elves and good cheap staple non-enchantment cards, then you lose the value of the synergy which ultimately lowers your power and harms your late game consistency, even if it does empower the early game - this is also true for the aggressive builds. That being said, Ive never really got the balance right for any build. I have certainly done well with control/combo enchantress in the past, but it always just felt like I was lucky or had wound up with only favourable matchups, despite having a deck vulnerable to loads. There are certainly very powerful things you can do with an enchantress deck - I have even once managed a good aggressive enchantress deck, although it was very much propped up by a few very powerful cards that are normally too narrow to abuse fully. It was also three colours which rather helps with many elements. Despite being good, it didn't look like a solved deck! 

When repeatedly failing at something, a good plan is to try a different approach and so that is exactly what I have done with this list. It is a bit of an oddity, as it is inspired by a mashup of two constructed decks. A modern Boggles deck and a legacy Enchantress one. It is aggressive like the Boggles, but not so all in. The main thing it does is mimic their curves, and it is actually lower in curve to the legacy deck, which is pretty nuts! Rather than use all the high powered tools in the "enchantment synergy pool", it is far more focused and low to the ground.

Abundant Growth 
25 Spells

Utopia Sprawl
Wild Growth
Unbridled Growth
Abundant Growth

Gryf's Boon
Spider Umbra
Hyena Umbra

Cartouche of Solidarity
Ethereal Armor
Frog Tongue
Flickering Ward
Flickering Ward 
Oppressive Rays
Green Sun's Zenith
Slippery Boggle
Gladecover Scout

Kor Spiritdancer
Argothian Enchantress
Sram, Senior Edificer

Gatherer of Graces

Enchantress's Presence
Song of Dryads
Eidolon of Countless Battles
Satyr Enchanter

Eidolon of Countless Battles15 Lands

Dryad Arbor
Windswepth Heath
Horizon Canopy

Scattered Groves
Temple Garden
Canopy Vista

Razorverge Thicket
Fortified Village
Stirring Wildwood

3x Forest

Gatherer of GracesThe plan is fairly straight-forward. Make a dork, enchant it up, and turn it sideways. Ideally, draw your whole deck in there at some point, too! You do have a lot of options, despite the linear plan of the deck. A big part of playing this well is knowing when it is about resources and when it is about tempo. For example, sometimes I will hold things back early and waste mana, so that I can get more draw value out of them so as to gain more momentum in the long run.

One of the biggest calls you will have to make is which creature you want to go all-in on. Do you go for the safety of the hexproof dorks, or do you go for the extra value on Gatherer of Graces and Kor Spirit Dancer? This of course comes down to several things, mostly being what you have! If you are in the position to choose, then it will depend on what you are facing. Between totem armour, regeneration, and protection, you can make your non-hexproof things pretty safe to most forms of removal, but having a good idea of what you are facing will be key. I very nearly cut the hexproof dudes all-together, in favour of a more protective tools like Spellskite and Mother of Runes, but there just isn't the space for such luxuries. I had Silhana Ledgewalker and Basra Tower Archer in the first build of this, but found I had slightly over-done it on the ratio between things to enchant and the auras to put on them. You only need about four dedicated attacking cards, as you can happily just enchant up a Sram or Satyr if needs be. You could probably cut one of the hexproof dudes from this list, if needed, and just lean a bit more on tutors and protective enchants.

Kor SpiritdancerSpiritdancer is a funny one, as it is both your best thing to put auras on and one of your better engine cards. It is like Goblin Bombardment in the Blood Artist decks, in that it is both parts of your engine in one! The card is bonkers good, which in turn had a warping effect on my initial build directions. I wanted the Mother of Runes type cards so that I could protect Dancer, while going to town adorning her with auras. I wanted more tutors like Eladamri's Call and Worldly Tutor, so as to have her more often. I also wanted more recursion tools, so to further increase my access to her and ensure I could weather some disruption. Eternal Witness, Ajani (Adversary of Tyrants), Renegade Rallier, Grapple with the Past, Devoted Crop Mate, Return to the Ranks, and Tethmos (High Priest) all appealed in their various ways. The issue is that all this support just for Spiritdancer makes it much more like a combo deck, which makes the non Spiritdancer bits of the deck a bit weaker. You slow yourself down and probably reduce your overall consistency, just to increase your potential power. Much as I want to abuse Spirit Dancer more, the best way forward is to just run her without any fuss. When you get her she will be great and when you don't, or she is killed, that will be fine as the rest of the deck is still perfectly able to operate smoothly and quickly without her.

