Commander Spotlight: Enslave

Welcome back viewers to another edition of “Why Can’t My Color Do Everything I Want?” This week, one player complains that their color of choice lacks the capability of handling…something. That inability to solve or remove said problem recently cost them the chance at winning a game with their monocolored deck, and damn it, they demand a means of rectifying this glaring design hole. What will happen this week?

*cue soap opera intro music*

Really, this conversation topic comes up at such regular intervals that it’s debated more frequently than certain corners of the rulebook.

Part of this whining stems from pure want –  or even envy – that their favorite color should have the capability to do That Cool Thing another color gets to do. That, or they covet said ability as a means of overcoming some deliberately-placed shortcoming the color has. At this point, the Color Pie Philosophy Machine over in the corner tallying the number of times someone has complained about White not getting enough card draw, or Black being unable to handle enchantments, or anyone other than Blue not having counterspells, has broken down from repetitive motion. Or it went and killed itself because it wouldn’t take it anymore.

And I wouldn’t blame it.

Part of the reason this topic is rehashed over and over again is an unfortunate byproduct of a good thing. That is, more and more new players are taking up the game, and it’s not easy to instantly capture the long-standing nuances of a 20+ year history. New players often don’t understand that while every color is balanced against one another from a power perspective, it doesn’t mean every color has identical capabilities. This is nothing new…except if you’re just starting out. Hence the questions from the neophyte gallery.

Still, Magic may not have the same devotion to tradition that other CCGs do (like L5R ), but in regards to color pie philosophy, with Mark Rosewater at the helm, Magic has been fairly consistent for quite some time. Some mild things have been added, removed, or shifted, but the poorly defined color barriers of the early days should really be seen as a game finding its footing more than precedent for cards of the modern era.

This is coming from someone who has been around nearly since the beginning. I love color exceptions just as much as the next person. The difference is that I don’t expect them anymore. Which leads us to the other major reason this topic comes up so often: Planar Chaos.

Planar Chaos was the second set of the Time Spiral block (which is 8 years old btw). Its theme centered around alternate realities, where storylines panned out in different ways – as did certain aspects of the color pie. Some of these color shifted cards were merely different manifestations of what a color could do already, such as Damnation or Pongify. Others were small experiments in whether a card ability could work in another color, such as Harmonize or Shrouded Lore.

In and of itself, Planar Chaos was a fun and exciting idea, mixing the events of the set’s storyline with the effects on the cards themselves. In the long run, though, Rosewater has said that the set (and the block as a whole) was not terribly successful on a number of fronts. One of these was that many people saw certain one-off Planar Chaos cards as proof that a color not only could do something, but that it should.

Thus, the notion that a color isn’t iron clad, that it could actually be malleable under the right circumstances, has stuck ever since. Even though Wizards R&D has repeatedly said not to take anything from Planar Chaos as evidence for a color’s capabilities, much like the game’s earliest days, people can’t seem to resist.

Moreover, occasional color pie bleeds do also come out here and there when MaRo isn’t looking, such as Chaos Warp, which also help keep the topic in constant relevance.

This week, I’ve decided I’m going to use the chatter in my favor for once rather than fight against it. Last week we looked at Conjured Currency, a Blue card that lets you steal other player’s permanents. Although temporary card stealing is shared by Red and Blue, permanent control magic is and always has been Blue territory. You know, except for rare exceptions. Exceptions like this week. Yes, let’s look at at color shifted version of last week’s card.

Today we have: Enslave


Name: Enslave

Edition: Planar Chaos / New Phyrexia / Garruk vs Liliana

Rarity: Uncommon

Focus: Control Magic

Highlights: Between the two possible Planar Chaos shifts, Enslave is certainly closer to the former (another way of doing something the color already can) than the latter (a true color shift). Black is already the undisputed master at creature spot removal. Black also is the king of resurrecting a creature from a graveyard under your control. From a flavor perspective, Enslave essentially cuts out the middle part and goes right for the steal. In EDH, having efficient cards is often key to their inclusion, and Enslave certainly fits that bill.

Admittedly, Enslave isn’t as cost effective as Blue at taking a creature, being two more mana than Control Magic and one more than Persuasion. At six mana, Enslave is on par with Confiscate, which lets you steal any permanent. However, since manipulating noncreature permanents is not something Black can inherently do, it never steps over that line. That said, this card makes for a great surprise as it won’t often be something opponents will expect in a monoblack Commander setting.

Instead, Enslave offers its own take on control: straight-up domination. Not only does this let you steal another player’s creature in a manner normally reserved for another color, but it punishes the person you’re stealing it from by having them take damage the longer you control their creature. That part is very Black. This damage is more salt in the wound, though, as one damage a round is very unlike to be a game-changer in Commander games.

People fear permanent stealing for good reason, and although it may be a six mana Aura, it’s still highly advantageous to use. Enslave gives Black another option to do something to a creature besides murdifying it, and as any Blue player will attest, moving a player’s most potent creature against them can easily swing board advantage in your favor.

So, here. Enjoy enslaving your opponent’s stuff. Just don’t expect to see a lot more cards like this one come down the line too often. Even color pie bends like this one have a tendency to raise a lot of unnecessary color pie questions. Ones that have been answered many times over already.

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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