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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Jun 20 2017 12:00pm
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I love this game. I love writing about it. Compiling lists about it. Evaluating it. Sometimes, I even play it. I'm an Accidental Player.

> summary <

 One of the most powerful set in Magic history, Darksteel is fondly or less fondly remembered by most players as the set with Skullclamp, Aether Vial and Arcbound Ravager. Its power level was so high that both Standard and Extended required bans to stop the influence of such broken staples.

 Released in February 2004, Darksteel was the first small set to grow back to 165 cards since Visions (which actually had 167); from the moment Mirage first introduced the 3-set paradigm, all the blocks had been composed by a large set of 350 cards followed by two small sets of 143 each (except for Legions, which for some reason had 145). Instead, Mirrodin was scaled back to 306 cards, allowing for Darksteel and its companion Fifth Dawn to add an extra portion of uncommons and rares, thus making Darksteel also the first small set with the same number of cards at each rarity: 55. This new paradigm would last for a few years, until Dissension introduced a slightly larger third set with 180 cards.

 The setting and themes are the same we've witnessed on the parent set Mirrodin. This time the ratio of artifact creatures against the total is even higher: 31 out of 71, close to 50%.

 The Artificer tribe made here its very first appearance, a needed addition to describe the guys who fabricate all those artifacts. It was later applied retroactively to older cards like Argivian Archaeologist (even if it doesn't make sense) and Goblin Welder. The focus on artifacts was so intense that Golem became the largest tribe in the set with 11 members (even more than they had in Mirrodin). Meanwhile, the titular Darksteel metal is responsible for giving us the first instances of indestructible cards, even if the actual keyword would come to be only many years later.

 But enough of that, let's have a look at those old Darksteel creatures and their tribes, to see if some of them are still popular today. As always, the focus is on all the Constructed applications, the tribes are listed alphabetically, but you'll find a hypertextual list at the end.

 Infodump

  • Cards: 165
  • New cards: 162
  • New creatures: 70
  • Reprinted cards: 3
  • Reprinted creatures: 1 (Juggernaut)
  • Creature types affected: 41
  • Tribes with more than 5 additions: Golem (+11), Beast (+7)

Angel: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: "You shall not pass"!, says Pristine Angel. An impassable wall for 6 mana is not particularly exciting, but she gives you a way to play around the "untapped only" issue and actually attack while holding an instant in hand to try and trick the opponent out of their own instant. It's a fun creature, that would probably be excellent for one mana less, or at least with a larger body.


Artificer: +4

   

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 Related Tribes: Goblin, Vedalken

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The birth of the Artificer type is a mixed bag, as they range from good enough to unplayable. The first category is represented by the solid mana provider Vedalken Engineer, which might not be Metalworker, but can help non-affinity artifact decks in early turns. Then we get Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer, one of the only two legendary creatures of the set along with Memnarch (boy, Mirrodin block was really stingy with legends). He's Glissa's other companion, and his card is a 2-drop sac outlet for artifacts, which is fine, but giving in the process indestructible to another artifact is going to feel less attractive than producing mana, temporarily growing bigger, permanently growing bigger, or even just pinging flyers. So you can see Slobad has a problem with his results more than with his methods.

 Further down on the totem pole of relevance is Synod Artificer. Generally speaking, you'd want to do two things with a mass untapping ability that costs mana: untap lands that can produce more mana than you spent, like Candelabra of Tawnos with Cloudpost; or untap creatures that can do the same, like Metalworker. Synod Artificer can't do neither. His tapping ability is a bit better positioned, especially in an environment with artifact lands, but it's hardly any effective in formats where those lands are banned, or rarely played.

 Finally, Goblin Archaeologist is one of those dreadful old-school "flip a coin" cards that do absolutely nothing if you lose the flip. Over time, they printed "flip a coin" cards less and less, realizing they appealed to only a little component of the player base (there's casual and then there's turning Magic into a game of flipping coins). Even so, just compare this guy with modern versions of the mechanic like Molten Birth or Goblin Kaboomist: the key is having the cards do something even if the flip is lost, then do more if you win it. Other than that, Goblin Archaeologist is the first example of the designers somehow thinking that an archaeologist is a guy who builds artifacts (they would later revise Argivian Archaeologist along the same lines). And if you're going to tell me that they couldn't create a specific creature type for the guys who retrieve artifacts, I'll have to point out they created an entire creature type for a sheep and a sable, and those weren't even a real sheep and a real sable.


