Outside the Box With Scourge of the Skyclaves

Shortly after the card became legal, I ran a piece on Scourge of the Skyclaves that illustrated the many homes it was sure to find (and had already tried out) in Modern. Of those, Rakdos Prowess has risen head-and-shoulders above the rest of the competition, that build now rebranded as Scourge Shadow. Still, as a staunch believer in brewing that which the heart desires, I was left wondering what a Scourge deck might look like that was maybe worse, but certainly more in line with my preferences than the all-out assault of the top performer. Today, I’ll unveil what I managed to come up with.

Picking Colors

My first order of business was to decide which colors I wanted to be in, as the best cards in each are fairly obvious; then, it’s a matter of picking spells in those colors that plug whichever holes are left in the strategy.

Back in Black

It made sense to start by looking at what was already in-color, and black certainly offers some exciting options to the Scourge shell.

Inquisition of Kozilek/Thoughtseize: Clearing the way for a fatty with one of these spells is Modern at its most classic. That line of play shoves us towards midrange on the archetype spectrum, but when the spells are this versatile, who cares? Thoughtseize does deal us damage for Scourge, but to be fair, it’s die-more considering we’ll always be fetching. Still, that damage becomse relevant when we look at another possibility….

Death’s Shadow: By now, Shadow and Scourge have proven to be the best of buds. After all, they’re both undercosted beaters that benefit from similar gamestates, not to mention come with similar strings attached. I wasn’t sure I wanted Shadow, because of the kind of playstyle it can force pilots into, but I did want a certain amount of threats.

Cling to Dust: Modern’s latest superb cantrip, Cling offers a late-game grinding engine, incidental lifegain, and incidental graveyard hate in Game 1, all on a one-mana draw spell that triggers prowess and fills the graveyard. Talk about versatile.

Fatal Push: Great removal. What’s not to like!

Looking over my options, I figured pushing deeper into black than just a splash for Scourge meant adopting a slower, grindier gameplan.

Red the Runes

The next color I looked at was red. Level 0 reasoning when reading Scourge of the Skyclaves says that the card’s better when opponents are getting domed, and nothing domes like a burn spell.

Lightning Bolt: Magic’s premier burn spell was all but guaranteed inclusion if I opted to dip into this color, but I didn’t think it was reason enough to commit on its own. Modern decks these days are well-oiled machines built from synergistic components, and Bolt is… well, just a great card. Splashing the instant was once more commonplace, although often decks that couldn’t play it were simply outclassed, but that was before Fatal Push, Aether Gust, and other such compact answers were printed in other colors.

Monastery Swiftspear: Now we’re baking! If I do indeed know my way around a Swiftspear, there’s no way I’d miss its delicious synergy with Scourge. Since the newcomer relies as much on an opposing life total as on one’s own, Swiftspear essentially clears the way for Scourge to come down, no-questions-asked: because of haste, opponents don’t even get a chance to draw their first card of the game, play their first land of the game, and kill the Human before they’re in range of Scourge being live. Swift also provides bursts of damage down the road, which grows Scourge in the medium-term. For that reason, opponents should kill it right away if they can. The thing is, their doing that means one less removal spell pointed at Scourge, or a Push wasted.

Swiftspear’s one-mana-haste-beater-with-upside-later blueprint is so good with Scourge that we’ve seen Bomat Courier creep into Rakdos Prowess decks this month as four additional copies. Bomat Courier! Remember that guy?

Temur Battle Rage: One of the most alluring aspects of Scourge of the Skyclaves is its combo potential with Temur Battle Rage, which in case you’ve been quarantining under a rock lets the creature kill from 10 life with opponents at 15. Fitting a couple of these into the shell for a Splinter Twin effect of sorts would increase our aggressiveness quotient, perhaps improving reversibility if the build was trending a little too reactive.

Crash Through: Far from the most exciting card in a deck all but sure to eschew Soul-Scar Mage, Crash is nonetheless a cantrip that does things, and one that plays great with Scourge and other fatties like Tarmogoyf. Its effect proves a tad redundant with Rage, often a better spell for that purpose, but I like that it filters into a new card.

U Blues, U Lose

Or do ya? I was determined to find out!

Stormwing Entity: I’ve had good fun with this creature since its printing, and wanted to try it alongside Scourge in a 12-Goyf type of shell. Try it I did, and because of Entity’s strict conditions—mostly, running a bunch of Manamorphose—I remained unconvinced. I soon came around on Manamorphose the card, but requiring the instant to be around just to slam the bird made the bird far from worth it. The point of Scourge is we don’t have to step so far out of the way to run a ganga great two-drops.

Stubborn Denial: Rather, the most obvious candidate in blue was Denial—after all, blue cantrips ain’t what they used to be, and permission interacts with certain spells a lot better than targeted discard does, yielding tempo as well as disruption. Alas, without Entity, I just didn’t have enough Ferocious enablers to want to dip into the spell, which made blue mostly unappealing.

