The five most expensive cards from Darksteel

BISMARCK, ND (KXNET) — During our introduction to the Plane of Mirrodin, we learned about the tale of Glissa the Elf, Slobad the Goblin, and Bosh the Iron Golem — who banded together to discover the secret behind Glissa’s special power amidst the diabolical designs of the mad machine Memnarch. Now, the team finds themselves in a conspiracy involving giant holes known as Lacuna, corrupt councils, addictive mind-opening serum, and a plot that threatens to reshape the metal world as they know it.

Upon diving into the Blue Lacuna, the fire-forged friends find themselves in the hollow center of Mirrodin, where they encounter a vicious steel behemoth known as Malil. This enforcer acts as the eyes and ears of the Plane’s ruler Memnarch, who for some reason has taken a particular interest in Glissa. Just as the monster moves to capture her, the Elf’s destructive power activates again, reducing many of the assailants to rubble.

As the trio escape from the hole, they discover that Bosh is slowly starting to transform from iron to flesh, before returning to the Trolls of the Tangle to seek answers. When they arrive, they are greeted by the group’s new leader Drooge, who informs Glissa that a sword she recovered from their previous leader Chunt is, in fact, the Sword of Kaldra. He promptly gifts her the Shield of the same name, and states that if the group seeks to defeat Memnarch, they must seek out the Helm — which will allow them to summon Kaldra’s avatar, who will serve as a powerful ally in the battle. Just as Drooge relays the information, however, the forest is attacked by Malil, and Slobad is kidnapped before promptly being saved by a large talking wolf.

At the same time as these adventures, Memnarch is revealed to have become completely addicted to the inspirational serum, and like Bosh, is slowly turning from metal into meat. The former cold, emotionless machine, while still the de facto ruler of Mirrodin, has been reduced to a gibbering heap, constantly arguing with hallucinations of his creator, the Golem/Planeswalker known as Karn.

Meanwhile, the Vedalken scientist Pontifex (who was knocked out during his last confrontation with the heroes) is outraged when his oligarchal council adds a fourth member due to their general dislike of him. In an attempt to regain power for himself, he seeks out the demented Memnarch, who instructs the Vedalken to bring back a “Piece of Divinity” found inside the Elvish hero.

It is here that Memnarch’s true motives are revealed: After taking the fact that Karn became a Planeswalker by fusing with former power-holder Urza into account, the mutated machine believes he can achieve the same power if both he and Glissa (who is believed to have latent powers) are destroyed at the same time — specifically, during the dawning of Mirrodin’s fifth sun. Pontifex also offers to be transformed into a golem to aid in the endeavor, but Memnarch refuses to do so, suggesting instead that he assist in Glissa’s capture as he is (which causes Pontifex’s hatred for her to grow even further).

As Glissa’s party is attacked by Pontifex’s forces on their way through the Mephidross, they strike a deal with the area’s ruler (Geth) for the Helm of Kaldra. With all three Artifacts combined, Slobad is able to summon the Kaldra Guardian, who quickly slaughters the invaders and drives Pontifex away (their talking wolf ally, sadly, does not survive the battle). Now fully prepared to battle the Plane’s evil overlord, the group descends into the core of Mirrodin via the Black Lacuna, eager to stop Memnarch once and for all.

Meanwhile, Pontifex returns to his former kingdom to discover that things have changed for the worse (at least, as far as he is concerned): The former oligarchy is now a free republic, and he is currently being hunted down by the other three members of his former organization who now rule it. After killing two and escaping with his second-in-command Marek, the wizard experiences a mental break, that leads him to take an interest in killing Glissa rather than capturing her.

Later, deep within the core of Mirrodin, Glissa is once again attacked by an army of constructs, but finds that her destructive power is no longer effective due to their new organic nature. However, the Elf is saved by the arrival of the two Vedalken — and when Marek realizes that Pontifex aims to murder their target (thus directly defying Memnarch’s will), the two engage in combat before finally killing one another.

After coming face-to-face with Memnarch, the team realizes with horror that his mastery of machinery allows him to take control of Kaldra’s Avatar, and Bosh is forced to sacrifice himself to give the others time to escape. Under the belief that they will be able to stand a chance on higher ground, Slobad and Glissa once again seek the consul of the Trolls in the Tangle — who state that the duo’s best chance of fighting the construct lies in the Radix (an area of extremely concentrated Green energy), and give their lives to stall the Guardian until they arrive there.

Just as the titan draws close to its targets, a massive burst of power shoots out of the Radix, obliterating the titan and sending both the Elf and Goblin rocketing through Memnarch’s fortress. The battle has been won for a time, but at a heavy cost: Bosh, the Trolls, and the Avatar of Kaldra are out of commission, and Slobad and Glissa are left to heal on the Tangle’s ground. Back in his encampment, a half-destroyed Memnarch continues to plot, and upon waking Malil from his daze, states that the duo has plenty of work to do before his plan is complete…

Like Mirrodin before it, Darksteel is particularly infamous for the way its multiple Artifacts exploded onto the tournament scene — particularly Aether Vial (a very effective way to cheat Creatures onto the field for free) and the simply absurd Skullclamp (which allows players to sacrifice weaker Creatures for a tremendous card advantage). Even if one puts aside these tournament terrors, though, there are still many cards introduced in the set — including Mycosynth Lattice, Nemesis Mask, and Trinisphere — that would later obtain their own levels of infamy, and the support it added for the Myr Creature Type (especially Genesis Chamber) see use in both Typal and Combo decks.

