Pattern Recognition #175 - Artifact Crust
12 November 2020
12 November 2020
Hello everyone! This is Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.Net's longest running article series as written by myself, berryjon. I am something of an Old Fogey who has been around the block quite a few times where Magic is concerned, as as such, I use this series to talk about the various aspects of this game, be it deck design, card construction, mechanics chat, in-universe characters and history. Or whatever happens to cross my mind this week. Please, feel free to dissent in the comments below the article, add suggestions or just plain correct me! I am something of a Smart Ass , so I can take it.
Now, for the record, if you're trying to actually bake a colorless pie, there are recipes that call for a basic gelatin powder into which you either add peppermint, or non-colored pure mint for flavor. I found a couple with a couple minutes of Google searching, so it should be easy for you as well.
And while that's cooking and preparing, let's talk about the purpose of Colourless Cards in the colour pie.
Now, I want to admit that for, oh, let's say, 99% of the time, you can use Colourless and Artifacts interchangible, I want to account for the other minute fraction of cards in the game that are either coloured artifacts like Sarcomite Myr or colourless, but not an Artifact such as Cryptic Trilobite . Just so that we're all clear here.
Oh, and I'm not talking about Lands, which by definition, do not have a colour (unless they happen to be a creature at the same time), or Tokens. Becuse those came up while I was flipping through Gatherer to come up with a list of cards that were non-Artifact, non-Eldrazi colourless cards.
Anyway, colourless cards have been in the game from the beginning, as Limited Edition Alpha granted us cards like Black Lotus , Clockwork Beast and Dingus Egg among others. Artifacts in this early game design came in three broad categories. The first was broad cycles of cards, one affiliated with each colour, and all doing the same thing. The Power Nine of Mox Pearl for , Mox Sapphire , Mox Jet , Mox Ruby and Mox Emerald , cards that for each colour, can tap to produce a mana of that colour. There are also cards like Crystal Rod for and its relevant horizontal cycle of cards that allow you to gain life when a player plays a spell of the relevant colour.
The second broad set was in utility artifacts. From Howling Mine to Icy Manipulator , artifacts and colourless spells provided - to varying degrees - effects and abilities that could be found in each colour but without needing a card in each colour to do the same thing each time. I mean, printing five different versions of Jayemdae Tome , but with different names and different colours? That was a bit excessive for a limited run game that might not even make it off the ground, right?
Lastly, Artifacts and colourless cards provided creatures. Now, this may not seem like a big thing, especially nowadays where creatures are (supposed to be) a fundamental part of decks and the deck-building process. Sure, there were only four of them in Alpha, but Living Wall was a surprisingly powerful card that is ridiculously good with even half a decent setup, Obsianus Golem is a good beater for the price (but woefully overcosted in the current era). Clockwork Beast was a complicated creature with a style of mechanic that has been shuffled away from the game, while Juggernaut is a classic card that keeps coming back when Walls get too big for their britches.
Artifacts in this time frame were really place-holders cards and gap-fillers. They existed not in of themselves, but as an addition to the game, an aside to the five colours around which the game was built.
Of course, I was among those players who tried, as the game progressed, to build a purely colourless deck to a lack of success. Mostly because there was a complete lack of Enchantments, Instants and Sorceries to do things. You were a creature-deck in an age where creatures were not competitive, and it was perhaps the ultimate expression of a Vorthos Deck to go "I'm Urza! Look at all my artifacts!"
And then grognards would argue the difference between quantity versus quality that Urza and Mischra may have been in conflict over regarding their artifacts, and they are still wrong!
Sorry, side digression there. Artifact-only decks were mostly fringe decks, not really having a lot of support to them, and that never really changed.
Now, while sets like Urza's Block made Artifacts something of a larger powerhouse (despite it mostly being the Enchantments that mattered), you have to understand that this was only done in conjunction with other colours.
Artifacts were seen and created not as something in of themselves, but rather as a form of force multiplier for the other, real, colours. As such, they were seen through the lens of those colours, and not as something that really should be.
