Over the last few years Wotc has been pushing for more equipment in their retail limited sets such as Kaldheim, which is great news for anyone who has ever tried to support an equipment theme in their cubes. Traditionally, equipment have been incredibly hard to support due to a good lack of playable equipment. The best equipment were printed in Mirrordin block almost eleven years ago, and ever since we have struggled to get cube worthy includes. With the recent focus on equipment, it is worth exploring this archetype again in the hopes that it might actually be good this time.
There’s no equipment theme without equipment. One of the key aspects of a strong piece of equipment is it being cheap to cast and use. Equipment are used primarily in aggro decks with midrange decks occasionally picking them up. Equipment are inherently an A+B combo item that require creatures as the other half of the combo. This soft combo is fine most of the time, because one equipment can work with any of your creatures, but if they kill your only creature you are out of luck. Equipment are especially good in cube because the creatures you are equipping are usually already ahead of the curve. A Goblin Guide is already impressive at one mana, putting any equipment on it makes it impossible for other one drops to deal with it and potentially many more things along the curve. If the creature you equip has more synergy with equipment then you may start with something behind the curve, but can unlock a poweful synergy that will push you ahead of your opponent.
Because there are only 296 equipment cards (as of the date of this post), only a select few are what I would consider good enough for cube. If you want to push an equipment matters theme, power level as well as cube size will be a deciding factor in how good this archetype can become. That being said, here are all the equipment I think are good enough for cube, or at the very least an honorable mention for lower power levels. Here are my top 15 equipment for cube.
15. Halvar, God of Battle // Sword of the Realms
One of the greatest challenges of equipment decks is drawing the wrong half of your deck. Without creatures your equipment is useless. Halvar circumvents this issue by being both halves of the deck at once. Halvar’s front side can turn any equipped creature into the strongest creature on the battlefield, and his back side offers a respectable equipment that also helps against the issue of having no creatures to equip. Halvar is a must have if you decide to include an equipment based strategy into your cube as he fills both roles incredibly well, but in an average deck Halvar isn’t the most impressive four drop, and his equipment side is lackluster compared to similar options.
Shadowspear is a nice piece of equipment that does a great job of turning any midrange threat into a potential game winner. Trample and lifelink are the main draw to this weapon allowing you to win races with a single creature. The activated ability of making your opponents creatures lose hexproof and indestructible is incredibly niche and should be considered flavor text for the most part. What holds this equipment back is the two mana to equip, and it being much more of a midrange card instead of an aggro card. While a deck playing Thrun would be happy to slot this in their 40, an aggro deck would struggle to find a good place to use this in their curve. Two mana to equip is a lot, and while the boosts are nice they tend to work better the slower the game is.
13. Cranial Plating
This equipment is archetype defining in its own way. Artifact aggro is gaining a lot of potential as its own archetype, and it can work well with an equipment subtheme as well. Toolcraft Exemplar into Cranial Plating shows that you mean business, and having an equip cost of 1 is crucial to the deck. While Cranial Plating is an incredible equipment in the right decks, it is far more situational than a lot of other cards on this list. Two mana to play also slows this down compared to other strategies. If you decide to include both artifact aggro and equipment in your cube, this is the perfect card to tie those strategies together.
12. Tormentor’s Helm
This equipment admittedly doesn’t do much, but what it does do is cost one to play and one to equip. This alone can make an equipment significantly more playable. +1/+1 and afflict one are decent enough abilities that make any 0/4’s your opponent plays not as much of a wall as they need them to be. But where this card shines the best is with creatures that become better when equipped. This is easy to fit into your curve, and when attached to something that gets even better with equipment this card can be outstanding.
11. Maul of the Skyclaves
Maul of the Skyclaves is a powerful option that can threaten to end the game very quickly if not dealt with. Simply killing the creature isn’t enough as the equipment is still around to make anything the next threat. +2/+2 flying and first strike virtually guarantees that your creature isn’t getting blocked. Anything attached to this is a dangerous threat, and if you have to hold back and play defense not many things are getting through this unscathed. What holds this equipment back is the four mana to equip, but in many games that equip cost won’t even matter.
10. Sword of Dungeons and Dragons
If I were to see any card in this top 10 in a regular cube list, I wouldn’t bat an eye. These equipment are all the best of the best and can see play in most cube decks without looking out of place. What keeps this card out of many different cubes is the silver border, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying out this card. Now is probably a good time to talk about swords as a whole, as the 3 mana to cast and 2 to equip is very inefficient by the rest of this charts standards. However, the idea is that the bonus it provides should be enough to off-set this expensive nature of the card. In the case of this sword, connecting once gives you another body in case the original dies, and a 4/4 flying dragon is nothing to scoff at. The protections this sword provides are the weakest out of the entire cycle, but do come up often enough that it isn’t flavor text. The 1/20 chance to get an extra dragon is also really fun and almost guarantees that you’ll win the game on the following turn. If I had to choose between this and Sword of Body and Mind for a cube, I’d almost always choose this as it still says you win the game if you connect two times in a row but isn’t nearly as unfun as Body and Mind is.
