Lost In The Machine: The Mirrodin Artifact Review, Part 3

There are lots of potentially great cards in Mirrodin, and it’s been a long time since I remember having such a long list of cards which I’m curious to find out whether they were as strong or weak as initially predicted. Out of all of them, Solemn Simulacrum interests me the most. This card fascinates me deeply. It’s not flashy, it’s not going to win games on its own by any stretch of the imagination, but it is powerful. Most of the other writers and players I respect who’ve discussed this card seem to see it as just”okay.” So far, I find it to be much stronger than that, and I’m eager to find out who turns out to be right.


I had to go back and read the real thing twice before I was willing to believe this didn’t have flying. Without flying on the base body, it becomes a lot worse in Limited than would have been the case – and that’s the only format this is going to see any play as is.

However, thanks to the 6th Edition rules changes (which predate the original Tetravus) the Pentavus still proves well worth playing thanks to stack tricks. Often at worst he’ll charge into ground battle, take a couple guys with him, then send a cloud of bugs to the air once damage is on the stack. He also allows you to sometimes completely shut down the air, threatening to send up your aerial squadron to take down an attacking flier and then bring them back to the aircraft carrier once damage is on the stack. Maybe it’s just as well the main body doesn’t have flying after all…

Platinum Angel

Another brilliant concept design-wise, the Platinum Angel has one of the most dramatic sounding effects ever. And yet, somehow, it’s not all that amazing for Constructed. Its presence and even the threat of its use may keep certain decks honest that might otherwise have tried to get away with no way to handle this, but in the new Standard it’s hard to imagine many decks having no access to creature or artifact removal. Combined with a casting cost of seven, the result is a card that will certainly get tested but which I suspect won’t actually see that much play.

I can only assume that I don’t need to address the playability of this in Limited, however.

Power Conduit

I haven’t managed to find anything too threatening for Standard involving charge counters (or removing other counters for that matter), and I’m not sure how playable this thing is for Limited, either. However, it does make for a great casual card. If that’s what floats your boat, this should be right up your alley. (Actually, it’s a great article even if you only wish you were playing more casual Magic.) If nothing else, keep that approach in mind when evaluating this card after future sets are released; the ability to remove otherwise-hindering counters can be exceptionally strong if you’re able to pull it off to advantage.

Psychogenic Probe

If you’re going to invest a card in an effect this narrow, you’re going to need a much better effect to make it worth it. Essentially, this represents an alternative victory method, but as printed I suspect that the ability made Development nervous or they didn’t want this approach to victory to be tourney viable (or both).

Quicksilver Fountain

Assuming your opponent isn’t playing Blue, this is a potentially strong effect since presumably you’re coming to the show already prepared to party – but once it resets, all your work is for nothing. You could also just blow up the Fountain before it resets things, since the lands stay as Islands, but even then you’re doing too much work for a slow effect – and even then any new lands they play are just fine. It’s an interesting mechanic, but I find myself wondering if there’s a way to print it as tournament-viable without it then being too strong to allow.

Rust Elemental

I’m all for buying fatties on the cheap, but it’s important to 1) make sure you get your money’s worth and 2) make sure you can make the payments before some gorilla of a guy with a name like”knuckles” comes to visit. Such a severe penalty on such a severe requirement combined with the punishment of becoming unusable makes this a very bad card.

Rustspore Ram

Equipment is important enough that you’ll often be thrilled to have this option in Limited. In Constructed, there are more important issues and you have far more opportunity to be choosy.

Scale of Chiss-Goria

With such a miniscule impact, the only reason you would use this in Constructed would be for the potentially free Affinity fuel. In Limited, I’m realizing that combat is now much less important than used to be the case (something I think I’m going to really miss). As such I’m still a bit up in the air on just how highly to value this even for that format, though I suspect it’s still around par thanks to the ability to (hopefully) save a guy in combat as a surprise and then stick around to make opposing math at least a little more difficult.

Scrabbling Claws

Like the usable Spellbombs, Scrabbling Claws includes a potentially useful effect with the trade-in option if you decide you can (or need to) do better. This will see play in several slower Constructed decks (and/or their sideboards) thanks to Eternal Dragon, but there will be other targets as well. That these kinds of cards allow both players and deckbuilders choices in such a good package is a great move for the game and follows in the footsteps of popular mechanics like Cycling. I’m sure I’m not the only one hoping to see more cards like this.

