Artifacts In Standard

Sam Black is taking his exciting deckbuilding approach to new Standard! Check out the lists he’s been working with to try and abuse some of the artifact-oriented cards from Magic 2015! See if one of his ideas inspires you for #SCGBALT!

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about Chief Engineer in Modern.  The artifacts aren’t as good in Standard, but while Scuttling Doom Engine is no Wurmcoil Engine, it might be a respectable artifact to try to get into play.  Today, I want to take a close look at some ways to use artifacts in Standard.

I have a few artifacts in mind, but let me start from the bottom: OrnithopterOrnithopter is an interesting card with a lot of history.  On the one hand, it doesn’t really do anything. On the other hand, it’s been played in a lot of successful decks throughout history.  There may not be Affinity in Standard, but there is convoke (and incidentally, battalion), so it still might have its uses.  Here’s a deck designed to exploit some of them:

This is primarily taking advantage of the interaction between Ornithopter and two enchantments from M15: Military Intelligence and Spirit BondsOrnithopter makes it easy to have two creatures attacking on turn 2 in case you want to start drawing cards right away with Military Intelligence, and if you want to wait, it’s a way to trigger Spirit Bonds for free. This is important because Spirit Bonds is incredibly mana hungry.

Faerie Impostor and Quickling offer a great ability that can be an advantage or a disadvantage.  Ornithopter eliminates the drawback when that’s your goal, allowing you to play them without spending any additional mana, and you can get additional triggers out of your Spirit Bonds while you’re doing it if you want.

In the midgame, Faerie Impostor and Quickling combine with Spirit Bonds to create a token engine, and after sideboarding, they combine with Ephara, God of the Polis to create a card drawing engine.

Ornithopter’s final function is to allow you to cast Illusory Angel on turn 3.

The maindeck is an extremely focused skies plan.  Every creature flies when attacking except Mutavault, and the other cards just give you more and bigger air power.  The hope is that this pressure and evasion means you don’t need to interact with your opponent.  If you do, you’ll have to turn to the sideboard.

Ephara, God of the Polis supports Spirit Bonds in letting you grind out decks that are relying on removal to win through attrition.  Negate does what Negate does, coming in against big spells you can’t let resolve.  Rapid Hybridization and Devouring Light allow you to interact with opposing creatures, and Wall of Essence is there to make sure that you’ll win the race against non-flying creatures.

Mutavault is great in this deck, but since M15 left out Adarkar Wastes, the mana in allied color decks can be a little shaky, and I didn’t think it was worth heavily relying on Mana Confluence in a deck that’s planning to spend all of its mana thanks to Military Intelligence and Spirit Bonds.

The next thing I want to try to do is cast Scuttling Doom Engine and Soul of New Phyrexia.  I think the best shell for casting these as quickly and consistently as possible is U/G.

The goal of this deck is to play creatures that can help cast a quick Scuttling Doom Engine or Chord of Calling, and go from there.  The problem is, because I won’t always draw Chief Engineer, I felt like I had to play creatures that could tap for mana on their own, but once I’m doing that, I don’t get as much value out of the Chief Engineer.  Also, this shell didn’t want that many artifacts, so often, it won’t really help cast anything.  Overall, I think Chief Engineer is a distraction from the Chord shell here, though it does offer another way to convoke, allowing you to play creatures like Satyr Wayfinder that you’re just planning to convoke with.  This would be more valuable if there were more tokens or other dedicated ways to power convoke in this deck.

So, the issue here is that I can play as many reasonable six-mana artifacts as I want, but it’s harder to find artifacts I want that are lower on the curve. If I’m relying entirely on six-mana artifacts, my deck doesn’t work if I don’t draw Chief Engineer, and Chief Engineer doesn’t work if I don’t draw one of them.  I need to find a way to play a smoother curve of artifacts.

What if I build around Trading Post in a more dedicated way?

This deck reunites Ornithopter with one of its classic best friends, also reprinted in Standard, Springleaf DrumSpringleaf Drum combines with Chief Engineer to give you ways to tap Daring Thief outside of combat, which can allow you to use your Ornithopters in the best possible way: Trading them to your opponent!  Is Ornithopter too good for them?  No problem, why don’t you just give them a goat from Trading Post?

Cloudfin Raptor is here as the best early blue creature to power your Chief Engineer and Springleaf DrumCodex Shredder is included because it’s excellent in the long game with Trading Post, since it slowly fills your graveyard to find things for you to return with Trading Post, and if you want a non-artifact, you can get it with Codex Shredder, and then use Trading Post to get the Codex Shredder back.

Phyrexian Revoker is the best cheap artifact creature in Standard, which is important because you can play it on turn 2 with Chief Engineer and Cloudfin Raptor or Ornithopter, and then it can help you cast other things the next turn.  Artifact creatures are also generally awesome with Trading Post because they can be sacrificed to either the third or fourth abilities.

