Sometimes things are organic, and sometimes you gotta force it.
For those of you who've been following this column for a while, you know how excited I was about this card and the other blue cards that have been released over the last year that make artifacts an attractive theme in Standard. Since then, I've been trying a balance of "artifact matters" cards in a number of different strategies, but all of them have been underwhelming or outright failures. While I've been testing more viable concepts for deck construction and exploring Dragons of Tarkir and its treasures, my stubborn little mind couldn't put the artifact deck down in my spare brewing time.
For a while, I was on the U/R kick. Shrapnel Blast and Ensoul Artifact together seem like the perfect components for an aggressive, tempo-based deck, and my first try to leverage these two pieces of synergy even threw in some white for good measure. That went fine and it was pretty fun, but it wasn't reliable. I cut down the colors and focused on Ensoul Artifact, which spawned this one, which was constructed solely with the purpose of being more consistent. Well, in a match where three attacking, "Ensouled" artifacts couldn't close the game, I decided that perhaps Ensoul Artifact was not the way to go at all.
Then I looked to the mana producers Chief Engineer and Renowned Weaponsmith again. Each was great in theory, but in the Mono-Blue versions I'd tried where I'd be trying to ramp to the intimidating Scuttling Doom Engine and Soul of New Phyrexia, no combination of boardstates was particularly conducive to getting the engines running, and games often ended with me chump blocking with these 1/3s. They've got goggles and welders, not swords and shields.
My most recent version of the deck was flavorful and fun, but it was still falling short. It started with my love for bizarre tribes, and this one was already mostly built with the inclusion of the two artifact enablers: Artificer.
- 2 Scuttling Doom Engine
- 2 Soul of New Phyrexia
- 4 Aeronaut Tinkerer
- 4 Chief Engineer
- 4 Dakra Mystic
- 4 Master of Waves
- 4 Renowned Weaponsmith
This one was fun, but it struggled with low power level, sluggish starts, and inconsistency. There are only three Artificers in Standard, so I had to fill in the gaps with some amount of fluff. Meteorite was fun, colorless removal I could cast on turn 3 with the Weaponsmith, but it was expensive and not terribly impactful after all. I won with Master of Waves more than the artifacts the deck was constructed to support. The Obelisk had to be bridged between Artificer and Elemental, and I often chose the wrong one. The list had trouble in most matches in which I didn't resolve the Master, and thus, the theme was ultimately useless. All seemed doomed once again.
I had two choices: scrap the concept, or look at another color.
Conveniently, U/G Devotion has been in the news lately as one of the best Collected Company decks around. While Collected Company does little to help our six-drop artifacts from making a splash, the green the deck featured did attract me. After all, there were some powerful cards lying dormant in the Simic color combination.
My latest version already used Master of Waves and the correct Temples; what's a bit more green in the mix?
- 4 Scuttling Doom Engine
- 4 Soul of New Phyrexia
- 4 Chief Engineer
- 4 Dakra Mystic
- 4 Kiora's Follower
- 4 Master of Waves
- 4 Renowned Weaponsmith
- 1 Thassa, God of the Sea
Might as well jump in head first, right?
Dakra Mystic, like both Chief Engineer and Renowned Weaponsmith, is a card for which I've been desperately trying to find the right home. Most of the time making your opponents draw cards at the expense of your own mana and creature utility is poor; even the more efficient and harder to target Howling Mine is suspect in most decks. However, because the power level and synergy of this deck are already so high, I will be able to effectively use and choose the best cards for my deck, milling the rest. I don't have a Treasure Cruise to fuel, but there are other cards that benefit from being binned. The two remaining Artificers play similar, but separate ramping roles. With cards like Master of Waves, Chief Engineer lets you explode, allowing you to cast two creatures in one turn Collective-Company style. Renowned Weaponsmith provides concise, non-invasive ramp. It can do the work of two creatures by itself. I decided to eschew the tutor package the Weaponsmith could support due to slowness and deck space, but adding it back in is easy if the metagame calls for it. Aeronaut Tinkerer proved to be the worst Artificer, so Kiora's Follower took its place after the shift to green. Kiora's Follower lets you untap anything, including the mana-producing Renowned Weaponsmith, any of the noncreature artifacts, or the largest creature on the board, providing pseudo-vigilance. It adds one blue devotion, too, something a creature like Sylvan Caryatid can't accomplish.