Sculpting Steel

When Copy Artifact was restricted back in the very old days, it was due to the combination of its casting cost and the existence of very strong artifacts as potential targets. At three mana and in a far more balanced environment I can’t believe this is really going to see much Constructed play at all.

In Limited, this is of course going to have plenty of targets that interest you, particularly if you’re able to horn in on something from the higher end of the casting cost spectrum.

Scythe of the Wretched

Too expensive to use for Constructed (particularly given the other options available), this card is incredible for Limited. Particularly vexing is the fact that this works for any damage, not just combat damage. Spikeshot Goblin anyone?

Serum Tank

This is good for Limited, but in Constructed it would probably be too slow even if you could just draw a card each turn for three mana. Throw in the need to keep playing artifacts as well and this just isn’t worth it.

Slagwurm Armor

In Constructed, power is far more important than toughness (remember Alpha Myr and Omega Myr?). Add in an Equip cost of three and this is out of the question except for Limited, where so far it seems okay but not inspiring.

Solemn Simulacrum

There are lots of potentially great cards in Mirrodin, and it’s been a long time since I remember having such a long list of cards which I’m curious to find out whether they were as strong or weak as initially predicted. Out of all of them, Solemn Simulacrum interests me the most. This card fascinates me deeply. It’s not flashy, it’s not going to win games on its own by any stretch of the imagination, but it is powerful. Most of the other writers and players I respect who’ve discussed this card seem to see it as just”okay.” So far, I find it to be much stronger than that, and I’m eager to find out who turns out to be right.

So why do I like it so much? It makes for a great fit in most Control (or even mid-game) decks, providing mana development in a package that takes colorless mana, provides a decent blocker, and also returns an extra card once it’s taken one for the team. Further, Control is moving away from the exclusively blue-based”leave two mana open at all times” approach and headed instead to a more sorcery-based”bring it on” approach that has no trouble tapping out for something like this, particularly thanks to the blocker that comes with the package. The main problem is the casting cost, since four is an awkward slot to have something like this. However, given the strength and flexibility of the package, I think we’re going to see lots of Control and possibly even Mid-Game decks taking advantage of the consistency this card offers. Throw the attractiveness of Chrome Mox for these archetypes into the mix, and the newest Invitational card looks that much better to me.

Soul Foundry

I’m excited to use this card in the new Standard as well – but unlike Solemn Simulacrum, I’m starting to feel that it’s probably not going to be up to snuff. I love cards that reward creativity and I’m also a fan of options that provide creature decks with inevitability. It’s hard to imagine many creatures that I’d be willing to use and not be interested in having a stream of them, particularly if I was actively trying to take advantage of the situation.

Copying cards like Nekrataal can potentially shut down entire archetypes, and even repeating copies of something like Solemn Simulacrum can get out of hand very quickly. The problem is that this is slow, mana-intensive, and highly vulnerable to removal with disadvantage against certain decks. However, there’s still a lot of power here, and I’m not willing to buy that there won’t be Constructed applications for this card. If nothing else, I’m sure this could see some use as a sideboard option in much the same way that Phyrexian Processor was often used in its Standard days as a board option to bludgeon decks that didn’t have (or bring in) an answer.

Spellweaver Helix

This card got some significant buzz initially, but I think people are realizing just how much has to go right before this gets interesting enough to justify the slot. First, except in mirror matches this doesn’t make much sense as a plan on opposing cards. For your own graveyard, once you’ve got two sorceries imprinted that you’re interested in, you still need have to use this twice before you start to profit, since the first activation just pays for the original card invested. It’s been proposed that Hammer of Bogardan is one way to get around the problem of having enough fuel to justify this, but even there you have to draw another suitable Sorcery, a Helix, Two Hammers, and then have enough time to actually try and make all this start paying off. Yes, there are some incredibly powerful things this card can do if it gets going, but right now I don’t think Standard offers a good way to reliably put any gas in your engine.

Steel Wall

On those rare occasions where I’ve had a deck that needed this kind of dedicated early defense, I’ve normally been most interested in walls that offer at least one point of power so that they can potentially hold off more than just one attacker. That said, Steel Wall offers some pretty amazing toughness for just one colorless mana, and it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be some control decks out there interested in this. Ideally this would see play in a Red-based control deck, where damage-based options like Starstorm would potentially allow you to take out multiple opposing creatures while still hanging on to your Steel Walls. Nothing flashy here, but it’s good at what it does.

