Why would I want to play that? Doesn't it kill all of my creatures, too?
Of course the first time I laid out my hand of little green creatures and found myself on the wrong end of a Wrath of God.... Well.... Actually it's about the same as Damnation, Firespout, whatever, today.
The upside, if there was one, was that at least the other fellow had to blow his own guys up, too. I mean back in the mid-1990s, a deck featuring Wrath of God might not have had very many creatures—sought to win with some Mishra's Factory or a Millstone, say—but you know how it is. People with Wrath of Gods end up blowing up their own guys, at least sometimes... right?
Well, for some decks, those days might just be over.
Here comes tomorrow!
... Well, that's fair.
This is an Esper card, and as you surely know from the Shards of Alara Visual Spoiler, the Esper Shard is chock full of artifact creatures. What does that mean (at least as it pertains to Scourglass)?
Say you are beating someone up with an exciting new Tower Gargoyle (and before we go on, let me remind you that tournament-winning blue flyers at four mana used to return lands to your hand every turn for 4/4 or have only three power and tap you out every turn) but then that jerk across the table turns off your offense with a Bitterblossom. Will the chaos surrounding that Faerie-stamped enchantment never end? A 1/1 flyer every turn means Forcefield against your Tower Gargoyle.
You've pulled the Scourglass. Inexplicably, it sticks. Read the fine print.
Destroy all permanents except for artifacts and lands.
All permanents means not just creatures. The Bitterblossom itself is done, too. A Faerie stamp will not save that troublemaker this time!
Except for artifacts means that your creature—your artifact creature, the Tower Gargoyle—is not destroyed.
Pretty tricky, huh?
Let's dial it back to 1995 again; four-mana symmetrical white sweepers again. This time, instead of creatures, lands.
After the initial shock of symmetrical effects being remotely advantageous, even slow-witted players like yours truly could see how Wrath of God could generate an advantage, but Armageddon? Everyone has lands! Do you really want to blow up all your lands?
In the mid-1990s, losing to Armageddon was most common losing to white or green creatures post-Armageddon and not being able to deal with them. However, more sophisticated decks, such as those playing Marble Diamond and its associates (to continue to power up Icy Manipulator) eventually appeared. Sure, Armageddon could be powerful... "But you had to build your deck around it."
That is at least partly the case, as well, with Scourglass.
While there are a great many relevant cards that can help you to "break" Scourglass, artifact creatures seem to be the most directly friendly with regards to getting around the fine print. In addition to in-print Standard powerhouses like Razormane Masticore and Platinum Angel from Tenth Edition, it's probably hard to miss that Esper is chock full of exactly these sorts of creatures. Convenient!
...Unless the opponent is also an artifact deck.
While it didn't cure all ills, Wrath of God has always been on white's first line of defense when battling Affinity. Now Akroma's Vengeance—a full mana more expensive than Scourglass—did deal with essentially every aspect of the Affinity problem, even in the days of four Skullclamps. However, Scourglass will not be a big help against Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating, and Seat of the Synod. It is a five-mana dud in this matchup (which admittedly will only exist in Extended); just something to keep in mind. While Scourglass looks to be pretty one-sided most of the time, opposing Esper decks will not be very frightened of the card.
In addition to Wrath of God, as an explosive artifact, Scourglass demands comparison to another long-time favorite of control decks, Nevinyrral's Disk. Despite the potential one-sidedness of Scourglass's effect, there are some important limitations to note. First and foremost, you can only use the ability during your upkeep. You can't wait and see if you don't like the opponent's combat, or "blow up the world" at the end of the opponent's turn in order to start fresh on your turn.
In addition, Scourglass is simply more expensive as an up-front cost than Nevinyrral's Disk. While both cards require five total mana, Nevinyrral's Disk requires a down payment of only four mana, so that if you miss your next land drop, you can still use it; without a fifth mana, you can't play the Scourglass at all.
In total, you don't have as many options in terms of when you can use the Nevinyrral's Disk, but the trade-off is the significant advantage you will likely have when everything goes more or less according to plan. As such, I think it may be important to play Scourglass (at least as a main deck card) in a heavily synergistic, Esper-friendly environment, where its global effects can be pronouncedly lopsided.
Recently at the U.S. National Championships, Mark Herberholz debuted a new weapon in the control player's arsenal: Nucklavee. Nucklavee allows the Quick 'n Toast deck to reload a Firespoutand a Cryptic Command. Anyone who has ever played a control mirror knows how important card advantage can be (especially when actually drawing new cards isn't a prerequisite); and against creature decks, just having another big creature sweeper can be important as the best decks will attack you with relentless waves of efficient threats.
So recurring particular control elements can be very lucrative given the right tools. Luckily, even though Scourglass is neither a blue instant nor a red sorcery, it is in the right card type to enjoy much recursive troublemaking. While a white- or artifact-driven "Nucklavee" has not been revealed in Standard yet, we know that there is a rich tradition of artifact recursion that could potentially intersect with Scourglass to lock the board over time; for example, Academy Ruins is rotating out of Standard but a card like that (or the potential of Scourglass moving to Extended) would allow such a white-blue deck to set up recurring board sweep.
