NRGMKE Tournament Report-Hardened Scales


This past weekend has been a rollercoaster of emotions for me, and the lesson I learned from it is that more important than Magic, the game is The Gathering! When the week started, I was super excited to go to Milwaukee, present at a judge conference, and play some Magic, but then, a winter storm came, and my flight got canceled, and no other flights were available for me to make it to the conference or even to the tournament on time, that was a huge bummer 🙁

A few chocolate bars later, to cure the sadness, I go to FNM here in St Louis, and I tell the sad story to Mike Viviano, who, to my surprise, asks me if I still want to go, to which I didn’t know the answer because I was pretty tired. Okay, let’s be degenerates and go play some Magic. So I get hyped up, jump in the car at 11 pm, and we both drive to Milwaukee.

My backpack contained Hardened Scales and Hammertime. Being the sadistic person that I am, I decided to play Hardened Scales, my favorite deck in modern. Okay, let’s do hardcore math and decision-making with one hour of sleep fueled up on energy drinks. Thankfully the tournament staff was great, and the tournament had a fast pace, which meant I didn’t have to fully concentrate for the entire day. I won my first six rounds of swiss, intentionally drawing the next two rounds to lock myself into the top 8.

Before the top 8 began, I wanted to split prizes because, if I lost, the 400 bucks would be less money than I needed to pay some bills, but $600 would cover me. The top 8 players refused the split, but fortunately (in hindsight, unfortunately), my top 8 opponent agreed to a split with me. Cool, I am happy with this because now I can play free of pressure. I end up winning that match. The top 4 players decided to split, and I continued playing to get a trophy and bragging rights. One hour and many great top decks later, I won! 😀

Decklist and Card Choices

4 Hardened Scales

Self-explanatory, the key card of the whole deck essentially doubles the power and relevance of every other card in the deck. Ps: the deck works pretty well without it in play; it just explodes if you have it!

2 The Ozolith

The Ozolith allows one of your creatures to be massively huge, forcing removal spells or chump blocks. Alternatively, if you feel like winning the game, it is lethal with Ravager, a few artifacts, and Ballista or Inkmoth Nexus.

1 Animation Module

My pet card, it does a lot of fun things, especially good in grindy matchups.

1 Welding Jar

I will confess I don’t know why I am playing this card; it helps a little in faster matchups.

1 Springleaf Drum

The deck is incredibly mana hungry, so having access to more mana is never a bad idea.

1 Basilisk Collar

Deathtouch + Ballista? Do I need to say more?

4 Ingenious Smith

A fantastic creature for the more grindy matchups, it will draw you a card most of the time, and it becomes quite large as the game progresses.

4 Esper Sentinel

Esper Sentinel will draw you a card most of the time, which is already pretty good. It is an artifact for Ravager and Ingenious Smith, and it can easily get bigger (which makes it more reliable to continue giving you cards)

4 Hangarback Walker

Great card against grindy matchups. It grows pretty large and makes your opponent’s removal very awkward.

4 Walking Ballista

A removal spell, a creature with double strike, mana sink, all in one pretty ballista package

4 Arcbound Ravager

It is an artifact deck and a counters matter deck, hard to pass on Ravager.

4 Zabaz

The better part of Zabaz is it is legendary, so you can play one and move some counters onto another one of your creatures; the flier ability is relevant against Murktide decks, allowing you to win the tempo.

1 Arcbound Worker

Arcbound Worker is a filler card; the deck needs one-mana cards.

4 Urza’s Saga

4 Inkmoth Nexus

4 Branchloft Pathway

3 Brushland

3 Llanowar Reborn

2 Razorverge Thicket

1 Darksteel Citadel

2 Plains

2 Forest

I chose to play with 25 lands because the deck is extremely mana hungry. More often than not, I want to reach four lands in each game, so I can double spell with my two drops or activate Walking Ballista’s ability. Urza’s saga is a huge mana sink too, and it allows you to get an animation module or basilisk collar which are also mana sinks.

This deck has more green than white sources; the strange part is that the deck has double white mana symbols than green. The thing is, Llanowar reborn kind of works like a free spell in this deck, giving it a counter (2 with scales in play) to Ballista or Hangarback are well worth a card; if I were not playing Llanowar reborn, I’d play more white sources.

Sideboard Guide

1 Lurrus of the Dream-Den- Play the cat, or be wrong, that is modern today

No, seriously, WOTC design team, where is the downside of playing Lurrus in modern?

1 Damping Sphere This is here for Tron, Amulet decks, and Storm-like decks

1 Evolutionary Leap Attrition matchups

1 Pithing Needle Easy to have access with saga, in case some card has some problematic activated ability

1 Prismatic Ending Removal Spell, suitable for taking out Alpine Moon as well

2 Path to Exile For the real problematic creatures, like Murktide, Shadow, Archon of Cruelty

2 Nature’s Claim

2 Torpor Orb Money pile and elementals

2 Void Mirror Rhinos, Living End, some Tron decks

2 Soul-guide Lantern Graveyard heavy decks exclusively, Izzet tempo and goyf decks don’t fall into that category

NRG Tournament Swiss

Burn 2-1

Key Card: Basilisk Collar

The match was speedy and was decided by getting Basilisk Collar and gaining a bunch of life with a big construct attack. It is challenging for burn to recover from 7+ points of lifegain with the imminent threat of repeating it. It is supposed to be a good match for scales on the play and 50-50 on the draw.

