Magic Memories: Enduring Ideal


The Tentacled One
The first Standard set next year is scheduled to be Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. What little we know about this set raises some interesting issues, but I don't think those are worth talking about just yet, since we'll eventually learn more anyway. But the set did come up in discussion, and when my Epic EDH deck took over a long game last week, the topic of the "epic" mechanic came up, with a few of us agreeing that we hoped it would be a returning mechanic.

This mechanic only ever showed up on five cards, all of them in Saviors of Kamigawa, back in 2005. While Enduring Ideal is, by far, my personal favorite of the bunch, the others are worth mentioning too.
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The Tentacled One
Mark Rosewater has gone on record that he thinks this mechanic has one of the smallest design spaces to work with out of all named mechanics in the game. Since it was confined to a cycle of five cards in one set, we might reason that it served its purpose and won't be reappearing in a future set ever. But WotC have often found ways to do meaningful callbacks to old sets, and perhaps this could be one of them. I don't know.

Let's go over the cycle. These five sorceries all share some thematic elements. The art on each card shows a robed figure wreathed in and obscured by rings of magical energy. I find that these pieces convey a mage in some final act of tremendous spellcasting, which makes sense, given the nature of the "epic" mechanic. Each card in the cycle also has a two-word name, with the first word being some term for perpetuity and the second word hinting at the effect of the spell.
  • Enduring Ideal. So this one isn't especially obvious, but there was already a card in Urza's Saga, which I've used myself, called Monk Idealist. Its ability retrieves an enchantment from your graveyard. Its counterpart, Monk Realist, destroys an enchantment. I believe that WotC was trying to use the contrast between realism and idealism to invoke the flavor that an enchantment is an otherworldly thing overlayed on the more concrete reality of the natural world.
  • Eternal Dominion. Pretty obvious. Dominion is a synonym for control, and this card takes control of other players' stuff. Not much to say about this one. There's literally a creature-stealing spell called "Dominate." This sort of flavor has been in blue's wheelhouse forever.
  • Neverending Torment. Part of the flavor of black, and to a lesser extent blue, is that taking cards away from the opponent in some form (discarding from hand, exiling from library or graveyard, forcing sacrifices of permanents on the battlefield) is done through some kind of magical affliction or mental invasion. You get into your opponent's head and use magical energy in an offensive way. In blue, this takes the flavor of amnesia, memory erasure, psychic invasion, and such. In black, it's more of a painful, debilitating assault. This was actually handled pretty well by Kelly Digges in the Shadows over Innistrad storyline, when Jace and Liliana have a mental showdown.
  • Undying Flames. No subtlety on this one. Fire and direct damage have been linked in Magic flavor ever since the beginning of the game. Fireball set this precedent, and other cards using fire/flames to do damage to targets have been part of the game ever since.
  • Endless Swarm. Token generation is a popular tool for green, and while this is technically the first card to use the word "swarm" in association with token generation, it's not too far off from the very first token-making card of all time: The Hive. Having this spell make snakes instead of the obvious insect tokens might seem strange, but Kamigawa Block had a big snake theme in green, and this card continued that trend.
The constraints of the "epic" mechanic rule out a lot of design space, and I'm impressed that WotC made each of these card individually flavorful and on-point for their color. Each epic spell feels like it could just be its own thing, with the epic ability simply being spelled out, no keyword needed. And if there'd only been one of these instead of five, it would have simply felt like an experiment card design by WotC, exploring the extreme "legendary" theme of the block by trying to apply a legendary feel to a sorcery. It's the hallmark of a great five-card cycle. Each card has a respectable identity on its own and connection to the full cycle never seems forced. Yet the cards line up in the cycle so well.

Now, I've praised this cycle and I really do like it. I think this cycle is a better one overall than the Oaths from Exodus or the Titans from Magic 2011, which I've analyzed in previous Magic Memories threads. But this cycle has its issues too. Not all members are really good Magic cards. I had fun going through the whole cycle with the Titans and the Oaths, so I'll do that again here.
I really like the Epic spells. Enduring Ideal was pretty sweet. I remember it being pretty good in Standard at the time where you could fetch Form of the Dragon to kill and had some neat cards to tutor up.

I think its likely they could do another cycle of these cards but beyond that I'd be surprised if they could make another 5 more. The gameplay issues of same stuff happening every turn they tend to not like. Plus just finding the right effects to staple onto these spells is probably going to be hard too. Definitely threading the needle if they wanted to make them fun, powerful and interesting cards.


The Tentacled One
I really like the Epic spells. Enduring Ideal was pretty sweet. I remember it being pretty good in Standard at the time where you could fetch Form of the Dragon to kill and had some neat cards to tutor up.
Indeed. I want to delve into some tournament decklists, but the Form of the Dragon concept came up after the card was spoiled. I initially dismissed the card as wildly impractical. Now, I had thought that I walked that back somewhat even before the other Epic spells were revealed, but I can see now that what I actually remained reserved about was the possibility that the other Epic spells might be stronger cards than Enduring Ideal, a card I maintained was "useless." Oops. But other members here pretty much predicted how Enduring Ideal would be used. Here's the exchange from May of 2005, a little under a month before Saviors of Kamigawa was released. I've edited it a bit to trim the parts that are about cards other than Enduring Ideal. It was the first card spoiled, but we discussed a few other cards in the set alongside it.

Spiderman said:
Any thoughts on the Epic mechanic? White's for enchantments, so one of the other colors will be artifacts? Creatures?
Killer Joe said:
I like it! As for the other colors?
~Blue: target players returns all permenants?
~Red: target player is dealt 10 damage?
~Green: Put a 10/10 trample green creature token into play?
~Black: Target players losses 5 life you gain 5 life?

I don't think I have the mechanic right but I think it's definitely a "late-in-game" kind of card.
Oversoul said:
Enduring Ideal just seems too expensive. If it doesn't win the game for you, it loses it. And since it costs so much mana, you'll have to play it late game, in which case you'll still lose if your opponent can outplay your enchantment searching (not difficult in the late game). This means you must already have a good or nearly dominant board position...
jorael said:
Wow, looking up Form of the Dragon with Enduring Ideal looks cool.
Nightstalkers said:
Hmm... I have a deck that would totally stomp with the Enduring Ideal if you could only foot the bill for the mana.... Hmm... I think I might be able to do it.

but in the end, the epic ability is defunct. You are most likely going to lose before getting the mana out to do the damage, and the no spell thing kinda kills you outright.
jorael said:
I'm not saying that you're wrong, but some players said the same thing about Tooth and Nail.
Oversoul said:
I'm not saying that you're saying that Nightstalkers is wrong, but Tooth and Nail costs a lot of mana to do something very good, while this thing costs a lot of mana to do something very good and something HORRIBLE.

That said, when new cards for Scourge were being revealed, I saw Dragonstorm and thought, "Wow, the new ability would be comborific on any card that isn't ridiculously inefficient, but they'll probably make the other cards weak like this one." Well, one of the other storm cards was Mind's Desire, so perhaps I should have waited to pass judgment...
jorael said:
If you can tutor every turn for enchantments that act like silver bullets (planar void, righteous cause, decree of silence, solitary confinement) and win conditions (form of the dragon, mobilization) that is very good indeed and can win you the game. In Kamigawa block, your could tutor for a Honden each turn.

The interesting part is the horrible drawback. Can it be circumvented? Cards like Aether Vial and cycling triggers still work. And there is rumored to be a cycle of creatures in Saviors that you can discard for an effect (no card drawing). It's called channel according to mtg salvation. See here...
Makes it more interesting doesn't it?

Whoa, how nasty would an Astral Slide deck be with this?! You can tutor for Astral Slide and Lightning Rift and still cycle all your cards away.
Dark Tira said:
I think Jorael is right about this, the epic ability has many ways to be circumvented and the effect is powerful enough to warrent the casting cost and drawback. That being said, Enduring Ideal is pretty weak in block and standard. The only things currently worth grabbing are hondens and genju of the realms, which I don't think make this card worthwhile.
Oversoul said:
Powerful enough to warrant the mana cost? Probably. Powerful enough to warrant the drawback as well? I'm not so sure. Academy Rector costs three mana less, and its drawback is that you have to have a way to kill it.

I cannot think of any enchantment so incredibly good that it will win you the game even if you aren't able to play any more spells. If such an enchantment existed, then a deck built around it would rather just cast it than pay seven mana to grab it out of the library.

The Epic thing could allow for some nice tricks, like grabbing local enchantments and putting them onto an opponent's permanents, or grabbing some series of enchantments (first something defensive like Solitary Confinement, and then others) in order to win the game, but for one thing, you have to actually have all of those enchantments in your library, and for another, not being able to play any more spells at all for the rest of a game is such a huge drawback that it might not even matter what enchantments you grab...
Nightstalkers said:
Well, with what is coming (what Jorael said) I can see where it can come in handy.
evan d said:
One, if the white epic spell costed less it would make Hondens true contenders.

Two, I want to make a deck of Man lands and Epic spells. Who cares if I can't paly spells for the rest of the game, lands aren't spells after all.
orgg said:
My initial reaction?

Istanbul said:
Epic spells rock. Anyone who says differently is wrong.
Spiderman said:
So is Epic more a "casual" mechanic? You know it's only the first card preview out of the block, so you know you can't really judge its merits yet
Limited said:
I don't think the white one will see Standard play, but it's great for casual. Enchantment creatures come to mind.

I'm guessing the Blue one won't be drawing cards :D , but will be something like "Copy target creature"
Black could be a Drain Life effect, or a reanimation.. "Return two target creature cards from your graveyard to play"
Green should be something like Overrun. "All creatures you control get +5/+5 and cannot be blocked by only one creature".. or maybe "Until end of turn, you may discard a card from your hand to put a 3/3 spirit token into play"..
Red ... This has to be burn galore.. "Deals four damage to target player and each creature he or she controls"..

