Written in the Stars: Constellation in Standard
- Gianluca Aicardi
Do you like drawing cards and growing creatures? If so, you're bound to like what Constellation, the Cinderella mechanic from Journey into Nyx, has brought back to Standard upon its return in Theros Beyond Death. Here's a little history lesson as well as a look at current-day applications.
"Enchantments matter" cards are as old as the game. It all started with Verduran Enchantress all the way back in Limited Edition Alpha; which means that, right from the beginning, the most coveted application for a card that cares about enchantments was drawing other cards in response. And that, right there, is the best result you can hope for from a specialized trigger.
"Enchantress" soon became an unofficial type of green creatures, female Human Druids who draw cards in relation to enchantments. The best of the lot is still Argothian Enchantress from Urza's Saga, the cheapest and the hardest to remove. Meanwhile Femeref Enchantress inserted white into the mix, which led to Planar Chaos printing a color-shifted Verduran, named Mesa Enchantress. Onslaught even managed to turn the enchantress herself into an enchantment, with Enchantress's Presence.
Then Journey into Nyx, the final set in the original Theros block, introduced, perhaps too late, an entire ability word based on the theme of enchantments mattering. Constellation slightly differs from the old enchantress's wording, as it's triggered by enchantments entering the battlefield instead of being cast, which is not necessarily a downgrade: the first wording ensures against countermagic, but the second allows the trigger to happen even when effects bypass casting.
Journey into Nyx contained sixteen cards with constellation, the most notable being Eidolon of Blossoms, that set's enchantress now turned into a woodland Spirit. The problem with those cards, and Eidolon specifically, was that all residents of Nyx — essentially, Theros's Mount Olympus — had been characterized as being enchantments themselves, able to trigger their own ability. This in turn forced the designers to keep their power level in check. So here's Eidolon being a tragically above-curve 4-drop 2/2, too slow to really fuel a competitive deck, even with the immediate replacement it offered. Most of the cards from that first experiment ended up being overcosted, or doing too little, or both.
Since then, supplemental products featured two more examples: Daxos's Torment in Commander 2015, Nylea's Colossus in Commander 2018. And now Theros Beyond Death added thirteen fresh constellation cards. As they don't represent Nyx-dwellers anymore, they don't trigger themselves and were permitted to be a bit wilder than their predecessors. As a consequence, a few of these new cards feel strong enough to inspire builds, which is especially true when it comes to the youngest heiress of the glorious enchantress line.
An Enchanting Champion
You can look at Setessan Champion and see an enchantress who took up arms and trained as a Warrior. The card has the same converted mana cost as its Verduran ancestor but starts with a +1/+1 boost. More importantly, the creature grows taller over time, something that can get out of hands fast. Granted, it's not the same as having shroud — which nowadays would mean hexproof, so probably a bit too much. But at least it can quickly move out of burn range. In fact, when played on a later turn, you could theoretically answer a damage-based removal by increasing the toughness at instant speed with a flash enchantment, especially the handy Omen cycle. Furthermore, by becoming a threat herself, it's both card-advantage engine and finisher in a single card.
Here's a sample list built around Setessan Champion by Belgian streamer Luca Van Deun, better known as LegenVD — who you can also watch playing the deck.
|Selesnya Enchantments by LegenVD|
Every nonland card in this deck is either an enchantment or an "enchantments matter" payoff. The Birth of Meletis, Wolfwillow Haven, and Dryad of the Ilysian Grove are for ramp and defense — Nessian Wanderer could be used in this role too, maybe as a replacement for Birth, since the two cards share a similar pattern of finding lands and providing a body to block with.
Banishing Light and Elspeth Conquers Death are the main pieces of interaction. The former is a tried and tested reprint from Journey into Nyx, itself a slightly powered-down version (no stack shenanigans, no targeting of your own permanents) of classic Oblivion Ring. The very popular Elspeth saga is the Light's larger-than-life cousin, exiling its target for good, then doubling down with more benefits in the following turns, culminating in the resurrection of a creature or planeswalker.
Destiny Spinner is interesting, because it's a resilient 2-drop that can stop or discourage early attackers, and even trade with them, but then in the late game takes the mantle of a secondary finisher.
Of course Setessan Champion is the star player, able to dig through the library, potentially at a breakneck pace, and grow to a threatening size in the process. Nevertheless, the main responsibility to bring the game home falls on the second best constellation card in Theros Beyond Death, which is Archon of Sun's Grace with its ever-expanding army of lifelinking Pegasi.
The thematic planeswalker Calix, Destiny's Hand ties it all together by finding extra enchantments and supplying additional Banishing Light capabilities, while Alseid of Life's Bounty is the enabler that protects them all.
All in all, it's a midrange deck with a fairly low curve, nice consistency, and a scary late game. Particularly noteworthy is how most of the cards have different uses, even those that might appear more focused on one note: Dryad of the Ilysian Grove is mana fixing and acceleration, but also defensive board presence; Wolfwillow Haven turns into a body in a pinch; and the Alseid can also gain you some life.
Aura of Paradise
A variant build, again demonstrated on video by LVD, instead focuses on Auras, exploiting the fact that current Standard features its own do-it-yourself Slippery Bogle in the unexpected form of everybody's favorite mana dork, Paradise Druid. The Druid just needs vigilance, and that's an easy task to accomplish for the recurring low-key escaper Sentinel's Eyes.
|Bant Auras by LegenVD|
Once the Druid has been given the observance of an experienced sentinel, the hexproof will stick around, so you can safely heap all kinds of Aura-shaped upgrades on top. The deck dips into blue mostly to include Staggering Insight in its arsenal, of which All That Glitters is the ultimate, self-referential example, this list's Ethereal Armor.
The Angelic Gift of evasion is missing, but Setessan Training does more or less the same job while also improving the power. Also, that's clearly the training program that creates Setessan Champions! Eutropia the Twice-Favored is the deck's preferred way to provide flying anyway, as well as +1/+1 counters, and a creature to accessorize when needed.
The Champion and Season of Growth take care of the (massive) card drawing. Alseid of Life's Bounty is still there, this time charged to preserve an Aura-carrier that's not inherently hexproof. Alternatively, it ensures a single-creature alpha strike by bestowing protection against eligible blockers to your Voltron monstrosity. Alseid is a one-shot Mother of Runes, after all. Karametra's Blessing assists in these centerpiece-saving duties, making up for the fact that, this time around, Karametra herself is not physically there to bless her green-white children.
No constellation build has reached the top tiers of the metagame so far, but they're definitely entertaining decks, with a core strategy leading to very diverse gameplans — as we've seen, the Archon deck aims to go wide, while the Aura list goes tall. The improved, more thoroughly explored keyword even offers other possibilities worth a shot, if maybe on a strictly casual approach, like a three- or four-colored extravaganza where a flashed-in Omen of the Dead allows Protean Thaumaturge to copy Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath with the latter's sacrifice trigger still on the stack. It's a world full of enchantment.
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