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#ButWhy is this card so expensive... Engineered Explosives

01 Aug
by Arjen

When a price changes drastically, there's usually a reason for that, for example an unbanning, spoiling of a new card that complements a card, or some new tech. But why are cards expensive that, well, already are expensive? That's what I'm going to try to explore in this article series. This instalment, we'll be talking about Engineered Explosives, an artifact with an explosive ability.

Aim of this article

Many articles require (some) background knowledge about formats, the metagame and price history of a card and similar cards. We also like to serve newcomers, casual players and infrequent players in the community who would like to understand how or why a card got to where it is now. If you have been dealing with Magic finance for some time, this article probably contains a lot of information you're already aware of. Cards with a high price tag, that looks like a terrible card to new players, are the cards that I want to explore in these series.

I actually decided on writing about Engineered Explosives because I received an e-mail, suggesting me to write about this card. At first when I read the e-mail, I thought about it, but mainly knew the artifact as a card occasionally seen in sideboards. I somewhere knew the price was higher than I thought it should be, but couldn't image it being that high. I fired up my favorite Magic finance website (hint: you're looking at it!), and noticed that it has a $100 price tag. Apparently, the price has exploded at some point.

Engineered Explosives


The thing is, this card has never really been cheap since we started monitoring prices. In August 2012 it would cost you almost $50 for a playset. Fortunately, in June 2013, it was reprinted in Modern Masters, which gradually brought the price down. The Modern Masters print bottom down in February 2014 to $5.50 each and the Fifth Dawn edition reached its low point in November 2014 around $7 each.

Around June 2015, when it turned out that Engineered Explosives wouldn't be in Modern Masters 2015 the price nearly doubled. And we've seen the same happening around the time Eternal Masters and Masters 25 came out in which it both wasn't reprinted. Because of the card's versatility (which we will discuss later), it is played in sideboards of all kinds of decks, so the demand seems to be real!

In Masterpiece Series: Kaladesh Inventions there was a shiny reprint for Engineered Explosives, but this didn't really add a lot of copies to the market.

Engineered Explosives
Fifth DawnBuy on CardKingdom $104.99
Modern MastersBuy on CardKingdom $99.99
Masterpiece Series: Kaladesh InventionsBuy on CardKingdom $164.99
Fifth Dawn

Engineered Explosives was printed in Fifth Dawn, the third expansion set of the Mirrodin block, and released on June 4th 2004. Just like the other sets in the block, Mirrodin and Darksteel, it contained a high number of artifacts. It was the first set in which artifacts received a darker frame to make them more easily distinguishable from white cards. This was needed since artifacts received a new frame in 8th Edition. Example: Engineered Explosives and Aladdin's Ring.

Fifth Dawn had a "Machine Feel", with "Cogs", "Engines", "Batteries" "Spouts" and "Stations". "Cogs" are and cost artifacts with small effects (e.g. Razorgrass Screen). "Engines" turn one resource into another (e.g. Blasting Station), "Batteries" build up resources over time (e.g. Gemstone Array) and "Spouts" are artifacts that allow you to turn a resource into some effect that will either win you the game or help you control the board (e.g. Goblin Cannon). "Stations" formed "The Great Machine" which together can produce infinite mana or infinite life. The artwork of the stations forms a mural. The original order in which they were layed out was: Grinding Station, Blasting Station, Salvaging Station, Summoning Station.

The set introduced two new abilities: Scry and Sunburst. We will go deeper into the latter one in a bit, since it appears on the card we're discussing.


Engineered Explosives comes with two abilities. We're going to start with the second ability:

, Sacrifice Engineered Explosives: Destroy each nonland permanent with converted mana cost equal to the number of charge counters on Engineered Explosives.

This is easy to understand: for plus sacrifice, we can destroy each nonland permanent with the same converted mana cost as the number of charge counters on it. You can imagine that in a lot of matchups, especially in eternal formats, lots of permanents have a low converted mana cost. For example, Legacy Elves mainly has 1-drops and 2-drops, so activating Explosives with 1 or 2 counters on it, can easily X-for-1 your opponent, where you blow up multiple permanents with 1 card.

Not only will this take care of creatures, but also other problematic nonland permanents. It can be used as a "catch-all" and is the reason why this card is so versatile.

So how do we get those charge counters on it? For that, we'll have a look at its first ability: Sunburst. Lets take a look at the reminder-text of Sunburst:

This enters the battlefield with a charge counter on it for each color of mana spent to cast it.

What does this mean? The casting cost of Engineered Explosives is , meaning that if I spend to cast it, it will enter the battlefield with two charge counters on it. If I spend to cast it, it enters with five charge counters. We can choose to spend no mana at all on it, so it enters the battlefield without charge counters. We can also cast it for and it would still enter with two charge counters, since I only spent 2 colors to cast it.