Because the pedal's to the floor here, we've packed four each of our six-drops, Scuttling Doom Engine and Soul of New Phyrexia. We now have twelve turn-2 ramp creatures, eight of which can provide large levels of ramp. With the way games go these days, having lots of dense threats is important, and we want to make sure this deck's heading somewhere awesome. Scuttling Doom Engine is perhaps my favorite of the two, with its evasion and protection against destruction. That evasion's no joke; Hornet Queen, nearly every red card, and Elspeth tokens can't block it. Six damage is also a lot to take to the face, especially if a Master of Waves' spawn is beating you down. Soul of New Phyrexia is a critical component, whether it's in play or it's sitting in the graveyard after being milled by Dakra Mystic. After you untap with the Soul, you're probably not losing, as you can protect your whole team, potentially multiple times thanks to the mana production of cards like Renowned Weaponsmith, which can be used to pay activation costs, too! The 29th creature slot was hard to fill, and after several different candidates, Thassa, God of the Sea proved to be the most flexible. Except for blazing fast aggro decks, Thassa's always one of the best singletons you can draw.
It's a short list. Hall of Triumph, which can be cast the same turn as you cast other spells thanks to Chief Engineer, also protects your Elementals should something happen to their Master. Moreover, giving the Artificers Pillarfield Ox states is pretty good in this format, letting it potently attack while not risking a lot in combat; I mean, look how nicely Courser of Kruphix is done. Bident of Thassa, which can also have its color paid by the Engineer or any blue creature you convoke it with, provides the deck's only source of card advantage. Later in the game, forcing your opponent to slam into your 6/6s might be all you need to break through. Bow of Nylea, included as a by-product of going green, is potentially the most powerful legendary artifact fromTheros that's not seeing any play. It's immensely flexible, and every mode is relevant. With Kiora's Follower, I can even activate it twice. Six free life a turn or shooting down any four-toughness Dragon will get you there for sure.
Despite the artifact-heavy top end, the cheap stuff is color-intensive. Not running traps like Ensoul Artifact help relieve the need for things like Darksteel Citadel, and feel-good lands like Radiant Fountain also have no place in this deck. Because I'll be using my creatures to produce colorless mana, I need my actual lands to pay colored costs.
As an aside, I love 100%-creature sideboards. We're not fooling anyone here, so we might as well make the final fifteen compatible with the maindeck plan.
Keeper of the Lens, if it also let you look at the top card of your library like Lens of Clarity, might actually see sane Standard play if there were a good Ensoul Artifact deck floating around. Still, it's a 1/2 that can stop quick red attackers and 1/1 tokens all day. It's also an artifact, meaning you can tap a freshly cast Chief Engineer to cast one, then you can tap that one to cast another Keeper and so on. It's there for the matches where fast convoke matters or having relevant blockers on turn 1 matters. Reclamation Sage serves its well-known purpose of two-for-one artifact and enchantment removal, but it also provides an alternate function: It breaks my Scuttling Doom Engine for me! Silumgar Sorcerer, which has found a good home in U/G Collected Company decks, comes in for midrange matchups where their plan to stick Siege Rhinos, Dragons, or Hornet Queen. They also provide two devotion, which is good in a deck that doesn't (and wouldn't) play Shorecrasher Elemental. Prophet of Kruphix is a great creature for this deck, allowing you to untap and play some of your mightiest spells during your opponent's end step. However, a five-drop 2/3 can also get you into trouble when brute strength is all that matters. The Prophets are summoned in matches where flash creatures matter and creating powerful turns is critical to defeating an obstinate opponent. Finally, and admittedly just for fun, Kruphix, God of Horizons rounds out the sideboard. Kruphix allows you to "stockpile" Soul of New Phyrexia activation mana and lets you draw and keep cards to your heart's content after a powerful hit with Bident of Thassa. There's enough devotion in the list that it's likely that Kruphix might occasionally come to life, lending his substantial and indestructible body to the fight.
So how'd it do? Has months of fooling around with the power of the Artificers proven anything?
Dr. Brown and I have a lot in common. "I finally invent something that works!"
In extensive, in-person testing last week, I tried it against a number of decks, including a black aggro deck, a red aggro deck, Abzan Midrange, U/G Devotion, and U/B Control, and I clobbered 'em all handily. The deck's top end proved difficult for these decks to handle, and dropping either one was often the nail in the coffin. The deck was actually fast and consistent enough to survive in early turns, and the landbase was cooperative and supportive. Postboard, Silumgar Sorcerer really shined, and Prophet was excellent as well. I never missed having access to removal, as most decks these days would. Bow of Nylea was a hard lock against aggressive strategies, with an instant concession in one game the moment I resolved it. Most of the games I played I never fell behind. Although I'm sure the deck has them, I never came across an unwinnable matchup. It felt great to "cheat" Soul of New Phyrexia and Scuttling Doom Engine into play. Maybe a one-of Akros Colossus would be nice? Hmm...
If you're like me and you've been trying in vain to get this strategy going at your local FNM, look no further. There's nothing artificial about this list; grab your Simic manabase, sleeve this up, and I promise you won't regret it!
Any innovations on your side of things in the colorless domain of Standard? Maybe you've finally cracked the Ensoul Artifact puzzle and you'd like to share with the group?