I got a good deal on a couple Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation bundles and ended up opening a foil Scorpion God, a foil God-Pharaoh's Gift, and an Archfiend of Ifnir too, so I decided to make my first commander deck using them. This is the deck I've ended up designing for myself after looking at many, many other Scorpion God decks on EDHREC and Youtube. :)
The deck’s primarily based around obvious -1/-1 counter synergies, but it also has an infect/proliferate sub-theme as a win-con as well as a cycle/discard sub-theme to accommodate [[Archfiend of Ifnir]] and [[Ruthless Sniper]] and to help smooth out your draws and get you to 5 mana for The Scorpion God as soon as possible.
I've also tried to add more cards lower on the curve, particularly compared to some of the other decks I've seen - these Scorpion God decks can get big when every card you want to put in is 5+ mana!
Some thoughts and notes from making the deck:
I've spent quite a bit of time thinking and learning about how to make this deck over the past month or so. I feel like I'm pretty much done now though and that there's only a few small tweaks/upgrades that I can make from here, but I thought I'd just put a few of my thoughts and insights down in writing and hopefully anyone else out there who's interested in The Scorpion God as a commander can gain something from it.
Unlike a lot of other commanders which make use of more universal Magic mechanics, The Scorpion God cares specifically about -1/-1 counters which have only really shown up three times in Magic's history: In the latter half of Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block in 2008 (SHM, EVE); in Scars of Mirrodin block in 2010/11 (SOM, MSB, NPH); and in Amonkhet block in 2017 (AKH, HOU).
There are indeed a couple of anomalous cards from far back in Magic's past like [[Harbinger of Night]] from Mirage or [[Serrated Arrows]] from Homelands that use -1/-1 counters, but other than that you're working with a handful of cards that were only a sub-theme in just a couple of sets.
There is also the potential that there could be some -1/-1 counter cards in amongst all of the new Commander products that are coming out in 2020, and people are also generally expecting a return to New Phyrexia or at least a return of the Phyrexians in the near future due to certain plot points. However, for now there aren't any other cards you can use.
After looking at several Scorpion God decks others have made, there are two main takeaways from all of this: One is that there aren't many good cards to choose from that use -1/-1 counters, and two is that you can end up playing a lot of really bad cards if you insist on being a slave to your theme.
My Unique Card Choices:
I’ll just start things off here by listing the card choices I’ve made that I think are a bit more unique:
[[Archfiend of Ifnir]] + [[Ruthless Sniper]]: You see Archfiend in quite a few Scorpion God decks that are out there (without any cycling cards or discard outlets, ahem) but almost never little ol’ Ruthless Sniper. I’ve made a conscious effort to include several ways to trigger Archfiend’s ability and since Sniper’s trigger is identical I thought I’d include him as a solid little 1-drop to flesh out the curve and provide a bit more early game to the deck.
The cycle/discard cards I’ve chosen to include are cards that each provide solid utility to the deck in general but can also either be used continuously ([[Bag of Holding]]; [[Merchant of the Vale]]; [[Yawgmoth, Thran Physician]]) or are a one-shot but also don’t take anything away from the deck by being included ([[Razaketh’s Rite]] is a tutor; [[Grave Upheaval]] is a reanimation spell; [[Thrill of Possibility]] is an instant-speed draw spell; [[Starstorm]] is an instant-speed board wipe).
I’ve also included 5 lands that cycle and only 5 despite there being more of them I could play because I don’t want to play too many tap-lands, especially when this whole sub-theme is only based around two cards that I might not even draw. Cycling is just a useful mechanic in general, and Archfiend happens to make it better if I happen to draw it – that’s how I view it.
[[God-Pharaoh’s Gift]]: I haven’t seen any other decks use this card, but I think it’s actually quite powerful here. The cards a Scorpion God deck are built around are all creatures with powerful abilities and effects that are also just huge removal magnets, so having a card that brings their effects back into play in the form of a 4/4 with haste is great and really grindy which I reckon is where Scorpion God shines.
I’ve also chosen to include several 1/1 ramp and utility creatures in my deck so that Scorpion God can incidentally eat them for card draw, and having the ability later in the game to bring back something like a [[Dusk Legion Zealot]] as a 4/4 haste that draws another card just makes me giddy at the thought of all that value.
I decided to cut [[Gate to the Afterlife]] in deck building because I don’t really have any sac outlets to trigger it with, so it would largely just be another do-nothing 3 mana artifact/enchantment in a deck that already has too many. I’ve also got other tutor effects anyway, so I don’t need a tailor-made tutor that doesn’t actually do anything to help the deck win.