Bat: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Typical Bat fare. Of course it couldn't be given an actual, non-suicidal pumping ability. It's just a Bat, after all.


Beast: +7

  

   

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 Related Tribes: Boar

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: The Beast tribe keeps being very well represented on Mirrodin block, especially after they turned all those Beast-looking artifact creatures into actual Beasts. These all use the modular mechanic, and let's see, there's a 4/4 for 7 with first strike, a 2/2 for 4 with haste... and oh, what do you know, turns out the most effective one was the 1/1 for 2 that eats other artifacts, becomes gigantic, then sacs itself and sends all its counters to a Blinkmoth for the win. Who would've thunk? Arcbound Ravager is not only the strongest of these Beasts, and the strongest creature in the set, it's likely the one card the entire Mirrodin block is best remembered for (well, maybe along with Skullclamp, although today it's relegated to just a couple formats). By comparison, the other modular guys are entirely inconsequential, the unparalleled design of Arcbound Ravager making every other attempt at the mechanic essentially pointless.

 The colored Beasts also pale in face of the Ravager, albeit the green ones are acceptable. Fangren Firstborn has a great ability, but too small a butt and too much green mana in its cost. And Karstoderm is a 5/5 for 4, which was a big deal at the time (cards like Deadbridge Goliath or Polukranos were still far away); just like its quasi-namesake Blastoderm, it needed a downside, which in Karstoderm's case is not even that harsh when you move it outside of an artifact environment.

 Quicksilver Behemoth is just silly, though.


Boar: +1

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 Related Tribes: Beast

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Once again, this lone Boar spun off from Beast in the aftermath of the Grand Creature Type Update. Like a colorshifted Blastoderm or Karstoderm, it's a 4-mana creature that required a drawback to justify its above-curve stats. And as far as drawbacks go, to sacrifice an artifact is an honest one, it calls for some degree of careful deckbuilding, but it's not hard to engineer added value in the process. Of course, then you have to care for a big vanilla beater that, unlike its green counterparts, probably won't be able to drop earlier than turn 4.


Cat: +2

 

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 Related Tribes: Soldier, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: Leonin Shikari is not played much anymore, but it's a great bear for equipment decks. Moving around Lightning Greaves at instant speed is nothing to sneeze at, especially since it makes really hard to get rid of Leonin Shikari herself.


Cleric: +1

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 Related Tribes: Elephant

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: Uselessly big and overcosted tapper is uselessly big and overcosted. 


Construct: +4

   

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 Related Tribes: Golem

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: All those ex post facto Constructs are fatally flawed. Spincrusher is an interesting concept, something you have to block with first in order to unleash its power offensively; but on a 0/2 body is never going to work, barring counters shenanigans that are probably not worth it.

 Similarly, Gemini Engine as a double creature is either overcosted or not big enough (compare it with Scars of Mirrodin's Precursor Golem).

 Arcbound Worker is the most functional as your basic modular creature, but there's definitely such a thing as "too basic".

 And Voltaic Construct is a slower, more fragile, repeatable Voltaic Key. By the way, he was a Golem which got the Construct type added to it during the Grand Creature Type Update, because it had "construct" in its name. With all due respect to Mark Gottlieb, I don't think it was the correct choice. It's just the generic way that Golem is called. All Golems are technically Constructs by their very definition, so why is it that only this one has the actual double type?


Dragon: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: There have been affinity lists that played this guy. The idea was to use it as a finisher, while also hitting your opponent's game state. Outside of Mirrodin block constructed (or 2004 Standard), i.e. within an environment where not every match is affinity mirror, it could be at best a sideboard card, although it's too cumbersome to be effective in that role.


Drake: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Across the block, several attempts had been made to make affinity work with non-artifact creatures, too. All issues with this approach boil down to the fact that an artifact deck, by its nature, wants to play with as many as colorless cards as possible. This Drake tried the card advantage route, but it's still going to cost triple blue for a 3/4, in a world where a 4/4 drops for free.


Drone: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Oh, c'mon, you have such a peculiar creature type as Drone, and all you do with it is a functional reprint of Stronghold Zeppelin, aka strictly worse Phantom Monster?


Dryad: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: I guess they wanted to play with the contrast of a Dryad walking through a metallic forest. It's certainly picturesque. Unfortunately, her ability is too awfully specific to even make sense in Constructed at large.


