And so we come to the meat and potatoes of the new set: The artifacts. With well over a hundred and fifty metallic things to choose from, there were bound to be some prizes just from sheer numbers. Whatever the reason, you’re going to find that Mirrodin has some of the best artifacts printed in a very long time.
Because of the massive numbers involved, Ferrett and I decided to split this up into two articles to finish the series off. I’ll be going alphabetically but will separate out some of the cycles (acceleration Myr, painland artifacts) and cover them (as well as the lands) en masse in the conclusion to be printed Monday. In the meantime, I wish all of you good luck in your upcoming events this weekend and wanted to take a quick moment to thank everyone who’s taken the time to write in on this series. Anyone who’s done one of these seriously knows the kind of time it can take, but it’s been well worth it for all the encouraging and informative emails I’ve received over the course of this week. In retrospect, I’m glad I decided to go ahead and do the full card-by-card analysis – and if my email is any indication, I’m guessing that many of you were happy as well. Hopefully, you’ll find these last two articles at least as helpful as you conclude my early guided tour through this complex, amazing set.
There was a time when getting a two-power attacker without a drawback was a real challenge for some of the colors. That time has passed, so this isn’t going to see the kind of play that might have come in earlier Constructed formats – meaning this one’s appearances will mostly be occurring in Limited.
Altar of Shadows
That’s a great ability for taking control of the game, but at that speed and mana investment you need to be able to do far better. For Limited, this is probably still potentially outstanding, as games in that format seem more likely to go long than was previously the case in some earlier blocks.
There’s enough outstanding Equipment out there that Constructed players don’t need to accept this kind of limitation. In Limited, this is considerably more usable since the hard part isn’t keeping creatures in play in the first place. As long as even one of your guys can either reliably do damage or survive combat just once you’ll be able to get this going – and once you’ve got that first counter, things get much better. In addition to fliers and other evasion, this one combines nicely with regeneration creatures to get that initial momentum going.
At this point, we know you’ve already got at least 5 mana available, plus you’re willing to invest another card to get even more. With all that in mind, you either already have enough mana or you can do better. That it’s symmetrical only makes it that much easier to toss this one in the trade binder.
Traditionally one of the built-in weaknesses for a creature swarm approach is the fact that, by necessity, so many of your creatures must be in the one-to-two casting cost range. In recent sets, Wizards has been upping the power of the weenies available, but they still typically suffer from the problem of being much worse the longer the game goes. Equipment that can slide into this demanding curve helps quite a bit here, and Bonesplitter looks like one of the best to me right now.
At +2/+0 for a mere one mana, even 1/1s become a sizable threat (remember Rancor?). As a bonus, an Equip cost this low means you’ll often be able to move the equipment around to other creatures after attacking (that’s even better than Rancor), allowing for enhanced blocking as well. All told, this strikes me as a highly influential card for such a meager investment, and one that fits into a niche that many creature decks have been craving.
Not exactly a bomb by any means, the Gnomes are nonetheless a significant addition to Standard. Coincidentally (?) showing up yet again as the Goblin hordes approach dismaying levels of grossness (as they did back in the Tempest days), it seems likely that these little guys will have the best seats in many of Standard’s upcoming sideboards.
The main question with Cathodion is how well you can depend on the”side effect” being a boon rather than a bane. A 3/3 artifact creature for three that burns you for three when it dies isn’t that great by any measure, but the same creature is much better if you can plan on using that mana somehow. Normally, this is going to go into specialty decks planning to try and abuse the”drawback” and currently I have to nominate this one as the most amusing use I’ve seen so far, thanks to the interaction with Deconstruct.
Chalice of the Void
Chalice of the Void has generated a lot of discussion in the relatively few days it’s been known, and for good reason. This card single-handedly shuts down certain decks and part of the issue is that some of the most common artifact removal that would break it is likely to match the X on the Chalice. I’ve only been focusing on Standard with these articles, but this does look to be stupidly good in Vintage.
In Standard, my main issue is that this only feels abusive at x=1 or 2 (depending on the matchup), going first, and against decks where this actually matters (and where you actually know what to guess!). Further, once you get past even X=1 there’s an increasing delay between when you cast this and which spells it can stop. On top of that, it doesn’t strike me as a maindeckable card, which means that any deck with access to Red or Green will have other destruction options to choose if this card really threatens them as much as some claim. This is certainly a powerful card – but for now at least, it doesn’t strike me as unfair in Standard. I’m very curious to see just how much actual use it ends up getting in that format once the environment has had a chance to settle down.