Don’t let it’s simplicity fool you, Bonesplitter is one of the best equipment of all-time and it comes down to just how efficient it is. One mana to play, one mana to equip and suddenly your creature becomes a must answer threat. Turn one you play a 2/1, and on turn two you can swing in with a 4/1. Anything with evasion greatly benefits from a +2/+0 boost, and it is effortless to find a place for this in your curve. In aggro decks, efficiency is king, and Bonesplitter is one of the most efficient equipments of all time.
8. Heirloom Blade
@UsmanTheRad has been the champion of this card ever since it was first printed, and it has failed to disappoint. An equip cost of only one is the defining aspect behind the strength of this card, but it’s secondary ability of drawing a creature with the same creature type almost always comes up. A goblin warrior equipped with this is almost certainly going to find another goblin or warrior in your deck when you flip through. If the only creature you have is equipped with this you are almost guaranteed to draw another threat. Not a lot of cards give a +3 boost to attack as well, and getting to do that for one mana means that a token can trade with 4 drops for very little investment.
As we have seen in standard, all you need to win is a bunch of cheap creatures and an Embercleave. +1/+1 and double strike may not look like much, but in practice putting this on your Goblin Rabblemaster can annihilate your opponent instantly. Flash also allows this equipment to actually be a combat trick worthy of cube that more or less says “destroy target blocking creature”. Equipment that don’t need to be equipped the first time are incredibly powerful, and one combat step with Embercleave is often all you need to win the game.
6. Sword of Feast and Famine
Black and Green are two important colors to gain protection against as the best removal spells are typically black, while the best blockers are typically green. This more or less insures that you’ll get to connect at least once if you manage to equip it, and doing so gives you a massive mana advantage. Getting to play an equipment and still hold up interaction is a very proactive play that forces your opponent into an act or die scenario, which can then be foiled by your open mana.
5. Sword of Fire and Ice
This card often cited as the best sword and that’s just because of the sheer amount of card advantage it can provide. Compared to Feast and Famine, connecting with this gets you much more meaningful card advantage (drawing a relevant card as opposed to your opponent discarding a meaningless card) and the shock has the versatility to advance your clock even further, or to kill a creature. Getting to 2 for 0 your opponent just for dealing combat damage is very strong, and can easily take over the game if it is not dealt with immediately.
Batterskull can completely turn a race around in your favor. One of the most feared things for a red deck to see is a Batterskull as it survives most burn spells and gains a ton of life. 5 to play and 5 to equip is easily the most expensive thing on this list, but getting the germ token is huge to the playability of this card. 5 mana for a 4/4 Vigilance Lifelink is a bit underpowered as far as cube creatures go, but the combo of this and Stoneforge Mystic can win the game when you drop this on turn 3. It’s not often you’ll see this attached to another creature, but if it is successfully attached good luck reversing a double digit life point swing. It’s resilience to removal with it’s bounce ability makes it incredibly hard to deal with a Batterskull if they have the mana up.
3. Grafted Wargear
Most of the equipment on this list have some incredible abilities that change the way a creature works. Grafted Wargear just gives them a flat +3/+2. But as we have seen with Embercleave and Maul of the Skyclaves, equipping when it enters the battlefield is huge and makes this innocuous equipment way more powerful then it may seem. The “downside” of sacrificing the equipped creature almost never comes up, and in some ways it is even upside if you have something that cares about creatures dying for example. It is a simple card, but it gets the job done better then almost every other equipment in existence. There is a good reason this is considered a part of Peasant’s Power Nine.
2. Umezawa’s Jitte
One of the best equipment of all time, and it doesn’t even help the creature it is equipped to the turn it is played. What sets Jitte apart from most other equipment is simply dealing combat damage is enough to enable some game breaking abilities. This card invalidates races, blockers, one toughness creatures, burn based removal spells, and more after you connect once. Once you get more than 2 charge counters on Jitte it is almost impossible to lose the game. What keeps Jitte from being the best equipment of all-time has to deal with it’s mana inefficiency and how it doesn’t impact the game until the creature successfully deals damage. It is possible to prevent an opponent from ever connecting with their Jitte, albeit difficult, and four mana to start using it is a little slow. That being said, it is still one of the best cards ever printed and is well worth the pick in the most powerful of cube environments.
