Too-Specific Top 10 - X-Cost Artifacts

(Chiss-Goria, Forge Tyrant | Art by Svetlin Velinov)


Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Engineered Explosives is the only Ratchet Bomb effect that costs X?)

Affinity for Artifacts is one of the most powerful mechanics ever printed, with the original cards from Mirrodin breaking several competitive formats in half.

It turns out that it's just way too easy to get tons of artifacts in play on the cheap. From artifact lands to zero-cost artifacts to mana rocks to Skullclamp, even in Standard it wasn't difficult to have a zero-cost Frogmite on turn two and then spend your colored mana from your Seat of the Synod to refill your hand with Thoughtcast.

The problem hasn't gotten better as the mechanic has been further explored, either. Myr Enforcer has since been usurped by the strictly better Sojourner's Companion, Thought Monitor gives you a second Thoughtcast with a 2/2 flier stapled to it, and Ethersworn Sphinx can Cascade into anything in your deck for two mana (although it's worth mentioning that if you're built to abuse Affinity, you're probably not getting anything too crazy unless you've stacked your own deck).

In Commander, however, Affinity has always been a sort of afterthought for artifact decks, rather than a dedicated strategy. Well, no more!

With a 5/4 hasty Dragon in the command zone that comes with Affinity to make it routinely cost just three pips, then staples Affinity to an artifact every attack step, there's no reason that we can't abuse this broken mechanic to our heart's content!

There's just one problem: similar to Ethersworn Sphinx's dilemma of having to play a bunch of cheap artifacts to make it cheap, then wanting to Cascade into expensive spells, Chiss-Goria wants you to play a bunch of cheap artifacts to make him cheap, and then wants to reveal something expensive to cast with Affinity.

Well then, why not play cards that can do both?

Top 10 X-Costed Artifacts

Artifacts with a casting cost of X aren't a new phenomenon. With the original being printed in Visions (Phyrexian Marauder), then immediately being followed up on in Stronghold (Shifting Wall), the idea is over 20 years old. Just because a mechanic is old, however, does not mean it's played. Some might say that's because Phyrexian Marauder is awful, and they're not wrong, but when it comes to the slightly less terrible options, like Shifting Wall and Chimeric Mass, one might say that they were just waiting for the right incentive to come along.

I believe that Chiss-Goria, Forge Tyrant is that right incentive. With the ability to play down these X spells early in the game for cheap to drive Affinity, then flip more of them off of the top and cast them for huge amounts abusing Affinity, these are exactly the right kind of flexibility that will drive this Dragon. I mean, even if they don't do much on their own, they can still be flung at opponents' faces, right?

I think there might just be a few X-costed artifacts that do do a few things on their own, however.

Criteria: Artifacts within the red color identity that have a mana cost that includes X. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.

10. Sigil of Distinction

(1,598 Inclusions, 0% of 2,047,012 Decks)

You can't Fling it, which is unfortunate, but you can do one better: Fling the creature it's attached to! Sigil of Distinction is a great example of an X-cost artifact that never really found a niche. You can stack a whole bunch of counters on it, which makes you think about Proliferate or +1/+1 counters decks, but all it does it make a creature large by making itself smaller. Sigil of Distinction makes me think of Gigantosaurus, in that it asks the inherent question, "Okay, so you have a 10/10. Now what?" The difference here, though, is that you paid 11 mana to get the 10/10 with Sigil of Distinction, not five.

If you have a hasty flying Dragon for a commander that made Sigil cost five mana for 11 counters, well, I think you'd have something cool there!

9. Shifting Wall

(1,830 Inclusions, 0% of 2,047,012 Decks)

Shifting Wall feels underwhelming from the bottom up. You're mad to be paying one mana for a 1/1 Wall, the same as you're mad to be paying 10 for a 10/10 Wall. Still, a blocker is a blocker, and Fling doesn't care how that 10/10 came to be.

