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Scourge Of The Skyclaves Is The Best Modern Card In Zendikar Rising


When I did my set review for Zendikar Rising, I was rather perplexed when it came to Scourge of the Skyclaves. Two-mana mythic rares usually deserve attention, especially ones that resemble Modern playable cards, but it was just... so... weird! Instead of just worrying about your own life total, you also have to worry about your opponents.

Scourge of the Skyclaves

Well let me tell you that after seeing it in action, Scourge of the Skyclaves is the real deal.

While it can be somewhat detrimental when it comes to really feeling out a card, our natural inclination when for card evaluation is to compare a card to cards that already exist. This gives us a baseline expectation and puts the cards in terms we already understand.

Death's Shadow

In a lot of ways, Scourge of the Skyclaves is a mixture between Death's Shadow and Tarmogoyf.

The Death's Shadow comparison is fairly obvious. You absolutely cannot be at 20 life when you cast Scourge of the Skyclaves, so you must be doing some amount of damage to yourself. As we know from Death's Shadow, this is exceedingly easy in Modern. Most Modern fetch-shock mana bases have you starting the game at 17 life anyway, and it's not hard to control more closely from there. There's also Thoughtseize, one of the best cards in the format, and more direct options like Street Wraith.

However, unlike Death's Shadow, Scourge of the Skyclaves doesn't need you to be at 5 life to be effective - simply getting yourself to 12-15 is very reasonable. The puzzle is that your opponent can't be at 20 life either. You need to be successfully dealing some amount of damage to your opponent as well, or once again Scourge of the Skyclaves is uncastable. Again, your opponent's mana base may help in this regard, but it also might not.

There is where the Tarmogoyf comparison comes in. When Tarmogoyf was first previewed, the reaction was "how can I get as many card types in my graveyard as possible?" People, myself included, were playing Chromatic Star, Edge of Autumn, and so on to try and get Tarmogoyf as big as possible. However, it wasn't long before people realized that "just playing Magic" was a good enough enabler for Tarmogoyf. Having odd types in the graveyard like enchantment or artifact was merely a bonus.

Scourge of the Skyclaves is pretty similar.

You play some fetchlands and some spells, your opponent plays some fetchlands and some spells, and with no help you're both at 15 life on turn three. Bam, there's your two mana 5/5. And Scourge of the Skyclaves only gets better as the game goes on, especially in scenarios where you are racing. Everyone knows the awful feeling of wanting to attack your Death's Shadow opponent for 8 when they are at 10, but not being able to because the 11/11 Death's Shadow will kill you on the backswing, and Scourge of the Skyclaves is much of the same.

As if the fetchland/shockland/Thoughtseize format wasn't already ripe for Scourge of the Skyclaves, there's one more major factor that pushes it way over the edge:

Temur Battle Rage

Temur Battle Rage has always been a minor but threatening piece of Death's Shadow and other "go big" style aggressive decks. You make a fast 8/8, double strike and trample it, and take the game a turn early through blockers. Well however good Temur Battle Rage was before, it is even better with Scourge of the Skyclaves.

Let's say we're at 8 and our opponent is at 15. We attack with our 5/5 Scourge of the Skyclaves, then play Temur Battle Rage on it. First strike damage happens, our opponent goes to 10, and then once it's time for regular damage our now 10/10 Scourge deals lethal damage. That's huge!

What's that, you want decklists?

This list was originally made by good friend and great Magic player Andrew Jessup, played to a 7-2 finish in the Mana Traders series by Edgar Magalh„es, and is a beauty.

Bump in the Night
Lava Spike

Given that we would like to control both our life total as well as our opponent's, Lava Spike is a natural choice. We get redundancy with the "better than Lava Spike" Bump in the Night and Lightning Bolt, and get to meld the normal Death's Shadow engine onto the very successful Prowess engine. This deck has a lot in common with the Death's Shadow Zoo decks that were popular for a time, with a super aggressive slant with Mutagenic Growth and Temur Battle Rage, but also getting Thoughtseize as interaction and a synergy piece.

This deck is mighty impressive. It has many ways to kill on turn three, but can also play a longer game with Lurrus of the Dream-Den and monstrous Death's Shadows and Scourge of the Skyclaves. This is just the sort of proactivity that tends to be very good in Modern. It also shores up the weaknesses of the two strategies that it has melded; normal Red hate like Kor Firewalker or Dragon's Claw that would be good against Prowess is laughable against Death's Shadow and Scourge of the Skyclaves, while it has a much higher threat density than typical Death's Shadow decks while also not relying on the graveyard.

This deck is awesome and my pick for the best Scourge of the Skyclaves deck.

From the MTGO 5-0 lists we get a few more looks at Scourge of the Skyclaves, this version coming from Kuhb.

Become Immense
Temur Battle Rage
Akoum Hellhound

Kuhb's list is more focused on aggression and going huge, with the full four copies of Temur Battle Rage and Mutagenic Growth as well as Become Immense. With Akoum Hellhound leading the charge on turn one, this list bears the most resemblance to the old Shadow Zoo decks. Definitely worse against interaction, this list should kill on turn three fairly often otherwise.

Magic Online player istillhaveeczema played it mostly safe with their Scourge of the Skyclaves, simply adding two copies to a fairly stock Grixis Death's Shadow list.

Death's Shadow
Gurmag Angler

On a basic level this makes a lot of sense. One of Grixis Death's Shadow's biggest issues is threat density, so adding two more threats to the deck does a lot to alleviate that. However, this is an extremely conservative approach to the card. This is like adding one Muxus, Goblin Grandee to a Historic Goblin deck to find with Goblin Matron; yes it is adding to the overall power level of the deck, but it's trying to make the card work for the deck and not the deck work for the card. When you have an extremely powerful card, bigger changes need to be made to maximize it.

So much more can be done!

Our last list today is another mixture, taking its cue from the more midrangey Rakdos Prowess lists.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den
Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
Kolaghan's Command

Borjillamtg10 still has the full set of eight prowess one-drops, but has a much more robust level of interaction and long game effects. Lurrus of the Dream-Den is the main element here, but cards like Cling to Dust as well as recursive elements like Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger and Kolaghan's Command are all happy to play a longer game.

However, with no Temur Battle Rage and fewer ways to deal early damage beyond the 1-drops, Scourge of the Skyclaves is certainly less maximized in this list. Is Scourge of the Skyclaves playing the role of Tarmogoyf often enough?


Speaking of Tarmogoyf and friends, I've also seen more normal looking Jund lists playing Scourge of the Skyclaves as well, slotting it in alongside Tarmogoyf in the "play Magic, make me big" 2-drop role. It's clear we're only scratching the surface here on Scourge of the Skyclaves.

Change Is Scary

For Eternal formats, change often comes more slowly than in Standard.

There are a monumental number of cards legal in Modern, as well as decks that have mostly looked the same for almost a decade. Breaking that mold isn't always an easy thing to do, which means it's more likely for new cards to fail than to succeed. However, because players are so reluctant to adapt it's a great potential spot for getting a significant edge.

Don't fear change.

Scourge of the Skyclaves

Scourge of the Skyclaves is here, and it is on Modern's short list of "most dangerous threats."

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