Any thoughts? Will I go 3 for 4?
YoungBeard said:
Another deck idea for this card: lots of "Words of..." or other draw-replacement enchantments. After all, you don't really need to draw any more, since you can't play spells after playing the epic one.

Casual Deck Idea: Enduring Ideal.. get Psychic Vortex... get your favorite Words enchantments.. muahahaha
f-6 said:
Well, lets see what we have... Story circle and Worship for starters. Tribe elders and Reaches from green for mana acceleration and perhaps some Trolls. Confiscate to snatch stuff. Also there are Genjus, especially Genju of the realm. Living terrain is sort of nice. Even Call of the wild might be usefull. I think it is good, but I'm not sure how good...
Limited said:
I like the idea of Words of .. with Enduring Ideal. I'm just wondering if EI/Genju could be a Standard deck. White prevent deck with green mana accel, ended with an epic EI for Genju of the Realms?
YoungBeard said:
Maybe... I don't know if the Genju are good enough though. EI's expensive like Tooth & Nail but seems less powerful. My impression is that T&N is so good because it can pull out something overwhelmingly powerful, like Darksteel Colossus + Kikki Jiki (and attack for 11 the same turn)... And you can still cast other spells next turn, too. Somehow the Genju don't make quite the same impact, IMO. Not that I play a lot of tournament-level Standard, so maybe you are on to something here.
Force of Will Smith said:
7 may be a lot of mana, but there's nothing stopping the others from costing less.. lets say that the green version is similar to the white version...

the academy rector to your defense of the heart..

if it were 5GG to tutor for 2 creatures into play each turn.. that might be well worth it..
Oversoul said:
Yeah, I'm not falling for the Dragonstorm thing again. For all we know, one of these Epic spells will be as good as Mind's Desire. It seems unlikely, but I'm still going to reserve my judgment until I've seen them all...

It would be hilarious if the blue one is broken, and so soon after the whole announcement about weakening blue...
I now have no idea what I was referring to when I mentioned an "announcement about weakening blue."
Force of Will Smith said:
saviors is looking to be huge... i have a feeling snakes are going to be sick... and oh yes... i WILL play epic spells
Oversoul said:
Have any other epic spells besides that white piece of uselessness been revealed?
Funnily enough, I had the same reaction. I thought a 7 mana card was never going to see play because there was no precedent for it and I thought it was too slow. But the control elements were good enough that the deck saw a decent amount of play. Pretty neat.


The Tentacled One
While I can't state precisely what was going on in my head 16 years ago, I think I have a pretty good idea why I was wrong about Enduring Ideal, despite partially recognizing its power. The play patterns that Enduring Ideal allows were definitely outside my experience in 2005. When I thought of powerful enchantments back then, I thought of things like Yawgmoth's Bargain, Dream Halls, and Future Sight, all of which enable you to cast more spells. And here was a card with the premise of fetching enchantments, but which stopped you from being able to cast any spells at all. Now, I do think I probably anticipated things like the combos I'd seen with Replenish: Pandemonium + Saproling Burst or Opalescence + Parallax Wave + Parallax Tide. But Enduring Ideal seemed like a poor fit for those sorts of combos and actually still does, for the most part. Successful Enduring Ideal decks have used different play patterns, such as the Form of the Dragon lines. And it just didn't occur to me that a deck would quickly ramp mana into a sorcery and then transition into a control role, fetching a series of enchantments each turn to build a dominating board presence.

In hindsight, it makes sense to me that I would have missed this possibility. As familiar as Enduring Ideal is to me now, I didn't have the experience that gave me perspective on this. Not at that time. This leaves me more impressed with the people who had smarter takes on the card before the set came out and Enduring Ideal became a tournament mainstay.


The Tentacled One
Undying Flames is definitely the "Oath of Mages" of the epic cycle. And when you're never casting spells again, that feels even worse. I can confidently say that I've never used Undying Flames or had it used against me, and I struggle to think whether I've even heard of anyone actually playing this card at any time. Online searches mostly have it turning up in gimmicky decks that use all five epic spells, among other oddities. So this card is a bit of design failure.

In principle, Undying Flames could be used to win a game, probably by simply applying direct damage to an opponent, rather than messing around with other targeting options. If used in this way, the best topdeck is Draco, followed closely by Authochon Wurm and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

Now, there are plenty of ways to get one of these on top of your library, but from there it's a simple matter to just use Erratic Explosion, at half the mana cost of Undying Flames and without the downside of locking you out of spellcasting for the rest of the game. Undying Flames comes with the epic ability, so you could hypothetically set up multiple cards on top of your library. But how many do you really need? And the resources used to set up a stack on top of your library and cast Undying Flames could be used to copy Erratic Explosion. But Undying Flames isn't even just a worse version of Erratic Explosion. There's also Riddle of Lightning, Pyromancy, Goblin Charbelcher, Calibrated Blast, Explosive Revelation, Kaboom!, Soulfire Eruption, Vengeful Rebirth, Heretic's Punishment, and Blast of Genius. Virtually every other option for this sort of damage-dealing seems superior to Undying Flames. Inexorability is the chief benefit of the epic mechanic, and when you're trying to punch your opponent in the face, you want a big, quick knockout. Inexorability doesn't really make sense here.

