I’m finishing up this article past midnight with the Pro Tour playing in the background, and I’ll be honest: I’m getting tired of looking at Mountains. Just my luck that I chose a red Commander earlier this week to write about. A week ago at FNM, I got crushed by this card, so I decided to bring it over to my side of the table and take it for a spin. It’s the kind of card you don’t want to see across the table in Limited, and I’m hoping it works out the same in Commander as well. I speak, of course, of the Scorpion King.
Now hang on just a second. You mean James and I spent 3 whole games talking about The Rock (and, by association, Vin Diesel) and that’s not even the name of the card? Well, whatever. This card is basically The Rock, so move over, Phyrexian Plaguelord. You can’t stop The Rock—he’ll come back from the graveyard. The Rock will break you down, bit by bit (with -1/-1 counters,) until you crumble, and when you crumble, he’ll revel in your defeat. Oh, and then he’ll draw a card, I guess.
The Scorpion God (ugh) actually gives me a platform to talk about a concept that has been rattling around my brain—card classifications in multiplayer. Of course, this isn’t my original idea—years and years ago, Anthony Alongi began to classify cards by their effects in multiplayer. His classifications were done by comparing the card effects to different animals—spider, cockroach, gorilla, and so on—but the one that really seems to live on is the “rattlesnake,” a type of card that serves as a warning and wards others off your turf. Step up? Get bit.
Wide-angle card classifications across formats are valuable constructs, but what about card classifications within Commander decks? You don’t get to play multiples of almost anything in Commander, so finding redundancy across different cards is important, and balancing out the sizes of groups of cards is a skill that you won’t learn just by hurling cards you like into a box of sleeves and shaking to combine. So this time I grouped the cards in my deck by different classifications which might make some degree of sense—and just for fun, I’ve given the classifications some flair.
The Scorpion God makes -1/-1 counters, so obviously that suggests a theme broadly, but it also suggests that other cards might do well to generate -1/-1 counters as well so that you can draw lots of cards. So you need cards that are strongly on theme with the Scorpion God and are ready to throw around lots of counters. I’ll call these our Schwarzeneggers—they’re believable in-universe and stay on theme even when they’re all by themselves, just like Arnold in the Terminator movies. (Well, most of the Terminator movies.)
The Scorpion God is great at turning cards like Carnifex Demon into miniature Decrees of Pain. When you need a more focused instrument, Hateflayer does the job—it attacks with a quintet of -1/-1 counters ready to go onto a blocker and untaps to hurl five more like so many projectile weapons at another target. Liliana’s Influence is a great card for a deck like this, and it’s even better when you’re packing the appropriate Liliana, which after some foolish misdirected efforts with the wrong bots on MTGO, this deck finally is.
These cards need support, of course. There are a few great cards that key off -1/-1 counters, and if you give them their moment to shine, they’ll prove their worth. I’ll call these cards my Mayhews—like Chewbacca in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, they might not win a medal right off the bat, but take them to the forest moon of Endor—and hope your metaphor doesn’t fall apart halfway through your article—and let them fire their bowcasters wherever they want.
Crumbling Ashes isn’t just the winner of my most recent “this card is worth how much?” award—it’s a real powerhouse if you can put counters anywhere. Blowfly Infestation keeps the fun going and lets you destroy vast armies of 1/1 tokens. Nest of Scarabs gives you more tokens to play with, and let’s be real, you’re going to be using your Scorpion God as a makeshift Skullclamp to destroy those tokens sometimes anyway. Necroskitter is the reverse Marchesa, the Black Rose, bringing back enemy creatures that have been infected with Shadowmoor-era -1/-1 ailments, which makes some of our Schwarzeneggers look more like Total Recall and less like Last Action Hero.
I mentioned above that The Scorpion God can be used to destroy your own creatures if you need to cash them in for cards. If you need some extra cards, it would be good business for you to keep some creatures around that you don’t mind losing. I call these my Sean Beans—their deaths are tragic, but they push the plot forward, and sometimes they were the bad guy anyway.
Dusk Urchins is a card I was incredibly happy to put in this list. It was known for dying a little too early sometimes back when it showed up in booster packs, but with The Scorpion God to help out, you can make sure to get full value. Actually, The Scorpion God’s trigger gives you more than full value! Bitterblossom does a good job of giving you a stream of tokens to Scorpion-clamp, and if that’s not good enough, Ophiomancer does it even better. Ogre Slumlord is an oft-underappreciated generator of delicious Rat tokens that happen to have deathtouch. (Maybe they should be rattlesnake tokens!) Reassembling Skeleton dies, and then comes back to die again and again. With The Scorpion God, you basically get “2BBR: Draw a card.” Finally, the more conspiratorial version of Daretti can pump out 1/1 artifacts and then wind up to some really powerful stuff if it gets out of hand.
Not every action hero requires a sidekick. Some will just tear through the bad guys like so much contact paper no matter what situation they’re in, and they’ll do it with style and panache. I’m calling these my Keanus—like Mr. Reeves, these always seem to be good, no matter how many times you’ve seen them.
Grave Titan, besides looking like it can beat anyone in a late-night subway knife fight with that massive sword, pumps out an army to be reckoned with. Sepulchral Primordial’s little Night of the Living Dead screening tends to bring out the best from your opponents’ graveyards, while Noxious Gearhulk and Sheoldred do their best to stock those graveyards. Myr Battlesphere comes with friends that play nicely with The Scorpion God when they’re not pushing the Katamari forward for extra damage.
Sometimes the supposed A-listers make you want to leave the theater, and sometimes you’re going to need to clear out all the seats. You’ll need ways to clear the board of things you don’t want to see so that you can bring in something with more box-office punch. Like it or not, you need your Nicolas Cages.
You’re running the gamut between mass removal and more focused cards here. Perilous Vault and Oblivion Stone are nods to the idea that there are things red and black spells just can’t deal with, so even though they’ll sometimes blow up things you need, they’re necessary evils. Wretched Confluence plays a decent role as removal while sometimes refilling you on cards, either from your deck or from the graveyard. Damnation is just Damnation, while the rest of your spells here apply -1/-1 counters as necessary across a wide variety of creatures—or, in the case of Puncture Blast, just one pesky threat.
Okay, enough with the previews—here’s your major motion picture.
Commander: The Scorpion God
For all my grumbling about Mountains earlier, this deck isn’t very red. Most of the red sources are a nod to the idea that you’ll want to activate The Scorpion God multiple times on some of your later turns so that you can refill your hand with cards. You’ll have plenty of red mana available, as the main deck only contains 7 pure red mana symbols in the costs of your cards (8 if you count The Scorpion God itself.) This is largely because red doesn’t support the -1/-1 counter theme as much as black does. Once I discovered the imbalance, I ran with it, removing all cards with RR in their costs other than Hateflayer. I think leaning into the imbalance improved the deck, but I’ll have to find out over the course of a few more games.
That’s it for this week—let me know what you think in the comments, especially if you have suggestions for cards to add. My only request is that every suggested add come with a suggested cut so that the deck can stay legal. Feel free to suggest future Commanders in the comments as well.
Will the next article have a wacky categorization gimmick? Will Eric figure out how to shoehorn in the Vin Diesel references that he just couldn’t manage this time around? Will he learn to love his accidentally-purchased Magic Online version of The Scorpion God invocation? Find out next time!