If at First You Don't TD, Scry, Scry Again

Posted in Feature on May 17, 2007

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

Welcome to Scry Week!

This week on Swimming With Sharks we will be exploring scry, which is one of my favorite keyword abilities in the game. If you've been reading my articles for any amount of time, you know that Visions, with its Impulses and Man-o'-Wars (relatively unexciting but also inexpensive spells), has long been my favorite set, and that I love to puzzle every last iota of value out of Constructed decks... as well as the cards that make them up. Scry, which is undercosted to the point of being essentially un-costed and attached to serviceable, workmanlike cards, is a perfect intersection of both ideals.

Now of course theme weeks in general are meant to be in some wise topical, so we'll get to the scry stars and stiffs of Future Sight, but first, I thought I'd turn back the page and rank the mechanic's first wave:

Eyes of the Watcher
9. Eyes of the Watcher

To give you an idea why this is in last position, I didn't actually know what Eyes of the Watcher did, and had to look it up. It seems like a classic failed Johnny card, one that you might in the abstract want to build a deck around but that is ultimately too slow and unwieldy to have a working 56 assembled around it. Eyes of the Watcher is actually a good example of what a good scry card is not. All the quality Spike scry spells do something and also tack scry 2 on as a bonus. Scrying in and of itself isn't really that great. It is the hand orange juicer that you get for free with a set of kitchen knives that can cut through Pepsi cans, not the knives proper. What makes the mechanic so inviting is that it's this free gift attached to something you might already want to spend resources to do. Eyes of the Watcher asks you to do something in order to scry (which we've just said you don't even necessarily want to do if that's all you get to do), which is like buying a television for the express purpose of staying up until an infomercial for spray-on hair comes on so that you can pray please Please PLEASE that the free gift is a hand juicer.

8. Ferocious Charge

I don't think that many pump spells get a second look on two mana, let alone three. We see a fair amount of Block, Standard, and even Extended play of one-mana options, of course. I think the theory is that we want the pump spells to pump and don't really want to invest the mana in anything else. I'm trying to think of a combination of +*/+* and mana where scry 2 would demand Constructed consideration... It would probably have to be more than +1/+1 and only one mana...

7. Stand Firm

... We know this because of Stand Firm.

Here is a card that might have actually been on the right mana... but the white instant was maybe in the wrong color, maybe at the wrong point in history, and probably didn't do enough. Remember that any sort of creature enhancement at this stage in history had to compete with Skullclamps and variously flavored Swords, and Stand Firm couldn't really best Mirrodin or Kamigawa Block equipment for the attentions of a white creature deck.

Fill with Fright
6. Fill with Fright

This is a card that I kind of always wanted to be good enough for Constructed... but it asked for four mana. Two-card discard has traditionally had its sweet spot on two (Hymn to Tourach, Gerrard's Verdict), with some play on three (Stupor)... Even with the scry, Fill with Fright was just too pricey; especially in Standard... Persecute sits on the same curve point.

5. Lose Hope

With Lose Hope we finally hit the Constructed-quality Fifth Dawn Scry spells as well as the minimum criteria for a playable scry spell. This one was really underrated, and I think under-played. I always felt that Sicken was a good card back in Urza Block (I even played it at the Pro Tour), and I ran it in Standard Necropotence as a kind of terrible Demonic Consultation that could alternately kill Goblin Lackey, Jackal Pup, or Birds of Paradise on turn one. Lose Hope had twice the selection power of Sicken (such as it was) for half the mana (we're getting there) while actually functioning front-side instead of in the alternative. As you can see, it was in some wise Sicken-plus; I doubt very much that we would have seen any loss of hope at or -1/-0 or some different inferior variation.

Peter Nguyen won Kansas Champs using Lose Hope to help set up his Death Cloud deck:

Peter Nguyen

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4. Tel-Jilad Justice

Gabriel Nassif won the 2004 Player of the Year race in large part to his Top 8 finish in the World Championships; he got there in large part thanks to a 4-1-1 Mirrodin Block performance with this unanticipated green deck:


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Tel-Jilad Chosen, Viridian Shaman, Molder Slug, Oxidize, and of course Tel-Jilad Justice came together to really punish an artifact. One of the tensions on this card in Standard was that had to compete with Naturalize; what was more desirable, the ability to also destroy an enchantment (in the middle of the most artifact-dominant stage in Magic history), or the ability to scry into one's next artifact elimination spell? Tel-Jilad Justice was a minority adoption at best in Standard, where Naturalize was of course twice as versatile... But in Mirrodin Block Constructed, that was never an issue, and it filled the role just fine.

Again, note that we need to see a working "Shatter" before we will consider the scry spell, and even when we get it, the card is not necessarily Tier 1.

3. Serum Visions

Serum Visions is actually a fair selection option for a combo deck, and awfully cheap. Its scry combines very naturally with Predict as a redundancy over Brainstorm in threshold decks (you can put your worst card on top and use Predict to get rid of it, draw two, and put two cards into the graveyard).

