Nighthawk Scavenger Is The New Tarmogoyf

Patrick Chapin is thinking big with Zendikar Rising preview Nighthawk Scavenger. Check out the five decks he brewed, covering four formats.

Yo, isn’t this card insane?

Nighthawk Scavenger

Like, what am I missing? This hasn’t seemed even close to being one of the Top 10 most-hyped cards of the set, but… have you read the card? And then thought about it?

Okay, let’s start the most obvious comparison in the world.

Vampire Nighthawk

Vampire Nighthawk was once a staple, but times have changed. If Vampire Nighthawk were reprinted today, it’d barely be fringe.

Gifted Aetherborn

Gifted Aetherborn is better than Vampire Nighthawk, and it wasn’t insane or anything. Just a very fine role-player.

So, where does this leave us with Nighthawk Scavenger? Well, the floor is a 1/3 with flying, deatouch, and lifelink. While worse than Vampire Nighthawk, it’s not even that much worse, given how good the first point of deathtouch damage is.

The thing is, the floor is when there are zero cards in your opponent’s graveyard. That’s just not the case most of the time. It’s like, yeah, the floor for Tarmogoyf is a 0/1, but that’s just not how it plays out most of the time.


If your opponent has any card at all, boom, you’re up to Vampire Nighthawk (and with good types). Any creature was killed, a fetchland was activated, a sorcery or instant was cast. It’s basically trivial for this to reach Vampire Nighthawk, but what about higher?

How realistic is the Nighthawk Scavenger to be a 3/3? Again, that’s super easy. Just think about what it’s like when people have Tarmogoyfs. Yeah, in the case of Tarmogoyf, it counts both, and it gives them incentive to play variety, as opposed to the Nighthawk Scavenger disincentivizing variety, but nevertheless, it’s just so frequently going to be the case that by Turn 3, your opponent has two cards in their graveyard.

Thoughtseize Inquisition of Kozilek

In a lot of formats, it’ll be trivial to help clear the way for the Nighthawk to survive, while also making it grow. Whether you’re killing a creature, they used a fetchland, or sorceries and instants are involved, this card is just super-easy to make a 3/3. Also, some other discard spells are pretty interesting with it.

Mind Drain

On the surface Mind Drain looks like a Mind Rot that sure is trying to be a hokey Blightning, right?


It’s easier to cast, for sure, but gaining one life and milling one card is hardly the same as doing two points of face damage. That said, we’re still talking about an easier-to-cast Blightning with maybe half the extra bonus juice…

…unless you have Nighthawk Scavenger.

Mind Drain puts three cards in your opponent’s graveyard, so adding at least two new types early is extremely on the table, which means two extra points of damage (plus you’re three life the better for it).

How good is a 3/3 flying, deathtouch, and lifelink?

I think such a card would be a staple in Standard. That’s pretty intense, right? Like yeah, the various stat point thresholds matter, but Baneslayer Angel is a quality card, and in general, a 5/5 for five isn’t as good as a 4/4 for four, which isn’t as good as a 3/3 for three.

What about 4/3 flying, deathtouch, lifelink?

This is well into preposterous territory. If such a card were made for 1BB, it would be a cross-format staple. That’s just like, so much lifelink on an evasive creature. And getting three types into your opponent’s graveyard is just not that hard. For sure it’s not happening as much in Standard as more powerful of formats, but it’s still super-duper common.

  • Creature
  • Planeswalker
  • Sorcery
  • Instant
  • Land
  • Artifact
  • Enchantment
  • The other one (sic)

There’s a lot of card types, so even just playing a normal game is going to lead to three or more a good deal of the time, and early. If you try even a little, however, it becomes just so crazy, so fast.

Stonecoil Serpent

There’s two more types right there.

Is 5/3 flying, deathtouch, lifelink just crazy to imagine as a normal part of the range?

No way. Why would it be?

Most people have plenty of creatures and they go to graveyards frequently. Sorceries and instants pretty quickly get there, even if more people are playing less of them than they used to. Planeswalkers? Totally reasonable, even if it’s not always happening by Turn 4. Lands? Fabled Passage, Evolving Wilds, there’s plenty of incentive for other people to do the work for you, but it’s not like you can’t help things along with Field of Ruin, and such.

Fabled Passage Evolving Wilds Field of Ruin

You don’t need to mill your opponent very hard at all, to really speed up the clock, either. Whether it caps out at 5/3 or hits 6/3 or 7/3, we’re already just miles into crazy strong territory. If the card was just a 5/3, instead of scaling, it’d already be a player in Legacy; and in Legacy, this card is frequently going to be even bigger. 

So yeah, Legacy, Modern, Pioneer, Historic, Standard, Draft, this card is just amazing everywhere.*

* After Oko, Thief of Crowns is banned.

Lots of new stuff, both from Zendikar Rising bringing the goods and from rotation making this a very different world.