I always thought this was a good option to offer players, and I don’t see any reason to feel differently at this point. In combination with the good Spellbombs, these could also potentially help any Affinity decks that turn out to be viable in Standard. In Limited this is almost a no-brainer, offering yet another reason that it’s relatively painless to splash in that extra color or two as needed.
Many have taken to calling this”Mox Mulligan”, but that drastically misses the point. In a true mulligan, you have to toss your hand back for a random hand with one less card than you started with. Yes, Chrome Mox has a similar effect on your hand size, but it’s the ability to choose which card is least desirable at the time based on the knowledge of your deck and hand (and matchup) that makes all the difference. This card also has a lot of built-in synergy with the card drawers in the format (like Solemn Simulacrum, Thirst for Knowledge, and Phyrexian Arena, to name just a few) which help replace that initial card loss while also smoothing out the rest of your draw. That this removes spells rather than land also helps in that you can (to a certain extent) add these in as mana slots rather than running less spells in your deck (as was part of the problem with Mox Diamond). The combination of all of those factors means this card is going to show up in a very wide range of decks.
Actually, the main concern I have with this card is that it seems to me almost everybody is going to want to use it, but Control decks will almost automatically be able to take more advantage since they can then use the time and acceleration to cast the card drawing spells that they are defined by. By contrast, a typical Goblin deck can get off to some very quick starts with an early Mox but by the same token it doesn’t have any built-in mechanism for recouping that card loss, and some aggro decks walk dangerously close to running out of gas as it is. Again, that’s not to say that this card can’t be used in aggro – it’s just to point out that I think, all other things being equal, control decks are going to get more from this card than aggro decks will since they’re already set up to mollify its downside.
Hopefully the difference is minor, however, because if only the control decks can profit from this it could rapidly unbalance the format away from the creature decks Wizards has been trying so hard to promote. Exactly how good this will turn out to be remains to be seen as the new environment sifts itself out, but for now I consider it one of the absolute best cards in the set.
This has some Limited use for slower decks that need help with early bear rushes and can also help fuel the more affinity-minded decks, but beyond that its uses are less than impressive.
Like its Beetle cousin, the Condor is probably best suited to Limited and defense – a role where”just sitting there” is more likely to have some influence on the game. There will be times you’ll just send six to the opponent’s face instead, but for now my guess is that defense is probably the best”Plan A.”
At this casting cost all of the colors have something better to turn to for Standard unless you have some ungodly amount of mana available. If you do have this kind of mana and color isn’t your thing this may be your guy, but for now I think this one’s mostly going to get work smashing people in Limited.
At worst this starts out as a potential 4/4 blocker for five colorless, so that already gets the Clockwork Vorrac into the club where the reasonable Limited cards get to hang out. In addition, he has the option to smash face a couple times without having to recharge, but for the longer games that seem to be more typical of this block he sometimes offers a better option yet: Just sit there and shut the ground down, tap at the end of your opponent’s turns, and then at some point come visiting twice with your massive trampling game-ender. That’s a lot of power for five colorless, and I like the combination of defensive and game-ending roles.
This is one of the better artifacts in the set, as in the right deck it severely punishes players for committing to an early rush unless they can seal the deal in time (and while potentially losing a permanent a turn in the process). If they can’t, the Scales can potentially mop up an entire horde of attackers while allowing its controller to set up the next round of defenses and card drawing.
One of the main drawbacks to this card is likely going to be forgoing your own cheap permanents (make sure to have enough inexpensive spells to make up), but if you can reliably build a control deck incorporating this and if Chrome Mox takes off the way it looks to, Culling Scales could be an excellent way to punish some decks that load up too much on those early permanents. As such, Culling Scales represents a powerful stabilization tool but it should also be kept in mind as another colorless option (in addition to Oblivion Stone) that allows any color to remove any problem permanents of three mana or lower – such as Circles of Protection or whatever else might otherwise have vexed you.
Trading the mana interference for the disruption against artifacts and creatures weakens a lot of what made these cards so irritating, but Damping Matrix is still quite good at what it does. Because of that, there will be several decks that have to keep this in mind when sideboards come into play. Note that while Oblivion Stone can’t take this one out, Culling Scales can.
One of the many things I like about Equipment is that several of them offer different enough effects that you have to choose wisely in order to get the most out of what they offer your particular deck. In the Sledge’s case, the offer is to allow your creatures to trade with opposing creatures in combat. The main Constructed uses here would be for defense (unlikely) and for punching through on offense, and that’s where you’re most likely to see some play.
