/ edh

Isochron Scepter: The Slow Blade

Today we look at a card from a time when Magic the Gathering almost actually died to an Affinity-stricken standard environment. That card is Isochron Scepter.

Originally printed in Mirrodin and reprinted in the Duel Deck series, Eternal Masters and From the Vault: Relics, Isochron Scepter allows its caster to imprint an instant with CMC 2 or less from your hand onto the scepter. Then the scepter's controller pays 2 and taps it to cast a copy of the imprinted spell without playing its mana cost. It's a handy trick to put a useful spell on a stick which is part of why a card originally printed at uncommon has sustained a market value of about $5. Scarcity of supply also contributes because the printings of Mirrodin pale in comparison to the modern day print run of any current set.

What holds it back from ballooning out of control in the secondary market is the fact that its power is also a liability. It affectively costs you two cards to make the scepter operational. By imprinting a spell onto Isochron Scepter you run the risk of costing yourself two resources for the price of one of your opponents removal spells, a 2 for 1 in your opponent’s favor. It is for this reason, in my opinion, that mtgtop8.com only reported Isochron Scepter in a handful of top performing EDH decks in the last year and a single top finishing Modern deck at a pptq last September.

So why bother discussing Isochron Scepter here and now? One of the beautiful things about EDH is the creative space it provides players to utilize cards on or just outside the fringes of “playable” in other constructed formats. With regard to Isochron Scepter, I will be putting a focus on newer cards that have been printed in the last couple of years for some new twists on an old flavor. I will also be attempting to pair Isochron Scepter with cards that benefit from being upgraded to a repeatable effect without making the Scepter so much of a threat that it will be nuked second it hits the table. We want it to be perceived as nothing more than a mere annoyance when in truth it is quietly sowing your opponents demise.

Stating the Obvious

nonos

Now that we know how we want to use Isochron Scepter, let’s be sure to point out cheeky temptations that get your scepter windmill shattered the second you imprint them. Do not put Murder spells on a stick. Cards like Assassin’s Trophy, Cast Down, Fatal Push, Final Payment and Justice Strike presented as a repeatable effect are going to spook your opponents and you’ll be lucky to see your Isochron Scepter make it to the next turn. Also the aforementioned may give the impression that you are running graveyard shenanigans for repeated use. This paints a bigger target on your back and your graveyard. This same logic also applies when considering Mausoleum Secrets as an imprint card as well.

Stacking Value

In the last couple of months there has been considerable discussion about the Best of One kick that Wizards of the Coast seems to be on. This has prompted me to start paying closer attention to modal or multifunctional cards that would find greater appeal in a sideboard-free environment. When examining fodder for Isochron Scepter in more recent sets I have definitely found a healthy supply of these cards. The following are some personal favorites of mine that I believe are worthy pairings for a repeatable ability.

growthspiral

Growth Spiral is essentially Coiling Oracle in instant form. A 2 cmc instant effectively advancing you an extra turn helps get you in the lead building your board state. Being repeatable greatly ratchets up the value. What I love about imprinting it is the subtlety of creeping that advantage out over the course of the first half dozen turns. Chances are by the time anyone deals with it, you'll have already gotten what you need.

abradepromo

While not quite a Murder on a stick, and not totally useless in the face of a wrath effect, Abrade offers up good utility for managing the early board state in a game of EDH. There are plenty of X/3’s and artifacts available in the format to make this card worth while even without the Scepter. However, being able to zap Sol Rings and Winter Orbs repeatedly goes a long way to keep the game “fair” for everyone involved. Should you play your political cards right you may even get some help from your opponents to keep this paring from getting blown up.

applioedbio

“Choose one or X” are one of the best things you can find on any modal card in Magic the Gathering. Applying this to any card imprinted on an Isochron Scepter is straight up fantastic. I personally love the versatility of Applied Biomancy on a Scepter being able to set an opponent back on board state, save one of your own creatures from lethal combat damage or removal and work the political scene as a bargaining chip. Even though this pairing isn't overtly powerful, it will need to be taken into consideration by your opponents when figuring out their combat phase. Which dovetails nicely into our next section.

Maze for days

Looking over the more recent fuels for Isochron Scepter I noticed a lot of love for the Pillow Forts of EDH. There are a whole lot of Unsummon effects with an upside making it feel like Isochron Scepter has several newer toys to function like an extra Maze of Ith alongside Ice Floe and Mystifying Maze.

warwar

The first one that jumped out at as a shoe in for this role was the Warrant half of Warrant // Warden. Putting the creature on top of the library is strong yet not so scary that opponents will windmill Shatter it. Slam dunk right? NOPE!

IT’S A TRAP!

Embarrassing as it is, I initially put this article to the public having misinterpreted how the Imprint mechanic really works with split cards. Though rather than go to my shame box, I wanted to highlight my mistake as a learning experience worth sharing so you can avoid it for yourself. Once upon a time, split cards presented an opportunity for rules shenanigans where loopholes could be had. However with the release of Amonkhet those shenanigans were nerfed by a streamlining of the rules which you can read about here:

https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/news/amonkhet-split-card-rules-changes-2017-04-04

In short, any split card sitting in your hand, library, graveyard or exile holds a converted mana cost (CMC) equal to the casting cost of both halves of the card combined. So even though the Warrant half of Warrant // Warden is 2 CMC on the stack, the total CMC in hand plus the fact that Warden is a sorcery makes the card ineligible for the Imprint criteria on Isochron Scepter. For newer players, or players unfamiliar with Imprint, this is an easy mistake to make so I felt it was worth sharing my own Mental Misstep over the matter.

Fortunately we have an alternative to the Warrant effect in Expel from Orazca that puts non-land permanents back to their owner’s hand OR on top of the owner's library if you have the City’s Blessing. While there's more power in hitting more targets at will than Warrant, it is tempered by the fact that getting the City’s Blessing is still technically a waiting game particularly when you go Island, Sol Ring, Isochron Scepter on turn one. We also have Perilous Voyage that rewards you for returning tokens and most mana rocks to opponents' hands by letting you Scry for 2. Winds of Rebuke and Unexplained Disappearance are great bounce abilities that rewards controllers of graveyard decks like Muldrotha, the Gravetide and The Mimeoplasm. It definitly ups the cheeky factor.

Another branch of cards in this Maze camp behave like an Icy Manipulator when imprinted onto Isochron Scepter. Take into Custody is a nice freeze effect that ties a creature up for two turns every time it’s applied while Djeru’s Renunciation straight up taps down two creatures. We also have Pressure Point with an awesome repeatable tap down effect that has a draw engine built into it.

With all these considered it was pretty clear the last few years of standard sets made for some nice Isochron Scepter pairings in control style EDH Decks. This also puts these pairings in EDH colors that work well to protect the Scepter with Counterspell magic or hexproofing cards like Sterling Grove and Privileged Position. The room for experimentation is there. You just have to ask yourself if you're willing to risk the friendships with an even more durdly deck.

The Fringe

Outside the seemingly broad support for durdle control archetypes were cards that, if made into a repeatable effect, would have some interesting homes. The first is one that I’ve discussed previously, imprinting Dramatic Reversal onto Isochron Scepter with not less than 3 mana available through mana rocks to create Infinite mana. I’ll leave it to your creative outlet to ponder what you would do with all that mana. Then there are a few others that call for some creative and/or more narrow applications.

missbrief

Mission Briefing is one of those cards that I want to jam into a Scepter combo just to see if it works. I like how it fuels graveyard strategies even if you don’t get a viable target. It’s also really nice to get a second shot at spells like Torment of Hailfire and Exsanguinate to close out the game. Though I don’t think it will come into its own as an Isochron Scepter staple in EDH until we see more cards like Crackling Drake and Beacon Bolt taking advantage of the exile zone the way they do. Time will tell on this one.

Finally we have Shadow of the Grave. I had to pause for a moment before the lines of play started to sink in. This combo is totally BFFs with Zombie Infestation in a Damia, Sage of Stone deck. Throw in a Forbid, some madness cards, maybe a Masticore for oldschool street cred and the soup gets especially spicy. Then you can go the Grixis route in a Nekusar, the Mindrazer deck running Wheel of Fortune, Windfall, Merfolk Looter style cards, Seismic Assault, whatever. Mmmmm, I like where this is going.

I hope this thought experiment on Isochron Scepter has sparked some Brainstorming with the younger cards in your collections. As always you can find me here monthly or on the Twitters @JohnnySlivers. Please feel free to drop me a line.

Until next time may your games be great and your top decks epic.

John.

John Humphreys

John Humphreys

Husband | Father | Red Mage | Pauper Rube | EDH Casual | Tin Street Hooligan talking head | Cardsphere blogger impostor | Follow me on Twitter @JohnnySlivers at your own risk ;)

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