Thieves' Guild Enforcer

It’d be great to have access to better one-drops, but if we stick to one color, there’s definitely going to be a price, this time around. Notably, Thieves’ Guild Enforcer’s text means it will benefit from a lot of the same cards that would make Nighthawk Scavenger stronger.

Skyclave Shade

Another aggressive black threat that can’t block, but can’t be dealt with by traditional removal. This one is priced to be an immediate staple.

Tymaret, Chosen from Death

Yeah, four copies is a lot, but you’ve gotta dominate those Nighthawk Scavenger matchups! Besides, it’s nice to pre-sideboard against escape cards like Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, which have such inherent strengths against Nighthawk Scavenger (even if they also have incentives that help the Nighthawk).

Bloodchief's Thirst

Such a great Fatal Push variant; it may not scale quite as well in powered formats, but having your one-mana cheap removal be such reasonably costed and versatile removal as a four-mana Hero’s Downfall is very exciting (albeit at sorcery speed). There are so many other amazing black removal options, now, it’s probably worth spreading them out, in order to give us more options for which card to use in which spot, when we have multiples in hand.

Inscription of Ruin

Probably worse than Mind Drain in such an aggressive deck, but it’s too sweet a card to not try. That’s a lot of value!

Hagra Mauling

Part of the reason to go easy on the Bloodchief’s Thirst is how many virtual fours we have, by way of Hagra Mauling (even if sometimes we get a little discount). Hagra Mauling giving us four more land is pretty great.

Barren Moor

It’s basically a Barren Moor, but when you cycle it, you’re always drawing into Murder (or better); and by the time you’re cycling Barren Moor, that’s often going to be a good draw.

Agadeem's Awakening

Agadeem’s Awakening is going to need to be played as a land more often than Hagra Mauling, with how expensive it is to hard-cast. However, it does have the major advantage of being able to be played untapped for three life. This makes it really not a big opportunity cost at all, and the late-game potential it affords us is just awesome. It’s not like six mana to play two or three threats is the end-all, be-all, but it’s a lot better than a Swamp would be.

This list is very emblematic of what I believe will be a new trend. Normally, a deck like this would need several more land, and its mana wouldn’t necessarily be as reliable as we’d like. This list, however, is going to hit its land drops very reliably, while still being able to convert half of its mana into business, if the game stretches at all.

Crawling Barrens

This card looks solid to me. An untapped colorless land is definitely more on par with a tapped mono-color land like Treetop Village, rather than a two-color land like Ravaging Ravine.

Treetop Village Raging Ravine

Still, it becomes a pretty solid threat reasonably quickly, and is at least in the same league as Mobilized District (if not slightly better).

While Nighthawk Scavenger does pair excellently with green, a few cute elements it brings to blue kind of spice things up a bit. 

Thought Scour

Yes! Thought Scour your opponent and your Nighthawk hits harder!

Snapcaster Mage

A Snapcaster Mage at the right moment might be just enough to throw off the math for your opponent’s Nighthawk.

Tasigur, the Golden Fang

In the land of Nighthawk Scavengers, Tasigur is an awesome option for keeping your type count low!

Liliana of the Veil

She’s great straight-up, of course, but she’s also an excellent way to put card types in your opponent’s graveyard.

Jwari Disruption

Okay, this is probably more of a card for Standard and Pioneer, but hey, one of these will really put the fear of Bolas into some people…


Yeah, it’s basically Censor (like 80% the same).

Even though Nighthawk Scavenger works better if you try a little, it’s still such a strong card, you can just put it in any old deck and it’s probably better than whatever you took out. You just kind of do it, you know?

But heaven forbid you actually care about its types…

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Agadeem’s Awakening, eh?!

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx Agadeem's Awakening

There are all kinds of Vampire synergies possible in numerous formats, and being a Rogue is a good start towards a party. Of course, you can also just buck the party and go Rogue.

Zareth San, the Trickster

Paulo has a great breakdown of Zareth San, the Trickster. Basically, it’s a better Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni and well worth building around. For instance:

Soaring Thought-Thief gives us another tribal lord, while also enabling our “eight cards in the opponent’s graveyard” theme.

Soaring Thought-Thief

We could build on it and lots of the others to go a more flash-oriented direction if we wanted, but there’s only so much room.

Cunning Nightbonder

Sadly, Cunning Nightbonder doesn’t reduce Zareth’s cost to use, so I skipped it to start, but it’s totally reasonable and might be great if we end up Slitherwisp.

Acquisitions Expert

Mostly better than a Ravenous Rats (they could have a removal spell), but Acquisitions Expert gets better if you move towards a more rounded flash direction. It might not be enough here, but the combo with Zareth is too sweet not to try. Besides, it can make some big plays with Brazen Borrower, too.

Merfolk Windrobber

It’s fine, but it is nice to help enabling your synergies, and one of the strengths of this deck is its ability to get value out of its one-drops late.

Drown in the Loch Anticognition

Some solid permission options open up to you if you mill your opponent a little bit. That’s definitely an interesting angle that will feel different from anything else recently.

Verdict: Cross-Format All-Star