The Best Offense is a Good Toughness

Posted in Reconstructed on March 10, 2015

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

What if I told you that you could attack for 12 on turn three? That you could play an army of one-mana 4/4s and two-mana 6/6s and outclass your opponent's creatures at every turn? That what was once a ragtag collection of middling draft commons stacked up in the corner of your room could become your opponent's worst nightmare? Would you believe me? Would you want to?

The first time I ever looked through the file for Dragons of Tarkir, one card in particular caught my eye. A card with a very unique line of text. It quickly became one of my favorites in the set. I remember saying to others around me that I really hope it survived to see print.

And it did.

One of my favorite kinds of cards in our wildly vast game are the ones that turn deck building on its head. The kind of card that pulls the ol' switcheroo (not to be confused with the ol' Switcheroo) about what your cards can do. The ones that, the first time your opponent looks over and reads it, makes your opponent's eyes just grow wide as the board position he or she was once smug about switches into one of immediate disaster.

You'd probably do it too. I mean, imagine your opponent's creatures were this:

You're far ahead. You're in a secure position. You attack all out, letting your opponent's Walls soak up some damage. You're good to win next turn. You have this game in the bag.

Then your opponent untaps. Looks you down. Slams a card onto the table.

And then you die.

The card in question? Well, it would look a little something like this:

It's not exactly subtle—but it sure can kill opponents!

Let's break this down little by little.

On its own, in a deck not built to use it, it's something you could consider. Some of your creatures might be a little better—your Tarmogoyfs will certainly beat up opponents'—and you can also pump up all of your creatures for three mana. If you have enough 2/3s and 3/4s, it can serve similarly to a Glorious Anthem while letting your creatures win in the mirror.

But this is far from a card that just goes into any deck.

With a line of text only appearing on one other card ever—Doran, the Siege Tower—this card makes high toughness matter. And to make things even spicier is the fact it can ensure your defenders can attack: that was always a bit problematic with Doran, since defenders and high toughness go hand in hand. Here, you essentially have a built-in Wakestone Gargoyle as a bonus to help you out!

So, where can we go with this? What about those fabled 4/4s and 6/6s I was talking about earlier? Well, not to worry! Let's take a look at some decks, shall we?

Standard Formation

There are a lot of places your mind can go with a card like this one. At first, perhaps you go look for global ways to pump your toughness and find something like Mardu Ascendancy. That's certainly one way to go about it. However, I'm far more interested in something that takes advantage of all of the huge-toughness creatures—many of which can naturally attack on their own!

You have to play green for the enchantment, so that's a given. Once you've committed to that, white and blue spring to mind as good options. White has solid one-drops and a great two-drop, and blue both gives you Dragon's Eye Savants and the all-crucial card searching to try and find a copy of Assault Formation.

Here's an example of something you could try:

Gavin Verhey's Toughness Zoo

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Turn 1: Play a 0/4.

Turn 2: Play a 0/6.

Turn 3: Assault Formation, attack for 10! (And if you're feeling particularly awesome, you could even Triton Tactics to make it 16!)

This deck certainly has some draws unlike anything else. The key, of course, is that you absolutely have to draw the enchantment. Without it, your entire deck is no good. Anticipate and Dig Through Time help look for a copy of Assault Formation. Even though it's redundant in multiples, this deck has to draw one, so the more ways to find it, the better.

I never would have planned on four copies of Yoked Ox mainlining the show, but Assault Formation is a card that makes you do strange things—and this is just one take on the deck. There are certainly some more inexpensive-to-cast, high-toughness cards in Dragons of Tarkir to keep an eye out for that haven't quite been previewed just yet, which will help make the curve of this deck even better!

How strong is it? Well, very if you can find and stick a Formation. While you need to run enough ways to find the enchantment this deck should be so advantaged once Assault Formation is on the table that it is a risk worth taking. This deck is the kind of crazy thing this card can help you build!

But what about other applications? Well, I'm glad you asked!

Modern Formation

Okay, so in Standard you have some options if you want to push to the extremes. But what about Modern? What is there with a larger card pool?

Green midrange decks are powerful weapons in Modern right now, and there are certainly some shells that Assault Formation fits right into.

What interests me most is a deck that takes full advantage of both places you can find this effect: Doran and Assault Formation, teaming up together from across all that wibbily-wobbily time and space.

Abzan is a powerful place to start, which makes Doran already attractive. Once you have both Doran and Assault Formation, you can start playing the role of a midrange deck that can also combo-kill with a pump spell. And so how about that Mardu Ascendancy? You can actually even get a turn-three kill!

Turn 1: Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch.

Turn 2: Doran, the Siege Tower.

Turn 3: Mardu Ascendancy, attack with both and get two tokens, sacrifice Ascendancy. Bam! Exactly 20 damage. Take that, Splinter Twin player. Take that.

Thanks to Assault Formation, you can do the same thing but just a turn slower by casting some other creatures instead of Doran. A place you could start would look something like this:

Gavin Verhey's Abzan Assault

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On the outside, it looks a bit like recent Abzan: Siege Rhino, Tarmogoyf, and discard abound. But after that, the deck has its own personality. This version even has Treefolk Harbinger to search up Doran if it needs to. And, for a bit of extra spice, one Tower Defense to kill your opponent out of nowhere with a Doran orFormation on the battlefield.

This is just a starting point for a Doran deck—you could easily go more aggressive if you wanted to, with Wild Nacatls and potential other one-drops like Loam Lion to lead the pack and put your opponent on the back foot early. You could also go more midrange with Lingering Souls to play a slightly longer game.

But either way, this deck is a great time to play. The first time you play Assault Formation in Modern your opponent is going to start wracking his or her brain for what kind of toughness-pumping you could have—and I bet even then your opponent will never see Tower Defense coming. Have fun with this one!

Assault Formation | Art by Kieran Yanner

Assault on All Fronts

There's my second Dragons of Tarkir preview for you—what a doozy! Hopefully, you have fun going out and building with it. And speaking of building with the new cards, I'm excited to see what you do with many of the new goodies Dragons has to offer!

What's brewing in your head? Let me know and perhaps you'll end up featured in two weeks' time:

Format: Dragons of Tarkir Standard

Restrictions: None!

Deadline: Monday, March 16 at 6 p.m. Pacific Time.

Submit all decklists by emailing me at

Decklists should be submitted with YOURNAME's DECKNAME at the top. Underneath should be one card per line, with just a leading number. For example:

12 Mountain

4 Firedrinker Satyr

3 Ash Zealot

4 Lightning Bolt

…and so on. Please don't use anything but a space to separate the card numbers and names—don't write "4x Lightning Bolt," for example. Well-formatted decklists have a much better chance of being read and making it into the column. Poorly formatted decklists are more likely to be ignored. (If I can't read your decklist, I certainly can't talk about it!)

The world of Standard is about to be shaken up by the impact of a world with Dragons. Crazy cards all the way from the lowly Zurgo to the mighty Silumgar are likely to get played. How will everything shake out? I can't wait to see!

In the meantime, if you have any comments or thoughts on this article or Assault Formation, please feel to send me a tweet or ask me a question on my Tumblr and I'll be sure to take a look. It's always great to hear from you!

I'll be back next week with my first look at the exciting new Standard. You'll definitely want to tune in and check it out. Until then, may you have fun by killing with toughness!

Talk to you next week,




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