Ye Olde Merchant Scroll

Posted in Learning Curve on July 9, 2003

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

The people that brought you Aysen Highway and Hazdurh the Abbot proudly present…

…a good card. Ahhhhh… Homelands.

Merchant Scroll
The follow-up expansion to Ice Age is not exactly known for its contributions to the tournament Magic. When the very first Pro Tour featured a format that required competitors to play with five cards from each Standard legal set-back when the format was called Type 2-most players opted for four Serrated Arrows and a dead card in the sideboard or occasionally a Wizard's School. Spectral Bears had their day in the sun and I did hear about's own Mike Flores recently losing a game of Mental Magic to Internet curmudgeon Jonathan Becker thanks to Jinx but let's face it, Homelands was not Magic's zenith.

Today, if you were cracking Homelands packs, Merchant Scroll is about the best you can hope to bust open-and it was a common. Sure there was Baron Sengir, Autumn Willow, and Ihsan's Shade but I can get more in trade for the common Merchant Scroll than any of those three rares. Especially now that it is being reprinted in the Core Set. The card has always been one of the most powerful tutors in the game. Unlike Mirage block's Vampiric Tutor, Mystical Tutor, Enlightened Tutor and Worldly Tutor, Merchant Scroll puts the card you find directly into your hand without any card disadvantage.

In fact, the card is very similar to Demonic Tutor in both converted casting cost and function, although Merchant Scroll comes with more limitations-not only do you have to retrieve a blue card but it must be an instant. Demonic Tutor can get you a land, a Black Lotus, Mind Twist - I guess that's why one is restricted in the Vintage format and the other isn't. Despite that, Merchant Scroll is already a staple card in the Vintage format used almost exclusively to fetch Ancestral Recall - and occasionally Force of Will or Mana Drain but only if the Ancestral has already been used or is in hand.

I don't believe it will have a huge impact on Standard until after the Odyssey Block rotates out and takes Cunning Wish with it. For one mana more but at instant speed, Cunning Wish is going to remain the blue tutor of choice for Standard play. There is even some question as to whether or not Scroll will see much play with Counterspell, Force Spike and Memory Lapse going out the revolving door while the Scroll was coming in. Initially I was in this camp but have since changed my tune. I think that there will be enough narrow counters in the format that Merchant Scroll will find some use -- I particularly like it with Stifle.

The format that will truly be affected by the reprint of the Scroll is Extended - where the card has really shined in the past. Until the most recent Extended rotation, Merchant Scroll was a fixture in Extended combo decks including High Tide, Necro Donate and just about any deck that featured the Intuition for Accumulated Knowledge combo.

Killing someone with Stroke of Genius? Why play with four when you can have eight (although most decks rarely have room or need for a full suite of Merchant Scrolls)?

Frantically searching for Frantic Search? Calm down, Merchant Scroll means you have more than four - you'll find it.

Because the Merchant Scroll puts the card directly into your hand it functioned as additional copies of each of the combo pieces that happened to be blue instants. With a Sapphire Medallion in play a player could Merchant Scroll for Intuition, Intuition for Accumulated Knowledge and cast the AK for three cards - for only four mana. Keep in mind that whole sequence is available in Extended come September 1st.

Chain Stasis
One of my favorite pre-rotation Extended decks used Merchant Scroll - perhaps the best card from Homelands -- and perhaps the worst card from the same set - Chain Stasis. Chain allows you to tap or untap target creature. Then its controller can pay to choose a new target for a copy of the spell. A few years back I was sitting around with a group of friends looking through one guy's trade binder. Somehow he had accumulated well over a dozen copies of Chain Stasis - mostly as throw-ins on convoluted trades - and he could not get rid of them. We set out to build a deck that would utilize Chain Stasis to inspire local players to trade for the ones lying fallow in his book.

Since the deck revolved around getting infinite mana with a Chain Stasis you had to ensure that you drew one or the deck would fizzle. We eventually stumbled onto Merchant Scroll -- it was the first time I had ever included Merchant Scroll in a deck and the resulting deck will always have a special place in my heart.


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The idea behind the deck is to get an Overgrowth and a Fertile Ground on a Treetop Village - it can't be one with summoning sickness-and animate your man-land floating at least one blue mana. With the blue mana you can cast Chain Stasis to untap your Village. Once that resolves you can tap your Village - this is why it can't have summoning sickness - for and pay to put a copy of the spell on the stack targeting your same Treetop Village. You can repeat this over and over netting a each time making - what my judge type friends like to call an arbitrarily large amount of mana. With that mana you can use Stroke of Genius to finish off your opponent. If you don't have the Stroke you can always find it with Merchant Scroll.

You can also do the trick with a Faerie Conclave or even one of your basic lands. The Animate Lands provide protection from Wastelands and Dust Bowl as well as an additional three ways to "make a man"-land. Chain Stasis is no longer legal in Extended so if you want to update the deck it would have to be in a casual format or in an older one like Vintage or Type 1.5. If you do try to use Chain Stasis it also works quite well with the Krosan Restorer - although you need a Wild Growth-type card or a Mana Flare-ish enchantment. It also works with our old friend the Wirewood Channeler.

Stroke of Genius
I have been toying around with an Extended deck for the post 8th environment that uses Merchant Scroll. The deck is not quite there yet. It does win but not consistently enough for my tastes. I am definitely open to suggestions and will do a follow up if there is any real progress on the deck. It is based on two older decks - High Tide and Dark Tide with a dash of Tight Sight for taste. The former used the eponymous spell High Tide and the untap cards from Urza's Saga to generate huge amounts of mana and kill the opponent with Stroke of Genius.

When High Tide and all of Fallen Empires left Extended a few rotations ago it was replaced with a less successful two color version that used Bubbling Muck. Here I tried to combine the mana production of the Bubbling Muck with the ability to play free spells off of Mind's Desire. The goal is to kill your opponent with a Stroke of Genius - remember X = 0 when the spell is played off of a Mind's Desire so you have to get one in hand to go off successfully. There is also a Brain Freeze which can be played for free off of the Mind's Desire.

Night Sight

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I am a combo player at heart and almost every deck I build in Extended concludes with me casting Stroke of Genius. Even if I can't get this particular deck to where I want it to be I will certainly be glad to trade my Baron Sengir for a couple of Homelands Merchant Scrolls - I have a feeling I'm gonna be needing them.

Next week: The card the made The Rock… rock?

Brian may be reached at

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