[[Mad Ratter]]: This card isn’t out-of-this-world good or anything, but in Commander this card has four players’ turns that it can trigger on and it makes 1/1s that Scorpion God can eat to draw cards and make even more 1/1s, so it’s a self-perpetuating source of board presence and card draw on a stick. You can also just chuck a counter on him when you have the mana free so that he becomes a 0/1 that’s “insured” against removal.
This card sees zero play in Standard primarily because it’s a 1/2 that dies to everything, but in the context of Commander I don’t think that’s nearly as true. No one plays [[Shock]] or [[Disfigure]] because that type of cheap removal is just too narrow, so this card would have to eat something like an [[Assassin’s Trophy]] if someone wanted to get rid of it - and if they don’t, then this card has the chance to spiral out of control. I like it, and its art. :)
[[Mirage Mirror]]: This was another card I opened in my HOU packs which I think really works here. Not only do Scorpion God decks have a lot of creatures with important triggers and abilities, they also have a lot of enchantments and artifacts with important triggers and abilities. Being able to copy and double up on them is already great, but you can also just copy a beefy creature and beat down – or even copy an opponent’s cards!
Triggers to copy: [[Nest of Scarabs]] to make twice as many insects; [[Blowfly Infestation]] to distribute twice as many counters; [[Mad Ratter]] to make twice as many rats; [[God-Pharaoh’s Gift]] to bring back two 4/4s each combat.
Creatures to copy: [[Archfiend of Ifnir]] for a 5/4 flyer and twice as many counters; [[Carnifex Demon]] for a 6/6 flyer with zero counters that you can then swap counters back-and-forth between while nuking the board; [[Clackbridge Troll]] for a total of 16/16 trample and haste; [[Demon of Dark Schemes]] for a 5/5 flyer and twice as much energy for his other ability.
Other: [[Grafted Exoskeleton]] to give an extra creature Infect for the turn; [[Banewhip Punisher]] to use the Mirror as a removal spell; [[Contagion Engine]] to proliferate 4 times per turn.
Overall, I think there are enough high-value targets just in my own deck that Mirage Mirror is worthwhile including.
I don’t really need to justify why I’m including any of these cards because they’re just obviously good, but I thought I’d list the common staples for anyone who’s unfamiliar with Scorpion God decks and is perhaps thinking of making one themselves.
[[Crumbling Ashes]]: Being able to destroy one creature every turn for free is just the bee's knees especially when your commander draws a card from it, so this always makes the cut.
Do note that it's not a 'may' trigger though, so if the only creature in play with a -1/-1 counter is one of yours then you're forced to destroy it.
[[Black Sun's Zenith]]: This is a solid board wipe in and of itself, so having it synergise with your commander makes it even better.
[[Necroskitter]]: The Scorpion God lets you draw cards when creatures die with counters on them, and this card lets you steal them too.
[[Dusk Urchins]]: This card is a mediocre creature for 3 mana, but its synergy levels are off the charts. It puts -1/-1 counters on itself for zero mana and then when it dies you’ll draw 3 cards from its ability and 1 more from Scorpion God’s, and in the mean time you get an attacker/chump blocker.
[[Blowfly Infestation]] + [[Nest of Scarabs]]: Both of these cards generate terrific value from what you're already doing, but if you get both out while you have Scorpion God in play then you can also draw your entire deck. If you put a -1/-1 counter on an insect token then Scorpion God will draw you a card from the token dying, Nest will make a new insect token, Infestation will let you put a -1/-1 on the new token, and the cycle'll just repeat until you put Infestation's counter on something else.
This would also work well with [[Blood Artist]]/[[Zulaport Cutthroat]]-style effects.
[[Skinrender]]: It's a 3/3 creature with a synergistic kill spell attached.
[[Banewhip Punisher]]: Putting a counter on a creature is fine, but it’s that second ability that makes this card good. You can almost think of it as a more flexible, synergistic [[Ravenous Chupacabra]]: For 2BB, put a -1/-1 on a creature then destroy that creature (at any time). Draw one card if you have your commander out, draw two if you also put a counter on Punisher before using her ability.
[[Soul Snuffers]]: This card is amazing because it comes into play and (even if it doesn't kill anything) it marks everything for death. This card gets a counter, your commander gets a counter, and every creature in play gets a counter, so now if anything dies you get to start drawing cards.
[[Kulrath Knight]]: This card turns your -1/-1 counters into [[Pacifism]]s while also being a 3/3 flyer with Wither. Pretty solid.
[[Contagion Clasp]] + [[Contagion Engine]]: These two cards provide you with easy access to the ability to Proliferate, meaning they give you long term value while also doing something useful when they come into play. Good stuff.
