Dangerous Propositions: Stoneforge Mystic
- Gianluca Aicardi
The Modern ban list is a maximum security prison with 33 inmates, some of which pose a potentially serious threat to the meta. But now that Big Jace has been released, anything can happen. Let's review each of those offenders to see if they're eligible for parole. This time we talk of the infamous equipment dealer.
Modern started its run in August 2011 with Stoneforge Mystic already in the ban list. This means we never really saw this Nahiri fangirl in action within Modern, except briefly as a test drive of the upcoming format during the 2011 Community Cup, which was held earlier that summer.
What role our Mystic would play in the format is not hard to fathom, though. She advertises the nature and magnitude of her services right in her rules text: she tutors up an equipment, then puts it onto the battlefield for, likely, a discount. The tutor element is already pretty strong, since equipment is a type of card that requires the presence of a creature as a carrier, and she provides that, too, which is the reason why cards like Steelshaper's Gift or Open the Armory don't really compare with her. The cheap cost of the whole operation (four mana split across two turns) is also a factor, as creatures with similar end results, like Stonehewer Giant and Godo, Bandit Warlord, never saw a great deal of play purely because they cost too much.
But I doubt we would be here talking about Stoneforge Mystic if they didn't give her that second ability. That's where her design really went ballistic, with the equipment she fetches effectively getting flash and the power to dodge counterspells. More so, she opens the room to all kind of crazy expensive equipments like Argentum Armor and, most notably, Batterskull. The latter has become one of the most played equipment since the subtype was created almost entirely in virtue of its Stoneforge pairing, because the only other effective way to play it is through a heavy ramp shell.
So, after an amazing run in Standard during the Caw-Blade era, where she starred as the arm dealer for the titular squawking hawks. Her time here ultimately resulted in a ban and Stoneforge Mystic was forced to relocate directly to Legacy. She's still going strong around those parts, where a successful archetype named after her is the second most played control deck in the meta. Stoneblade comes in different color combinations, whether it's Esper Stoneblade, Jeskai Stoneblade, or even just straight Azorius.
Esper Stoneblade – Jordan Laporte – Eternal Weekend Trial
|2Flooded Strand||2Monastery Mentor||4Brainstorm|
|2Marsh Flats||4Stoneforge Mystic||1Flusterstorm|
|1Plains||2True-Name Nemesis||4Force of Will|
|4Polluted Delta||3Hymn to Tourach|
|2Tundra||4Swords to Plowshares|
|2Wasteland||1Sword of Fire and Ice|
|2Jace, the Mind Sculptor|
|1Liliana, the Last Hope|
|1Blue Elemental Blast||2Containment Priest||1Council's Judgment|
|2Disenchant||1Engineered Explosives||1Engineered Plague|
|1Flusterstorm||1Kambal, Consul of Allocation||1Rest in Peace|
|1Supreme Verdict||2Surgical Extraction||1Zealous Persecution|
Tools of a Trade
From the above lists and the many others fashioned the same way, we can detect a recurring series of targets for Stoneforge Mystic's dealings. In order of power level, they are as follows.
1) Umezawa's Jitte
Arguably the most powerful card to come out of Kamigawa block, Umezawa's Jitte is one of those designs that make hard to understand how they ever successfully got through a serious playtest stage. It's simultaneously broken in a creature-heavy environment, where it's removal, and in a creature-sparse environment, where it works as a one-card alpha strike. By putting counters on itself rather than the equipped creature, the Jitte nullifies all attempts at counteract its impact that doesn't outright kill it, and even in that case, you'll still get some life out of it if it survived on the board through at least one combat phase.
The printing of Batterskull in New Phyrexia is what precipitated the Standard banning of Stoneforge Mystic five weeks later. The big Phyrexian equipment puts a considerable threat on the battlefield that can swing the pendulum of any game back in the hands of its controller and, given enough open mana, is quite hard to neutralize. Stony Silence, released in the next set, was in part meant to act as a Batterskull counter.
3) Sword of Fire and Ice
The first and still most prominent member of the Sword of X and Y megacycle, Sword of Fire and Ice's two triggers are never wasted, as every player can always use one extra card and some extra points of damage to any target (whereas Sword of Light and Shadow may find nothing to raise from the graveyard, Sword of Feast and Famine nothing of consequence for the opponent to discard and no reason to untap your lands, Sword of War and Peace has no tactical value, and Sword of Body and Mind is typically just disregarded, though it might be underrated). On top of that, it provides protection from at least one very relevant color.
Now, Jitte is banned in Modern, and will almost certainly always be (the Dangerous Propositions article about it will be summarized with "C'mon, you can't be serious"), while the other two pieces of equipment are both alive and kicking, albeit not showing up with high frequency in the meta, if at all. So, what is all this telling us?
After Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf joined/rejoined the Modern fold, and especially after it was clear their presence didn't actually warp the space around them, there's been a persistent rumor that other "fair" cards are going to be taken out of the Modern ban list in the near future. Stoneforge Mystic is regarded as one of such cards. And, at the end of the day, she is.
But wait, didn't we just illustrate how overpowered her entire package of abilities is? Isn't she one of those cards whose presence in smaller formats would prevent further design of the type of card they affect, in this case more expensive, over-the-top equipment?
This is all true, but what's also true is that Stoneforge Mystic into Batterskull, while a strong play, is not an oppressive endgame. Modern is, quite naturally, a very different format than it was, or appeared to be, seven years ago. And whatever the Legacy data are telling us, Legacy is also a completely different environment, where dealing with creatures isn't as easy and commonplace as it is in Modern, especially the moment Stoneforge Mystic is herself awfully boltable and Batterskull runs the serious risk of ending its early claim at board dominance crashing into Abrade or Destructive Revelry. After all, Sword of Fire and Ice is completely absent from the current Modern meta because it's kind of clunky, too fatally sluggish for fast and furious aggro decks like Jund, and always on the brink of causing a massive tempo loss when the creature you were trying to equip gets removed in response.
So more than turning these cards into unbeatable threats, the return, nay, debut of Stoneforge Mystic in the Modern meta would merely give them a chance to shine a little. Sure, it could become a six-card package to add to pretty much every control deck in existence, but not one that would inherently change what those decks already do or alter their core identity in the least; if anything, losing control elements to make room for a very specialized value creature (as opposed to, say, Snapcaster Mage's across the board utility) might not even be such a good idea for decks like Teferi Control. So those who thinks Stoneforge Mystic is one of the last "fair" cards in the Modern ban list (jokes about her skin tone aside) are probably thinking right.
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