Mechanical Memories - Equipped for EDH

Nahiri, Forged in Fury | Art by Dominik Mayer

Cast big creature. Hit opponent with big creature. Big creature not big enough. Put rock on creature. Big creature get bigger. Hit opponent with bigger creature. Win game.

— Akiri Skyslinger, “The Art of Boros,” 2009

Welcome to Mechanical Memories, the series where sometimes you just want to win with a big creature, is that so bad? Here, I’m going to take you through the history of Magic design and its relationship with the Commander format. Commander has historically been a place where the mechanics that have been cast aside by broader sixty-card Magic can come to get their place in the sun. At the Commander table, you can splice onto your Kodama’s Reach, assemble your board of Allies with General Tazri, and do whatever it is we were supposed to do with Kamigawa’s Sweep cards.

However, there comes a time once in a Blood Moon that Commander gets its hands on a mechanic with a tenuous relationship to both casual and competitive Magic. Here, in this Twilight Zone of playability, design is constantly tweaking the knobs to satisfy both groups of players. When no style of Magic has ownership over a mechanic, how do you design it to please a broader audience? Today, we’re talking about one of these tricky types of cards and all the strange things that have been tried to make it work: Equipment.

Enter Mirrodin

From the start of Magic in Limited Edition Alpha, there’s been Auras that boost creatures. The play pattern behind these is simple: Say you are choosing whether or not to run Invisibility or a Serra Angel. The former acts as a way to give a creature evasion while the other just has evasion. Now, you can run the Serra Angel and get both effects in one package. However, Invisibility lets you grant it to a possibly cheaper creature, allowing you to swing in unimpeded. Additionally, Auras let you give their abilities to creatures that can exploit them. A Hypnotic Specter, for example, will really appreciate the ability to freely force discard on your opponents.

This does leave the Aura player in a bit of a bind. Since they’ve placed two cards worth of resources onto a singular creature, that creatures death would put them in a card-negative exchange. A spell like Doom Blade becomes a two-for-one. That’s the kind of exchange that can make or break a competitive deck. Aside from a few niche sideboard tools, Auras didn’t make much of an impact on competitive formats.

Then came Mirrodin block. While Auras weren’t the most competitive cards, they helped limited environments by providing boosts to basic creatures to break board stalls. However, the increased emphasis on artifacts in this block made it hard to devote those slots to enchantments. So, design was left in a troublesome situation. How would this be resolved?

Equipments’ Ancestors

Looking to the past, we can see how they got to their solution. Back in Antiquities, Ashnod’s Battle Gear set a precedent for artifacts that represented equipping your creatures with stat boosts. These often tapped to grant effects and would remain on a creature until you choose to untap the artifact. While flavorful, there was a certain level of disconnect that made these less popular. Rather than attaching to your creature like an Aura, these not-Equipment would just add the boost, akin to an on-board combat trick. It also created memory issues as there was no official indicator of how the artifact applied the effect to your creature. How do you combine the best parts of Auras with the best parts of artifacts? I imagine Bill Rose being struck by a bolt of inspiration as he decided “Why not jam them together?”

Equipments, when initially pitched, were basically Auras you had to pay a cost to enchant a creature, but they didn’t go to the graveyard when the creature died. Flavorfully, the idea was that you would conjure the Equipment and hand it to one of your creatures. When that creature died, the Equipment just fell onto the ground. Another creature could pick it up, repeating the cycle of your Vulshok Berserker grabbing and Equipment and dying.

By giving the ability to buff your creatures to artifacts rather than enchantments, this switch played into the artifact theme of the set while making room for new synergies. Mirrodin block is packed with cards that specifically call out Equipment. Auriok Steelshaper, Skyhunter Cub, and Raksha Golden Cub all encourage you to load up your creatures with Equipment. It also gave a nice aesthetic identity to the Leonin, the primary white creatures of Mirrodin. Cat people wielding giant metal Bonesplitters? I’m sure that was someone’s awakening.

Like many big swings in Magic design, the problem came in power level. Most Equipment were either too weak to see play or far too game-breaking. Cranial Plating and Skullclamp being two notable examples, the Equipment that worked broke the parity that the mechanic was intended to establish. Rather than letting artifacts act as consistent combat buffs, these cards tipped the scales of resources in their controller’s favor. Combined with some of the game-breaking combo pieces of the block, Equipment was not off to a great start.

However, the flavor of Equipment kept fanning the flames of player interest. While there were some stumbles in balance, the time-tested appeal of “Giving my Goblin Guide a Big Sword™” proved appealing enough for design to continue to experiment with it. Equipment offered a nice boost to aggressive strategies, particularly those that focused on smaller creatures since it could grant them better abilities. While more Spellslinger type decks relied on instants and sorceries to pump their board, the permanent-focused colors of red and white took to Equipment. Thus began the Equipmentification of Boros.

