Card/Deck Artifacts in Cube - Yes, but how?

I started running an artifact theme in my cube a while ago, and so far it works pretty well. It's a midrange deck, that plays a lot of artifacts and has cards that profit from it. Stuff like: Etched Champion, Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain, Thopter Spy Network, Darksteel Juggernaut, or Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer.

The problem is: That feels just like any midrange tribal deck, but instead of creature types it cares about card types. There are a few sweet plays with stuff like Scrap Trawler, but not all that much. I wonder if there is a way, to implement an artifact theme in a cube and give it a distinct, interesting identity, that goes beyond that.

Have you guys experiences with that? Do you run an artifact theme? If so, is it just "artifacts matter" or has it a deeper philosophy, a different angle? And in case yo don't run artifacts , I'd still like to hear your crazy ideas.

Happy cubing to you all!
 
There isn't a brown deck in my cube, instead there's a substantial amount of cards that synergize well with artifacts. This is more of a "throw in a bunch of build around me cards" approach than supporting an actual archetype though. I find this works well though, and quite often this will coalesce into a deck that actually cares about artifacts, which is pretty neat.

 
Chasing the "Artifact Deck"

Artifacts as a theme have not been working in my cube. The first player to try to draft the archetype ended up with a contraption of cards that could ferociously spin its wheels but not actually accomplish anything. 0-6 game record. Weeks later, another player avoided this trap, and grabbed countless explicit artifact synergy cards, with ways to win on top. And then they died and died and died. 0-8 game record. Let's take a look at the list:

Artifacts











So what happened? The drafter is both a very good limited player, and has been playing Time Vault/Paradoxical Outcome with us in our Vintage group. The deck has the powerful KCI engine, and Marionette Master, one of the most explosive artifact win conditions in the cube. Ultimately, as the cube designer I had set a trap and he had walked straight into it. I thought of "the Artifact Deck" as a distinct, stand-alone archetype. It's driven by some powerful and expensive artifact payoff cards, which signal very clearly their role in "the Artifact Deck". The drafter recognized those signals and moved in, drafting the artifact cards just like you would a typical tribal strategy. But it turns out that doesn't produce a functioning deck - artifacts produce a net of synergies and sub-engines which should augment and go alongside existing strategies. If you just take the artifact tribal cards, but don't grab the good old vegetables, the game plan becomes flimsy. It's certainly possible to avoid this mistake, staying completely within the current cube list. In fact, if you cut the Salvaging Station and the Mycosynth Lattice for Chromatic Star and Wayfarer's Bauble, the deck would probably be considerably more powerful. Frankly, even just a Duress and an Impulse would make an enormous difference. But all the expensive engine cards are "supposed" to go in "the artifact archetype", and because the strategy is so isolated, a few understandable drafting mistakes can irredeemably tank an evening. Magic is fun even when you're not winning a lot, but eight straight losses has got to start to have a psychological toll.

After doing some studying of other lists here at Riptide, I believe I now have a much better understanding of how I want artifacts to function in my cube, and I have a series of very concrete steps toward achieving this vision. Here I'll attempt to (1) synthesize what I've learned from others, (2) explore hypothetical deck sketches, (3) use those sketches to advance my own contribution, and finally (4) layout the concrete design steps I believe will be necessary. The examples will come from my idiosyncratic environment, but (for once) I suspect some of these ideas will be useful for other people too.

The Vegetables: Artifacts as Colorless Staples

While this is a very well-worn idea at Riptide which I tried to incorporate into my design from the very beginning, I'd be amiss if I didn't start here. The problem is simple:

The colour pie is a necessary concept but its implementation has led to certain colours lacking effects for reasons that don't hold up: white and red between them still can't buy a Divination after 25 years.

Colorless artifacts can go in any deck, and while Aeolipile is no Lightning Bolt and Wayfarer's Bauble is no Search For Tomorrow, they offer up those effects to color combinations that normally would go without. Those two examples were artificially selected to simplify the point. For a concrete example, see this post from Grillo where the colorless artifacts step in to help out a Blue/Green drafter:

This was a neat deck from last night.

UG Clasp control from CubeTutor.com











This is one of the traditional drafting traps a lot of formats deal with--a player goes into UG for the ramp and blue's powerful spells, but finds there is no removal, and either loses or branches out into red. Than they post a thread on the main board "what does simic do?"

This drafter fell right into that trap, but pulled out because the artifact section fills gaps in the color pie, which lets him control the game with a contagion clasp powered removal engine of robots/arrows...

