Last updated on July 19, 2023
Kaldra Compleat | Illustration by Vincent Proce
Living weapon is one of those mechanics in Magic that, despite having only a handful of cards that use it, is well-known to pretty much all players.
This is partly because it has particularly powerful cards, but also partly because the flavor of the mechanic is absolutely incredible. An alien creature that can be used to make something more powerful when it dies? And while aspects of this have been seen elsewhere, the way Magic uses it feels particularly unique and makes the mechanic particularly memorable to me.
Today I’ll be taking a deep dive into the mechanic and ranking all 15 cards that currently have living weapon on their text. Ready? Let’s get started!
What are Living Weapons in MTG?
Lashwrithe | Illustration by Jason Felix
Living weapon is an ability that appears on equipment. It was first introduced in Mirrodin Besieged back in 2011 as one of the mechanics designed to represent the invading Phyrexians. The ability reads as follows: “When this equipment enters the battlefield, create a 0/0 black Phyrexian Germ creature token, then attach this equipment to it.”
Instead of an equipment coming into the battlefield and sitting there a bit uselessly until its equip cost is paid and it’s attached to a creature. Living weapons come with their own creature. It may be a 0/0 but the equipment gives it toughness so it doesn’t die immediately after being created. This is powerful because it means you can create strong equipment and let them create board presence right away.
I should probably point out that the Germ didn’t used to have the Phyrexian creature type since it didn’t exist at the time. It wasn’t until the rules update with Modern Horizons 2 that this was errata’d on the older cards.
Sickleslicer is a fine card for Limited, but not much more. A 3-mana 2/2 is generally bad, even if it dies into an equipment that gives +2/+2 for . I think the worst crime committed here is that it’s just a bit dull. It’s the most basic version of a living weapon card in my eyes and, it isn’t jumping to be put into decks, even if this basic demonstration of the mechanic is important.
That said, it’s still far from the weakest card in any set it features in. That equip cost is fairly high, but +2/+2 isn’t anything to be sniffed at. So the weakest card on this list is still very relevant.
The initial cost is a touch higher but you get more stats with that. And the reequip cost can make a really substantial blocker. I still wouldn’t imagine putting this in a deck outside of Limited, but that keyword is going to be relevant sometimes.
#13. Flayer Husk
While Flayer Husk came out before Sickleslicer (they were in subsequent sets), the Husk is just more interesting as a 1-mana artifact. Only costing two to reequip is undoubtedly relevant, too. There are plenty of cards out there with these stats, like Runed Stalactite, and it makes sense that there’s a living weapon version, too.
That said, I don’t see it being played much outside of Limited either. Just that cost makes it slightly more interesting.
Can I start by saying that, out of all of the fantastic names in this list, Necropouncer is definitely up there? Certainly feels like a Phyrexian card to me.
But outside of its name it fits in with the rest of the list so far so I won’t dwell on it much. Stat boost, plus keyword. What makes it this high on the list? Haste just feels good. Job done.
Batterbone is the first card on the list not to come out of the Scars of Mirrodin block. Modern Horizons 2 brought a couple new living weapon cards, and this one calls back to one of the classics (more on that card a bit later).
Two mana for a 1/1 vigilance creature with lifelink isn’t the worst rate, really. It’s a creature that wears other buffs really well and doesn’t take much to become a force in its own right. The equip for five is a touch high, but it’ll be worth it if you get this on a fatty and will soon turn the tide back in your favor.
Here we have another “French vanilla” living weapon, but Skinwing comes with one of the best keywords in Magic: flying!
Four mana for a 2/2 flier is, again, a little below rate. But equipping this onto a bigger creature later in the game will close things out quickly. The +2/+2 stat boost is also far from irrelevant, which is why I think it just sneaks higher than Batterbone for me.
We’re finally out of the swamp of living weapons that give a static stat boost and a potential keyword and into the juicy stuff!
That said, you’re still just getting a stat boost from Bonehoard at the end of the day. The difference is that stat boost changes throughout the game. Caring about creatures in all graveyards is pretty good, especially in multiplayer formats, and could quite easily be 10/10 or more for four mana.
Only having an equip cost of two is really effective too, making this a fantastic tool to give a permanent stat boost to any of your creatures.
#8. Tangleweave Armor
Tangleweave Armor is very simple; it gives your equipped creature combat stats equal to your most expensive commander. Sweet and to the point, but I wish this was just a bit cheaper to cast and equip.
