At SCG Richmond a couple of weeks ago, I was called up to the Feature Match area in Round 1. I often joke that SCG needs to pull me up to the Feature Match area in the first round more often because that's the last time I'll be undefeated for the remainder of the tournament. I was assigned to a side table because SCG Tour® star Andrew Jessup was given a spot under the camera, but it was cool to see my good friend Kevin Davis sit across from him. Not just because it's nice to have my friend get some time on camera, but also because he was playing a really cool and unusual deck brewed up by our mutual friend Jay Delazier featuring one of the strange and powerful new artifacts from Aether Revolt: Inspiring Statuary.
My match was over quickly, in large part because my opponent had two bad draws and at the time my deck's curse hadn't kicked in, so I was able to bird the rest of Kevin's match against Jessup and his G/W Tokens deck. Kevin lost the first game but went on to win the match in no small part because Kevin was playing a crazy Vintage game with Moxen while Jessup played a grindy mid-range Standard deck. You can watch the coverage team go nuts over Kevin's deck:
If you're curious about the decklist, here it is:
Inspiring Statuary allows you to play some crazy games where you get a whole lot more mana than you have a right to have if you build your deck with it in mind. Kevin's deck was cool, but it didn't look like something I could enjoy playing because so much of the deck was dedicated to drawing cards. This of course is necessary because you have to get a critical mass of cards in hand one way or another in order to “go off” with Aetherflux Reservoir, but it felt to me a lot of the time you would be drawing into card-drawing cards.
Since eight of the twelve faux-Moxen Kevin played were bad Equipment cards, I wondered if Sram, Senior Edificer might be a decent enabler for this strategy. After some pondering and sketching out different ideas, I landed with this list:
While Inventor's Goggles isn't zero mana, it's basically mana-neutral, since it can provide a virtual mana back the same turn you play it. At other points in the game it provides a very nice boost to Toolcraft Exemplar and Sram, Senior Edificer, often for free.
Of course, if I look closely, the beatdown angle goes completely against the Aetherflux Reservoir angle, so you probably shouldn't try this at home. However, thinking about tapping Equipment for mana got me naturally thinking about Commander. Sure, in a deck focusing on Equipment or other artifacts, Inspiring Statuary might be a no-brainer (though keep in mind it won't help you cast other artifacts). But I started thinking about the non-mana artifacts that are in some of my decks, and there are a fair number.
Take for instance my deck built around Kari Zev, Skyship Raider.
Whoa, that's a lot of artifacts! I even included Inspiring Statuary back before I was really thinking about playing it in more Commander decks. Of course, this isn't really a fair representation, because I was looking at pulling off some crazy artifact-centric combos in this deck.
Okay, so let's check out the non-mana artifacts in my Ozhov partners deck:
Okay, so this deck wasn't really focused on artifacts, but I've got twelve here that could be turned into virtual mana with Inspiring Statuary.
How about my super-cool Eldrazi Ninjas deck?
Not too many here. Now, this was a three-color Commander deck, so many of my spells are probably more color-intensive. The Eldrazi spells are interesting in that the emerge cost often demands color but the spells themselves are colorless that could in theory be paid for entirely by tapping artifacts. I might have to go back and tweak this deck.
How about my General Tazri deck?
This five-color deck nevertheless had eight non-mana artifacts. Is that enough to warrant Inspiring Statuary?
Let's take a step back and consider the opportunity cost of putting Inspiring Statuary in your deck. On its own it costs three mana and only provides you with mana you can use to cast the generic mana portion of spells—you can't use it to generate specifically colorless mana for something like Warping Wail, and you can't use the mana for activated abilities. So by itself it's an inferior “mana rock” at a point in the mana curve where we have an amazing number of options, many of them quite good.
Three-CMC Mana Rocks
This list would be even longer, but quite a few of these (Monuments, Cluestones, Keyrunes, Banners, and Obelisks) are representative of a cycle of five or even ten cards. The ones at the top of this list are quite good, and the ones towards the bottom are perfectly reasonable. These cards tap for mana you can use for pretty much whatever you want, and many of them have extra features on top of that. Basically, the competition is stiff at this mana slot and begs the question—why aren't you playing one of these instead of Inspiring Statuary?
