Last updated on March 15, 2023
Go-Shintai of Boundless Vigor | Illustration by Johannes Voss
The release of Neon Dynasty saw the return of a fan-favorite card type: shrines.
We first saw shrines in Champions of Kamigawa. They ask us some very unique questions when building decks, when drafting with them, and even when playing them. I’ve been a fan of them ever since I got to Draft with them in Eternal Masters. Now that there are a grand total of 17 unique shrines in Magic, it’s time to talk about them in detail.
That’s right, today I’m going to be talking about shrines. What are they, how do they work, and most importantly, which of them are the best?
What Are Shrines in MTG?
Honden of Night’s Reach | Illustration by Jim Nelson
A shrine in Magic is a legendary enchantment with an ability. All these abilities scale based on the number of shrines you control.
For example, Honden of Seeing Winds triggers on your upkeep to draw a card for each shrine you control. Others deal damage based on the number of shrines you control, generate mana, gain you life, create creature tokens, etc. The trick is, because they’re all legendary, it’s hard to get multiple shrines on the battlefield at the same time. Short of using some shenanigans with cards like Mirror Box or Mirror Gallery, this requires you to have all different shrines on the battlefield together.
Assembling shrines on the battlefield can be very difficult to manage. Even though 16 of the 17 shrines are legal in both Historic and Modern with the final shrine being a Legacy– and Commander-only printing, I doubt you’re going to see any shrine decks popping up in those formats. Not to say that it hasn’t been tried, but the decks are very hard to build and get the balance right.
But where they do shine is in Limited formats and Commander, so that’s where I’m going to focus my attention today.
How Many Shrines Are There in MTG?
There are a total of 17 shrines in Magic, like I already mentioned. They generally fit into three groups: the Hondens, the Sanctums, and the Go-Shintai. Each of these groups were printed in different sets, contain a full cycle with one shrine in each color, and they all have a few differences in how they work.
The Hondens were printed in Champions of Kamigawa and then reprinted in Eternal Masters. All five of these trigger during your upkeep. Thanks to a further printing in Historic Anthology 3 they’re also available on MTG Arena.
The Sanctums appeared in Core Set 2021, featuring one in each color and a sixth that was all five colors. These have a more unique variety of effects including three that trigger at the beginning of the precombat main phase and two with activated abilities.
You may be more familiar with the Go-Shintai since they were just printed in Neon Dynasty. Each of the five mono-color Go-Shintai are enchantment creatures that have abilities that trigger in your end step. They also require you to pay one mana to do so. The sixth go-shintai is a Commander-exclusive card with a 5-color color identity and a unique ability to make shrine tokens.
With all that covered, let’s go through each of these cycles and talk about how good they are for both Commander and Limited play. I also enjoy playing with them in Cube, so Limited play extends to that too.
Honden of Cleansing Fire
You might think that just gaining life isn’t a very valuable effect, and you’d usually be right. But you’re naturally going to be playing a slower deck and gaining life is still good against aggro decks, at least in Limited.
That being said, you aren’t very likely to want Honden of Cleansing Fire on its own. But gaining four life (or even six) per turn is going to win you games against most aggro decks once you have another shrine in play. This is admittedly one of the weaker shrines in Commander since you don’t usually have to worry about an aggro deck running you over on a multiplayer board.
Overall, Cleansing Fire isn’t a great start. Let’s see if we can be redeemed with the next one.
Honden of Seeing Winds
Of course we can! Honden of Seeing Winds is by far one of the best shrines we have access to. Drawing cards is always good and it quickly becomes the best card on the board when it turns into an effect that draws three, four, or ten cards each turn.
What really makes this tick in Limited is that it’s often going to be good enough by itself. One-sided Howling Mine effects are very powerful, and five mana isn’t that bad of a rate to get it at. If you’re drafting a format where the Hondens are available, Seeing Winds is the one that really pays you off.
Honden of Night’s Reach
Honden of Night’s Reach is probably one of the worst shrines out there. Discarding cards is something that always sounds good but often plays out really poorly. Even if this is going to make an opponent discard their whole hand, the fact that it triggers on your upkeep means that, short of you having a Time Walk of some kind, you’re going to play this and then your opponent(s) have a whole turn to deploy the best cards in their hand so that it won’t hit them too badly.
I’ve only had Night’s Reach work out in a small handful of scenarios, but it’s usually just a shrine with no relevant text other than that it bolsters the effects of the other ones.
