Cranial Plating – Fifth Dawn
Date Reviewed: March 11, 2021
Commander [EDH]: 3.25
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
It’s easy to forget that artifacts, particularly equipment, that make some use of colored mana first appeared long before the recent push for colored artifacts. Even Cranial Plating was not truly the first, but it was undoubtedly one of the most impactful. Despite my little word-wandering just now, its black mana ability didn’t come up so much in that era: it was more the way you could equip it to an Ornithopter, control a ridiculous number of other artifacts in play thanks to the affinity keyword, and attack for a few dozen damage on turn three or so. You occasionally see similar scenes in Modern even today. Cranial Plating may have a great pedigree in broken tournament decks, but there are other settings where it’s surprisingly fair, so use it with caution.
I may have said this before, but I’m really glad that recent sets have used more artifacts with colored mana costs. It’s always been clear that there were some artifacts with clear color alignments, and anything that helps decks feel more unique and prevents them from mashing all the best cards together is great in my book.
Cranial Plating, amusingly, is actually part of a five-card cycle in Fifth Dawn, cheap artifacts that could be attached at instant speed for colored mana. Considering that the other four members (Healer’s Headdress, Neurok Stealthsuit, Sparring Collar, and Horned Helm) are pretty much never seen in today’s game, that should tell you what the fate of this cycle was.
Cranial Plating is a cheap investment for a lot of power, an investment aided by things like zero mana artifacts (Ornithopter, Moxen) and artifact lands. When you can power out an Ornithopter to swoop aggressively and remorselessly on turn 2 for six or seven damage, that should give an idea of what this card can do. All-in artifact decks love this for how much damage it helps them put up, and back before the Mox Opal ban neutered Affinity, this was a big part of why the deck could explode as hard as it could. The colored mana instant-speed re-equipping isn’t the main attraction, but being able to swap Cranial Plating to your unblocked attacker is a nice trick to keep the pain train rolling.
This is definitely a vicious card if your deck is built to take advantage of it; it’s never a bad value (unless it’s the only artifact on-board), but decks this goes into rarely go small. It’s definitely the prime artifact-destruction target.
Limited: 3.75 (in the Limited format of Mirrodin; other Limited formats are bad for this)
Commander: 3.5 (you do have to incorporate black to run this, but it seems doable enough)
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