Green Sun's ZenithI did run a Green Sun's Zenith package, despite it not being quite the perfect fit I would have liked – overall, it just seems too streamlined not to run. It is not far off the ultimate split card in this deck, being a turn one ramp card, a card draw engine card or a threat card. With only six targets in the deck, Zenith does suffer from pretty poor scaling and would be better if it did go to the bin, rather than back in the deck. It is also annoying that some of the most powerful and exotic creatures are white. Much as Worldly Tutor would offer better utility in creatures, there is just no competing with a card that can also be a Llanowar Elf if needs be. Certainly I would feel a lot happier running Zenith if I had some looting effects in the deck, perhaps even just some reshuffle, but it is seemingly too good to pass up on, what with being so many of the important components of the deck at once. Worldly Tutor would need to merge with Enlightened for it to really compete. If you did want to empower the Zenith a little more, you could run things like Thrun, the Last Troll and Troll Ascetic for more substantial hexproof options. Also Eidolon of Blossoms and Courser of Kruphix would present some nice options to find enchantments with Zenith. Again, ultimately these are luxuries which you likely don't have space for as synergy decks are super-tight, and any spare space needs to be used to interact and hedge rather than fill up on niceties.

Frog TongueThis list is very, very good at going ballistic on drawing cards, for several reasons. Being aura based (rather than enchantments generally), it gains Sram and Spiritdancer, which are pretty huge upgrades on things like Verduran and Messa Enchantress. That one mana less in cost goes a long old way. Next up, we have the fact that so many aura cards in this deck are only one mana themselves, unlike the pricier enchants I tend to see in decks wanting to draw cards from Enchantresses. Once you start going off, it is rare to not spend all your mana. Many of those cards cantrip themselves and so it is pretty commonplace to have your Frog Tongues and Abundant Growths actually being Ancestral Recalls. Due to how effectively and mana efficiently I was going off, I wanted to run more ramp. Ideally Arbor Elf, so as to milk synergy with the Wild Growth but lacking the enchant type synergies, I didn't want to risk fizzling or inconsistencies of that ilk. The ratios felt about right in this deck; more ramp certainly would be nice, but less of anything else would be more detrimental than the benefits gained from extra (off-theme or overcosted) ramp. 

Gryff's BoonI looked at playing Lashknife, simply as it is a free aura and lets you go off a bit quicker! That is how valuable it is to have low cost cards firing off your triggered effects. Another reason you can go off so readily is that you have recursive and bouncing enchantments, which allow you to reuse one card to draw many. Rancor plus a sac-outlet is the most efficient, but even if you are paying four from a Gryff' Boon, that can be OK when it jump starts you into going off from having nothing. The other reason you go off better than most other enchantress decks is that you are proactive and threatening. Some decks are going to try and race you, and that opens up windows in which you can go nuts without fear of disruption. Other decks will simply be forced into taking safer lines to avoid potential death and often, that will lead to you developing more value and draw in safety.

One great strength of this deck is its ability to recover. You really don't need much to go nuts, and doing so later in the game takes less time as you will be starting out with more mana. Mana and library size are your limiting factors, not really cards in hand. Against most decks with mass removal, you will hold back threats and so recovery can literally be one Enchantress effect off the top. With Enchantress's Presence, bestow dorks, totem armor, Rancor and other recursive enchantments, you can recover without needing to top deck anything at all.

