It’s foolish to say that a format can be dead. Once we’ve finish playing with it, we need to start applying its lessons elsewhere. If we
don’t learn from the past, we can make the same mistakes over and over again. That…Plus there’s Magic Online! This weekend’s
Magic Online Championship tournament uses Scars Block Constructed, and I guarantee that it won’t be won by someone who stopped exploring the
format after Pro Tour Nagoya was over.
That said, I know that not all of my readers will have the opportunity to play Block Constructed. For those people, I’ve structured things so
that you can get the gist of the format and its lessons in the first half of the article, before I get into the individual decklists in the second
What it Takes to Compete in Block
My brother always taught me that you want to either be much faster, or a little bit slower than your opponent. If your deck is full of Spined Wurms, I
can beat you with a deck full of Mons’s Goblin Raiders, or I can beat you with a deck full of Vastwood Gorgers. Naturally, all decks have
smoother mana curves than that, but the point still stands: A deck which begins to execute its game plan on turn 5 will be at a disadvantage against a
deck designed to win before turn 5. It will also be at a disadvantage against a deck that does something more powerful beginning on turn 6. If
there’s a golden rule of Scars Block Constructed, this is it. You need to decide where on this spectrum you want to be.
It would be hard for me to overstate how much Tempered Steel defines the format. Simply looking over the card pool, the cards to build around seem to
be: Koth of the Hammer; Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas; Venser, the Sojourner; Grand Architect; Birthing Pod; Glissa, the Traitor; and, of course, Tempered
Steel. The problem with building around the first six is that your deck won’t really come online until turn 4; Tempered Steel goldfishes on turn
The decks that perform well against Tempered Steel are the ones that are fast enough to be fully operational in the early turns, but slow enough to
take control if they can drag the game out. The best examples are midrange Red and Puresteel Paladin. Unfortunately, these decks have their own
weaknesses, as losing the turn 4 goldfish means you’re vulnerable to slower strategies. If you don’t kill by turn 6, you need to be
prepared to face cards like Consecrated Sphinx and Karn Liberated, which are sometimes capable of beating your whole deck on their own.
Many of the format’s best cards are artifacts. Many of the format’s best cards are artifact removal. This presents difficult choices for
deckbuilders, as turning on your opponents’ artifact removal cannot be done lightly, but neither can omitting powerful artifacts which might
improve your deck. Similarly, should you maindeck artifact hate and risk having dead cards against certain players? Or should you let people go
unpunished game one for playing artifact heavy strategies?
The bottom line is that Scars Block is a format where threats vary widely, and whatever answers you choose will fall short in certain situations. In
such cases, the advantage goes to the players who are presenting threats, not to the players who are trying to answer them.
How many times have you heard the head judge’s announcement: “Please make sure that your sideboard has either zero or fifteen cards?”
I considered, as a joke, entering Pro Tour Nagoya with no sideboard. I felt like Tempered Steel was a unique case of a deck that can’t really use
its sideboard well. After all, it’s a monocolor deck in a narrow format, so there aren’t a lot of options to begin with. More importantly,
it’s such a focused strategy that, even if there were good hate cards against other decks, they would likely dilute things and make the Tempered
Steel deck worse on the whole. I thought this way for a week leading up to the Pro Tour, but I simply lacked vision at that time.
I’m sure the next thing you expect to read is “I smash X post-sideboard!” or “The one-of Leonin Skyhunter totally breaks open X
matchup!” but that’s not quite it. The reason my sideboard was useful was that I was able to present a different set of threats in
pre-sideboard and post-sideboard games. My maindeck was built for speed and put a lot of emphasis on achieving metalcraft on turn two. For game two, my
opponents would max out on removal and artifact hate, and I would bring in a suite of non-artifact threats.
I sideboarded out Dispatch in every single matchup, even though it was one of the best cards for game one. I sometimes brought in Leonin Relic-Warder
to use it as a non-artifact Grizzly Bears. It’s not that I would dodge artifact removal; it’s simply that I would present a variety of
threats so that my opponent would have to have (and draw) the correct variety of answers to beat me.
