It’s hard to do something for 25 years and not repeat yourself at some point. Whether it’s the plot structure of an author’s latest political thriller, one of the myriad Hollywood reboot films, or the lure of many industries that fall into the cyclical thinking that everything old is new again, repetition is hardly uncommon when it comes to the art of creating something. Try as we might to always be unique and innovative, humans also have a tendency to gravitate towards the familiar. And if something has been done before, there’s always that slight pull to revisit it again down the line.
The same of course applies to Magic.
Although the game has explored a swath of new design territory over the years, you can also point out several instances where something is rehashed, renamed, recycled, and redone. This can occasionally seen through theme (i.e. the litany of stories of trying to save a plane from apocalyptic conditions and either failing or succeeding at an enormous cost), but it’s more commonly something you notice via the game’s mechanics.
Undying and Persist. Flashback and Embalm. Chroma and Devotion. Each of these examples are riffs on one another, doing something nearly identical with just the slightest of variations. This doesn’t make them bad, but nor should we pretend that the successor mechanics to them are somehow wholly unique. If anything, part of the reason that Magic has continued to entice people for over two decades is because for every time they swing for the fences with some outlandish new idea, there are a dozen design choices that are much more minute.
It makes sense. For one, this keeps the game stable and familiar. For another, it ensures that they’re spacing out their more ambitious design material for the long haul, guaranteeing that they don’t run out of ideas anytime soon.
Such overlap isn’t solely tied to keywords either. Take for instance the concept of combat evasion. While each color does evasion in their own way (Flying, Protection, Menace, Fear/Intimidate, etc.), two colors are particularly known for their recurring tendency of simply saying ‘no, you can’t block my creature’. Blue is the more famous of these, particularly because it’s a trait written right on many of its creatures. It is the color of straight-up unblockable creatures and has been since the game’s beginning, albeit with the restriction that it’s usually found on smaller bodies.
Red, on the other hand, has also had a long standing trait of making creatures tough to block, even if it’s an asset the color often doesn’t get as much credit for. In Red’s case, its effect stipulates not that a creature can’t be blocked, but rather that your creatures can’t block it. It’s a nuanced but important difference, and there admittedly are some key differences between the two – even if on the surface they may seem functionally identical. One difference is the ability to repeat that effect multiple times. With Blue, most unblockable effects are tied to the creature directly, whereas Red’s effects are generally either spell based or tied to an ETB trigger, making them one-shot uses. Being able to use that ability over and over again in this impulsive color is far less common, but it most certainly does exist. In fact, one such card is this week’s pick.
Today we have: Hostile Realm
Name: Hostile Realm
Highlights: Hostile Realm is part of the criminally underutilized and easily overlooked subset of Auras that enchant something other than a creature. In this case, it’s a land enchantment with a simple activated ability. By tapping the land, it provides the repeatable ability of dictating that a specific creature on the battlefield can’t block during combat that turn. And spending one mana to bypass an opponent’s largest (or only) blocker is an easy investment to make.
The fact that this can be used on any player’s turn is also quite useful, giving you excellent leverage with table politics. You could activate it on your own turn to ensure that an opposing creature during your combat can’t get in the way, or could could save it to help or hinder others from afar. What’s more, at just three mana, it can be useful at any stage of the game. The only major limitation really is that Hostile Realm is quite surgical. If your opponent only has a single major creature to block (or only one of consequence to worry about), then it can be devastatingly effective. If, however, the enemy has an army of disposable blockers instead, its efficacy does drop off substantially.
It is still a Red card after all.
That said, this card specifically has a couple of advantages over similar ones in its family, especially in a Commander setting. First, this is a repeatable ability that isn’t tied to a creature or creature Aura, making it far less likely to be picked off by a random spot removal or board wipe. Creatures may be the backbone of most Magic games, but any regular EDH player will attest that creatures’ longevity on the board is tenuous at best. By not being a creature-based effect, it increases its own chances of sticking around. This ties into its second advantage as well, which is that its ability can be incredibly advantageous under the right tactical circumstances, but as it can only be used once a round – against a single creature no less – this is not going to be a game-changing enchantment everyone suddenly starts worrying about the moment it hits the board. Which makes it even less likely someone will spend their valuable enchantment removal resources just to make their realm a little less hostile.
Still, while making one’s creature unblockable isn’t the most unique trick going in Magic, it still hasn’t gone out of style yet either. Which means you can expect more such cards for quite some time. Because the only thing the public seems to enjoy more than a remake is a sequel.
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
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