Magic Origins is one heck of a crescendo to the end of the Core Sets. The concept of the Core Set has changed a lot over the game’s twenty-year history. What was once a yearly, ritualistic rehash of basic spells and creatures has become a dynamic and exciting addition to the release calendar. Although I’m sad to see the Core Set and its Limited format go, Magic Origins is the best way it could have ended. It’s jam-packed with tons of flavor, has a whole stack of useful Standard creatures and spells, and includes an exciting preview of what’s to come in the game’s return to Zendikar, my favorite plane.
Magic Origins, whether intentionally or unintentionally, has prominently featured a card type that is important in Magic’s history: artifacts. As you might have guessed from my four hundredth iteration of an Ensoul Artifact deck, I am heavily inclined to prefer cards without a colored mana symbol. Some of the most powerful spells in Magic are artifacts, including six of the Power Nine. Their utility and flexibility makes artifact-centric strategies akin to a sixth color of Magic. In Origins, we get twenty-four artifacts to play with: nearly one in ten nonland cards is an artifact, and that bears reflection.
As a connoisseur of colorless critters, I feel driven to talk about each and every one. While each one will likely make a splash in the Standard format to come at some point, each one is interesting enough to discuss right now, and combos and synergies abound even from a first glance.
There are five common artifacts, only one of which is a reprint:
Alchemist’s Vial has the magic phrase that every artifact combo player loves to see: “When this artifact enters the battlfield, draw a card.” Replacing oneself is important, and plenty of decks in years past have played artifacts that did little more than that. This one provides a way to stall your opponent for one turn or provides a critical window to get a flying creature or trampler through a particularly-stubborn defender. Guardians of Meletis, a reprint from Theros, is a rather plain artifact to be sure, but the flavor is still engaging. Guardian Automaton, cast in the shadow of cards like Peace Strider or Anodet Lurker, is a colorless upgrade to the Limited filler Hill Giant. There will always be a worse card that you could play, I can assure you, and Guardian Automaton is one of those cards that provides a simple satisfaction from casting. Bonded Construct, on the other hand, is a Jackal Familiar for the modern age. It already looks like a canine. Two-power artifact creatures for one mana make everyone pay attention, and I’m sure that the Limited pool will not be the last place you see this card. Veteran’s Sidearm is a steadier version of Leonin Scimitar; back in the early days of Equipment, balance was more of an issue, but today this effect is correctly priced, especially on a common. Also, what a story in that flavor text!
The set features twelve uncommons, half of which return from another set. I’ll skip those, but believe me, I’m excited about them too!
Two Equipments, two creatures, and two other artifacts fill these slots in your booster packs. Out of all of them, I’m probably most excited about Chief of the Foundry. Yes, an artifact Lord who doesn’t care about the color you’re playing or the type of clockwork machinations you prefer. By itself, it’s a respectable 2/3, but every artifact you play makes it even better… and with the bevy of 1/1 Thopter tokens whizzing around overhead, the Chief will help you win every interaction between yours and theirs. Ramroller is, in my mind, a spiritual successor to Juggernaut, which is both Standard-legal and twenty years old. Slicing off a mana is all the rage these days, but with another artifact in play your Ramroller will look a whole lot like good ol’ Jugs. Not strictly better, sure, but more efficient nonetheless.
Prism Ring is the way WotC hopes to fix the problem of the old Lucky Charms, e.g. Dragon’s Claw, Kraken’s Eye and Demon’s Horn or, more recently, the cycle that includes Staff of the Death Magus. No one ever really liked getting one, two, or twelve of those while they were opening packs, but this is not only more efficient, just the one card is useful to any color of deck if this is the effect you want. Sure, it doesn’t count their spells anymore, but you could never bet on that anyway. War Horn is, in my mind, one of the set’s sleeper cards. Hall of Triumph got everyone excited, but this one is not legendary and doesn’t care about your creatures so long as they’re in the red zone. Gruul War Chant saw some play while it was legal, and this is both cheaper and easier to cast. Laugh if you want to, but I’m guessing a lot of players reading this article will be blowing the Horn this weekend at the Prerelease or even in the months to come.
The two Equipment are intriguing; Sigil of Valor took a couple read-throughs to understand completely, as it didn’t function like I expected it to at first blush. This incontrovertibly came from Alara, as both a nod to Bant’s “sigils” and the fact this gives every creature on your team except the equipped one psuedo-Exalted. Throwing Knife, on the other hand, feels a lot like Shuriken from the plane of Kamigawa. It stands as a great example of top-down design, and I hope people are throwing knives all weekend… in the game. No, no, at the table. OK, how about casting the spell Throwing Knives, equipping it, and sacrificing it to its attack trigger? Lawyers.
That just leaves the rares, which are all new, both in spirit and in name!
If you ever wondered what a metallic version of Ethereal Armor looked like, now you’ve found it. The lower the mana cost to cast and/or equip an Equipment the better, and Helm of the Gods is about as low as it gets. When you consider that cards like Pennon Blade and Empyrial Plate cost significantly more and have the potential to also provide nothing, we should take note of the Helm, especially during the last few months with Theros’s myriad enchantments. Ghostfire Blade has so far stayed silent despite a similarly-low cost and effect, but the Helm might have what it takes. One mana is really cheap.
My first thought was “how can I abuse the untap ability?” In the same way that some decks have used Karametra’s Acolyte and Singing Bell Strike, I’ve noodled with this Golem. All I can say is I hope we go to Vryn someday; I was in love with that plane from the first time I saw Trail of the Mage-Rings. Oh, the creature? I dunno, that’s a lot of mana. Come back to me when the format slows to a snail’s crawl. It’s not lost on me, though, that you’re reading this article on 7/7.