Honden of Infinite Rage
Honden of Infinite Rage pings for one damage each turn by itself, which is going to make a difference in any game of Limited. Killing a creature is the goal but you can tack on a burn spell to kill something bigger or use it to make one of your attacks more favorable. Things get really crazy when you start adding more shrines into the mix.
Hitting for two or three damage per turn starts threatening real creatures on the board and eventually threatens your opponent, too. This is one of the better shrines for Limited, but it doesn’t translate all that well to Commander. While creature removal in Commander is still important, they’re often too big or too plentiful to make this amount of damage that relevant.
What tends to happen is that this does very little throughout the game and then you get to ten or more shrines in play and it basically becomes your win condition. It just does very little to help you get to that point.
Honden of Life’s Web
I’ve always been a fan of cards like Honden of Life’s Web that spot you free creature tokens every turn for little or no mana input. 1/1 Spirit tokens are the barebones weakest kind of token they can give you, but they’re still very relevant.
This gives you a free chump blocker every turn in Limited, which basically just removes your opponent’s biggest non-flying, non-trampling creature from your combat math. The tokens can eventually switch to offense and win the game for you once you’ve stabilized your position. Throw in any other shrine and multiple tokens each turn overwhelms any opponent in very short order.
It plays out in much the same way in Commander, giving you a board full of chump blockers that can help keep you alive until you have about 100 of them and can start swinging. Maybe you can even include cards that pay you off for these tokens in your deck, like Aura Shards or something that sacrifices the Spirits for value.
Sanctum of Tranquil Light
The only shrine that costs just one mana is sadly the weakest on the list. Sanctum of Tranquil Light’s ability does count itself at least, so it starts out at five mana to tap any creature. That’s overcosted in Limited but not a terrible effect to have. You just wouldn’t want to have it on a permanent that doesn’t also have the option to attack and/or block.
When you have a deck with multiple shrines, being able to activate this for a lot cheaper and multiple times in a turn really dominates the board, and Tranquil Light can act in a similar way in Commander to help keep opposing threats from attacking you. Maybe use it as a deterrent and encourage players to attack each other instead of you.
Sanctum of Calm Waters
I know I didn’t ask for a cheaper reprint of Honden of Seeing Winds, but I’m very happy that we got it. Sanctum of Calm Waters is also one of the best shrines that we have.
It played out pretty well in Limited. You tended to win whenever you got this going alongside another shrine. It really shines in Commander as one of the shrines you want to see as early as possible.
If you can ever get this and the Honden out at the same time it truly is a joy to behold. It’s basically everything I ever want when I play Magic.
Sanctum of Stone Fangs
Another very cheap shrine that ends up being incredibly powerful all around.
Sanctum of Stone Fangs was an absolute beast of a card in Limited. I remember it being described as two mana for a 1/1 legendary creature that’s unblockable, has lifelink, can’t block, and doesn’t die to removal. You’d play it in a lot of Limited decks, and it doesn’t stop there. Any other shrines buff this into ranges that manage to keep you alive and kill your opponent at the same time, and the clock it provides gets you over the line a lot faster than your opponent probably realizes.
Stone Fangs serves a few purposes in Commander. It’s usually the deck’s main win condition since it hits all your opponents at once. As a 2-drop it’s one of only two shrines that is searchable with Sisay, Weatherlight Captain on an empty board, a scenario that came up a lot when I used Sisay as my commander.
All in all, Stone Fangs is a nice little package that ends up being a lot more powerful than it first looks.
Sanctum of Shattered Heights
Like the other sanctum with an activated ability, one of the biggest problems with Sanctum of Shattered Heights is that it doesn’t do anything for you until you’re able to activate it. But unlike all the other shrines that just trigger and do stuff each turn, Shattered Heights does nothing if you can’t pay the cost.
Discarding a shrine card is something you’re only likely to do in Limited when you have duplicates you can’t play, but even then you definitely prefer to discard lands. When you get to a point where this can kill several big creatures in Commander, you get a really big effect for not too much input. You’ll probably have a lot of excess lands if you’ve been drawing about ten cards every turn off your blue shrines, too.
Sanctum of Fruitful Harvest
Now we’re cooking with gas!
Sanctum of Fruitful Harvest is my pick for the strongest shrine of them all. It tends to be a little bit lackluster in Limited, but it still basically works as a Manalith with a bit of upside which isn’t the worst card imaginable. But this is the first shrine I want to play in every game that I play in Commander.
First of all, your deck is always going to be five colors, so you need to prioritize mana fixing above all else. Second, getting your first shrine on the board immediately helps your synergies pop off. Finally, the best plays in a shrine Commander deck are possible with large chunks of mana to play around with, and Fruitful Harvest is one of the best engines available to give you all that mana upfront.
