In my bio at the bottom of this very column, you will see that I mention two cards as my favorite: Crypt Rats and Oubliette. Today I’m going to discuss the latter card. As you may or may not know, Oubliette is an enchantment and costs 1BB. Even though it’s from one of the earliest sets, Arabian Nights, I came across the card when I was putting together a pauper commander deck for a local tournament. The card’s Oracle text reads:

When Oubliette enters the battlefield, target creature phases out until Oubliette leaves the battlefield. Tap that creature as it phases in this way. (Auras and Equipment phase out with it. While permanents are phased out, they’re treated as though they don’t exist.)

“Treated as though they don’t exist.” The gist of the card, really. Phasing is one of those keyword abilities that haven’t been picked up in a long time, with the exception of some recent Teferi cards. And, so far as I know, based off my little research, Oubliette is the only black card that phases out other permanents. And it was printed at common. Phew. (A reprint for Double Masters bumped it up to uncommon.)

Oubliettes are nasty pieces of work. The real ones, I mean. They were secret dungeons where the the only entrance/exit is through the ceiling. Thus, no need for chains. If one was far enough down, you just dumped the prisoner in and left them there. No surprise, then, that “oubliette” comes from the French word “oublier” meaning “forget.” When you phase out, you’re forgotten. Moreover, once the enchantment leaves the battlefield, you must tap the creature as it phases in. A further insult. More salt in the wound, as it were.

Now I’ll ask something that I’ve not asked in a number of columns: What is the rhetorical interpretation of such a card? I ask this because it’s the only card I’ve ever successfully cast that legitimately angered an opponent. In this case, my friend. Again, this was for a small friendly pauper EDH tournament. The stakes were low. But people wanted to win. I was playing a mono-black deck with my other favorite, Crypt Rats, as the commander at uncommon. My friend was playing a strong, Voltron-y commander and was already a threatening presence. There was another threat at the table, one that seemed more obvious to my friend than me. But that didn’t stop me from casting Oubliette on his commander. He said he was angry because I had an improper threat assessment. And he wasn’t wrong!

But let me propose an alternative. Phasing out a clutch card–especially a strong commander–is a devastating move. More so because it’s perpetual until the enchantment is removed. Treated as they don’t exist. When I read that rules text over and over, it starts to wear on me. That is, the ugliness and voracity of the card comes through. But what’s fascinating is how normal it seemed in the early history of the game, especially in blue cards. Vanishing, Reality Ripple, Dream Fighter, Vodalian Illusionist.

One can see their card, but opponents are instructed to act as if it doesn’t exist. This is the equivalent of being on the schoolyard and having a group of kids pretend like you weren’t there. There is nothing more cruel than being invisible when you can still see the object. Even more so if you don’t possess disenchantment abilities and no one at the table wants to help you out. It’s like putting a wheel boot lock on your car. You can’t go anywhere. There’s no play. You’re not in the game, so to speak. Dropped into a hole in the ground and forgotten about.

But then that’s also black’s whole raison d’être. To make playing a punishing experience. Or so I think.

I am more cautious about casting Oubliette now. Mostly because the threat needs to match the power of the card. Not that there aren’t more powerful cards out there. Of course there are. Though its strength is not just in the ability but in how it hurts a player–by making their permanents vanish into thin air as if they never existed.

Kyle Winkler (he/him) is a teacher and fiction writer. While he was pre-teen when Magic: The Gathering was released, he didn’t start playing until recently. He’s the author of the cosmic horror novella (The Nothing That Is), a collection of short stories (OH PAIN), and a novel (Boris Says the Words). His favorite card is a toss up between Crypt Rats and Oubliette

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