Commander Spotlight: Armadillo Cloak

Keywords. These days, it seems both the players and designers of Magic have a fascination with keywords. Whether this is for purposes of rules clarity, set flavor, or simply because someone figured out a card is more salable with them, there has been an uptick in the use of keywords and ability words in recent years. This doesn’t mean the number of mechanics or abilities overall – those stay mostly static from set to set as they don’t want to clog them up in complexity. You know, for fear of it being less marketable. Rather, recent years – especially since the onset of Magic 2010 – there has been a concerted effort to keyword long-standing mechanics and / or shoehorn cards under a singular ability keyword.

Except milling. Because apparently even though that’s what players have been calling it since 1993, they refuse to keyword it because it’s too meta or something. Why not take a page from the L5R book and throw it into the game? What better nod to the players that keep the designers in business than to incorporate a longstanding ability word tradition?

I for one won’t be getting my hopes up there. It’ll get keyworded eventually, and it’ll be terribly boring. Like Menace. But I digress.

Yes, the continual march of keywording moves ever onward, often with minor to no consequence besides the tired grumblings of a seasoned Magic player annoyed at all the kids on his lawn.

Often…but not always. In many corner cases, having something keyworded can change how one card interacts with another. Take for example Web or Aspect of Mongoose. As originally printed both of these Auras gave the creature some kind of benefit without the creature gaining the ability itself – something vitally important when interacting with cards like Sudden Spoiling or Muraganda Petroglyphs. However, once reach and shroud became keyworded, the cards’ effects go from stating a truth about the enchanted creature to that creature gaining or having an ability. The most recent example, inconsequential as it may be, is with Scry being granted evergreen status and the changing of Darksteel Pendant and Soldevi Excavactions (a personal card favorite of mine) to now say Scry 1 instead.

For most people, these nuanced changes largely don’t matter, but for someone who enjoys doing wonky things, I sit up and take notice every time some old ability is keyworded. For instance, I quickly noticed Soldevi Excacations will now trigger Flamespeaker Adept.

Aside from long standing abilities being given keyword names like Reach or Shroud, the most famous keyword change in the game centered around Lifelink. Twice, in fact.

I’ve harped on this once before, but when Lifelink was first created, it keyworded an already existing set of cards (Spirit Link, Genju of the Fields, etc.), and in the case of Loxodon Warhammer, they actually reprinted the card with its new terminology. This first change iteration was akin to another Menace / Reach / Domain situation, keywording or ability wording something that was already in existence because…reasons. Then the M10 rules changes hit and Lifelink went from being a triggered ability that could stack to a static aspect of how that creature dealt damage that could not stack.

While the two dozen or so cards were reverted to their pre-Lifelink statuses, the Warhammer was a casualty of this second change, left with the “new” Lifelink functionality and a lot of player confusion in perpetuity as to why 25 or so cards don’t don’t have Lifelink errata. In practical terms, this also meant that because these two abilities were now different than one another, for simplicity they would only pursue making Lifelink cards going forward.

Thus, the insistence on keywording for keywording’s sake – whether the reasons behind them are benevolent or not – effectively removed a card ability from likely ever seeing the light of day again outside of supplemental product, much like Intimidate did to Fear. It may indeed be an unintended consequence of the game’s forward march, but as a Magic veteran I still take mild umbrage with older abilities being eliminated for the sake of streamlining effects for newer players.

This eye rolling is partially why in my new Ramses Overdark Commander deck I chose Vampiric Link over something like Eternal Thirst. It’s also entirely the reason we have the card we do this week.

Today we have: Armadillo Cloak

Armadillo Cloak

Name: Armadillo Cloak

Edition: Invasion / Archenemy / Phyrexia vs Coalition

Rarity: Common

Focus: Life Gain / Creature Buffing

Highlights: As we explored once before in addressing Spiritualize, both Lifelink and ‘Spirit Link’ (as it’s clever known) have their uses. Lifelink is incredibly useful in situations where a creature dealing damage during combat is essential for you to survive, for example. The one major shortcoming of these earlier cards is precisely that: if you would die before the life gain trigger happens, you still die.

The implications in games like Commander, however, are often worth the tradeoff.

For starters, Armadillo Cloak can be played on any creature to your benefit, unlike its modern cousin Unflinching Courage. If you were to enchant another player’s creature with Unflinching Courage, that creature’s controller gains the life – thanks to keywording – whereas with Armadillo Cloak, you are the one to always benefit. Enchanting another player’s creature serves two major purposes.

First, so long as you can survive being hit by whatever opposing creature you cast it on, that creature no longer can hurt you (for the most part), making it a great deterrent with an opponent who is looking to dish out some damage. Secondly, which ties into the first point, is that if that player attacks a different opponent, you reap the lifegain rewards of their combat. Since Armadillo Cloak provides both a creature buff and Trample to boot, casting it on an aggressive creature can create some very interesting political situations where you very well can benefit.

That said, there’s nothing to stop that creature from running at you out of spite. So, you know, bear that in mind.

You are equally likely to cast Armadillo Cloak on your own creature, though. For an almost laughable three mana, this Aura provides a hefty creature advantage in the form of buffing, Trample, and lifegain. Plus, since it isn’t Lifelink proper, it also stacks with a Lifelink creature of your own for double the effect. What’s more, although more transient in Commander games than its equipment-based sibling Behemoth Sledge, Armadillo Cloak is both more of a surprise and quicker to get into use in a game, making it the better tool for coming out of the gate swinging. And swinging hard at that.

It’s not easy to find a cost effective Aura that is both advantageous on offense and defense simultaneously, but Armadillo Cloak is an easy candidate for doing exactly that. It was a powerful and feared card when it was created, and little has changed since. Mostly, as a matter of fact, because it escaped being keyworded.

Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.

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