Before and After Pro Tour Nagoya
Logan Nettles and I worked on the above Tempered Steel list together. As I mentioned, the emphasis was on speed, consistent metalcraft, and also on
flying attackers. Cards that are generally good against aggro, like Go for the Throat, Viridian Emissary, and Perilous Myr were bad against our
decklist. We had strong results with it; I went 3-2, and Logan went 7-2-1.
Tempered Steel was the best deck choice for the PT. Not only is it the most powerful deck in the format, but it was perfect for the open field. As a
general rule, the wider the range of strategies is in a metagame, and the narrower the answers are, the better it is to play something proactive.
Reactive decks have a handful of severe disadvantages in this format. Pat Cox said it well when he described his pretournament
testing, “The problem with all of these control decks is that the answers were conditional, and there was no good card draw or card selection in
the format.” Going into the PT, everyone knew that Tempered Steel was an excellent deck, but for a variety of reasons, it couldn’t possibly
make up very much more than a quarter of the field. That meant that control decks simply couldn’t afford to play enough hate cards to beat it
because they would give up too much ground against the diverse field. For our own curiosity, after the tournament, Logan and I picked a 9-1 control
list and played it against our Tempered Steel pre- and post-sideboard. Steel won nine straight games, before finishing the session something like 12-5.
Following the PT, Tempered Steel became even more of a monster on Magic Online than it had been before. I played a Daily Event where all four matchups
were against Tempered Steel! There sometimes comes a point in a metagame where the dominant deck becomes so popular that it’s worthwhile to play
a “hate deck.” That point came on MTGO; control decks could be metagamed 100% against Tempered Steel, with mirrors and other matchups being
basically an afterthought. However, those conditions didn’t last long.
The Decks of Block Constructed
As strange as it sounds, the fact that everyone is now giving Tempered Steel its due respect means that it is no longer public enemy number one.
A recent Premier Event saw the top six slots all taken by Puresteel Paladin! The deck’s success is based on its strong Tempered Steel matchup,
its potential for nut draws, and its use of the format’s all-around best card, Hero of Bladehold.
David Sharfman, Pat Cox, and the rest of their team had quite good results with this deck at Pro Tour Nagoya. However, I’d like to share a hidden
gem with those of you who don’t spend hours poring over PT decklists like I do.
Hall of Famer Rob Dougherty had a wildly different take on the Puresteel Paladin archetype. Even though his deck looks silly at first glance (like a
six-year-old built it), it has some great things going for it.
I really like how he achieves metalcraft using cheap Equipment, rather than do-nothing cards like Memnite and Vault Skirge. I also like the speed and
low mana curve of his list. With twenty cheap Equipment, you can be sure that he ran away with most games where he untapped with Puresteel Paladin.
I’ve been playing Puresteel Paladin a lot since the PT, and I’m convinced that the best list lies somewhere in between Sharfman’s and
I feel that Mox Opal and Dispatch are crucial cards for this deck, so quick and reliable metalcraft is important. Mox Opal helps you keep up with
Tempered Steel, and increases your aggressive potential against control decks. Since this deck is a little slower, but has the ability to draw lots of
cards, Dispatch is really important as an answer to Hero of Bladehold, Consecrated Sphinx, and whatever other threats stand in the way of winning a
I don’t agree with Mr. Dougherty’s choice of creatures. I’ve found Kemba, Kha Regent to be slow. More importantly, though, Hero of
Bladehold simply makes any other midgame creature look pathetic; it should be played in four copies before Kemba and Indomitable Archangel are even
Regarding Sharfman’s list, I have mixed feelings about Sword of War and Peace. It can be very good in creature mirrors when the game slows down,
or when you have a Paladin and metalcraft for the free equip, but both of those cases tend to be winning situations anyway. It’s rarely come up
for me that the abilities on it were powerful. To call it a Vulshok Morningstar would be an exaggeration, but it’s very true that the power and
toughness bonuses are the most important aspects of the card. Therefore I opt to use Darksteel Axe and Accorder’s Shield for that role because
I have to admit that the thing I haven’t had enough time to test is how often the Swords steal games against control and red decks. It’s
not very appealing to have expensive Equipment against decks full of instant-speed creature and artifact removal, but if the Equipment sticks, it does
make every creature a must-answer threat. Maybe I’ve underestimated how powerful the Swords are in this role, but it occurs to me that if this is
their main use, then Sword of Body and Mind would be the better, and in fewer than four copies.
