Cranial Plating | Fifth Dawn | Art by Adam Rex
23, May, 24

Mind-Blowing MH3 Common Could Be Destined For A Ban!

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Every so often, a card comes along that screams ‘Design Mistake’ with every fiber of its being. A card that, to any reasonable player, looks like a ban waiting to happen. These kinds of cards come around more often than usual in Modern Horizons sets, and we’ve seen another one spoiled today. I refer, of course, to Cranial Ram: a new artifact that hearkens back to one of the very best in MTG history.

There have been callbacks to multiple classic cards already this season. Wight of the Reliquary as a retread of Knight of the Reliquary andChthonian Nightmare as a ‘fixed’ Recurring Nightmare, to name but two. Today’s card is a new take on Cranial Plating, though, one of the scariest artifacts ever printed. Unfortunately, that could mean serious trouble for multiple formats.

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The Terrible Tale Of Cranial Plating

Newer players are likely reading these words with some confusion. Just what is this big, bad Cranial Plating I’m going on about? This is actually a valuable piece of context for the new spoiler we’re about to discuss, so let’s get into a little history lesson. Cranial Plating is an Equipment originally printed back in Fifth Dawn. This was the final set in the original Mirrodin block, a trio of sets that went hard on an Artifacts-matter theme.

This block introduced the Affinity mechanic, which allowed cards like Myr Enforcer and Frogmite to come down for free in many cases. It also paired this with the addition of five Artifact lands. These being mono-colored lands that traded Basic land types for the Artifact type. The result? The birth, and subsequent dominance, of the Affinity deck type. This archetype completely tore up Standard, and Cranial Plating was a key part of that.

A cheap equip cost and scaling power buff based on your Artifact count made the card ideal in Affinity decks. The real kicker, however, was its instant-speed equip ability. This lets you shift the Plating onto an unblocked creature for big damage. Affinity as a deck proved so powerful that a huge number of its key pieces were banned in Standard in 2005. This included Arcbound Ravager and all five Artifact lands.

Cranial Plating dodged a ban in Standard but wasn’t so lucky when it came to Pauper. As soon as the format was established, with the foreknowledge that many of the Affinity pieces would be legal, Cranial Plating was banned in advance. The card’s reputation was so fearsome that it never even had a chance to see Pauper play.

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Cranial Ram

Why is Pauper relevant here? Well, it ties directly in with today’s new MTG spoiler, Cranial Ram. If the art and name didn’t convince you that this was a Cranial Plating homage, the abilities should be more than enough. Just like Plating, this is a two mana Equipment that provides a scaling power boost based on the number of Artifacts you control. For better or worse, there are some key differences with this new variant.

Firstly, Cranial Ram comes with Living Weapon. This gives Equipment a 0/0 token host, letting it serve as a creature itself when it comes down. To ensure that the token doesn’t just die immediately, Ram also grants a point of toughness, which Plating never did. On the other side of the coin, Ram has a much trickier mana cost and a higher equip cost than Plating. It also lacks that crucial instant speed equip ability.

With everything weighed up, Cranial Ram looks to be on approximately the same power level as Cranial Plating. Starting out with a body makes it quicker out the gate, and the toughness boost can be relevant as well. It is more expensive, and slower, to Equip, though, so it balances out.

A card on the same power level as Cranial Plating isn’t a huge concern for most eternal formats. The card is still legal in most of them, and only sees sparing play in Modern Affinity lists, after all. Where it is a concern is in Pauper; a place this card will be legal thanks to its Common rarity.

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Another Cranial Ban?

Cranial-Ram-MTG-All-That-Glitters

As we covered above, the original Cranial Plating was so good that it was banned in Pauper before it even really started. It stands to reason, then, that a card on the same power level could be a serious problem for the format. In fact, many players are already placing their bets as to how quickly the card will be banned. Turns out they have good reason to do so.

In his article explaining the May 13th Pauper bans, Principal Designer Gavin Verhey made reference to “One common from Modern Horizons 3 that has a high likelihood of needing to be banned in Pauper, as it is like a card we have banned in the past.” Now that Cranial Ram has been revealed, most of the money is on that being the card in question.

Ram is a lot like Cranial Plating and, interestingly, it’s also a lot like All That Glitters, the only card banned in the announcement where this was mentioned. It’s almost certainly the card Verhey has primed for an early Pauper ban. But, prior theatrics aside, is such a drastic move really necessary?

At the moment, the best Affinity deck in Pauper is Grixis Affinity. It only commands a 2.8% meta share, which puts it near the very bottom of the ‘Meta Decks’ barrel. Given the deck’s color palette, Cranial Ram could slot in with no issues. Whether or not it will single-handedly rocket the deck to meta dominance, however, is another matter. All the Pauper players out there are advised to start investing in Artifact hate, just to be sure.

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