Last updated on October 1, 2020
Bloodforged Battle-Axe | Illustration by Alayna Danner
MTG players have a lot of different play styles. Some like to throw tons of instants and sorceries at you, some prefer to create infinite combos, and others still like to command vast armies to overwhelm their opponents.
I wanna talk about the players who want their armies to be well-prepared. One way to do that is with auras, but this has a major flaw: when the enchanted creature dies, you also lose the enchantment. This is where equipment cards come in handy.
They don’t disappear when the equipped creature dies, and you can even swap them between creatures to maximize their effect! This can have a huge impact on the game and it’s actually pretty difficult to deal with unless your opponent is specifically prepared for that. And, in most cases, they’re not.
However useful they are, there are more than 250 equipment cards in MTG. Choosing which are more suited to your deck can be difficult. We’ll start with how they work and what you should keep in mind while using them and then I’ll give you some format-specific suggestions. Ready? Let’s do this!
Okay, but What Is Equipment?
Equipment cards are a specific type of artifact that attaches to creatures. You generally have to get them on the battlefield first and then pay their “equip” cost to, you know, equip them on a creature. They provide a vast range of abilities ranging from lifelink to deathtouch, trample, hexproof, and even indestructible as well as counters.
The main thing to know about equipment cards is that you can turn even the weakest creature into an absolute beast that forces your opponents to focus on it or face defeat. As always, there are bad ones, good ones, and, occasionally, great ones. Two factors that you need to keep in mind while choosing which equipment to add to your deck are their initial cost and their equip costs.
The equip cost is usually more important. After all, equipment typically won’t have any effect if it’s not attached to something. Equipping a creature may even cost more than the equipment’s CMC (converted mana cost).
As you probably figured out by now, one of the downsides of focusing on equipment cards is that you’ll a lot of mana to keep your tempo while buffing your creatures. This is why they’re often used with mana rocks and other cards that make a lot of tokens. You could also opt to play a heavy hitter and buff it even further, but you probably don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket.
Sword of the Animist | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren
The History of Equipment in MTG
Until 2003, enchantment cards were the only options to buff your creatures. This changed with the release of the Mirrodin block, which introduced the first equipment cards in MTG. One of the first cycles of equipment were a set of Kaldra equipment, namely Helm of Kaldra, Sword of Kaldra, and Shield of Kaldra. All three could be combined to create a
Voltron 4/4 legendary creature token and attach all Kaldra equipment on it. It was a pretty innovative initiative and players quickly accepted it.
There were also some pretty iconic (and powerful) equipment cards introduced right away.
Fast forward to 2020. Equipment cards are pretty common in every limited format and even occasionally constructed. *Ahem* Embercleave *Ahem*.
Decks that are more focused on creatures usually try to pump up their power with equipment rather than enchantments. So, you might expect to see some weapons whenever you see a token-based deck.
Even if your deck doesn’t rely on creatures too much, equipments like Sword of Feast and Famine will give you a great power boost. You could also just guard your commander with Lightning Greaves. Overall, you should definitely consider adding some equipment to your deck if you’re aiming for competitive play.
Shield of Kaldra | Illustration by Donato Giancola
Command Greatness: Top 10 EDH Equipment Cards
Honorable Mentions: Mana Rocks to Keep in Mind
If you’re going to build an equipment-heavy Commander deck, there are two mana rocks you need to consider to avoid mana-drought. There are lots of mana rocks in MTG, but you’ll need colorless mana for most equipments and these will get you there.
Any equipment-heavy deck should definitely throw in a Sol Ring to keep your tempo going. There is literally no downside to having Commander staple Sol-Ring in your deck as it nets you one mana the very turn you play it.
It might sound like a weird call to suggest this over others, but I have a solid reason. I’m aware that it costs four mana to cast and takes up a useful slot, but its ability to tap for three mana can be duplicated by lots of creatures. And, even if you can’t do that, playing this on turn 4 gives you a major boost the following turn, which you can abuse with well-equipped creatures.
This is a somewhat underappreciated card, probably because it needs to deal combat damage to your opponent to trigger its ability. Your opponents will set up their defenses quickly most of the time, but you can get some explosive growth if you see a gap in their defenses and deal tons of combat damage in a row. This works especially well if you’re going for early pressure.
There are some cards that you just have to list when you’re talking about equipment in MTG, and Umezawa’s Jitte is one of them. It doesn’t have a single huge ability, but it can still change the outcome of a game.
It’s fairly cheap to cast and equip, and the equipped creature gains two counters deals whenever it combat damage. You can then use these for a burst of +2/+2 for a turn, give -1/-1 to one of your opponent’s creatures, or just gain two life. You can use it in pretty much any deck thanks to its incredible flexibility.
Illusionist’s Bracers is one of those cards that allow for a lot of interesting combos. It doesn’t have much impact by itself but it can change the game depending on the creature that equips it.
