Commander Spotlight: Nim Deathmantle

After our miniseries on two-color cards was wrapping up, we knew we didn’t want to jump right back in to any particular color just yet. Part of this was to avoid possible color favoritism, but, mostly, it was because after going 11 weeks without mentioning the colorless branch of Magic didn’t seem quite right. So, spoiler: today’s pick is an artifact. Luckily, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t enjoy some kind of artifacts for their decks.

The argument over whether there is a colorless identity has existed almost as long as the game itself. The argument states that there can’t be one since the vast majority of artifacts simply mimic the abilities of a given color ability. The tradeoff for being colorless, and therefore being accessible to any deck, is they are more costly than their colored counterparts. Jayemdae Tome is Blue’s card draw, Pentagram of the Ages is White’s damage prevention, Rod of Ruin is Red’s damage dealing, and so on. That isn’t a color pie, they say; it’s just bad substitutes. Some purists even go further and ask why someone would even bother with a more-costly version of the same effect.

To be fair, for quite some time, that argument tended to hold up when it came to artifact creatures – which for much of the game’s formative years were under-powered, over-costed, easier to kill replicas of what any color could manage.

As the game has evolved, however, things in the artifact world have changed with it. Artifacts have been vastly expanded. The designers are much more discerning over what constitutes an enchantment versus an artifact, for one. (Some cards over the years really could have gone either way.) Cards that depict armaments like Tawnos’s Weaponry are now properly designed as equipment. And artifact creatures have certainly gotten much, much better as well – though the majority of them still will never outclass their non-construct cousins. When they add in thematic elements such as animation, “artifacts matter” mechanics, and resonant creature types like the Chimera, Myr, or Golems, it’s evident that this old argument has lost a lot of it’s potency.

In all areas save one, artifacts are pushed to do more and be  more than a simple facsimile of a color’s traits. (They remove aggressive mana production – i.e. Lotus Petal, Sol Ring, Grim Monolith, etc.). And sure, colorless cards, by their nature, will always bear some kind of reflection to the attributes they’re borrowing. This is perfectly fine though, especially now that there is an obvious methodology to what abilities are allowed to bleed into the colorless (and therefore open) realm. But they have grown to encapsulate some of their own style that is markedly different than any of the five colors. It’s apparent nowadays that a colorless philosophy does, in fact, exist, even if it is only a small sliver of the overall color pie.

So let’s look at one such modern example. Today we have: Nim Deathmantle

Name: Nim Deathmantle

Edition: Scars of Mirrodin

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Creature Evasion / Creature Reanimation

Highlights: Nim Deathmantle certainly feels like accursed armor when inspecting it. At first glance it just seems a bit off, probably because it’s a card with stapled abilities. However, that’s because the Deathmantle is really doing two different things.

The first aspect is combat-based. It is turning whatever creature you are equipping into an intimidating Black Zombie. In Commander, evasion is always a plus, and intimidate certainly doesn’t hurt when you’re trying to punch through a line of defenders with your Darksteel Colossus or suped-up Taurean Mauler.

Or perhaps you want to pelt someone with Commander damage with Skullbriar over and over till they’re dead.

In that sense, the +2/+2 almost feels wasted. Almost. If they can block, then it still gives you a nice bonus.

The second aspect is a bit craftier. The ability is from the overlapping reanimation territory of Black and White – the closest card that matches what this card is doing is actually Purgatory of all things. At first blush, the 4 mana trigger seems costly, but the ability to quickly return your heavy hitter to the battlefield is worth the investment. You can also use it on your Commander if you opt not to let them return to Valhalla. Or it can be part of any number of combo tricks. The part that’s often overlooked with the Deathmantle’s triggered ability the most though is that it doesn’t just apply to the creature that’s equipped: it works on any creature you own.

Yes, it even will work while unequipped. Like any good Necron armor, even if it’s just sitting there inanimately for several thousand turns doesn’t mean it can’t lumber to life at a moment’s notice. That may explain why it’s generally considered such a frustrating piece of equipment to contend with if it stays around long. Honestly, no one wants to deal with a Necron in their territory.

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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