Saprolingtoken mentioned the power of the control elements used with Enduring Ideal. I think that advantage Enduring Ideal has is the same factor that dooms Undying Flames as a concept. The card only does damage, and doesn't do damage better or faster than other cards can. So I don't really think that Undying Flames works. I want to try to redeem the card a little bit some day, but I haven't yet thought of the best way to do that.

It's too bad that Undying Flames isn't better. I do like the art.
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The Tentacled One
Endless Swarm can make lots of snakes. This strikes me as a rather tempting casual card, but not something practical. Not at eight mana, anyway. Initial appearances can be deceiving, though? It looks like someone managed to make this work in the tournament environment. I found this Standard list, piloted by one Tony Higgins, from 2005...

1x Kashi-Tribe Reaver
2x Sakura-Tribe Scout
2x Seshiro the Anointed
2x Shisato, Whispering Hunter
3x Kashi-Tribe Elite
3x Matsu-Tribe Sniper
3x Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro
3x Sosuke, Son of Seshiro
4x Sakura-Tribe Elder
2x Naturalize
1x Endless Swarm
3x Time of Need
4x Sosuke's Summons
1x Konda's Banner
2x Sword of Light and Shadow
24x Forest

I know nothing about this deck and I cannot recall any important details about the Standard environment at this time. Mirrodin Block would still have been in the format. So I'm more interested in the role this card might take on in casual decks, but it does speak to the power of Endless Swarm that it seems to have been worth inclusion in Constructed play. Snake Tribal had some decent cards available in this pool, and I can see how Endless Swarm would be really explosive alongside Seshiro the Annointed.

It looks like Endless Swarm is a popular inclusion in Seshiro decks in EDH, which makes sense. Other notable commanders for it include Kaseto, Orochi Archmage and Xyris, the Writhing Storm. I haven't seen a lot of decks employing Endless Swarm, but the synergies here tend to be pretty obvious. Cards that let you make more snakes or cards that make your snakes better are both good options. Coat of Arms is good. Library of Leng is good. Have lots of cards in hand, make lots of snakes. Have cards that make snakes bigger. Snakes crush enemies. Win games. Snakes, snakes, snakes.

In EDH, a popular stratagem has evolved around copying epic spells, up to and including making them instants so that you can put multiple epic spells on the stack and copy each one multiple times before the epic triggers stop you from being able to cast further spells. These decks are often five colors and often use the shrine enchantments. So the idea is to set things up so that you'll get loads of upkeep triggers and do powerful stuff each turn. Endless Swarm seems fine for this, and synergizes with Neverending Torment if you manage to resolve both. But the more I think about it, the more I think this sort of gimmick isn't doing Endless Swarm justice. The card is no Enduring Ideal, but it can serve a potent role in its own right. Dedicated Endless Swarm decks could be a thing, even if not to the same extent as Enduring Ideal decks. The snakes might not have legs, but I think the casual archetype of Snake Beatdown does.
That reminds me of the super sweet UG Snake deck that saw play in Standard at the time. Played cards like Patagia Viper and Ohran Viper. And Jitte too, of course.

Undying Flames is guaranteed Erratic Explosion for the rest of the game which is pretty good but not being able to play anything afterward makes it so hard to set it up. And, like you mentioned, it's just worse than the other versions of that effect, by a lot. I guess there is something like Scroll Rack but that seems unreliable too. I've also not seen anyone cast Undying Flames either. Pretty much always better to ramp into something like Dragonstorm if you wanted a big game ending spell. I've seen the Blue and Green ones cast a few times but not the Black member of the cycle which is unplayable in formats like EDH and just worse Cap or Cranial Extraction in casual 60 card formats. But man, those cards are still so cool though!


The Tentacled One
I've seen the Blue and Green ones cast a few times but not the Black member of the cycle which is unplayable in formats like EDH and just worse Cap or Cranial Extraction in casual 60 card formats. But man, those cards are still so cool though!
Sadly, I think that's right. Neverending Torment gets a similar effect to Denying Wind, but Denying Wind can be followed up with subsequent spells, which makes its steeper cost well worth the difference here. Jester's Cap and similar effects have never really been something I've explored much, but I had someone in one of my old playgroups way back in the early 00's who kinda specialize in them. If your deck isn't prepared for this sort of card, it can be devastating. Like Jester's Cap, Denying Wind, Rootwater Thief, and several other versions of this effect, Neverending Torment is ineffective against highly redundant decks and gamebreaking against decks that rely on one or a few single card slots in order to function. It's possible to strip every possible kill condition from a combo deck (although they hope to kill you before you can even try). A simple beatdown deck might lose some of its most lethal threats, but there are simply too many of them to exile them all, so you're fighting an enemy on an axis where that enemy can ignore you and proceed to defeat you. Well, you can pull it off if you exile enough cards, but that's a lot. You can pull it off if you are sufficiently protected so that your exile-from-library effect can happen enough times to sink in, but that's a roundabout way of saying that a control player can win the game after taking control of it. True, but not really helpful.