Here, Contagion Clasp is not just serving as a colorless removal option for UG, it also let's you pump up your +1/+1 counter-fueled threats. This idea segues us onto the next well-trodden road of Riptidean wisdom.

The Spice: Artifacts as Colorless Build-Arounds

Artifacts don't just fill in the color wheel - because any color deck can play them, they let you decouple archetypes from colors. This idea is elaborated at length in an excellent post by Dom. Here's an illustrative snippet (I added card tags for context):

...something like Panharmonicon + Conjurer's Closet (with the plentiful ETB effects in any colour) can slot into colour pairs that might look very different otherwise. So while a normal Cube might have a generic UW deck and a UW Blink deck, with this route you can have both more archetypes - regular UW that's just doing its thing with a few artifacts, UW based around artifacts, and UW Blink where the Blink enablers/payoffs let you pivot between colours (in both design and drafting): maybe you now have a UR 'Blink' deck by default which you can move into when white is cut off and you've already picked up Erratic Portal and Voyager Staff

...

Artifacts are invaluable not just as staples that transcend colour boundaries but as narrow build-arounds whose status as artifacts caps how narrow they can be, making it easier to justify including any one of them (or lots of them in the same Cube) and easier to play them together.

The emphasis on the drafting process really sold me on this example. A player starts to draft UW and grabs some flicker-themed artifacts. If white dries up they can effortlessly switch into UR flicker instead. All the cube designer has to do is include the colorless build-arounds, and then sprinkle support for them across the color wheel. Here there is no "Artifact" deck at all, it's a "Flicker" deck that leverages artifacts. However, Dom is already hinting at the transition into an "Artifact" deck regardless of whether you care about blink. This showed me how to fix my problem with the narrow artifact deck, but we still need to synthesize one more piece of Riptidean artifact design. Before we look at "UW based around artifacts" let's look at "regular UW that's just doing its thing with a few artifacts" first.

Incidental Artifact Density

Even if you don't care about artifacts, decks tend to play a bunch of incidental artifacts (creature tokens, clues, colorless staples, colorless build-arounds). Again nothing new here, but you see this concept play out in a shocking number of Riptide cubes. Alright, now back to Dom. Check out this draft report (caveat: he mentions that the draft pool was skewed but it still illustrates my point).

GP London Draft Report - Jan 2018

WB Hyper-Aggro (0-3)










...

4C Ramp (2-1)










...

WB Primal Tokens (2-1)









...

UB Inspiring Dementia (2-1)










...

I've elided his actual commentary which you should go read. But look at those lists! There's one explicit artifact deck, one deck with an artifact subtheme, but that's not the point. The two decks that don't technically care about artifacts at all still have 5 and 6 incidental artifact cards respectively. By having a sufficient density of such effects in the cube list, your drafters can organically choose to adopt an "artifact subtheme" or not. Even if you're not drafting "the Artifact Deck", some artifact payoff cards start to look a lot less narrow. Let's look at some more examples, this time one of ahadabans' draft of Penny-Pincher v2:


Because of the density of incidental artifacts, it looks like syndicate trafficker and trading post fit right in. But you wouldn't need the artifacts to have a functioning deck: the drafter can just choose to leverage the abundant artifacts to build mini-engines. This is an emergent property arising from the density of incidental artifacts together with some colorless payoffs (Trading Post) and come colored artifact-matters card (Syndicate Trafficker). This last aspect is the fourth and final piece of the puzzle: a handful of on-color cards for the artifact synergies really makes the whole drafting process cohere brilliantly. Given that we have incidental artifacts and colorless build-arounds, can we do the opposite of shifting an existing archetype (e.g. flicker) into an unusual color combination: can we support an artifact theme in any archetype? Nowhere is this better illustrated than in RBM's most recent cube blog post. But before we see that, I wanted to partake in an exercise. To play out these concepts, I built several different artifact-themed decks which utilize colorless staples, colorless build-arounds, existing archetypes in various color pairs, and on-color artifact-matters cards. Let's look at some of these hypothetical deck skeletons. They are built with my idiosyncratic environment in mind, but even goofy combo decks can illustrate some general principles.