8. Engineered Explosives

(2,319 Inclusions, 0% of 2,047,012 Decks)

I've been on a bit of a tirade lately to try and prove that Ratchet Bomb effects could be playable in cEDH, so I feel like I can fairly definitively say that Engineered Explosives is the worst of them. It requires that you play multiple colors if you want to hit anything more than one-drops, and it makes you keep two mana open for the opportunity to crack it, leaving no room to change your target mana value once it's in play. Still, we're talking about an effect that's represented on less than 10 cards total:

Top 5 Ratchet Bombs

  1. Ratchet Bomb
  2. Karn's Sylex
  3. Engineered Explosives
  4. Powder Keg
  5. The Filigree Sylex

The Filigree Sylex is the newest addition to this space and should soon be at the top of the list, in my humble opinion. It more or less has the exact same effect as Ratchet Bomb itself, but has a "remove 10 counters to do 10 damage" tacked on to the end of it in case you've gone nuts in your Proliferate or untap shenanigans deck. That may seem innocuous, but in the case of the second example, this means that The Filigree Sylex could actually be an infinite outlet and end games, in addition to taking out cheap mana rocks and dorks in the early game. As for the other card being featured below Engineered Explosives, Powder Keg, there is no doubt that if you're looking to take out Llanowar Elves and Sol Rings as opposed to tokens and Mana Crypts, it's going to make you wait a turn for the privilege. It will, however, let you do so for less mana than Engineered Explosives, while you're also playing fewer colors. All in all, there's a tradeoff, but I'd still stick to my statement that Engineered Explosives is the worst of these effects.

As for Chiss-Goria, Forge Tyrant, in a mono-red deck this can be cast for zero or one, throwing the whole "flexibility" thing out the window. Combine that with the deck not really being for an aggressive meta, and this isn't making the cut.

7. Clown Car

(2,393 Inclusions, 0% of 626,621 Decks)

If there was anyone who would lead the charge in making Unfinity retroactively silver-bordered, it would be yours truly, so I know that I'm being hypocritical when I say that I love Clown Car. At every possible casting cost, the results are hilarious. A zero-cost 1/1 vehicle? Hilarious. 60 Clown Robots spilling out of a 42/42 Clown Car? Hysterical.

Clown Car is also pushed as heck. It was smartly done; for most decks it's not really that big a deal, because for one mana you can get a 1/1 that can't Crew another 1/1 or a 2/2 with nothing to Crew it. For Chiss-Goria, Forge Tyrant, though? This joke of a card is the best card in the deck, feeding Affinity for Artifacts at a little over half an artifact for every mana spent. A turn-one Clown Car almost guarantees a turn-three Chiss-Goria, and if you flip it off the top with Affinity, you're looking at eye-popping numbers the next turn.

6. Orochi Hatchery

(4,054 Inclusions, 0% of 2,047,012 Decks)

Which is why I don't at all understand why Clown Car is seeing 2,000 fewer inclusions than the absolutely awful Orochi Hatchery. For every piece of raw efficiency that Clown Car has where the math works out no matter the numbers, the math is terrible for Orochi Hatchery. At zero mana, it does absolutely nothing. At two mana, you can now spend five mana to make a 1/1. At four, you can spend five to make two 1/1s. Heck, if you spend 20 mana on this thing, you only get the right to then pay five to make ten 1/1s! There is just no universe in which this card is workable for any deck as anything but a pet card, from snakes to big mana on down the line.

5. Chalice of the Void

(6,958 Inclusions, 0% of 2,047,012 Decks)

Stax may be maligned, but it's not exactly popular. Maybe those two statements are linked, maybe not. Regardless of how you feel about it, however, there is zero doubt that there's only one place that Chalice of the Void is playable: high-powered decks. Only, not even those decks are really playing it much. In cEDH, a zero-cost Chalice stops all sorts of things: Mana Crypt, Chrome Mox, Jeweled Lotus, Lotus Petal, Mox Opal, Mox Diamond, Mox Amber, and Lion's Eye Diamond. The only problem? If you're not going first, all of those things are already on the table. The same goes for paying two to stop one-drops. like Sol Ring, Llanowar Elves, Esper Sentinel, Mystic Remora, Vampiric Tutor, Mystical Tutor, Enlightened Tutor, Worldly Tutor, Gamble, and Mana Vault: even if you get the two mana to play it on turn one, there's a good chance half of that stuff has already been done or will be done in response.