Ultimately, I do not think that the epic mechanic operates very well with a Jester's Cap style effect. The white and blue epic spells are simply more powerful. I've also seen the green one a lot more, but I put that down to how Neverending Torment doesn't scale well in 100-card formats. Further analysis causes me to reevaluate this, and I think that Endless Swarm is just overall a better card than Neverending Torment. The two are kind of a pair within this five-card cycle, as they're the only two that care about hand size. Endless Swarm is a bit less sensitive on this issue. Sure, you want a bigger hand, but if you only have four cards left in your hand when Endless Swarm goes off, maybe you already have a decent army of snakes to start with, and getting more will push you toward a quick kill. Having a smaller hand with Neverending Torment just means that your opponent gets a lot more time to find a way to kill you.

So, it's the second-worst card in a cycle of cards that are already mostly hard to work with. But here's where I go to bat for Neverending Torment. Selective exile of cards from your opponent's library is an extremely powerful effect, and Magic players often seem to fail to grasp this because in tournament Magic, Jester's Cap started to become outclassed by more efficient decks a long, long time ago and there hasn't really been another version of this effect that quite pulled it off on the tournament scene. Sure, stuff like Surgical Extraction (or more recently, Opposition Agent) is relevant in tournaments, but that's different. Jester's Cap needs six mana. Denying Wind is nine mana. A lot of otherwise-decent cards just can't make the cut in tournament settings. But I contend that the effect of cards like this is inherently powerful. And Neverending Torment has this weird niche as a card that can do a Jester's Cap effect multiple times, by itself, for only a one-time mana investment. If the constraint that the epic mechanic imposes weren't so severe, Neverending Torment would be a pretty dangerous card. Yeah, that might sound trite or tautological or reminiscent of the complaints I had for Enduring Ideal in 2005, but I mean it. If you could get the good part of the epic mechanic without the bad part, most of the other cards in this cycle would become more playable, but their usage would remain pretty similar. Neverending Torment would go from being irrelevant to being potentially dominant. And otherwise control-heavy deck could sit back and crush opponents with this thing.

Losing access to spellcasting reins in Neverending Torment, but don't let that fool you into dismissing the potency of the effect itself. I've only seen it pulled off a couple of times, but it does pack a punch. I'd be tempted to try it myself, but man, an EDH pod is a bad place for this card, and Legacy has become such an efficient format that the time for this card is long-gone. If Modern or Extended gameplay had shaped up a bit differently in the past, this card would have had its moment to shine. Here's an example of a Modern deck from a couple of years ago.

1 Idyllic Tutor
4 Mastermind's Acquisition
1 Neverending Torment
4 Orzhov Signet
3 Porphyry Nodes
2 Journey to Nowhere
1 Quarantine Field
4 Runed Halo
4 Ghostly Prison
1 Oblivion Ring
4 Phyrexian Unlife
3 Solemnity
4 Leyline of Sanctity
1 Sphere of Safety
2 Arid Mesa
2 Fetid Heath
2 Godless Shrine
4 Marsh Flats
1 New Benalia
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Plains
4 Temple of Silence

1 Porphyry Nodes
1 Damping Sphere
1 Defense Grid
2 Greater Auramancy
4 Rest in Peace
1 Stony Silence
1 Suppression Field
1 Nevermore
1 Heliod, God of the Sun
1 Wrath of God
1 Neverending Torment

I don't know whether it ever worked particularly well in an actual tournament, but the concept is sound. Most opponents would dedicate only a few slots to cards that could break through the Solemnity + Phyrexian Unlife combo, and it's entirely possible that Neverending Torment could snag all of those from the opponent's library, especially after the first epic trigger. Even with only three cards left in hand, you're still exiling six cards by your first upkeep after casting the spell, which is probably more cards than the number of enchantment removal slots your opponent is running.


The Tentacled One
Eternal Dominion sure does cost ten mana. That fact arguably makes it one of the worst spells in the epic cycle (although I still contend that Undying Flames is the worst). On the other hand, blue decks can be proficient in cheating on mana costs and on copying spells. Eternal Dominion might not be the second best epic spell, but it is certainly the second most interesting. Eternal Dominion has some things in common with Enduring Ideal. They're the only two epic spells that search libraries and they're the only two epic spells that cheat permanents onto the battlefield.

Depending on what's in your opponent's library, Eternal Dominion is either the most potent epic spell or the weakest one. In this respect, it plays out differently from Enduring Ideal, which uses the contents of your own library and should be built around. In some sense, Enduring Ideal is a seven-mana setup spell and Eternal Dominion is more of a ten-mana payload spell. Both are fun and can be effective, but in different ways.