This last scenario is somewhat important to remember. If your opponent controls a Chalice of the Void with 2 counters on it, meaning that spells with converted mana cost 2 get countered, but we want to play Explosives with 2 counters on it, we can cast it for 3 mana (with only two colors in it, like the example of ). Since its converted manacost on the stack is 3, it does not get countered by Chalice, but it still enters the battlefield with 2 charge counters on it.

Another similar example is when there's a Chalice of the Void on the battlefield with 0 counters on it, and we really have to get rid of it, we can play Engineered Explosives for . The converted manacost on the stack is 1, so Chalice doesn't counter it, but it still enters the battlefield with 0 charge counters on it, since we did not use any colored mana to cast it. Resulting in that we can destroy the Chalice with the second ability.

There's also a neat trick when there's a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in play. If we want to play Engineered Explosives with 1 counter on it, we can announce the spell with to be 0. However, because of the Thalia tax, we have to spend an additional mana, meaning that if we use to pay for this tax, a color mana was spent to cast the spell and it would enter the battlefield with 1 charge counter on it.

Eternal Play

Engineered Explosives doesn't see any (or much) play in Vintage, but it does see quite some extensive play in Legacy and Modern. Because the card can destroy a lot of different cards in the format and also X-for-1 your opponent, it's a very powerful utility to have in your sideboard.

Lately it sees mainboard play in Modern Ironworks Combo, an archetypes that's becoming more and more popular, where it can be used as a combo piece, but also to actually blow up problematic permanents.

Ironworks Combo - Modern by Welcometoyouredoom
Creature (6)
2 Myr Retriever $1.21
4 Scrap Trawler $0.40
Sorcery (4)
4 Ancient Stirrings $0.30
Artifact (36)
1 Pyrite Spellbomb $0.25
1 Aetherflux Reservoir $8.16
3 Engineered Explosives $13.18
3 Chromatic Sphere $0.81
4 Darksteel Citadel $0.62
4 Mind Stone $0.25
4 Mox Opal $75.36
4 Terrarion $0.20
4 Ichor Wellspring $0.25
4 Chromatic Star $0.35
4 Krark-Clan Ironworks $24.95
Land (14)
2 Forest $0.10
2 Aether Hub $0.26
3 Buried Ruin $0.51
3 Inventors' Fair $10.47
4 Grove of the Burnwillows $5.89
Sideboard (15)
1 Wurmcoil Engine $11.27
1 Galvanic Blast $1.02
2 Lightning Bolt $0.49
2 Guttural Response $0.50
4 Nature's Claim $1.05
1 Pyroclasm $0.30
1 Ghirapur Aether Grid $0.20
1 The Antiquities War $0.40
1 Tormod's Crypt $0.35
1 Defense Grid $1.74

Obviously, the card works best in decks that plays at least 2, but preferably more, colors. Because Explosives itself is colorless, it can be easily adopted into any of these multicolored decks. For example, in Legacy Miracle Control, it is even deemed good enough to warrant a spot in the maindeck.

Miracle Control - Legacy by Tomas Vlcek
Creature (6)
3 Snapcaster Mage $15.29
3 Monastery Mentor $2.29
Instant (16)
2 Counterspell $0.70
2 Predict $1.14
4 Swords to Plowshares $0.93
4 Brainstorm $1.10
4 Force of Will $50.00
Sorcery (12)
1 Council's Judgment $1.98
3 Preordain $2.00
4 Ponder $2.55
4 Terminus $0.92
Enchantment (2)
2 Counterbalance $10.85
Artifact (1)
1 Engineered Explosives $13.18
Planeswalker (3)
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor $24.20
Land (20)
1 Scalding Tarn $19.30
1 Arid Mesa $13.99
2 Plains $0.10
2 Polluted Delta $37.24
3 Tundra $451.97
3 Volcanic Island $692.49
4 Flooded Strand $31.75
4 Island $0.10
Sideboard (15)
1 Containment Priest $0.50
3 Vendilion Clique $5.00
1 Red Elemental Blast $1.00
2 Disenchant $0.15
2 Pyroblast $4.40
2 Surgical Extraction $3.29
3 Flusterstorm $20.05
1 Council's Judgment $1.98


Explosives can also be found in a lot of commander decks. Nowadays, Commander is also an important driver in card prices, and it's being played in these decks for the same reason you see it in so many Modern and Legacy decks: its versatility. However, since Commander revolves more around permanents with a high converted manacost, Engineered Explosives can be a lot less useful in the late-game.

#ButWhy is it expensive?

So... #ButWhy is Engineered Explosives so expensive? It's so versatile that it can be used in almost any sideboard of decks that plays at least two colors. Since most eternal staples have a low casting cost, you can cover a lot of the metagame in just 1 card. Since it was only printed in Fifth Dawn and Modern Masters, the supply is a lot lower than the demand.


Arjen has been playing Magic since Ice Age and has mostly played the Legacy format. Ten years ago he founded MTGStocks because he and his friends wanted to buy Magic singles at the right time to play with.

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