The Antiquities War

Ari Lax fell for The Antiquities War at first sight, and it might be his favorite card in all of Dominaria! Follow along as he explores the possibilities in Standard for SCG Atlanta and beyond!

When The Antiquities War was first revealed, I was absolutely floored by it.

Even now, with all of Dominaria revealed, it might still be the most astounding card in the set to me.

Turn 0: Draw a spell.

Turn 1: Draw another spell.

Turn 2: Your opponent dies.

Drawback: Play artifacts.

Yeah, we can make this work. We can even make it work in Standard.

The Colossally Obvious Stuff

The super-obvious starting point for The Antiquities War is Metalwork Colossus. That deck was a bit of a flash in the pan last year that was always eclipsed by something more broken than making a bunch of 10/10s and tapping your opponent’s lands, though Brian Coval did have one good weekend with the deck after they finally banned the millionth card better than it. Then Abrade happened and Hazoret the Fervent happened and Sanctum of Ugin rotated and it was back to the FNM tables with it.

This was my starting point for Metalwork Colossus. It wasn’t great, but there’s a lot to talk about and learn.

This article is a story about The Antiquities War, not Metalwork Colossus, so let’s start with probably the most important Standard piece for the Saga.

You really want the first two lore triggers on The Antiquities War to hit. You need a lot of artifacts to make that happen. With 24 artifacts, you are still missing one of the two triggers one out of eight times you cast The Antiquities War. If you just want to hit one of them, you need significantly less, but drawing two artifacts is way better than drawing one when your goal is to accrue a lot of 5/5s the next turn.

With the normal 24 or 25 lands and four copies of The Antiquities War, you basically don’t have room for any interaction. The Antiquities War isn’t super-aggressive, either, and a Turn 6 goldfish with no interaction isn’t good. You need to trim lands to make your deck into a “real deck.” In Modern you can just run Mox Opal and Darksteel Citadel, but in Standard you are leaning on Renegade Map. While you aren’t really into sacrificing your artifacts, Renegade Map lets you play 21 or 22 lands, which is a huge improvement.

Treasure Map is the single best card with The Antiquities War. It is a single low-cost artifact that finds your key card and then makes three total artifacts. Just remember that you can’t transform Treasure Map and then attack with the Treasure tokens that turn.

Most of the power of this deck is in three- and four-drops, in two-drops that are better if activated immediately for a mana and so virtual three-drops, and in just deploying a bunch of colorless permanents as fast as possible. Since you can’t play enough colored legendary creatures for Mox Amber and support The Antiquities War, Llanowar Elves seems like a perfect card.

While playing this deck, it became quickly clear that Metalwork Colossus was a backup plan. The Antiquities War wants something different. You want all of these one-drop and two-drop artifacts to attack with, but Metalwork Colossus wants you to get a little more converted mana cost investment per card.

Mirage Mirror was a cool try to get double Colossus that wasn’t quite Sanctum of Ugin. It’s just slow and does nothing otherwise, even if you can copy The Antiquities War on your upkeep for another Ancient Stirrings trigger.

I also tried pulling the deck a bit towards Metalwork Colossus with Gilded Lotus, but that wasn’t doing it. The jump from four-mana Hedron Archive to five-mana Gilded Lotus was just too much.

Now for the super-cute parts.

Any Vehicles that The Antiquities War animates will keep their abilities. Aethersphere Harvester gets crewed off Llanowar Elves, becomes a drain-five, and finishes off opponents if you “only” deal fifteen with the first The Antiquities War ultimate.

Crook of Condemnation is a nod to The Antiquities War being a way to dig to silver bullets for specific matchups. I’m not sure how much of this nonsense you can get away with in your maindeck, but the sideboarded games against graveyard strategies and things that lose to Sorcerous Spyglass look pretty promising.

Total War

So if Metalwork Colossus isn’t the plan, what is?

Or the question I really asked: Now that I’ve determined the noncreature artifacts aren’t quite enough to make the deck I want to make, what can I make with creatures?

While it isn’t an artifact creature, my first go-to was Maverick Thopterist. I wanted something that interacts, and three bodies in a single card definitely crosses the line of interaction. Craig Wescoe had some success early in Ixalan Standard with a U/R Thopterist deck and it feels like it is time to fast-forward that into the future.

After a couple of cycles, here’s where I ended up. It’s still imperfect, but again, it is imperfect in ways worth discussing.

As you can see, this is less focused on hitting two spells every time off The Antiquities War. If you make two Thopters with a creature, that’s good enough when they become 5/5s.

The big issue up front is that Maverick Thopterist isn’t a combo with Renegade Map. One of the big draws to the improvise mechanic is that you get to multi-spell on mid-game turns by tapping your freshly cast artifacts. “Enters the battlefield tapped” when you hit a Map off your The Antiquities War trigger makes that more difficult.

I started off the deck a bit threat=light and went back to the Freejam Regents in Craig’s original list. I get that most people would jump straight to Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp as the cool new threat, but I think that card is terrible. A four-mana 5/6 flier would probably be good in some Standard deck, but it wouldn’t be something you build an entire archetype to enable. Oh, and this is in an archetype where you have no shortage of fou- cost options that provide cascading advantage…that is already playing a full set of four-mana “win the game in two turns” cards!

The only real pull to Zahid is Mox Amber enabling turns with Zahid plus another spell. If I wanted just a huge beatstick in this deck, I would be starting with Traxos, Scourge of Kroog or Karn, Scion of Urza making Construct tokens.

That said, Mox Amber might be what we are really missing. My issue with this deck was it felt clunky. Unlike the Metalwork Colossus deck, you didn’t just have free mana to do multiple things with in a turn. Mox Amber doesn’t solve the issue of casting a four-drop earlier unless we play Baral, Chief of Compliance or Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, but it does let us just do things prior to The Antiquities War.

After a few tries, this is getting a bit closer but still has some flaws. The out-of-the-gates plays are still clunky, which means anything like Winding Constrictor that is incremental starting on Turn 2 is going to be a giant disaster.

You may notice I’m steadily cutting Sulfur Falls here. I didn’t have Hinterland Harbor in my initial Metalwork Colossus shell because I didn’t feel I needed colored mana, and it turns out I accidentally did something good. Sulfur Falls plus Spirebluff Canal plus one-drops leads to some really awkward hands.

Add that one to the mental checklist for Standard. Enemy pairs are okay on Dominaria reprint checklands and fastlands without one-drops, but with one-drops, they are probably better off as Aether Hubs and fast lands.

The existing mana constraints checklist for those wondering: Allied pairs can support doubles in both colors due to cycling lands and Ixalan checkland reprints (U/W Gift, U/B Control), no-one-drops allied shards work due to an excess of both of those (Grixis Energy and Naya Monsters), and wedges work best with one-drops in the shared enemy color (Llanowar Elves in Sultai) or as allied pairs splashing the third for some whammy (Brad Nelson’s Sultai Midrange).

I do really like the idea of Saheeli Rai with Maverick Thopterist. Maybe this just shouldn’t be a The Antiquities War deck, instead using Mox Amber to curve Saheeli Rai into Glorybringer or Chandra, Torch of Defiance into a three-drop follow-up with the mana +1. You can even go Chandra, +1, Mox Amber, tap an extra land and slam Zahid as a big blocker to defend your planeswalker.

This is a little closer to a reasonable deck. There’s a lot tied up in the three- or four-mana range, but you start doing stuff really quickly at that point.

One thing I noticed is it felt like an unopposed Captain Lannery Storm backed by Mox Amber could easily run away with a game, similar to how Chandra, Torch of Defiance adding mana does. This might not be exactly right, but I want to explore that idea in more shells. That might be the kind of thing that the midrange mono-red decks want to be doing moving forward.

The cards I might be missing are the big Vehicles. Heart of Kiran as a way to protect your planeswalkers and ramp out Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp is interesting, and Skysovereign, Consulate Flagship is a pretty awesome top-end threat in some metagames. My initial read of Weatherlight is that it is just awkward and win-more, as you can’t solo someone with it like Dragonlord Ojutai, but I’m willing to give it a shot when half of my deck is hits for it. If you go down this road, you might want to stretch to Grixis for Scrapheap Scrounger and be a less aggressive Mardu Vehicles deck.

Anyway, back to our main topic. Maybe we should just go back to Llanowar Elves.

Sadly, I realized partway through working on this that Nissa, Steward of Elements can’t reveal artifacts or enchantments, but I think Karn, Scion of Urza might just be a better backup win condition. I went up to the fourth copy after watching Todd Stevens stream and end up in a spot where he had multiples, where I realized chaining Construct tokens off multiple Karns gets super-lethal super-fast.

Alternatively, we could go back to the Sultai mana I explored with Song of Freyalise and get a little more aggressive.

This feels like it is getting really close to something interesting. Having two sets of game-winning four-drops to slam is a big upgrade, and Heart of Kiran to protect Karn or just jam on your opponent is pretty nice. It’s a bit shorter on artifacts than would be perfect, but the chip-shot damage means you can get to lethal from lower artifact counts with The Antiquities War.

While I have iterated a lot on this card, let me just say that, regardless of build, it was never the game where I just cast The Antiquities War that looked difficult. Much like every other super-powerful enabler permanent that requires a bunch of mediocre cards, the issue is what you are going to do in the games where you don’t draw your auto-win. While it wasn’t quite obvious upfront what the exact balance was for The Antiquities War, it was clear that something had to exist.

The Antiquities War is one card in a set full of similar things.

I can’t wait to see what the first-week Standard decks look like.

Bonus Modern Nonsense

The first thing that came to mind with The Antiquities War in Modern is that killing in two turns is too slow, but proliferate works to fix that.

The second thing that then came to mind is some Sam Black nonsense from six years ago.

This is definitely a rough draft, but here we go.

The Antiquities War takes way less effort to kill with than any of the things Sam was doing back then, including Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. Honestly, you might want to shave some of the more extreme Surge Node stuff and shift to Tezzeret the Seeker, which actually instantly goes off with a single proliferate.

Yes, that is Throne of Geth to sacrifice Ensnaring Bridge so that I can kill with The Antiquities War.

Yes, I do want to put Chalice of the Void into my sideboard and crank it up to four.

Modern is a wonderful and terrible place.