As it usually goes, some cards are more busted in theory than in practice, while others tend to be powerful more due to circumstances. For instance, prowess beaters and Heliod aren't really groundbreaking by themselves, but rather when played in the right shell. However, there's also another type of card, the worst one for the state of any format. Cards like the infamous Hogaak are busted however you turn it, both in theory and in practice. These have such a high power level that whole decks get designed around them. Such is the fate of, up to a point, Urza's Saga, one of the most broken lands printed in recent times.
As a wise man once said, reading the card explains the card, but I'm not even sure that does it justice this time around. I believe that many players, like myself, heavily underestimated the brand new Saga. The longer I looked at it, the more I was dazed by its power, but never did I consider it to be worthy of a ban … until now. I mean, it's so powerful that it has managed to revive multiple Affinity variants all at once! After the devastating ban of Mox Opal, it quickly became apparent that only a miracle could bring these back. While Urza's Saga is, in fact, a miracle, it's not the only card that has hardened the scales like never before. This is why I want to go over not just that one card, but every Modern Horizons 2 addition that's responsible for this resurgence. That way, you'll also have figured out how this evergreen archetype works nowadays.
The list I am using as reference is the one with which Dom Harvey won a Modern Challenge a few days ago:
|Capriccioso's Gruul Hardened Scales, 1st at Modern Challenge, June 6|
Before moving on, I'd also highly recommend that you watch Jarvis Yu's review of this deck featuring Dom himself if you want to know more. There are lots of tough matches, genius plays, lucky draws, misplays, misclicks, and more insight than I could possibly cover in a single article.
I still catch myself wondering about this every single day, even though I do believe that the answer is more than obvious. This is definitely one of the strongest Sagas in the game's history because it does so much, so well, at such a cheap cost. Not to take away from further articles on this powerhouse, I want to focus on why it's so good in this deck specifically.
Right off the bat, being a land helps it dodge virtually all discard and a great many removal spells, something that other Scales threats cannot. Since fewer decks get to fit in land destruction than other removal, Urza's Saga is a nuisance whichever deck it's played in. Next, the moment it gains its second age counter, you get to create a good old Construct token. It gets better, though, as you can activate it again to create another Construct on the following before you resolve the final chapter ability. Of course, this becomes even better in an artifact deck such as Hardened Scales. With so many artifacts at your disposal, these Constructs aren't just lonely 2/2s that stall aggro decks while you assemble your game plan. These are 5/5s or 6/6s that can win the game by themselves when you run out of threats and your opponent runs out of answers. Importantly, Scales players aren't in as much danger anymore when watching Pithing Needle name Arcbound Ravager, Walking Ballista, and/or Inkmoth Nexus. Even an uncontested Collector Ouphe isn't lights out for the deck as often as it used to be thanks to plan B, where B stands for beatdown.
Finally, the third mode, among other things, grabs The Ozolith and Animation Module. Need I even say anything else about it at this point? If you are behind, you can grab the Module or some of the modular threats to get back into the game. If you are behind in games two and three, you can grab hate pieces like Pithing Needle. If you are neither of these, The Ozolith is there to basically double the number of counters that used to sit on a big creature when it leaves the battlefield. It can then pass these on to another beater in hopes of winning the game outright. This legendary artifact, just like Animation Module, was always a serious threat, but however big a threat may be, it's not really a threat unless you draw it along with the proper support structure. Now you can essentially get The Ozolith for free, costing neither a draw step nor mana.
This is proving to be exactly what this deck has needed: a way to speed things up. The biggest reason why it didn't do well before Urza's Saga hit is that it was just that bit too slow. Now that is not the case anymore, and we get added consistency on top. Last but not least, don't forget that the Saga works very well with Throne of Geth. If you're in a hurry to grab an artifact or mess up an opposing Chalice of the Void, this piece of royal furniture is your friend.
This is a classic example of a card that takes a completely different direction than expected. Although it advertises Boros Affinity with all the modular artifact creatures bearing these colors in the set, that will hardly ever become a reality. Instead, what we got was Gruul Scales, even though mana abilities that can produce red mana are only present because of Zabaz's first activated ability. The second ability is not relevant at this moment, as the deck struggles with mixing more than two colors. (Two lands in the list can generate white mana for it nonetheless.) More importantly, you do not care about flying all that much, unless the flying creature is an activated Inkmoth Nexus.
For a hot second, this Insect's first activated ability seems completely irrelevant, even harmful, but that couldn't be further from the truth. For a deck that relies so much on Arcbound Ravager amassing +1/+1 counters, having an alternative way of doing that is much appreciated. Zabaz can bring down an Arcbound Worker and pick up two counters just like Ravager does, and things quickly get out of hand when you have Zabaz plus Ravager and/or Hardened Scales. Note, however, that the only triggered modular ability is the one that occurs when a creature with modular dies and counters get transferred to another creature. Modular cards getting +1/+1 counters upon entering the battlefield make for a static ability, not a triggered one. Zabaz's replacement effect also won't apply to its own death trigger—unless it dies because you cast a second.
Not only does the Glimmerwasp go well with modular creatures but also with another new card …
Although there's not much to say about this land, it plays a significant part in strengthening the deck. Despite Scales decks being full of artifacts, this is the only mainstay artifact land for the time being. Zabaz, Ravager, Phyrexia's Core, and Throne of Geth can all trigger its modular ability, helping further pump a threat. This land reminds me of Llanowar Reborn, another mainstay, so I don't see a world where it won't see play. Also, its second mana ability helps easily activate both Zabaz's abilities, making for an aerial attack that can, you've guessed it, win the game.
I know this isn't a new card, I know I'm breaking the rules of sticking exclusively with Modern Horizons 2, but please hear me out. This card rarely used to see play outside of Commander up to this point, yet it works so well here that we might as well just call it an MH2 addition. Why just play a single copy, then? Well, there are only two cases where Power Conduit generates quantifiable value—one absolutely absurd, the other pretty pedestrian. The one that's always staggering is when you remove the final lore counter from Urza's Saga. The important rule here is that you only sacrifice a Saga once its final chapter ability resolves. If you remove a lore counter in response to that ability, the Saga sticks around for another turn.
So, in the case of Urza's Saga, Power Conduit means: You can activate the Saga to create a Construct and you get to put a one-mana artifact from your library onto the battlefield, and you get to do both of these things every turn. Oh, and you get a +1/+1 counter off Conduit too, or a couple if you have Hardened Scales. This interaction is so crazy that keeping a Conduit or two in the main is very desirable, even without any means of tutoring for them.
The second case is nowhere close as appealing. Simply put, Power Conduit lets you add a number of +1/+1 counters to your battlefield equal to the number of copies of Scales you control. While this isn't anything special, it does increase your +1/+1 counter collection. Finally, even if you have nothing that interacts with the Conduit, you can always use it to move a +1/+1 from one creature to another, which may come in handy.
The rest of the deck works just like it used to, just far better now in its interaction with the new pieces. This brings me to the final verdict that it definitely is here to stay as long as Urza's Saga sticks around.
It's still unclear how the matchup against the new Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar deck looks. Your Pithing Needle can turn a Troll King from feasting to fasting, but if a pumped-up Inkmoth Nexus deals 6 damage to itself, +1/+1 counters will be lost. More generally, Hardened Scales remains rather easy to hate, though harder than before. Not least, Veil of Summer, Dismember, and the Needle give this deck excellent sideboard tools too.
All this Food talk has made me hungry. If you'll excuse me, I'll go ask Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar for a little snack. I'll be back in a bit to tell you about the secret ingredient(s) of the underworld kitchen.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.