One of the coolest things in MTG is watching how cards can interact with each other.
In eternal formats, like Commander/EDH, the combinations can get truly amazing. It’s a test of your ingenuity to put together a deck with cards that synergize with each other.
Artifacts are no exception to this concept. There are tons with activated abilities of their own that can shift the balance of a game in your favor.
In this guide, we’ll provide a list of what we feel are some of the best MTG artifacts with activated abilities.
We’ll go over:
- What activated abilities are
- Our choices for the top 15 artifacts with activated abilities
- An honorable mention
- Our suggestions
Let’s take a closer look.
What are Activated Abilities?
So just what, exactly, is an activated ability?
The name is pretty self-explanatory. An activated ability is an effect of a card that the controller in some way pays for.
What you use to pay the cost can vary. You could pay with life, mana, sacrificing another permanent, or by simply tapping the card.
Activated abilities are exceedingly common in MTG. You can see an example above in the card Wanderer’s Twig.
You pay one to cast it, then you pay another one mana to sacrifice it so you can find a basic land card in your library and put it in your hand. Cards like this are especially useful in decks that are multi-color.
In a multi-color deck, you’ll need lands of different colors to support your spells. If you’re missing one color in particular, you can use a card like Wanderer’s Twig to dig it out of your library.
Top 15 MTG Artifacts with Activated Abilities
Because there are so many artifacts with activated abilities in Magic: the Gathering, we’re narrowing our list to the top 15.
Our criteria includes overall power level of the cards and their utility. If you’d like to see more artifacts with activated abilities, though, you can view them right here.
We’ve specifically elected not to include cards that are part of the Power Nine. If we were to allow them, they would more likely than not dominate most lists.
Furthermore, it’s incredibly difficult to get your hands on one. However, if you want to read up on them, you can take a look on the official Magic site.
Here’s our list of the top 15 MTG artifacts with activated abilities:
- Birthing Pod
- Chrome Mox
- Grim Monolith
- Isochron Scepter
- Lion’s Eye Diamond
- Lotus Petal
- Mana Crypt
- Memory Jar
- Nevinyrral’s Disk
- Phyrexian Altar
- Sensei’s Divining Top
- Sol Ring
- Umezawa’s Jitte
- Zuran Orb
This card came about during the Scars of Mirrodin block, when Phyrexian mana was a mechanic. The Phrexian symbol, a circle with a vertical line through it, means you can pay the mana cost indicated with either one mana or two life.
That’s surprisingly useful. It means you have options on how you’ll pay for Birthing Pod.
Once you get Birthing Pod onto the battlefield, you can sacrifice creatures to it. In exchange, you’ll be able to search your library for a creature that costs one more mana than the one you just sacrificed.
In a nutshell, it’s a cost-effective way to get big creatures onto the battlefield.
Making sure you have mana of all your deck’s colors is crucial. For that reason, Chrome Mox won’t have much use in a mono-color deck, but in a multi-color deck, it can be vital.
Just choose a card that represents most or all the colors of your deck, use Chrome Mox’s imprint to exile it, and then you can tap Chrome Mox for one mana of any of that card’s colors. The effect lasts for as long as you have Chrome Mox on the battlefield at once.
Cards from the Urza’s block were known for being incredibly strong. Grim Monolith, from the Urza’s Legacy set in the Urza block, is a testament to this.
It allows you to tap for three colorless mana. The tricky part is that it doesn’t untap unless you pay four mana.
Fortunately, there are many artifacts or other cards that let you untap your permanents. You’ll need to use something like that to get the most out of Grim Monolith.
Got a cheap instant spell you want to be able to cast over and over again? Isochron Scepter is what you’re looking for.
You’re able to imprint an instant that costs two or less to it, and then pay two mana and tap it to cast a copy of said instant. An example of a popular card to use Isochron Scepter with is Dramatic Reversal, which untaps all nonland permanents you control.
Combine that with artifacts and creatures that tap for mana, and you basically have infinite mana, because it allows you to tap them again and again.
On the surface, this card might not seem like much, as Lion’s Eye Diamond requires you to discard your entire hand for three mana.
But this isn’t actually a problem. In decks with graveyard recursion, for instance, those discarded cards simply go into you graveyard which is basically another library.
If you have any way of accessing your graveyard at all, Lion’s Eye Diamond is incredible. Even if you don’t, there are situations when you might need the mana more than the cards you have in your hand – especially if your hand is small.
This is another card that seems small at first. But Lotus Petal is surprisingly powerful.
Essentially, you’re paying zero mana for one. If that sounds like a land, it both is and isn’t – for one thing, you can get mana of any color with Lotus Petal.