As best as I can recall, Eternal Dominion in its day was essentially nonexistent in tournament play, but was more popular as a casual bomb than most of the other epic spells. In EDH, Eternal Dominion is easily the second most popular epic spell, and decks using it tend to attempt to get multiple copies of it to stack before the epic ability resolves.

It's kind of comical how this can play out, and I am tempted to build such a deck myself. If you successfully ramp into copying Eternal Dominion 5 or 6 times, you're basically the archenemy, but you can't cast spells for the rest of the game, so it's a race between you, stealing the best permanents (except planeswalkers) from your opponents' libraries, and your opponents.


The Tentacled One
Reviewing my own reaction to Enduring Ideal as a set spoiler, it sticks out to me that I was thinking in terms of some big, game-winning enchantment. The play pattern of fetching a series of cards to make victory increasingly difficult for the opponent wasn't something I'd ever seen before, and I failed to anticipate it. This play pattern, while perhaps not totally unique, is highly unusual. Even here at the CPA, the initial concept of being able to play in this way did occur to some people. But making it work in a competitive setting was another matter. In theory, an Enduring Ideal deck could have seen tournament play in Legacy or Extended right away, with the release of Saviors of Kamigawa. If this happened, I remain unaware of it. But we didn't have to wait too long.

Ninth Edition reprinted Form of the Dragon, and Enduring Ideal became the centerpiece of a Standard deck from there. Early Enduring Ideal decks in the Extended and Legacy formats pretty much just imitated the play patterns of the Standard archetype, at first.

I don't know which enchantment package emerged first, and I can find some spotty 2005 tournament results with Enduring Ideal decks. Here's the first well-known package, though. This was piloted by Akira Asahara.

It's a bit clunky and not what I would play now, given all the options. But in the Standard format of 2005 and 2006, this package could get the job done. You'd assess the opponent's board state and deck archetype, then choose the enchantments that would prevent that opponent from being able to play around Form of the Dragon. Then you'd burn your opponent to death with Form of the Dragon.


The Tentacled One
The package based around Form of the Dragon was the one that really put Enduring Ideal in the limelight. I noted that the naysayers (myself included) viewed Enduring Ideal as an expensive enchantment-fetching tool along the lines of Academy Rector, but with too severe a drawback. We didn't think in terms of using Form of the Dragon to blank an attacking army, then following it up with Zur's Weirding to lock opponents out of removal. We didn't think in terms of using Ivory Mask to block a combo, then Form of the Dragon to ping the combo player to death. The modular chain of enchantment-fetching, each upkeep making victory more secure than the last, became the signature endgame for Enduring Ideal decks. I want to showcase some of my favorite enchantments that can be used in this way. But first, there's just one more tidbit I should cover.

Enduring Ideal was the centerpiece of its own Standard deck, but it was also an acceptable tool in some other strategies. These weren't really on my radar in 2005. And I'll give myself the credit for not anticipating them in the sense that I still don't think they're very good. You can use Enduring Ideal to fetch Battle of Wits or some other enchantment that can win the game without needing further spells to be cast, but it would seem to me that the card is not an optimal tool for that sort of deck, and that the deck doesn't make great use of Enduring Ideal's potential either. Such a deck certainly works. But, with possible exceptions, it doesn't strike me as compelling. What I do find compelling, though, is empirical results. And some unusual decks featuring Enduring Ideal do have those. Who am I to argue with results? I think the important takeaway is that these decks performed in a specific Standard environment and might have been ephemeral or suboptimal even there. Results are results, but there are results and then there are results. What am I even saying?

Anyway, here's a Shrines deck from the 2005 Japanese tournament circuit.

3 Firemane Angel
3 Enduring Ideal
4 Wrath of God
1 Genju of the Realm
1 Privileged Position
2 Honden of Cleansing Fire
2 Honden of Infinite Rage
2 Honden of Night's Reach
3 Faith's Fetters
3 Story Circle
4 Ghostly Prison
4 Boros Signet
4 Sensei's Divining Top
1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
4 Battlefield Forge
4 Boros Garrison
4 Caves of Koilos
4 Tendo Ice Bridge
7 Plains

2 Confiscate
1 Faith's Fetters
4 Ghost-Lit Stalker
1 Honden of Seeing Winds
3 Lightning Helix
3 Seed Spark
1 Zur's Weirding

