The Brothers' War Set Review - Artifacts
Alternate sketch for Artificer's Dragon by Leon Tukker
White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Gold I | Gold II | Artifacts | Lands | cEDH
Tell Me Why I Had to Be a Powerstone
Hello, friends, acquaintances, and fratriciders. Nick Wolf here, welcoming you to the Artifact Review for The Brothers' War. You may know me for writing about cards that are very much not new in my ongoing retrospective series Timesifter, or my other series Aesthetic Consultation, about the art and artists of Magic. You may also know me for other reasons I cannot legally specify here due to non-disclosure agreements.
Today, you'll find a deep dive into the various gadgetry of the newest Magic: the Gathering set, in which we contemplate the assorted spikes, treads, chains, and whips used to settle a workplace conflict. We've got a lot to cover, so let's just get into it.
One card in and we're already sidetracked with a completely new mechanic in Prototype.
Prototype allows us to pick from two casting modes: do we want to pay an exorbitant amount of colorless mana for a big splashy robot, or a more reasonable amount of colored mana for a miniature, Hotwheels version of that same robot? As one could probably guess, that'll most often be a game-time decision, but seasoned Magic players no doubt have learned that options when casting a spell are always welcome (insert joke about how everything is just a variation on Kicker here). At first blush, at least, Prototype has the hallmark of a solid keyword in that it's reasonably simple to understand at a glance while simultaneously expanding the branches of your in-game decision tree in interesting ways.
In the context of The Brothers' War, the new keyword is excellent at providing you a way to make use of Powerstones while not punishing you for leaving all your rocks in the car before battle, which means a wide variety of Commander decks will likely be seeking to include Prototype cards in their lists.
Just remember that whichever mode you choose to cast becomes the mana value of the card on the stack and on the battlefield, unlike other, similar built-in cost reduction mechanics like Suspend or Miracle, so a commander like Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow very much likes Prototype cards, while Vial Smasher the Fierce does not. However, if you've cast the cheaper, colored mode, then blink Prototype cards with something like Ghostly Flicker, they'll come back as their massive, colorless versions. That'll open up plenty of interesting strategies depending on the individual card.
As for our mechanical friends that introduce Prototype with The Brother's War, there are 18 in total (four mythics, three rares, six uncommons, and four commons) and appear in all five colors, so you've got your pick of options. Let's do a little Prototype lightning round of the better examples to kick things off:
Likely better in multiples, which doesn't really do much for us here in Commanderland outside of goofball Assembly-Worker decks. Similar in feel to Steel Overseer, but worse in pretty much every way.
Another in a line of ability-bestowing Angels, this one's made of iron. White players who like to complicate combat have been making use of Angelic Skirmisher for years, so a version of that targeting just one creature but at half the cost might generate interest to some.
Whenever a card alludes to casting instants or sorceries from the graveyard, the internet cries out "this is a worse Snapcaster Mage!" in unison like a jaded chorus. Anyway, Arcane Proxy is a worse Snapcaster Mage, mainly since the lack of flash and the "on cast" trigger eliminating the option to blink it overtakes the ability to play the targeted spell for free.
It's a Phyrexian Metamorph that stuck to its New Year's Resolution to start going to the gym more. It doesn't get the power/toughness of the cloned creature, but that's likely the least important part anyway, especially if you're just making it a second copy of Vedalken Shackles.
Depth Charge Colossus
The carcinization of Magic continues.
A prime target for that sneaky blinking idea, but at the end of the day, it's still a big Wurm. Granted, a hard-to-block, hard-to-target, lifelinking Wurm, which is likely good enough for the Tims and Tams among us.
Nine mana is a lot, but in this case it'll buy you 12 hasty power over three bodies, the latter attribute more relevant if you're playing a deck that likes going wide, and if that's your plan, you'll probably be casting it for five mana instead of nine the majority of the time.
In a reverse Matryoshka doll situation, a 2/3 two-drop can become a 6/6, or a five-mana 5/5 cracks open to reveal a 15/15. Obviously, this gets even better with any sort of Equipment, or Auras like Rancor, and is likely the owner of the best colorless mode among Prototype cards.
While it owns a Grixis color identity, those who are looking at this particular serrated snake aren't going to be casting it with red mana very often. No matter how you slice it, you'll get your value from it, whether it's drawing three cards and gaining a 5/4 for six mana, or stuffing a bunch of Burglar Rats into a snake-shaped sack. The tri-colored identity might inhibit Bladecoil Serpent's use, especially if the discard mode is the most appealing to you, but perhaps Nicol Bolas or Lord Xander, the Collector players might want a way to spread that hand-shredding love to everyone, not just "target opponents". In other words, Bladecoil Serpent is basically a Syphon Mind. No further questions.