Elemental: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Oh, the forefather of Ajani's Pridemate! Ageless Entity grows much quicker than the prideful Cat, but it also drops way later, so the Cat might have good reasons for his swagger, considering he's seen countless times more play than this nearly forgotten Elemental. Still, it could make some sense in slower formats like Commander.


Elephant: +1

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 Related Tribes: Cleric

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: Loxodon Mystic: how to embarrass two entire tribes with a single creature.


Elf: +3

  

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 Related Tribes: Shaman, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Next to the latest Tel-Jilad grunt with protection from artifacts, and a mana fixer that doesn't actually ramp (something they rarely do anymore), Elf gets Viridian Zealot, who was remarkable at the time because killing both artifacts and enchantments with the same permanent was still a big deal. Now we got Reclamation Sage doing it without having to sacrifice herself, but there's something to be said for a mechanic that plays around ETB hosers (of course back then Torpor Orb didn't exist yet, but you know, it's the idea that matters). Scars of Mirrodin's Sylvok Replica would take a page from this guy's book.


Gargoyle: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The first indestructible card we meet is... horribly overcosted. I guess -1/-1 counters and exilers weren't as common then as they are today, but I feel like they vastly overestimated how powerful indestructible actually is.


Goblin: +4

   

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 Related Tribes: Artificer, Shaman, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: Not a good showing for the Goblins, which already starts with the wrong foot when even their legendary guy is the weak rehashing of a mechanic you can find exploited more effectively elsewhere in the set. The other Gobbos are just an appalling assortment of "flip a coin", "attacks each turn", "tap to sacrifice" claptrap.


Golem: +11

  

  

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 Related Tribes: Construct

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The Darksteel Golems shine as brightly as their polished metal skins. Or at least, they do with two of the greatest members of their tribe. Granted, today Darksteel Colossus might have been sent to the retirement home by his own future brother, Blightsteel Colossus. But he was known as the most lethal and terrifying threat in the game, at least until the Eldrazi rose in April 2010 (and more than 6 years of tenure as the King of Creatures is still something).

 Even better fate graced Sundering Titan, which is very much still as frightening now as it was then. Its land destruction capability is so effective than it doesn't even need fighting abilities, let alone protection: once you drop it on the battlefield and wreak havoc on your opponent's mana base, they'll be hard pressed to get rid of it, having to evaluate what's worse: 17 points of body running around or the prospect of a second mini-Armageddon. A successful Legacy deck using Goblin Welder to recur the Titan was well-known at some point, but it has since shown up in many ramp builds, Urzatron first and foremost.

 Less valuable are the modular Golems, which even includes a modular lord in Arcbound Overseer: they're too high on the curve with no worthy payoff. Also, within the cycle of Golems with affinity for basic lands, the flying Spire Golem has to be the more effective of the bunch and was played plenty in Pauper.


Horror: +2

 

> summary <

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Yet another flawed modular creature, Arcbound Fiend isn't doomed just by not being Arcbound Ravager, it's also too unbalanced as a 3/3 for 6, even if it's able to steal your opponent's +1/+1 counters: except just one per turn, strictly in the upkeep, and what if the opponent doesn't even have creatures with +1/+1 counters? What are you going to do, Arcbound Fiend, are you going to steal from your team?

 Greater Harvester (which compares itself to Mirrodin's Dross Harvester, I suppose) is the typical "high risk, high reward" kind of guy. It's certainly something a Johnny would love to try and break, but first you need to ensure you have permanents to sacrifice without this impacting your strategy, or even better, with the sacrifice improving the battle plan. This is feasible, yet not easy. Then, how are you gonna make sure the Harvester will be able to connect? It has a large body, but no evasion or even just any ability whatsoever capable of affecting the combat. Plus, that triple-colored casting cost puts us firmly in black. All in all, though, a more interesting and threatening creature than most.


Human: +4

   

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 Related Tribes: Soldier, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: See how more manageable was the Human tribe, back when it would get only a handful of new members per set? (Alas, it wouldn't last). Also, note how Humans make Soldiers and Wizards, whereas Elves and Goblins use Warriors and Shamans, respectively, as their more tribalistic counterparts.


Insect: +2

 

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 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: In the grand scheme of all things tribal, these two Insects appear so small, you can barely see them. Like they were, you know, insects!