For creature swarms relegated to colors that aren’t so good at killing creatures, there has been the traditional problem of how to get through potentially big blockers, even if you outnumber them. In the past, I can think of several blue and/or white-based aggro control decks that were low on flying where this would have been a great sideboard option to have. In the current Standard, I don’t see this getting the play it might have, however, as some of the other Equipment is so overpowering by comparison that they just handle the Sledge’s job better (such as Empyrial Plate and Bonesplitter). As with several other cards in Mirrodin, this might have seen more play in earlier environments – but this time around, there are typically better options.
The only problem in Limited is that this is slow to get going – but Mirrodin looks to be more forgiving of that than some previous sets. In Constructed this didn’t make any splash the first time around, and it won’t this time either.
At four mana, the base body that comes with this is poor, and I can’t see any reliable use for the ability, either.
According to Mark Rosewater this card was originally created such that it could steal the creature’s abilities as well. Mark goes on to say that the card just couldn’t be made to work reasonably because of rules problems, and so we end up with this version instead.
The problem is that, at this casting cost, you just don’t get a good enough deal to make this worth it, at least by normal Constructed standards. However, as colorless creature removal, Duplicant should definitely be kept in mind as a sideboard option for decks that have trouble with particular creatures which they can’t otherwise remove or efficiently deal with (certain green decks vs. Visara or Eastern Paladin, for example).
A nearly unblockable 2/2 for four that also has a (costly) pump ability means it’s out of the question for Constructed, but just fine for Limited.
Here’s what I wrote on Empyrial Plate in my Mirrodin overview a couple weeks ago:
Part of what made Empyrial Armor so damn good was its blistering speed.”Turn 2 2/2, turn 3 smash you in the face with a 7/7″ is pretty tough to race. But it was also to a certain extent putting all your eggs in one basket by risking the dreaded”two-for-one” if the creature got removed, losing you two cards to the one opposing card – not to mention all the time and mana you’d invested at that point.
The equipment version of the card costs one more in overall investment (though you can split it over two turns if needed) and that does matter… But in return you get a huge threat that remains even when your guy isn’t up to living. It’s also important to point out (not that you didn’t notice, but still) that this is colorless, which means any creature deck has recourse if it’s interested. The upcoming format looks complex enough that major predictions are still mostly guesswork, but my guess is that this card is likely to live up to the hype.
Since, then I’ve had some more time to try this card out in actual decks and I have to say that I’m even more impressed now than I was then. Empyrial Plate is an incredible weapon that packs massive punch into the decks that are able to take advantage, and stands as one of the most powerful (and influential) cards in the entire set. The only real problem is that the addition of Equipment has made some aggro decks even more vulnerable to creature removal than they used to be (since a bunch of Equipment sitting around unused just ends up being dead draws) and at a time when there are some incredible tools available for killing said creatures. Regardless of how that aggro vs. control tension plays out, Empyrial Plate stands as an incredibly strong tool and one that will need to be explored in several different archetypes.
A potentially one-sided Mana Flare is nothing at all to sneeze at, but the caveat about land types is a sobering one. Wake has shown us how disgusting you can get when you have this much mana, and the Lens comes out faster. The question is whether you can get enough out of a potential deck with only one (or nearly one) color while also maintaining a deck that can still win without the Lens. And, of course, that’s all without taking artifact destruction into account – something that’s likely to matter game 2 and possibly even game 1.
The most obvious home for this seems to be a new incarnation of Mono-Black Control, serving as Cabal Coffers to returning favorites Drain Life and Phyrexian Arena (and why not some Oblivion Stones while you’re at it?). Without Duress, however, it becomes much more difficult to clear the way of potential annoyances that break your new toy. (Coercion, has your time come at last?) Getting two-for-one’d on its own isn’t the end of the world, but losing that land drop may very well be.
All that said, this still represents a very high power level, and we’ve all seen the kinds of crazy things you can do with this much mana – the question is if how much risk you’re willing to take on in the process. Interestingly, if black is indeed the natural home for this card, the strength of that color in the upcoming Standard may also become a significant issue for using this card in such a deck – it can be a lot more difficult to maintain control of the game when your opponent gets to share in the bounty.
The initial cost is steep compared to old (and no longer used) favorites like Jayemdae Tome, but the”activation” is essentially free. The problem is that at this kind of investment, you need to know it’s going to work. For Constructed, this isn’t going to cut it – but this could turn out to be a great card in Limited, where you know your opponents have to rely on creature damage and you also see plenty of games where the damage coming in each turn is manageable enough to give you time to take advantage of the extra cards.
