Category Archives: Mechanics

Mechanic Examination: Detain

It’s Tuesday, and here on Five-Color Fingerpainting, that (currently…as we’re so new) means discussion of mechanics and keywords. This may evolve into something different as the weeks go by, but for now…it seems interesting to me, and as anyone actually reading this may be aware…“I Can’t Stop Talking” when something interests me.

I’m going to lead off this column with one of the newest keywords, from the Return to Ravnica set, which at the time of this writing/publication, is a month or two old, but is still the newest available set. And, as I’m biased, I’m going to talk about one of my favorites from this set.


I fucking love Detain. Remember in yesterday’s column, I mentioned that I wanted to know Essence Scatter in a carnal manner? Well, toss a Martial Law in there, and we can make it a three-way.

For the unwashed ( by that, I’m referring to the definition number two…”pertaining to or characteristic of the common people; untutored, unsophisticated,  or ignorant; plebian.” I’m NOT making any sort of reference to hygiene habits. Though, a lot of you could probably use a few lesson those too. Hint #1, soap is your friend) Detain is a keyword which works as a temporary Arrest. Imagine that. When the cops don’t arrest you…they…what you? That’s right, class. Detain. Detaining a permanent (typically a creature, but some Detain-keyworded cards allow you to Detain any permanent) prevents that permanent from attacking or blocking or using any activated abilities until the next turn of the player controlling the Detain.

Man…who didn’t see THIS joke coming?

As a control fanatic…I love this. It forces both players to make interesting decisions.  If you’re controlling the Detain, and you’re trying to stabilize the board, and/or gain board advantage…what do you choose to drop your Detain on? The largest creature? The one with the nastiest activated ability? Sometimes the choices are obvious, but frequently, they just plain aren’t. If your opponent has a 7/7 Flier, as well as Olivia Voldaren, which one is really a bigger threat?

I can’t give an answer, of course. It’s all relative, the point is that when you really get down to it, the more fun Magic (from my perspective, which again…is admittedly incredibly biased) is when there’s interesting decisions to be made. I don’t particularly like it when every card in a deck is obvious, just because they’re the “best” card. I’m absolutely passionate about decks that can take a card or a series of cards with a certain attribute/ability that everyone looks at and says “Wow, that’s an incredibly substandard card,” or even “Holy shit, why’d they even bother printing that!” and making it into a card that makes your opponent go “Wait…you used that to do WHAT?!? *scoop*”

Detain gets mentioned as one of those abilities…at least in constructed. I’ve only done two Sealed events with RTR, and they were the pre-release events, so Detain might have performed that well (for me at least) because people weren’t quite ready to deal with it. Even in constructed, Detain has carried its weight, in my opinion, for my janky U/W Control deck.

Honestly, taking a big picture perspective, Detain is pretty good against other Control decks, should you get something like Martial Law or Archon of the Triumvirate to land and stick. Against Midrange and Tempo, you’re facing a similar story. Land your Law before they can drop their big threat, and lock it down over and over. Against  Aggro though…you’re in trouble. You might be able to drop a board wipe and get a few turns of use out of a Detain, but that’s just until Aggro restabilizes.

There’s more neat tricks you can pull to get some more usage out of Detain creatures…most of the cost-efficient ones only work once, as an ETB effect. But there’s all sorts of flicker effects that are just begging to hold hands and take a long walk on the beach with Detain. I can TOTALLY see Venser and Azorius Arrester walking in the sand together, picking up shells. Oh yeah.

Ultimately…this is a new mechanic, and one that Standard will have to be dealing with for just under the next two years. That time period will see how influential it really is. My personal hopes is that it leaves a distinguishable mark, as it’s a very fun mechanic.