In another intriguing comparison to its predecessor, the two new Keywords introduced in Darksteel also saw varying degrees of success at different times throughout the game’s history. While Modular (which allows an Artifact Creature to transfer its stored power to another Creature upon its death) saw a fair amount of play upon its initial release, it has since been relegated to only occasional releases, Indestructible (which, as the name implies, prevents a Permanent from being destroyed through normal means) remains a mainstay of some of Magic’s strongest cards to this day.

This combination of valuable cards and masterful mechanics results in an extremely powerful set as a whole — as well as a very expensive one. In this week’s list, we’ve ventured into the forges of Mirrodin to retrieve what pricing site MTGGoldfish deems the Plane’s most valuable projects.

In many cases, early Magic mechanics were introduced with an entirely new line of themed cards that focused on using the Keywords to their maximum effect. In the case of Modular, this was represented by the Arcbound Creatures: a group ranging in power from the fairly weak Arcbound Worker to the towering Arcbound Overseer. Unexpectedly, though, it was the low-cost Arcbound Ravager that ended up as the most infamous member of this group, although those who are only familiar with more recent gameplay trends may not be able to fully understand why.

Generally, sacrificing a valuable Artifact is seen as an unfavorable trade-off in Commander play styles unless a deck has a consistent way to create new fodder or salvage previously-used material. In the context of this era of Magic, however, this ability allows Ravager to quickly grow to tremendous levels in a short period of time by sacrificing the abundance cheap or otherwise free items obtained through Affinity for Artifacts, and thus pose a threat extremely early into the game. Even if the card is blocked or destroyed, the Modular ability lets it transfer the bonuses it may have obtained to another Artifact Creature, thus ensuring the damage will still go through to its target (especially if the counters are given to an Ornithopter or other card with keywords that make it difficult to block). When combined with the lower Life totals and fast-paced nature of the older format, it makes perfect sense as to why a card like Ravager would stand out as the most notorious member of its sect.

Unfortunately for Arcbound Ravager, the years have not been kind to the card’s use: the advancement of Artifact-based strategies has led to it being replaced in many Vintage and Modern Affinity decks by cards like Cranial Plating and Nettlecyst (which can be equipped onto already-existing Creatures and gain bonuses without having to sacrifice Artifacts), and Commander Artifact strategies tend to focus more on Rube Goldberg combinations or Equipment piles than Modular rush-down tactics. This, of course, does not necessarily devalue the impact Ravager had during its debut… but does have the side effect of lowering its value on the secondary market.

Outside of the likes of the Power Nine and their offspring (namely the Lotus and Mox subtheme of cards), there are few collections of Artifacts in Magic history that are as powerful and infamous as the Mirran Swords. Despite a somewhat late start in terms of thematic inclusion (having not been released until Darksteel rather than Mirrodin), the first set of these mighty blades set the precedent for those yet to come — and as Sword of Light and Shadow proves, does so in terms of both power and price.

Offering a solid statistic boost is fine enough for a card from the early days of Equipment as a theme, but what makes these weapons unique comes in the other benefits they provide. Each Mirran Sword offers complete immunity to two colors of Mana (as well as any multicolor cards that include one or both of them), as well as a pair of powerful effects themed to the blocked attributes. In this case, Sword of Light and Shadow boasts the excellent ability to defend its wielder from both Black and White (both of which are known for their abundance of single-target and mass destruction spells) — and while its life gain effect is nothing special, a way to recycle valuable Creatures is always appreciated, even in decks that are primarily focused on Artifacts. This combination of skills is more than enough to propel it above most other pieces of Equipment at the time, and render it impressively strong even among modern weapons.

Although a majority of the Mirran Swords fetch fairly high prices on the secondary market, there are few that rival the price of their original Darksteel run, a fact made relatively clear by Light and Shadow’s placement on this list. However, it should be noted that it is still the least expensive of the introductory pair — which, of course, means that its sister sword will make its own appearance further down this week’s selection.

Arguably the most famous series of cards to have been released in Darksteel are, appropriately enough, the Darksteel line of Artifacts. While the actual uses of these cards include Mana Rocks and heavy weapons, their most important aspect is that every single member of the family boasts Indestructible as a natural keyword. Wherever these resilient pieces of metal came from, it stands to reason, would be a valuable asset for any Planeswalker to control — and as it happens, those who are willing to pay its high cost (in more ways than one) can do just that.

