Ertai’s Meddling: Metalcraft (Scars of Mirrodin)
At last, we are proud to present our final Scars of Mirrodin installment of Ertai’s Meddling, the mighty Blue/Red Metalcraft. For those of you who have recently joined us, the Meddling series is where we take an intro deck and fine-tune it. We remove that which isn’t working, add in a few things that might work better, and at the end of the piece have a shiny new upgraded version of what we began with. Of course, as Mark Rosewater so often says, “restrictions breed creativity,” so where would we be if not for a few restrictions? Ertai’s Meddling has two, we call them the “rules” and here they are:
Why these rules in particular? Two reasons. The first is that we want to preserve the flavour and character of the intro deck. If we broke it open to the full spectrum of cards, we’d end up with a much more competitive deck, sure, but one fairly far away from what we started with. Second, we want these decks to be affordable. Stuffing in a fistful of rares and mythics might work for some, but it hardly is the norm for any number of reasons. We want folks to be able to grab their box or binder, pull out their intro deck, and get to work with the cards they may already have lying about!
The original Metalcraft was a fine showcase piece for its namesake mechanic, but like many intro decks it fell prey to inconsistency and suboptimal card selection. Let’s begin by identifying those strengths and weaknesses we identified in our writeup of the deck:
And to finish setting the table before dinner is served, let’s have a gander at that stock decklist:
Today we’ll be remaking this into a tighter Red/Blue deck that dials in on useful artifacts and efficient bodies that take full advantage of the metalcraft mechanic.
The first place we’ll start is with the deck’s creatures. This is often where Wizards will stuff in a few “pine-riders” that really don’t belong on the team. We’ll also look at other cards that might not be bad in and of themselves, but perhaps just aren’t the strongest option available.
Argent Sphinx: As the deck’s premium rare, keeping the Sphinx is a no-brainer. Solid in body and armed with evasion, he’s very hard to kill once metalcraft is up.
Blade-Tribe Berserkers: In my first reading of the card back when the set was released, I misread this as being 6/6 permanently for as long as metalcraft was up. It’s still not a bad card even if it’s bonus is one-shot, as the prospect of six damage streaking from your hand can be seriously unsettling to an opponent. But in practice, this card exhibits a sort of unpleasant tension- you tend to hang onto it to get the bonus, even when a 3/3 body is perfectly useful on the battlefield. Four mana for a 3/3 isn’t even a bad deal in Red, but we’ll be looking elsewhere. Cut ’em.
Chrome Steed: Four colourless mana for a 4/4 is a very good deal, and the Steed stays. However, the deck packs in three of them, and that’s just one too many. The guy’s a paperweight in your opening hand, and although we’d love to see turn-1 metalcraft every game, it’s obviously not realistic. Two is the right mix here, so that you’ll often be drawing them with metalcraft up.
Embersmith/Riddlesmith: Metalcraft stocks a pair each of these versatile little fellows, and we see no need to change the forumla. The format is packed with 1-toughness creatures, making the Embersmith particularly lethal. The Riddlesmith is worth less offensively, but looting a few cards to improve card quality is nothing to sneer at.
Etched Champion: Only in a set flooded with artifact creatures would this guy punch below his weight, but he’s not quite as good as he looks in this format. Still, metalcraft effectively gives him shroud, and against non-artifact decks he’s a Phantom Warrior. We’ll keep him, but not quite enthusiastically.
Lumengrid Drake: Beyond just the tempo advantage afforded by their bounce ability when they enter the battlefield, these are evasive bodies which will be harder for your opponent to stop. Although not a skies deck, extra avenues for damage are always good. The deck brings two, and we’ll keep the pair.
Memnite: Not very impressive on their own, they are nevertheless fantastic here. We’ll be throwing in a full playset to help get us fast metalcraft starts. They’re far from useless once cast, too, with equipment to bolster their offensive potential (or just to serve as a handy chump-blocker in a tight spot).
Snapsail Glider: Cut. Three for a 2/2 flyer is perfectly reasonable, but it’s not quite what we’re looking for here. The Drakes stayed because of their Unsummon-ability, but the Gliders bring nothing to the table without metalcraft up that makes us want to retain their services.
Trinket Mage: Now here’s a 2/2 for three that’s worth getting excited over! Highly useful towards getting (and keeping) metalcraft up, there are plenty of useful targets for the mage in the deck. Always a welcome draw.
Now, on to the noncreature support.
