September 11, 2019
Commander [EDH]: 4.13
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
Equipment cards have never needed much help. The first couple of sets with them brought us the likes of Sword of Fire and Ice and Umezawa’s Jitte, firmly establishing that they were going to be constructed-level cards. Stoneforge Mystic pushed that power level straight into the Legacy-level range, bringing uncounterable card advantage when she found Sword of Feast and Famine and a Phyrexian Baneslayer Angel in the shape of Batterskull – and that led to the first bannings in Standard since Mirrodin. Meanwhile, auras can only look on and scratch their collective head; although, considering how devastating Caw-Blade was, we should probably hope that when their turn comes it won’t take this kind of form!
The fact that we’re not anticipating the Mystic to make the same kind of waves in the current Modern format says more about Modern than it does about her: tutors and cost reduction effects are, historically, two of the three most powerful effects possible in Magic, and there’s no reason she should ever stop being a casual staple. I haven’t seen a huge number of previews from Throne of Eldraine as I’ve decided to make like a fairy tale protagonist and/or Arthurian romance quester and be surprised; but there’s a reasonable chance someone will soon be able to make a deck with a pun name like “Ex-Kor-libur”, and that’ll make us all smile.
Back before the disastrous Kaladesh banning spate, Stoneforge Mystic was notorious for being one of the only cards to be banned out of Standard, alongside Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The dominant Caw-Blade deck of the Zendikar/Scars of Mirrodin Standard era relied heavily on the Worldwake rare to function, and it’s not hard to see why it wound up doing crazy things in that Standard.
Let’s start with the simple: Stoneforge Mystic is a way to play an equipment card ahead of schedule, along with being able to tutor it out of your deck. There are the mostly cute options that you have at your disposal, but the real attraction comes in the members of the Swords mega-cycle that the Scars of Mirrodin block gave us…and Batterskull. Being able to “cheat” in a 4/4 with vigilance, lifelink, and general imperviousness to removal was a massive problem, to say the least. But even before that, the reliability of being able to get out just the sword you need for the occasion made the Stoneforge Mystic decks (particularly Caw-Blade) the far-and-away best decks of that Standard. Stoneforge Mystic’s ban came about at the start of Modern, as the thought was that a card good enough to be banned out of Standard might be a bit of a disaster for the fledgling format.
Stoneforge Mystic is off the ban list, though, and it’s a whole new world for the format-defining artificer. Modern has generally gotten a lot faster and a lot less hospitable to squishy creatures, which means the days of it slamming Batterskull on turn 3 and running away with the game are less likely than before. It does help a bit with redundancy and getting the Equipment-based decks tools to play with more consistently; Sword of the Meek is a popular card that it plays rather well with, and it has even more swords to do stabtacular things with. It’s still good, don’t get me wrong; in the absolute worst-case, it’s a two-mana Steelshaper’s Gift that demands a removal spell. I think there’s definitely room for it to be a reasonable card in Modern that helps out format diversity, and most of the Modern unbannings have turned out to be fair and reasonable additions (with one notable exception). I’m not expecting it to warp Modern, though I suspect this means that the arguable strongest Equipment card of allllllll tiiiiiiiime is not coming off of the ban list anytime soon.
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