I decided to see what Commander fans on Twitter thought, and posted a purposefully provocative theory that, in general, Inspiring Statuary ought to be considered for most Commander decks. I was expecting replies to be mixed at best but wow, the overwhelming consensus opinion was that no, Inspiring Statuary is not at all worth playing outside of artifact-heavy decks! Was I that wrong in my thinking, or had I wandered out too far ahead of the pack?
I asked Don Miner from EDHREC if he would be able to query his Commander Deck database to tell me what artifacts were commonly played in Commander decks. He gave me a giant spreadsheet with 1,694 artifacts, sorted by the frequency they appeared in decks they could potentially appear in. How cool is that? I love spreadsheets!
For the purposes of this article, though, 1,700 artifacts is a bit cumbersome, so I decided on an arbitrary cut-off of artifacts that are in roughly at least 3% of the decks they could have been in. This cut the list down to 128 artifacts. I then subtracted the 33 artifacts that actually tap for mana already, since Inspiring Statuary isn't really giving them any extra value. There are also artifacts that activate by tapping, and I've removed most of them from consideration, even though many of them could benefit from sometimes being able to provide you virtual mana when you don't need their activated ability. That leaves around 60 or so relatively commonly played artifacts that could provide you with mana with Inspiring Statuary. I was surprised at that number being nearly twice as many as that of the most commonly played mana artifacts.
Unsurprisingly, Equipment dominates this category, but there are many other cool artifacts that are played simply for their static effect or for a non-tapping ability. Giving a few of these the ability to help pay for spells is huge upside. Being able to cast one of your six- or seven-mana haymaker spells a turn or two earlier can have a giant impact on the game. And let's not forget that artifacts juiced by Inspiring Statuary can help pay the Commander tax on your Commander if it's been destroyed a few times.
A word about Winter Orb and Static Orb: these griefer-style artifacts are certainly not going to be popular in many Commander playgroups, but for those rare groups who don't mind fighting out of Prison locks, Inspiring Statuary is one way to break the symmetry of these cards by tapping them down the turn before your untap step.
It's not surprising to see Solemn Simulacrum at the top of the list, since it already does so much good work in just about any Commander deck, but wow—being able to tap for mana too? I was a little surprised to see Burnished Hart being played so much, since I almost never include it in my decks. The three-mana spot is so flush with good Commander cards, I've just never considered it to be better than so many other options but maybe I should reconsider. Anyway, so many of these artifact creatures are quality cards that fit into so many different Commander decks so giving them added value just seems like good gravy.
Added Utility Might Be Nice!
This last batch are artifacts that tap to do something, so while giving them the ability to help pay for spells could be nice, it's not all upside. Elixir of Immortality is something you could cast early for mana way before you'd want to activate it. You don't always want to provoke opponents to attack with Bident of Thassa, and you certainly don't want to always sacrifice lands with Hammer of Purphoros. Activating Contagion Engine sucks up a ton of mana, so often it's just going to be sitting out there unless you have a ton of counters to proliferate.
Ultimately, whether or not Inspiring Statuary belongs in your Commander deck or not comes down to the needs of your deck. I think the more colors you run, the more you probably need to rely on color fixing rather than just mana acceleration. At the three-mana spot, Inspiring Statuary is going to be competing against some great color-fixing like Darksteel Ingot, Commander's Sphere, Chromatic Lantern, Cultivator's Caravan, and Coalition Relic. But if you think about it, when you play a deck with multiple colors, you will often play a fair number of artifacts because you still want to be able to play spells when your mana doesn't come together perfectly. Once you have two or three color-fixing mana artifacts, why not swap the fourth one for Inspiring Statuary and let some of your other artifacts provide added value?
Once you get down to just one or two colors, your mana artifacts are more ramp than color-fixing. Unless you have to fuel a lot of mana activated abilities, I think Inspiring Statuary moves quickly up the list of inclusions unless you're just really not playing artifacts for some reason.
My provocative statement on Twitter that Inspiring Statuary belongs in most Commander decks is over the line. But I do think that more decks should be playing it than are currently. I personally plan on giving it a try in a lot more decks. What do you think?
New to Commander?
If you're just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
Commander write-ups I've done (and links to decklists):