Fireshrieker is a strong option – but not as strong in most cases as Empyrial Plate, Bonesplitter, and possibly Lightning Greaves. That’s a long line to have to stand in, and normally that’s going to be more equipment than you’re going to be willing to commit to for Standard. However, this is still an impressive effect for the investment, so this card should still be considered for decks that (for various reasons) aren’t interested in Empyrial Plate.
This card should also be kept in mind for creatures that have some triggered ability when they deal damage, as Fireshrieker would let you double your money on that kind of transaction. Nothing suitable is coming to mind as I write this – but there are a lot of creatures in Standard, so it’s probably worth a quick look.
In Limited, this card doesn’t have to stand in line and gets to shine on its own impressive merits.
I keep hearing that this card will see tourney play – but I can’t figure out what deck is using up this many artifact slots, but still wants to spend a card for a vanilla 2/2. A bear for free is potentially interesting, but we’re talking about being at least a couple turns into the game, at which point bears don’t really have the same kind of influence. As far as I can tell, the real use for this is to build even more momentum towards some massive Affinity presence, dropping out artifact lands and mana in the first couple turns, then a couple of these for free, then something truly scary once you’ve ramped up far enough. Right?
It seems hard to believe something like that is tourney viable and also resilient enough to make it through game 2, but stranger things have happened.
With that kind of activation cost, you lose most of the interesting reasons for untapping artifacts. Being able to play this as an instant seems out of place as well, but I guess you could use it to untap some beefy metal guy for a surprise block in Limited. For now, I’ll pass.
Gate to the Aether
This is an incredibly powerful effect and one that doesn’t cost anything to use once you get it rolling. Normally, the scary thing about dedicating to this type of effect is making sure you can rely on getting it – but the presence of so much tutoring means you can pretty reliably bet on getting this into play (keeping it there is another story, but first we need to see if there’s a deck here).
Once you’ve got this in play, you’ve presumably got two plans: Either playing loads of permanents so that you get more out of this than your opponent, or instead trying to manipulate the top of your library to set up maximum abuse. This is where I run into issues with the Gate, because by now, you’ve done a pretty significant amount of work and yet you already have enough mana to be making scary cards (there are lots of great cards in the six-mana-plus range right now). This is a very strong effect; I’m just not sure a deck dedicated to it is really offering enough as compared to ramping to six mana and just casting your big nasties the old-fashioned way.
Colored mana is nice – but do you really need even more mana once you get to this point? Yes, once you untap you’ve now normally got at least eight mana, but if this had just been a land you could instead have done something more influential turn 5 and then next turn you would have hit six mana, which is where many of Constructed’s best expensive spells start to hit anyway.
This is a powerful effect even in the complete absence of library manipulation. Normally I would recommend adding something like this to aggressive Red decks as a finisher that also can potentially take out opposing creatures as an emergency solution if needed. This card would be good for that, but the thing is (as I mentioned in my Red review) there’s already more cards for these decks than players can fit as it is. For now that means this will probably see more use a potential combo piece in decks that seek to stack the deck favorably enough to just kill outright (see the recent Star City forum for some examples).
It doesn’t look pretty, but this will get the job done in Limited.
Goblin War Wagon
Like the Dirigible, this seems like it shouldn’t be good – but the body’s sizable enough for the cost that this is worth play in the new Limited.
Terrible in Constructed, you’re going to need a pretty significant amount of Equipment in your deck to even use this well in Limited.
In pure power terms, Grid Monitor is a better deal than its predecessor Steel Golem. The problem is that many of the decks that would otherwise be interested in this would rather have a creature on turn 3. So far I’ve seen a lot of different control lists start with this guy, but almost as many lists ended up dropping him for the reason of cost.
That said, he is a very good deal for the mana. The question is going to be whether a control deck can load up on enough early anti-creature to get this out in time to stabilize and still have a deck that is better than the non-Monitor versions. My instinct is that this is a good enough package that he’ll be a strong card and well worth using; it’s just going to take players some more practice to get the rest of the deck right.
It’s good to welcome back an old friend, but I’m doubtful that it’s going to see anywhere near the level of play it used to enjoy. Without friends like Winter Orb, the Icy is relegated mostly to partnering with the likes of Wrath of God to put down the creature masses. The problem is that today’s aggro decks are far more quick than they were in Icy’s earlier days, so I’m not sure how convinced I am that Icy can even do that job properly any more. Against more mid-range-based creature decks, the Icy+Mass Removal combo will still be deadly effective – but those aren’t the decks that normally give Control decks trouble anyway. That’s not to say Icy won’t see play; I just don’t think it’s going to be the star it used be.