Cityscape Leveler gives new meaning to the term "stompy." It's a gigantic robot that kicks over buildings and will likely scratch that Terastodon itch without the color restriction. Instead of Elephants, you'll be providing opponents (or yourself) with conciliatory Powerstones, and not quite as quickly, but that last line of text makes it much more interesting than a beefier Meteor Golem.
With The Brothers' War, we enjoy the return of the Unearth mechanic, first introduced in 2008's Shards of Alara. Since then, it's appeared sporadically, with its most recent use in the Warhammer 40,000 Necron Commander deck. Fans of the keyword have Sedris, the Traitor King bedsheets and live in fear of graveyard exiling, and at the end of the day the keyword provides a bit of built-in recursion that generates value out of death, which for many is the bread and butter of Commander. What's unique about its inclusion in The Brothers' War is the expansion into all five mono-colored identities for the first time. Previously, it had only appeared in white on Priest of Fell Rites, and never before in green.
The John Travolta to Bladecoil Serpent's Nic Cage, Clay Champion employs the same Multikicker-esque colored mana modes, but it does its best Travel Preparations impression instead. Decks that make use of +1/+1 counters might be interested in including Clay Champion, as the open-ended aspect of the casting cost means you can distribute as many counters as you've got colored mana. In practice, though, those casting Clay Champion will likely be pouring green mana into it for the biggest Play-Doh man of them all.
Platoon Dispenser is the latest in a long line of Protoss Carriers, cranking out creature tokens; in this case, 1/1 colorless Soldier tokens. It's never a bad thing to have a place to spend excess mana every turn, and a personal (albeit conditional) Howling Mine in white is nothing to sneeze at, either. Any deck that wants a bunch of artifact creatures will want the comforting thud-clank, thud-clank of Platoon Dispenser, as well as any deck that wants a bunch of Soldier tokens (you know who you are). Is white finally getting the card advantage it so direly needed? That's a conversation for another day, but Platoon Dispenser is a fun way to do it.
Portal to Phyrexia
As mentioned previously in this very review, nine mana is a lot, but with Portal to Phyrexia, you're getting a ton of return on that investment, and if we're being honest, it's very unlikely those that are looking to play this have any intention of actually casting it for its full retail price. The age-old caveat of giving opponents a choice via sacrifice (as opposed to targeted removal) applies here, but with any luck you'll give people the choice to sacrifice three of their three creatures. It's definitely worth noting that the sacrifice trigger is not on cast but on entering the battlefield, which for my money is why this one's a mythic and not just a rare.
But that's just the first half of the card. While it's in play, Portal to Phyrexia compleats those creatures it recently killed, resurrecting them to serve you like a reverse Reya Dawnbringer. In games of Commander, the only question regarding Portal to Phyrexia is just how you plan on getting it into play. Will you use all that Powerstone mana to cast it? Fetch it into play with Master Transmuter or Kuldotha Forgemaster? Pull it out of the garbage and dust it off with Daretti, Scrap Savant or Goblin Welder? Display dominance by paying nine life into Bolas's Citadel?
A lot of discussion has already been had regarding the unnamed but numerous examples of a "Figure of Destiny" creature. Sure, it's basically Level-Up without the keyword, but the "if this thing is this, make it this other thing instead" ladder appears on a number of creatures, most recently right here with Surge Engine. First, it goes from a beachside bulkhead to a Covert Operative, then an even-more-evasive Juggernaut before finally settling into what it already was, but trying to Concentrate really hard at the same time. All of that comes at a price of 12 mana. The "activate...only once" clause in that last activation will probably keep this from cracking many Commander decks, unfortunately.
If you've ever wanted to ensure your playgroup won't have time to get that second game in, Urza's Sylex is the legendary artifact for you. Should it see frequent play, the apocalyptic salad bowl will likely elicit plenty of groans from the table, but don't listen to them. Just remind them that they're lucky you're leaving them with six lands. Artifacts like Urza's Sylex, Nevinyrral's Disk, or Oblivion Stone warp opponents' playstyles around the threat of mutually assured destruction and certainly have their place in Commander, and in the case of Sylex, tossing an extra two mana during activation to Call the Gatewatch might be just what you need to break parity following extinction.
A firebreathing Dragon is about as ubiquitous in Magic as death, taxes, and ads for gambling apps during a sports broadcast. At least with this mechanical Dragon we get that firebreathing (one red mana equals one point of added power) spread across your entire mechanical army. If I'm using Artificer's Dragon, it's to turn all my precious Myr into walking flamethrowers, but I'm sure others will figure out slightly more impactful ways to make use of Artificer's Dragon (perhaps with Braid of Fire?)
Liberator, Urza's Battlethopter
With Liberator, there are now 12 colorless commanders, and only five colorless artifact commanders. While other options like Traxos, Scourge of Kroog and Karn, Silver Golem might tangentially reward artifacts in your 99 (as if you have much of a choice with a colorless deck), Liberator offers an explicit benefit in being an objectively better Shimmer Myr. It also features a quasi-Evolve on spell-casting, potentially growing its power and toughness with every cast.
