I am sorry to report that I have unintentionally led you astray.
Undergrowth Champion is certainly a very solid Magic card, but as long as Wild Slash and Crackling Doom are in the format, it will never live up to its full potential. It will continue to die far too easily to any number of random things. Champion is the type of card that is very conditional; in terms of in-game impact, it has a low floor and a high ceiling, and with the way the format is currently Champion is much closer to the floor than the ceiling.
Now, Hardened Scales is still a strong archetype. In fact, I believe it may be one of the best-positioned archetypes in the format right now. But the list I posted last week wasn’t ideal; there were a few cards that were not particularly well-positioned.
Before I proceed, I want to give you some context regarding my deck-building philosophy. I usually attempt to play the most proactive, consistently good cards in the maindeck and relegate as many of the conditional cards to the sideboard. Consistency is more important than outright power level. For example, I would rather have a card that is a 5 in some matchups and a 6 in others than an 8 in some matchups and a 4 in others, even though the more consistent card is going to be slightly less powerful on average. This is because I would rather have the option to play my way out of situations I’m losing than easily close the deal in situations where I’m winning.
Part of this is a reaction to variance; I hate variance, and I want to minimize it as much as possible so that my skills will carry me through. The other part is a desire to improve as quickly as possible. The more consistent my cards are, the more decisions I will get (have?) to make in a game. The more decisions I make, the more opportunities I have to make mistakes and to avoid making mistakes, both of which allow me to grow as a player. In addition, the more decisions I make in a given game, the more familiarity I gain with my deck and the individual cards in it.
Now we return to our regularly schedule programming.
GW Hardened Scales v2.0
This list is similar to last week’s but with the following changes:
The lands are the most straightforward changes, so let’s start there. Tapped lands really hurt us, and 15 is enough white sources, so we can afford to switch a copy of Sands to a basic Forest.
Abzan Falconer is another one of those inconsistent yet powerful cards; sometimes it’s fantastic, sometimes it’s awful. Having a single copy can win games out of nowhere, but multiples are bad enough that I don’t want more than one.
Undergrowth Champion I’ve already discussed a bit, but I’ll go into a bit more detail. It’s really a four-drop, not a three-drop, and it just doesn’t pull its weight versus fliers or removal. When you draw a fetchland or have Hardened Scales out, Champion can get quite large for its cost, but even then Managorger Hydra fills that role better by having Trample.
As for the additions to the list, Den Protector has been overperforming for me in my testing as a way to rebuy our impactful cards and get in some extra points of unblockable damage. Because Hardened Scales as an archetype is very reliant on a critical mass of synergistic cards, being able to get back a piece of the puzzle that has previously been destroyed or countered is very valuable. In terms of matchups, Protector provides us with some much-needed resilience versus control and tempo decks.
Feat of Resistance is synergistic with the deck, of course, but it’s also just a solid protection spell in its own right. Being able to counter a piece of targeted removal or make a creature unblockable is very valuable, and putting an extra counter on a Servant of the Scale or a Hangarback Walker gives us even more value. I haven’t tested Feat extensively but it seems very strong on paper and I’m definitely looking forward to casting it.
So that’s the mainboard for the GW version. The GW version, however, is not the version I would recommend playing, as it’s not great versus the combination of interaction and resilient pressure, making decks like Jeskai Black and Esper Dragons a bit difficult to deal with. The way to address this is to stop or fight through their key pieces of interaction so that our pressure overwhelms them. But we can’t really do that with just green and white; we have to splash a color.
Black gives us access to Anafenza, the Foremost and Abzan Charm, both of which are very powerful, as well as possibly Duress out of the sideboard, but the mana isn’t good enough. The deck can support at most four tapped lands (not counting the battle lands) and a playset of Sandsteppe Citadels isn’t quite enough to get us there.
Red is the easiest on the mana base, and gives us Shaman of the Great Hunt as well as some burn if we want it (Crater’s Claws being the most enticing option) but ultimately doesn’t help us against a lot of removal.
Blue is slightly harder on the mana but still lets us play 8 fetches and however many battle lands we need. It also gives us access to Skyrider Elf, which serves as an aggressively-costed two- or three-drop, and Treasure Cruise, which is a pretty great upgrade to Inspiring Call. In addition, we get access to cards like Stubborn Denial, Dispel, and Encase in Ice out of the sideboard, which shore up some of the weaknesses I mentioned.
All of the colors give us access to Woodland Wanderer, which is a great addition.
In terms of splashes, I think the clear winner is blue, so we’re going Bant. Here’s the list I’ve been liking the most:
This version of the deck has more consistent and powerful spells than the straight GW version at the cost of a slightly worse mana base, but overall I think the improvements more than make up for a small increase in the mulligan rate. Woodland Wanderer being a 5/5 or 6/6 with Vigilance and Trample can be game breaking, Skyrider Elf is like a better Endless One in terms of filling the curve (although it doesn’t help mitigate flood quite as well as Endless One) and I think the entire Magic community knows how busted Treasure Cruise is when we have access to more than 4 fetchlands.
As far as sideboard options are concerned, Encase in Ice is a great way to deal with everything from Abzan Aggro to Mantis Rider to GW Megamorph, while Dispel and Stubborn Denial are great ways to keep our creatures alive. Disdainful Stroke rounds out the counter suite as a way to stop board wipes and anything too big to fight through.
I firmly believe that Hardened Scales has the potential to be a top-tier deck, and Bant is definitely the most promising color combination. The deck is capable of being proactive and applying a strong amount of pressure while still having enough interaction to stop key pieces of the opponent’s plan (or prevent them from doing the same to us). It will take a bit more tinkering to find the right 75 but I firmly feel that I am on the right track.
See you next week!
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