Reconstruct History — Scavenger Grounds ft. Dana Roach
(Scavenger Grounds | Art by Steven Belledin)
(Scavenger) Grounds for Discussion
Welcome to another installment of Reconstruct History, where we examine popularity trends of cards and archetypes over time.
Assuming my editor and resident EDHREC necromancer Joey Schultz doesn't just redact this entire article, this week we'll be tackling the big bad boneyard that causes night terrors to reanimator players far and wide: Scavenger Grounds.
Scavenger Grounds seems like a great card to analyze for a few reasons. For one, it was introduced to us in Hour of Devastation (2017), so it's had a few years to accumulate data. Secondly, graveyard decks seem to be all the rage, with 5 of the top 20 commanders in the last two years letting you directly rip all manners of cardboard out of your 'second hand.' Finally, it provides one of the only means of 'graveyard hate' that's stapled to a land. In fact, to date, it's the only land card that can exile all graveyards.
Let’s start by outlining what we’re looking at:
- Metric: Rank Score (out of possible colorless cards)
- Timeframe: Two years (May 2019 – May 2021)
- Breaks: By month
As is tradition, we’ll be focusing on rank rather than the number of decks (i.e., decklists), as it helps account for fluctuations in decklists scraped in any given timeframe, and helps us compare it to other colorless cards. Remember that the lower the rank (closer to 1), the more popular a card is!
As an additional note: just like last time when we looked at Mind's Eye, it turns out that colorless cards are a bit wonky to scrape, as nonbasic lands are often included in the rank of all colorless cards. If you head on over to Top Colorless Cards, you’ll notice they are categorized by top cards, creatures, artifacts, lands, etc., but for ranking purposes of all colorless cards, lands get thrown into the mix, including color-fixing lands (Command Tower et al) that don't technically sport any colored symbols in their text boxes.
Since that’s the case, I’ll present the data here both including and excluding nonland cards, side-by-side. That way, we can see where Scavenger Grounds falls according to all colorless cards, as well as where it falls in terms of 'utility lands' that can be splashed into any deck. In essence, we want to see what other utility lands are competing with Scavenger Grounds for popularity.
The results for Scavenger Grounds can be seen below. I've included both the 'raw' rank score (i.e, all colorless cards) and the 'adjusted rank score' (i.e., only lands, excluding all nonland colorless cards) side by side so you can compare. They are virtually the same, with the adjusted score just showing where Scavenger Grounds sits compared to other utility lands.
Rank and Adjusted Rank of Scavenger Grounds over last 2 years (May 2019-May 2021)
We can see that Scavenger Grounds is on the up and up, with some notable upticks (tackled later).
Finally, we can look at the number and percentage of times Scavenger Grounds fell within a particular category from the months scraped above, making sure we don’t double count any previous categories (i.e., not counting top 100 again in the top 150).
The adjusted rank score (nonlands removed) for Scavenger Grounds over the last two years (May 2019 – May 2021) can be categorized as follows:
- Top 25: 1 times (7.14%)
- Top 50: 18 times (75%)
- Top 100: 5 (20.84%)
- >100: 0 Times (0%)
Being one of the top 25 lands that can go into any deck is pretty commendable, and being in the top 50 consistently means that Scavenger Grounds has earned its place as a serious contender for a land slot in almost any deck. I think, with enough time, it will stay consistently within the top 25.
Time to Reflect
Now that we've seen the data, it's Time to Reflect!
Unlike some of the other cards we've looked at, Scavenger Grounds has seen a relatively steady price chart since its initial printing in 2017. It saw its highest spike at around $5 in summer 2018, but has stuck around $2 ever since.
Some reprints in both Commander 2020 (May 15, 2020) and Commander 2021 (April 23, 2021) correspond in an almost textbook fashion to upticks in rank.
This could mean either Scavenger Grounds sees an uptick in popularity due to price accessibility and printing, or due to the 'Precon Effect', where people lightly update their precon list, leaving a lot of the precon's cards within the deck, and then upload that list onto one of the sites that provides deck information to EDHREC, resulting in an increased rank score for those cards. Either way, Scavenger Grounds seems to be trending up!
The thing about including Scavenger Grounds in your deck is that you can effectively keep graveyard-centric strategies in check while also not completely hard-countering their entire experience. Cards like Rest in Peace (11,925 decks), Grafdigger's Cage (9,233 decks), or even the more recent Kunoros, Hound of Athreos (leads 128 decks, included in 3,887 decks) are undoubtedly powerful cards, and will have your resident Corpse Conniseur going from necromancer to "necro-oh-man!-cy." The static effect of these cards means they cause persistent impediments for your shovel-wielding exhumer across the table.
Scavenger Grounds, on the other hand, will certainly cause the Muldrotha, the Gravetide player to sweat a bit, but there's a poker-like dynamic that can unfold, where the graveyard player may wish to bait out the Scavenger Grounds activation to re-stock the graveyard anew with even bigger threats they've been sandbagging. On the other hand, the Scavenger Grounds owner may have to continuously hold two mana open in addition to the land in order to threaten the activation. This can pose a tremendous threat to the graveyard player, but also deny the owner of Scavenger Grounds virtually 3 mana every turn they do so, which can set them behind the longer they continue to bluff. Similar scenarios occur with Scavenging Ooze or Withered Wretch, which can create neat and interactive moments between two players battling for control over the graveyard. In fact, many people forget it's even on the board until it's too late.