Chasm Skulker, is that you? Hangarback Walker is a bizarre card, but I think there’s a huge level of potential here. Honestly, I think turn two is the best time to deploy it; from then on out, you can just grow it at your convenience. At its worst, it’s a Myr Sire. At best, it’s a Hornet Nest that you can blow up on command. Did I mention that Chief of the Foundry is an awesome Magic card? You will see this Construct in a sixty-card deck.
Witchbane Orb saw a reasonable amount of play while it was legal, and I still play one copy in my Modern 8-Rack deck. The one mana bump is not so relevant for Standard, but the Urza’s Armor text is pretty nice. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion doesn’t matter. Burn spells don’t matter. Duress becomes irrelevant. I wouldn’t go out and buy a playset or anything, but I have a feeling a lot of control players will have “1x Orbs of Warding” scribbled in the sideboard section of their registration sheets for next few months.
This is probably the most talked-about artifact in the set, and it was one of the last ones to be spoiled. If you compare this to the common Veteran’s Sidearm, though, I’m a little less dazzled. Except for the attack trigger, the Sidearm has it beat in every way – from being less expensive to equip to being nonlegendary. Thus, is the trigger good enough alone for this to see play? It screams “landfall!”, which I gladly welcome in this fall’s set, but I still think that, by then, Battle for Zendikar will have much more exciting ways to put lands onto the battlefield. It probably needed to have Vulshok Morningstar stats for me to be interested, to be honest.
But that art, though.
Finally, we’re graced with two new mythics!
One of the first mythic rares to be spoiled from the set, there are very few control decks I can think of that wouldn’t like this effect. The big question is whether those decks would play a five-mana do-nothing permanent that would accomplish this. Personally, I think that today’s Standard sees control decks following basic attrition strategies. As long as you have one more removal spell than your opponent has creatures and you’re at a healthy-enough life total to survive getting beaten down for a bit, you’d love to gain extra life and draw extra cards with no further investment beyond that first five mana. It works well with the set’s many cantrips and draw spells. And hey, it even works great with the otherwise-mediocre Healing Hands. Is paying half-price for a Kiss of the Amesha good enough? Staff of Nin saw play out of sideboards and in the occasional maindeck, but it was self-sustaining. In the end, while I love the Archive, its place is likely in Commander and on kitchen tables. That won’t stop me from brewing with it, though, and I’ve already got two different decks that leverage its potential. Now to test them…
I just about had a cow when I saw this. Do you know how hard it is to effectively use Fork effects these days? We got Chandra, the Firebrand, we got Reverberate reprints, and we’ve even had Howl of the Horde in Khans of Tarkir. There’s always a catch, though, and that’s kept the dream of copying spells for epic effect in check. Now, though, every red spell you cast gets doubled, plus it actually provides mana and, if the spell is cheap enough, you can copy it immediately. Standard is ripe with great choices. Magmatic Vision, a card with an effect I adore, is particularly synergetic. Discard a land and cast the Vision to draw four cards! Make it so the entire western hemisphere can’t block when you cast Blinding Flare! Throw the Goggles away to a Shrapnel Blast and deal ten! Harness by Force and nab the whole team for a hilarious alpha strike! What can’t these spectacular spectacles do?
Win you games of Magic the Gathering? Oh, quiet, you.
This influx of artifacts, as well as some spiffy colorless lands, gives us a unique situation in Standard. For the first time in a long while, we can actually make a completely colorless deck devoid of lands or sources that provide colored mana. While this excludes things like instants and sorceries, it lets us fine-tune a list of the best artifacts in the format. Thanks to some recent aggressive creature additions, we really can ride the lightning and bring artifacts to bear against the format’s most established combatants.
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Runed Servitor
- 4 Phyrexian Revoker
- 4 Keeper of the Lens
- 4 Hangarback Walker
- 4 Bonded Construct
- 4 Chief of the Foundry
- 4 Ramroller
Combining brand-new powerhouses like Chief of the Foundry and the always-online Ramroller with hardened veterans like Phyrexian Revoker and Runed Servitor, this list has the teeth to make it happen. The deck curves out at three mana, every land potentially does something besides just provide mana, and they all enter the battlefield untapped. The deck, much like a machine, is efficient and consistent. And, if I may say so, it looks awful pretty on that table. While you might brew a number of decks over the next few months, not one of them will have as cheap a manabase and as consistent an attack plan. Could it benefit from basic lands? Sure. Could it benefit from having colored spells that remove or manipulate the board state in any way at all? Probably. Have you ever played Mono-Brown in Standard and won games with it? Bet you haven’t! When everyone’s screaming about the best colored spells in the set, you’ll have a whirring, scything death machine right in your pocket, and you’ll never have a tapped land at an awkward moment or so much as a single drop of color ruining your day by hiding in your deck.
Pretty neat, right? There’s even a potential for a control list that doesn’t have any color.
Yeah, I had a good laugh, too. Doesn’t mean I’m not gonna try it.
While the artifacts from Magic Origins clearly have me jazzed up, I’ll look forward to choosing a color on Saturday at my local Prerelease. Instead of carefully examining the tricks, curves, and rare potential of each color and choosing only after a large amount of deliberation, second-guessing and self-loathing, I want you to help me. Let me know which color you like, and, if you’d like, recommend a color for me to play this weekend. I’ll tally the votes Friday night and whichever color has the most votes will be the Prerelease pack I choose. I trust not only Wizards for creating a balanced environment, but all y’all for choosing a color that you think will be fun, exciting, and congruent with my wacky build style. If not, share your own artifact brews with the community and let us all bask in their glory! Long live the hueless!