Gavin’s Format of the Month – July 2020: Augment All The Things

This is going to be the first of an occasional “series” discussing ways to use Silver-bordered “Uncards” in Commander games, for fun and value. Please let me know in the comments if you try this out and what happens for your group.

During a recent game with the other RC members I posited that, while it wouldn’t fly to make Un-cards legal all the time, there are a lot of fun mechanics buried in silver-bordered land. Toby has been killed on stream by his own Baron Von Count (twice, in the same game) and I enjoy getting chat involved with “bystander” cards. Splashing silly cards into a deck can introduce novelty, which is one of the ingredients for creating humour.

We’re not just looking for a balanced solution, we’re looking for something we can easily convince other players is balanced.

One such mechanic was the Unhinged mechanic Augment, which was really interesting in draft. Augment was a spiritual precursor to Ikoria’s Mutate mechanic (in a future variant, I’ll explore synergies between them), but the cards were somewhere between Mutate and Auras. Augments could

1) Only target a creature with the Host supertype. Each host was a small creature with a single ETB ability.

2) Provide an alternate means to trigger that ETB again.

3) Add a small buff* to the host’s power and toughness.

4) Stay in the owner’s hand* if the target became illegal in response.

5) Not augment a creature which was already augmented.

Unfortunately, there aren’t really enough Augment (or Host) cards to build a Commander deck around. So, I went looking for ways to pad out the mechanic’s card pool. I figured I won’t have any difficulty finding people willing to allow it if I did it in a way which was fun and interesting, and don’t play it too often.

A Masterful Transmutation | MAGIC: THE GATHERING | Mtg art ...

The basic idea

All of the host creatures in Unstable were simply costed creatures with a single ETB ability… in fact, many of them have a black-bordered analogues which are costed the same:

We can also see most of those effects are pretty small, so Host creatures weren’t anything special; they were just visual cues as to which creatures had ETB abilities, separating the trigger condition (ETB) from the effect. Given that, it seems reasonable that we can redefine “Host” as any creature with a single ETB ability.

What if we redefine “Host” as any creature with a single ETB ability.

Each Augment card then reads:

{Cost}: Combine with with target non-augmented creature that has one ETB ability.  (If this ability would resolve and its target is illegal, it stays in its owner's hand). 

Augmented creature gets +X/+Y.

{Conditon}: Augmented creature's ETB abilities trigger (again).

Does this work?

It’s silver-bordered land, so you’re always going to need to apply some creative interpretation occasionally, but for the most part the rules implications are no worse than normal cards. The creature’s ETB ability triggers, but it didn’t actually leave the battlefield or enter it again. That means:

  • Other cards’ abilities won’t trigger.
  • Effects which would replace entering the battlefield (like arriving with additional counters or making choices “as” it enters) don’t happen.
  • You can use Panharmonicon as a rules reference for what happens when the ability triggers/is activated.
  • The cards are combined, so anything which exiles the creature exiles both cards (just like Meld or Mutate).

We could have treated the cards more like Auras which sit “on” the creature, but IMO Meld/Mutate are better matches for the flavour intent of the cards.

All things considered, Augment was a very well designed mechanic.

Is this fair?

Our new ersatz-flickerforms aren’t quite the same as a flicker because they can’t be used to dodge removal, but can be used to exile multiple targets with e.g. Banisher Priest. We’re in the the same neighbourhood though, so it’s worth asking whether this idea is (a) too powerful or (b) unsellable? There’s a reason Flickerform costs four mana to activate. Fortunately, all of the augments take time or resources to use:

  1. At the end of each turn, if an opponent lost three life…
  2. Whenever you’re dealt damage…
  3. Whenever a non-token creature enters the battlefield…
  4. Whenever you attack with two or more creatures…
  5. Whenever a non-token creature you control dies…
  6. Whenever this creature deals combat damage to a player…
  7. Whenever this creature blocks…
  8. At the beginning of each end step, if you ETB’d an artifact…
  9. Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control…
  10. Pay {5}: …
  11. {2B}, exile a creature card from your graveyard: …

Pretty vanilla black-bordered magic stuff, and nothing which is easy to “go off” with. All things considered, Augment was a very well designed mechanic.

Will other players allow this?


  • It’s a very clean rule… easy to explain.
  • Lots of interesting applications.


  • There are some pretty powerful ETB creatures in Commander.

In theory, the existence of powerful ETB abilities shouldn’t be a show-stopper… like an aura, Augments are easy to kill, expensive to lose, and we have to resolve the creature first to get its ETB ability anyway. Having a Zombified Craterhoof Behemoth isn’t going to win the game any faster than the first trigger did. A Bat-Terastodon is splashy but hardly quick once you’re into the late-game.

Nevertheless, there are some scary combinations possible; stuff like Monkey-Baloth Null would yield an hard-to-kill regrowth engine, and a Half-squirrel, Half-Kederekt Leviathan would elicit many groans. Even if most of that power comes from the non-Augment half of the combo (Kederekt Leviathan + Baloth Null is already saucy), the blame will fall on the formerly “illegal” part. The fact that your Monkey Baloth recurring nightmare cost 6GGB and two cards might be enough to convince some people it’s ok, but 6GUU for Squirrel-Leviathan isn’t going to save you any friends.

There are lots of things you can do which will leave you unable to ever play your deck again.

In practice, even if the power level isn’t higher than “real” cards in the format, potential for abuse can be deal breaker when proposing an alternative format. Many potential opponents are going to (quite rightly) be conservative about what they allow in the way of rules-twisting. They’re going to think about worst-case scenario and assume that, with some planning, you can make it even worse… spoilers: you can. There are things you can do with such a rule which will leave you unable to ever play your deck again.

As such, it’s important to remember that, if you’re going to muck with the rules, you’re not just looking for a balanced solution, you’re looking for something you can easily convince other players is balanced. Depending how much they trust you, that might be a big gap so play it safe. Reveal your deck to everyone beforehand… the surprise will still come, but the lack of huge ETB abilities will go a long way getting your deck a chance to shine.

The secret to making this work will be to tell a good story with what you do.

Spontaneous Mutation | Mutação Espontânea - carta de Magic: the ...

Let’s Brew!

Surgeon General Commander or Dr Julius Jumblemorph are the two obvious places to start an Augment deck, but the former has too many colours and the latter doesn’t have enough. Karador is an old favourite for creature-heavy decks, and lets me get creatures back from our graveyard, which will be useful. Unfortunately, I can’t cast the augments from the graveyard, even though they’re “Creature” cards, because they don’t have a mana cost, but he’ll make sure I always have hosts available.

Keen eyes will note that I’ve included most of the relevant Hosts from Unstable, even though there are certainly better ETB cards. This is a concession to the aforementioned rhetorical challenge of convincing people to play against the deck… if I skip the “real” hosts, it moves the deck away from a theme and towards just “min maxing.” I’ve also excluded any Human creatures, as a hat-tip to Mutate’s non-human host restriction.

So, there we have it… a Timmy-Johnny monstrosity-creation-machine ready to shuffle up and induce all sorts of hilarity. There’s enough value engines to keep us in the fight, even with all the removal in a long multiplayer game.

It’s definitely not optimal, even discounting power levels… I should either have more non-creature enchantments, or cut the enchantment-creature subtheme. Some of the smaller hosts are probably unnecessary, but hopefully the payoff for building such a menagerie is worth it.

I’ll try to play this against the other RC members in an upcoming stream, so be sure to tune in on Thursday evenings to kibitz and cheer for team monsters!

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