AuratogDeck size was actually a bit of an issue. My list has no way of getting back important cards, and is actually quite threat light when it comes down to it. I strongly considered Wheel of Sun and Moon, and still might test it. I would certainly run it in the board, if it were that sort of an event. Any grind-y game, you are most in danger of losing to decking. Sadly, it is only partly a solution and only helps against disruption, and even then, only non-exile flavours of it. If you just over draw, then you won't have things in the bin, certainly not useful things, to refill your library with. I looked pretty hard at all the options to solve this concern. Jotun Grunt is a bit off theme and unreliable. Mistveil Plains is a bit slow and cumbersome for an aggro deck. Bow of Nylea has much the same problem, that little return of cards simply isn't keeping up with demand. Elixir of Immortality comes closest, but it is as off theme as a card can be.

In the end, I decided that you are probably just better off with a sac outlet than you are a reshuffle effect. You want to engineer situations where you draw your deck and play all your enchantments, but this is impossible with an Enchantress in play if your last cards are enchantments. One of your best ways to win when resource light (but flush with mana) is with Auratog and Rancor. Simply, cast and sac until you run out of green mana and then attack with your massive dork for the win, obviously leaving the last Rancor in place for the trample. This is great, but can draw you more cards than the damage it represents, which is often a problem. I briefly looked at Concordant Crossroads for the ability to literally kill out of nowhere, or just do critical damage. It works very nicely with Auratog, however it doesn't solve the problem of you not being able to kill people without decking yourself in some cases.

Bound by MoonsilverBound by Moonsilver is the best solution I found for the decking problem, as it gives you an on-theme card and it deals with all the problem cards you might have in play that will lead to your decking. The issue is that you can only sac one thing per turn, which means a lot of planning is needed as you draw the remains of your library. There are certainly better sac outlets, but none offer the same usefulness of card. Lunarch Mantle comes closest, and has the added advantage of being able to sac as much as you can afford at any given time. I would strongly consider running Bound by Moonsilver over the Oppressive Rays. I considered Lignify over it, as well. One cover-all removal spell and one creature removal spell is all I could find room for in this list. Song of Dryads has the former pretty much locked in, although Faith's Fetters has an outside shot. Rays is nice as the creature kill, being so cheap, but it is not as effective as you might like. I kept having to throw it on Spellskites and that was a very short term solution to the problem. Lignify would have been worlds better, and Bound by Moonsilver would have done nothing to ease the problems posed in that matchup. These interaction spells should ideally be based on expected meta - Rays is good against tempo decks, while Lignify has more game against the annoying utility cards etc. The sac outlet cards are best for the control and removal heavy builds, where you are much more likely to need to use all the cards in your deck to find a win, and thus where decking yourself is at its highest risk. 

Utopia SprawlThe mana base is fairly straight forward - it has a strong lean towards forests, simply to accommodate the Utopia Sprawl. There is no Serra's Sanctum, because there is no use for a tonne of white mana. There is a very small window for it to excel. Turns one and two, it is producing less than a basic land, on average. Turns five onwards, it is going to be wasting most to all of its extra mana. With the perfect draw, it is a plains that taps for two or three on turns three and four and lets you push out a couple of extra cards. That feels like too much needs to align to give payoff and it seems like the risk of it going wrong is too high and too damaging. This list is all about consistency, and Sanctum is not the thing to help with that. High Market had more appeal as a sac outlet with little cost of inclusion. Sadly, even that felt too dangerous in a deck with very little colourless requirements, on top of land-type-matters cards and low land counts. If I cut the Zenith and therefore also the Dryad Arbor, there might well be some room for a quirky utility land. That being said, I might just try and get away with 14, in that case!

Hyena UmbraBoth Spider and Hyena Umbra are great, and it comes as no surprise that these are also staples in the Boggles decks in modern. I looked at playing some more, however the two drop options were not that exciting and the three drop ones are having to compete with some really potent cards for just a few slots. Ancestral Mask is a filthy-powerful three drop that I didn't find room for, and Armadillo Cloak is another good one, the list goes on. As such, I would likely run Carapace over any of the other totem armor cards on offer. Not exactly powerful, but the right price and appropriately on message. There are not all that many exciting one drop auras in green or white this list isnt running. Vineweft is one of the better ones and it is just a really bad Gryff's Boon.

