Last updated on May 2, 2023
Talisman of Dominance (Secret Lair) | Illustration by Dan Frazier
In traditional lore a Talisman is an object imbued with magic that can bring luck or healing or protection. Magic has had a lot of different kinds of objects that serve those purposes in game lore over the years, including the roughly synonymous Amulets and Charms.
But what are the Talismans in Magic, and why do you absolutely need to play more of these in your Commander decks? Read on to find out!
What Are Talismans in MTG?
Sol Talisman | Illustration by Volkan Baga
All Talismans in Magic are artifacts, and most of them fit into one of two cycles.
The first are the Talismans from Ice Age. These are all 2-mana artifacts with an activated ability that allows its controller to pay three to untap a permanent in response to a spell of a certain color. Potentially powerful, but these cards were just too mana-intensive to see much play.
The second cycle started in Mirrodin. These are 2-mana artifacts that tap for colorless or one of an allied color pair with the cost that it does one damage to you. These became must-have cards in Commander where the few mana rocks that cost less than three were a premium. This cycle was finished with the enemy color pairs in Modern Horizons.
There have been a few other Talismans along the way, including a few more recent colored ones that are starting to open up the possibility space for these artifacts.
All of the Ice Age Talismans see very little play. They’d honestly still be far below rate even if the spell trigger wasn’t there and you could pay three to untap something at will. Just compare the lot of them to Deceiver Exarch!
#21. Onyx Talisman
The bottom of the list is Onyx Talisman. Black just doesn’t want this kind of effect for this kind of price. You can combo with this, Isochron Scepter, and something like Songs of the Damned, but everything combos with the Scepter so you’ve got more efficient options.
As with all of these old school Talismans you could play them in any deck regardless of color, but that’s even less efficient than matching colors in your deck you know will see play.
#20. Malachite Talisman
Green also has self-bouncing things that enable Orrery combos, like Whip Silk. Malachite Talisman can otherwise fit into builds with Orrery alternatives in green like Marwyn, the Nurturer.
But it’s just easier in green to untap things with creatures like Seeker of Skybreak.
#19. Hematite Talisman
Red doesn’t especially want this effect either, but it’s got the most pinger creatures you can overpay to use twice with Hematite Talisman. You can always go with Chromatic Orrery and Crown of Flames to go infinite in various ways, but should have already won the game if you can hard cast an Orrery you.
This card and the next are both on color for Zirda, the Dawnwaker. Untapping for one mana is a pretty good deal. If you have one lying around and you’ve got a Zirda deck, maybe give it a go.
#18. Nacre Talisman
In white you’ve got Whitemane Lion and friends along with auras like Flickering Ward for Orrery stuff, and in blink decks all of that might work out better. You’re on color for Zirda, so there’s that.
I’ve got all of these Talismans left over from my boomer Ice Age collection, so I put Nacre Talisman and the next one in my Shorikai, Genesis Engine deck, but they’re too slow even in that card draw extravaganza deck. There are just other powerful options to untap Shorikai.
#17. Lapis Lazuli Talisman
You’ve got your Shrieking Drake and friends as well as Shimmering Wings for the Orrery. Blue leans into untappers like Aphetto Alchemist and Voltaic Key anyway, so Lapis Lazuli Talisman might help round out some janky brew in blue.
You’ve also got the OG pinger, Tim himself, Prodigal Sorcerer, and you can slap a Curiosity on it in this color and go to town, I guess?
#16. Trickster’s Talisman
We all tried to make this work in Ingenious Smith affinity-lite decks in Standard, but Trickster's Talisman never quite got there, even with Lithoform Engine. This card is asking a lot to enable you to copy a creature to be fair.
Still, it gets played in Sakashima of a Thousand Faces decks, and that makes sense.
#15. Reaper’s Talisman
Reaper's Talisman was a nice card in Forgotten Realms Draft, and it was super annoying when wielded by a first striker or double striker in its Standard.
I don’t think this is quite the right rate for EDH, but it only costs one mana and synergizes with black drain and gain decks like Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, so maybe?
#14. Pristine Talisman
Manalith is now almost unplayable in Commander thanks to some of the Talismans I’ll get to in a minute, but the lifegain part of Pristine Talisman makes it useful in EDH decks ranging from Dina, the Soul Steeper to Oloro, Ageless Ascetic.
#13. Sol Talisman
A “fixed” Sol Ring? The earliest Sol Talisman can come down in EDH is on turn 3 barring any time counter manipulation. And then you did this instead of a 1-drop? I’m not here for it in general.
But this card is nice for commanders that like things in exile, like Vega, the Watcher. It’s also a pretty good thing in decks where the mana cost of artifacts matter, from Ao, the Dawn Sky to Tameshi, Reality Architect. And it’s probably a thing you want in your Eldrazi deck. All colorless ramp is welcome there, it seems.
#12. Bloodsprout Talisman
This Alchemy card is just waiting to be busted. Folks are already strapping Bloodsprout Talisman into Historic builds with Acererak the Archlich.
More will come assuming everyone keeps playing Alchemy formats, which is not a given.
#11. Wishclaw Talisman
Wishclaw Talisman is a reasonably cheap tutor at a total cost to search of three mana. If you’re going to win the game the turn you crack it that is, which is where it fits in the cEDH universe. Because you can choose who gets the Talisman out of multiple opponents in Commander that could be some interesting politics, and I’d include it for that reason alone.
You could always leave it up with the threat that you’ll fetch up an Opposition Agent to punish the first person to tutor up something broken? I mean, that’s some delicious hypocrisy!
