The gift of mythical weapons, from the gods to heroes, plays a pivotal role in fantasy narrative. There are endless examples where the champion of good and justice receives aid in the form of mythical weapons or objects to help in their quest. The Pantheon of Gods gives Perseus the magical sword, shield and helm. The Lady of the Lake, clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by divine providence that Arthur would become King. The Sorceress gave Prince Adam the Sword of Power and made him the Champion of Grayskull and the power to transform into He-Man. And finally, Wizards of the Coast released Mirrodin in 2003, releasing some of the best Equipment cards ever since.
The concept of heroes using incredible weapons in battle is literally as old as stories themselves! No kidding – if you were to take a look at ancient literature from nearly every culture that has ever lived, there are examples of the gods bestowing heroes with incredible weapons and tools in their quests.
In all fairness, even before the Equipment mechanic was unveiled way back in 2003, there were attempts by design to provide additional weaponry for creatures in play to pick up and battle with:
And my personal favorite proto-Equipment…
As you can see, weapons were sort of all over the place with no clear mechanical functionality. The innovation of the Equipment and equip mechanics in Mirrodin block clarified and streamlined how weapons should and would work in terms of gameplay in a very satisfying way.
Mirrodin is the oldest expansion legal in the Modern format and stands as the breakpoint between Modern and premodern sets. With that said, I would argue that Equipment (introduced in the first Modern set) is the best and most elegant mechanic created since, for a couple of reasons.
First, in terms of narrative flavor, it allows for something players would actively want to do: give a creature in play an incredible weapon and allow it to go ham on the battlefield like Perseus, Arthur or He-Man.
Second, the actual mechanic by which this dynamic is achieved is incredibly well-designed and plays extremely well. In my Battle Box, I’m always actively looking to add more Equipment cards because they’re so fun to play with, as they give players choices as well as useful mana sinks. Equipment is simply a great mechanic and it’s so good it feels like it’s always been a part of the game, despite the fact that it wasn’t around for the first decade of expansions!
Equipment has been a signature part of Magic for nearly 20 years now, but a really important moment in the history of Equipment occurred back in 2010.
Stoneforge Mystic is a creature that significantly upped the value of adding Equipment to your deck. In fact, Stoneforge Mystic is widely considered to be one of the pound-for-pound best creatures ever to see print! It also sort of changed what kind of Equipment cards could and would be printed afterward (since R&D would always have to account for how powerful tutoring for it with SFM would be). As you’ll see from my list, many of the most powerful Equipment of all time came from the first seven (pre-SFM) years of design.
Alright, enough “Equipment hype” – let’s talk about the best Equipment cards of all time!
I was kind of surprised how many fantastic Equipment cards have seen print over the past 20 years. There were so many that I couldn’t fit them all onto my list!
I love this card! The first deck I ever played Stoneforge Mystic in didn’t have access to Scars of Mirrodin’s incredible armory. It was a Vengevine and Bloodbraid Elf-based deck that used Stoneforge Mystic to tutor up Basilisk Collar and Sword of Vengeance. The deck also played a full spread of Cunning Sparkmage and using the Collar to give a pinger deathtouch is very, very nice.
Another fun card from the days of yore. I loved Runechanter’s Pike in my Thought Scour/Snapcaster Mage/Lingering Souls deck. It was a “fun-of” that essentially turned every Spirit token into “The Abyss” once equipped, meaning the opponent must chump block it or lose the game to damage.
Manriki-Gusari is one of the Equipment cards I’ve actually put into my 75 card Legacy Constructed decks the most! I played a lot of Stoneblade when Stoneblade mirrors were very popular and this Equipment-killing Equipment was a huge edge out of the sideboard.
Sunforger is an Equipment card that I have fond memories of that has also become a very potent option for Commander play in recent years. I distinctly remember Michael Jacob building an absolutely buck wild Sunforger and Three Dreams midrange deck and playing it at the Michigan State Championships back in 2006.
Last, but possibly also least….
Perhaps not a Constructed powerhouse like most of the other cards featured in the article, but assembling Kaldra is cool flavor and sort of a Magic bucket list way to win a game.
Alright, let’s get to the Top 8!
You could sacrifice the Sword of the Meek to the Thopter Foundry to create a 1/1 flying Thopter token and gain a life. When the trigger resolved and the 1/1 Thopter token entered the battlefield, the freshly sacrificed Sword of the Meek in the graveyard would trigger and return to play: rinse and repeat ad nauseam.
SoTM was half of the powerful one-two punch that combined to form the powerful Thopter Depths archetype, which is one of the first decks that comes to mind when I think of truly outstanding constructed powerhouse archetypes.
Thopter Depths by by Adam Yurchick, 1st Place GP Houston
Sword of the Meek is a unique example of an Equipment card that functioned as a straight-up combo piece in one of the best decks ever created and thus earns a spot on today’s list.
Embercleave is an example of fairly recent Equipment that really pushes the boundary of what an Equipment could or should be. In fact, it functions much more like a combat trick than traditional notions of using Equipment to grind opponents out a game.
Embercleave can be cast and directly equipped at instant speed inside of combat which allows it to function like a one-card Blood Lust and Berserk combo, all in one tight package! It’s certainly the type of Equipment red mages had long hoped for.
The first Mirrodin block is an absolute trove of incredible Equipment. In all fairness, R&D were likely doing a lot of experimenting with what would or would not work as Equipment, which is why so many incredibly powerful cards come from 2003 to 2004.
It also didn’t hurt Cranial Plating’s chances of success that it was slotted into both Standard and Block Constructed format with actual artifact lands!
Cranial Plating was eventually banned in Block and Standard (along with a huge slew of other cards from the Affinity archetype) but it found a consistent home in Modern Affinity decks for a decade up until the archetype was blown up by the banning of Mox Opal.
