R Koster's picture
By: R Koster, Rob Koster
Jan 21 2020 1:00pm

Yesterday I started my search for a tier 1 deck in Pioneer that I could play as my main deck. I had some basic ideas about the format, but nothing in particular, was standing out, so I decided to just start with the Hardened Scales deck. 

Here is the list I played, which I found online when Googling for lists, is from Zan Syed.



After getting the cards, I just blindly hopped into a league to see what my findings with the deck would be. I decided that I would use the first league for just getting the hang of the deck: a second league to get going and the third league with my list.

I went 2-3 in the first league. I had a ton of trouble getting my third mana a lot of the time. Of the 13 games in this league, I didn't get my third mana on time to play a reasonable game in 6 of them. That's almost half, which is entirely unacceptable. But when the deck did get rolling, it felt quite powerful. Although the things some of the other decks were doing felt like they were even better. I got slaughtered by Mono-Green in 2 quick games that felt hopeless, and I couldn't even do damage against UW control. And although these matchups felt hopeless, I blamed it on inexperience with the list and the mana problems that had been facing.

After the first league, I did feel like I had a good grasp on the deck, which felt like in most cases, just wanted to create as much power on the board when possible and then trust Walking Ballista and Hangarback Walker to close the game. Which also locks in the first problem I had with the deck. You, really, really need to draw the right pieces to play a decent game. The games where you only have Hardened Scales or Winding Constrictor felt like they were going nowhere. The games where you didn't draw one or two of them but only one of the X creatures the deck felt heinously underpowered.

Anyway, onwards to the second league!

The second league went a lot like the first one. I still had a ton of mana problems; I was either having too little mana to play a proper game or just flooding out like crazy. I spent a ton of time just figuratively knocking the top of my deck, praying for anything with an X in its mana cost so that I could do something with the 8+ mana I had on the board. Not going to lie, those boards drove me mad. Just knowing that I had 12+ topdecks that would win me the game and just not getting any of them. I found those games even more frustrating than the games where I kept a one-lander with 2 or 3 elves and got punished because my opponent just killed all of them. Because the amount of hate for Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic in this format is nuts. To be fair, though, it's very deserved because the games I did get to untap with an elf I just steamrolled the game easily. When it died, I usually tended to end up sputtering out or just not being to deploy pressure fast enough.

In the second league, I also learned how much people hate Green in this format these days. I had multiple people cast game 1 Aether Gust and Lifebane Zombie against me. I don't know if it's the exception or the rule, but it's something to take note of.

Anyway, I ended up 2-3 again and didn't feel like I had learned much from this league. The mana just felt too bad, and sequencing Llanowar Elves or Hardened Scales on turn 1 was very awkward without knowing what the opponent was playing. I had a few games where I would have won if I had cast the Hardened Scales first, and I had a few that I won when I cast one of the elves first. My gut told me to just play the elves first in game 1, but if someone that's more experienced with the deck tells me that I should just always go for the turn 1 Hardened Scales, I would believe that.

So after having played those two leagues, I decided to make some changes. At this point, I usually don't change too much yet; ten matches just aren't enough to draw a ton of conclusions from. But having mana problems in almost half my game was just not acceptable. I wanted more and less land at the same time. After some messing about with the hypergeometric calculator, I decided to cut 2 Hashep Oasis, a Forest, and a Vivien, Arkbow Ranger for 4 Mutavault. This gave me something to do when I eventually flooded out and kept a 95% chance to cast a turn 1 Green spell on the play, which seemed fine to me. Now I had four more creatures to pump with the Planeswalkers and something that I could do when I was flooding out again.

In the third league I finally managed to get a 3-2, so I didn't light half my entry on fire this time, which was nice. Not that it matters though, but I was happy to 3-2 this time after beating Mono-Green and UW control, two matchups that had felt heinous in my first league. I did get wholly ranched by the Mono-Green ramp deck though. An 0/3 just takes all the gas out of this deck, which is just stupid. But it is what it is.

Mutavault performed excellently! I loved having access to a creature that didn't die to Supreme Verdict and Bontu's Last Reckoning. About that, I did not know that Bontu's Last Reckoning saw play, but I had two people cast it against me on turn 3. I did win both those games, though, so that might be why I rarely saw the card before. Mutavault and either of the Planeswalkers was just so good. I had one game where I had an 8/8 Mutavault and an UW control opponent just cantripping like crazy to find anything at all to answer it. I loved having it in the deck, although depending on where I want to take the rest of the deck, I could see myself going to 3 of them instead of 4.

Final conclusions:

The Good:

Walking Ballista is one hell of a card. Even without Hardened Scales.

When you draw the right combination of cards, the deck is insane.

The Green Hydra performed a lot better than I had imagined.

The deck is a ton of fun to play, just casting big dumb dudes is fun at times.

Hangarback Walker puts the creature stalls away hard.

The X spells give the deck a very flexible curve.

Your creatures get huge in the late game. I had Hangarback Walker block a Ghalta, Primal Hunger and live to tell the tale, which was awesome.

So yes, I enjoyed playing the deck. It's not something that I usually used to play, but I will come back to this at some point. I was just giggling when I cast a giant Hydra. Turn 1 Hardened Scales, turn 2 Winding Constrictor, turn 3 (HYDRA) makes a colossal tramply boy that closes out games fast.

Even though there is a lot of good, there are a lot of things that I didn't enjoy about the deck.

It's very awkward to decide if you want to cast a turn one elf or a Hardened Scales.

I had a ton of problems with how to sideboard, although that could be fixed with experience. But I just didn't know what to take out when, where, and for what.
The Sideboard felt weird. I loved the Thoughtseize, the Fatal Push, and the Abrupt Decay/Assassin's Trophy. But the one match I wanted Scavenging Ooze I would have wanted more of them and Tireless Tracker just felt like dead weight. I never even came close to wanting it. I figure it's for the UW control matchup or something. But that one little Tracker can be as Tireless as it wants, it's not out grinding multiple planeswalkers and Supreme Verdict, and I'm not boarding to be more grindy against them just to topdeck Llanowar Elves when they are topdecking Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Anyway, when I go back to the deck. I'm just redoing the whole Sideboard to fit my tastes better.


The Mainboard lacked interaction that wasn't focused on creatures. Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, Walking Ballista and Voracious Hydra are useful against creatures. But man did I have trouble against everything else. The deck just isn't linear enough to ignore everything the opponent is doing.

I don't know if it's fixable, but everything in this deck dies to Fatal Push, which hurt a few times.

You don't have a way to sacrifice your own Hangarback Walker. I used Fatal Push to kill it a few times, but I wanted a sac outlet in there somewhere.

The elves felt awkward when you had them and Hardened Scales on turn 1. And they died a ton. So I don't even know if I want more or less of them, which is a strange place to be. Considering how often the deck sputters out later in the game, I think I want less to start with, though, but that could be wrong.

So to round things out. After three league's I would change the list to this and see how it fares: