Breaking Skullclamp in Legacy


The last week or so I've been really thinking about how I would best abuse Skullclamp in an Affinity deck in Legacy because of the "Banned from Constructed" thread. Skullclamp is one of those cards that is, if not in actuality, potentially format warping in a way that few cards are. There really aren't better or alternative card drawing engines outside of meme cards like Contract from Below or Ancestral Recall(the comparison itself should be illustrative), tribal stuff or, of course, the more notorious Necropotence. Like the aforementioned Black Enchantment, it has been basically banned from nearly everything for nearly two decades; that's fucking nuts. This is the pedigree of Saga Block cards or absurd mistakes from ABU like Channel or Balance. Unlike The Skull, Clamp wants you to play a "fair" game of Magic: the Gathering. Of course fair in this instance is certainly relative: games where Skullclamp is relevant are anything but. Enough talk let's get to the deck list.

Skullclamp Affinity

Mana: 24
4 Vault of Whispers
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Great Furnace
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Springleaf Drum
4 Mox Opal

Creatures: 28
4 Memnite
4 Ornithopter
4 Signal Pest
4 Disciple of the Vault
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Frogmite
4 Myr Enforcer

Equipment: 8
4 Skullclamp
4 Cranial Plating

There are a lot of additional cards that could be played MD:
Vault Skirge
Arcbound Worker
Somber Hoverguard
Etched Champion
Meddling Mage (in some metagames)
Black Vise/Winter Orb/Ankh of Mishra/Tangle Wire
Galvanic Blast/Shrapnel Blast
Steel Overseer
Genesis Chamber
Steelshaper's Gift
Phyrexian Revoker
Bomat Courier
Blinkmoth Nexus/Inkmoth Nexus
Ancient Tomb
Lotus Petal
All that Glitters
Emry, Lurker of the Loch
Stonecoil Serpent
Traxos, Scourge of Kroog
Pithing Needle
Welding Jar

I goldfished 20 games with this list. I noticed a few things.

1. I had to mull only twice. Had an artifact payoff most times.

2. Signal Pest is a little better than what I had imagined, an evasive holder of Plating

3. Felt like the right amount of 0 drops cards.

4. A turn 4 goldfish except for a couple turn 3's as well as a couple turn 5's that were just variance.

5. Springleaf Drum felt good, better than I remember at least.

6. Skullclamp is OK-ish when goldfishing

7. Too often I'd draw lands that would do nothing, basically. Need Ravager or Plating to get full value otherwise they would be blanks. Not good. There were many times where I noticed if I had Urza's Saga I would probably win. It's such a good payoff for having a bunch of artifacts.

8. Disciple was OK, good with Ravager but a good rattlesnake for some SB cards like Akroma's Vengeance, Serenity, Pernicious Deed, random artifact destruction, By Force, Meltdown, etc. Like Clamp it's real value comes in punishing players trying to interact with you. Cards like Hurkyll's Recall dodge it though.

9. Nice thing about the polychromatic manabase is that you can just play whatever you want in the sideboard.

(Un)fortunately, Skullclamp itself really doesn't lend itself to doing much other that grinding out cards. There are too many decks in Legacy that can just ignore any of the cute stuff you're doing and just kill you with giant fatties, Tendrils or some weird ass Merfolk that wins the game. Drawing extra cards just isn't enough by itself when there are a lot of decks that can interact on axes that Affinity isn't setup well to do Game 1. In addition, there are a lot of cards printed just in the last decade that interact with artifacts so your ability to "Dredge" players Game 1 is also decreased.

This goes without saying but goldfishing alone won't really give you much ability to figure out how you fare against the field especially for matchups like Delver; there is limited usefulness in this data. However, the deck does feel like it is missing something. Like there is just too much fluff and not enough payoffs.

I'd like to do more extensive testing after Modern Horizons II is spoiled. Urza's Saga is more or less an auto-include already. Should be interesting to see what the future holds.
Last edited:


The Tentacled One
Those are some interesting results. No single aspect you mentioned is a huge surprise, but it's nice to see something a bit more concrete than just theorizing.