Aether Gust: One last-ditch note in blue’s favor was Aether Gust, a card that’s been showing up in sideboard and even mainboards galore. Not only is super-bouncing a Swiftspear or other prowess creature great in the combat step, fading damage while often costing opponents a card or two in the process, Gust is great at dealing with lots of Modern’s premier threats at the moment: Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, Primeval Titan, and Omnath, Locus of Creation among them. Naturally, though, it wasn’t a reason on its own to splash a color.

Mean ‘n’ Green

Well, we all knew it would come to this…

Tarmogoyf: Ah yes, the reason not just to splash green, but to play Modern, nay, Magic at all. As soon as I saw Scourge, I thought Goyf; here was a creature that similarly rewards pilots for just playing the game, capable of growing freakishly huge very quickly even without much support. And as a longtime champion of Temur decks, I’m also a longtime clamorer for “more Goyfs” to throw into my decks, so naturally I was excited by the prospect of slinging these coupla two-drops together.

By “more Goyfs,” I mean strategic redundancy; with eight of the things, it’s simpler to build a whole deck that assumes it can drop such a beast on turn two in most games, rather than having to flip a coin between two patently different creatures (as Jund did forever with Dark Confidant). As such, the deck should run smoother. But it’s also curious that Goyf and Scourge don’t utilize the same resource. While Goyf can be blanked by Rest in Peace, and Scourge dismantled by… uh… random lifegain cards, dealing with a creature suite that employs both of them strains opponents for hate, multiplying the pressure both threats already put on the life total. In other words, they seemed like a match made in heaven, so long as I could figure out what else green had to offer.

Veil of Summer: 2020 was truly a year of superb cantrips, though not all of them remain in the format. Veil of Summer is one that has managed to evade Modern’s banhammer, if it wasn’t so lucky elsewhere. The hate card Goyf and Scourge both crumble before is Fatal Push, one of Veil’s favorite meals. And stopping permission, discard, and other random removal never hurts, either. Sold!

Traverse the Ulvenwald: A Traverse package could be splashed, and I messed around with one a bit. But to what end? If we already have our great threats, I don’t think additional graveyard reliance and mana taxing is what our deck wants.

Don’t White a Check…

…that your ass can’t cash! We’ve got the honorable Fred Durst to thank for that one. But seriously, that check would bounce. With pretty much just Path to show for itself, white is freaking bad.

Building the Deck

Green was a lock. (Who are we kidding?) And so was red; my tries without it proved too anemic. White was out for sure. I messed around with some four-color variants before realizing blue wasn’t adding much and cut it, which gave us Jund.

Here’s where I ended up:

Jund Scourge, Jordan Boisvert

Creatures (16)
Monastery Swiftspear
Death’s Shadow
Tarmogoyf
Scouge of the Skyclaves

Artifacts (4)
Mishra’s Bauble

Instants (14)
Lightning Bolt
Cling to Dust
Manamorphose
Temur Battle Rage

Sorceries (10)
Thoughtseize
Inquisition of Kozilek
Crash Through

Lands (16)
Blood Crypt
Stomping Ground
Verdant Catacombs
Swamp
Overgrown Tomb
Bloodstained Mire
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Lurrus of the Dream-Den
Klothys, God of Destiny
Veil of Summer
Ancient Grudge
Fatal Push
Searing Blood
Collective Brutality
Unearth
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A few general thoughts:

I ended up going with Shadow to add some bulk to the threat suite, which was missing once I gave up on Stormwing Entity (the other option was trying for a Traverse package, which struck me as kind of frail). We do deal ourselves plenty of damage between the fetchlands and Thoughtseize anyway, and Shadow is something of a trump in the many aggro mirrors. With Shadow in the picture as well as Scourge, I felt comfortable moving to 3 Temur Battle Rage.

Manamorphose stacks with Bauble to give the deck plenty of 0-mana velocity, which is great for Goyf, Swiftspear, and Cling alike. I think it’s worthwhile even without Entity, though I could see trimming its numbers a bit if we needed to include something else, such as mainboard Fatal Push (perhaps alluring with Scourge Shadow so high in the Tier rankings).

It still offers an aggressive dimension, but Swiftspear is not a standalone threat in this build: it’s more an enabler à la Noble Hierarch, almost hoping to lock in a point of damage and then eat a kill spell right away to clear the way for a superior threat. Of course, if opponents choose to ignore it without developing their own battlefield, Swiftspear will end up piling on a good 3-6 damage in the first few turns, which is fine for the mana investment, but far from the havoc we know it’s capable of.

Feeling Nostalgic?

Because of Swift’s borderline enabler status here, this deck feels familiar to me, playing somewhat like the Six Shadow deck I trotted out only for Arcum’s Astrolabe and Oko, Thief of Crowns to be banned. And building it reminded me of Counter-Cat, a deck whose founding principle is “splash the cards you want.” Something of a jog down memory lane, and good lockdown fun, although natch, I couldn’t sleeve it up for Friday!

All that to say that maybe our world is deeply altered, but Modern is still Modern—sure, Blood Moons and Swiftspears and Omnaths and Scourges lurk around many corners, but if you find something that takes your breath away, by golly, play it. Life is too short. Until next time, may you swing 15!

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