Instead of rushing into Enduring Ideal, this deck plays an enchantment-based control game. Ghostly Prison and Faith's Fetters slow down attackers. Story Circle soaks up some damage. If opponents do manage to get a board state with deadly attackers, Wrath of God can sweep them away. Meanwhile, the goal is to build up shrines. That's slow at first, but if the game goes on long enough, the shrines become overwhelming. Enduring Ideal isn't quite a finisher, but it allows this deck to transition from normal gameplay into a more consistent shrine-fetching performance. A more reliable package of Enduring Ideal payloads are in the sideboard, and this deck would probably side in Zur's Weirding in games where life total wasn't a key factor and board control was. I've never been a huge fan of shrines, and I do think that this deck looks perilously slow, but it does have some cool techniques available once it gets going. Thanks to Firemane Angel (from the graveyard) and Genju of the Realm (from the library), you're able to get creatures on the board even after Enduring Ideal has resolved. Most creature decks will have trouble getting damage through when both Story Circle and Ghostly Prison are out. And control decks relying on spot removal have to fight through Privileged Position. Enduring Ideal turns this into a toolbox deck of sorts.
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The Tentacled One
Along with the reprint of Form of the Dragon, Ninth Edition also provided a reprint of Battle of Wits. This was a viable application for Enduring Ideal in Standard. Seven mana is a lot, but Battle of Wits costs five mana anyway and Enduring Ideal covers that, as it puts the enchantment directly onto the battlefield. I don't know what it was with Japan, but here's another decklist...

1 Wandering Ones
3 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
4 Kagemaro, First to Suffer
3 Hideous Laughter
3 Rend Flesh
3 Sickening Shoal
4 Clutch of the Undercity
4 Dark Banishing
4 Gifts Ungiven
4 Hinder
4 Last Gasp
4 Mana Leak
4 Remand
4 Remove Soul
4 Rewind
4 Telling Time
1 Nightmare Void
2 Eradicate
3 Cranial Extraction
4 Brainspoil
4 Compulsive Research
4 Consult the Necrosages
4 Counsel of the Soratami
4 Cruel Edict
4 Diabolic Tutor
4 Enduring Ideal
4 Final Judgment
4 Sift
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Tidings
4 Wrath of God
1 Confiscate
4 Battle of Wits
4 Faith's Fetters
4 Night of Souls' Betrayal
4 Boros Signet
4 Dimir Signet
4 Fellwar Stone
4 Golgari Signet
4 Selesnya Signet
4 Sensei's Divining Top
4 Spectral Searchlight
4 Terrarion
1 Minamo, School at Water's Edge
1 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
4 Adarkar Wastes
4 Caves of Koilos
4 Cloudcrest Lake
4 Dimir Aqueduct
4 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
4 Quicksand
4 Tendo Ice Bridge
4 Underground River
4 Waterveil Cavern
4 Watery Grave
14 Plains
17 Swamp
19 Island

4 Bottle Gnomes
2 Circle of Protection: Red
1 Cranial Extraction
1 Eradicate
1 Ivory Mask
1 Life from the Loam
4 Muddle the Mixture
1 Scour

I've always appreciated clunky alternate win condition cards, and I've softened a bit on some of the ones I didn't care for when I was younger. But even now, Battle of Wits strikes me as a bit too ridiculous, even for me. I'm not saying that I'll never try it. But I prefer its cousins, especially Chance Encounter and Epic Struggle. Still, I can't deny that Enduring Ideal makes sense in this context. Awkward sense, but sense nevertheless.
That Honden deck is really cool. I miss casting Firemane Angel, that card is sweet. I don't remember seeing the Honden deck at the time but leave it to the Japanese to brew up crazy decklists. There's gotta be something in the water. Ditto for the Battle of Wits deck but I do vaguely remember it being played again after they had reprinted it.
Firemane Angel's effect was still really novel at the time and still is in some respects. It's really cool. Felt really good gaining 2 life a turn after discarding two to a Compulsive Research.

A nice bit of synchronicity, today PVDDR released on article on the best decks he's ever played and lo and behold he has an Enduring Ideal list.



The Tentacled One
That PVDDR article is a nice read, and his decklist showcases a few important developments. Not all of those are of direct interest to Enduring Ideal, but I do find them interesting anyway...
  • This represents an early application of the Scrying Sheets engine. 25 out of 60 maindeck slots are snow cards. In a slow control deck, those repeated activations can add up to some overwhelming card advantage, and the rest of the time Scrying Sheets behaves just like a normal land. It's reminscent of Library of Alexandria, albeit not nearly as reliable. In a grindy game, though, the card advantage makes all the difference.
  • We also see an early instance of the Counter/Top combo. This tool would go on to become infamous and get Sensei's Divining Top banned out of multiple formats.
  • Boseiju, Who Shelters All makes attempting to counter Enduring Ideal an unreliable approach to defeating this deck.
  • I already touched on the components of the Enduring Ideal toolbox used in the Asahara deck. This deck retains those and adds something important...
On their own, either of these would generally only buy time, and even then only against some opposing strategies and not others. Alongside Form of the Dragon, they serve to quickly secure the Enduring Ideal enchantment-fetching prison. Dovescape is one of the most potent tools that an Enduring Ideal deck can use, but on its own the card is a nonbo with Form of the Dragon. Most opponents will be able to cast enough non-creature spells to get enough bird tokens to easily outrace Form of the Dragon. Meishin likely renders all those bird tokens useless, and blanks other swarms of small attackers too. Bigger creatures can punch through Meishin, but Form of the Dragon stops them from being able to attack you unless they can fly. Once all three enchantments are on the board, it takes a big flying creature to kill you through Form of the Dragon. That creature has to be able to withstand the ping damage from Form of the Dragon and needs to either have haste or some way to avoid Faith's Fetters and Confiscate. You also need to topdeck it before Zur's Weirding comes down.