Which is not to say that Chalice of the Void is unplayable. Putting it down for zero or one on turn one will absolutely have an effect on a high-powered game, no matter the turn order. It's just a limited Stax piece that has to get lucky to be epically good, otherwise it's just okay. Combine that with what it does to your deck having to play around zero- or one-cost spells, and it can be a bit of a clunky inclusion.

Speaking of clunky inclusions, Chalice of the Void and Chiss-Goria don't get along. In a mid-powered meta, you're likely to be the only deck casting a ton of zero- and one-cost spells, meaning that putting it down early only hurts your deck. Casting it late for a ton of mana, on the other hand, is nothing more than a flex. Let's try and play cards that will help us win instead, shall we?

4. Astral Cornucopia

(20,444 Inclusions, 1% of 2,047,012 Decks)

If you're looking for a three-mana rock that's always been good, look no further than Astral Cornucopia. Sure, it's just a Manalith. Sure, to get anything more than that you've gotta spend six. Or do you? As of Phyrexia: All Will Be One, there are now 74 cards that can trigger Proliferate, to join the original five cards that could put a charge counter on artifacts. In other words, in much the same vein as Everflowing Chalice, there is an ever-growing list of decks that can pay the lesser cost and then immediately begin stacking counters.

As for Chiss-Goria, this thing would be a bit clunky already at three mana (although playing it down for zero is certainly an option), and I'd rather just plug yet another two-mana rock in instead.

3. Hangarback Walker

(22,930 Inclusions, 1% of 2,047,012 Decks)

In similar fashion, Hangarback Walker won't precisely fit the bill when it comes to what we're trying to do with X cost artifacts in Chiss-Goria: you can't cast it for zero to increase your Affinity, and in the late game you can pump eight Affinity and six mana into it and still only end up with a 7/7, which is a bit underwhelming. The nice thing, though, is that when you do cast it early for two mana, if you ever have any leftover mana or Powerstones after you're finished with all your Affinity shenanigans, you can always just tack a +1/+1 counter onto it. Even better, when it dies, it will blow your Affinity through the roof with all the Thopter tokens!

In other words, Hangarback Walker is good because it's Hangarback Walker. Is it better in a deck that will Proliferate? Absolutely. But its 23,000 inclusions aren't just Proliferate decks, I can assure you of that.

2. Stonecoil Serpent

(25,333 Inclusions, 1% of 2,047,012 Decks)

Stonecoil Serpent was easily the most aggressive X-cost colorless creature out there prior to the printing of Clown Car. Is that still the case? Sure, there's a semantics argument to be made, as Clown Car isn't technically a creature. Stonecoil Serpent doesn't bring its own tokens, however, nor can it be cast for zero, making me feel like it is giving up its title here. Combine that with having to answer the question of what deck would rather have Stonecoil than Clown Car, and coming up with a convoluted answer involving a corner case and Lazav, the Multifarious, and I think it's safe to say that there might be a new card in this slot soon.

With all that said, there is such a thing as "Why not both?", and that argument absolutely applies here when it comes to Chiss-Goria. Clown Car and Stonecoil Serpent are both precisely what the doctor ordered when it comes to this giant furnace Dragon. They're both able to come down early and be small, efficient threats, or come down late and be absolutely game-ending monstrosities.

