Like lands, artifact cards form a core of staples that are found in most Commander decks. Colorless cards neatly avoid most color identity issues, provide universal benefits across the otherwise color-restricted decks, and carry some of the most iconic and powerful cards in the format. Artifacts are a big deal.
As with how I dealt with lands last week (and a quick thanks to everyone who responded; your feedback will be rewarded in a follow-up article someday soon!), I'll break down the artifacts I'm packing into sections of those of similar purpose. Also as I handled lands, there will certainly be artifacts I “missed” mentioning. Please jump in the comments and share what you use, have seen used, or know to be an awesome addition to Commander decks!
I'm breaking Equipment out by itself, because Equipment isn't like other artifacts. Equipment cards don't provide just passive bonuses or serve as pieces of an iterative card-advantage engine. Equipment is active, is alive with your creatures, and is meant to be used with decks that lean on powerful critters. There are some pieces of Equipment that can just be thrown into any deck, but most require some thought and preference for which pieces to use (and why you want to use them).
These bad boys are often the fundamental weapons of Commander. They grant Protection from colors (simultaneously stopping colored removal and granting evasion) and a modest power/toughness boost, but the most important aspects are the triggered abilities upon connecting with a player for combat damage. Ice and Shadow are the most pertinent effects (and I believe Shadow is often better than Ice because of the ease of manipulating graveyards), but Feast is the most powerful by far. I won't say much more, since the fact that these have seen play in Legacy speaks volumes already.
Jitte and Batterskull are Legacy staples that cause fits for all sorts of decks, but the other two require more context. Warhammer, unfortunately, was errata'd to grant Lifelink instead of a triggered life-gain (see Armadillo Cloak for comparison), but it's still potent in conjunction with Trample. Sending a fatty, now empowered even more on a suicide mission, against an opponent usually results in a dead creature or three and a lot of life gained. Any aggressive deck can really leverage Trample and life gain to the fullest, breaking up defenses while staying ahead in a race.
Sword of Kaldra is underplayed, likely because it's on the expensive side of things. That expense is well worth it. This Sword eliminates indestructible creatures, can clear entire swaths of blockers in conjunction with Trample, stops recursive graveyard loops, and grants a massive power/toughness bonus. Outside of combat is even better, as this turns a puny pinger (Prodigal Sorcerer) into an exile machine. Putting this on something like Vampiric Dragon or Olivia Voldaren is simply rotten past the first exhilarating moment.
While both of the boot-based pieces grant Haste, the main point to using any of these particular items is to protect a creature. Shroud and Hexproof stop most of the shenanigans opponents may be planning to employ on creatures (Mind Control, Dregs of Sorrow, Traitorous Instinct, and more), and generally force either a Wrath of God effect or an untap step to actually happen for it. Getting to untap with Primeval Titan or Mangara of Corondor is certainly better than the alternative.
Lightning Greaves may be the most desired piece of Commander Equipment, but I'd argue that one of these two is the most valuable. While protecting your creature is fine, Greaves and the like are easily destroyed. Darksteel Plate laughs at most artifact removal, and makes your creature nearly impervious as well. A clever player will note that with both of these pieces being underplayed, most players won't begin reacting until it's too late.
These cards open up possibilities for extremely unfair things. Sword of the Meek is one part of the famously powerful Thopter Foundry combo. While the Foundry is hyper-restrictive in colors, the Sword can play well with token-generation and an artifact sacrifice outlet (Krark-Clan Ironworks). It also returns to the battlefield every time you summon a tiny Commander, such as Rhys the Redeemed or Merieke Ri Berit (which, incidentally, permits the previously mentioned combo).
Nim Deathmantle is even easier to abuse—mana and a sacrifice outlet are all you need. I've looped Eternal Witness, Primeval Titan, Brutalizer Exarch, and Solemn Simulacrum through it. And that's just scratching the surface of creature abuse; Hoarding Dragon, Shriekmaw, Reveillark, and more promise deep power for just 4 colorless mana. (It also grants evasion and a power/toughness boost, too. Who knew?)
Sometimes, things just need to die. Deathtouch is an underrated creature ability, breaking anything destructible that blocks it and turning Trample into devastating spray damage. Fireshrieker, and its “fixed” cousin Inquisitor's Flail, turn even modest Commanders into potent machines of lethality. I made more kills with Kresh using Fireshrieker than all of the Swords combined; unexpected double damage is extremely devastating.