So the full package is pretty resilient. As is the theme with most Enduring Ideal decks, your opponent almost certainly needs to disrupt the package or kill you before you get too many of your pieces. This comes with a corollary: you need to be sure that your package is robust enough for this to be effective against virtually all opponents if they cannot either kill you or disrupt the enchantment-based lockdown in some way. The whole rest of your deck can be devoted to keeping you alive long enough to resolve Enduring Ideal and let it do its work. But the downside of the "Epic" mechanic is very real. If an opponent can fight through your enchantments even after you get a few of them on the board, then you essentially don't stand a chance and your deck is not competitive. The good news is that even this 2006 Standard card pool contained a suite of enchantments that could apply reasonable pressure against other decks. It would turn out that with a deeper pool, the controlling power of Enduring Ideal could even work in Legacy. The problem that Enduring Ideal decks faced in deeper formats wasn't that they couldn't find a package to lock opponents in a few turns. It was that most opponents would have the resources to kill them before a prison could even be set up.


The Tentacled One
I had thought that I had a list saved for the Extended decklist that my own old Enduring Ideal deck was based on, but I was unable to find it. Well, I'm sure it was pretty similar to most any Enduring Ideal list you'd find in Extended in 2007 or so. The core package resembles the setup used in the Standard format, but certain key refinements emerge.

Reality is presumably quite nuanced, but this is Magic Memories, and in my recollection, there were three vital improvements in the archetype when it was transferred from Standard to Extended.
  1. The Extended format was a much faster environment, so Enduring Ideal decks did away with some of the utility and control elements seen in the Standard deck, swapping them out in favor of pure acceleration. Lotus Bloom, Pentad Prism, Seething Song, and sac lands from the cycle in Invasion (Ancient Spring, etc.) were all added. I remember sometimes spending the first two turns doing nothing but setup, then casting Enduring Ideal on turn three.
  2. Pernicious Deed offered a defensive/disruptive tool that was both easily castable and easily fetchable with Enduring Ideal. My initial gripe with Enduring Ideal did have a kernel of truth in it: seven mana is a lot. Competitive decks moved quickly, so even with all the acceleration added in to reach Enduring Ideal sooner, there were still opponents that could outrace the Enduring Ideal deck. Pernicious Deed could throw those opponents so far behind that they'd never catch up.
  3. Solitary Confinement was brought into the core Enduring Ideal package and served as perhaps the strongest enchantment in that whole toolbox. Solitary Confinement stops more opponents dead in their tracks than almost any other enchantment, even to this day. The playstyle of the Enduring Ideal toolbox largely mitigates the drawback of Solitary Confinement; you already can't cast spells, so your hand can serve as fodder for Solitary Confinement's upkeep cost. Before you run out of cards, you need some way to keep Solitary Confinement fed, and that turned out to be Honden of Seeing Wind.
Solitary Confinement and Pernicious Deed were new additions. The other most important payloads for Enduring Ideal generally stayed the same as the ones used in the Standard deck that inspired these Extended lists: Form of the Dragon and Dovescape. With occasional exceptions, that was the entire enchantment package. A bit later, Oblivion Ring became an option for more flexible disruption, but it was really still there to complement the core package of Solitary Confinement + Honden of Seeing Wind + Form of the Dragon + Dovescape.

The rotation of the Extended format in October of 2008 essentially put this deck into retirement. Players could experiment with similar concepts in Legacy, but Legacy was an even faster format, and Enduring Ideal was too slow for that environment.


The Tentacled One
Enduring Ideal was never a popular Legacy archetype, but there were occasional blips. Both from what I can remember at the time and from what I can see in archives of tournament results, these were almost all obvious ports of Extended decks. That seems bizarre to me now, since the tools to improve the deck were definitely available, but it actually makes perfect sense. In the early years of Legacy, the Extended format was the more prominent tournament space, and many players who didn't specialize in Legacy would enter tournaments with their Extended decks. They didn't usually do very well, but there were a lot of them, and that meant some success here and there. 2008 was on the tail end of this trend, with rotations in Extended and innovation in Legacy making it increasingly difficult for random Extended decks to get any foothold in a more refined Legacy metagame.

Dedicated Legacy players didn't have much faith in Enduring Ideal as a centerpiece for its own deck. And I suspect that they were correct not to. A consequence of this is that I've never found any record of a Legacy deck that upgraded the concepts used in the Extended version of the deck. Well, I never found such a list from any tournament results, I mean. But that's not to say no such deck ever existed. I built such a deck myself. Perhaps the only real Enduring Ideal decks for the Legacy format were homebrews created by dumb people like me to play against friends in casual Legacy pickup games...