Sun Droplet

As life gain goes, this is pretty impressive for the cost (and lack of any mana requirement to use the activation), and it comes at a time when players are becoming more open to the possibilities of life gain. It also comes at a time when there are some great ways to use life as a resource, particularly Promise of Power and Phyrexian Arena. Note that this triggers on each upkeep, so you’re getting two life per turn cycle assuming the counters are there (once on your upkeep, once on the opponent’s). For the right matchups, that’s a pretty attractive offer for control decks – and once you’ve killed those pesky attackers, you’ve got some time for the Droplet to get your life back up toward where you started. With all that in mind, I’m not sure the upcoming Standard environment is going to be heavily aggressive enough to allow this main-deck status, but I can definitely see it getting consideration for sideboards in the right decks.

Sword of Kaldra

Normally nobody’s getting in this guy’s way and living anyway, so you’re mostly just paying for the +5/+5. I can only assume this is completely idiotic in Limited, but I can’t see paying this kind of mana in Constructed when you could just use Loxodon Warhammer instead.

Synod Sanctum

Too slow and difficult to exploit in Constructed, where you just can’t afford to keep two mana open each time one of your permanents might get destroyed. In Limited this makes more sense, but the jury’s still out on how highly to value this or even how much you can rely on it to pay off.

Talisman of Dominance, Talisman of Impulse, Talisman of Indulgence, Talisman of Progress, and Talisman of Unity

The new”painlands”, these present a real problem for players that have to worry about all the Oblivion Stones and Akroma’s Vengeances running around. In their favor is that this is also a time when multi-colored mana is more difficult to find thanks to the removal of the painlands from 8th Edition. The problem with that line of thinking is that the decks that suffer from painlands becoming comes-into-play-tapped lands are the same decks that don’t really want to be spending turn 2 making one of these. Pure aggro decks depend heavily on the two-slot (see the Myr discussion above) and can’t normally pause like this to make a non-threat. Most control decks will probably prefer Chrome Mox – which just leaves mid-rage decks. Those decks will indeed be able to consider using these as a less vulnerable version of the accelerator Myr, but if control turns out to be as good as it currently looks, this could be a very difficult Standard environment for Mid-Game decks to survive.

With all that in mind, I think you’ll still see decks turn to the color fixing and acceleration the Talismans provide, but I don’t currently think they fit well into the kind of environment that (at this very early stage) seems to be forming up. Affinity-based decks could prove the exception if they turn out to be viable, where you can spend turn 2 playing an artifact land and a Talisman, gaining two artifacts on your Affinity count while also accelerating with an additional mana producer.


A more dependable variant of the Sun Droplet, you also only get half the net result. Normally you would only consider either of these for use in a slower, more controlling deck. Both cards stink against control decks, but against most aggro I’d much rather have the Droplet (which does more and doesn’t cost mana to use).


I like the idea of trying to burn an opposing deck while presumably coming to the party better prepared than the opponent, but the burden seems to be making sure you have enough effect to make the card worth it. Unless you’re dropping out lots of guys in the one- or two-mana range, this isn’t going to be very dramatic, and at a casting cost of three it means you can’t start dumping those discounted guys out until you hit four mana, at which point one- and two-mana dorks aren’t necessarily as useful (plus the not-inconsequential fear that you’re also going to be accelerating the opponent at least some of the time).

With access to Llanowar Elves, I could see trying a deck with four Elves, four Birds, and then a deck of mostly 1 and 2cc green dorks to try and just overrun the opponent. With only Birds to rely on, it’s trickier to assume you can accelerate this out on turn 2, especially since the theoretical deck doesn’t seem very interested in Chrome Mox. I do have to say that this effect seems potentially powerful; I’m just not sure there’s a deck here yet.

Tel-Jilad Stylus

There have been occasional times when cards were used solely for their ability to prevent you from being decked, but most such uses that don’t go way back in time have typically been in very narrow fields, something I don’t anticipate characterizing the new Standard environment. This also prevents people from swiping your stuff (Any other parents of toddlers out there?”Swiper, no swiping!”) but I can’t imagine using a card just for that purpose right now. Maybe this one should have had a Spellbomb-like trade-in clause?