Juggernaut: +2

 

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 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Darksteel, which also saw the reprint of the original Juggernaut, ups the ante with two more. Or at least that's what the Grand Creature Type Update would later decide. Arcbound Crusher is one of the modular creatures that most suffer the comparison with Arcbound Ravager. They have the same modular level, and they both aim for an artifact-related growth, except the Crusher costs twice what the Ravager does. In exchange it gets trample, which sure is useful, while loses the need for the other artifacts to die in order to satisfy its mechanical thirst. But that's also its major flaw, since the Ravager can just drop and eat everything at once, while the Crusher has to be there to witness its fellow artifacts coming into play. And since it'll miss the first few turns, it's more likely than not going to show up when the party's almost over.

 For its part, Auriok Siege Sled is trying to be either unblockable or a provoker, but it's too clunky, too narrow and costs way too much. Being too fixated on the artifact theme and miscalculating the colorless cost are the two main issues with the average Mirrodin block creature, I believe.


Leviathan: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: If the similarly taxing Leveler had a nice riddle quality to it, Eater of Days just seems to try and work enough of a severe drawback to being a very large, very evasive finisher for a minimal cost. However, granting a double Time Walk to the opponent is a hard proposition to swallow, and until ways to circumvent that clause were created (e.g Torpor Orb, Sundial of the Infinite), this Leviathan was just an oddity.


Myr: +3

  

> summary <

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Myr became fewer and more specialized in Darksteel. The straightforwardly named Myr Landshaper sets up land destruction via artifact hate, which is a noble intent, but better left to cheaper, more resilient noncreature permanents whose effect doesn't expire at end of turn.

 Coretapper deals with charge counters, which are more common than one would think, and have kept being used consistently over the years. Here's some notable examples of artifacts that Coretapper is able to help: Aether Vial, Chalice of the Void, Coalition Relic, Door of Destinies, Engineered Explosives, Everflowing Chalice, Grindclock, Jeweled Amulet, Lux Cannon, Ratchet Bomb, Shrine of Burning Rage, Spawning Pit, Sphere of the Suns, Sphinx-Bone Wand, Sun Droplet, Trigon of Infestation, Tumble Magnet, and Umezawa's Jitte.

 Myr Moonvessel is just a nice sacrificial fodder, along the lines of Cathodion.


Ogre: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: If not even RDW has ever played this guy (to my knowledge), it means the gambit of thinking the opponent won't have artifacts to play is not worth the risk, even when we're not on the Mirrodin plane.


Ooze: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: Man, 5 mana for a 0/5 with quasi-deathtouch that you need to activate by playing (guess what?) artifacts. I can't even imagine a kind of deck where this thing would make sense, and we're even talking about a rare here.


Rat: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Chittering Rats is a star player in Pauper's MBC archetypes, but more generally one of the best Rats ever printed. Under the right circumstances, it's basically a Time Walk.


Shaman: +2

 

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 Related Tribes: Elf, Goblin

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: At their second ever outing, the Shamans only get a bad sacrifice outlet (as those that need tapping always are) and a mana-filtering guy. They can do much, much better than this.


Shapeshifter: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: Don't let yourself be fooled, this thing is a Duplicant in name only. You have to pay one mana more (crossing into trans-Titan territory) to get a fixed body, then all you can do with it is stealing keyword abilities from the graveyard? What if there's not even one worthy target? Situational clunker much?


Slith: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The final member of the Slith tribe, which had just debuted in the previous set, was kind of an obvious yet needed addition: after creating a member for each color with a color-related ability (on top of the Slith-defining, Whirling Dervish mechanic), they were just missing the colorless guy with modular. Now the cycle was fully over. I salute you, Sliths. Your life was short, but lived to the fullest.


Soldier: +3

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Cat, Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: All Soldiers from Darksteel have equipment-related ability, with the Cat, Leonin Shikari, being the most rule-breakingly powerful, with her turning all equipping into instant-speed activations. Auriok Glaivemaster is just a good Limited player, while Steelshaper Apprentice might be the clunkiest antecedent to Stoneforge Mystic, even more ridiculously mana-intensive than Taj-Nar Swordsmith, although the fetching in this case is repeatable, so there's that.


Spider: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Signs of the old age of a card: when both flash and reach required a full sentence. Also the fact that this casting cost feels like it's in excess of at least two mana.