As a long-time Traxos player, shifting my list to serve Urza's battleboat is an interesting proposition that I'll likely pursue. The aim to close out games with commander damage isn't as one-dimensional (or easy) as it might be with Traxos, but the chance at instant-speed power-growing shenanigans might be amusing. At the very least, all dozen or so of you playing colorless Thopter tribal with Hope of Ghirapur will now have an identity crisis thanks to a second Thoption.
Finally, a Crucible of Worlds with legs*. If you need redundancy in your lands-matter deck, you get a new toy, but if we're being fair, you get a new toy with every new release, so we're not that happy for you. The added Unearth being only two mana means that in some cases, this'll be a Rampant Growth, should conditions align.
*Ramunap Excavator doesn't have legs, it's a snake, come on now.
Like many of the artifacts in the set, Razorlash Transmogrant is a robotic version of an already-existing Magic card, in this case any number of black creatures like Despoiler of Souls or Auntie's Snitch (or Gravecrawler, or Bloodghast, or Falkenrath Forebear, or Skyclave Shade, or Bloodsoaked Champion or...) that can't block, have a greater power than toughness, and can come back to life, a subset of creatures that is much larger than one would expect given the conditions. Certainly any deck that wants that sort of thing will make use of Razzy T here, especially since the cost reduction in the resurrection ability will be an easy hurdle to jump in most Commander games. I like it especially in Yawgmoth, Thran Physician decks, which feels thematically appropriate.
For most people, a worse Craw Wurm in a rare slot won't be very interesting, but mill players aren't most people.
The Stasis Coffin
For five mana, you can make the same jokes as the white player casting Teferi's Protection: "I'm not here, I have to go to the bathroom, I'm going to go grab a drink," et cetera.
In all seriousness, though, a panic button available to any deck is something to be wary of, and it's appreciated that designers were mindful to limit the potential for annoying scenarios by making this legendary and having it exile itself on activation. Still, there are going to be some among you who will undo those safety valves and figure out a way to make a million copies of The Stasis Coffin in order to give themselves protection from everything forever.
As pointed out in the comments, it's important to remember that The Coffin only gives you protection from everything, not your bits and baubles, in an "Indiana Jones hiding in a fridge" sort of way. So while you're safe, everything else is not, meaning that while you might rise from the Coffin unscathed, you could be turning your face to the heavens and lamenting "at what cost?"
Already proclaimed by the masses as "the new Skullclamp", likely both for its similarity in abilities and due to the fact they're both fashionable headwear, Transmogrant's Crown is an excellent Equipment card to be included in a wide variety of decks containing black. It doesn't have Skullclamp's ability to kill its host without help, and it only draws one card instead of two, but Skullclamp is a broken card and shouldn't be considered a baseline for measuring the value of anything.
Transmogrant's Crown is great in Teysa Karlov and other aristocrats-style decks, it's great in go-wide decks like Chatterfang, Squirrel General, sacrifice-themed decks like Ghoulcaller Gisa or Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, and it's even good in your average Equipment deck splashing black, like Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale.
While at first blush you might think Hexavus (or Avus, Sixth of his Name, if we're being formal) has the most in common with Tetravus or Pentavus, think again. It's actually a giant flying Quillspike.
You won't believe this, but they finally made a new card that goes infinite with Devoted Druid. With Hexavus, instead of reloading only by exiling the little Tetravites buzzing around everywhere, you can tap Devoted Druid to make a green mana then untap it, use that mana to pay for Hexavus's second ability (and in the process removing the -1/-1 counter from the Druid), and repeat. And that's not all: remove flying counters from your creatures placed on them by Luminous Broodmoth, slow down the aging of Cumulative upkeep cards, like Mystic Remora (or Blizzard, if you feel like putting flying counters on opponents' creatures like a monster), allow Undying creatures to continually un-die -- the (giant robotic manta in the) sky's the limit.
And the fact that we're getting new Mark Tedin art in an old border to go with it is just gravy.
Kayla's Music Box
One day, white as a color will get a card that simply reads "draw a card." Today is not that day, but Kayla's Music Box is close. Ironically, however, the word "draw" isn't anywhere on the card.
The Music Box lets you squirrel away cards to use on a rainy day, kind of like a sad Bomat Courier. This'll see play in plenty of mono-white decks looking for any way to eke out card advantage.
Machine God's Effigy
Sky Diamond and Clone had a baby and they named it Giger, Jr.
