Commander Spotlight: Scythe of the Wretched

Welcome back to week sixty of Monday Magic: COVID Edition. It’s been 457 days since my last summoning.

As we alluded to last week, it would seem that we indeed have reached the holding pattern phase of our group’s anticipatory Magic return to glory and chaos. Conversations are happening in earnest about new deck ideas, commentary about recent sets, and laments from a few that while they’ve remained active to some degree by playing on Arena, it just didn’t measure up to the real thing. Individually, none of these things would point to any real uptick in the possibility of finally getting together. Combined, though, they point to the group’s collective consciousness really starting to stir about the prospect of getting in a gathering. While there have certainly been efforts in the last month or so to accomplish this, scheduling was largely the problem. However, even in those cases only a portion of our meta group was involved in those attempts. The last week has seen an increase from others who had continued to be checked out, making the prospect of a 4-6 player evening of Commander-related shenanigans much more likely.

He says, having been repeatedly been wrong on this before.

With all manner of social activities slowly creeping back towards more normal operations (or what in some cases is likely to become the new normal), the group seems to have crossed that threshold of renewed interest and is directly tied into a similar sentiment felt across the board from people everywhere. Are we completely out of the woods on this whole pandemic thing? Absolutely not. There’s still a lot of work to be done to contain it in many parts of the world, and it’ll be an ongoing effort to continue to get the vaccine-hesitant crowds to do so as to further reduce numbers and decrease the chances of some kind of breakthrough mutation. But that light at the end of tunnel seems to be growing a bit brighter with each passing week. With that firmly in mind, I do really think we’ll get back to some kind of normal article format in the very near future. Which would be nice for a host of reasons, including addressing some of the new sets Magic has put out in the last year. Because apparently even in a global emergency and a near-complete crippling of in-person gaming generally, nothing stops new set releases.

Soon. But not today.

Which means, per usual, instead of discussing Magic-related topics or a talking point about the card in question, we carry on by looking at Magic cards I’ve personally wanted to put into an EDH deck for some time but haven’t for one reason or another. Longtime readers with exceptional memories may recall that I actually tried to include this week’s card when constructing the Alesha deck. It made it quite far into the process, but ultimately like most equipment set aside at the time, it didn’t make the final cut. Here’s hoping the next time around we’ll have better fortune.

Today we have: Scythe of the Wretched

Name: Scythe of the Wretched

Edition: Mirrodin

Rarity:  Rare

Focus: Creature Reanimation

Highlights: More often than not, when Magic does something wildly new or drastically changes some element of the game, there will be a contingent of players that will not like it – myself included. Whether it’s removing old rules or introducing new card looks and ideas, not every decision Wizards make will be universally appreciated. The introduction of equipment, however, comes close. Although there was a small audience who raised (understandable) concerns about the long term viability of Auras having to compete with equipment in the same play space, the vast majority of players particularly enjoyed their introduction during Mirrodin. Which was good, because the artifact-heavy Mirrodin block had a lot of equipment to show off. Crazy as it sounds in retrospect, Scythe of the Wretched was just one of many highly worthwhile equipment pieces shown off at the time – so much so that at times it was overshadowed by others that were even more potent.

Which is indeed pretty bonkers, because the Scythe already is pretty good, especially in casual formats like Commander.

Like nearly all equipment, this artifact comes with two different costs to consider. The first, and often slightly less important of the two, is its casting cost, which in this case is a paltry two mana investment. This ensures that the Scythe is easy to get onto the battlefield at nearly any stage of the game. It also makes sense thematically, as a reaper scythe probably would be easy to find on a battlefield positively teeming with death and destruction on a regular basis.

I also like to pretend this is the weapon of The Wretched, an old card favorite of mine.

Its second cost is its Equip cost. This number is usually focused on more because once on the battlefield this is the cost you’re more likely to have to pay repeatedly should the creature its attached to cease to exist. For the Scythe, this comes in at four mana. For the more competitive-minded players, four mana is a lot for an equipment most of the time, often having them opt for cheaper alternatives. This was just as true when the card first debuted in Mirrodin as it is today and arguably why it never found its way into being considered among the top tier artifacts of the Mirrodin block. Equipment with high Equip costs, especially at higher rarities, has a tendency to give many players pause. The Scythe over time has been no different.

However, for those who have been able to give it a chance, most will attest that cost is more than worth it given its effects.

Scythe of the Wretched offers two abilities upon being attached. The first is that it gives the equipped creature a static +2/+2 buff. This is a decent buff overall, though at a 4-mana equip costs would itself not be all that efficient even compared to other vanilla equipment of the time such as Vulshok Morningstar – let alone the bevy of equipment to come out since then. Instead, its cost justification ties directly into its second ability. It states that whenever a creature dealt damage by the equipped creature dies that turn, that creature is reanimated onto the battlefield under your control. The Scythe then auto-equips to that returned creature for free. Although there are a few cases where moving it off a heavy-duty attacker onto a smaller, more expendable blocker is less than ideal, most of the time allowing it to jump around works in your favor given that each time it happens you’re gaining an additional creature. Magic is often a game of attrition, and being able to swing an opponent’s creature over onto your side is almost always a 2-1 benefit.

Moreover, like similarly-worded cards in the game, the equipment only states that the afflicted creature need only be damaged in order to trigger the effect; you don’t necessarily have to deal the death blow itself. Normally this is a moot point, but there certainly are occasions where you can deal additional damage to an attacking or blocking creature to pick it off and still benefit – such as if the equipped creature itself just isn’t big enough for the knockout punch without some assistance.

While it never was a tournament favorite, Scythe of the Wretched turns out to be a great casual equipment for multiplayer settings like EDH. It was a shame at the time that I wasn’t able to utilize it, but in the end the issue was the nature of the deck more than the card itself. Yet like its ability to resurrect creatures, the odds are pretty high this powerful but sometimes overlooked artifact will be back on the short list of my next viable Commander deck build. Here’s hoping for the next one it makes the…cut?

Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.

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