Thought Prison

At five mana this is an awfully bad Coercion, but the ability to keep hitting for two afterwards could come into play for certain decks and/or matchups. I can definitely see this is a potential sideboard option for several decks that just have to stop certain threats which this could potentially hit, and some mono-colored decks may run into real trouble if this hits them. The question will be if there isn’t something even nastier you can do to your opponent if you’re willing to spend so much mana. If nothing else, it does grant a certain amount of (expensive) disruption to any color that wants it.


This is an outstanding effect if you can take advantage, and at five mana it’s costed reasonably enough that you can at least try. The problem is, if your deck has so many more expensive cards, can you afford to cast this on turn 5 and risk missing against a faster deck? Even at the higher percentages, having to worry about outright death to one of your own cards on an at least somewhat random factor is a concern. For now I think the potential impact is easily worth exploring (particularly if some form of reasonable deck manipulation can be worked in), but I have no idea right now what final form the deck would take.

Tooth of Chiss-Goria

This is still bad in Constructed, except possibly as extraneous Affinity fuel. In Limited I’d normally rather have the extra toughness, since that’s the most likely to allow one of your creatures to survive a combat where it would otherwise have perished. For now I’m guessing this is playable in that format but not great, unless you’ve got something like Spikeshot Goblin to sex things up a bit.

Tower of Champions, Tower of Eons, Tower of Fortunes, and Tower of Murmurs

All of these strike me as too expensive to use realistically in Standard. All of them are potentially strong effects, but you have to wonder if you haven’t already done the hard part by getting to this stage of the game. With that in mind, the life gain and creature pumping seem particularly poor to me given the stage of the game we’re talking about. Card drawing on this kind of scale is great if you can pull it off, but can you really assemble that much mana reliably enough to use a slot on something like this? Lastly, there’s the super Millstone – an effect that makes a little more sense for the late game but still begs the question whether you can’t do something better with such an extreme amount of mana? I can potentially see any of these for Limited (and nicely so) but I don’t buy that this is your best option for extreme mana in Standard.


Triskelion has often been one of those cards that winds up getting more play than you expected. It’s overcosted for its size and expensive to boot, but there’s something about free activation costs like this (particularly ones that can go straight to the face) that seems to lead to nutty combos. I’m sure this is great for Limited, but we’ll have to see if it manages to surprise again in Standard. Who knows, maybe we’ll see a deck that gets a couple in play, sends them in, blows all the counters, casts Second Sunrise, then blows all the counters again for the kill. Stranger things have happened.

Viridian Longbow

Way too minor an effect for Constructed but makes up for it in Limited. Like almost all the Equipment, this one benefits from the ability to use and move so make sure to keep your eyes open for potentially missed opportunities. (See [author name="Laura Mills"]Laura Mills[/author]‘ recent article on this if you missed it.)

Vorrac Battlehorns

I guess at least some of the common Equipment needed to be a skill-tester. This effect isn’t worth the card or mana in any format I know except perhaps”how I made a deck with this sucky card” – and even then, it disappoints since it doesn’t seem like a very fun card, either.

Vulshok Battlegear

Too expensive for Standard considering all the better deals available, still excellent in Limited where you don’t have to be so damn picky.

Vulshok Gauntlets

Fashion tip: When shopping for Limited attire, Vulshok is a good label to end up with.

Welding Jar

This is another of those functional cards that just excels at its job. If you need this sort of thing, having access to it for no mana and a free activation cost is a great deal. Of course, one of the decks that stands to benefit the most is Affinity, where you’ve got all kinds of juicy targets and it also helps protect your artifact lands from an untimely (read: early) demise. Further, this card greatly throws off the normal sideboard math where decks often have three to six anti-artifact spells or so. For decks that get targeted by that kind of hate, they can just add a combination of four of these to the main and/or board and throw a serious wrench into any one-for-one anti-artifact plans like Deconstruct.

Worse, most decks have to guess how much anti-artifact they can afford to use space on since they have to predict how much they have to face and how potentially bad it could be for them. For decks entirely dependent on artifacts, it’s much easier to simply have four of these available since you know that you’ll either get to use these or you are in good shape anyway. The incredible number of usable artifacts in this set means that the amount of artifact removal present can be expected to rise, but this card’s presence is going to lower the effectiveness of some of those plans.


Like many of the other Equipment cards this is just too slow and romantic for Standard. In Limited, this is trickier to evaluate but it seems likely to be strong enough in decks that actually have a reliable enough chance of getting someone through with this attached. Unfortunately, the opponent will get to see this coming – but hopefully not by too much if you decide to use it.

