Last updated on August 16, 2023
Guardian of New Benalia | Illustration by Ernanda Souza
Dominaria United brought back a number of popular mechanics, including sagas and kicker, but it also introduced a few new ones like enlist. Enlist is a spiritual successor to banding, infamous for being one of the most confusing mechanics of all time. This modernized version is meant to preserve the idea of combining your individual creatures together into one formidable attacker.
Unfortunately, it’s not the most elegant mechanic from a rules perspective. I’ll be flexing my L1 Magic Judge muscles today and breaking down this mechanic into its fundamentals, answering all of your questions about how it works.
How Does Enlist Work?
Keldon Flamesage | Illustration by Jason A. Engle
Enlist is an optional cost that lets you tap a creature to add its power to an attacking creature until end of turn. Here’s what you need to know:
The first thing to know is that enlist has two parts: a cost and a trigger. As you declare attacks with your enlist creature, you may pay the optional cost of tapping another creature. That choice is made at the same time as declaring that creature an attacker. The enlisted creature cannot be attacking, tapped, or have summoning sickness.
Then, if your attacker enlisted another creature, the enlist ability will trigger and go one the stack. It’s important to know that the actual act of tapping another creature, or enlisting that creature, doesn’t use the stack, but the trigger that pumps your enlist creature will use the stack.
Once the triggered ability resolves, you add the enlisted creature’s power to the attacking creature’s power.
During combat, you’ll declare your Skyknight as an attacker while simultaneously tapping your Grizzly Bears to pay the cost for enlist. As soon as Grizzly Bears becomes tapped, enlist will trigger and go on the stack. Assuming no one interacts, your Skyknight will get +2/+0 when the ability resolves.
Got all that? Good, let’s delve a little deeper on the mechanic.
The History of Enlist in MTG
Enlist was introduced in 2022’s Dominaria United and is currently only featured in that set. The ability only appears on creatures in Naya () colors, and not very many overall. There are currently 11 enlist cards in total, all from the main Dominaria United set.
The ability was designed to be a more user-friendly version of banding, which allowed creatures to block and attack in groups, but became notorious for its convoluted rules and interactions.
What Is an Enlisted Creature?
An enlisted creature is the creature being tapped to pay the cost of another creature’s enlist ability. It’s the one that adds its power to the attacking creature, but isn’t in combat itself.
It might help to remember that the “enlist creature” and the “enlisted creature” are never the same card.
Is Enlist a Triggered Ability?
Enlist does create a triggered ability that uses the stack and can be responded to. Remember that the act of tapping and enlisting a creature is a cost to attack. Paying that cost causes the enlist ability to trigger, after which players can interact before the attacking creature gets pumped.
Can You Enlist a Tapped Creature?
Only untapped creatures can be enlisted. If the creature you intend to tap for enlist is already tapped when you declare attacks, it’s not a viable option.
Can You Tap a Defender/Wall for Enlist?
Defenders and walls can be tapped for enlist so long as they meet the normal conditions. As funny as it is to enlist a giant brick wall for help, it’s legal so long as the wall is untapped, not attacking, and doesn’t have summoning sickness.
Can You Enlist if a Creature Entered the Battlefield Attacking?
If a creature with enlist enters the battlefield attacking, it’s missed the opportunity to trigger its ability. Enlist only triggers when you declare an attack, and creatures that entered the battlefield already attacking were not declared as attackers.
Can You Change an Enlisted Creature’s Power in Response?
Since the power of the enlisted creature is added when the trigger resolves, that creature’s power can be changed while the ability is still on the stack. This can have both positive and negative implications.
If I attack with Guardian of New Benalia and I enlist a Grizzly Bears, I’m expecting to get +2/+0 on my Guardian when the ability resolves. However, if I cast Giant Growth on my Grizzly Bears while the trigger is still on the stack, my Guardian will see that the Bears is now a 5/5, and it’ll get +5/+0 when the trigger resolves.
However, let’s take the same situation, but instead of Giant Growth the opponent casts a Befuddle on my Bears, making it a -2/2. Now when Guardian checks the power of the enlisted creature, it’ll get -2/-0 and become a 0/2. That’s not really what we wanted to happen.
