Skullcrack, welcome back dear friend.
When I last played Skullcrack, I made my first and only Pro Tour Top 8 with this deck:
The Final Deck List: RW Burn
Is this Card Even Better than Skullcrack?
Yes, by the grace of sweet baby Finkel, yes it is. It costs GR not 1R, so it is better than Skullcrack in the same way Lightning Helix is better than Lightning Strike. A little harder to cast, clearly better if you can cast it. (Not strictly better since damage remains preventable).
Before we get to those other two modes, let’s note that 1) you can gain life, 2) it doesn’t target, 3) it hits every opponent in multiplayer, 4) it has a hologram at the bottom. Okay I kind of ran out of reasons it was better than Skullcrack just on 2 modes alone. Let’s get to those other modes…
The thing about the anti-life-gain aspect of Skullcrack is that it’s amazing when you need it, but most of the time you don’t need it. Even dealing 3 damage to the opponent is an effect that won’t always be worth a card. We hope to build our Atarka’s Command decks with dealing 3 to the face as the primary mode, and we will, but if you’ve got a way to make tokens you’re pumping and shutting off lifelink in the same combat step, there will be times when “deal 3” isn’t one of your modes.
• You may put a land card from your hand onto the battlefield is a pretty weak ability. I would not recommend investing 2 mana and a card for that effect (Summer Bloom this is not). But when our card can do its primary thing (3 to the face) AND let you play an extra land, we might be onto something. Cards like Stormbreath Dragon, the new Thunderbreak Regent, or Ashcloud Phoenix are somewhat natural complements to a burn strategy. I can definitely see dropping one of these a turn early thanks to “3 to the face and extra land” modes being chosen on turn 2. This is really nice upside for our burn spell, even though this is the weakest of the modes (the one I suspect I’ll use least often). Sarkhan Unbroken presents an attractive in-color option to ramp into as well. Will it be good enough to pull us into a Temur deck that plays like a burn strategy? Time will tell. If it does, ramping while Bolting is going to feel great.
• Creatures you control get +1/+1 and gain reach until end of turn. Wow. This just went from me feeling like “Skullcrack is back” to “Skullcrack is crap, we’ve never seen this card before.” By using ANY kind of creature strategy, be it 1-drops, Rabblemasters, some isolated Seeker of the Way or Soulfire Grand Master, or just Dragons, we gain the ability to have our 2-mana spell deal 4 or more damage. With Rabblemaster—the 800-pound Goblin the room when it comes to Red Deck Wins and Standard—it becomes fairly easy to do 5-7 extra damage for RG or to save our Rabblemaster and do 4-6 extra. That’s really scary stuff. Hordeling Outburst is another token maker that is compatible with a burn strategy. Again, it will be easy to unlock the upside of this “extra” mode.
All right, let’s see a first draft of red aggro with Atarka’s Command:
You can see the mana is struggling a bit to act like RG is 1R. You can also see that there are quite a few burn spells that seem great right now. Maybe we can try a Burn-style deck.
Looking pretty good, certainly something I would like to try out. Green gives us a better sideboard than mono-red, which I like.
Atarka’s Command feels like a possible sideboard card here to combat life gain if something like Sphinx’s Revelation or Thragtusk gets printed. There isn’t much of that type of card right now, but the new set is still being previewed, so we’ll see.