Red/Black Sacrifice/Discard:


Blue/White Convoke:


White/Black Recursion:


Blue/Black Stax:


Esper Eggs:


GB Lifegain aka "Healon Drah Storm"


Jeskai Ascendancy Combo:


Mardu "Storm":


Jeskai Welder Control:


Each of these hypothetical skeletons is an "Artifact Deck" in a non-trivial way. I'd argue none of these are merely subthemes. But with relatively few on-color artifacts-matter cards, the whole color spectrum can support them. Not only are artifact decks supported, they graft effortlessly onto existing archetypes. Here I think I can forward, if not a novel concept (lots of people run on-color artifact packages), a novel interpretation and consequent drafting implications. Basically any archetype in some color combination can be "artifactified" (what's this called in Magic? Phyresis?) This follows a similar draft pattern to Dom's UW example. Except instead of going from a UW deck into a UR deck when white is cut, you go from a UW deck to a UW artifact deck which can take advantage of the same archetype defining cards in UW. To this end, our on-color artifact support cards need to stand along side cards that work in an existing archetype e.g. Vedalken Archmage and Mistfire Adept, Marionette Master and Blood Artist, Goblin Welder and Faithless Looting.

Let's say you're drafting UR and have some cards that care about non-creature spells. Then you notice that the burn and blue card draw are getting cut. Grab Chromatic Star and Jhoira and switch into UR Artifact Prowess. Black White sacrifice feeling thin? Kor Skyfisher and Teshar let you swap into BW Artifact Recursion. Started off trying to draft Simic Intruder Alarm, but Intruder Alarm never came around? Vedalken Archmage, Mind Stone, and Paradox Engine still let you go off. Trying for BG reanimator but the best fatties didn't wheel? Fangren Marauder and Marionette Master let you play Artifact Sac-Reanimate. UW Control drying up after a good start? Hanna, Ships Navigator and Oblivion Stone can replace sweepers. UB Mill more your style but someone else nabbed Psychic Corrosion? Pick up Dilligent Excavator, Sensei's Divining Top, and Paradoxical Outcome to chew up their library.

With a healthy artifact section plus incidental density, you could probably double up 2-4 different archetypes in one draft with Artifactified versions. But that's not even really the point. From the drafter's perspective it's not so much about deepening existing archetypes to accommodate more drafters. For me, it's about opening up drafter choice to go off in whatever synergistic direction they want. You avoid the "Artifact Deck" as a monolithic trap, and diversify the themes and choices for every seat at the table.

Fortunately, we just received a beautiful real-world example in RBM's most recent cube blog post, illustrating how to artifactify GW tokens:

Gonna start trying to post my draft decks here (Yes, I actually play Magic)! Here's the lists from my last draft:

...

WGu Bant Monument










This is exactly what I'm talking about. GW tokens doesn't necessarily have to be about artifacts, but it provides a perfectly natural way to construct a go-wide strategy. It's not so much up to the cube designer in this case i.e. it's not "do I make GW tokens care about artifacts or not". It's a choice between options for the drafter during the drafting process. How do we make sure the drafter has this choice? Well fortunately, the principles enumerated above give us a virtually step-by-step blueprint.

Four First Steps

I can basically see four such steps:

(1) Make sure your colorless section has plenty of vegetables i.e. colorless staples that can step in to fill gaps in the color wheel. For me that's cards like:


(2) Seed your colorless section with build-around cards. I'm looking at options like:


(3) Step through all of your cube cards. Any time you could replace a card with a more-or-less equivalent card that incidentally produces artifacts, make the swap. E.g.
->
->
->

(4) Seed in a handful of artifacts-matter cards in each color. E.g.


Just reading through posts in this forum has taught me a lot that I probably wouldn't have discovered by just continuing to playtest with my friends, so thank you to everyone quoted above. In all likelihood I haven't made 100% the right choices because I haven't put these ideas into action in my own list yet. Maybe the on-color artifact cards in every color will prove too narrow and will go undrafted, who knows. But it was useful to put the concepts down in words, and I'll report back as I test. In the meantime, note that this wasn't intended to be an exhaustive synthesis, so if you've written stuff about artifacts in cube and I missed you, I'm sorry! Please post your thoughts, I'm eager to keep learning. Likewise if I quoted you and you feel misrepresented, please chime in; I'm learning from you not vice-versa.
 
Here's a sample winning decklist from a previous iteration of my cube. I cut a bunch of these cards in the meantime,and I don't know how well this translates into your environment dbs, but it's a great example of colored incentives to draft artifacts. Deck contains one custom card, a {W}{B} Borderpost. Those Borderpost, incidentally, have so many cool interactions with other cards/strategies, supporting mana ramp, artifact matters, prowess, revolt, and sometimes even delirium.

Winning Decklist 8-man 03/06/2018 - Esper Artifacts by Siebe from CubeTutor.com










 
Hey, Primo, welcome to the lab!

