Hardened Scales is one of my favorite cards to build around. It’s like a Constructed playable Doubling Season! I worked on a Standard deck built around it that took Marc Jacobson and Chapman Sim to a Top 8 at Grand Prix Houston back in 2016, and have loved the card ever since.
More recently, I’ve been using a Modern version as a super fun deck to stream with. After some metagame shifts, including the rise in popularity of Humans, the deck went from cute stream deck to highly playable. It took 9th at Grand Prix Barcelona in the hands of Johann Fink, and then managed to take down Grand Prix Prague in the hands of Lauri Pispa. I played something pretty close to Pispa’s list in Team Unified Modern at Grand Prix Detroit to a 2nd-place finish.
I would play two Horizon Canopies over Forests if I could, but Paulo was using them. Other than that, I’m pretty happy with the list. There are a few other cards like Solidarity of Heroes, Endless One, and Tezzeret’s Gambit that may be worth trying, but I feel pretty confident in the current list. As far as the mana goes, Darksteel Citadel and the Nexi are the way to go, and generally don’t like the more obscure colorless lands like Ruins of Oran-Rief and Phyrexia’s Core.
One of the big advantages of playing a deck like Hardened Scales is that it’s very challenging to play against. I had multiple times at the Grand Prix where an opponent tapped out while I had lethal damage on board due to the trickiness of the deck. Learning the ins and outs of the deck can help exploit your opponent’s mistakes.
Tips and Tricks
- Always check if you have lethal because it might surprise you. Here are some tricks to maximize your damage.
- Inkmoth Nexus only needs 9 counters for lethal.
- Walking Ballista can take counters after Ravager hits your opponent.
- Hangarback should pick up any extra modular counters before you sacrifice it to Ravager to make extra tokens.
- Sacrificing Ravager to Throne of Geth can be helpful in some spots, as it gets you an extra damage versus sacrificing Ravager to itself, which allows you to keep the Throne without costing you damage.
- When you have two Ravagers, make sure to sacrifice one Ravager to the other.
- When you are trying to evaluate if you have lethal or not, it’s important to do so quickly. Here are some shortcuts for doing the math when Hardened Scales and Arcbound Ravager are out.
- Hangarback = 2 + 2 x number of counters on it.
- Arcbound Worker = 5 total counters (2 coming in, and 3 moving)
- Animation Module = 2 counters per mana spent
Let’s take a quick look at a spot I misplayed at Grand Prix Detroit to see how you can implement one of these tricks. (Play suggestion courtesy of the great Ben Weitz.)
First, sacrifice the Opal and the Welding Jar to Arcbound Ravager. Then activate Inkmoth Nexus, and sacrifice the Ravager to Throne. The Ravager modulars four counters onto the Nexus, and one gets proliferated onto the Nexus, putting it up to 6/6. My opponent’s poison total also proliferates up to 3, putting them up to 9 poison. With a Throne and an Inkmoth still in play, this requires multiple cards to answer.
As it turns out, my opponent had a Karn to answer the Nexus and a Nature’s Claim to answer the Throne, so I probably would’ve lost anyway, but this line would’ve given me a much better chance of winning.
Sideboarding is tricky as Hardened Scales is a very synergy driven deck. As with all such decks, less is more. Here’s what I’d suggest against the biggest decks:
Thanks for reading, and good luck with your Scaly endeavors. This deck is some of the most fun I’ve had playing Magic in a long time, and I hope you enjoy it too!