Staples of Modern 2018: Top 5 Artifacts

Yesterday, we looked at the Top 5 sideboard staples in Modern. Some of those cards might look familiar today as we are counting down the Top 5 artifacts. While many of these artifacts see play because they are colorless options, artifacts are incredibly powerful in Modern. Affinity has been a staple of the Modern format since its inception but now decks like KCI and Hardened Scales Affinity have taken over the crown as the premiere artifact decks in Modern.

The following cards have been ranked by dominance rating using data from This is calculated by multiplying the percent of decks they appear in by the average number of copies that appear in said decks. For frame of reference, a card that appears in 25% of decks as a two of will have a 0.5 dominance rating. For our hypothetical, 100-player tourney this means that there would be 0.5 copies of said card per player in the room. These cards have had their mainboard and sideboard dominance ratings summed when applicable.

Honorable Mention: Walking Ballista
Walking Ballista just barely missed the cut at 0.34. However, this card slots into a higher percentage of decks than any other artifact. Ballista is only averaging 2.5 copies in the decks that it is played in which really hurts it in this rating. Regardless, Walking Ballista is an incredible Magic card. It can be used as early interaction in decks like Tron, using 2 mana to kill an important 1 toughness creature. It is also used as one of the mana sinks in the Devoted Druid combo decks. The place that it shines the most is definitely Hardened Scales Affinity where the doubled counters enable explosive draws, incredible reach, and the ability to machine gun the opponent’s board. Ballista is an incredibly versatile and powerful card that is going to continue to be a Modern staple moving forward.

#5 Engineered Explosives: 0.35
If you read our sideboard staples articles, you may have notice that Engineered Explosives rating has gone from 0.26 to 0.35. This is because in the sideboard articles we were only looking at dominance rating in sideboards, while we are looking at the full 75 here. Engineered Explosives is seeing a lot of main deck play in the very successful KCI decks. The card has incredible synergies with the rest of the deck. It is a valid target for Ancient Stirrings, a zero mana artifact for Kark Clan Ironworks and other pieces, and helps to get rid of troublesome permanents. In addition, more niche decks like Lantern Control also play it main deck for similar reasons. EE has been a sideboard staple for years due to its unique effect as a wrath effect for colors that traditionally lack such effects.

#4 Mox Opal: 0.36
Mox Opal has been one of the payoff cards for the artifact strategies since it was printed. It enables the artifact decks to have explosive draws and keep up with the speed of the rest of the format. Being a free source of colored mana is incredibly relevant as it not only gives fast mana, it also gives colored mana which is important for cards like Ancient Stirrings. Up until recently it was the only Modern Mox and is still the only good one. And boy is it a good one.

#3 Damping Sphere: 0.37
Damping Sphere is one of the most powerful sideboard cards that the Modern format has. Despite only becoming legal with the release of Dominaria in April, Damping Sphere still managed to make our list of the most played artifacts in all of 2018. As we touched on in yesterday’s article, Damping Sphere is an incredibly versatile sideboard card. This helps to open up sideboard slots which is incredibly important in such a diverse format like Modern.

#2 Relic of Progenitus: 0.46
Relic of Progenitus is a nice way to hedge against graveyard strategies. Since it replaces itself, Relic is almost never a truly dead card unlike most other anti-graveyard cards. For this reason, sometimes Relic will see main deck play in decks like Titanshift. Relic also continues to be a solid sideboard options for decks that can’t make colored mana and want the value of drawing a card over the speed of something like Tormod’s Crypt. As stated in Wednesday’s article it is a skill intensive and very powerful card.

#1 Aether Vial: 0.51
Finally, we have Aether Vial, which should not come as a surprise. Humans and Spirits were incredibly successful in 2018 and Vial is a huge reason why. The power level of those decks goes up exponentially when they are able to play Aether Vial turn one. Aether Vial enables so many lines of play that would otherwise not be possible. For example, a vial on one allows you to turn your Mausoleum Wanderer into a potent counterspell rather than an -on-board trick to be played around. It was a Top 10 mainboard card and it is 2018’s most dominant artifact.

Artifacts are the jack-of-all-trades of the Modern format. They give decks access to effects reserved for specific colors, enable entire archetypes to exist, and have some of the most powerful effects in all of the format. 2019 has already started off as a great year for the card type with the early success of KCI at GP Oakland.
Next week is Color Week here on Good Grief Games. I hope you will join us to explore the most dominant cards in each slice of the color pie beginning with White on Monday. Also we will be doing some giveaways starting this Sunday, so make sure to check our social media (linked in the menu at the top) for a chance to win some awesome cards.

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