The ability to grant every Artifact on a player’s side of the field Indestructible is an extremely powerful one, and also a concept that requires very little explanation — but it should be noted that its effect can also apply to anything that is transformed into an Artifact. This allows it to be combined with abilities that forcibly convert other cards on the field into machines (such as Memnarch or Liquimetal Torque) and renders Artifacts very difficult to remove, a concept that is especially devastating when one seeks to combine it with heavy-hitting Artifact Creatures such as Metalwork Colossus or combo enablers like Arcum Dagsson.

With such a powerful ability and a fairly scarce number of reprints, it only stands to reason that it would fetch an impressive price on the secondary market. Strangely enough, though, it is not the Darksteel Forge in itself, but one of its finest creations that supplants it on this week’s list.

Cards that allow a player to immediately win their game of choice outside of the usual method are often difficult to come by in TCGS, and in many cases, those that do often require extremely difficult maneuvers or unlikely circumstances to actually work. However, as the number of cards available in these games increase, these options can often become much easier to take advantage of than their creators may have intended (to the point where instant wins like Yu-Gi-Oh’s Five Pieces of Exodia have entire decks centered around activating them as quickly as possible). This is especially the case in Magic: The Gathering — where unusual victory methods like Thassa’s Oracle and Laboratory Maniac are not only frequently employed in the game’s Commander format, but actively replace Life Damage as the sole win condition in many builds. Although Darksteel Reactor is not nearly as popular as many of these options, it is still worth mentioning as a unique method of winning the game from MTG’s earlier years, and one that would lay the groundwork for many others going forward.

Much like other cards that slowly gain more counters as the game progresses, the somewhat glacial pace of Darksteel Reactor often dissuades players from including it in their decks. Since its initial release, though, the addition of ways to add more counters to the card outside of your upkeep (such as the use of Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider or the Proliferate mechanic) allows a player to make their instant victory occur much faster than one would. This is especially the case with more recent additions to the game that add extra upkeep steps (and thus, more opportunities to place Charge Counters on the Reactor) to a player’s turn — particularly Obeka, Splitter of Seconds, who can effectively triple the amount of progress made towards the goal on her own. The Indestructible aspect, meanwhile, also allows Darksteel Reactor to serve as a threat that is both ever-present and difficult to remove,

In more modern times, decks that insist on “counter stockpiles” as a win condition have drifted away from Reactor in favor of options like Helix Pinnacle (which, while requiring more counters to win, is cheaper, untargetable, and can be sped up using excess Mana) or Simic Ascendancy (which trades protection for the ability to gain counters much quicker and a synergy with most Blue/Green decks). Regardless of these extra factors, the card, much like Darksteel Forge before it, still fetches a fairly high price to this day due to both a lack of reprints and the impressive power it can hold in the right strategy.

Over the years, the Mirran Sword collection has received new members both in and outside of the game’s many journeys to Mirrodin, each featuring its own pair of colors to protect from and unique special effects. Even now, when the available color combinations have all been used, the set still sees occasional new members such as Sword of Dungeons and Dragons (a joke entry in one of MTG’s gag sets) or Sword of Wealth and Power (a very real addition from Outlaws of Thunder Junction). Each of these incredible weapons boasts its own niche uses, and as one might expect, an often-ridiculous price tag that only serves to further highlight how effective these Artifacts can be. This, ironically, means that the Darksteel Mirran Swords — which are still considered some of the collection’s strongest — also feature the highest price tags among their kin. While Sword of Feast and Famine still reigns as the most used among the blades, the title of the most expensive instead belongs to Sword of Fire and Ice: a weapon which earns its value through sheer versatility.

As opposed to Light and Shadow, Fire and Ice renders a Creature immune to Red and Blue — and while this may seem slightly less effective when facing down gargantuan creatures or massive board wipes, added defense against Red’s frequent burn damage or Blue’s endless array of tricky spells is always useful in larger games, as it renders an important Creature immune to targeted removal and forces enemies to use their strongest weapons on less valuable targets (or better yet, another opponent). This idea of widespread use is also clearly visible in its effect: dealing damage and drawing cards are aspects that any deck can use to great effect, regardless of their overall strategy. This simple ability to be “strong” regardless of the decks one plays with or against makes this blade a worthy armament for any player with an Equipment deck, as well as those simply hoping to have an unexpected advantage against any spell-slingers at their play table.

Since their initial introduction here in Darksteel, the Mirran Swords have gone through their fair share of reprints and updates — but through them all, Fire and Ice has persisted as the most expensive member of the group, and presumably will do so for quite some time. Whether or not it manages to remain costlier than its younger brother Feast and Famine, though, is a matter that depends entirely on the user — and, of course, any reprints which may come out that suddenly lower its price.

Now that the secrets of Darksteel have been revealed, it’s time to rejoin the unlikely allies in their journey to stop whatever else the mad machine may have in store. On next week’s column, we bring the Mirrodin Block to a close with an overview of Fifth Dawn — a set which marks the end of the metal Plane as we know it. Regardless of whether Glissa’s party or the monstrous Memnarch prevails, one thing is for certain: Mirrodin will never be the same.

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