All the most disgusting and brutal plays that I’ve made with my deck have been made possible thanks to this one shrine.
Sanctum of All
I had high hopes for the first 5-color shrine, and I think Sanctum of All really delivers. Let’s get this out of the way: it sucks in Limited. Five colors is prohibitively hard to cast and does absolutely nothing without a critical mass of other shrine cards in your deck. Maybe it could work in Cube if you put a lot of the shrines in there, but it was the most unplayable of unplayable cards I’ve ever seen (at least in M21).
Moving on, it’s of course ridiculous in Commander. Searching up a shrine each turn or getting one back from the graveyard is an incredibly powerful ability. It also triggers on your upkeep, so if you grab Sanctum of Calm Waters or Sanctum of Fruitful Harvest first then they immediately trigger at the start of your main phase. Doubling all your triggers when you get up to six shrines is obscenely powerful, though you’re already doing such powerful things at six shrines that doubling them feels a tad unnecessary.
Go-Shintai of Shared Purpose
With a very similar feeling to Honden of Life’s Web, creating even one token every turn without spending any cards is a really powerful effect. You hope to be making a lot more than one in Commander (I made seven on my first try), but even just one a turn will do very nicely in Limited.
Start making multiples and you win the game very quickly. It doesn’t matter how big your opponent’s three good creatures are, your couple dozen 1/1s still attack for lethal.
Go-Shintai of Lost Wisdom
While the other blue shrines are exceptional, Go-Shintai of Lost Wisdom is likely the worst of the whole bunch. There aren’t a lot of situations where this amount of milling is enough for you to be interested.
It can become an effective win condition if you have a couple of other shrines in play in Limited, but it still takes quite a few turns before it starts to scare your opponent. Even if you had all 17 shrines in play in Commander and were milling for 34 cards in one go (doubled by Sanctum of All), that’s probably nowhere near enough to kill anyone.
Overall, Lost Wisdom is mostly just a blank card with the word “shrine” on it that you want to fill out your deck.
Go-Shintai of Hidden Cruelty
A 2/2 deathtouch for four mana is always just fine, even if it’s a bit below the curve, so you’re already happy playing Go-Shintai of Hidden Cruelty. The trigger may start to target bigger and bigger creatures after a while, making this an incredibly threatening permanent.
It also turns out that decks with multiple shrines in them are very draftable in Neon Dynasty, so this one ends up being pretty good there. In Commander this is just not going to cut it very often. Just like with Honden of Infinite Rage, creatures are often either too big or too plentiful for this to matter. Worse still, you can’t even combine it with other damage sources or double it to take down the same big creature.
Go-Shintai of Ancient Wars
We’re starting to see a trend here, because while Go-Shintai of Ancient Wars is a great Limited card, it just doesn’t hold its own in Commander. It can eventually become a win condition of sorts, but Sanctum of Stone Fangs and Honden of Infinite Rage do the same thing a lot more efficiently.
Go-Shintai of Boundless Vigor
The last main set shrine is, yet again, a card that’s a house in Limited but pretty much useless in Commander. Costing two mana is the biggest highlight on Go-Shintai of Boundless Vigor since it comes down very early in a Limited game and is searchable with an unbuffed Sisay, Weatherlight Captain.
Sadly, buffing one of your shrines with +1/+1 counters is just not something you’re looking to do. Putting them onto Go-Shintai of Lost Wisdom makes for a nice little combo, but you won’t be doing very much attacking in this Commander deck so it isn’t something you care about most of the time.
Go-Shintai of Life’s Origin
My heart raced when I saw Go-Shintai of Life’s Origin previewed. I built a shrine deck while I was housebound during the height of the pandemic without any foresight that we’d get more in the future, let alone a legitimate shrine commander. My commander of choice was Golos, Tireless Pilgrim and then I switched it to Sisay, Weatherlight Captain when Golos got banned.
Now Go-Shintai of Life’s Origin is almost certainly the best choice for the commander. The ability to buy back any shrine that’s gone to the graveyard is an effect that this deck was sorely lacking. And creating shrine tokens is a really innovative way to boost the effects of shrines without needing too many of them on the battlefield.
The Best Shrine Payoffs
Shrine Steward is the only card printed so far that actually references shrines directly. The card is fine, but nothing all that exciting. But all the shrines are legendary enchantments, which gives us a few avenues to support them in other ways.
For my money, here are the best payoffs you can play in a shrine deck.
We’ll kick this off with what is undoubtedly the most powerful mana engine a shrine deck has access to. Mana is the most important thing you want to have access to for a number of reasons.