Yotian Soldier

You can do much better in Standard, but he’s a great blocker in Limited while you wait to draw your Equipment to throw on him.

Ancient Den, Great Furnace, Seat of the Synod, Tree of Tales, Vault of Whispers

As I’ve pointed out several times over the course of these articles the very presence of the artifact lands has a significant impact on judging the strength of many cards (including some older ones), and that’s before taking Affinity into account. When I first heard about these there was the concern that Meltdown may be making a return, and that only exasperated my concerns regarding the dangers these lands entail. With Meltdown confirmed not in the set, I’m more willing to try these out, and the presence of Welding Jar allows some bargain insurance for those decks that can take advantage of it. Risk is a given in this game – it’s just a question of getting enough in return and mitigating where possible.

I still have no idea how Affinity is going to turn out but I do feel that the artifact lands were a great design idea and I think we’re going to see many Standard decks try them out and for several different reasons. What more could you ask from a new mechanic?

Blinkmoth Well

I can’t think of any of your own cards you could target with for advantage in Standard, which just leaves opposing targets. At this cost I don’t see it, but there may be some specific uses for Limited, depending on your opponent’s deck.


Mana curves have tightened considerably over the years thanks to an increased awareness of the importance of tempo and curve by deckbuilders as well as those who design the cards in the first place. With the pain lands gone, many decks have had to resort to the replacement tapped lands, and anything more than four to six tapped lands can start to gum a deck up quickly (and that’s for the decks that can afford any – some pure aggro decks like R/G have trouble even running four).

The reason I’m going into all this is that the Cloudpost’s effect is a very good one if you manage to get two in play and can afford the colorless mana. The question is whether you can meet those requirements and can also afford to run tapped lands. The impact of Temple of the False God has shown just how strong that extra mana can be (even if only colorless), and with two of these in the opening sequence and a basic land you’re producing five mana on turn 3 just based on your land.

For now the problem is that you can only run four, and on its own that’s not enough to make the risk worth it unless you have so little need for colored mana that you can just run these for the occasional nuts boost they will provide. The other option is to use Sylvan Scrying to help add some probability, but even then (using some grossly over-simplified math) you have a roughly 50% chance of drawing one of the Locus and only a 25% chance of drawing a Locus and a Scrying. In that scenario you get turn 1 tapped land, turn 2 Scrying, turn 3 play second tapped land and 3 mana available from your untapped lands, and then turn 4 = six mana if you drop another land. That’s a lot of mana, but nowhere near dependable enough to build for and not strong enough to make up for what you’re giving up. In the meantime, keep an eye out for any future Locus seeing print – even one more set would make these into potential powerhouses.


That’s a lot of risk to take on if you draw one early, even in decks with a lot of artifacts. The only way I can really see this is if you’re playing Affinity and willing to just say,”Well, if all my artifacts go so do I.” The problem is what happens if you have to drop this too early and they catch you with your pants down? Again, a lot of risk for questionable return.

Stalking Stones

Stalking Stones was a card I liked quite a bit last time around, and I’m glad to see it this time as well. Like the cycling lands, it provides a nice incentive to play more mana than you otherwise might have tried to get away with, the value of which many learned back in the”draw-go” days. Given its usefulness, the real competition is going to be with decks that would otherwise have run Temple of the False God in these slots, assuming you can’t get away with both. For decks that choose to go this way and can afford the colorless land (or can run extra to gain that ability) Stalking Stones is a natural fit. That it returns in the same set with a version of Nevinyrral’s Disk gives it several natural homes in the various mono-colored decks that are likely to soon be upon us.

And so, at last, this mammoth series comes to a close. Again, thank you to all who took the time to write in; your ideas, suggestions and feedback were greatly appreciated. For those still thinking about chiming in, I can definitely say that when it comes to a review series like this one I’m always extremely open to hearing your feedback, both positive and negative. In fact, it was a past reader that inspired the idea of doing both kinds of review articles in the first place (one for the preliminary headliner cards and then also a set of card-by-card articles). I hope I’ve helped inspire you to check cards you might otherwise have passed over, provided at least an alternative perspective on this extraordinarily complicated set, and hopefully given you a bit of a head start in the process. Thanks again, and good luck to all of you in your upcoming events!

Scott Johns

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