Spirit: +3

  

> summary <

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Despite being a plane of metal and energy, Mirrodin is also home to some Spirits, apparently. We have the mirrored pair of the Emissaries, whose abilities are linked to, could you believe it, the presence of artifacts. And then Pteron Ghost is a small flyer that doubles as one-time regeneration shield for... oh look, artifacts. Mirrodin block doesn't just hit you over the head with its theme; it utterly drills it into your skull.


Thopter: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Since Mirrodin had reprinted the classic Ornithopter, Darksteel goes on and make this thing that would later be established as being a Thopter too, uniquely based on the art (I'm not saying they don't have a point). Anyway, it's a common little flyer with situational shroud (thus preventing it to be equipped) for 4 mana. Nobody's going to call this a classic.


Vedalken: +2

 

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Artificer

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The second time around, the Vedalken tribe is entirely a subset of the Artificer tribe, which is something they're going to be more often than not. As noted while talking of their Artificer side, Vedalken Engineer has its uses, Synod Artificer is a wasted opportunity to make a Candelabra of Tawnos on legs (I guess then Magus of the Candelabra fixed that).


Wall: +1

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 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Compared to the desperately old-fashioned Walls from Mirrodin, this is a bit more modern-looking. I mean, it's a Wall that creates tokens. And it does that, let's see... via situational artifact casting. At this point, I don't even have the strength to complain. Good job, Infested Roothold. May your games be always played against affinity. Maybe someday one of them will last long enough for you to drop and witness one actual artifact being cast. What a party you and your Insect will throw, then!


Warrior: +3

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Elf, Goblin

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Warrior in Darksteel is a cross section of Elf and Goblin, with only Viridian Zealot being worth mentioning.


Wizard: +4

   

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Cat, Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: We had to wait until Darksteel's Wizards to meet the villain of the entire block, the deranged robo-guardian created by Karn that, in absence of his master, went crazy and started reprogramming the plane and its inhabitants, with the goal of becoming a planeswalker by engineering a spark for itself. Following the Grand Creature Type Update, some creatures still remain without a race or a class (or both) because they were deemed too alien, therefore too hard to define. This is why our Memnarch here is still just a Wizard and nothing else. But is it right? Shouldn't he be just a Golem or at least a Construct? He was built. Its origins are not mysterious and its nature is not particularly alien compared to any other artifact creature native of Mirrodin. It baffles me why they decided Memnarch was just so "other" to warrant this kind of treatment.

 Anyway, as a card Memnarch has an extremely powerful ability (or pair of abilities), but it's too mana intensive for regular Constructed, shining only in flashier formats like Commander, where it can reprogram and enslave everything it sets its machine-sight on to its machine-heart's content.

 The other Wizards here are mostly unremarkable. Neurok Transmuter seems to partially anticipate Grand Architect, except he doesn't actually have anything to do with his transmutations. 


Wolf: +1

> summary <

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: Tel-Jilad, the Tree of Tales, is populated by Elves, Trolls and, turns out, also Wolves. Of course they all share one common trait: artifact hate. Isn't the wolf in the art by Paolo Parente a bit too cartoonish? Looks like a wolf you would watch the adventures of on Nickelodeon.


Wurm: +1

> summary <

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: It's official: despite all of its insane power cards, the self-contained nature of Darksteel kind of gave the majority of these cards a short shelf life. I mean, even Wurms only cared about artifacts here!


Zombie: +1

> summary <

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: Hey, this is actually sort of good, isn't it? I guess it ended up being forgotten in the midst of the obsessive artifest Darksteel had going, but a black 3/4 Zombie for 3 is very playable, and the clause just reads as a "must attack if able" (actually, it's better, because you can decide to chump block with it, and the moment you do, you won't even lose life since the trigger happens at the end of your turn).


SUMMARY

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 Check the Complete Creature Types Reference Table here.


BEST IN SHOW
(click on them to go to their main tribe)

  

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THE AFFINITY GOLEMS
(click on them to go to their tribe)

  

 

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KUMA'S TRIBAL EVALUATIONS

1 Comments

Tocasia, Urza and Mishra were by AJ_Impy at Wed, 06/21/2017 - 09:57
AJ_Impy's picture
5

Tocasia, Urza and Mishra were Argivian archaeologists, since being one involved digging up old Thran machines and tinkering with them to find out how they worked. Archaeology that seeks to replicate the inventions of the past definitely comes under artifice.

Nim abomination still pings you if you choose to chump block, since your opponent's attack occurs after you end your turn with it untapped.