Artifacts in Modern are a difficult foundation to build on. Affinity is an oppressive deck in every metagame, and it requires two things:
1) Opponents play artifact hate.
2) If opponents want the artifact hate to be relevant, it must be either utterly destructive, fast, or in abundance. In the case of Ancient Grudge and Shattering Spree, the hate is all three of these things.
Still, these artifacts are broken things. Many artifacts printed in Modern-legal sets are the same that have distorted the Vintage metagame because of Stax, the Mishra’s Workshop-based prison deck: Chalice of the Void and Crucible of Worlds have both been highly discussed cards when the need for restriction was felt. Trinisphere actually did get restricted so that people could play Magic at Vintage tournaments again.
Even without reliable access to three mana on turn one, artifacts are colorless and as such something to keep in mind when building a deck of any color of combination of colors. Some artifacts produce such a big impact on board state immediately that they warrant their own archetypes, and others have advantages that build over time. Either way, in as much as a permanent with such a bull’s eye on it as artifacts have, here are my choices for top 8 Modern artifacts that lead to free wins.
I know. Left field. It’s been fun to give the eighth slot to pieces like this, but Mindcrank actually is a funny little card that sometimes is published for winning in the money. The reason it is so hard to interact with is priority. Often, your opponents have creature removal: Path to Exile and Lightning Bolt, but once you have Mindcrank and Dimir Guildmage in play, they will never have an opportunity to play them until you activate the game-winning ability.
This piece gains you up to 8 life per turn, and if your opponent removes the germ, then you can simply equip it to another creature. Once all your opponent’s targeted removal has been exhausted, you simply pick up Batterskull at the end of his turn for three mana and begin again. Targeted artifact removal works, provided you can’t activate the bounce effect in response.
6) Platinum Angel
She can’t be the target of Abrupt Decay. She doesn’t die to Lightning Bolt. Once she resolves, your opponent simply loses without playing artifact destruction, Path to Exile, bounce, or a string of burn spells. Well, first of all, not all decks play these things. Secondly, these things have to resolve through the drawback-less Pact of Negation and counters such as Condescend. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, these answers have to come within five turns or less.
5) Etched Champion
I gave a significant amount of thought to the card from Affinity that deserves most to be on this list, and I think Etched Champion is he. It’s true that Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager get the most attention, but without champion to channel their power, the deck would get into a lot more stalemates, especially in this day and age full of Lingering Souls. Essential “protection from everything” and “+10/+0” or 10 +1/+1 counters usually end the game fairly quickly.
Upon reading the text of the card, did you notice the mistake? Look again; it’s printed on every version.
. . .
If you haven’t caught it yet, it’s that the text reads, “next turn,” it should say “for the rest of the game.” Essentially, that is what you’re doing. When you empty their hand of their resources, use their removal on their own permanents, attack into things that should never be attacked into, and give yourself a turn where they have no mana to interact, you’re controlling the remainder of the game in one way or another.
3) Wurmcoil Engine
While Mindslaver is good, it didn’t get the ultimate “Tronpiece” nod over Wurmcoil Engine because the latter is featured in both RG Tron and Mono U Tron. In fact, the life-gaining, deathtouching wurm is the only thread that runs through both decks, and for good reason. There is no better piece for board stability in either deck. So many games depend on whether the tron player is able to resolve Wurmcoil Engine, and all the opponent’s efforts thereafter are bent around negating the lifegain and winning in spite of it. Usually these efforts fail.
2) Aether Vial
All your creatures have flash. And they’re free. And they can’t be countered. Oh, and this starts before your opponent can reliably counter or discard it.
1) Ensnaring Bridge
Hearkening back to some of the earlier articles in this series, here is the card that makes the opponent feel most helpless while you win. It is a staple in all of the decks players build because they hate Magic and want you to as well: 8-rack, R/W Prison, and Mono White Devotion. In many Modern games, the text reads “Nothing you do matters.”
And here are my honorable mentions, just because this is such a fun topic to explore:
HM: Crystal Shard
Did you think that Snapcaster Mage was broken? Well, how about his effect every turn? But then you will run out of instants and sorceries in your graveyard. Not with Eternal Witness! All creatures with abilities that trigger as they enter the graveyard are that much better with Crystal Shard. What’s still more fun is combining it with creatures that trigger upon entering or leaving the battlefield; Aven Riftwatcher and Thragtusk, I’m looking at you.
HM: Kuldotha Forgemaster and Master of Etherium
Both of these cards give their players such reliable access to Blightsteel Colossus that it is hard to exclude them from the list. Combine with Lightning Greaves for best results.
HM: Thorn of Amethyst
I love this card. I wanted to put it in the top 8. The “symmetrical” effect is the same as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and I would argue that Thorn is way less likely to be interacted with. Stuff four into the sideboard of your Elves and Goblins lists, and get some free wins.
HM: Torpor Orb
I decided to avoid hate cards that get free wins in certain matchups such as Relic of Progenitus and Damping Matrix. These are not “free wins” as much as “free prevent your opponents from winning” (Ensnaring Bridge is the exception because of its greater scope). Still, Torpor Orb is interesting because it hates a tier one strategy, hates a number of lower tier strategies (Soul Sisters), and enables an archetype on its own. The problem is that Eater of Days and Hunted Horror are not adequate yet for the archetype to be worth considering.
HM: Spine of Ish Sah
All of the colorless cards that are not artifacts were left off the list: Karn Liberated, the Eldrazi, and All is Dust were easier unmentioned. For what Karn usually does upon arrival, though, Spine of Ish Shah is as good. Combine with Krark-Clan Ironworks and Trading Post, two other cards worth noting here, and you have yourself a real destructive engine.
So are these the artifact cards most likely to land you in the winners bracket throughout the rounds? Well, honestly, I think so! Enjoy the free rides!