[[Carnifex Demon]] + [[Midnight Banshee]]: These two cards are both big, beefy creatures that allow you to flood the board with -1/-1 counters every turn for your commander. Easy Includes.
[[Cauldron of Souls]]: This card is a synergistic way to protect your board from removal or board wipes. If things are going to get removed, just tap it at any time to give them all Persist – meaning they come back immediately with -1/-1 counters, ready to draw you extra cards the next time they die. You can even give The Scorpion God Persist, too!
This card seems less essential than the other staples here, but it sits in a fun space where it has a powerful but not game-breaking effect which also opens up avenues for politicking: The Cauldron can actually also give your opponents’ creatures Persist... but this of course will come with the price that they’ll all now have -1/-1 counters and can be proliferated on and will draw you cards! Muahaha!
[[Everlasting Torment]]: This card is the least essential of the staples, but this card is a wacky red/black chaos card if ever there was one. Giving all damage sources Wither is pure upside for you, and it’ll really warp your opponents’ combat math when attacking and blocking now have permanent consequences. Plus, being able to prevent life gain and [[Fog]] effects is a nice thing to have incidental access to.
The Scorpion God isn’t a particularly popular commander it must be acknowledged, and so most of the decks built around him were made a year or two ago with what cards were available and then haven’t been updated as new sets have come out.
There aren’t very many new cards that fit into a Scorpion God deck, but I reckon there’s a couple:
[[Karn’s Bastion]]: It’s a land that proliferates, and it even comes in untapped. I see no reason why this shouldn’t be in every Scorpion God deck.
[[Yawgmoth, Thran Physician]]: Yawgmoth actually does an awful lot when you sit and look at him. He’s a free/zero mana sac outlet, he distributes -1/-1 counters for free, and he’s a source of card draw. Then he’s a discard outlet, and he even proliferates! There’s a lot of utility he provides to a Scorpion God deck and he also helps to fill out the 4-drop slot, so I think you’d have to argue why you shouldn’t include him rather than why you should.
[[Ugin, the Ineffable]]: The Scorpion God is in Rakdos colours and they have trouble dealing with certain permanent types, so Ugin is just another new card that you can add to help with that issue. He also makes 2/2s that effectively draw you cards, which if you put -1/-1 counters on then also draw you more cards – sweet!
[[Clackbridge Troll]]: I don’t expect that this card is very good in commander, but it sure seems like a lot of fun. The fact that it only gives one person the goats and you can then just eat them with your -1/-1 counters to draw cards makes The Scorpion God seem like the one commander to make it work if it can work at all. The Troll sits in the same space that [[Forbidden Orchard]] seems to in some other decks I’ve seen.
The bad cards:
There are plenty of mediocre cards you can play in a Scorpion God deck (e.g. [[Soulstinger]], [[Grief Tyrant]], [[Merciless Javelineer]]), but some of the cards that people choose to play are really bad and they're basically all removal spells:
[[Scar]]: You’re paying 1 mana and a card to do something your commander does for 3 mana and zero cards. It just seems like this job is already being covered, so just play a card that does something else your deck needs.
[[Blur of Blades]]: Dealing 2 damage to an opponent is just trinket text in Commander, so this is Scar except it costs 2 mana instead. See above.
[[Puncture Bolt]]: So this is Scar as well except you’re paying 1 extra mana to deal 1 point of damage? Doesn’t seem worth it.
[[Volt Charge]]: You’re paying 3 mana to deal 3 damage and then proliferate once and only once. [[Lightning Bolt]] isn’t considered playable in commander, so a really bad Lightning Bolt that’s really bad at proliferating compared to [[Contagion Clasp]] isn’t filling any holes in your deck unless you’re all-in on Infect.
[[Splendid Agony]]: The Scorpion God already puts 1 counter on a creature for 3 mana, so you’re spending a card to get one more counter to put somewhere. If you want this effect then you should play [[Illusionist’s Bracers]].
[[Puncture Blast]]: This is 3 mana to put 3 counters on a single creature (since face damage doesn’t matter), which still just seems too narrow and low-impact to justify it taking the spot of an actually useful card.
[[Lethal Sting]]: A sorcery-speed [[Murder]] that puts a single counter only on one of your creatures instead of your opponents’ isn’t doing enough. Plus, what if you don’t have any creatures out?
[[Cartouche of Ambition]]: Giving +1/+1 and Lifelink is pretty much trinket text in Commander too, so this is 3 mana to distribute 1 counter which is exactly what your commander already does except at instant-speed. At least [[Contagion Clasp]] has the upside of proliferating.
