Modern Thoughts: Artifact Lands

Another week and more thoughts regarding the banned list for Modern, this time featuring the five artifact lands:

Removal of the artifact lands (Ancient Den, Seat of the Synod, Vault of Whispers, Great Furnace, and Tree of Tales) from the banned list could very easily be seen as a mistake, and may even be one if it were ever considered. Affinity, according to mtggoldfish.com, is roughly 7.5% of the meta, and brought two pilots in the modern SCG Open in Charlotte to 9th and 18th places. Here’s a sample list, from ninth place, that even features some new tech:

Affinity (Tim Harris) (44)
Arcbound Ravager
Etched Champion
Hangarback Walker
Master of Etherium
Memnite
Ornithopter
Signal Pest
Steel Overseer
Vault Skirge
Cranial Plating
Springleaf Drum
Galvanic Blast
Mox Opal
Lands (16)
Darksteel Citadel
Mountain
Blinkmoth Nexus
Glimmervoid
Inkmoth Nexus

Sideboard (15)
Grafdigger’s Cage
Relic of Progenitus
Torpor Orb
Spellskite
Blood Moon
Ancient Grudge
Spell Pierce
Wear
Thoughtseize
Whipflare

Let’s compare this to a legacy affinity list, which made 27th place at Legacy Champs this past weekend:

Legacy Affinity (Victoria Ezell) (45)
Etched Champion
Master of Etherium
Vault Skirge
Arcbound Ravager
Signal Pest
Memnite
Ornithopter
Thoughtcast
Mox Opal
Springleaf Drum
Cranial Plating
Chalice of the Void
Lands (15)
Vault of Whispers
Seat of the Synod
Darksteel Citadel
Ancient Tomb
Glimmervoid

Sideboard (15)
Etched Champion
Ethersworn Canonist
Phyrexian Revoker
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Pithing Needle
Nihil Spellbomb
Relic of Progenitus
Tormod’s Crypt

The first thing that should jump out at anybody here is that a deck that was played competitively in a huge legacy event, is playing a total of 8 cards that are not currently legal in modern. Ancient Tomb helps propel the deck to power out their hand a tiny bit faster, but is very easy to live without. I feel the real power of this “sol land” is, after sideboard, being able to play a turn 2 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. This planeswalker often just wins the game the turn after you play him, due to the number of artifacts you can through onto the board. The other six cards are all artifact lands. The real questions we need to ask ourselves are these: how much better is the second deck compared to the first, and how would this change fit into the modern meta?

How much better is the second deck?

The big strengths of affinity are that it can kill very quickly through the use of Cranial Plating/Arcbound Ravager and that it can accrue a powerful board over a short number of turns through Steel Overseer. Artifact lands are certainly relevant for the first point, but only to a degree. In order to squeeze in those lands the legacy deck has cut all 8 manlands, which can be converted into artifacts for the low cost of . Once affinity has dumped it’s hand it often will not have anything to do with it’s mana, so activating a land to pump Cranial Plating or feed to an Arcbound Ravager is often not a huge concern. I will not argue that it makes that aspect of the deck better, but I think the effect is much smaller than many people would think. As for the second point: the only positive is that it makes metalcraft slightly easier to turn on for Mox Opal, at the expense of the ability to also consistently pump your manlands each turn with your Steel Overseer. I think Overseer is actually worse with the addition of the artifact lands than current lists that use Blinkmoth Nexus and Inkmoth Nexus.

How does it fit into the meta?

The biggest issue that affinity faces in many tournaments is how prepared for the deck most players are. Cards like Stony Silence, Shatterstorm, and Ancient Grudge are all incredibly powerful after sideboard, and they become better against the artifact lands. Suddenly all of these sideboard cards work against half of your opponent’s lands all the time. Suddenly Kolaghan’s Command has the option of Shock + Stone Rain. There is so much hate for artifacts seeing play at this point that the meta is very bad for the artifact lands. It should also be mentioned that one of the best ways for affinity to recover from removal is to suit up their manlands as best as possible, and they’ll even make it through a Shatterstorm with the counters intact if you were using Steel Overseer.

What benefits the most?

I think I’ve made a fairly good argument of why the artifact lands wouldn’t break affinity, so now we need to try to identify which deck(s) would actually benefit the most from their inclusion. The first example would be anything featuring Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. Being able to inflate your artifact count with more lands than just Darksteel Citadel is great, but at the same time you run into the issue of making it harder to splash a third color (and is not the best color pair out there in modern). You could either choose to take the modern affinity list above, cut out the manlands and 4 Galvanic Blast, and replace with 8 artifact lands plus 4 Tezzeret and the deck is potentially scarier. While you run into the issues listed above, Tezzeret gives the deck more reach than Galvanic Blast, as he comes down quickly and then threatens his ultimate the turn after, often for 10+ life loss. The other option is to adapt the current Tezzeret “control” lists to include the artifact lands, but we’re talking about a minor boost to a tier 3 (by my generous estimation) deck, a deck that also falls victim to much of the same hate as affinity decks.

Another option for a deck that could benefit from the addition of artifact lands is cheerios, though again it’s a minor boost to a tier 3 deck. The only improvement is that the artifact lands let you more easily achieve metalcraft for Mox Opal and Puresteel Paladin, at the cost of adjusting your number of basic lands and fetchlands. For intance, take the following list and cut some of the lands to replace with artifact lands, and you could make the argument that the deck has become more powerful but probably not by much.

Cheerios (Stephen Datka) (45)
Monastery Mentor
Puresteel Paladin
Accorder’s Shield
Bone Saw
Kite Shield
Paradise Mantle
Sigil of Distinction
Spidersilk Net
Echoing Truth
Muddle the Mixture
Noxious Revival
Retract
Mox Opal
Grapeshot
Lands (15)
Island
Plains
Flooded Strand
Glimmervoid
Godless Shrine
Hallowed Fountain
Mystic Gate
Polluted Delta

Sideboard (15)
Angel’s Grace
Batwing Brume
Gut Shot
Silence
Cavern of Souls

Closing Thoughts

Overall I think that the artifact lands would improve format diversity by slightly powering up some lower tier decks, making them slightly more viable. The net effect on top tier decks is pretty negligible in my opinion. Caleb Durward, on his Modern Banned Series, came to the same conclusion in regards to these lands, and his videos for that can be found here.

Chris Wendelboe

Chris is a level 2 judge from Ashland, New Hampshire. He enjoys Scapeshift, modern, and putting on the best events possible.