Greetings from social isolation, Commander players! It can be tough to stay in, but it’s a small price to pay to contribute to public health and safety. Personally, I’m really missing the ease of going out for a coffee. All my favourite places are only doing delivery, but I prefer to go out and scavenge for my grounds… Oh, did we get there?
Today’s Staple is Scavenger Grounds. The big snake skeleton in the picture is me, being all dramatic about not being able to go and get coffee. I’m dry. So dry. Is the flavour text about caffeine withdrawal? I’m going to say a strong, rich, bold yes. With double cream.
There’s always some joke going around about the strength of this or that coffee. Sometimes it’s good strong coffee, and sometimes it’s the dregs of a cloudy old plastic pot, and nobody can tell you how long it’s been sitting there. It’s strong, they’ll tell you. Strong enough to wake the dead. But since this is a column about Magic the Gathering Staples, you’ll be armed with your trusty Scavenger Grounds, to exile all graveyards before said wakening can happen.
Is any of this coffee talk useful? Well, if the lesson learned is that Scavenger Grounds is good to have in an absurd number of scenarios and corner cases, then we all get gold stars. On a personal note, this is one of maybe 3 colourless lands that go in all my decks. The others are Emergence Zone and Maze of Ith. I can make concessions for those two, but will only pass on Scavenger Grounds from a flavour perspective. Even in 5 colour decks. Even with Bojuka Bog out there. Why?
Here’s a quick rundown on Scavenger Grounds’ more obvious qualities. First off, it’s a land, a tough type to interact with. Killing lands draws hate, and this is not a premium target for most decks, so it’ll probably be left alone. Second, it makes mana, and comes in untapped. Third, it nukes graveyards, which can be devastating to some decks, annoying to others, and a hard counter to one-off reanimation cards like Command the Dreadhorde and Rise of the Dark Realms that players often toss into decks as surprise finishers. The Grounds exiles those graveyards at instant speed as well, making it a player on the stack, during any phase, or just as a visible deterrent. The more you can get your opponents to play around it, the better it is. Bojuka Bog might be a more powerful one-time effect against one player, but it lacks versatility and requires specific timing. You especially don’t want it rotting in your hand when you need an additional black mana source.
The less obvious strength of Scavenger Grounds comes from type synergy. It’s a Desert, which is a type that dates back all the way to the very first expansion, Arabian Nights. When first printed, Desert wasn’t a type. ‘Types’ weren’t really so defined the way they are now. At the time, there was plenty of speculation about Magic making a sixth colour, or adding a new type of basic land, but the closest we got was Desert, alongside a number of thematically flavourful lands, most of which didn’t produce mana, and City of Brass, which had you ‘suffer’ to make mana.
While it was possible that Deserts would reshape the Magic landscape, as it were, they weren’t very impactful in practice. Holding up mana to ping attackers isn’t as good as using that mana to cast spells, it turns out. And making coloured mana for spells tends to work better overall. City of Brass, as the first ‘rainbow land’ has seen heavy play since printing, and cards like Elephant Graveyard, Diamond Valley and Island of Wak-Wak all still have allure and high price tags, but the Desert was left, well, deserted for a while.
Time Spiral produced a reprint for the Desert, after Eighth Edition defined land types. It was in From the Vault:Realms as well, but both as a bit of nostalgia or curiosity. Finally, after over 20 years, the Desert was revitalized by the expansions Amonkhet, and Hour of Devastation. Over a dozen new Desert-type lands were printed, including some that produced blue mana. While those were sadly not Desert-Islands (someday!!), they and the other colour Deserts had abilities that synergized with other Deserts.
Most Desert synergy involves sacrificing, and Scavenger Grounds is no different. It is extremely important to note two things about its synergy. First, you can sacrifice any Desert to use the ability, including itself. Second, the sacrifice is part of the cost, meaning that the Desert you chose will be in the graveyard when the ability goes off. That means Scavenger Grounds is repeatable, but only as many times as you have Deserts to exile. Don’t plan to reuse it itself unless you can get it out of the graveyard at instant speed somehow. Some of the other Deserts are quite strong, and worth playing. Ramunap Ruins was even banned in Standard for a while.
If there’s anything holding Scavenger Grounds back, it’s that it exiles your own graveyard as well. But just as creature-heavy decks often run boardwipes in Commander, running a graveyard-wipe even when playing graveyard strategies is worth it. If you’re graveyard heavy, you’re probably running a few hedges against hate anyway, ie. ways to reshuffle your yard into your deck. The other thing is that sacrificing your Deserts eats into your mana production, and shouldn’t be dismissed as a very real cost.
Speaking of cost, Scavenger Grounds is not expensive to buy, although it is unlikely to ever be bulk. It currently sits at about $2, with foils in the $5 range. About the price of a certain hot drink I’m thinking of right now. Unlike some of the other new Deserts, it’s not tied to any specific Amonkhet location, like Ifnir or Ramunap. That makes it printable in basically any set, as long as the Desert type works. It could be in a precon, or Core set, or even a Plane-specific expansion. As its status as a Staple in Commander continues to rise, it will hopefully get some premium or alt-art treatment to bling out our decks. One weird wrinkle is that if more Deserts are printed, and the power and synergy go up, but Scavenger Grounds is not reprinted for some reason, the price could jump. Suffice it to say that it’ll get a bit better and more valuable every time the Desert type is applied to a new card.
In summation, you might be wandering, dry, in a Desert where the only Oasis has a really stupid activated ability, but if you’ve got Scavenger Grounds, you can sacrifice that Desert at instant speed as a powerful, flexible hedge against some of the most powerful decks and plays in the entire Commander format. While it can require some clever play to optimize an ability that exiles your graveyard as well, sometimes the best thing Scavenger Grounds can do is just sit there and present a threat. Did I mention it also makes mana? The possibility of more Deserts someday makes the future of Scavenger Grounds as bright as sun on glittering sands, or the smile of a person who just had their first sip of glorious coffee for the day. With that bright smile, I’ll gladly tell you to grab a copy of this Staple and add it to your deck like an espresso shot. Unfiltered. Oh yeah. Thanks for reading!
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