Prepare Your Dice for Hardened Scales

Posted in Event Coverage on February 28, 2016

By Meghan Wolff

Meghan is one half of the Good Luck High Five podcast and an adjunct professor at Tolarian Community College. She loves Limited, likes Modern, and dips her toes into each Standard season. She's decidedly blue and is the #1 hater of Siege Rhino in the Multiverse.

It's inevitable. Playing against it. Watching it on coverage. Reading about it (you). Writing about it (me).

Sitting in the venue on Friday evening, preparing for the weekend ahead, we heard rumblings hinting at the arrival of the deck that would tear through the venue and round after round of unwary opponents on Saturday afternoon.

Hardened Scales.

Sure, there are other ways to describe the deck, but those are the two words that cut straight to the heart of its wild game plan.

At the deck's core is a set of powerful synergies. A suite of creatures that come into play with +1/+1 counters on them, including old favorites like Hangarback Walker and new surprises such as Servant of the Scale, get a boost from Hardened Scales. More importantly, the one-mana green enchantment from Khans of Tarkir loves the new Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, and the feeling is mutual. With Hardened Scales in play, Nissa can come into play and -2 to put not one, but two (or three, or four – a person can dream) counters on her allies.

“I had tried Hardened Scales in the past and never thought it was good enough,” says Matt Nass, well-known deck builder and one of the minds behind the new Hardened Scales deck. “But with the additions of Nissa and Endless One I thought it might be.”

The deck relies on powerful starts and curving out, with the optimal opening hand containing Hardened Scales followed by a two-drop or two one-drops, followed by a turn-three Nissa.

“I think when it draws a good draw with Hardened Scales, its good draws are the best in the format,” says Nass. “It can kill people on turn four, which not many other decks in Standard can do.”

“It's a very powerful proactive strategy,” Face-to-Face team member Nathan Holiday says. “The raw power level is really high.”

“The deck, when it's doing its thing, just does it very, very well, and even if it's just half doing it, it's still pretty darn good,” says Mark Jacobson, who made top eight of the Grand Prix with Hardened Scales.

While the deck does best with explosive draws like those outlined above, the deck's later plays are also designed to take advantage of the Hardened Scales synergy. Managorger Hydra gets multiple +1/+1 counters for every spell cast, while Avatar of the Resolute relies on creatures with counters on them to already be in play.

“I like to call it Tarmogoyf,” Nass jokes about Avatar of the Resolute, which can enter the battlefield as a two-mana 5/4 or 6/5 under the right circumstances.

While Nass and Holiday both think that many of the Hardened Scales' match-ups are favorable, they acknowledge that it struggles against decks playing a lot of removal, with Mardu Green being a particularly difficult match-up they'd rather avoid.

Team Blitz member Brad Nelson has additional concerns about the deck.

“It's doing all the things that by the philosophies of constructed Magic you shouldn't be doing,” Nelson says. “It has no mana sinks, it has no real way to gain card advantage outside of a Nissa ultimate, which rarely happens. This deck is actually bad against Reflector Mage, which is something that the format's warped around. You shouldn't be bad against it, but we are.”

Jacobson had the same concern, but found that the deck performed well against Bant.

“I was initially worried about playing this deck because I was worried that the Reflector Mage and Dromoka's Command deck with card advantage and tempo and Wingmate Roc and Sylvan Advocates would've been a rough time, but it's weird,” Jacobson says. “The way the games play out, I think we might actually be slightly favored. People were not boarding in anything against Bant and the kept winning, so that was surprising.

Players picking up the deck should also be wary of sideboarding too much and disrupting the deck's important synergies.

“This is a general rule with synergistic decks, and definitely applies to this one – if you over sideboard and dilute your deck, you'll draw a Hardened Scales, a Valorous Stance, and a Silkwrap, and then your Hardened Scales just doesn't do anything,” Nass warns.

Though most players had less than a week to test with Hardened Scales, a swath of Pro Tour and Grand Prix regulars picked up the deck for the tournament this weekend, impressed by the results the deck was putting up on Magic Online or swayed by their teammates.

“It is fun, and I think a lot of us just needed to feel something this weekend,” said Nelson. “We needed to just put a bunch of tokens on the board and attack.”

These same players think that deck is powerful enough to make its mark on the Standard format.

‘It is just inherently powerful and very proactive,” Nass says. “It's not the type of deck that goes away

“This is going to be a real deck,” Nelson confirms. “It's definitely powerful enough to stay in the format, it's going to be invading FNMs and local game store tournaments.”

If you're interested in picking up Hardened Scales, there's one last piece of advice from Jacobson:

“You need a lot of dice,” he says. “I asked my roommate to let me borrow a lot more dice.”

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