I wrote this post two years ago about a deck I did well with in the (then) new Modern format. Given the changes that have taken place in the format and the results of last weekend’s Pro Tour, I wonder if the American Scepter deck is viable again with some updates. Maybe less reliance on Scepter because of Abrupt Decay, but we definitely know the Gifts/Unburial Rites/Fatty combo can win games in the current Modern era.
American Scepter in Modern (originally posted Feb 1, 2012)
Saturday is the first end-of-season tournament for the Magic Online Championship Series (see info on that here), Modern Constructed Format. I qualified by going infinite in Daily Sealed Events. By infinite I mean that I played at least 15 sealed events on one entry by either winning enough packs to play again or selling the cards I opened for more entry fees.
After qualifying for the MOCS I took a look at the recent winning decks on Magic Online’s official website (found here) for anything I’d like to try. After failing horribly with a mono-red burn deck, I picked up a red-white-blue deck that featured Isochron Scepter and a host of great instants all costing 2 or less mana. This deck won both a large Premiere event and a PTQ two days in a row, so it seemed pretty good and not a total fluke:
I played around with the deck for about an hour on LackeyCCG and enjoyed it so much I bought it on MTGO the next day. This deck can be super-aggressive by starting out with a couple Delvers that almost always flip. It can also come from way behind by simply landing a Scepter with Lightning Helix and lifegaining its way out of danger. Anything in this deck imprinted on a Scepter is insane, but generally Scepter + Helix is what you’re trying to accomplish as early as possible.
The sideboard includes an Unburial Rites package you can either bring in for games 2/3 or use Research // Development on Scepter to go find it and add it to your deck during the game. Some matchups like mono-red burn and Jund just lay down to Sphinx of the Steel Wind, and Elesh Norn can lay waste to aggro decks like Affinity.
You may be thinking to yourself, why does he have Unburial Rites in the deck but no way to produce black mana? Gifts Ungiven is awesome in that you don’t have to search for 4 cards, you can just search for 2 (See the official Gatherer Ruling here) and your opponent has to put those two cards in the bin. So just pick Rites and your fatty of choice at the end of their turn, and then flashback Rites to get your guy. This usually results in a scoop.
After a few dailies I realized that I needed something to help deal with the mirror and a few other awkward matchups like Pyromancer’s Ascension and Kikki-Jikki/Splinter Twin, so I traded out the 2 Spell Snare for 2 Into the Roil (being able to pay the kicker when its on the Scepter is an added bonus). I also changed the sideboard a little to help with decks that relied heavily on one particular color of mana like mono-blue merfolk or white weenie/mono-green elves decks. I put both Iona and Sphinx in against mono-red and jund, and just get whatever fatty I need at the time – if I can survive a bolt from jund or the creatures on the board for red I get Iona, but if I’m about to die I grab Sphinx.
Here’s the decklist I used to 4-0 a daily the other night:
Since then I’ve made a few more changes to the sideboard. I replaced the Spell Pierce with Elesh Norn, since it really is a one-shot against Affinity, which is a widely-played deck. I also added three Ethersworn Canonists, since I was basically auto-losing to Storm combo decks.
My final sideboard will look like this:
3 Ethersworn Canonist
3 Gifts Ungiven
1 Unburial Rites
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
I’ve been practicing with the deck nearly every day and have found every matchup to be winnable (in other words, not auto-lose), but obviously some fights are better than others. Any deck without counterspells seems to be a favorable matchup since I can stick a scepter on turn 2. The combo decks are probably the worst matchups, particularly Tron decks, since they just get there with something huge like an eldrazi before I can kill them. Etched Champion is also a pain in the ass in Affinity, but for that strategy I’m just aiming to Gifts/Rites into Elesh Norn to keep it under control.