First of all, you’ll be all five colors and you clearly need ways to fix those colors. Second, you often get to draw a ton of cards at the starts of your turns thanks to Honden of Seeing Winds and Sanctum of Calm Waters, and you want large amounts of mana to deploy them as soon as possible.
Sanctum Weaver, along with Sanctum of Fruitful Harvest, is the best way to make a lot of mana without trying too hard.
There’s a good chance you’ve never seen Honor-Worn Shaku before unless you’re a big Kamigawa fan or you’ve already done your own research into this deck. This is another sweet mana engine, effectively allowing you to tap all your shrines for a colorless mana each.
You may notice that all your monocolor shrines only use a single color symbol in their casting cost alongside some amount of generic mana. Making a lot of colorless mana still helps you to cast more shrines, which can then tap for more mana. I love what this card offers and it’s a must-include for me.
Idyllic Tutor + Plea for Guidance
Tutor effects are the bread and butter of many Commander decks, and since everything you want to find is an enchantment, these simple ones on Idyllic Tutor and Plea for Guidance are perfect. They also encourage you to prioritize enchantments in your removal slots to give you more outs to search for, which is a nice deckbuilding requirement.
Sythis, Harvest’s Hand and Other Enchantresses
Enchantress has been a fan favorite deck in Magic for as long as I’ve been playing the game. Cards like Argothian Enchantress, Enchantress’s Presence, and now Sythis, Harvest’s Hand have acted as draw engines for this deck for a long time. There’s no reason we can’t make good use of them here too.
Sythis is the best option in my opinion since the life gain really helps you stay alive long enough to deploy all your shrines, but some combination of these is likely a must for the deck.
Finally we have another staple of Legacy enchantress decks. Sterling Grove does literally everything you could want a card to do in this deck.
Granting shroud to all your shrines should protect them against everything other than mass removal, and you can go grab a key removal spell or new shrine using the second ability if you’re in a pinch. There are few archetype-specific cards as good as this.
Is Shrine a Creature Type?
“Shrine” is still only an enchantment type, not a creature type. The type line on the new Go-Shintai cards have led a lot of players to ask this question. “Legendary Enchantment Creature – Shrine” implies that shrine may now be a creature type, because if it isn’t then what creature type are these?
The answer is that these shrines just don’t have a creature subtype. It’s not something that happens often, but it’s possible to have a creature in play with no creature subtypes. For example, morph and manifest both create face-down creatures with no other subtypes.
Do Changelings Count as Shrines?
The changeling mechanic allows the creatures with this keyword to be all creature types at all times. But like I just said, “shrine” isn’t a creature type so changelings don’t count as shrines.
Are Shrines Good in General?
This is a tough question to answer. I’d love to say yes, but honestly shrines aren’t that good. They can be fine in Limited or Commander, but almost none of them have ever been close to playable in any Constructed format. The problem is that they need other shrines to really work and duplicate copies are next to useless, which doesn’t lend itself well to the four-copies-per-card limit in these decks.
Shrines in Commander
First let’s look at Commander. I love shrines in Commander most of all, where you can just run all 17 in your deck and dedicate the rest to supporting them.
What’s actually “good” in Commander is very relative to what cards you have access to and what your playgroup is like, but I’ve never failed to have fun and do silly things when playing my shrine deck at my local game stores. It does exactly the kinds of stupid things that Commander should be and is about, so they’re perfect here.
Shrines in Limited
Now let’s take a quick look at Limited. Many of the shrines are good enough to work in a Limited deck by themselves here, so they don’t need much more work to become good cards. If you can ever put together a board with two or three shrines working together they start to do some really silly things that should win you games very quickly.
Shrines are good enough to play in Limited but not exceptionally powerful by any stretch. For example, Go-Shintai of Hidden Cruelty is a decent card, but it’s not something you’d be excited to get for your deck. Then again, if you could get a couple more shrines it starts to look more and more bonkers.
Honden of Seeing Winds | Illustration by Martina Pilcerova
You may have noticed that I talked a lot about Commander today and the fact that I’ve built a shrine Commander deck. Well, my EDH shrine decklist and a breakdown of all the cards in it is coming soon, so keep an eye on the blog for that.
Are you a fan of the shrines? Do you have any fun plays or decks with shrines? Let me know in the comments in the comments down below.
Until next time, stay safe and have fun!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates:
Go-Shintai of Lost Wisdom isn’t that bad: It is a 0/4 flyer for 2, so it helps saving some precious life points in the early game against faster decks and gives you the opportunity to start your shrine engine working.