Sadly I no longer have an artifact theme in my cube, but maybe I can help you still? First, do you want to have an artifact theme in your cube (among other stuff) or do you want an artifact themed cube (where everything is somewhat connected to it)? I'd design differently in those cases. If you really want an artifact cube, I'd suggest looking into different ways to play artifact themes. Like, {B/R} Sacrifice artifacts, {W/U} Artifact reanimator, {U/R} Artifact cheat, {R/W} Artifact aggro, {R/G} Artifact hate ... just a few ideas.
 
I think I'm looking for an artifact theme. A cube where, like you said previously, doesn't just feel like a bunch of midrange brown decks. One where the drafter can opt into different synergistic strategies and not just end up stuck in an artifact deck. I like the idea of colorless build arounds with support brought in from other colors. Basically a cube that fits the lengthy analysis provided by DBS.
 
I think I'm looking for an artifact theme. A cube where, like you said previously, doesn't just feel like a bunch of midrange brown decks. One where the drafter can opt into different synergistic strategies and not just end up stuck in an artifact deck. I like the idea of colorless build arounds with support brought in from other colors. Basically a cube that fits the lengthy analysis provided by DBS.
Well, I can give you a link to DBS's old cube thread. It hasn't been updated since January of this year, but that was after the post to which you are referring so I'm assuming many of the same principles apply...
DBS's Cubetutor
Cube Thread
 
In my cube, artifacts is a triangle WUR archetype and looks like this at the moment:

Payoffs:


Critical mass:


It's kind of hard to maintain critical mass for this deck. It's been easy to find enablers in white, but there are few payoffs. Red has payoffs, but few enablers. Blue has a good amount of both.

Coincidentally, today was the day I was supposed to write about Bake into a Pie in One Card a Day. The last part of the post was about how I was thinking of stretching the triangle WUR archetype into a tetra WUBR archetype: https://desolatelighthouse.wordpress.com/2020/12/17/bake-into-a-pie-one-card-a-day/
 
Have you considered running...

or ?


Thopter Engineer was rarely picked, so it clearly didn't excite anyone. It would've been at the bottom of my power band, and my artifacts archetype probably needs more power, not less. So I went with Pia Nalaar instead.

Flamewright I've just looked at, but I don't really run many gold cards, and gold cards specific to an archetype are really narrow. They are fine signposts if you're doing pair archetypes, but for the other archetype shapes, they take a bit too much space to be worth it without being playable in good stuff decks or good in other archetypes. Dreg Mangler for example is good for WBG Counters and for UBG Graveyard and fine in BG good stuff decks.
 
So I'm not loving Toolcraft Exemplar as a white payoff because it's narrow, fragile, and skews too much towards aggro.

The other options in white I found were:


There are others that work well with spellbombs and the like, such as Teshar, but my artifacts archetype is based on artifacts tokens.

Any other options for white payoffs I'm missing? Have you tested either Purge or Archangel? I've played Purge in SOI draft, and it was great there, but I'm skeptical it holds its own in my cube.
 
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I've been following the principles of the other thread and this one, but I'm not fully happy with artifacts in my cube. Seems something's wrong with my blue section but I can't put my finger on it. For example, I've drafted Tinker only to find it wanting and Urza only to find it was a bad Temporal Aperture. Red-based artifact decks seem to work much better and appear naturally, blue ones seem to have dissapeared from my cube and feel wonky even when they do.

Game design is hard D:
 

Chris Taylor

Contributor
So I'm not loving Toolcraft Exemplar as a white payoff because it's narrow, fragile, and skews too much towards aggro.

The other options in white I found were:


There are others that work well with spellbombs and the like, such as Teshar, but my artifacts archetype is based on artifacts tokens.

Any other options for white payoffs I'm missing? Have you tested either Purge or Archangel? I've played Purge in SOI draft, and it was great there, but I'm skeptical it holds its own in my cube.




A lot of my white artifact cards are customs sorry
 


These are my non-equipment-specific artifact payoffs in mono white. I'm very happy with all of them. Well, of courser I haven't tested the pegasus yet, but the other three are awesome.
 
Scratch that about Indomitable Archangel, I read it wrong. Thought it gave shroud to itself.

I'm probably going to go with Rune of Sustenance instead, which is good with equipment.



I can't shrug off the she protec she attac meme :D She looks pretty solid actually, I may give her a try. Stone Haven Pilgrim has two issues: false signposting for enchantments, and I want to see more blocking, and higher stats on attack don't help.
 
About Stone Haven Pilgrim

Yes, the enchantment text is pure upside. You will have some enchantments anyway, considering that most white removal spells are enchantments. And it synergizes so nicely with the Dawn of Hope you're running in you're core cube!
 
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