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Exclusive Spoiler: Seven Questions with Scourge Wolf


Over the course of Magic's history there have been exactly three 2/2's for two red mana with first strike. The first was Ruby Leech, which tends to find its way onto lists of "worst cards of all time" since it makes all your other Red spells cost an additional red mana. Blood Knight was a 2/2 first strike with protection from white. Then there was Ash Zealot, which had not only first strike, but also haste and a Snapcaster Mage hosing ability, which made it a Standard staple. With Shadows Over Innistrad, another challenger enters the ring. Presenting: Scourge Wolf

 

Scourge Wolf

 

At first glance, what we have in Scourge Wolf is a 2/2 first striker for two red mana, which already puts it in rarified company. However, this combination of abilities, stats, and mana cost doesn't really tell us how good the card could be. Is it the next Ruby Leech? Or is it the next Ash Zealot? This comparison is what we need to figure out. Obviously, the big calling card here is that Scourge Wolf also has a second ability; when we have delirium (four or more card types in our graveyard), it's a 2/2 double strike for only two-mana, which makes it extremely powerful. It's also a Wolf and a Horror, which is certainly flavorful, but may or may not be relevant in Standard. So just how playable is Scourge Wolf? Let's break it down by answering seven questions:

#1: Is it Better than Ruby Leech?

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This one is a no brainer. Scourge Wolf is 100 times better than Ruby Leech. While both are 2/2's with first strike for two-mana, Ruby Leech comes with a significant drawback, while Scourge Wolf comes with a fairly meaningful upside. I don't think we have to worry about Scourge Wolf showing up on any lists of the "worst creatures of all time" anytime soon.

#1.5 Is it Better than Blood Knight?

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Protection from white is a fickle ability, and its relevance is largely dependent on the metagame. Having said that, double strike is probably more powerful if you can get it enabled on Scourge Wolf. Like Ash Zealot below, Blood Knight comes out of the gate with all of its abilities, making it a more consistent, yet less powerful card.

#2: Is it Better than Ash Zealot? 

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Considering that Ash Zealot always has haste and Scourge Wolf will sometimes have double strike, Ash Zealot will usually be the more powerful card. The beauty of Ash Zealot is that it was very good in any red deck, while Scourge Wolf without delirium will only be serviceable, but good in decks that are willing to invest the time and resources in activating delirium as quickly as possible. If you can turn on Scourge Wolf's double strike and attack for four on turn three, the card is pretty nuts. It only needs to deal combat damage once to make the two-mana investment pay off. The question is, will there be a deck willing to put in the work for this payoff? My initial impression is that it wouldn't be worth it for Scourge Wolf alone, but if there are other cards that can benefit from the graveyard filling plan, it might be quite good. Overall, my initial impression is that Scourge Wolf isn't quite as good as Ash Zealot

#3: Then What's the Comparison?

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While not a perfect comparison, the best I could come up with is Kurin Outlaw. While Kruin Outlaw costs one more mana up front, it also has additional upside when the right conditions are met. In this case, she flips into the Terror of Kruin Pass. The bad news is Kruin Outlaw was essentially unplayed during her time in Standard, which doesn't bode well for the future of Scourge Wolf. However there is a huge difference between two- and three-mana, and perhaps Scourge Wolf will end up seeing more play thanks to its more efficient mana cost.

#4: Does the Creature Type Matter?

This one's a bit tricky to answer, mostly because we don't know yet know the entirety of Shadows over Innistrad. As of now, there are a couple of cards in Standard that synergize with Scourge Wolf, but I'm not sure we have the critical mass of tribal cards to make the Wolf Horror creature type really matter. 

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Probably the strongest Horror synergy in Standard involves Thing in the Ice's transform ability, which bounces all creatures except Horrors. When you cast your fourth instant or sorcery, not only do you get to attack with a 7/8, but also Scourge Wolf. Plus, casting all the spells you need to transform Thing in the Ice naturally builds towards delirium to power up Scourge Wolf into a double striker. 

The other possibility is Silverfur Partisan, which takes advantage of the fact that Scourge Wolf is indeed a Wolf. With both on the battlefield, anytime you target your Scourge Wolf with a pump spell, you get an extra 2/2 Wolf token for your troubles. This is especially potent if there is a pump spell that grants trample, as we've seen with the Temur Battle Rage / Become Immense combo. Even better, if your opponent tries to kill your Scourge Wolf with a Fiery Impulse or Anguished Unmaking, you get a 2/2 Wolf token as a replacement.

Obviously neither of these synergies are game-breaking, but they are a reason to consider running Scourge Wolf if you are playing Thing in the Ice or Silverfur Partisan

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In more casual circles, there are a couple of Wolf lords that can be used to pump up Scourge Wolf, but neither of them are very exciting. Immerwolf just gives +1/+1 and is missing the all-important second ability we typically find on three-mana lords (for example, Islandwalk on Lord of Atlantis). Meanwhile, Mayor of Avabruck only costs two-mana, but it will only pump Scourge Wolf while it's transformed, which means we can't really count on it to act like a true lord all of the time. There might be enough pieces to try a tribal Wolf / Werewolf deck for an FNM event, but the tribe is a long way off from being a real contender in Modern.

