The New Scourge of Modern
- Marin Magda
Scourge of the Skyclaves is one of those cards that look busted at first glance but require extensive testing before it is possible to reach any definite conclusion. Now, a few weeks after the release of Zendikar Rising, we have the results and can definitely say that the verdict is in.
Right off the bat, it is necessary to state that Scourge of the Skyclaves is one weird card. As many people have put it, it is game-winning at its best and absolutely useless at its worst. It heavily resembles Death's Shadow but doesn't really play like it. This had everyone wonder how to best approach it the moment they saw the preview.
The Scourge may have a terrible kicker ability, but the rest of it rocks. It is a card that requires a whole new shell to stump the meta, so coming up with one took some time, but it was well worth the wait. After a bit less than a month, pilots have brewed up some killer lists. Not all are equally powerful, but aggro players all around will delight in playing any of these.
Honorable mentions would go to Suicide Zoo and the straight Burn version of Rakdos Scourge. I'm sure these can (and did) achieve flawless League runs on Magic Online, but there's no reason why you wouldn't just play some of the following decks instead. The latter goes for Jund too — some lists run Scourge, but I'd rather just work with Klothys and stick to the midrange plan.
Death's Shadow Decks
As already mentioned, Scourge of the Skyclaves isn't all that similar to Death's Shadow. It turned out that lowering both players' life totals quickly is a much greater task than initially thought. At least it's too big for certain Shadow variants, as they're used to dealing most of their damage through slower creatures. Consequently, Shadow and Scourge aren't supposed to work well together in theory.
However, the most popular Shadow decks at the time, Grixis and Jund, were already in quite a weird spot before the Scourge came around. They didn't fare well in the metagame, and people started adding some elements of prowess decks and even Thing in the Ice / Awoken Horror. With so many crazy ideas floating around, as well as brand new cards like Cleansing Wildfire and Feed the Swarm, it's no wonder everyone hurried to try and cram in the Scourge as well.
GDS was always a deck of its own, requiring a very specific approach. Being a skilled player and sequencing everything correctly is of crucial importance for this one, as the threat density is known to be lacking. It was lacking to the point where most players thought a playset of Scourge of the Skyclaves would be an auto-include. Things don't always go as planned, though, which the outcome of this situation proves.
Since Grixis Death's Shadow deals most of the damage with the Shadow, unless it changes its approach rather drastically, it's simply not a good fit for the Scourge. The good news are that there are already two common directions in which the Grixis variant usually goes. The bad news are that another part of the deck's game plan has to go.
The most recent approach that did well decided to keep Snapcaster Mage but to ditch the rest of the graveyard synergies. This makes for an interesting control take on the deck and also allows Lurrus of the Dream-Den to stick around as a companion. The Cat just about might justify the lack of Street Wraith. Still, I'm not sold on the following list's consistency, as I feel like it relies a bit too heavily on opponents hurting themselves with fetch lands. Otherwise, the Scourge usually remains useless, although that shouldn't be a problem in a metagame filled with exactly Scourge and Shadow of course. It should do well in the mirror precisely because of this.
|ivanguille's Grixis Death's Shadow, 5-0, Modern League, October 2|
If one wants to keep both Street Wraith and Gurmag Angler alongside Scourge, Snapcaster Mage should probably be the first card one subtracts from the formula. Good old Thought Scour is back then, but Lurrus is not, at least not as a companion. Sure, there's no Snapcaster, but the self-mill plan should help secure a low enough life total on both sides with the help of Gurmag Angler.
This plan seems more consistent to me than the first one, but it's still far from ideal. You might be better off playing Grixis Death's Shadow without the Scourge and with Magmatic Channeler. That card also sees some play from time to time, but struggles to make the limelight. Also, four Lightning Bolt may be offsetting for some, but at least these lists give a fresh new take on this classic Modern archetype.
|hsandi9's Grixis Death's Shadow, 5-0, Modern League, September 29|
Jund (and Four-Color) Shadow
Because the two green-based versions don't have any problem with threat density, they have a problem with Scourge for the most part. Green offers Tarmogoyf, a beater that's usually much smaller, but that offers a faster clock and is much more reliable.
There's not much to be said here except that making room for the Scourge is tough, but many lists do include one. With Traverse the Ulvenwald a mainstay, there's no reason not to. After all, it can be much bigger than Shadow, especially when both life totals (barely) have two digits. Both versions, Jund as well as Four-Color, have nearly the same main deck, so the next list works well as a showcase for either.
|benchsummer's Four-Color Death's Shadow, 5-0, Modern League, October 2|
About three weeks after this deck's inception, it is already no longer in need of any introduction. Rakdos Shadow is now the most popular choice among Modern players for a reason. It combines the best elements of prowess, Death's Shadow, Lurrus, and, of course, Scourge. Like that is not enough, its noncreature spells are so good and it has so many synergies, I am inclined to just call this deck "Rakdos Good Stuff."
|Ryan Marvin's Rakdos Death's Shadow, 6th at NRG Series Online Trial #2|
In a world with not one Fatal Push but two, Apostle's Blessing fits this deck to a tee. There may not be other ways of directly protecting your threats, but discard spells more than make up for that. Thoughtseize also takes away a chunk of your life total to help grow literally every creature, be it through prowess triggers or life loss.
Speaking of life loss, which Scourge happens to love, both Mutagenic Growth and Dismember happen to help with it while letting your combat phases end with no blockers. If that's not enough to warrant lethal damage, Prowess and Shadow favorites Crash Through and Temur Battle Rage might be.
You're hardly ever going to cast Agadeem's Awakening, but as a land, this card further helps solidify Rakdos lists. There's no room for Kroxa and Feed the Swarm, but at least these make for great sideboard options and always make the cut there. Feed the Swarm even offers a clean answer to Leyline of Sanctity.
The reason why Scourge works best in exactly this context is that, unlike other Shadow variants, dealing damage to opponents early is second nature for this one. Bolt is a mainstay, as well as Lava Dart, which is great for pumping prowess beaters and accelerating a good early Scourge and/or Shadow drop. What's more, Eldrazi Tron, a bad matchup due to Chalice of the Void, is not so dominant anymore because of Uro. That alone already makes the meta quite a bit friendlier for this deck. Additionally, Balustrade Spy and Undercity Informer sure can dodge Force of Negation, but they have a much tougher time against disruption and a fast clock. You can even Thoughtseize away their land drops!
As a conclusion, both Black-Red Prowess and Shadow decks face the occasional consistency issue, but this list minimizes them as much as possible and has successfully maximized its win rate — up to one of the highest in all of Modern. Combining the best of both worlds proved to be the real deal, making for a deck that shows no signs of stopping whatsoever.
If your metagame screams for Fatal Push and Cling to Dust, you can always try and revert to a so-called Lurrus Aggro deck. Sure, Seal of Fire can also seal (pun absolutely intended) games, but I don't see the point in relying on Lurrus more than one should, let alone play this deck over Rakdos Shadow. Still, it's not a terrible choice by any means as it has upsides of its own, such as being better at preserving your own life total while still decimating the opponent's.
|Borjillamtg10's Rakdos Prowess, 5-0, Modern League, October 2|
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