The most well-known combo is Aphetto Alchemist, which lets you duplicate its ability twice. It’s one of the most versatile cards in the game, so you should really try it out with different decks.
This one is a simple card. It’s almost a no-brainer since you gain hexproof and haste for just two mana to cast and one to equip. You can use this in pretty much any deck, even if just to protect your commander from direct removals and deal commander damage. Don’t worry, you’ll be seeing a similar (but slightly different) and more powerful version of this effect later…
Most equipment provides a bonus to your creatures, but Conqueror’s Flail provides a huge bonus to your game. Its ability to provide +1/+1 for each color among your opponents is already strong for 5-color decks, but preventing your opponent from casting spells on your turn is a tremendous power boost since you won’t have to worry about getting countered.
Sword of the Animist
Sword of the Animist is one of the most cost-effective cards to run in Commander. It costs only two mana to cast and another two to equip. The +1/+1 counter isn’t much by itself but you can easily build your mana base by constantly attacking with cheap creatures. You’ll definitely end up with a significant advantage by mid-game.
Hammer of Nazahn
The most difficult thing about playing with an equipment-focused deck is that you always need to take care of your mana and plan ahead so you don’t fall behind. Hammer of Nazahn costs four mana to get on the battlefield but you can attach it to one of your creatures for free on ETB and it grants +2/+0 along with indestructible.
As if indestructible wasn’t enough, you also get to attach the next equipment to a creature you control immediately, saving you a lot of mana. This is reminiscent of the cycle of equipment in Zendikar Rising that have this “auto-equip” ability. You can even find
To win any battle, sometimes you need to make some sacrifices. Skullclamp makes these sacrifices so effective that it was almost immediately banned in Standard when it first came out.
It gives any creature +1/-1 and, when the creature dies, you get to draw two cards. If you’re running a deck that has lots of 1-toughness creatures, you may as well play with your entire deck in your hand. Your opponent now also has to decide how badly they want to block your attacks. Do they take the damage or give you card advantage? It’s so ridiculously powerful that WotC has a full article about how they let this card come into existence.
I already mentioned Swiftfoot Boots, and it might be weird that there are two different boots in a list of the best equipment, but I can’t leave this one out.
You’ll see Lightning Greaves pretty often in Commander because it works great both in defense and offense. It provides haste to its creature plus shroud, so you can attack immediately and protect your creatures from being targeted at the same time.
“Sword of X and X” Series
I’ll wrap up the equipment for Commander with not only one, but seven different equipments. Although I can’t say that all of them have the same power, it still wouldn’t be fair to include just one of them.
They all share the same concept (duh) and grant the equipped creature protection from two different colors plus +2/+2. This alone makes them very powerful, but they also have secondary abilities that vary from decent to awesome. The one you’ll see the most is Sword of Feast and Famine, mainly due to its ability to untap all the lands you control. But all of them are useful in their own ways.
Modern Masterpieces — Powerful (or Interesting) Equipment
Batterskull is a very straightforward, effective equipment for Modern. Thanks to its living weapon ability, you immediately get to create a 4/4 creature with vigilance and lifelink. And, if you have a heavy hitter with trample, you can equip it with Batterskull to hit harder and gain lots of life.
To understand just how scary Grafted Exoskeleton is, you first need to know about “infect.” It deals damage to creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters, which don’t disappear when the turn ends. Doesn’t sound like much right? The thing is, it does something a little different to players.
Players aren’t afflicted with -1/-1 counters. Instead, they’ll get a poison counter anytime they’re damaged by creatures with “infect.” If your opponent gets 10 poison counters, it’s simply game over. If you can hit your opponent a couple of times with a creature that has Grafted Exoskeleton, the game might easily turn into a quick win.
Are you worried that your opponent has better equipment? Introducing Manriki-Gusari, the bane of all equipment. All jokes aside, Manriki is a great card to include in your deck. It’s fairly cheap and prevents your opponent from playing any equipment unless they deal with Manriki-Gusari.
Sword of the Meek
At first glance, Sword of the Meek doesn’t seem much. It has a very specific combo you see in Modern, though.
By using Sword of the Meek with Thopter Foundry, you can generate a small army of 1/1 tokens and pressure your opponent early on. It’s not much, but it can still be very useful.
The reason Darksteel Plate is so great is that it costs only three mana to cast and two to equip, but gives indestructible to its creatures. The card itself is also indestructible, so it’s even more difficult to counter. It can be used both as a way to defend a valuable creature or just to attack with a heavy hitter.
As the name suggests, Colossus Hammer gives a huge bonus to the equipped creature with a whopping +10/+10 counter. The only problem is its high equip cost. It’s common to see Colossus Hammer paired with Puresteel Paladin or Sigarda’s Aid to finish the game early on, though.
Helm of the Host
I hesitated a little bit with this one since Helm of the Host requires a lot of mana, but I think creating a copy of the equipped creature with haste is a magnificent ability if you use it well. Keep in mind that the token doesn’t die the next turn, so you get some solid sustained power if your opponent doesn’t have any removals in hand. At the very least this is a house in MTGA Historic Cube!