If you need sheer power and toughness, these guys deliver it in spades. Strata Scythe is an obvious choice for a monocolored deck, but don't forget that it says “each land on the battlefield” and not “you control.” Sigil of Distinction may seem weak because of the obviously decrementing counter requirements, but adding in any proliferation (say, Contagion Engine or Contagion Clasp) makes it much more promising.
Bonehoard is a little different, as Living Weapons usually are. A colorless Lhurgoyf is fine and all, but the later the games goes, the better the bonus will be. If you're going to be throwing creatures away, this dishes the damage twice.
These three do some clever little things that best exemplify what Equipment should be in Commander. Using Sword of Vengeance to create a mini–Akroma, Angel of Wrath is fun, since the lack of protective features (Protection from a color, Shroud) make it easier for opponents to handle. Trailblazer's Boots effectively grant “unblockable,” since everyone, even monocolored decks, will be using nonbasic lands.
Kusari-Gama may look like a pet card, but it's devastating when used correctly. It's colorless Firebreathing (great for Blue decks that steal others' creatures), is effective evasion when used on a creature big enough (no one wants a one-sided Day of Judgment, so it eliminates the advantage of amassing tokens to chump-block), and makes the normally-just-annoying “must block” effects into the powerhouse cards that they can be. Best of all is that virtually no one will bother destroying it, since it reads so weird.
Aside from Equipment, artifacts in Commander serve another useful purpose: giving colors access to value normally restricted to others.
While all three also serve the “set the top of your library” purpose (best used with Intet, the Dreamer– and Lurking Predators–type cards), these usually serve as hand-manipulators to put whatever we want into our hand more quickly. Top is just as strong in Commander, thanks to the prevalence of ever-more-playable fetch lands, which in turn makes Scroll Rack even more obscene.
Crystal Ball is my ideal manipulator, since it doesn't swap stuff in-hand out (something that feels very unfair as the game progresses), but does do a great job of sending stuff away when shuffle effects aren't handy. It trades away explosive potential for consistent function. Fair, but still powerful.
Let's clear two right off the bat.
“Skullclamp is Equipment!” Wrong. You use it to draw far too many cards. It was shoehorned into every Standard-legal deck before it was banned, and it gets to rear its ugly, broken head in Commander. This card is busted, 100%. Use with caution and sadistic glee.
“Kozilek is a creature!” Yes, but it comes with a massive target painted on its head. You can usually count on all the stops to be pulled when it comes to opponents removing this guy, but you can also count on drawing four cards before it hits the table. In fact, you draw the cards before the Legend rule can even matter. Neato!
The rest are the common contenders for deck slots in colors without Blue or Black. Mind's Eye is the most famous and powerful. Seer's Sundial turns late land-drops into cantrips. Urza's Blueprints gives you at least two cards (one the turn you cast it, one after untapping it for the first time but before deciding to pay the Echo trigger).
If you've played any Commander, you're familiar with all of these cards. “Mana rocks” are the classic way to not only accelerate your mana quickly (Sol Ring and friends), but fix your colors as well. While the Signets are often called out as passé, given the increasing use of splash-damage artifact destruction (Planar Cleansing, Oblivion Stone), these still work very well to pull you ahead and set your colors straight.
It's important to note, however, that I firmly believe that no one should cut any lands based on running rocks. Hitting land-drops is absolutely vital to the Commander experience. If you rely on rocks, you will be blown out, and that's certainly not fun. If you have too much mana (which I don't think is possible in Commander), you'll start to draw better and better as the game goes on. Mana dumps like token-generators, card-draw, and your Commander are all benefited as your mana grows. Don't cut back on lands, and don't be afraid of a few rocks.
These cards function far beyond what a simple mana rock can do. A dreaded “turn-one Sol Ring” doesn't make me as nervous as a monocolored deck with one or two of these out. If you're playing just one color (or one with what is effectively a splash), these will jump-start your deck like nothing else.