I’m selecting Sword of Feast and Famine for my list, but the entire “Sword of X and Y” cycle is worth mentioning here:
The Sword of X and Y cycle extends back to the first Mirrodin block, was expanded upon in Scars of Mirrodin block and again in Modern Horizons. It’s sort of a neat thematic weaponry that has been unpacked over nearly 20 years.
I went with Sword of Feast and Famine on my list because of the pivotal role the card played in the Caw Blade archetype where it could be searched up with Stoneforge Mystic and equipped to a never-ending fleet of evasive Squadron Hawks. The ability to untap all of your mana while also taxing an opponent’s hand was and still is an absolutely devastating strategy. I also think what gives Feast and Famine the advantage in terms of a list is that it did combine to foster one of the best decks of all time (unlike the other Swords in the cycle). I would certainly give Caw Blade the same type of “all-time great deck” status as Thopter Depths and the Equipment angle played a pivotal role.
Sword of Feast and Famine’s success was also largely contingent upon appearing in the same Constructed context as Stoneforge Mystic. I mentioned earlier that everything that comes after SFM is informed by the existence of SFM. Well, Scars of Mirrodin block has some examples of Equipment like Sword of Feast and Famine where it wasn’t understood exactly how game-breaking Stoneforge would be in terms of power and tactics.
Aside from cards like Birthing Pod, Gitaxian Probe and Mental Misstep which utilized the Phyrexian mana mechanic, allowing players to pay life instead of mana to cast spells (which was an absolute disaster of a mechanic), Batterskull is right up there as one of the most busted cards from one of the most busted sets of all time.
Batterskull has incredible synergy with Stoneforge Mystic. Not only can SFM find the Batterskull upon entering play but can also put the five-mana Equipment directly onto the battlefield for 1W the following term with its ability. It feels very much like casting a Tinker variant.
It’s also highly significant that Batterskull has the living weapon ability, which is a fantastic twist on the traditional Equipment template. Living weapon means that Batterskull enters play with a 0/0 body that it automatically equips to, which is thus a 4/4 with lifelink and vigilance. As if all of this was not enough, Batterskull also has another ability which allows its contoller to return it to their hand for three mana to be redeployed with a fresh Germ body.
Batterskull is an incredible attrition-based threat and I’ve played it in decks that didn’t even feature SFM. It’s that good!
Lightning Greaves is the most played Equipment card in the most played Magic format: Commander.
It’s the first card to feature the ability to equip for zero mana. Free equip is something that you don’t see very often (and for good reason!) because it’s so powerful.
Haste and shroud are fantastic abilities to give a big monster (or, commander) as well as creatures with abilities that require a tap to activate. I’ve definitely included Lightning Greaves in decks with Goblin Welder, for instance, as a way to get those Welders active lickity-split.
Skullclamp was the first truly “busted” Equipment ever to see print. I scoured the internet to find this:
It’s a link to the 2004 Darksteel spoiler reveal of Skullclamp. I still vividly remember reading this for the first time nearly 20 years ago and thinking, “This card is utterly deranged…” It’s funny too because rereading the article, it really feels like they knew the card was going to be a monumental problem.
Keep in mind, the card was not preemptively banned or anything, so it was legal in Ravager Affinity and Elves decks in Standard. The card’s so powerful that I’ve played with it in Vintage many times. The reason I didn’t give Skullclamp the top slot on my list is that it has spent a significant amount of it’s Magic history banned in most places because it’s a broken card. If you’re looking for the most busted Equipment of all time, I have no issue with flipping the top two slots around, but in terms of Magic’s legacy, it’s important to note Skullclamp has spent most of its days on the sidelines of most formats (where it belongs!).
No matter how you pronounce it (or mispronounce it), this Jitte is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S. It was the signature card from the Betrayers of Kamigawa expansion and absolutely dominated Standard and Block Constructed.
Let me tell you about Jitte in the abstract. Back in the day, Magic prereleases were not held at every LGS, but rather were held regionally at either a handful of flagship stores or convention centers. The Betrayers of Kamigawa prerelease for Michigan was held in Frankenmuth, which was roughly an hour drive from the Detroit Metro area. I drove to this prerelease (known to Michiganders as Prerelease Snowstorm) in a blizzard and my car actually spun out on the expressway on the way there. Luckily, nobody was hurt and we were still able to make it in time for the main event.
For venturing into the danger of a blizzard to play Magic on a Saturday, the gods of Kamigawa blessed me with an Umezawa’s Jitte in my sealed pool. I did not lose a match.
Here’s the important thing about Umezawa’s Jitte. I would cast it every single round and my opponent would read it. Then a turn cycle would go by and my opponent realized how the game was going to play out (not well for them!) and would call a judge and ask “Is this really how this card works?” Then the judge would read the card (at least in the early rounds) and be like “Yeah, that’s how it works.”
It was one of the weirdest Magic experiences I’ve ever had. We were all reading the text of the card for the first time, but it was difficult to believe what our eyes were showing us. How is this a card? It’s not even remotely fair! We must be reading it wrong! Nobody’s eyes were deceiving them; the card was actually just that busted.
Umezawa’s Jitte has been a powerhouse across multiple Constructed formats. Wherever there are little critters that need to be pruned back and/or life that needs to be gained in a racing situation, Jitte is the right tool for the job (assuming it’s legal!).
That about wraps up my discussion of the best Equipment cards ever printed. I hope you enjoyed it! Equipment is such a sweet mechanic. I mentioned that I believe it’s the best original mechanic to be designed in the Modern era and after writing this article, I stand by that statement. It’s both elegant, flavorful and highly functional at all levels of play. Equipment cards are as satisfying to play in Constructed as they are useful in Draft and vice versa.