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The Dragonmaster’s Lair – Dragons and Angels?… Just Snakes and Jellyfish

Friday, October 1st – Yes, I’ve seen the new White Weenie/Artifact decks that can explode into an Argentum Armor with Quest for the Holy Relic. Yes, I’ve seen Koth. What I’m excited about, though, is Scroll Thief.

Like most of the rest of you, last weekend was the first chance I had to get my hands on some shiny, new toys from Scars of Mirrodin.

Something else we likely have in common is that, since then, I’ve been scarcely able to stop thinking about all the sweet, new decks I want to make! Last week, I talked about what we’re losing from Standard, but that’s not nearly as fun as talking about all the cool new things we get to play with.

That said, I still feel strongly that the most important change in the format is what’s going away. Scars looks to be another in a long line of excellent Limited sets, but thus far, I’m somewhat underwhelmed by its Constructed applications. There are certainly some sweet cards, but not nearly the density of quality stuff we’ve seen in recent years.

I’m much more excited to play with cards that were previously oppressed by Shards that may now have a chance to see top tier play.

Yes, I’ve seen the new White Weenie/Artifact decks that can explode into an Argentum Armor with Quest for the Holy Relic — I’m not terribly impressed. Unlike Sovereigns of Lost Alara, which is the easiest direct comparison, it only takes a single removal spell to shut down the explosive Quest turn.

Against Sovereigns you needed to take out the creature with Eldrazi Conscription on it, as well as the Sovereigns, or else you’d just be facing down another massive attacker the following turn. If you kill the equipped creature, your opponent will be sitting around looking silly waiting for six mana to suit up another guy. Somehow I doubt a Memnite/Ornithopter deck plays enough land to make that dream a reality.

Yes, I’ve seen Koth, but I feel like Koth is a rather confused fellow. His abilities just don’t mesh well together. On the one hand, his first ability fits perfectly in an aggressive, red deck that’s looking for a consistent source of damage that dodges creature removal.

Then his second ability wants to go into some kind of big-spell red deck that wants to cast enormous creatures like Inferno Titan or Wurmcoil Engine, or huge spells like Destructive Force.

His ultimate threatens to win the game incredibly quickly if it goes off, but he does absolutely nothing to defend himself. Don’t get me wrong — Koth is certainly a powerful card, but he’s going to go into a handful of decks at best, and most likely will see the most action in a Red Deck Wins shell. That’s not something I’m about to get excited about.

What I
am

excited about, though, is Scroll Thief.

I’m sure some people are scratching their heads in confusion right now. Why Scroll Thief? Aren’t I supposed to be making decks with giant green creatures or something?

Well, for those of you who are unaware, my very first high-profile finish came at Grand Prix Toronto in 1997. I won the tournament with a mono-blue deck headlined by Ophidian.

4 Man-o’-War
4 Ophidian
4 Serrated Biskelion
4 Vodalian Illusionist
4 Waterspout Djinn

3 Abduction
4 Dissipate
4 Impulse
2 Memory Lapse
3 Power Sink
1 Ray of Command

17 Island
4 Quicksand
2 Winding Canyons

Sideboard:
2 Boomerang
2 Disrupt
1 Dream Tides
1 Flooded Shoreline
2 Floodgate
2 Knight of the Mists
1 Power Sink
2 Ray of Command
2 Undo

Ophidian was by far my favorite card in Magic for a long time after that. I played various Mono-Blue Ophidian decks in both Standard and Extended for years to come. It wasn’t until PT Chicago in 2000 when I Armadillo Cloaked up Rith, the Awakener, that dragons eclipsed my little Snake buddy in my heart.

A lot has changed since those days, though. Ophidian was a superstar in a time when Jackal Pup was the best creature a red deck could muster. Not only was the snake a card-drawing machine, but he played great defense, too! Things are different nowadays, and a 1/3 body for three mana isn’t going to be doing much blocking.

But Ophidian doesn’t want to block anyway. Ophidian wants to attack! And Scroll Thief wants to attack even more, since he’s pretty much a strict upgrade to Ophidian that lets you both deal damage and draw a card. What a luxury!

When I was your age, I had to wait until I had eight counterspells in hand before my Ophidian could start getting in for one!

So why am I so high on Scroll Thief now? It’s been legal for months! Well, Jund put a serious hurting on any attempt to play a Scroll Thief deck.

Not only did it have Lightning Bolt and Terminate to kill our Snake-imitating Merfolk, but Putrid Leech and Sprouting Thrinax made it pretty much impossible to attack with a Scroll Thief even if it did manage to stay on the board. I made several attempts to brew something up, but none that could consistently win against Jund and still compete with the rest of the field.

