One of the oldest mechanical themes in the history of Magic: The Gathering is that of artifacts matter. Magic’s second expansion, Antiquities, was the first set to explore this theme actively. It included such classics as Atog, Hurkyl’s Recall, and Mishra’s Factory. However, Antiquities set an unfortunate precedent for Magic: Green, as a color, is not allowed to interact with artifacts positively. It took nearly 20 years before the first wave of green cards to synergize with artifacts to be printed en mass, and even these cards were fairly sub-par. By now, there are swaths of cards across the other four colors that can be playable in an artifact deck. For some colors, artifacts are even a defining trait. With all of this support, one would expect artifact subthemes to slide into the majority of cubes with ease. Yet, artifacts as a theme don’t fully integrate into cubes as anything other than colorless value cards without explicit support. Every mechanical theme requires some level of support, but artifacts seem to take a lot more than others. The reason for this is pretty simple: green doesn’t usually get to play with artifacts. This means that the “artifact deck” goes from a cube-wide theme to something that only about 60% of color combinations get to take advantage of fully. If an artifact theme is to become something that every cube can use to the best extent, then green is going to need to embrace artifacts instead of just blowing them up all of the time.
The general approach to artifact deck in cube usually falls into one of three categories. The first uses artifacts to make a lot of mana, the second uses artifacts to turn on cool abilities, and the third sacrifices artifacts for value. The first category is commonly seen in vintage cubes. Cards like Metalworker, the Signets, and the Moxes can be used to provide massive amounts of value. The second and third categories are more prevalent amongst riptide cubes and vary greatly between lists. Some play like the Eggs decks of old, others play like midrange decks with artifacts. Whatever the case, none of these themes mesh all that well with Green. Green doesn’t have all of the interactive cards to support graveyard and midrange artifact decks, and Green doesn’t need help making absurd amounts of mana. In fact, only the Moxes and Black Lotus are better at mana acceleration than the Green ramp cards. What this means is that Green’s approach to artifacts matter needs to come from a different mechanical angle than the other colors, while still having some form of synergy with the preexisting forms of the deck.Fortunately, Wizards of the Coast has printed the pieces cubers have needed for Green artifacts over the past 5 or so years. Now it’s up to us to design the archetype Richard Garfield never intended: Green Artifacts.
About a year ago, memelord and know degenerate Magic AIDS posted this video:
With this video, Modern Hardened Scales decks were born. Although the Voltaic Servant origins of the deck have been lost to the annals of history, the idea of combining Hardened Scales with Steel Overseerand the Modular Cards allowed for a new version of the aging Affinity/Robots deck to rise to prevalence amongst Magic’s premier eternal format. Although it is impossible to truly port a constructed deck into cube, it is definitely possible to support a constructed archetype in a limited environment.
First, it is important to identify what the AIDS Hardened Scales affinity list is actually trying to do. Although the deck has many of the trappings of regular Robots decks, such as Mox Opal, in reality, the list is actually a +1/+1 counters deck with an artifact subtheme. This is why Voltaic Servant and Geth’s Throne have left the contemporary versions of the deck while Hardened Scales has stuck around. This revelation is important because it reveals the true overlap between Green magic and artifacts: +1/+1 counters.
Artifacts are a good way to support the needs of any deck. Many flexible artifacts have abilities that play nicely into the themes of specific archetypes without taking colored slots. They can go into any deck with vague support cards, and help a theme work. A good example of this paradigm is Hollow One, a card which really helps red-based discard decks without taking a red slot. This is one of the main reasons why +1/+1 counters overlay into the artifact section- there are a lot of powerful artifact cards that synergize with +1/+1 counters. For example, Steel Overseer puts +1/+1 counters on each artifact creature on its controller’s team. This means it can be used in both a +1/+1 counters deck and an artifact deck.
The fundamental argument for Green artifacts involves the mesh of green counters cards and artifacts that like counters. The modular and proliferate mechanics in particular help to bridge the gap between the two sections. Remember- Green does not directly synergize with artifacts. There are just a bunch of powerful artifacts that usually don’t get put into cubes because they primarily care about +1/+1 counters, and there are a bunch of green cards that can’t make the cut because they are perceived as too narrow. These two categories work very well together, but it’s not necessarily a direct correlation in terms of other artifacts matter strategies.
The following cards are the fundamental pieces of the green artifacts decks. These cards can fit within the same power-band, but they aren’t necessarily required in a cube list for the archetype to work. Including a number of these enabler cards in a cube is important, but a few can be omitted because of power level or price concerns.
Hardened Scales spawned the idea of this archetype. Scales is one of the best ways to get additional counters onto creatures since it provides an extra counter each time a creature would get a +1/+1 counter. Scales does its job extremely well. Hardened Scales looks fairly ambiguous, but it fits into more decks than one might initially assume. For example, decks running Rhythm of the Wild or other mass +1/+1 counter adding cards will sometimes play scales to help maximize value. It is also great with Hangarback Walker, and the vast majority of the cards discussed below.
Hardened Scales is vital for most counters decks to function at peak efficiency.