I’ve had a relatively good win ratio with Puresteel Paladin online, but it simply doesn’t have the feel of a great deck. As dependent as
Tempered Steel is on its namesake card, the Equipment deck is that dependent on Puresteel Paladin. The difference is that Paladin dies to every removal
spell in the format. You can win plenty of games without Paladin, but they aren’t exactly pretty. They tend to involve eight swings with two
Flayer Husks on a Germ token. Either that, or you drop Hero of Bladehold and have to pray that they don’t have a removal spell.
I laid out my opinions on Tempered Steel above. It’s the best deck in the format, but unfortunately the metagame is pretty hostile right now.
Puresteel Paladin is extremely popular and has the edge in the White Weenie pseudo-mirror. I was happy with the decklist I played in the PT, but I
could take or leave the Spined Thopters. These days, Viridian Emissary rarely sees play, while Mortarpod and Vault Skirge are real concerns. A possible
change to the maindeck could be -4 Spined Thopter +1 Hero of Bladehold +1 Shrine of Loyal Legions +2 Origin Spellbomb.
I have a lot of respect for Mono Red, although I’ve never played it in a tournament myself. It has solid game against the white decks, so long as
you manage your removal carefully. Slower decks, too, can have an extremely hard time fighting a quick Koth of the Hammer.
Fabian Thiele’s decklist is excellent. This is an archetype with no card drawing or selection, and a fairly narrow card pool to begin with, so
it’s smart to decide which cards are best and play four copies of all of them. I especially like how he omits Tumble Magnet—it’s a
pretty sorry answer to Puresteel Paladin, Kemba, Kha Regent, and Consecrated Sphinx.
Speaking of Consecrated Sphinx, what a card! Since it’s not possible to be much faster than Puresteel and Mono Red, being a little slower is the
best way to beat them. Sphinx trumps everything else that you can do in Scars Block, so it’s an absolute powerhouse in any matchup where you can
live to cast it.
Tezzeret is a good choice in a metagame full of Puresteel Paladin. Not only do white decks have a hard time removing Consecrated Sphinx, but using
black removal to keep Puresteel Paladin and Hero of Bladehold off the table really takes the wind out of their sails.
Robert Jurkovic’s decklist is a great place to start, but I would make some small changes for the post-Nagoya metagame. The Karn Liberated is
overkill, since there are a lot fewer slow decks, and the big matchups should typically be won if you’ve hit seven mana. I would also trim the
numbers of Ratchet Bomb and Tumble Magnet in favor of more efficient removal like Steel Sabotage, Grasp of Darkness, or Go for the Throat. Finally,
I’d like to see a mana base that can hit double black right away; it wouldn’t be crazy to play fewer than four Inkmoth Nexus.
I’m most likely going to play Puresteel Paladin in Saturday’s Magic Online Championship tournament. Aside from Tempered Steel, it’s
the deck I know best. I have a hunch that Tezzeret, and perhaps other black decks, will perform well, but unfortunately I don’t have enough time
left to do a decent job metagaming a control deck. There’s also still a lot unexplored in Scars Block Constructed, and we’ll certainly see
more than just the above four decks performing well. However, if I can leave MOCS players with one word of advice, it’s to be prepared for a turn
4 Hero of Bladehold.