[[Torment of Venom]]: So this is [[Puncture Blast]] again, except now you’re paying an extra mana to make an opponent lose 3 life (since they’ll never sacrifice or discard anything unless it actively benefits them)? Not worth it.
[[Spread the Sickness]]: A 5 mana, sorcery-speed [[Murder]] that only proliferates once is just so slow and expensive and clunky. This seems like both a bad removal spell and a bad way to proliferate.
Basically, with all of these cards, my recommendation would be to do this: Take a look at [[Grim Affliction]] and [[Incremental Blight]] first and ask yourself whether you want them in your deck. If you do, then call it a day and ignore all of the other cards listed above, and if you don’t then just ignore all of the other cards listed above anyway.
It’s not even a matter of budget here; those two cards really are just the only ones worth considering in this whole category of ‘removal spells that use or interact with -1/-1 counters’. Just play good cards of any price and let your commander do the heavy lifting here, and don't just fill up your deck with a bunch of redundant spells that only do what your commander already does but worse. That space is valuable!
(And of course, if you want to be on theme then be on theme, but if you just want to make a reasonable, powerful deck then you should still avoid these cards because most of them were made for Standard/Limited and not Commander.)
Cards people don’t understand:
While looking over some of the decks people have made I noticed a few cards that often got included, but which weren't being used to their full potential or were being overestimated in their usefulness:
[[Archfiend of Ifnir]]: This card has a very powerful effect that sits alongside [[Midnight Banshee]] in that it only makes your opponents’ boards smaller. It’s a card that makes a lot of sense in a Scorpion God deck, however, take note of what triggers its ability: “Whenever you cycle or discard another card...”
The Commander’s Quarters actually included Archfiend in his deck tech for The Scorpion God with the reasoning that you can just make use of its ability by discarding to hand-size, but playing a 5/4 flyer for 5 that literally does nothing else unless you have not only a full hand but an overly full hand just seems silly to me.
[[Soul-Scar Mage]]: This card basically serves to give your burn spells Wither, but I’ve seen some decks that include this card without having any cards at all in their deck that actually deal non-combat damage. Weird.
[[Stigma Lasher]]: I think this card is hilarious and I love how unique its effect is, but I really question how worthwhile it is to include this card in a commander deck. For one thing, it’s a RR 2-drop that’s meant to be played in a deck that’s full to the brim with black cards like the 1BB Necroskitter or the 3BBB Midnight Banshee.
Another issue is that what if your opponents’ decks – like my one here – barely have any ways to gain life and so don’t care if you attack them with it? I’d barely care to trade off a turn-1 [[Festering Mummy]] for this thing, never mind chump block it.
I just reckon that if your deck wouldn’t play [[Sickle Ripper]] – a 2/1 with Wither that has a much easier casting cost of 1B – then why would it play [[Stigma Lasher]]? They seem like they’re ultimately at about the same power level unless your opponent specifically has life gain as part of their game-plan, and even then he’s just a 2/2 that they can pretty easily block or trade with.
Bonus: [[The Scorpion God]]: I saw a couple decks that were full of cards that give creatures -X/-X until end of turn, but those cards simply don't trigger The Scorpion God's ability. He only cares about -1/-1 counters specifically, so be aware of that when making your deck!
Wither vs. Infect:
One thing that I think some Scorpion God decks fail to take account of is that creatures with Wither and Infect don’t create the same gameplay dynamic.
Wither actively disincentivises your opponent from blocking because they’d rather lose a couple points of life than have their creature get -1/-1 counters put on it, especially if those counters mean their creature draws you a card when it dies.
Infect, on the other hand, does incentivise your opponent to block because they’d rather have counters put on their creature than have poison counters put on them, especially when your deck has the ability to proliferate those poison counters and kill them.
This means that if your goal is to put -1/-1 counters on creatures to take advantage of Scorpion God’s draw ability, then you should try to stay away from creature cards that only have Wither. They’ll likely never actually be blocked or have an opponent attack into them and thus won’t accomplish anything of value because they’re just a simple low-rate creature.
For instance, [[Necropede]] and [[Core Prowler]] are great, but [[Sickle Ripper]] and [[Lockjaw Snapper]] aren’t so much.
A particularly good example of this overall issue is the card [[Fists of the Demigod]] – ideally you give a creature +2/+2, First Strike and Wither, or put another way: ‘Enchanted creature has Wither and also can’t be blocked.’