It turns out that there are more than a few creatures that get a lot better when you turn them into artifacts and give them a mana ability, especially if you want to give yourself a repetitive stress injury in your wrist by tapping and untapping Horseshoe Crab, Simic Ragworm, Soliton, or Morphling until they kick you out of the LGS. It's also absolutely not worth noting that you can have Machine God's Effigy come into play as a copy of Grand Architect and use the mana ability to turn it back into a blue creature for no reason whatsoever (edit: this doesn't actually work, sorry -- but it should)
At least this one doesn't go infinite with Devoted Druid, right?
Staff of Titania
There's two kinds of Magic players, and Staff of Titania is a good measuring stick (that's a pun) to determine which of those two players you are. The first kind of player sees this particular piece of Equipment and thinks "Huh, I didn't know I needed a tree branch that makes Dryad Arbors; I guess I'll toss it in a mono-green deck where it will provide a big boost to my giant ape or dinosaur or whatever." The second kind of player sees Staff of Titania and thinks "Boy, this'll be hilarious in my mono-red Purphoros, God of the Forge token deck with Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth."
Also, there's a secret third kind of player who can't get over the lore implications that you're wielding what amounts to the severed limb of the very creatures it summons, as if you're waggling around a drumstick outside a chicken coop.
As far as the card itself, it's very good. Most people already respect the power of Sword of the Animist, and Staff of Titania is basically a variation on that card. It costs an extra wingding to equip, sure, but the buff it provides to its user keeps increasing, and creating creature/lands means it has the chance at opening up a bunch of synergies that Sword of the Animist does not provide. It's very possible that putting Staff of Titania in a green deck is counterintuitively the least good place for it.
For every Ornithopter you see in the sky, there are four people in a flame-lit room with hammers who made it happen. Just be glad they're better at reading schematics for flying machines than whatever Grim Haruspex is reading, otherwise we'd be getting out of hand. Moldervine Reclamation this is not, but the added benefit of cranking out a Thopter every turn is interesting -- what's not interesting is the white color identity, which limits the goofball mono-blue Thopter decks you can put the Thop' Shop into.
Wondrous Crucible's first ability is like buying the baseline tier of a home security system, for when you want to keep people from touching your stuff but you also want to save some money and not spring for the Avacyn, Angel of Hope Tier, or even the Privileged Position Package.
It's for that second part, though, why many people will find room for Wondrous Crucible. It turns out that Magic players love casting spells for free, even if "free" in this case is "pay seven mana for an artifact and cross your fingers you overcome the randomness to get what you want." The silver lining, of course, is whatever spell you're copying from your graveyard gets to stay there on the chance you'll copy it again, unlike many cards of this ilk that exile the spell following the resolution of the copy trigger, so if you can find a way to finesse only one legal target for the Crucible's trigger (perhaps by ensuring the top two cards of your library are lands with something like Sensei's Divining Top), then you'll get to copy the same thing over and over. But realistically, if you're going through that much trouble I hope whatever you're copying just wins the game on the spot. Don't be like me and just make copy after copy of Wall of Tombstones. (edit: this doesn't work either, as the Crucible does in fact exile the targeted card -- you'll have to find better ways to make a hundred copies of Wall of Tombstones.)
Uncommons & Commons
Perhaps this is my own bias showing, but I love little unassuming value creatures that can casually nuke other players' splashy plays. For two mana, you get to straight-up exile your opponent's Darksteel Forge, and you even get to gain two life to boot. The little guy seems like a shoe-in for Glissa, the Traitor decks at the very least, and should be considered in other green-based decks that can bring it back for a second go-around.
A Scroll of the Masters that says "screw it, I'll do it myself." While likely not anyone's favorite card from The Brothers' War, the floating statue might find its way into spellslinger decks that need a wrath-proof damage dealer.
Su-Chi Cave Guard
Any card that says to add eight of anything is worth a second look. Like many cards in The Brothers' War, Su-Chi's older cooler brother goes from "mildly interesting" to "game-winning engine/enabler" when you mix it with ways to trigger its on-death ability without casting it for eight mana in the first place. Suddenly, decks that use Trash for Treasure and Krark-Clan Ironworks can just oops into 10 colorless mana, as if they needed the help. I think you'll see the Cave Guard soon enough in Commander games as a harbinger of bad times.
Thran Power Suit
Soon you'll be able to build an Aura/Equipment deck using only the options that buff creatures for every other Aura or Equipment, a la All That Glitters. In other news, Valduk, Keeper of the Flame players found their favorite new card.
Alright friends, that about wraps everything up here. The Brothers' War seems to hit many of the notes we older players appreciate in terms of lore, and the cards themselves will be impacting Commander games for quite some time to come. Especially in terms of the artifacts, many of them are powerful but not overly so, nor do they seem easily shoehorned into a particular existing deck archetype. In other words, go wild, stick Powerstones into everything, see what happens.
Now that we've talked about all these robots and robot accessories, which one will be your first pick to jam into a deck?