Ensoul Artifact seems awesome with Ornithopter, Darksteel Citadel, and five random one-mana artifacts that don’t do much.  It can also be traded away with Daring Thief, essentially giving your opponent nothing if they have an enchantment you want.
Ratchet Bomb is great with Trading Post, but not at its best in a deck full of one, two, and three-mana permanents, so I have most of them in the sideboard.

Scuttling Doom Engine with Trading Post seems like a legitimate end game that can possibly go over the top of most things, but it can also just start killing someone when you play it as early as turn 3 with a good draw with Chief Engineer.

Haunted Plate Mail has seen some play as a finisher in Trading Post decks before, but I don’t think it fits here.  I have too many creatures to wake it up, and equipping it to Ornithopter is just too clunky.  Scuttling Doom Engine more than replaces it as an inevitable end game.

The sideboard is a typical assortment of random blue sideboard cards.

It’s unfortunate that this is a mono-blue deck that can’t take advantage of blue devotion at all, since it has so many colorless cards, and it can’t even really use Bident of Thassa, which it could convoke into play. It just doesn’t have enough evasive threats.  This is particularly disappointing because Master of Waves offers a lot of creatures that Chief Engineer can take advantage of for convoking, and both cards play well with Hall of Triumph. However, this just isn’t the deck for all that, and I don’t think there’s a way to get all that stuff to work in Standard, but I could be wrong.

I feel like there should be a way to combine this deck and the Spirit Bonds deck above.  Spirit Bonds offers a lot of creatures for convoking.  Obviously, most of the artifacts here wouldn’t be good in a Spirit Bonds deck (Trading Post is completely out of place), but Spear of Heliod and Bident of Thassa both become very good convoke plays, so it seems possible to get enough artifacts in, especially if you’re willing to play Phyrexian Revoker.  Scuttling Doom Engine becomes a much worse fit in the more aggressive deck with less mana and fewer synergies though, and without that, I don’t know that it’s really worth going through the trouble of playing Chief Engineer.  I think the deck is just missing a good three or four-mana artifact creature, and Juggernaut doesn’t cut it.

There’s another card that rewards us for playing artifacts, especially cheap, bad artifacts that I haven’t mentioned yet: Shrapnel Blast.  Is it possible to use this card in Standard? It’s certainly powerful enough if we can find support.

Shrapnel Blast and Ensoul Artifact are both awesome aggressive cards that want similar tools.  Let’s see if I can make them work together:

This is a weird one.  Basically, I feel like I have to play Ornithopter and Springleaf Drum to get enough playable cheap artifacts for Ensoul Artifact and Shrapnel Blast.  Springleaf Drum means I need as many cheap creatures as possible, and I want something useful to do with it.  The best thing I could think of to do with it was cast Prophetic Flamespeaker on turn 2 if I draw Springleaf Drum and Ornithopter.  The problem is, because I need to keep my artifact and creature densities up, I can’t really play support cards for Prophetic Flamespeaker, like pump and removal, but that might be fine.  Illusory Angel is certainly greedy here, but I feel like it plays well with Prophetic Flamespeaker in theory, and it helps justify Cloudfin Raptor by letting it continue to evolve. Obviously, it’s great with Ornithopter.

The net result is likely too clunky, but I’m not entirely sure how to fix it.  Maybe Illusory Angel needs to go to make room for something like Firefist Striker to try to make sure that Phyrexian Revoker and Firedrinker Satyr can actually do something.

Void Snare out of the sideboard is basically there to help with getting my ground creatures through while being a cheap hit off Prophetic Flamespeaker that can let me cast Illusory Angel.  While I’m using it for those things, it really doesn’t matter that it’s a sorcery.

One last wackier Trading Post deck just for fun.  This one is not designed to be played competitively:

I think this one’s fairly clear.  The idea is to get an artifact that gives you four life and Angelic Accord.  Dark Prophecy should help get these things together while working well with all the life you can gain and creatures that can die thanks to Trading Post and Spirit Bonds.  Ajani’s Pridemate should be a good body in this deck.

A cool interaction is that Spirit Bonds doesn’t care if you cast a creature; it triggers on entering play, so you can make a spirit when you find a Festering Newt with Bogbrew Witch.

It’s easy to think I might just have Ornithopter in this deck because that’s how I’ve been starting most of the decks in this article, so I’m just of the mindset of putting it in everything, but the free creature is important with Spirit Bonds and Dark Prophecy, and more importantly, the artifact creature is important with Trading Post.  I think Ornithopter really does belong here.

While some of these decks definitely won’t work out, a few of them could be interesting.  It’s easy to ignore Ornithopter, the classic card that doesn’t do anything, but every time it’s printed, it has an odd tendency to find its way into competitive decks, so I’d be sure to keep an eye on it.