The more exciting exclusions from this list are all two mana. Ward of Lights is a neat protection tool, and I think there is even a 1W costed version - It seemed like too much on top of Flickering Ward, however. Also, Alpha Authority would likely be a better ongoing tool to protect with, as it doesn't get in the way of your own auras if you need to protect against white (or green?!) removal. Spirit Mantle is an excellent evasion tool that the modern Boggles lists tend to pack. I am leaning a bit more on the Boon and Rancor for that push through, but I am relatively happy with that, given they both recur. Mantle would be one of the cards I would be more likely to add, although I might find I prefer to replace a hexproof dork with Silhana Ledgewalker for that evasion boost. The obvious omission from the Boggles list is Daybreak Coronet, which is intentional and I believe correct. This list is about consistency, as you need things to get the ball rolling and Coronet can't do that for you. Feels awful to have all the parts to start going off but not be able to, because this is your only aura in hand. In cube, I would play an Angel's Grace or Armadillo Cloak in preference to Coronet. The reduced efficiency of the cards is a lot easier to stomach in cube, and their greater convenience is well worth that price. 

Cartouche of SolidarityThe non-creature aura cards performed very well, as the ability to get card draw triggers without the risk of removal was a comfort. Turn two Sram or Spirit Dancer, off the back of one-drop ramp, plays very nicely into Abundant Growth or Oppressive Rays where playing a Rancor would feel really dodgy. The non-ramping land enchants in particular are a key addition to the deck,that I might not have considered without legacy builds pointing me in that direction. They add consistency to the draw engine and help to make the deck effectively smaller, which increases your average deck power level. They even help with your colour fixing, their intended purpose! 

The Cartouche was a nod to edict removal, and is just generally an efficient little spell. It is far from an essential component, but I was never unhappy with it. It feels like it is filler rather than a key component and just there to help make up the numbers. That said, it does still feel like it is the top of the pile of the non-essentials. Ethereal Armour is the big name and does a lot of the heavy lifting. It is pretty important when using one of the hexproof dorks, or any of the non-growing ones as your main threat, as you don't actually have that much in the way of stats-boosting cards. The Eidolon of Countless Battles is the backup for Ethereal Armour and is very powerful and versatile, but also unpleasantly costly. Countless Battles was so good I looked at other bestow cards, but they all fell short. It is the synergy combined with the great scaling that made Battles so good, the other bestow cards only had the former.

Satyr EnchanterSatyr Enchanter is a fine addition - It can be found with Zenith, and it can attack better than the 0/2 iterations. It is not an exciting card and could well be cut along with the Zenith, if that was a direction you wanted to go. A recursion card would likely be more powerful and the deck didn't feel like it was lacking the draw side of things! There are other options such as Feremef Enchantress, which is a nice cheap two-mana but also needs the support from sac effects. You would need more than Auratog and an Unbridled Growth for that to really be a thing. Thaumatog alone would not be enough extra, either!

So yeah, this is my aggro enchantress deck without black. It worked pretty well and while not top tier, it was certainly competitive. It is perhaps one or two cards off being really good, and is a pretty happy tier two or three deck with what it has now. I do wonder if the reason I struggle so hard with enchantment decks is that my knowledge of the card pool is so poor. Auras have been so bad for so long, both fundamentally and individually as well, that I just tend to ignore and overlook them. They never really stick in my mind and I never really think about them, and so it requires way more effort to use them in deck design. I had to reread so many cards, so many times, both in design and in the write up processes. I am certain I wouldn't have got there without being pointed in the right direction by other designers in other formats. While this deck might not be tier one, it is great fun and plenty powerful enough to be something worth doing. It is also, for once, an enchantress deck I can call refined and focused. It has a plan and it does it well, without pissing about doing other silly things. It is how a deck like this should look, roughly, and that has been the illusive thing with enchantment decks, not the winning as you might expect! I plan to try a more dedicated hexproof dorks and auras deck without the enchantress card draw some point soon to compare and contrast. I think it will be more powerful but less resilient and a lot less fun! 

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