It’s also important to know what happens if the enlisted creature leaves the battlefield before the enlist trigger resolves. In this case, you’ll use the “last known power” of the enlisted creature to determine the power boost. If my Grizzly Bears gets tapped for enlist but my opponent Unsummons it in response, my Guardian still gets +2/+0.
Does Enlist Work with Isshin?
Enlist is an ability that triggers when a creature you control attacks, so it meets the criteria for Isshin, Two Heavens as One.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean you get to enlist a different creature. Remember, tapping a creature is the cost; the power boost is the trigger. This means you basically get to double up on the power gained from the enlisted creature.
Is Enlist Good?
Enlist is a perfectly reasonable mechanic best suited for Limited and potentially Constructed play. It’s not a particularly exciting mechanic for Commander unless your deck cares about attack triggers or high power. I could see some enlist creatures making a splash in Zilortha, Strength Incarnate or Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma decks.
The best enlist cards are the ones that have great secondary abilities, with enlist being bonus text most of the time. Since Enlist is a combat-oriented ability, these cards are at their best in aggressive strategies with lots of creatures.
Gallery and List of Enlist Cards
- Argivian Cavalier
- Benalish Faithbonder
- Coalition Skyknight
- Guardian of New Benalia
- Balduvian Berserker
- Coalition Warbrute
- Keldon Flamesage
- Yavimaya Steelcrusher
- Barkweave Crusher
- Linebreaker Baloth
- Hexbane Tortoise
Best Enlist Cards
The majority of Enlist cards are designed for Limited and have little chance of making an impact on Constructed formats or Commander. However, there are a handful worth picking out from the rest.
Guardian of New Benalia is the most likely to see play in Constructed. This resilient threat is reminiscent of Seasoned Hallowblade and other “control hosers” meant to survive through wraths and single-target destruction effects. Guardian can help scry towards more action, and potentially hits harder than Hallowblade if you enlist the right creature.
The other obvious standout is Keldon Flamesage. With its ability to cast spells for free from your library, it’s not unreasonable to think players will build around this effect. It plays especially well with “anthem” effects like those from Wedding Festivity or Intrepid Adversary.
Yavimaya Steelcrusher has potential in an artifact-heavy meta, where it doubles as a beatdown creature and a Shatter effect. Its activated ability only hits artifacts, but the card reminds me of Qasali Pridemage and Thrashing Brontodon, which have both had their time in the spotlight.
We should probably give a nod to Balduvian Berserker as well. In an EDH deck with high-power creatures, it’s possible to enlist something huge with the Berserker, then sacrifice it to hit someone with its death trigger. It’s a long shot, but there’s some combo potential here.
Decklist: Enlist in Standard
Wedding Announcement | Illustration by Caroline Gariba
I’ve included an example of what a post-rotation Standard enlist deck might look like. Unfortunately, the mechanic isn’t fleshed out enough and there aren’t enough options to build a true “Enlist” Commander deck, but there’s room in Constructed for some of the heavy hitters.
This is a bare-bones Boros () human tribal deck looking to pair the best aggressive white creatures in Standard with a few pump spells to push through damage. The idea is to “combo” Keldon Flamesage with a pump spell like Antagonize which lets you dig deeper with its ability and hopefully spike a Run Amok for a huge damage swing.
It’s likely not a top-tier deck, but should give you a baseline for how to use the better enlist creatures in Constructed.
Thanks for Enlisting my Help
Linebreaker Baloth | Illustration by Brent Hollowell
Enlist wasn’t exactly a headlining mechanic for DMU. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the mechanic, but it’s quite restrictive and not that inspiring. Outside of one or two rare cards, the designs are mostly intended for Limited, where this mechanic will be at its best.
That’s a wrap on enlist, at least until we see the ability again down the road. I don’t expect it to make a splashy return any time soon, but maybe we’ll see a few one-off cards in a Commander deck or Masters set. For now, make what you will from the mechanic, and let us know if you plan on playing any of the new enlist creatures.
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