And for another thing, you can only play one land per turn. If you have Lotus Petal in your hand on turn one, you’re getting two mana rather than the one everyone else will start with.
Many competitive Magic players will tell you that your life points are just another resource to use. That’s why potentially trading your life for mana with Mana Crypt is a great deal.
For starters, you pay zero mana for Mana Crypt. Then it taps for two colorless mana.
You’ll need to flip a coin every turn to determine whether you lose three life or not, but it’s a small trade to help you get ahead in the game.
At a first glance, this card might seem like more of a hassle than not. After all, Memory Jar makes you set aside an entire hand, draw seven cards, than discard any of those seven cards you don’t use.
This card is the only one in Magic’s history to be preemptively banned for a reason. The main part is that it lets you draw seven more cards for five mana, which is an incredible bargain.
Beyond that, since it’s your turn when you tap it, your opponents won’t be able to cast anything that isn’t an instant or doesn’t have flash. They’ll be forced to discard seven cards if they couldn’t play any.
There are also massively overpowered combos with Memory Jar. An example is playing it with Megrim, which makes players lose two life when they discard cards.
Many knowledgeable Magic players agree that cards from Urza’s block, like Metalworker, are unbelievably strong.
With Metalworker, you tap the artifact to reveal any number you want of artifact cards that are still in your hand. You get two mana for each one.
If your deck is stacked with artifact cards, this could get you a bunch of free mana every turn.
If you like playing political games with opponents during an MTG match, you can’t get much more political than Nevinyrral’s Disk.
It comes into the battlefield tapped. But once it’s untapped, you can pay one mana and tap it again to destroy all artifacts, creatures, and enchantments.
You could easily hold that above the other players’ heads. At any moment, you could destroy most likely everything they have in game – unless they don’t make you use it.
Mana is an amazingly valuable resource in a game of MTG. The more you have, the more spells you can cast, and Phyrexian Altar helps keep you supplied with mana.
If you’re using a token deck with tons of small creatures to sacrifice, Phyrexian Altar can’t be beat. Furthermore, it lets you add one mana of any color when you sacrifice a creature with it.
In a multi-colored deck, it’s not uncommon to struggle to get one color you need. Phyrexian Altar makes it easily achievable.
If you’ve played Magic before, you’ve probably experienced the disappointment of drawing into a card you didn’t need. Sensei’s Divining Top can help remedy that problem.
It essentially allows you to scry, which is an ability that lets you look at a card on top of your deck and place it on the bottom of your library if you want. Sensei’s Divining Top takes it up a notch, though.
Instead of just one card, you can pay one mana to look at three, then put them in any order back on top of your library. That means you can literally stack the deck in your favor.
You’ll find that there are very few decks in Commander without a trusty Sol Ring.
That’s because, for the cost of one mana, you’ll get two. The dream is to start with Sol Ring in your hand on turn one.
Then you basically get three mana on the first turn, while your opponents likely only have one. Sol Ring is oftentimes the architect of early-game combos that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
The thing that Umezawa’s Jitte specializes in is flexibility. It’s a weapon that can be equipped to a creature.
Whenever that creature deals combat damage of some kind, either through attacking or blocking, Umezawa’s Jitte gets two charge counters. You can pay one of those charge counters to give the creature +2/+2 for a turn, give another creature -1/-1 for a turn, or gain 2 life.
Basically, no matter what you need, be it an all-out offense or a careful defense, you’ll can accomplish it with Umezawa’s Jitte.
You’re getting a bit of a double-edged sword with Zuran Orb, but under the right circumstances, it can become indispensable.
It’s free to cast and activate. Once you have it on the battlefield, simply sacrifice a land and you’ll get two life points in return.
With Zuran Orb, you can cling on to the ends of games for a long time. If you have creatures or artifacts that tap for mana, you may even be able to do without the lands you sacrifice to it.
While it didn’t make the list of our top 15 artifacts with activated abilities, we still felt that Millstone at least deserved an honorable mention.
Millstone lets you pay two mana and tap it to force a player to put the top two cards of their library into their graveyard.
It was because of this card that the term “milling” was born in MTG. When you mill someone, you force them to put a bunch of the cards from their library into their graveyard.
Nowadays, milling is a common strategy. And it owes its name to this very artifact with an activated ability.
If we had to pick our favorite artifact from this list, we’d pick Mana Crypt.
At its essence, you’re getting two mana for a cost of zero. It’s true that, depending on the coin you flip at the beginning of your upkeep, you may need take three damage.
However, the only life point that really matters, in the end, is the final one that keeps you alive. And beyond that, there are plenty of ways to gain those life points back in the meantime.
Want to learn about the sets with the most artifacts in them? We’ve written about that in our artifact sets guide here.