When adding mana of a color or multiplying a land's output isn't enough, finding more lands should work beautifully. Cards like Journeyer's Kite and Thawing Glaciers may be slow, but they let you hit a land until you run out of basics. And the reason you should be running Sad Robot is to be happy with dropping a land—not for a convoluted mana-advantage/card-draw engine (see Nim Deathmantle).
Similarly, you also have artifacts that just rip whatever card you need right out of your deck. While Planar Portal is most famous for Beacon of Tomorrows shenanigans (or, as I call it, annoying), it can be used for less severe purposes (such as almost anything other than taking every turn for the rest of the game). Expedition Map is Planar Portal Lite: It not only can fix your mana, but can tutor for any number of powerful lands.
If you are in just one color, the appropriate Medallion is the ultimate mana rock. They also unnaturally draw artifact removal like moths to a flame; these may keep the way clear for more broken effects.
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre, Karn Liberated, Oblivion Stone, Brittle Effigy, Duplicant, Steel Hellkite, Contagion Engine, All is Dust, Ensnaring Bridge, Nevinyrral's Disk, Portcullis, Spine of Ish Sah, Predator, Flagship
While you may find it annoying that I'm glossing over all of these as a group, the fact is that most colors have better removal for every type of permanent. These cards aren't the primary ways to deal with something unless your only color can't. Colorless removal is generally less efficient than what you spend on colored varieties, but these types of spells serve as important stopgaps for decks that would otherwise be completely vulnerable.
- Karn Liberated can be a way to not only fit a Vindicate into any deck, but also draw some combat attention (functioning as a partial Fog).
- Steel Hellkite and Contagion Engine are dual-purpose workhorses, either as attackers (Hellkite) or as counter-propagators (Engine).
- All Is Dust can be as utterly devastating, as it was when it was briefly used in Standard.
I've only listed creature sacrifice outlets, but there are others out there for just about everything. The reason I'm calling out creature-only outlets and not any of the other types is that these are the most useful outlets to have. Turning creatures, even your own Commander, into another resource is great when facing Wrath of God, Mind Control, Dregs of Sorrow, and more. Keep one of these close at all times.
There are too many impressive artifact creatures out there. While I find Sundering Titan abhorrent, it, too, would qualify here. Each of these comes with specific advantages:
- Stuffy Doll lets a Red deck convert board-clearing burn into face-melting.
- Wurmcoil Engine is the “sixth Titan” that leaves behind extremely useful offspring.
- Artisan of Kozilek is a choice of damnation for opponents: a 10/9 Eldrazi that brings back something else fiendish proposes a difficult split for removal.
- Myr Battlesphere makes tokens and deals damage. It's also a hilariously cute ball of deadly Myr.
- It That Betrays is among the most annoying “must-answer” threats. Even just stealing lands is brutal for opponents to endure.
Getting extra mileage out of creatures is a common theme in Commander. Those with powerful “enters the battlefield” effects (Primeval Titan) are prized over sheer power. Cards like Mimic Vat and Minion Reflector allow these effects to be felt multiple times.
Grimoire of the Dead and Mirari are a little special. Grimoire is a colorless Living Death of sorts, but it brings back everything that died under your control. Since it's colorless, this type of recursion can show up in any deck. Mirari is a colorless spell-duplicator, allowing colors other than Red and Blue to double up when casting a nonpermanent.
Token strategies, despite their strong color affiliations, usually find the best global benefits in artifacts. Eldrazi Monument is fantastic when you already have an instant-speed token-generator on hand, and I've killed more players than I should have just by drawing up Akroma's Memorial on command.
Giving cards—or the opportunity to draw cards—to opponents seems counterintuitive, but there is a lot to be said about being the “nice guy” in a game. Not every deck wants these types of effects, but any deck running multiple of the above will find incredibly hilarious games in which everyone gets to participate. Drawing bunches of cards is the only way to ensure this happens.
Graveyard exiling, casting or bringing out things at instant speed, abusing lands that enter the battlefield tapped, regrowing lands straight from the graveyard, and doubling up activated abilities are all awesome things to do. Erratic Portal is, perhaps, the most abusive, allowing repeated saving and reuse of almost any creature you desire (most likely still Primeval Titan).
Thank you in advance to everyone who chimes in on the comments; there are so many more cards out there that I'm positive I missed a few that I definitely would have included otherwise! Join us next week, when we get a little green under the gills. See you then!