When you take all of the different Constructed formats into account, the Isochron Scepter stands out as the single most powerful card in the set and stands as one of the most powerful non-mana-related artifacts printed in the history of the game. In Extended and older formats, the Scepter has access to so many completely ridiculous cards it seems a wonder this thing was ever printed at this cost and activation. Even”just” putting a cantrip on this is a damn good deal – and that’s only the beginning of the problem.
Even in Standard, this card gets access to options like Boomerang, Terror, Shock, Raise the Alarm – even Mana Leak can be gruesome. In my preview article, I had this as one of the best overall cards but I wasn’t sure just how reliably you could build a deck around it in Standard – at this point, I’m convinced that even in Standard this card is just crazy good and thus justifies the risks. It isn’t as easy to get going as in some of the other formats, but anytime you do get this artifact going the effects are just gross.
This is a neat ability, allowing you to set up some serious arm wrestling at a time and event of your choosing. The problem is that you need a fairly massive mana advantage to use this to full effect, not to mention the question of what your respective life totals are when this thing gets going. It’s a cool effect, but one that’s too slow and requires too much mana advantage to realistically be worth considering for serious use. Doesn’t this seem like lots of fun for the right multiplayer group, though?
Just cute, not dangerous – and to be honest, that’s exactly how I like my coin flipping cards, thank you.
This is a terrible card for Constructed; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. For this much mana, you need to be able to do far better. In Limited, it becomes a decent surprise trick but at common you’ll have to be careful not to telegraph it since they can just keep building their forces rather than attack.
The Scimitar has a good effect – but in Constructed, that extra point of toughness doesn’t normally gain you as much as the extra point of power. This is great in Limited, but I think it may not have enough effect to make the jump to Constructed in the face of the other options available.
Aside from the combo with Shared Fate, there really isn’t much available to the current Standard to take advantage of an empty library, so for now I think Leveler’s fate is going to be shared with Shared Fate as we find out if there’s any deck to that combo.
Played properly, this should have at least a 50% hit ratio. Unfortunately if they’re careful and just flip a coin on their answer you won’t be able to get above that 50% on average. In that context, it still becomes a lot more similar to Jayemdae Tome in terms of activation mana per card drawn, and with only one mana for that initial investment. However, that’s a bit misleading because the key to the Tome (once you get it going) is that you typically get to start drawing a card every turn. This one’s only going to average you a card every other turn. Thanks to the bargain-basement discount on the initial casting cost I still think this card is worth trying out, but the problem is likely to be that Constructed decks have tightened up their mana curves far more than was the case in the Tome’s day, when having two spare mana laying around wasn’t all that uncommon. For Limited, I would consider this a very good addition, however.
This is a very strong effect since under most circumstances you should be able to just win if you can get this thing to fire. Like Second Sunrise and Caller of the Claw, this provides a way for swarms to buy some insurance against mass removal – and unlike those cards, you get to choose which turn to actually pause your development to drop this out rather than having to wait turn after turn with mana open on the chance you might need it.
On the downside, your opponent will certainly see this coming and can also potentially just destroy it. With all that in mind, my current thought on this is that it will be a good card to consider for sideboarding into swarm decks against decks that focus on destroying your creatures and which may be caught by surprise when you drop this lovely threat into play. I admit it’s a romantic card to hang your hopes on, but it’s a damn good effect if you can get it to trigger.
Obviously great in Limited, when it comes to the (at least relatively) inexpensive equipment for Constructed the three I keep finding myself drawn to are Empyrial Plate, Bonesplitter, and Lightning Greaves. The ability to drop the Greaves out and then give a new creature haste each turn is quite good (and it’s not just for combat; try these with mana creatures!) and in many cases the untargetability will also be highly useful. The problems come up when other equipment starts showing up and you can’t get the Greaves off so that you can put the other Equipment on (let’s face it, monsters have a scary tendency to die in Standard), not to mention the bigger concern – namely, that the Greaves are outstanding when the first copy hits, and you do want it early, but that second copy is a whole lot less sexy than your second Bonesplitter or Plate.
My jury’s still out on how highly to value these after the other two Equipment cards, but I can guarantee that I’ll be trying them in many new decks and sideboards as the format evolves. If nothing else they may provide an excellent sideboard option against sorcery-based control decks and/or archetypes that need to be able to target your guys.