Summersberger, Helmut

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2. Condescend

Basically any card that says some variant of "counter target..." is Constructed playable in some format. Condescend was obviously a powerhouse in its Block (or what passed for a powerhouse in non-Affinity decks), contributing to blue-green card advantage decks as well as some Tooth and Nail variants. Built on a Power Sink template, Condescend was actually so strong that players would run it for too little just to get the scry for a cheap cost in a pinch ( with X = 0 was not uncommon). The card likely hit its high point winning the U.S. National Championship:

Antonino De Rosa

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In Ant's deck, Condescend was good for several reasons above and beyond its utility in the abstract (and this was a card played in many decks). First of all, scry has a specific role, which is to find the 'Tron. Secondly, once you have the 'Tron, it is an awfully vicious reactive card. Subtly, Condescend required only , not , which mattered in a deck with twelve colorless lands and a basic Swamp.

Magma Jet
1. Magma Jet

By far the best of the first generation of scry cards, Magma Jet saw rampant adoption across essentially all competitive formats. "Magma Jet you on upkeep," was heard 'round the world in every format when this card was legal, in an attempt to either find a third land or a tenth lethal burn spell; any more economical application was just gravy.

The main tension for Magma Jet was between it and Volcanic Hammer at the two-mana burn spell slot in Extended Red Deck Wins, with good arguments for both sides of the debate. The Volcanic Hammer side, largely championed by the amazing Patrick Sullivan, had a better weapon against Wild Mongrel on turn two, and could make the argument that by successfully executing on as few as two cards, the Hammer advocates had half the opponent's starting life total covered (Firecat + Hammer = 10 ya brah). The Magma Jet aficionados... Well... They had Tsuyoshi Fujita.

Shuhei Nakamura

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Fujita's deck put Shuhei Nakamura in second place in Columbus; Tsuyoshi himself finished ninth on tiebreakers due to losing in the first round to a player disqualified for cheating in the second. Bad for the old breakers; bad beats.

What about the new Future Sight scry cards? Will any of them reach the heights of Magma Jet and Condescend in the Constructed canon?

9. Unblinking Bleb


This is the morph equivalent of Eyes of the Watcher... but probably much more expensive and certainly more fragile, not to mention more demanding. No.

8. Cryptic Annelid


Cryptic Annelid's action is so exciting. However, its meeting place of price tag and body is probably not quite there for Constructed. Remember, the rule of thumb is that cards that cost four or more should win the game all by themselves, and this one almost never will. At the same price point, opposing aggressive decks should have creatures that can knock Cryptic Annelid into the match at the next table. Purely for card drawing, Cryptic Annelid can't compete with, say, Foresee.

7. Putrid Cyclops

No, or at least "almost certainly no."

There are a couple of problems for this card in Constructed. The first one is that, even in Block, it is fairly rare for a vanilla 3/3 for three mana to be good enough. This card might not make it past the scry. We've already talked about how good scry cards tack scry onto a card you might want... and you probably don't want Putrid Cyclops.

That said, I suppose there could be some advantage to playing this in a deck with only cards that cost less than three mana so that the Putrid Cyclops would not accidentally kill itself... but then again, Putrid Cyclops itself costs three, so there is always the slender chance of... Okay, okay. That will probably never happen. Playing this guy on turn three actually seems like a fair way to hit your fourth land drop. That said, I still don't see Putrid Cyclops in Block, let alone any other Constructed formats.

Mystic Speculation
6. Mystic Speculation

Maybe... but probably not.

Mystic Speculation is close. One mana is so cheap. Scry 3 is so much more powerful than scry 2. Mystic Speculation is probably just worse than most other options in the abstract... and coincidentally has no baseline acceptable template onto which it tacks scry 2 or 3.

5. Llanowar Empath


The main reason this card gets the full "maybe" is that Mike Turian, lately of R&D, made his first big finish with Striped Bears in Mirage Block. In a creature deck, Llanowar Empath is significantly more powerful than Striped Bears. That said, the creatures today are on average scarier than a 2/2 for four mana, so meeting the minimum requirements for deck consideration is by no means certain for this one, especially when there is no guarantee the cantrip will fire.

4. New Benalia


Think of Urza's Factory. You probably don't want to make a 2/2 for a million mana... But write the text on a land card and everyone wants to play one, and sometimes two! The thing is, everyone needs lands to play their spells, and mana is good enough now that they can play some percentage of inefficient lands because the others are so good. New Benalia reaps a similar benefit... and (provided you are not tight for mana) combines with Azorius Chancery for long term selection.

3. Judge Unworthy


This seems like a perfectly reasonable sideboard card to me. It's probably worse than Temporal Isolation and Condemn as a maindeck card, but seems like pretty reasonable weenie defense even in decks with ~29 lands.

Riddle of Lightning
2. Riddle of Lightning

Maybe... Maybe even "probably."

This card is similar to Beacon of Destruction, meaning it is probably good enough for some play, but probably not staple. A Johnny could actually build a deck around this and the likes of Autochthon Wurm. A Spike will turn over whatever he is going to turn over and live with the damage he can get (which might be a lot if he's doing his job), happy that he can scry up anything.

1. Foresee

Probably... maybe "yes."

You get to see up to six cards. Drawing this might as well be the same as "hitting Wrath of God and Damnation next turn." Several players in my area are even calling Foresee better than Compulsive Research! The cost is a little higher, but you can't argue with the card's pure power and advantages for important Research tasks like finding the 'Tron or digging up a key defensive spell. This is definitely playable. The only question is if it will extinct Careful Consideration given the popularity of Mystical Teachings decks.

Next Week: Notes from Grand Prix–Columbus

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