The two points of comparison that immediately spring to my mind would be a Kobold-Clamp deck (probably using Tangleroot) and some kind of white-based Tokens deck. The former would probably be faster than a traditional Ravager Affinity deck, but more of a glass cannon. The latter would have more staying power against disruption, but probably wouldn't be able to kill quite as quickly as Ravager Affinity. There are other options, too. Something like Bloodghast or Gravecrawler could be recurred with Skullclamp a bunch of times. And I've actually used Skullclamp with Veteran Explorer, which could be pretty hilarious in Legacy. A Young Pyromancer deck with a ton of rituals and stuff might work, although I suppose that's another glass cannon gimmick.

It's not really clear to me what the best approach is, which is one reason that I'm almost curious enough to advocate for the unbanning of this card. It's a fringe card, at best, in Vintage. I think it'd be a powerhouse in Legacy, but the form that a Clamp deck would take is hard to predict. Ravager Affinity is the archetype with the most prominent pedigree. 17 years later, do we even care about that? So much has changed. It's strange to think about just how niche of cards the rest of that archetype became. I haven't seen Frogmite or Myr Enforcer played anywhere since I took apart the silly Canadian Highlander deck I was running them in. Disciple of the Vault has fallen by the wayside. Arcbound Ravager is virtually nonexistent in Legacy, but lives on as a useful tool in Vintage Workshop decks. They're obviously still good cards in an abstract sense, but they're just kind of outclassed for tournament play.
Yeah, it's a two-fold problem. First, Affinity cards haven't aged particularly well. Thoughtcast is probably the only really good one. Most of the payoffs aren't that great except for Ravager and Plating/Clamp which are good but to enable them you need to play a lot of cards that are just kinda fiddly, at best. Which sort of dovetails into the next problem, Skullclamp has fairly strict deckbuilding requirements. You need a pile of creatures and probably some amount of fast mana to deploy said creatures and equip them. But Legacy has really shifted for decks to care about getting on board very quickly (or to ignore it entirely). It's not that pure CA engines aren't good but playing creatures to equip them and they have to die (so no Plow/Path or Borrower) to draw some cards is just spinning your wheels. Traditional Affinity lists partially solve this problem by playing fast mana as well as the aforementioned Affinity cards letting you play those creatures immediately and Disciple also lets you make progress by pinging for every Clamped artifact dork.

I think this is best illustrated by Elves. Elves seems like the best home for Skullclamp. However, like Survival of the Fittest, Skullclamp comes with hidden costs. Compare Glimpse of Nature to Skullclamp. Glimpse is just G and then play dorks. That's it. It wants you to cast a lot of cards and play onto the board where Clamp eats into your board and is very mana intensive. At the very least if Elves wanted to play Clamp (SotF also shares many of the same problems) requires specific cards like Wirewood Hivemaster or Wirewood Herald.

wirewood hivemaster.jpgwirewood herald.jpg

Hivemaster is great at generating extra bodies to Clamp or just chump block and Herald actively wants to be equipped as well as tutoring up the former. Really cool, neat synergies... but this begs the question: is the better than regular Elves? No, I don't think so, by a lot. The regular Elves lists that are being played in Legacy are leveraging the strengths of the tribe and the color to the best of it's ability. Not only does the deck have much lower curve, in addition to being faster, but Skullclamp can't even be protected by Allosaurus Rider, it would eat into the creature slots, actively shrinks your own board; it is unsynergistic with Allosaurus Shepherd, Heritage Druid/Nettle Sentinel and Craterhoof Behemoth. Skullclamp in Elves as we know it is a trap.

The Kobold decks you mention also have a lot of the same problems. Is Skullclamp better than Glimpse or Beck//Call? I can't imagine it is and even if it was it doesn't really solve the problems. Well, maybe not entirely worse. Clamp is very good with Carnival of Souls.

carnival of souls.jpg

Tangleroot, like you mentioned, might also be an option. Not impressed though. I think TES is a lot better if we are talking specifically about Storm decks. And even if it was I don't think that's a big deal because those type of Combo decks aren't tearing up tournaments at the moment. I think your assessment that it would be a glass cannon is correct.

A mono White tokens based deck sounds awesome. It sounds like a deck that would be pretty neat.

A Zombardment deck or any style of Aristocrats deck that is playing around with Gravecrawler would be much of the same space a tokens style thing would occupy.