Evolution Sage and Contagion Clasp play a similar role in this archetype: they are repeatable proliferate engines. Evolution Sage is great in conjunction with fetchlands, since it will often add two +1/+1 counters to the rest of its controller’s team. Although Contagion Clasp has a steep activation cost, it doubles as a removal spell. Picking off an opponent’s Dark Confidant before it generates any value is a simple, feel-good situation. These cards also synergize nicely with hardened scales, as it makes them essentially add 2 counters per trigger instead of one.
Steel Overseer is a great artifact lord. Although it is slow to start, it asks the opponent for an immediate removal spell or else it will usually provide some level of long-lasting value on the board. It’s floor as a 2-mana Chronomaton with no mana cost to activate its ability is serviceable, and its ceiling is incredibly good. In addition, Overseer is just insane with Hardened Scales and even the previously mentioned proliferate engines.
Hangarback Walker and Walking Ballista both fill a similar role in the green artifact deck: counter based finishers. Hangarback Walker creates an army of thopters that require an opponent to either have a board wipe or lose the game when it dies. Walking Ballista just hits the opponent’s face until they die. Both of these cards play incredibly well with the Steel Overseer and the Proliferate Engines. Hangarback Walker plays better with Hardened Scales as it’s activated ability to add counters is less expensive to play. A Walker/Scales draw can look like:
Turn 1: Play Hardened Scales.
Turn 2: Play Hangarback Walker. It enters play with 2 +1/+1 counters thanks to Scales.
Turn 3: Play a Activate Hangarback Walker, adding an additional 2 counters.
Scrapyard Recombiner was actually the card that prompted me to write this list when it was previewed. Scrapyard Recombiner plays a few roles. For a start, it’s just a generally decent card in any artifact, barring any synergies with green. Although the floor of a Gray Ogre isn’t something that most decks will want to play, a Gray Ogre that provides a powerful form of card selection is very much welcome in artifact strategies. Some of the most powerful artifact creatures in cube, such as Myr Battlesphere and the Gearhulks, are constructs.
What makes Scrapyard Recombiner so good in this archetype is that it grabs all of the key creatures for the deck, while also having built-in counters. Hardened Scales makes Recombiner enter play as a 3/3. The proliferate engines can grow it into infinity. Scrapyard Recombiner grows with Steel Overseer, and can then sacrifice itself to add additional counters to Walking Ballista. Somtimes, just helps set up a deck’s engine, which is respectable in of itself. Recombiner might not seem like all that much, but it has so much synergy with the rest of the Green Artifacts deck that it would be wrong not to mention its strengths.
Tireless Tracker is probably the last card some would expect to see on a list of mostly Modern Hardened Scales affinity cards. Tireless Tracker is usually played in midrange or Death and Taxes style strategies, even in cube. The card advantage it provides along with its ever-increasing size means that “fair” grindy decks love the tracker. However, a quick read of the card indicates that is actually quite good in a deck that cares about artifacts and +1/+1 counters.
Tireless Tracker creates clue tokens, which are small artifacts that can be sacrificed to draw a card. The tracker gets a +1/+1 counter whenever it’s controller sacrifices a clue. This means that Tireless Trackerboth gains value from Hardened Scales and friends, while providing artifact fodder for the cards like Kuldotha Forgemaster and the previously mentioned Scrapyard Recombiner.
Verdurous Gearhulk is a beefy boy that can enter play as an 8/8 for five, act as a one-time Steel Overseer activation, or work as some combination of the two. Gearhulk has pristine synergies with Hardened Scales, allowing for up to 8 +1/+1 counters to be thrown onto the board when it comes into play. It also works quite well with the Proliferate Engines. In addition, Verdurous Gearhulk is a construct, meaning it can be tutored up with Scrapyard Recombiner. The flexibility of this card cannot be denied, and anyone attempting to make Green Artifacts work in a higher-powered environment should make sure to include a Verdurous Gearhulk.
Although the above cards are among the essential pieces for a Green Artifacts deck to function, they are far from the only pieces that help the archetype. In fact, just adding these cards alone wouldn’t allow a Green Artifacts deck to manifest during a draft. The below list includes many of the best cards to include when trying to support the archetype. At least some of them should be considered when designing a Green Artifacts archetype.
Despite its overall lack of support from Wizards of the Coast over the years, Green +1/+1 Counters Artifacts decks are poised to be potent competators in cube lists. Green Artifacts allows for a fun, fresh take on a pair of fan-favorite archetypes which don’t always get the level of play in cube they deserve. The best part of implementing the archetype is that it requires very little space commitment within a given cube list. Cube designers can have an easy time implementing an artifact theme into green without polluting the draft environment at large. Although Green Artifacts won’t necessarily break their way into a Vintage cube, it will almost certainly make artifact strategies better in cubes at the Legacy power level and below. I anticipate that the Green +1/+1 Counters Artifacts Archetype will eventually become a staple of medium and high power formats given enough time.
For additional support cards, example decks, and discussion, please see TrainmasterGT’s ‘The Train Station’ cube thread.