Those two things are kind of at odds in a deck built around actually wanting to put -1/-1 counters on your opponent’s creatures, right? Sure, your opponent could block and just let their creature get killed so that you can draw a card, but they probably won’t until they’re at the point where they’ll lose if they don’t – and you’re not going to get them to that point by playing cards like Fists of the Demigod. :)
The Scorpion God vs. Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons
Amonkhet block gave us two commanders who use -1/-1 counters, the other of which is [[Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons]]. In all honesty she’s the better of the two compared to Scorpion God since she only costs 2 mana, her ability actively helps you win instead of just drawing you cards, and she’s in green instead of red which just gives her a blatant head-and-shoulders advantage in Commander.
One interesting thing to note is that while the two do share a color – black – and thus have access to many of the same and best cards that use -1/-1 counters, not all of the cards that they share access to are as equally appealing to them. They both use and benefit from -1/-1 counters, but they do so in very different ways.
Take a card like [[Ammit Eternal]] for example. Hapatra loves this card because it’s a 3-drop that comes down the turn after you bring her out, which then makes her a minimum of 5 snakes with the potential for more if it manages to connect with an opponent.
The Scorpion God, on the other hand, doesn’t have much use for it because it’s a 3-drop that’ll likely already be dead by the time you cast him, and even if it isn’t he still only draws a single card off of it when it dies.
Hapatra cares about each individual counter that gets put on a creature, but The Scorpion God really doesn’t. All The Scorpion God cares about is that creatures are constantly and consistently dying in his presence with at least one -1/-1 counter on them.
The Strategy of The Scorpion God:
This all relates to something I’ve seen in a lot of other peoples’ decks: A lack of X/1s or ways to make X/1 tokens, and a lack of actual removal.
I think these two things are very important for a Scorpion God deck, and I think the lack of them is due to people failing to understand what [[The Scorpion God]] wants you to do as a card. He draws cards when creatures die with counters on them, and his ability allows him to put a single counter on a creature – this means two things:
1: He preys upon small creatures. Any X/1s or X/2s that your opponents control can be eaten up, and any that you control can be sacrificed to him for card draw.
2: He marks bigger creatures for death. Any creatures that are too big to be easily killed with his counters still draw you cards when they die by other means.
Killing small creatures is the easy part in a Scorpion God deck. Your commander does it, you’ve got [[Midnight Banshee]] and [[Carnifex Demon]] that do it. But what do you do if your opponents don’t have small creatures for you to kill? Your commander will just sit in play with nothing to do, and you won’t be able to draw any cards.
It’s fun to play all of these big cards like [[Hateflayer]] and [[Grim Poppet]], but I reckon you still need some smaller creatures that die to a single -1/-1 counter in your deck too so that you always have ways to use your mana and draw cards. A card like [[Iron Myr]] is perfect, because it’s like a mana dork with ‘3, sacrifice this: Draw a card’ written on it in a Scorpion God deck.
Then you have the matter of ‘marking creatures for death’. The Scorpion God’s -1-1 ability is great against small creatures, but it really struggles with efficiency against anything that’s an X/3 or up. If your opponent plays a [[Colossal Dreadmaw]] and you cast a [[Murder]] then you’ll kill it for only 3 mana, but if you were to use Scorpion God then it would require 18(!) mana to take it out.
All of these cards like [[Splendid Agony]] have the exact same issue with efficiency, so you need to put some actual good removal in your deck instead of just cards that synergise if you want to actually be able to cover your bases and deal with threats. As the game goes on and you have more mana and more cards in play that spread counters you’ll be able to rely on your -1/-1 counter synergies to handle things, but you still need ways to make it to that point.
The point is that the way I’d recommend thinking of The Scorpion God’s -1/-1 ability is that it’s not removal, it’s primarily a way to ‘mark creatures for death’ and to ‘insure’ your creatures against removal. You’re putting counters on creatures so that they’ll draw you cards when they die, even if that isn’t until 5 turns from now from somebody else’s board wipe.
You can do things like put a counter on something and then untap and use a removal spell on it to draw a card – it’s as if your removal spell had ‘Kicker 3: Draw a card’, but you were able to the pay the 3 on the previous turn. Or maybe you never even spent mana on it at all because your [[Midnight Banshee]] did all the work for you and now you just get to reap all of this free extra value.
The Scorpion God is a very grindy, value-oriented commander, so you really ought to just play to that strength.
Overall, I'm happy with how this process has played out. I've learned a lot about deck building and card choices, as well as about card evaluation. Black is also my favourite Magic colour, so making a deck that gets to include some of my favourite cards and also introduces me to brand new favourites is the best I could hope for.
Writing all of this was mostly for my own benefit since I don't expect anyone will ever really read it, but if you've actually read this far, hopefully you got something out of what is apparently 27,000+ characters!
|Instant, Sorcery, Enchantment, Artifact (30)|
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