Another card that pumps in a variable way is Lashwrithe. And it also has a (kinda) free equip cost!
Definitely a card that wants you to pretty much be in a heavily black deck to maximize on that Swamp count, but it might be pretty interesting with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Ashaya, Soul of the Wild.
It feels most at home with a commander like Korlash, Heir to Blackblade. Being able to equip with zero mana is also very appealing, even if it does cost four life to do so.
Mortarpod is the first card on the list that isn’t about pumping the stats at all. It technically does a little bit, but you’re not really interested in that.
This isn’t the most powerful card in the world, and it would probably not be this high on the list if judging by power alone. But it’s a nice unique design which gives it some bonus points in my book. Turning any creature into a pinger is pretty nice, and it also gives some sacrifice outlets which is pretty good. It’s just a shame that the equip cost is so high or there’d be some sweet combos you could pull off with it.
#5. Bitterthorn, Nissa’s Animus
Coming in at 3 mana, Bitterthorn, Nissa's Animus gives the equipped creature +1/+1 while also tutoring out basic lands into play tapped when that creature attacks. I think this card is well-costed and gives enough back to make it worth running. If you’re playing it in a land-based deck that benefits even more from having many additional lands in play, it’s even better.
This is possibly the best version of this style so far. Any deck you’re playing these equipment in is going to care about artifacts. And it’s easier than ever to swamp the board with artifacts with the recent obsession with Treasure tokens in MTG card design.
Scytheclaw is one of my favorite designs on this list. It’s a super flavorful idea executed perfectly in cardboard.
When the creature hits your opponent they lose half their life? That’s cool, but something we’ve seen here and there elsewhere. The fact it’s a literal scythe so you can imagine the equipment cutting your opponent in half, though? Amazing.
And while you’re pretty much never going to outright win the game with this, even with double strike, you can take pretty big chunks off your opponent’s life which is even more important in a format where life starts at 40.
#2. Kaldra Compleat
Kaldra Compleat was such a slam dunk hit in the flavor books for me. On top of that it has some power behind it, too!
There was a cycle of cards in the original Mirrodin block with Helm of Kaldra, Sword of Kaldra, and Shield of Kaldra. Each one is an equipment that gives a creature the text shown on Kaldra Compleat when they’re all attached to the same creature. It’s known as a combo that players aspire to but rarely get to pull off.
Sticking it all on one card, even if it costs seven mana, makes that dream much more viable, if less satisfying to pull off. Maybe we’ll see more compleated versions of older cards when we inevitably return to Mirrodin/New Phyrexia.
There was only one card that could come up top and that is, of course, Batterskull. This is a card played in most formats where it’s legal, including Modern and Legacy with a little help from Stoneforge Mystic. It may not be as much of a big deal in Commander but it’s still a must-include in any equipment-focused deck worth its salt.
One little detail I really like on this card is that you can pay to return it to your hand. Doing this allows you to recast it and get the auto-equip to the newly created Germ.
Best Living Weapon Payoffs
I’ve established that living weapons can power up creatures very easily, but the equip costs are generally prohibitive. What you need is a way to get those costs down.
Puresteel Paladin is a fantastic way to ease these costs, but that’s not the only option available.
Sigarda's Aid is another card you can use to readily equip to your other creatures so you’re not stuck with it on a 0/0.
Armory Automaton is another way to abuse these powerful equipments, sticking them all on the Automaton whenever it attacks.
Can a Living Weapon Be a Commander?
Sadly none of the living weapons can be your commander. Even if the equipment is legendary, like Kaldra Compleat, it’s still not a creature itself so it can’t be a commander. That said, you can always ask a casual playgroup if you have that sweet list you want to try!
Does a Living Weapon Have Summoning Sickness?
The Germ that’s created by the living weapon will have summoning sickness, but the living weapon itself doesn’t since it’s not a creature. This means you need to give the Germ haste to attack straight away, like what’s granted by Kaldra Compleat.
Skinwing | Illustration by Igor Kieryluk
Living weapon is a very flavorful mechanic that can add power to any board and will somewhat survive a board wipe. But some of the designs are slightly dull and I’d love to see something more than adding power and toughness or a keyword if we see this again in future.
What do you think? Where could Wizards take the design of living weapon in future? Make sure you tell us in the comments below or join the discussion in the Draftsim Discord. And if you have a deck that makes good use of these cards please tell us what makes it tick.
That’s it for this one for now, though. Catch you in the next one!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: