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Mirrodin Card Preview: Isochron Scepter

Monday, September 8, 2003

When my editor asked me to read over the Mirrodin card list and pick a card to write about, I didn’t think this would be a very difficult task. I was proven wrong. Mirrodin turned out to be chock-full of good and flashy cards. In the end, I decided to pick Isochron Scepter, which is a card that uses one of the new mechanics, and hints at what more is possible with this particular mechanic.

Isochron Scepter has imprint. A permanent with imprint requires you to remove a card in your hand from the game when it comes into play, and the permanent acquires some, or all of the characteristics from that card. Isochron Scepter requires you to remove an instant with converted mana cost of 2 or less from the game and as a result it now has 2 Mana, Tap: You may copy the imprinted instant card and play the copy without paying its mana cost.

The flexibility of the card is what makes it unique. There are literally endless possibilities with imprint, and Isochron Scepter fits in pretty much every deck that utilizes some undercosted instant. Of course, because you still need to draw both the instant you want to imprint on there along with the Scepter itself, you won’t be running Isochron Scepter in a deck that only has 4 instants alongside with it. As soon as you have about 8 instants though, there won’t be any problem running a Scepter or two to give you infinite access to them. The old Psychatog deck would’ve loved to have two or three Scepters in its deck, copying Counterspells and Smothers. Even if you have a card such as Peek on the Scepter its still “2 Mana, Tap: Draw a card and look at your opponent’s hand”, making it an undercosted Jayemdae Tome.

In Standard Constructed with Mirrodin, there aren’t too many instants you want to imprint on the Scepter – at least not too many in Onslaught Block and Eighth Edition. You can put Mana Leak on there for some countering goodness, Shock or Chain of Plasma to mimic Cursed Scroll or Smother to make an artifact that remotely resembles The Abyss. The Scepter doesn’t get access to really powerful instants until you start looking at Extended though. Brainstorm, Diabolic Edict, Counterspell, Vampiric Tutor, Tainted Pact, Memory Lapse, Orim’s Chant, Accumulated Knowledge and Terminate, just to name a few. Some of them might not come across as the most powerful instants, but Tainted Pact on a Scepter does mean you’re getting a lot of card quality there. Orim’s Chant on the Scepter provides you with a soft lock on your opponent. He has to deal with the Scepter or won’t be able to play anything on his own turn for the remainder of the game.

Counterspell on the Scepter denies your opponent a spell a turn, resembling Forbid in a way. Accumulated Knowledge along with Intuition could provide you with the best card drawing engine ever created – 2 Mana, Tap: Draw 3 cards. By imprinting a Boomerang on the Scepter, you end up with the cheapest reusable bounce ever. Together with a little more bounce, it could be fully possible that you lock someone at two or three land. Of course this still requires the investment of two cards instead of one, but the rewards might just be there.

Of course there is more to this card than just the best instants to put on there. You can have a lot of fun with Isochron Scepter if you’re into wacky combos. As nowhere on the card you’re required to use colored mana, you could build a Cunning Wish-based deck, which fetches the right instants to put on Scepter at that point. If you turn Isochron Scepter into an artifact creature in some way, putting Vitalize on there will most likely be able to do pretty broken stuff. Funeral Charm will allow you to deny your opponent any card if you activate the Scepter during their draw step. Vision Charm will create a super Millstone that’s able to protect itself. If you feel like terrorizing people and making them keep track of a lot of changes, a Magical Hack or Sleight of Mind on a Scepter could just drive some people insane. Together with a bunch of color hosers, a deck based on Magical Hacks, Sleights of Mind and Isochron Scepter should be able to stir up at least some weird looks when Mirrodin comes around.

As for Limited, it’ll depend on what instants are in Mirrodin to see if it’s viable. In Onslaught block, there weren’t enough instants to make the Scepter viable for a Limited format, but in Odyssey block it would’ve been rather interesting. Four of the five Bursts could be imprinted on there and especially with cards such as Aether Burst, Flame Burst and Muscle Burst it would’ve had a definite impact. You’d still need enough instants in your deck to warrant running the Scepter though so it would’ve been a close call whether or not the Scepter was good in that format. As for Mirrodin, we’ll just have to wait and see how many limited viable instants are going to be around.

All in all, Isochron Scepter and the other cards with imprint will leave you with enough room to feel like you’re a small part of R&D. You can decide for yourself if a Diabolic Edict on there is really too broken, or if your opponent can deal with it easily enough. It is still an artifact, and most colors have access to means to deal with it. Only black will have a tough time dealing with it permanently, although they could of course just imprint a Naturalize on a Scepter of their own….

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