While it is easy to make fun of the glut of Equipment commanders in Boros, there’s a good reason for this. As discussed, Equipment offers a nice way to break through board stalls while being flavorfully appealing. It keeps resource exchanges at a fairly neutral level when balanced correctly, making it a powerful tool for limited design. If you look at the draft archetypes for a given set, you’re likely going to see some overlap. For an example, check out the archetypes for the recent Commander Masters.

chart showing the archetypes present in the Commander Master's set

Boros has Equipment as its major point of synergy, emphasized with cards like Akiri, Fearless Voyager, Brass Knuckles, and Sunspear Shikari. But take a look at some of the archetypes that share a color with Boros. Azorius focuses on artifacts in general. One of the major cards for this pair was Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp. Tapping an Equipment to reduce Zahid’s cost doesn’t affect the Equipments ability to be, well, an Equipment! The same can be said for the power matters archetype in Gruul. An Equipment could be just the boost you need to turn on your Furious Rise or to gain trample with Temur Battle Rage. Equipment aren’t just there because they’re flavorful, they’re there because they work incredibly well in the overall draft ecosystem.

This isn’t to say that Boros Equipment is always a fascinating and mechanically complex design space. It’s often fairly straightforward, putting your best Equipment on your biggest or most evasive creature. While I personally love my Archangel Avacyn Equipment deck, I wanted to mix it up for this article. Let’s take a massive departure from red-white Equipment and build… blue-white Equipment. Look, I never said I was on Philomène Gatien’s level.

Ayesha? I Hardly Know-a!

Ayesha Tanaka, Armorer is a powerful Azorius Commander from Dominaria United’s Legends Retold. While not specifically calling out Equipment, her ability to cheat out powerful artifacts is based on her power. Skimping on casting artifacts while buffing power is a perfect pairing to an Equipment strategy! This isn’t your classic Azorius deck, this is going to be a strong aggro build.

Well, as aggressive as Azorius can be. We still need to build up a sizable board before Ayesha can really do her thing. We’re running the full suite of UW mana rocks so that we can get Ayesha on the board as quickly as possible. To ensure these aren’t totally dead draws later in the game, I looked for mana rocks with some added utility. Moonsnare Prototype will usually have a spare artifact to tap and can be cashed in for some expensive removal later in the game. The Irencrag is an absolute beast I’ve been loving in my slower decks, acting as a mana rock early on and an additional Equipment when you need it. Plus, I had to include the Sonic Screwdriver for its evasion-granting ability and amazing artwork.

Since Ayesha Tanaka, Armorer wants to have as many artifacts as possible within the top four cards of our library, over half of this deck is artifacts. 54 cards, ranging from classic artifacts, artifact creatures, and artifact lands can be put into play off her ability. To ensure we’re getting maximum value off Ayesha’s effect, a handful of library manipulation cards can stack the odds in our favor. Scroll Rack and Brainstone are both artifacts that can tuck a power Equipment on top of our library to be cheated out. Some non-artifact choices, such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor, act as solid filtering and removal when needed.

When these Equipment are cheated onto the battlefield with Ayesha’s ability, they won’t instantly attach to our creatures… unless we cheat a little bit. Equipment staples like Forge Anew and Sigarda’s Aid can put our Equipment straight onto our creatures. These aren’t anything new to veteran Voltron players, so I added a handful of special additions unique to Ayesha and this color identity. Recent printings Cryptic Coat and Assimilation Aegis give instant value once they hit the battlefield, giving us an advantage even before they are equipped.

Despite giving this archetype a color-based twist, it wins in the way most Equipment decks do: combat damage. Once we’ve gotten Ayesha’s power high enough, massive artifacts like Simulacrum Synthesizer and The Mightstone and Weakstone can turn into major card advantage. Enlightened Tutor-ing an Akroma’s Memorial onto the top of our deck, then throwing it into play with Ayesha is a beautiful way to end the game. Swinging with a massive, muscley artificer is an unmatched finisher.

Equipment is as Equipment has always been, but I hope this trip down memory lane has sharpened your knowledge of this awesome artifacts. What’s the strangest Equipment deck you’ve seen? I would love to hear about them in the comments. Thanks for joining, and I hope you have a wonderful day. Stay Equip-ed!

Mechanical Memories - Equipped for Battle

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Commander (1)
Creatures (16)
Artifacts (37)
Planeswalkers (2)
Enchantments (2)
Instants (3)
Sorceries (2)
Lands (37)

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Mechanical Memories - Companions, Dungeons, and Monarchs

Ranking Every Equipment with EDHREC - 2022 Edition

Jubilee Finnegan (they/them) is English literature student and writer based out of Southern California. They got hooked in Magic with Throne of Eldraine and haven't stopped since. When not deckbuilding, they're working on poetry, gardening, or trying some new artistic endeavor. They can be found on Twitter at @finneyflame or on Instagram @jwfinnegan.

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