Getting 2-for-1’d feels bad. It’s one of the first lessons you learn as a magic player. A good way to lose a game is to have two of your spells trade for just one of your opponent’s. It doesn’t take too many opposing copies of Doom Blade targeting your Holy Strength‘d creature before your spirit is broken and you become a lot more hesitant to jam auras in your draft decks. That feeling isn’t unwarranted; you should be skeptical of auras in Limited. As a general heuristic, you’d be better off than a lot of other players if you just never played with auras at all. But this article is about becoming familiar with the spots when playing with an aura or 2 in your deck is a good idea, with special attention paid to the Eldritch Moon/Shadows over Innistrad Limited format.
Remember the Runemarks
Before we dive in to Eldritch Moon specific cards and interactions, I’d like to take a minute to take a jab at Pro Tour champion Alexander Hayne. While this article is meant to show you when creature auras can be worth running, a lot of times they’re just bad, like really bad. Alexander Hayne’s top 8 draft deck from GP Atlantic City 2015 is a good example.
The presence of 2 copies of Abzan Runemark in his deck is particularly funny because they’re unable to give any of his creatures vigilance. They’re just generic 3 mana auras that give +2/+2, a heinously clunky rate and clearly on the wrong side of the playable line. That’s not to say Hayne was way off-base to include them in his deck. Sometimes those are just the cards that you play when you switch colors halfway through pack 1 or when you’re drafting with a bunch of people that don’t let good cards float around the table for long. You end up with some real stinkers in your deck. That being said, playing 2 copies of Abzan Runemark in a red/white deck is still quite a sorry sight to behold.
The other side of the runemark case study is Jeskai Runemark in a deck with lots of red and white permanents. I remember having some success curving Wandering Champion into Jeskai Runemark. A 5/3 flyer on turn 3 is a good place to be, even with the risk of getting blown out by a removal spell. But, the reason Jeskai Runemark was playable wasn’t just because of the dream curve draw. It was also reasonable in the mid-game or in a board stall. Giving your creature a stat boost and evasion can be pretty powerful across a good number of board states. Also, slapping a Jeskai Runemark onto Whirlwind Adept was a big play. If you’ve never seen the G/W Boggles deck do its thing in modern, take my word for it: hexproof creatures are good with auras.
The dichotomy between a naked Abzan Runemark and a Jeskai Runemark in a deck with creatures that pair nicely with it does a good job of illustrating the theme of this article. You need a reason to put auras in your deck. Usually they’re bad and you should be skeptical of them when you’re evaluating new cards, but understanding the sets of circumstances where they become playable can increase your equity in Limited by a nontrivial amount. I had an aha moment during the last Limited format, Shadows over Innistrad, when I finally gave Open the Armory a closer read after I’d seen it wheel for the umpteenth time. If you have an aura removal spell that you’re already interested in playing like Bound by Moonsilver, Choking Restraints, Sleep Paralysis, Spontaneous Mutation, or Imprisoned in the Moon, running a random creature buffing enchantment starts to look more attractive if you have an Open the Armory in your pile. That way Open the Armory can turn into late pick playable that essentially serves as a removal/aura split card.
Brad Nelson and the 3-0 Triple Aura Deck
The feature match in round 2 of Pro Tour Eldritch Moon is what inspired me want to write an article on this subject. Brad Nelson had a very interesting G/W aggro deck that was packing a number of main deck auras to good effect. Watching the match live I was taken aback with how weird it was to watch Brad, a Pro Tour player and likely future Hall of Famer, ham-handedly jam auras against an opponent with tons of removal. I remember it vividly: Randy Buehler’s on commentary talking about Brad’s improved Limited game since he started tested with Team EUreka, and I’m just sitting there laughing as Brad slaps Equestrian Skill and Lunarch Mantle onto his guys and turns ‘em sideways.
After Brad won the match on the back of a Lunarch Mantle draw that was equal parts fast and convincing, I stopped laughing so hard and started to think about the application of Mantle and other auras in Eldritch Moon limited, something I hadn’t done before.
Lunarch Mantle, and auras in general, carries a lot of risk. Brad even noted on Twitter that his first draft “did not go well.” But that’s not to say that the auras in Brad’s deck were there without purpose. The presence of Ironclad Slayer and Lone Rider made them much more attractive, and they generally fit his game plan of getting in early damage as they’re a way to help to push through the final points. Watching Brad’s match against Ari and the way he utilized auras to pull out the win is a good use of your time, especially if you use the increased speed function on YouTube. Just generally speaking, Magic can be a slow game to watch and increasing the speed of the videos you watch can make viewing a more enjoyable and efficient experience.
Hot Takes on the Auras of EMN & SOI
What follows are my succinct opinions on every power and toughness boosting aura from the current limited format.