I’m still on the fence whether newer cards should be played in a format called Historic, but since the rules are set, you should definitely include Shadowspear. It was brought to us by Theros: Beyond Death and can be used for a lot of things.
It grants +1/+1, trample, and lifelink to its creature, which in and of itself are a powerful bonuses. But you can also pay one mana to remove hexproof and indestructible from your opponent’s creatures. I don’t think I need to say anything else.
Sigiled Sword of Valeron
Sigiled Sword of Valeron is mainly used in knight/token decks, so I can’t say that it’s very versatile. That being said, it’s incredibly powerful in these decks nonetheless. It grants +2/+0 to its creature and adds “knight” to its existing types. Those are only the icing; the cake is creating lots and lots of attacking 2/2 knights.
Embercleave came with a bang with Throne of Eldraine and has been one of the most common equipments in a lot of decks and formats. It costs six mana to cast but, if you’ve already established a small army on the battlefield (and most of the time you will have), you can cast it for cheaper, possibly even free. It also attaches itself to a creature without any cost. Considering it grants both trample and double strike, it’s got great value.
Perfect Pioneer Pieces
Keep in mind that most of these cards can be used in other formats, hence the list for Pioneer being very short. Equipment cards in Historic can all be used in Pioneer, some cards from Modern can be used in Commander, and so on. There are literally hundreds of different equipment cards, but I’ve tried to list the ones that are used very commonly and generally accepted as the most useful.
This one is a beast of an equipment card that’s very cheap and incredibly effective. It provides +3/+3 to its creature, which is already a decent value, but it’s terrifying in that you can both exile your opponent’s defending creatures and prevent them from casting duplicate creatures.
There are lots of token-based decks in Pioneer, and Captain’s Claws fits right in. It’s relatively cheap so you can play it on turn 2 or 3 and keep creating tokens right out of the gate.
The Importance of Equipment in Different Formats
Ultimately, my opinion should be pretty clear: equipment is a big deal in MTG. However, their importance varies depending on the formats, so I’ll try to give you an idea on why this is the case.
Helm of the Host | Illustration by Igor Kieryluk
This is probably the best way* to play Magic and players have access to a huge number of cards in this format. This means that you’ll see lots of powerful cards and almost every deck will have a good offensive and defensive balance. You’ll probably be playing with three other players, which makes the game even more complicated.
The decks are singleton, you have more opponents, 21 commander damage means defeat… There are just too many different threats coming at you. If you don’t use any equipments, your creatures will be more vulnerable, you’ll have fewer win conditions, and you’ll lose some great combos. Commander is the format in which equipment cards are most important.
The Rest: Modern, Standard, Historic, and Pioneer
I still think equipment cards are a good addition in these formats, but not as much as in Commander. The Standard meta changes all the time, so it depends on what the new sets will bring. Other than incredibly powerful cards like Embercleave, Standard has recently been about going WAY over the top, often by ramping. Equipment doesn’t matter too much there.
In Modern, Historic, and Pioneer, equipment cards are still used to enable some plays, but people tend to go for alternatives. This is mainly because they’re not singleton formats. If you have another copy of a creature, you don’t need to protect it since you have the chance to double the size of your army. Also, most decks’ gameplans are more powerful than grinding out value attacking with creatures.
Tiana, Ship’s Caretaker | Illustration by Eric Deschamps
Best Ways to Run Equipment Decks
Let’s start with the most important question: What are the best colors to run equipment decks? The answer is red and white. Plain and simple.
RW decks are almost always focused on hitting hard and they typically have lots of creatures with double-strike, vigilance, and lifelink. They also have lots of creatures with abilities focused on being equipped, like Kazuul’s Toll Collector, which maximizes the output of equipment cards.
There are a lot of white cards that provide a variety of bonuses while using equipment cards. Stone Haven Outfitter, Sigarda’s Aid, and Puresteel Paladin are just three examples. Meanwhile, red has a lot of creatures that get great bonuses like Valduk, Keeper of the Flame, Champion of the Flame, and Vulshok Battlemaster.
What about equipment support? These are cards that make it easier to equip your creatures either by lowering their costs, attaching them directly to creatures, or tutoring them. Stoneforge Mystic is probably the best and most well-known example. There are lots of others, but let’s stick to some classics and keep it short: Danitha Capashen, Paragon and Steelshaper’s Gift.
Godsend | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren
I hope I was able to give you at least a vague idea on equipment in MTG. There are plenty of uses for them, so go forth and experiment! A timely Embercleave can get you to high levels in tournaments, so make sure you try out some equipment cards if you’re aiming for the top.
And as always, feel free to share your comments below and we’ll chat. For now, have fun, stay safe, and I’ll see you next time!
Stoneforge Mystic | Illustration by Mike Bierek