There’s also a new friend for Scroll Thief who’s more than coincidentally similar to an old friend Ophidian once had. Molten-Tail Masticore is a card from Scars that seems to be getting far less attention than it deserves. This is a creature that comes with a competitively priced body as a 4/4 for four that can regenerate for two mana, just like its namesake. Interestingly, I don’t even think the original Masticore would be particularly good in modern Magic since creatures are so much bigger, but its descendant not only converts mana into damage more efficiently, but has two magic words that improve its ability dramatically… “or player.”

I missed them my first time through the spoiler and thought Molten-Tail Masticore was pretty much terrible, but once Brad Nelson alerted me to my mistake, I’ve completely changed my tune. Whereas previous Masticores have only really threatened to kill creatures, this new breed can kill players — or planeswalkers — real quick.

Granted, you need a steady stream of creatures to discard to fuel its ability to machine gun your opponent, but that’s where Scroll Thief comes in! The synergy between Ophidian and Masticore was one that creature-light control decks exploited for years to pummel opposing beatdown decks, but now the tide has turned.

It’s the control mages this new Masticore is coming to eat. He even lives through Day of Judgment!

These are all extremely rough and largely untested lists, but they’re all built to maximize Scroll Thief.


The closest port of my Toronto deck available: this version probably isn’t the best option available. It’s very easy to play additional colors these days, and there isn’t much incentive to stick to mono-blue.

 I still have Spreading Seas in many of these decks, despite Jund no longer being a factor, both for opposing manlands and because disrupting your opponent’s mana can often buy you time to get hits in with Scroll Thief.

Twisted Image is in the sideboard as a way to cheaply clear away Wall of Omens or plant tokens to keep the Thief coming in — it doesn’t hurt that it kills Birds of Paradise at a profit, too, and in a pinch, you can get in for three!

You’ll notice a lot of Mind Controls in these decks. I mentioned last week that I think Mind Control is a card that is likely to see a lot more play in the near future, based on what’s leaving Standard, and I think the new cards coming into the format make it all that much more likely.

Wurmcoil Engine is the real deal, and stealing it is an even realer deal, especially now that all the efficient, maindeck answers to enchantments, like Oblivion Ring and Maelstrom Pulse, are gone. I expect to cast a lot of Mind Controls in the not-so-distant future, and I suggest you give them a try, too.

 


This seems like the most obvious next step from the mono-blue version. Lightning Bolt helps fight Jace wars and kills troublesome creatures like Lotus Cobra, Joraga Treespeaker, and Oracle of Mul Daya, or anything that gets in the way of a Scroll Thief, and it’s possible that you’d want to expand the red to include Cunning Sparkmage or Burst Lightning if the metagame shapes up to include lots of small creatures.

Red also expands your sideboard options dramatically. I expect Pyroclasm to return to greatness as creature decks are forced down the route of playing more vulnerable creatures. Manic Vandal is a great option to have available against anyone who is trying to get cute with metalcraft, especially when you can bounce him every turn with Jace!

 


The mana here may be awful, and this version is much more vulnerable to a lot of things (like the aforementioned Pyroclasm) than the other versions, but this is a deck that can certainly do a lot to disrupt an opponent and keep Scroll Thief coming. Copperline Gorge is a huge boon to this kind of deck, giving it enough lands that provide green mana untapped on turn 1 to make Birds of Paradise into Scroll Thief a realistic dream-opening. Arc Trail is the Pyroclasm-like option for a deck like this that reminds me a lot of Simoon, which was a backbreaking sideboard card in mana-creature mirrors back in the day. Forked Bolt is better for dealing strictly with mana creatures, but the option to hit Oracle of Mul Daya and a Lotus Cobra or some similar combination makes Arc Trail seem more compelling to me.

 


Scroll Thief
must

get through! This is probably the loosest of all of these lists, but I feel like this list highlights a few things.

One, there’s a whole lot of options when it comes to removing creatures in the current format, and a lot of them do so at a profit.  Scroll Thief is not in much danger of getting blocked by the average deck here!

Two, there’s now a great deal of on-color mana-fixing that can enable combinations to show up together that previously were really hard to pull
off consistently early on in a game. Jace plus Gatekeeper was a powerful combination in
Extended Thopter Depths
, but that was with the help of fetchlands getting Watery Grave, along with River of Tears and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. This deck has twelve sources of blue mana, and yet every single land still helps cast Gatekeeper!  

The sideboard here is rather loose, of course, but I think Memoricide is a card worth noting. Yes, Thought Hemorrhage was legal all this time, but its mana requirements kept it from being an option for many decks that wanted the effect. Stripping Ramp decks of all of their Primeval Titans seems like it could put a serious damper on their game plan.

So is Scroll Thief the next big thing? Chances are, it’s not, but it’s certainly a card that is much better positioned than it was a few weeks ago.

Remember, set rotations are a time of tremendous change, and brand new formats are a great time to take a fresh look at old cards and old ideas. You never know what you might dig up.