I can’t think of a new Magic card in recent memory that has excited me as much as Scourge of the Skyclaves. Black has certainly taken a back seat in recent sets when it comes to Modern-playable cards, especially aggressively-slanted creatures. But Scourge of the Skyclaves looks a lot like Death’s Shadow if you squint hard enough, and as a Shadow aficionado, it obviously caught my attention.
The only question is what to do with this card. Will it excel in Death’s Shadow decks? Will other Modern decks want it, too?
I’ve come prepared with three Scourge of the Skyclaves decks to try out: Grixis Death’s Shadow, Jund Shadow Zoo, and Rakdos Prowess. Let’s dive in!
Historically, one of the weaknesses of Grixis Death’s Shadow has been threat density. You’ll have games where you can’t find a Death’s Shadow or a Gurmag Angler quickly enough, and those games are often losses. Besides the obvious lack of pressure on the opponent, both Temur Battle Rage and Stubborn Denial don’t do much without a threat, which leads to a lot of dead draws.
I’ve tried a number of things in the past to remedy this problem without a ton of success. Serum Visions, Opt, Sleight of Hand and Cling to Dust have all made the deck at some point, but none of the Modern cantrips are quite strong enough to match the consistency of something like Ponder. (I will note that I treat Thought Scour more like an enabler for Gurmag Angler than a cantrip.) I’ve tried Sprite Dragon, Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, Dreadhorde Arcanist, and Young Pyromancer to try and bolster the roster of threats, and each has its own issues.
Thankfully, now that Scourge of the Skyclaves exists, the search for the missing threat seems to be over. While it isn’t quite Death’s Shadow — nothing really is — it’s close enough, and Grixis Shadow needs redundancy. I’m going to start with a full twelve threats to get a feel for exactly how good Scourge can be. At the very least, I’m hoping it’ll be a good replacement for Snapcaster Mage, which has long been one of the weakest cards in the deck.
Scourge, much like the Beatles, gets by with a little help from its friends. And by “friends,” I mean cards that reduce your opponent’s life total. Luckily, many Modern decks operate on a fetch/shock mana base, and you can get in some early hits with Death’s Shadow and Gurmag Angler. In addition to the other creatures, I’ve added a full set of Lightning Bolts just to make sure you can deploy Scourge of the Skyclaves as consistently as possible. Once it’s in play, it will often be able to grow itself in combat, with the potential to outsize Death’s Shadow itself. That’s an incredible amount of damage, especially combined with Temur Battle Rage.
Agadeem’s Awakening makes an appearance in this list as the 17th land. (It could honestly be the 18th land, but I’ll know a little more on that front after the set releases.) The card admittedly looks a little clunky and hard to cast, but when a land has to Bolt you to come into play untapped, you shouldn’t underestimate it. Nurturing Peatland has taught me that if you can get any sort of spell-like effect out of your lands, they are likely far more powerful than they look, and I expect Agadeem’s Awakening to follow that rule.
Next up, we have a far more aggressive take on Death’s Shadow. Jund Shadow Zoo has long been the best version of Death’s Shadow if you’re simply looking to end the game as quickly as possible. Scourge of the Skyclaves gets even better in this shell — not only do you have a set of Lightning Bolts, but there are six creatures you can play on turn one to get damage in on turn two and enable Scourge.
Often, a draw containing two lands, Akoum Hellhound, and Scourge of the Skyclaves will put both players at sixteen life or less. That makes Scourge a two-mana 4/4 that gets bigger as the game goes on. Add a Mutagenic Growth to the equation and suddenly you’re playing a 6/6 and threatening a kill on turn three. The fast Death’s Shadow draws featuring Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage were the best that Shadow Zoo could produce, and now Scourge makes that kind of draw far more likely.
It’s worth noting that Monastery Swiftspear has taken a backseat to Akoum Hellhound as the one-drop of choice in this deck. That’s largely because Hellhound + fetchland + Become Immense + Temur Battle Rage is a 20-damage play on turn three; the same sequence with Monastery Swiftspear is only sixteen damage.
I expect Scourge of the Skyclaves to perform admirably alongside Tarmogoyf in the “huge two-mana creatures” role, and to really push the boundaries of aggression. This deck is fast, and it’s already built to support cards like Death’s Shadow, so it’s a natural home for Scourge.
I also expect to see versions of this deck that employ Lurrus of the Dream-Den as a companion. That means cutting Street Wraith, which will make Death’s Shadow and Scourge of the Skyclaves somewhat worse. But in the right metagame, Lurrus has incredible potential to take over games, so everything will likely balance out.
Finally, we have a Rakdos Prowess build with Lurrus in the companion seat. Scourge may seem odd in a Prowess shell, but this deck has a couple things going for it. First, Prowess might just be the best archetype to enable Scourge on turn two. This deck has a full eight one-mana creatures that can get to work on the opposing life total, plus a slew of direct-damage spells. Secondly, these decks have played Abbot of Keral Keep as the scaling two-drop of choice, and Scourge seems much better in that role. While it may not provide an extra card, Scourge will often deal far more damage over the course of a game.
I’ve done a bit of work to the mana base to ensure that you can consistently keep your life total lower than Rakdos Prowess has in the past (remember that Scourge checks the highest life total between both players). I’ve removed Blackcleave Cliffs and replaced it with an additional Blood Crypt, Sunbaked Canyon, and Wooded Foothills. This should naturally lower your life total without straining your color requirements. For the same reason, I’ve moved to a full four copies of Thoughtseize instead of running a few copies of Inquisition of Kozilek.
Crash Through made the cut for me over the traditional Cling to Dust in the cantrip slot. Spells that draw more spells are important to maximize your Prowess creatures, and Crash Through goes beyond that. Scourge loves cards that grant trample, but Prowess isn’t a great home for Temur Battle Rage. Giving your whole team trample is also fairly relevant, as Prowess decks often have more creatures attacking than a deck like Grixis Shadow.
Whew! That’s a lot of new decklists to try, and I’m sure Scourge of the Skyclaves will be viable in even more archetypes. While these are unlikely to be the final streamlined forms of these decks, I do think they’re an excellent place to start testing and get a feel for what Scourge needs to be a powerful threat.
Which card from Zendikar Rising are you most excited to try in Modern? Do you have any cool deck ideas involving Scourge of the Skyclaves? Be sure to let me know on Twitter at @Rappaciousone. I’ll be back next week with my top five cards from Zendikar Rising for Modern, so keep an eye out!
Michael Rapp is a Modern specialist who favors Thoughtseize decks. Magic sates his desire for competition and constant improvement.