1. Walking Ballista

(63,354 Inclusions, 3% of 2,047,012 Decks)

Walking Ballista has many of the same problems as Hangarback Walker when it comes to Chiss-Goria specifically, but that hardly puts a dent in the overall reputation of this card. A mana sink that just keeps on giving, Walking Ballista is on many a combo list in just that capacity: a place to put your infinite mana to win the game. Its damage is also based in +1/+1 counters, meaning both that it has a couple two-card combos to win the game as well, and also that it just sees play in a lot of +1/+1 counter strategies as a more flexible Triskelion. After all, there's something to be said about paying two mana to lay down a 1/1 that immediately gets another counter from Hardened Scales, then two more from you Proliferating, then two more just because you had four mana laying around at some point. Translate all that into six damage to whatever you want when someone finally decides to deal with it, and it's not hard to see why so many decks are playing this card.

Honorable Mentions

First off, I know many of you have been eagerly awaiting the decklist I threw together, so I won't make you wait any longer:

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

The deck routinely gets Chiss-Goria down on turn four, which is a threat in its own right if it sticks around. What's crazy is that those are rookie numbers, with no Moxen or other various fast mana. Add in that cool thousand dollars worth of speed, and you could easily be looking at a routine turn-two hasty Dragon commander that throws down even more gas with every attack step.

As for actual honorable mentions, the whole list of X cost artifacts is surprisingly short, so it's easy enough to just list off the rest.

Number 11 is the rather underwhelming Briber's Purse, which allows you to pay to load it up with charge counters, then remove them each turn to pacify a target creature for the turn. This was actually close to making it into the Chiss-Goria deck, although the fact that it didn't really just goes to show how poorly costed this effect is, when you have a deck looking for any X cost spells out there specifically and this one still didn't make the cut. Chimeric Mass, on the other hand, did make the decklist and is one of the better cards in it! Being able to lay it down for zero to get to the crucial six Affinity you need to cast your commander is great, and if you flip it late it's more than easy enough to pay one mana to get your 12/12 that just dodged that board wipe heading into the red zone.

Which just leaves what is in my opinion the worst X spell of all. No, it's not the aforementioned Phyrexian Marauder - although that card is bad - it's Riptide Replicator! This card would have been more than fairly costed if it had just cost X, or if it kept the X4 cost and then just tapped for free. But alas, instead in its infinite wisdom R&D decided to play it safe and add fours all around, making this steaming pile completely unplayable. Have a heart, Wizards, some of us are just trying to make jank X decks!

Of course, this tiny list only made up the mono-red cards we could play with Chiss-Goria. What about the other colors?

Not many additions here, speaking quantitatively. From a quality perspective, however, there are some fun cards here that Chiss-Goria would absolutely be playing if it could. Fractal Harness can both be a Living Weapon or simply be cast for its base cost to then be thrown on to your Mowu, Loyal Companion, which is some great flexibility for a +1/+1 counter or Fractal deck. Sphere of Annihilation is a delayed board wipe that can easily be catered to keeping your high-cost commander or crucial game piece around. Finally, Clay Champion is brand new out of The Brothers' War, and allows Selesnya +1/+1 counter decks an easy outlet for all the mana they've acquired (or can just be put down for GGWW as a 3/3 that gives out two +1/+1 counters, which isn't a bad deal either).

Nuts and Bolts

There always seems to be a bit of interest in how these lists are made (this seems like a good time to stress once again that they are based on EDHREC score, NOT my personal opinion), and people are often surprised that I’m not using any special data or .json from EDHREC, but rather just muddling my way through with some Scryfall knowledge! For your enjoyment/research, here is this week’s Scryfall search.

What Do You Think?

Affinity as a mechanic has a very checkered past, and you can tell that the design team was nervous about it while creating Phyrexia: All Will Be One. Case in point: Chiss-Goria, Forge Tyrant is a Set Booster exclusive that's only legal in Eternal formats. With that in mind:

Finally, what is your favorite X-cost artifact? Were you as surprised as me to find that there are less than 20 of them, total? Are you building Chiss-Goria?

Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the table we made by bringing all the tiny circular side tables at the bar together until there was enough room for all of us.

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.

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