I mentioned before it might be OK in a Delver deck running Young Pyromancer but I'm not convinced that would be better than something like Expressive Iteration which just has a lot more synergy with the deck or a top end that's harder to stop like Klothys or Uro.

Which is to say that I agree with you, not sure exactly where to go with this. It has been many, many years since I cast a Frogmite (before yesterday) and probably many years before that where it was good or relevant. The hate cards these days are so brutal and that's not even counting classics like Null Rod. Arcbound Ravager is probably the only creature that's actually just good by any metric. So many of the other creatures just aren't that good if your payoff gets dealt with... and there just aren't that many payoffs because WotC was rightly concerned about ever bringing back Affinity, Modular or other artifact-centric payoffs (yeah, yeah, BaB Tezz but I don't count him!) in Standard sets because of the teeny, tiny issue of almost killing the game.


This is why I'm so excited for MH2. I think there could be some really exciting cards in there. Obviously the artifact decks kinda suck in Modern and have mostly never been good in Legacy. Urza's Saga seems completely nutty though. In a deck full of artifacts, like Affinity you can produce mana for a turn then the II and III Chapters you can get two constructs AND Tinker out a cheap artifact into play, opening up toolboxes which is very exciting. Obviously in the context we are talking about this grabs a Skullclamp or good stuff like Pithing Needle, Welding Jar, Crypt/Relic/Cage. By itself it's a difficult to disrupt payoff for playing a bunch of cheap artifacts and demands two removal spells from your opponent.

Clamp would be a powerful force in the metagame. No one can deny that the rate and effect on this thing is bonkers. However, it seems like Skullclamp would actually open up the meta quite a bit, not the reverse, by allowing all sorts of new or underpowered decks to get a boost. Even though the game can revolve around it the gameplay itself isn't bad. Even then there is still the threat of creatures dying in response, your board gets Terminus-ed you get Delver-ed, Uro-ed, etc. I think the more I talk about it, the more I play with the card it feels like it would make Legacy more fun. I would posit that Clamp would be a new pillar of Legacy not unlike Aether Vial.

You're absolutely right: It's a weird card because it is undeniably powerful but has no super obvious home. Affinity was never really a deck in Legacy not really counting Steel Stompy because that's more along the lines of Workshop decks in Vintage. I don't really know what to make of it either.
Last edited:
Phew! What a preview season. That was a close one. I thought it was going to start out as Squirrel Horizons.
malcom meme.jpg

...but they decided to save some interesting cards for last.

thought monitor.jpgnettlecyst.jpg

Thought Monitor is just awesome. Another good flyer to put equipment or counters on. Nettlecyst is a mostly better Cranial Plating. Pumping toughness and not getting blown out by removal in response to equip is a big game.

These cards are a bit expensive so we definitely want Opal/Drum. And with Saga we don't need a ton of Clamps because we have eight, one mana draw-two's and don't need to rely on Clamp as much to keep up.

That's not all though, there were other cards that are interesting too!

sojourners companion.jpgsilverbluff bridge.jpgarcbound shikari.jpgzabaz mh2.png

These cards are just something to keep in mind. Is 8 Myr Enforcers good? If you're five color is Artifact Landcycling relevant? If you go hard on Modular, is that a good plan? Something to consider. The Indestructible Artifact Lands, I think, are better than they appear. They're very good against some artifact hate and color fix so they might be worth it, despite ETB tapped. Who knows!


You're telling me someone already did this? Yesterday even?

affinity mh2 legacy.png

OK, fine, I'm happy someone else did that hard work for me! It's a lot of work to test things! Wait, what was the creature type on Thought Monitor?

scrapyard recombiner.png

OH HO HO HO HO! What do we have here? This is rather spicy! Being able to chain random artifacts into more flying, Thoughtcast thingies is not too bad. If it dies you can still buff your board! I'd probably play a copy in place of the Plating in the above list as well as 2 Clamps in place of Jars, though Jar is quite good. Wait, dying... counters... hang on. This sounds familiar...

the ozolith.png

This card is really, really good with all the counters flying around in the above list with Ravager, Ballista and Stonecoil. Oh and you can tutor it with Urza's Saga? Very good. I'd probably sneak a copy in somewhere MD.

Overall, a lot to test now. Can't wait till it releases in paper to goldfish a bunch of games.