One of the worst design mistakes ever made, Skullclamp is notorious for being banned in almost every single constructed format ever. Being one mana to cast and equip puts it in the same tier as Bonesplitter, but its effect is 100 times more dangerous. Drawing two cards for one mana, and being able to repeat it multiple times per turn puts Ancestral Recall to shame. The only thing holding Skullclamp back is that it needs to be built around to truly get the most out of it. Creating a deck with a bunch of 1 toughness creatures or having access to sacrifice outlets is important to breaking it in half. Even in the cases where you aren’t maximizing Skullclamp, attaching it to a valuable creature still deters your opponent from kill it. Regardless, Skullclamp should only see play in the most degenerate of environments, and does not belong in most cubes without power.
Cards That Care About Equipment
With so much equipment in play it would be tragic if there were nothing to equip them to. Fortunately any creature that is on rate becomes much better when holding a sword, but there are still ways to push the archetype even further. In general, there are significantly fewer cards that care about equipment, but just one or two cards is often all you need to push someone into building that kind of deck. Here are my top 10 cards that care about equipment.
10. Kemba, Kha Regent
Equipment decks are very good at going tall, but struggle when going wide. Kemba allows the deck to attack from a different angle and provides more bodies in case she dies. The main issue with Kemba is that she takes an entire turn cycle being equipped before she starts generating value. While she can have a really high ceiling if you have two or more equipment attached to her, she still needs to survive. Considering how useless she is without equipment this card is probably not worth running except for lists that are extremely dedicated towards equipment.
9. Akiri, Fearless Voyager
Card advantage in Boros? Say it ain’t so! The truth is, Boros actually has a lot of ways to generate card advantage from equipment which makes this an ideal archetype for slower paced cubes. Akiri is good because she can replace herself as soon as she enters the battlefield if you swing with an equipped creature. Her second ability is also useful at protecting your suited up attacker, but can be awkward in multiple different scenarios. If you don’t have white mana open, are equipping a creature without an equipment, are moving to combat, or trying to block, a removal spell from your opponent can be game changing even though you are technically protecting the creature. Akiri is good for the archetype, but has enough awkward instances to her that make it difficult to use successfully.
8. Armored Skyhunter
Every attack with this creature has the chance to be game ending. A Collected Company for equipment, getting to attach the equipment immediately is important for any equipment based strategies. Armored Skyhunter has a few hurdles to cross before it is crushing your opponents, however. Without haste this card can often just eat a Lightning Bolt before doing anything. Collected Company is also a good card to compare this to because there is a huge difference between looking at the top six cards for creatures, and looking at the top six for equipment. In a limited deck with 3 equipment there is still only a 50 percent chance that this card successfully finds something to put into play. At 4 equipment the odds increase to 64 percent, 5 equipment 73 percent and so on. This card has a high floor and a low ceiling and what determines that is mostly random.
7. Nahiri, Heir of Ancients
Having any Planeswalker for a specific strategy is good, and Nahiri does her job well. Plusing to 5 and creating a creature that can protect it is already above the baseline, but getting to equip cards to it for free is wonderful gravy. Her -2 suffers from the same issues that Armored Skyhunter faces, but it has the added benefit of being able to find random warriors in case you whiff. Finally her -3 is removal that you can use immediately, provided you have some equipment lying around. Nahiri suffers from drawing the wrong half of your deck syndrome as do most cards in this list.
6. Kazuul’s Toll Collector
Kazuul’s Toll Collector is an on rate body that makes most equipment cost half as much to play and use. Taking away equip costs is an important part of equipment based decks as it can significantly speed up your gameplan, and justfiy including equipment matters cards. Kazuul’s Toll Collector is a mediocre card until an equipment is on the battlefield, in which case it can be the glue holding together a decks strategy. It does hardly anything without equipment, but with the right equipment it can be exceptional.
6. Ardenn, Intrepid Archaeologist
Ardenn is in a lot of ways just like Kazuul’s Toll Collector, but is better for the strategy as a whole. Getting immediate value out of your equipment the turn you play Ardenn is key to this cards placement above Toll Collector, and being able to change up your threats each combat can be very useful. The worse body makes this card even less likely to see play outside of a dedicated equipment deck, but nobody was going to play a vanilla 3/2 either.
5. Wyleth, Soul of Steel
The ultimate voltron target, Wyleth blows Akiri out of the water when it comes to card advantage. Suiting Wyleth up with anything is usually a great idea and it getting even more value the bigger he is allows you to really snowball. Wyleth is a strong draw to an equipment focused deck, but can obviously struggle. A 2/2 trample is kind of pathetic in a vacuum and unless the equipment gives haste you still need to wait a turn to get value out of the card. Obviously, if you don’t have any equipment he’s kind of terrible and if they remove him in response to an equip you might as well have been time walked.
4. Danitha Capashen, Paragon
Danitha is an unassuming card, but she does a lot for the archetype. She has excellent keywords and can immediately equip and swing with a sword on turn 4 because of her mana reduction. First strike, vigilance, and lifelink are exactly what you want with a voltron style creature and make racing Danitha nearly impossible once she is equipped. What puts Danitha so high on the list is because she is playable in decks that aren’t featuring any equipment. Other archetypes that may care about lifegain or +1/+1 counters would be more than happy to play Danitha, and she is of course still solid in the archetype that wants her most.
