Pattern Recognition #176 - Artifact Filling
19 November 2020
19 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.
So Colourless cards. Last time, I went around and talked about the general theories behind them as well as talking about they interact with the first two colours. Today, I'll cover the other three colours and summarizing colourless cards in general.
And so we're starting with .
doesn't really care about artifacts. Or rather, they don't care that artifacts are artifacts if that makes any sense. This goes back to the earliest sets of Magic, and I want to direct your attention to the card Fear. Now, this is a pretty bad card all things considered, but what was curious about it was that it prevented the creature from being blocked by anything that wasn't or . In Vorthos terms, this was represented by the creature with this effect - and there were creatures with this inherently - being so evil, vile and repulsive that only creatures that shared the same source - namely, - or those that did not feel at all could stand up against them. Artifact creatures, being machines and automatons, didn't...
It doesn't think.
It doesn't feel.
It doesn't laugh or cry.
All it does, from dusk to dawn
Is make the soldiers die.
So you see, because colourless cards were, for the longest time, just machines, treated them as though they weren't artifacts. Creatures were creatures, and non-creatures were effectively Enchantments that didn't require a colour to cast, making them easier to put into play when in a multi-coloured deck.
Now, do not mistake my statement that they don't care for just stopping there. is utterly ambivalent about them, true, but they do care in so much as they can be used to create resources. You'll find Phyrexian Altar or Ashnod's Altar in more decks than non- decks, probably combined if I don't miss my guess. is a resource, nothing more, nothing less. Just like everything else in a deck.
But this same lack-of-interest has also hit below the belt. Outside of Artifact Creatures, which got a lot of passing immunity in the early game with cards like Terror, has a distinct lack of an ability to remove artifacts from the game. Enough so, that, again, in the early days of the game, it wasn't unheard of for decks to be running one or two artifact creatures just to get around 's control repertoire. When they ran creatures at all, that is.
OK, so doesn't care either way. What about ?
Well, let me be quick. hates artifacts even more than they hate enchantments. They blow them up with Eighty Seven cards in the game so far. Just like gets a discard card or two each set, gets a boardwipe, gets something to destroy an artifact. I cannot stress this enough, doesn't promote the use of artifacts.
Now sure, they'll use them. I have yet to see a Commander deck turn their nose up at Sol Ring, or Verdurous Gearhulk, they are more seen as a necessary evil in the nature of the game, rather than something to embrace. For is the colour of nature, and nature abhors artifice, the unnatural. sneezes, and an artifact blows up.
hates artifacts and has a neutral relationship with colourless non-artifacts, and that's never going to change. Ever.
Thankfully, is more interesting. In the beginning, they were right there, marching hand in hand with their best buddy, in their Artifact Hate. After all, they got Shatter, they got By Force. And weirdly enough... uh, they have ninety six options? Wow, that's a lot. And yes, despite this, I stand by my statement that is actually better for than . Why is this? Why does the color of destruction and ruin like building things?
Well, the answer my fine fellow Vorthos players, is simple. sees as tools. They are there to be made, to be used, and to be discarded when done. To support this notion, I would like to look at Equipment. Now, when thse cards were first printed, got a little card called Magnetic Theft, a card that let you steal (temporarily due to control) Equipment from someone else, much as they can steal a creature through cards like the more-often reprinted Act of Treason.
But has jumped right onto the Equipment bandwagon, and never really gotten off. My current casual Commander deck is Valduk, Keeper of the Flame, and it's a deck that absolutely adores throwing Equipment onto my Commander and swinging with all his little Elemental friends. So I did some quick checking, and of the currently 29 coloured Equipment, 11 of them have in the casting cost, from the diminutive Scavenged Blade to Embercleave, also known as Excalibur in some circles.
After , it's with the most, but that's only relevant when you remember that Wizards is pushing Boros Voltron as something in Standard and Commander, and has been for a few years now, with Feather, the Redeemed, Akiri, Fearless Voyager and Tiana, Ship's Caretaker to name a few.
But back to by itself. sees as more effective tools than their other buddy does, and they are more likely to embrace as an extension of itself. But because they're just machines, just tools, you know what you do with them? Well, if you ask Daretti, Scrap Savant, and recycle them. is the colour that will gladly throw away something old and busted for something new and shiny - and just ask about what Tinker did for them to understand just good this is for a colour. But then, if they're bored with it, they'll just Shatterstorm everything, and move on because just sees tools, and when a tool is used up, leave it behind.
So, there are a few points in summary I want to talk about and (re)address.
Colourless cards, artifacts, were originally intended to be a 'gap filler' in the game, and in this, they have succeeded. The problem is that over time, they have filled so man gaps that they are now, effectively, Magic's 6th Colour. I remember a few weeks ago, Arena was running one of their Precon Deck events, and I chose to run the colourless deck. I won by landslides each time with my Crawling Barrens, Forsaken Monument and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and the other cards in the deck. And now I wish I had saved that decklist because it was awesome.
But by the same side of the coin, when you fill in gaps, you effectively leave each colour with a way to hide their weaknesses and focus on their advantages. Artifacts and colourless cards can help you do that, leaving you with stronger decks for it.
They help and reinforce existing strategies and open up new ones at the same time.
And when you combine this with the ability of artifacts to stand alone, you get horrible debacles.
The two great experiments with artifact heavy sets, Mirrodin and Kaladesh, both had nigh-unprecedented bans due to how they handled artifacts and their interactions with other mechanics in the sets involved. I mean Artifact Lands? Affinity? Improvise? Ok, that last one was horribly broken as it was basically a side-grade to Convoke, which is pretty solid as a mechanic, all things considered.
I've said time and time again that I like utility in my spells, I like being able to have cards that do what they do and do well, and colourless cards, artifacts in particular, are a delicate balancing act that all too easily falls and breaks things. They can't go away, as they are too ingrained into the game. Despite the wishes of certain people at Wizards, who feel that the game would be better served by rolling Artifacts and Enchantments into one category, especially now that Artifacts have colours.
I do agree that turning away from pure-colourless cards is a good thing, but there always needs to be cards in the set that can work in any colour, as Gavin Verhity once said about Draft formats. That colourless cards make draft more playable as there are less 'bad' options when it comes to colours.
One of the things I did find though, when looking and doing research that colourless cards do well, and really only works in colourless cards, is to filter your mana. Take, oh, Prismite for example. Being able to pay and get one of any colour may not seem like a good exchange - despite being one of the hidden assumptions about the game - but it is absolutely vital in multi-coloured decks in limited formats. And because the enabler has no inherent colour in of itself, this allows for cases where a player with only one colour of mana available can make a second as needed to help, well, fix their mana.
Equipment should also stay colourless, but with the understanding that coloured Equipment are part and parcel of the game now, no getting around that. And utility? Well, there is a problem as cards that are too good at being utility threaten to break something when they can go into any deck.
I'm looking at you, Smuggler's Copter.
So there you have it, a short review of colourless cards and their place in the game. Because they do have a place, as Magic's hidden sixth colour. And like any colour, they need to have advantages and disadvantages in order to keep the game healthy. It's just finding that balance of can and can-not has been quite difficult at times.
I know I've skipped out on a few things, so please, feel free to discussed what I've missed, like the change from to below in the comments. Just do try to keep it civil? I'd hate to have to charge up an Icy Manipulator to cool down a heated discussion.
With that being said, join me next week when I talk about... You know what? Let's take a walk next week, a Land Walk.
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!