When it was first revealed during Dragons of Tarkir spoiler season, Assault Formation was praised by casual and competitive players alike. It immediately reminded long-time players of the Legendary Creature Doran the Siege Tower, which made your creatures deal combat damage according to their power rather than toughness. Since Assault Formation was released, there have been similar cards released that do pretty much the same thing, but at the time, two mana for this ability was bonkers.
But, Assault Formation didn’t stop with that effect. It also tacked on the same ability of a White enchantment called Rolling Stones, which would allow creatures you control with Defender to attack. While you had to pay a single Green mana for each creature during each turn for this privilege, it was well worth it, considering how many high toughness creatures exist in Magic for relatively low casting costs. Additionally, Assault Formation also had a second activated ability, which allowed your creatures to gain one toughness until end of turn for 2 generic and 1 Green mana.
Indeed, Assault Formation saw some play in Standard. But, a deck build around it never emerged competitively in that format. Still, players found ways to abuse its effects to amusing effect. For example, there was Nyx-Fleece Ram, a 0/5 Enchantment creature from Journey into Nyx, which turned into a 5/5 beater for just two mana. It also made a Limited favorite in Jeskai Barricade, a 0/4 defender with Flash that can save one of your creatures from removal, into a 4/4 which could lose defender thanks to Assault Formation.
There were plenty of other creatures in the contemporary Standard format that benefited from this effect, as well. Crater Elemental from Dragons of Tarkir is a 0/6 for 2R that really never saw Constructed play. That card has the ability to become an 8/6 beater for 2R, but only if you control creatures with power 8 or greater combined already. With Assault Formation, you could potentially have a 6/6 for 2R on turn 3 in a Red/Green deck, due to the tough to kill Sylvan Caryatid providing widespread mana ramp in the format. Obviously, the set design team had this in mind when that Elemental was created.
Indeed, Crater Elemental did end up seeing play in a Temur Assault Formation deck (Red/Blue/Green), alongside a forgotten Assault Formation all-star in Goldnight Castigator. The Castigator was a 4/9 with flying and haste for four mana. While it had the downside of having any damage dealt to it doubled and doubling any damage to you while it was in play, becoming a 9 power flyer with haste for 4 mana overshadowed those problems.
There were countless other creatures even back then that worked well with this card. The one that we shouldn’t leave out is the Ornithopter. Being a 0/2 flyer for 0 mana is already good, but to have a free 2/2 flyer is sort of silly. Then when you consider you can pump your whole team with Assault Formation, too, having some free flyers that can suddenly deal 3 a piece is quite scary.
As with many Enchantments, though, in Constructed you could end up with dead copies in hand. Still, the effect on Assault Formation is powerful enough to warrant building around it. Did it create a stable archetype good enough to compete? That unfortunately never really happened, although it was competitive enough for people to have fun with it in Standard and even occasionally in Modern.
In later years, there would be a similar deck that revolved around a similar strategy, except that it involved a Core Set Dragon, called Arcades, the Strategist. He didn’t require the services of this Enchantment, thanks to having Assault Formation’s ability essentially stapled onto him. The only downside is that those creatures already needed to have Defender in the first place. This deck actually proved to be much more powerful, thanks to Arcades itself being a decent threat.
Assault Formation as a Niche Commander Staple
Because of Arcades, the Strategist’s limitation and being a three-color creature (White, Blue, Green), Assault Formation has continued to find plenty of homes in Commander. Several EDH decks have adopted it as a staple, as it turns high toughness creatures into offensive juggernauts. Of course, existing Doran the Siege Tower decks are happy to include Assault Formation as a duplication of Doran’s effect, while also enjoying the benefits of the other two activated abilities. Now, Wakestone Gargoyle and Rolling Stones didn’t have to be the only ways to shut off Defender in that deck.
Even better, Assault Formation allowed the Doran ability, as well as those from White cards such as the Gargoyle and Rolling Stones to spread into different color combinations. This allows for big red and blue creatures to enjoy the benefits. To this day, Assault Formation is a card that’s become a staple in a number of Commander decks, chiefly Doran the Siege Tower, Ishkanah, Grafwidow, and Sapling of Colfenor. With the release of Commander Legends, Assault Formation found homes in new toughness themed Commander decks such as Colfenor, the Last Yew and Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper.
After becoming a $1 rare due to almost all casual demand alone, Assault Formation’s stock took a major hit when it was revealed that Assault Formation would be reprinted in Iconic Masters. Not only that, its rarity was downgraded from rare to uncommon! Even foil copies of Assault Formation weren’t safe, since Iconic Masters a set with a foil card in every booster pack. However, because it was included in the Iconic Masters to enable a certain draft strategy, Assault Formation gained new exposure.
Later, with the Jumpstart booster set, built around themes that you could play right out of the pack, Assault Formation was again reprinted. However, this time it emerged yet again at rare. Thanks to this new reprint being at a higher rarity, and some play in the newer Pioneer format, Assault Formation yet again reemerged as a solid card for the dollar bin at your local game store. Decks such as Eldrazi Simic Assault Formation have given the Enchantment new competitive life.
Because this is a card that can only get better with time as more high-toughness creatures are printed, having a playset of Assault Formation is a great long-term hold for your collection. Since this is a card with some demand, long-term it should keep its status as a solid casual hit with plenty of future upside.
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