3. Puresteel Paladin
Puresteel Paladin, unlike a lot of other cards on this list, does not require the combat step to generate value. Drawing a card for casting equipment is a good way to continue drawing gas, but the real draw to this card is the metalcraft. If you can answer an interesting question, you get the upside of equipping for free. If you can’t achieve metalcraft, that is fine because you can still get value in other ways, but if you surprise your opponent by playing two more equipment to get metalcraft you can change the pace of the game. I like Puresteel a lot because it encourages you to design a more interesting deck to get a powerful effect, while still being good for decks that don’t want to go out of their way for this card.
2. Sigarda’s Aid
As I have said multiple times throughout this article, equipment that cost 0 to equip are significantly better. Getting this out on turn one can be extremely threatening especially if you follow the advice of the modern deck and play Colossus Hammer alongside it. This is a card I’ve been wanting to talk about forever, as it takes the concept of equipment being a combo deck and gives you a card that wins you the game for succeeding at the combo. If you want to go deep on an equipment-based strategy, I believe it is necessary to treat it like a combo deck by including tutors and redundancy. All of the creatures above work great for lower power settings, but at higher power Colossus Hammer and other high cost to equip equipment are the way to go. More details on that archetype to come below.
1. Stoneforge Mystic
She requires no introduction, Stoneforge Mystic is the best creature for equipment based strategies no matter what kind of strategy you are trying to employ. She solves the problem of drawing the wrong half of the deck by finding the equipment. If the card costs a lot to cast but is cheap to equip Stoneforge can really accelerate that gameplan. She obviously combos with Batterskull, and is still fantastic when searching up an Umezawa’s Jitte. She scales with the power level of the cube as well because she is only as good as the best equipment. Stoneforge is an all-star and is a must-have for any cube featuring equipment in any meaningful way.
Another Way to Win
The main problem with any cube that tries to feature an equipment matters sub-theme is that all the cards that care about equipment are significantly less powerful than the power levels most people play at. If you want to play equipment, you’re probably thinking about cards such as Sword of X and Y, and Kazuul’s Toll Collector just isn’t up to snuff for that power level. Writing this article helped me realize that the power level is totally there for the equipment, but everything else surrounding the archetype suffers from equipment matters cards being bad if you draw the wrong half of the combo, and not even winning the game if you do manage to combo. But what if the deck was able to win for putting the combo together? This is where Colossus Hammer comes in.
A lot of the best cards in that top 10 list were the ones that could disregard equip costs. When Colossus Hammer becomes a one mana +10/+10 it changes the way the deck plays. The deck Hammer Time in Modern is all about equipping Colossus Hammer for free and then killing your opponent soon thereafter. It benefits a lot from being able to break singleton, but there are still ways we can achieve this style of strategy in cube. The first step is to include plenty of tutors that can find the Hammer. Steelshaper’s Gift is what Modern uses, but you can also have access to Open the Armory, Enlightened Tutor, Goblin Engineer, and Stonehewer Giant as the rest of the combo all in one card.
Increasing density of expensive to equip equipment is also important for this strategy. While many cards such as Swords will benefit from this anyways, cards such as Batterskull, Sword of Kaldra, Helm of the Host, and Argentum Armor can provide some much-needed redundancy. While none of these are as quick to play as Colossus Hammer, they still have powerful abilities in their own right. Sword of Kaldra could be an interesting draft package where drafting one gets you all three Kaldra pieces which then opens up a brand new strategy. You can learn more about draft packages in cube here. https://onlyontuesdays27.com/2021/03/03/draft-packages-in-cube/
Finally, you need ways to attach your equipment to a creature. Having an equipment and creature in play is only one step away from wrecking havoc. Sigarda’s Aid is one of the best ways to do this, but Hammer of Nazahn, Armory Automaton, Kor Outfitter, Quest for the Holy Relic, Magnetic Theft, Resolute Strike, and several cards mentioned in my top 10 are all capable of equipping for 0. Finding cards that can serve multiple functions in the cube is important as you need to be careful this doesn’t turn into a parasitic combo. If you want to be able to feature an equipment based deck in high power environments, Hammer Time seems like the best way to do it.
Equipment strategies are already halfway towards existing in cube. While there is plenty of powerful equipment floating around, the card pool to support equipment is still woefully behind the curve. Until we start to see more rares and mythics concerned with equipment, we are a long ways away from a true equipment focused Boros section unless you are lower powered. But we are starting to see efforts being made for this archetype which can only mean good things moving forward. Hold onto your Sigarda’s Aids and Puresteel Paladins, and look forward to a future filled with creatures wielding swords.