Shadow 2-1

Key Card: Hangarback Walker

Okay, I used to love playing against shadow, not anymore, though. I am not excited they have access to Dress Down on top of their huge pile of Kolaghan’s Commands and removal spells. With the current build of shadow, their ways of disrupting our board are pretty effective. Remember not to deal them damage unless you are attacking for lethal or it will be lethal in the next turn. Walking Ballista is not that important in this matchup, so don’t be afraid to trade it for Darcy or Monkey.

In this particular match I played, Hangarback and Urza’s Saga carried me in the two games I won.

I want to share a lesson, the game I lost, I had the option of going for lethal and hoping my opponent didn’t have a removal spell or continuing playing defensively. I thought playing defensive would not lead to victory because, at that point, the top deck war was in favor of my opponent, so I attempted lethal and took a removal spell. I don’t think I played incorrectly since I don’t think I would be winning that game otherwise. So if you feel you are losing, and you are in a position where you are going to have to chump, down trade resources, and your opponent is going to take over the game, try a lethal attack/play if you are lucky, you steal a game, if you are not, well, nothing changed.

Izzet 2-1

Key Card: The Ozolith

Unless things spiral out of control pretty quickly (with Ragavan coming down on turn one, followed by Darcy and removal), this tends to be a match in favor of hardened scales. Their removal is very bad against us as they trade on a one for 0.5 basis because you are still growing your creatures with modular, The Ozolith, or making thopters with Hangarback. While their card advantage (expressive iteration) doesn’t impact the board, ours does 🙂

I honestly don’t remember the details of this match; I remember I got bummed by a Fury that destroyed my plan and that I was super scared of dress down.

Hammer 2-1

Key Card: Walking Ballista

I had to get a ballista out quickly to protect myself against hammer + Inkmoth, which gave me time to set up a better board than my opponent. As long as they don’t have trample, you should be good with chump blocking while you set up some engine to grind the game out until a point where you are ahead in the board. Be sure to get rid of Puresteel Paladin as soon as you have the chance because that card is freaking annoying.

(Izzet) Temur Tempo 2-0

This was pretty much an Izzet Tempo list with four tarmogoyfs in the main deck. The tarmogoyfs were not particularly good against me, I think. Even though they were big, it was very easy for me to chump some attacks in the early turns and grow my creatures larger than goyf (I think he played all of the goyfs in game 2) which won me the game.

Hammer 2-1

Invisible Stalker was challenging to deal with, so he got me game 1. Game 2 was quite interesting, with both of us hitting decent cards and trying to prevent the other from having an explosive turn. In game three, my opponent curves awkwardly, and I do it perfectly; well, sometimes Magic is about luck.

Shadow (Draw)

My opponent and I were the only undefeated players in the room at this point. We shook hands, hoping we’d both be able to draw the next round and lock top 8.

Hammer (Draw)

My opponent was at 18 points with great tiebreakers, so he accepted the intentional draw, which locked both of us into the top 8.

NRG Tournament Top 8

Hammer 2-0

Both games were finished with a combination of Arcbound Ravager, the Ozolith, and Inkmoth Nexus for lethal damage on turn 4. The great thing about playing against hammer is knowing their deck can’t interact with what you are doing, so if you can survive their explosive starts, you should be good to win.

Rhinos 2-0

Key Card: Arcbound Ravager

My opponent got unlucky in both games 1 and 2. Between mulligans and missing land drops gave me enough time to assemble bigger creatures than their Rhinos could ever be. After all, what are Rhinos in comparison with a 13/13 Ingenious Smith?

Izzet 2-0

The last match of the event, for all the fame and glory! My Ballista dealt with his small creatures, and my opponent did manage to get a Murktide early in the game, to which I chump blocked once with Zabaz, which was tempo enough for me to win the race with a construct token.

Game 2 was more interesting, I think. He was able to control my board for a while, but my draws were powerful. I managed to exile his first Murktide and forced the second one to chump block my big Ravager.

I want to share one particular part of this game with all of you and ask what you have done in this situation and why. Bonus points if you can figure out what my thoughts were.

This happened at 2:40:00 when my opponent bolted my arcbound Ravager.

Moving Forward

Kamigawa brought new toys for us to play with; amongst those, there are Boseiju and Lion Stash. Boseiju should go in the deck, at least one copy of it, as it is basically free to play and destroys random problematic enchantments/artifacts. I don’t know yet about Lion Stash; I mean, Scavenging Ooze was a sound card, so its artifact brother should be good as well? I’d have to play with the card to see,

I don’t think I’d change the non-land cards of the deck. There are arguments to be made for more Welding Jars and Luminarch Aspirant in a faster field, but besides that, I don’t think there is a lot to be added to the deck. I know lots of people play with Ancient Stirrings, but, in this Zoomer’s age, we should move away from the Ancient and stop spending mana that is necessary for our gameplan. The mana base is something I consider playing with, as the deck should have more white sources than green, and having access to red is quite helpful.

I love this list, and I think it has a good game against all decks in the field. It can go fast; it can grind; it can surprise kill people. The deck punishes the unprepared opponent, as knowing where to point out the removal spell is probably the most essential thing your opponent can do.

I hope you all liked this article and could learn a thing or two from it; if you have any questions or comments, please drop them here, and I will be happy to answer them 🙂

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Antonio Zanutto