Accorder’s Shield: 0-casting cost artifacts are always welcome, but the upside on the Shield isn’t all that glamourous when weighed against its equip cost. In the end, because it gives no power bonus it just doesn’t carry its weight, even though it costs the same to play and equip as a Darksteel Axe. Cut.
Darksteel Axe: Speaking of, the Axe not only gets to stay, but we bring along a friend by adding a second. Once played, they are very hard to get rid of, and a good way to ensure our metalcraft switch stays right where we want it: on.
Disperse: A useful card, it nevertheless can’t survive as an inconsistent singleton, and yet there’s no room for more. Fired.
Echo Circlet: Pure rubbish. We’re not worried about blocking, and even if we were we don’t have enough high-toughness creatures that would make this a profitable undertaking- most of ours will at best hope to trade. It’s not even cheap enough to be sourced with the Trinket Mage. Gone.
Galvanic Blast: This hardly needs any introduction. We’ve added one more to round out a full playset. The deck is somewhat removal-light, so have a care where you use these up and you should be able to clear enough space in the red zone to operate in. Also good for finishing off a wounded foe.
Golem Foundry: This is a fun card to consider when looking at proliferate, but Metalcraft doesn’t employ proliferate. Too cumbersome and too slow for too little payoff. Out.
Golem’s Heart: “Lucky Charms” artifacts like this and the others (Demon’s Horn et al) are insta-cuts. Marginally useful if drawn early in the game, and one of the draws least welcome in the late-game.
Rusted Relic: These are additional closers here. A 5/5 for four mana is too good a deal to pass up. Sure they’re a scrapheap if your metalcraft isn’t up, but the upside is well worth the inconvenience. We’re taking the two the deck carries, and throwing in one more.
Sylvok Lifestaff: Cheap to play, cheap to equip, gives a power bonus and a dose of lifegain. The Lifestaff isn’t a bad card at all, but it’s just not what the deck is needing. Cut.
Finally, let’s look at some cards not included in the deck but added for the Meddling.
Flight Spellbomb: Useful cantrips when drawn at any stage of the game, our primary target for these will be Rusted Relics, but we’ll send over anything that can get through for solid damage. In the meantime, they add to our artifact count and can even be fetched with the Trinket Mage in a pinch if we see an opening. We’ll be adding three.
Infiltration Lens: To replace some of the outgoing equipment, we’ll take a pair of these. They’re so inexpensive that they’re virtually all upside- if you’re blocked, two cards! If not, damage! This makes blocking assignments a little more complicated for your opponent, and that’s always a good thing.
Stoic Rebuttal: A matter of personal preference, I always like to have a little bit of countermagic to rely on in the event that my opponent tries to get something devastating off. With metalcraft up they’re the same as the classic Counterspell, so it’s worth finding a home for a pair.
Our final decklist can be found here. Metalcraft began as a solid showcase of the mechanic, but with perhaps a bit too much variance and too little focus. We’ve removed fringe-player cards from the decklist, and strengthened its spine down the middle. What Metalcraft most wants to do is get an initial rush of early plays to turn the mechanic ‘on,’ then capitalise on it by playing creatures that deliver more bang for the buck. Get out your Axes, Memnites, Spellbombs, and other cheapie artifacts as soon as you can. Once you’ve put yourself in good shape, start bringing out your Rusted Relics, Chrome Steeds, and the Argent Sphinx if you’re lucky enough to draw it. Use Galvanic Blasts to clear the lanes to get in for damage, and to finish off your opponent if they fall wwithin burn range. Finally, if you draw into the countermagic, hang onto it- the best games are those where you never need it, but if you throw it away on something trifling you’ll cry next round when the Sunblast Angel touches down and wipes your board. Once you counter your first spell, your opponent will be awake to its presence- try to bluff it at all times if you can. With so many of your cards needing only colourless mana, always keep Islands open whenever feasible… and a single Mountain for the Galvanic Blast.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Ertai’s Meddling as much as we did. One thing that we always enjoy is seeing how other folks might have built this deck- there’s never a shortage of opinions on things we didn’t include that we should have, things we did that we shouldn’t, or alternative ways to have built the deck. Would you have kept the Accorder’s Shield? Traded out the Etched Oracle for a Crystal Ball? Like Disperse over Stoic Rebuttal, or think there needs to be a home for the mighty Tumble Magnet? Let us know!
One final note- this is the last Meddling of Scars of Mirrodin, and so our Meddling Feedback contest will be coming to a close. We’ll be ending it and announcing a winner on Wednesday, 09 February. Make sure to get those comments in, and remember that comments on all five of the Ertai’s Meddlings are eligible for entry! Good luck!