Then came Mirrodin. Oh, did that set do so many right things and wrong things at the same time, it's not even funny any more. What it did right, was to try and make Artifact relevant in of their own accord, with things like the Affinity Mechanic (and say this with me: FREE SPELLS ARE BAD) and plenty of artifacts to go around. For the first time though, Artifacts had coloured activated abilities, a testing of the waters to determine just how far they could push Artifact design. Cards were introduced, like Bosh, Iron Golem and Memnarch that required colours in order to get players to not just fill out their decks with random lands to confuse their poor opponents about what they were seeing and to actually have a plan with your mana. And this worked out well enough that colourless cards with coloured activated abilities became the norm in the game.
The next step was, well, to put the colour back into the colourless, and with Future Sight, we got Sarcomite Myr , the first card of colour that was normally the domain of the colourless. It was like Colourshifting (click for my article on the subject) except that it was from nothing to something!
But here I must stop as it is at this point, with Shards of Alara thorugh to the modern day with Zendikar Rising, that colourless spells are starting to become more and more coloured. Yes, we still get cards like Farfinder , but on the whole, there has been a subtle move by Wizards over the past decade and more to get away from purely colourless cards.
Kaladesh not withstanding, of course. But that set had other issues too. Like Energy.
But colourless also has non-permanents now. Thanks to the Eldrazi, there are a small selection of instants and sorceries that were colourless, a total of 8 (that list should not include Ghostfire , the first card with the mechanic that would be Deovid, or the Un-card that's just a pain and six-quarters to unpack.
It's not much, and honestly, these card must be the exception, rather than the rule. But from them, we can get one basic fact about the game, one of the hidden conceits that make it work.
You can destroy anything for , no ifs, ands or buts about it. From Scour from Existence to Universal Solvent to Unstable Obelisk , you want something gone? You can pay for it, and it will be done, no matter what colour you are in.
If you want to blow everything up, you need to go to for Ugin, the Spirit Dragon .
But I think that's enough on that for now, I'll get back to this portion of the subject when I get to my summation next week. For now, let's talk about how colourless cards, and artifacts in particular interact with the actual colours in the game in general, starting with .
has had a very tumultuous relationship with colorless cards and artifacts. Disenchant was a core card in from Alpha to 7th Edition,, then laying dormant as got Naturalize in its place until M20 and Zendkiar Rising brought it back to the fold. It's easy enough for to destroy artifacts, at least from my perspective as an Old Fogey as it was presented as a case of the natural order of breaking those that it finds to be abbhorent or wrong, a common instance of a card that looks at something that sees as something that should be in its favour and taking it away from others who would use them.
Because, oddly enough, is also pro Artifact. Or at least was in the deep past, and gotten a small resurgence in the past few years. Argivian Archaeologist was one of the first, and was followed by its Dominaria follow up Daring Archaeologist . This, along with cards like Auriok Salvagers (I know, Mirrodin Block), Ethersworn Canonist for the Control Freak, and holy crap there's almost a hundred creatures in that interact positively with Artifcats from my look on Gatherer. That doesn't include cards like Open the Vaults and Open the Armory , cards that recur or let you search out Artifacts and Equipment.
In the hands of , colourless and artifacts are tools, to be used, called up when needed, and destroyed when in the hands of the wrong sort of person. But while they have no problems with them, the equally have no problems ignoring or destroying them.
Moving on, ...
... There is a reason why the first coloured artifact was , and it is because of all the colours, has always been the most pro-Artifact, from Animate Artifact to the Banned in Legacy and Commander as well as Restricted in Vintage to give you some idea of its power level - Tinker .
Acquire steals them, as does Steal Artifact . Copy Artifact makes more for your use, Drafna's Restoration puts them from the graveyard on top of your library, something that nowadays is limited more to Instants or Sorceries. Emry, Lurker of the Loch and Urza, Lord High Artificer are both creatures, Commanders, that are massively pro-Artifact.
But even has it's share of anti-Artifact cards. The ancient Energy Flux came up in my research, as do cards that tap and prevent from untapping like Inertia Bubble . Then again, this also come up against 's aversion to outright destruction, as they would rather chance something for something else, or just prevent them from being used in the first place. And even then, this outright hate has faded over the years, instead replaced with generally positive interactions, passive or otherwise.
is still the best friend of Artifacts, and I don't think that will ever change.
Join me next week when I talk about the other three colours, and my summary thoughts about Artifacts and other colourless cards.
Until then please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!