Overall, the answer to "does the creature type matter?" is not especially. While there are a handful of cards that synergize with the Wolf creature type, and even fewer that care if a creature is a Horror, there just isn't that critical mass necessary to make a tribe playable. If you are playing Scourge Wolf, it's likely because you want a 2/2 first strike for two that can sometimes gain double strike, not because it's a Wolf Horror.

#5: What about Standard?

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When it comes to Standard, Scourge Wolf has one big problem for the next six moths, and that problem is Abbot of Keral Keep. To activate the delirium ability on Scourge Wolf, apart from somehow getting a creature and land in the graveyard (which will likely be the hard part), you need to cast at least one instant and sorcery spell. Assuming you are on the "cast spells to turn on delirium plan," I have a hard time imagining Scourge Wolf will be better than Abbot of Keral Keep in most decks. If you can cast a couple of spells, Abbot of Kerel Keep's prowess ability does a pretty good approximation of double strike with an element of surprise. With Scourge Wolf, an opponent will usually know when double strike is active and prepare accordingly, but Abbot of Keral Keep is almost never safe to block when an opponent has a handful of cards. 

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A better Standard-legal comparison might be Dragon Whisperer, a card I was high on previously. Both Dragon Whisperer and Scourge Wolf are double Red two-drops and both get better as the game progresses. However, I think that a lot of decks would choose Scourge Wolf over Dragon Whisperer for two reasons. First, as we talked about a while ago, a 2/2 first strike for two is rare, and depending on how the format shakes out, could actually end up being strong. Scourge Wolf can stonewall (and attack through) opposing x/2's all day, which isn't the case with Dragon Whisperer. Second, it costs a ton of mana to make Dragon Whisperer good, while Scourge Wolf becomes good for free once you get enough types of cards in your graveyard. 

Overall, I think Scourge Wolf will be worse than Abbot of Keral Keep in many decks, but at the same time Scourge Wolf will be better than Dragon Whisperer in most decks. The question becomes, is "better than Dragon Whisperer" good enough for Standard? I think the answer is yes, but only for specific decks. 

#6: Where Might it Fit in Standard? UR Prowess

The downside of putting Scourge Wolf in UR Prowess is that the deck is overloaded at the two-drop slot, which means we have to cut back on Abbot of Keral Keep — odd in a deck built around the prowess mechanic. It's also super difficult to figure out ways to get a creature in the graveyard to activate delirium. However, Scourge Wolf has one thing going for it over Abbot of Keral Keep: the very strong synergy with Thing in the Ice. Picture turn two Scourge Wolf, turn three attack for two and cast Thing in the Ice and Magmatic Insight, turn four play a flurry of spells, flip Thing in the Ice, attack for nine, then hopefully figure out a way to turn on double strike on turn five to keep attacking. 

Now I'm not saying Scourge Wolf will replace Abbot of Keral Keep in UR Prowess, but I do think that the synergy with Thing in the Ice is interesting enough that it's worth trying. If you have any ideas on how to get a creature, enchantment, artifact, or planeswalker in the graveyard in an easy and efficient way, make sure to let me know in the comments. 

#7: Where it Might Fit in Standard: BR Madness

While activating delirium takes a lot of work, if there is any deck that can do it, it's RB Madness which actively wants to discard cards. So far we haven't seen a second good two-drop for the deck (behind Ravenous Bloodseeker), and it's possible Scourge Wolf could fill the role. It does attack for a lot of damage and can potentially hit for six out of nowhere with the help of Olivia, Mobilized for War. Imagine playing Olivia, Mobilized for War on turn three, casting double Scourge Wolf on turn four while discarding two cards to make them 3/3's with haste (while also activating delirium) and attacking for 15. While this play might be magical Christmas land, it's far from impossible. 

Admittedly, some of the card choices look a bit strange, especially Sinister Concoction and four main deck copies of Transgress the Mind, but this is the price you pay to build around delirium. It isn't all that easy to find sorceries, enchantments, and planeswalkers that are both good enough to play and also easy to get into the graveyard. Building around Scourge Wolf (or any delirium card for that matter) is a very real cost. However, the rewards are good, so it's probably worth testing at the least. 

Conclusion

As it stands today, I think it's possible Scourge Wolf sees play in Standard, but I worry about two things. First, it takes a lot of work to get full value. When Scourge Wolf is a 2/2 double strike for two-mana, the card is extremely good. But when you have to play bad cards to give your 2/2 double strike, a lot of the appeal fades away. However, it's possible that we get some cards that vastly improve Scourge Wolf, either in Shadows over Innistrad or in future sets. Something like Thought Scour would go a long way, as would the return of Satyr Wayfinder. Another possibility is we get some good, aggressive equipment. A 2/2 first strike wearing a Bonesplitter or Ghostfire Blade is extremely difficult to deal with, and when it upgrades to double strike the game will end quickly. The other problem for ScourgeWolf is that, in a majority of decks, Abbot of Keral Keep is the better option in the two-drop slot. However, it is possible that some decks will play both, and either way Abbot of Keral Keep rotates in September.

Anyway, that's all for today. A huge thank you to Wizards for hooking us up with another sweet spoiler card! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments. You can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive.  


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