A potentially Standard-legal route for recursion might be with unkillable newcomer Salvage Titan. Inevitably you will be either supplementing your Mulldrifters and Shriekmaws or trading them in entirely to be more in-Esper theme with Courier's Capsule and Executioner's Capsule (or maybe we are talking Block and you are firmly Esper with all these versatile artifacts). How your Salvage Titan gets into the graveyard is unimportant. Did Mulldrifter and Courier's Capsule put you over the seven-card limit? Perhaps you just traded for two of your opponent's cards in combat. You are already playing these artifacts to manage time and/or get ahead via card advantage; once Capsules are in the graveyard, they are spent. They have done their job, probably pretty well. Well when you put that third artifact in the graveyard—the Scourglass that really takes the oomph out of the opponent's board—as a two- or even three-for-one, that is the third domino to fall into place. All of a sudden you have the fuel necessary to buy back your Salvage Titan. This is just more card advantage, incrementally built into a creature strategy that is conveniently synergistic with Scourglass not just from the graveyard, but as an in-play threat, as well. Because not only did your last Scourglass help put Salvage Titan back in action, your next one will ignore him as it clears the path for the six-power striker.
So let's get practical and tactical... Where will Scourglass be most likely to make a positive impact?
I don't know very much about Shards of Alara Block Constructed yet... but I assume Scourglass will be an important part of that environment as the local "Wrath of God" effect, as well as a signature problem card out of one fifth of the block's shards, in the same way that Kirtar's Wrath, Akroma's Vengeance, and Final Judgment contributed in their respective blocks.
As for Extended? The competition is stiff on this one. I am not sure how it stacks up to minority (albeit still played) adoptees, such as Akroma's Vengeance and Austere Command. The balance in Extended against these cards is largely going to be one of synergy. Akroma's Vengeance is a great and largely unexpected option against Affinity... Scourglass doesn't do much against Affinity at all. As a redundant sweeper over, say, Wrath of God, Scourglass has the advantage of being a full mana cheaper than Akroma's Vengeance and Austere Command, but at the same time, it is vulnerable to Ancient Grudge in a format where that might be the single most popular answer spell.
However in Standard, now that is another story.
Planeswalkers have become a fairly important subsection of Standard deck architecture, and Scourglass is among the few cards that can legitimately impact planeswalkers. Think about Scourglass going up against, say, Garruk Wildspeaker. It comes down a turn after Garruk, sure, but Scourglass can mop up not just the planeswalker itself, but the 3/3 token he produced and whatever little green creatures helped power Garruk into play.
Scourglass can also compete for the secondary overall creature sweeper slot in Quick 'n Toast. That position originally belonged to Austere Command, but shifted later in the PTQ season to Hallowed Burial due to a combination of the latter's being cheaper and its superior performance against persist creatures. What Hallowed Burial lacked, though, was legitimate game against Bitterblossom and other noncreature threats. Scourglass combines the cost of Hallowed Burial with the versatility of Austere Command; true, while Austere Command would sometimes destroy artifacts and Scourglass never will, on balance, a single card will be able to deal with not just planeswalkers and Bitterblossoms, but the token creatures they create and every other sort of creature (except probably your own artifact creatures). That seems like a pretty fair exchange, especially if Quick 'n Toast only wants to play Scourglass as a two-of auxiliary answer.
Most decks do not play any dedicated removal for any classes of cards other than creatures, at least main-deck, so Scourglass can serve as a pain-free catch-all enhancement against all these other permanents, in the same way we don't really play Primal Command to deal with Everlasting Torment or Bitterblossom but we don't complain when it comes up (whew); subtly, because Scourglass is "only" an artifact, it too can benefit from the idea that "most decks do not play any dedicated removal for any classes of cards other than creatures." See what I mean? Most opponents won't have the right tools to remove it; if Scourglass sticks, chances are they won't be able to come after you.
My last speculated home for this card brings us back to the first, and the deck implied all through this article, namely a "new" control deck in the Solar Flare tradition, based on Esper's shard and colors specifically. This deck would probably be white-blue-black and exploit more specific angles between Scourglass and other cards in the deck than we would typically see from a Quick 'n Toast control deck; that is, we could see lots of artifact creatures whistling about, blithely ignoring the doom for everyone else represented by a Scourglass on upkeep. In addition, a heavily artifact-driven deck might have not just one or two Salvage Titans but a coherent recursion plan tailored specifically for an artifact control deck's long game. Some ideas that come up from Tenth Edition include Mind Stone, Beacon of Unrest, and maybe even March of the Machines as a killer.
So while Scourglass is unlikely to unseat Firespout and Wrath of God for first-line sweeper of choice in Standard, that doesn't mean that it won't see play. This really seems like a card that will reward creative and synergistic deck design in order to pose problems to an inflexible opponent, generate incremental value riding a coherent linear strategy, or just help bury someone after he or she starts breathing regularly again thinking There's no way you have another one of those. You know, fair!
Don't miss your first chance to play with Shards of Alara cards at the worldwide Prereleases this weekend (September 27 and 28)! And get your first opportunity to buy Shards of Alara at worldwide Launch Parties October 3, 4, and 5!