Faith Unbroken: A high pick. It’s no secret that this card is powerful, but I think it’s a bit overrated these days. LSV recently said in an episode of Limited Resources that the card is swingy but that you’re more likely to win games, rather than lose them, when you get to resolve it. That’s debatable. In a deck without aura synergies, this card is still a huge risk. I like to sideboard it out liberally against decks with plenty of removal or bounce spells, and I’ve had opponents be unwilling to do the same against me, which I was happy to see. If you’re worried about removal, it can be wise to put this card on one of your less valuable creatures, like one with a pacifism effect already enchanting it or something that’s lost relevance in the context of a board stall, like a Loam Dryad. It can be tempting to beef up your flyer and increase your clock, but it really does leave you with your pants down against removal from your opponent.
Lunarch Mantle: Surprisingly strong. This is in the context of decks with synergies (again: Lone Rider, Ironclad Slayer, aggressive starts, etc.) can be very powerful. The activated ability to give your creature flying and punch through damage is a huge deal. The rate is in the sweet spot, as with almost all auras you should never pick this highly, but I’ve been quite pleased in my experience with this card.
Strange Augmentation: B-A-D. +1/+1 is not worth a card. You want your auras to be good with your aggressive starts, not only reasonable after you’ve assembled delirium.
Prophetic Ravings: Shy away. This one’s serviceable if you’re in desperate need of a madness outlet, but it’s just not good at helping your aggressive draw and it still packs the classic aura two-for-one risk.
Wolfkin Bond: Alright. A traditional aura this card is not, as you’ve got some blowout insurance with the wolf it leaves behind, though a five mana 2/2 isn’t exactly an amazing rate. It’s certainly not as good as Elephant Guide or Knightly Valor even though it bears some resemblance. In a regular deck, it doesn’t excite me and I’d almost always rather have a generic five-drop like Thornhide Wolves or Wingmate Roc (this is how I affectionately refer to Emissary of the Sleepless). But, it’s better than a really soupy five drop like Hound of the Farbogs. In your decks with an Open the Armory and a Bound by Moonsilver, or a pair of Lone Riders and an Ironclad Slayer, this card is a fine inclusion. It is usually playable in decks without any synergies.
Gryff’s Boon: Excellent. The small power boost is nice but the strength of this card really lies in its ability to be recurred form the graveyard and the evasion it grants. If you’re much more control than midrange, you’ll sometimes leave this card in your sideboard, but usually it’s just great for every deck. For Heliod’s sake, this card sees play in standard.
Hope Against Hope: Occasionally decent. Three mana is much better than four for this effect. You want a large presence of Creatuers and humans, and even with them it’ll still usually be correct to not run this card. But making a huge first striking human can be powerful. Ironclad Slayer of course makes this card more attractive.
Ghostly Wings: Meh. I haven’t had a lot of success with this card despite it looking reasonable. It has built in blowout protection in that if it resolves you can discard a card to save your guy from a removal spell. If you’re counting, that’s still a two for one. It’s also reasonable at giving delirium. The evasion it grants is also appreciated, but the problem with this card is that it doesn’t pump power and toughness enough to be particularly strong in an aggressive deck (where you want auras).
Senseless Rage: Thumbs up. This card excels in a deck with lots of madness outlets. You mitigate the two for one risk of an aura when you get to use it as a combat trick. And you can still play this on your Lone Rider on turn three if that’s how your draw lines up. I do think it’s a big mistake to run this card in your deck without somwhere around two madness outlets. Even thought his card without madness outlets looks similar to Mantle, it’s nowhere near as good.
Spiteful Motives: Great. It’s good for the same reason senseless rage is good with a lot of madness outlets, except you don’t need the madness outlets. You get to trade it for one of your opponent’s guys when they block, and you’re left with a huge monster afterwards.
Equestrian Skill: I’d rather not. Four mana is a lot this type of effect and as a result this usually falls on the wrong end of playable. But in a pile of cards without a more consistent game plan, it can warrant an inclusion. Obviously it’s best if you have a high density of humans with which to grant trample.
Invocation of Saint Traft: No thank you. This card sets a clever trap since people like rares and Geist of Saint Traft is a great card. But, without boosting your creature’s power in any way, the card is pretty abysmal. The curve of Tattered Haunter into Invocation is a nice one, and the Invocation somewhat approaches reasonable if you’re aggressive and have tons of evasive creatures. But I’m not a fan of this card in the vast majority of decks. Auras in general tend to not excel on defense, but this one in particular is bad since it does stone-cold nothing.
I hope this article helped you towards adopting a nuanced perspective on auras in Limited and the Eldtrich Moon format specifically. Here’s a look at an aura packing deck that I 3-0’d with in a Magic Online 8-4. I’ll warn you, the Lunarch Mantles in this deck are not much better than an Aim High or True-Faith Censer would’ve been. But I definitely think they’re better than Woodcutter’s Grit or Cultist’s Staff (just to give you a frame of reference).
Relevant Sideboard Cards (9)
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