#10. Talisman of Unity
The rest of the Talismans are all 2-mana rocks that are only bested by Arcane Signet and whatever Moxen are legal for EDH colored mana. The bottom line is that if you’re running the colors in question and can afford the Talismans from here on out you should run them in your Commander deck, full stop.
Selesnya () decks often top out at 4-mana spells, so that makes Talisman of Unity a bit less necessary in that color pair. Not to mention that this is less of a priority on turn 2 with access to green creature ramp and Cultivate.
#9. Talisman of Impulse
Gruul () has similar access to green ramp and minimal artifact synergies, at least until the recent printing of Meria, Scholar of Antiquity. So maybe things are looking up for Talisman of Impulse?
#8. Talisman of Curiosity
The color of rampant ramp and card draw, Simic () isn’t necessarily as interested in Talisman of Curiosity as you might expect. But the busted commander Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy doubling its mana explains a lot of this card’s use.
#7. Talisman of Resilience
Talisman of Resilience doesn’t have a lot of synergies with most Golgari () decks, but there are a few that really want it. Willowdusk, Essence Seer likes the life loss. Glissa, the Traitor and Baba Lysaga, Night Witch like the artifact synergies.
Black and green have access to other kinds of powerful ramp otherwise.
#6. Talisman of Progress
Azorius () has some interesting synergies with artifacts and also tends to run expensive spells, so Talisman of Progress is welcome. Often used in multicolor Jeskai () or Esper () builds with Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker and a partner, this is good ramp and fixing in colors that often have artifact synergies.
#5. Talisman of Conviction
Boros () and artifacts. Two great tastes that taste great together.
Talisman of Conviction helps power out expensive commanders like Velomachus Lorehold plus cheaper commanders with artifact synergies like Akiri, Line-Slinger.
#4. Talisman of Indulgence
Rakdos () not only wants to cast expensive top end spells for which Talisman of Indulgence is a great help, but it also has artifact-synergy monster Prosper, Tome-Bound as one of its most popular leaders.
And commanders like Rakdos, Lord of Riots synergize with the life loss part of the Talismans, which makes this an extra tasty indulgence.
#3. Talisman of Hierarchy
Orzhov () builds can have a lot of expensive spells. Take Liesa, Shroud of Dusk for example. Talisman of Hierarchy is even more helpful for Esper commanders.
#2. Talisman of Creativity
Izzet () spellslinger decks might not want ramp of this kind, but there are more expensive commanders like Kraum, Ludevic's Opus that can really use the extra help getting onto the table. Talisman of Creativity is also quite useful for Izzet artifacts decks like Jhoira, Ageless Innovator and Saheeli, the Gifted.
#1. Talisman of Dominance
Dimir () is such a popular color combo in Commander, whether it’s anchoring control builds or supporting tribal decks like Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver and Captain N’ghathrod.
Adding a color for Esper or Grixis () opens up other spaces, making Talisman of Dominance really useful in a lot of decks.
Best Talisman Payoffs
Talismans are generally key cards in most decks, and I wonder why we don’t see them more often given how much Arcane Signet, Fellwar Stone, and the other Signets are played. Maybe players are concerned for the life loss? This seems unwise in Commander where you start with 40 life.
One approach to 5-color decks is to focus on one color and ramp it, usually green, and drop more expensive mana rocks like Commander's Sphere to smooth out the mana. The Talismans don’t usually make the cut. I’d rather replace the 3-drop rocks with the four Talismans and four Signets in green in every case.
If you get the goods and Sol Ring turn 1 into two Talismans on turn 2, that’s so much better than a Chromatic Lantern on 2. The 3-mana rock isn’t going to cats Jodah, the Unifier alone, and the Talismans help power out the spells and rocks you need to get to five colors faster.
Life Loss Decks
Decks ranging in power from Willowdusk, Essence Seer to various Rakdos decks to any deck with multiple colors that plays Vilis, Broker of Blood all provide some sort of reward for life loss. Talismans provide easy access to that very quickly.
It’s obvious that you want to include artifacts in artifact decks, sure. But the speed of most decks with an artifact theme makes running 3-mana rocks almost impossible.
Talismans vs. Signets
My hot take is that Talismans are better than the color pair Signets, full stop. You should play both in your decks to ramp and fix mana, but if you have room for only one, go Talisman.
Signets take one colorless mana and convert it into one each of its pair’s two colors. That’s powerful, but it’s not as good even though these Signets are far more commonly played in Commander.
Here’s why. You’ve got two Islands and an Azorius Signet in play with your control deck. You can’t cast Archmage's Charm because of the Signet’s filtering requirements. This doesn’t always come up and it may not be an issue with enough dual lands, but expensive cards with stringent mana requirements like Eerie Ultimatum or Niv-Mizzet, Parun always work best with Talismans over Signets.
Not to mention that there’s a constant tension on turns where you want to double spell, say turn 5+, when those mana pips start to stack up and you might be caught out unable to cast what you need on a critical turn.
So the answer is to run both Signets and Talismans, but I see a lot of players running only Signets and no Talismans. That seems like too big a risk.
Talisman of Conviction (Modern Horizons) | Illustration by Lindsey Look
The return of pain lands like Caves of Koilos to Standard in Dominaria United might make players a bit more familiar with exactly how much life loss is manageable to make a functional mana base. And that’s good because Talismans are some of the most efficient mana rocks in the game and should be a part of your Commander strategy.
What do you think of these Talismans? Do you agree when it comes to Talismans vs. Signets? Let me know in the comments below or over on the Draftsim Twitter.
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