Pattern Recognition #68 - Scry 1

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


24 May 2018


Hello everyone! I am berryjon, your resident Old Fogey. Welcome back to Pattern Recognition,'s most regular article series - barring the occasional week off for work or just because I'm out of energy. I endeavor to provide insightful, thought provoking and educational material for you all. Or at least a convenient target for all of you to aim your Electrostatic Bolt at.

Toady's subject came about partly because I was lazy last week, and partly because I could totally justify said laziness by talking about a mechanic that would allow me to give you a real world demonstration of it. Or at least I can pretend that it is, allowing me to save at least some of my dignity. I hope.

So today, I would like to talk about a mechanic that if it wasn't a formal design mechanic that can and will show up in each set, in (hopefully) every colour - would be called cheating.


You know, for such a ubiquitous mechanic, I'm surprised that since it's introduction in the Mirrodin Block, there's only been 132 cards that Scry.

Well, actually, that's not quite true. Scry as an unnamed mechanic, much like Vigilance was first printed on cards as "This creature doesn't tap to attack", first appeared on Soldevi Excavations from Alliances, and Opt from Invasion - and I can tell you, when that card got reprinted in Ixalan, my inner Blue fanboy cried out in joy.

Then said fanboy got jumped by my Red and White side for daring to appreciate the good stuff in life. :)

But as a mechanic, formalized and made evergreen, Darksteel Pendant from the set Darksteel was almost there, as it still used the same wording found on Opt. Rather, it took until the last set in the block - Fifth Dawn that we got our first nine instances of Scry.

Oddly enough, they are all Scry 2. Weird, that. But I think that Wizards was still experimenting with the idea of being able to sort through the top of your deck, and didn't want to over-commit to a workable scale.

So, why do I call Scry formalized and legal cheating?

Well, in any other game, looking at the top card of your deck and deciding to keep it there or putting it to the bottom of the library would be deck manipulation, and liable to get your tossed out of the tournament at best. I've seen it happen. Once.

But let's get back to Scry, and how good it is. You know, it really hasn't been in every set since Fifth Dawn. Rather, after that block, we had Kamigawa, then Ravnica, then Time Spiral. I've mentioned the 18 month design process before, so when Scry came back in Future Sight with another nine cards. And here, we begin to see just how the mechanic would be shaped in the future of the game. Pardon the pun.

Of these nine, four were , with one each for . The last was taken up by a land of all things, with New Benalia being something of a personal favourite of mine when it comes to lands when I can afford the temp hit.

But here, we also got to see Scry being used in conjunction with other mechanics, instead of being an "Effect, then Scry" that we got with Fifth Dawn. Riddle of Lightning, Judge Unworthy, and Putrid Cyclops all incorporated the idea fo revealing the top card of your library for an effect. In this case, dealing damage or hading out a -X/-X to a creature.

So when you see cards like Combustible Gearhulk, remember that it's not a new card, but it could be so much more powerful if you know what's coming.

In addition, we started to see Wizards experiment with the scale of Scry. Before, Scry was limited to one or two cards, which wasn't that much of a deal. It wasn't some sort of game-breaking ability, and in fact had quite of lot of upsides that made the game flow smoother and better for all involved.

Part of this is that Scry is in that unique spot where it is both stackable and non-stackable. It is not-stackable in that multiple instances do not add together. In this case, it is not like Bushido or Poisonous, where if a creature has Bushido N, then gains more Bushido N from another source, they add into one instance of the mechanic.

You know, I'm not presenting myself well. Let's just look at the example I want, shall we? Cryptic Annelid, gives the player three distinct instances of Scry, and they do not add together to be a card that reads Scry 6. Rather, you look at the top card of your library, decide whether to keep it or not, then look at the top two, then at the top three. This means you could look at the top six cards in your library, keeping or putting the lower three to the bottom, or you could carefully manipulate the top of your deck with growing amounts of information.

Now, with this in mind, I would like to introduce you to Foresee, this pun-filled card from start to finish allowed the player to look at the top FOUR cards in their deck, place as many as they want to the bottom of their library, then draw two cards. Now, most people would look at this card and see it as a card that would allow you to pick two cards from your top four and put them into your hand (with all the technicalities of actually being card draw instead) while the other two go to the bottom of your library.

Other people saw this as being able to dig down into your deck up to SIX cards for an answer or a finisher. And with decks being sixty cards big, minus all the ones you've already drawn, this is a rather huge chunk of your deck. Now, imagine Wizards printing a Sorcery that costed that read "Draw six cards, then put four of those cards to the bottom of your library". Not quite perfect equivalence, but you can see just how powerful Scry can be.

And it gets even more powerful. Foresee, Glimmer of Genius, Interpret the Signs, Jace, Unraveler of Secrets, Nissa's Revelation, Opt, Oracle's Insight, Preordain, Read the Bones, Thrasios, Triton Hero, and Ugin's Insight. What is the common theme behind all these cards? Well, it can't be colour, as we have a Green and a Black card in this selection.

No, they all allow you to Scry, then draw a card. Compare Preordain, which is banned in Modern, with Serum Visions, which does the same thing in the opposite order, but isn't banned.

But here's the thing. With these cards, you can predetermine which cards you are going to draw before you draw them, and this sort of deck manipulation is amazingly powerful. I've made comments in previous articles about how Magic is a game of information, and even something as simple as having Future Sight in play is a game changer because it opens up new possibilities, or even something as dramatic as using the Graveyard as an extension of your hand can and will break the game. Dredge being the prime offender here.

And this is so powerful, that naturally the colour with the most Scry effects is also the colour with the most draw effects is the same! .

Now, Wizards also experimented with a unique reversal of Scry in Future Sight. The Fateseal mechanic found on Spin into Myth and Mesmeric Sliver. This mechanic allowed you to Scry your opponent's library, determining what their next card draw or two will be, or removing something powerful that they wanted from their future grasp.

Unlike Scry, which sees constant presence in Standard, Fateseal was quickly dropped. In the New World Order of Magic, the idea of attacking a player by manipulating their deck, and making it harder for them to play was seen - correctly! - as the one thing that should instantly kill it and prevent it from ever coming back.

It was unfun.

Someone should have told the designers and developers of New Phyrexia this when they made 'unfun' part of the design goal.

It was the sort of negative interactivity that Wizards wanted to get rid of or limit. And manipulating your opponent's deck is one of the lines that will not be crossed in the pursuit of a good game or victory.

There is one more thing. Scry has become so ingrained into the rules of the game that it has started to affect the meta-game as well. With the continuing efforts to make the game fun and enjoyable for all players, it was decided in the summer of 2015 (really? Nearly three years ago now? Wow) that if you were to mulligan down from seven cards, after you decided to keep your hand or not, you would get to Scry 1 before the game began.

This, called the "Vancouver Mulligan" was incorporated to give players who had repeated bad opening hands the chance to work toward a recovery by knowing what card they would draw next, essentially extending the range of their hand by one card, or by tossing down a card they know they won't or can't use, taking up precious space in their already reduced hand.

I approve, though I was a little worried when the change came down, but experience and the such has given me the chance to come to terms with the change and I really do like it. Especially in Limited, where I get most of my play nowadays, where a single draw can make or break a deck.

That's it for this week! Join me next time, when I talk about something. I'll come up with a subject, I'm sure. Or you guys will. Suggestions are always welcome and appreciated! Or I could just Scry 1 and see what pops up.

Until then, please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #67 - Mana Curves The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #69 - Storm

szalhi says... #1

Next week: Scry 2.

May 24, 2018 11 p.m.

BS-T says... #2

Maybe it's the Dimir in me but I loved the idea of Fateseal! I do understand the nature of it is inherently nasty and against the spirit of the game though.

A slightly fixed version (and certainly more fun) could be that the player whose library you fiddle can choose to put the card back on top without looking at it- encouraging some super bluff/double bluff scenarios.

May 25, 2018 5:39 a.m.

Icbrgr says... #3

i love the scry mechanic.... it always makes me feel like im cheating/breaking the rules.

May 25, 2018 3:06 p.m.

TrueTribal says... #4

I have been reading your articles for a while, great job as always.

Here’s an article topic suggestion: Explain the power shift in limited removal over the years, and give your opinion on why it happened.

Ex. Lightning Bolt to Open Fire, Murder to Impale, stuff like that.

May 29, 2018 12:07 a.m.

SecretEgret says... #5

I'd like to know if you have any thoughts on the addition of permanent types to the game, such as when they added planeswalkers. Could it happen again, what are the implications to the rules and balance of the game or average gameplay?

May 29, 2018 8:57 a.m.

TypicalTimmy says... #6

Know what's even more fun than Scry?


Here's a link that lets you look at the top cards of your opponent's library. Jace, the Mind Sculptor's +2 also Fateseals.

Hope we get that mechanic back. That's a fun one.

May 30, 2018 8:38 a.m.

berryjon says... #7

Catalog9000: You seem have forgotten about Mesmeric Sliver as a source of Fateseal 1. Which I already mentioned in the article.

May 30, 2018 10:35 a.m.

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