The point is, some people and their playgroups are perfectly fine with the nuclear approach to throwing Rest in Peace into their white decks with no questions asked, and that's fine. However, others may want to retain a bit of agency on behalf of their opponents while still keeping them in check. The threshold for including graveyard hate cards may be a bit higher for certain groups who don't encounter necromancy all that much, since putting hard-counter cards like Yixlid Jailer into your deck can cause straight mismatches when up against non-graveyard-centric strategies. Which brings me to the last point....
The opportunity cost for including Scavenger Grounds in your deck is just so low. It literally takes the spot of a land, coming in untapped and producing one
wingding colorless mana. The opportunity cost to include things like Grafdigger's Cage taking up a full spell slot is much more significant. It certainly goes down in artifact-centric decks (like Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain), but so do cards like Tormod's Crypt (12,272 decks), Soul-Guide Lantern (9,014 decks), or Relic of Progenitus (4,491) which either have no mana cost, or replace themselves.
Contrast these with Scavenger Grounds, which sees play in three times as many decks (27,787 decks) as Grafdigger's Cage and Soul-Guide Lantern and twice as much as Tormod's Crypt. Bojuka Bog is the only land option that even comes close in terms of graveyard hate on a land, but that has to exile when it enters the battlefield, is limited to black-inclusive decks, and comes in tapped. Bojuka Bog is a perfectly fine card, to be sure, but doesn't enjoy near as much flexibility as the Dead-Wurm Desert. Plus, let's not forget that if you have another Desert in your deck, such as Desert of the Fervent, you use the Grounds more than once.
In fact, if we plot the colorless options for graveyard hate by rank and date, we see Scavenger Grounds both at the top and on the rise compared to other options. I've included individual plots and an aggregate plot side-by-side at the end of the carousel you can click to for comparison:
Adjusted rank of colorless graveyard hate options over last 2 years (May 2019 - May 2021)
The data seems to suggest that the opportunity cost (and likely, financial cost!) of Scavenger Grounds, even in the face of other options, may just be more favorable. After all, it's one of the few times you can say to yourself, "I'll just pull a land for it!" and not actually get punished!
Dictate of Dana
Resident content creator Dana Roach (@danaroach on Twitter) has been praising Scavenger Grounds for years, so much so that he has likened it to an EDH "seatbelt," stated that it would be in his own Commander Collection, and includes it in every single one of his 14 EDH decks. Even the two additional decks for his family members are packing Scavenger Grounds. Frankly, I'd be shocked if he didn't have a tattoo of it somewhere.
So why not bring him in to unpack some of his praise and check out the data?
Trent: So, what makes Scavenger Grounds so special for you?
Dana: You need to have a way to combat as many strats as you can in EDH without having your deck be only answers. Scavenger Grounds gives you an emergency button to deal with graveyard strategies, and it gives it to you with almost no opportunity cost since it's on a land. That means it's an answer you can run without devoting too many slots to running answers. That's especially true for me since I run primarily 1- to 2-color decks that can afford silver-bullet-type utility lands that solve problems (Scavenger Grounds, Homeward Path, Strip Mine, etc) without causing too many problems when it comes to making the right colors. It's just a clean, simple way to throw on the brakes if things get out of control, and it costs me next to nothing to have it as an option.
Trent: Do you remember seeing it back in Hour of Devastation (2017) and being excited for it? Or did you come around to it a bit later?
Dana: I did, it was one of the first things that popped out to me in Hour. I remember reading it, thinking that might be useful, then ten seconds later realizing that it was a Desert itself and therefore could be used even if it was your only Desert out. I placed an order for four of them pretty quickly:
Trent: Where do you evaluate Scavenger Grounds alongside other forms of GY hate that can slot into any deck? Do you just run both?
Dana: I don't think it's a replacement, just supplementary. I still like to have at least one more option, generally Soul-Guide Lantern these days, though I'm running Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void in the two enchantment-heavy decks I have. I still run Bojuka Bog in black too, and if a card will solve a problem while doing what the deck does I'll use those, too. Scavenging Ooze in a +1/+1 counters deck for example.
Trent: What's your reaction to seeing some of this data? Any predictions on where Scavenger Grounds will end up in a year or two's time?
Dana: I think it's gotten easier to run utility lands like Scavenger Grounds as we've gotten more quality dual lands. Colorless utility lands impact your deck less when you have access to a bunch of color fixing. Simultaneously, the amount of cards that gets released each year goes up. That means there's more competition in nonland slots for things that are big and splashy and explosive. That kind of makes for a perfect brew where if you need to make a cut for the new hotness it's very tempting to cut that Tormod's Crypt for it, then put in a Scavenger Grounds in that slot as your "answer" to replace the Crypt.
And there you have it! Some evaluation and advice from someone who won't build a deck without Scavenger Ground, much to my editor Joey "As a Necromancer Myself" Schultz's chagrin. You can check even out Dana's Scavenger Grounds against Joey's graveyard chicanery over at twitch.tv/edhrecast every Wednesday evening.
While most of the individual cards we've looked at have all been downhill, this is the first trending on the up and up! That means I get to classify it as Incremental Growth, seeing a steady increase in popularity and rank over time.
What's your take? Do you run Scavenger Grounds in every deck? A few? Do you play it at all? What's your stance on graveyard hate more generally?
Sound off in the comments below!
Shout out as always to Nate Burgess (@MisterPlorg) here for all the data scraping, and Dana Roach (@danaroach) for spilling his secrets.