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Magic Memories: Cursed Scroll

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
I'm in the middle of a full sort of my entire Magic collection. On Sunday, while handling my Mirage cards, I spotted my entire playset of Cursed Scroll. As you may already be aware, Cursed Scroll is not a Mirage card. It's from Tempest. They'd been misfiled with the card Cursed Totem (which isn't a scroll) and I'd lost them for the past five years. I remember searching all over for them in 2017 because I wanted to put them in a Pox deck, but I never found them. Ever since then, I've occasionally wondered, "Where are they?" I could remember that I'd definitely owned and used multiple copies of Cursed Scroll in 2015 and I was convinced that I had four copies somewhere. I wouldn't have gotten rid of them. But I checked all the likeliest places I could think of that they might have ended up. They remained missing. Turned out that I should have just looked for Cursed Totem instead.
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Oversoul

The Tentacled One
I think that I first saw Cursed Scroll around the time that it came out, but I didn't begin using it myself until a few years later. By then, the card had really caught on in tournament environments and developed quite the reputation. Being an efficient, repeatable source of targeted damage was notable enough, but the unusual random card selection aspect, something that technically served the purpose of constraining the card, made it more iconic and memorable. A version with no strings attached would have been considerably stronger, but the design of the actual card had a nice balance and was able to occupy its own niche in multiple tournament formats.

Many of the cards I've talked about in Magic Memories have been prominent deck-defining centerpieces (Survival of the Fittest, Bubbling Muck). Others have been broadly useful tools seen in disparate decks (Mogg Fanatic, Elephant Guide). Some cards have been both (Lion's Eye Diamond, Library of Alexandria). Cursed Scroll isn't really like that. It's more like Spike Weaver or Sengir Autocrat: especially useful to the few decks that can work with it, but untenable in most decks, and not really part of the core identity of those decks that can use it. Cursed Scroll is just there. It's an artifact, so color restrictions aren't a factor. But I don't think I've ever seen a monoblue or monowhite deck running Cursed Scroll. Nor a white/blue deck. However, I have seen it in monoblack, monored, and monogreen. And I've seen it in various two-color and three-color combinations involving at least one of those. The real constraint is hand composition. A blue player who wants to hold onto a hand full of various counterspells cannot properly make use of Cursed Scroll. A white player relying on the Land Tax + Scroll Rack engine wouldn't want to bother with Cursed Scroll either. But it's perfect for a green land destruction deck, sitting on those two copies of Creeping Mold.

Most decks in most formats don't intend to sit around for multiple turns with only one card in hand or with multiple copies of the same card in hand. But there are exceptions. If your deck is an exception, it could probably make good use of Cursed Scroll. As far as I know, the first decks to employ Cursed Scroll and the most prominent ones to do so in tournaments have been red decks.
 

Mooseman

Isengar Tussle
When my son Played in the JR Superseries, I built him a mono red Sligh type deck that featured Cursed scroll. I came in second to a memory jar deck.
I think he still has the deck and that was 20+ years ago.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
Mooseman mentioned Sligh, an archetype that once had a strong association with this card. Like a lot of efficient damage-dealing cards available in red, Cursed Scroll has seen play in both Burn decks and in Sligh decks. The difference is a matter of usage. In Sligh, Cursed Scroll was more often seen clearing a blocker out of the way of a Jackal Pup, while in Burn it was more likely to be used directly on the opponent. But actual gameplay could be flexible and both archetypes relied on the versatility of Cursed Scroll. My own experience in casual play leaned more toward Burn, and Legacy Burn decks would go on to use Cursed Scroll in the same fashion. But when Cursed Scroll was in Type 2, Sligh was the more competitive option.

I won't go over the generally intuitive nuances of what gets targeted in an aggressive red deck, because it would be tedious. But what might be less obvious is how these decks manage the unique constraint of Cursed Scroll. It is sometimes worth it to make unusual plays just in order to turn on Cursed Scroll. In deckbuilding, I might ditch eschew an otherwise reasonable opportunity to run pairs of certain cards and go for full 4x playsets instead. In early gameplay, I might cast a Lightning Bolt that I'd otherwise be inclined to hold onto, just to get it out of my hand so that Cursed Scroll gets turned on.

While I'm sure that "Mountain" and "Swamp" have been named a lot over the years, it's probable that the card I've named the most times for Cursed Scroll has been Fireblast.
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Unlike most cards in red aggro decks, Fireblast tends strongly to get saved for a finishing blow, whether that's clearing the last blocker so you can swing in for lethal or just shooting the opponent directly. Much of the time, I was naming Fireblast with two copies of the card in my hand.

If you want to, you can actually see an example of me employing this technique against Spiderman with a R/G Sligh deck in my first-ever CPA forum game, about 16 years ago. Yikes: http://www.casualplayers.org/forums/threads/spidey-vs-oversoul.12287/
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
Rereading that old thread and yikes, I know everyone had to kind of learn the procedure for updating the board state as they went with our forum games, but I'd forgotten how bad I was about that in 2004. Glad Spiderman was patient with me. 🥺

I really like that R/G Sligh deck. I don't think that I still have the list for it, although I could probably piece it together pretty well from what showed up in those two games. It wasn't designed for Legacy. I can't remember for sure, but I think I copied and pasted some Type 1.5 tournament decklists from an online resource in 2003 and saved them on Apprentice for playtesting against my own physical decks. But it seems like R/G Sligh could have been a reasonable archetype in Legacy in 2004. And I do know that somewhat similar Sligh decks put up results a few years into Legacy. Eventually, Sligh would become obsolete. But delving into how that happened is, now that I think about it, rather nuanced. A complete answer to that question would be quite the essay, especially because "Sligh" was never just one thing.

Anyway, it looks like I had Cursed Scroll in the first of those two games, but never needed to use it. In the second game, I had Cursed Scroll + Fireblast online and used that directly on Spiderman after he'd used Barter in Blood to dispatch my attackers. He tried to save himself with Consume Spirit, but the damage kept coming. He was piloting Train's B/G creatureless control deck, and in hindsight, Sligh was a very bad matchup for that deck. But that game does a nice job of showcasing the common technique of holding Fireblast in hand and naming it with Cursed Scroll to help finish off an opponent.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
Most of my experience with Cursed Scroll has been in red-based aggressive decks, generally either monored or red/green. But perhaps the strongest niche for the card is in monoblack control decks, especially the "Pox" archetype. The card actually takes on a very different role in black control than its usage in red aggro, even though both cases can be summarized generally as "get down to just one card in hand and then use Cursed Scroll to deal damage to stuff." And yet I draw a distinction between them.

In decks like Burn and Sligh, the vital feature of Cursed Scroll is that it only costs 1. If it costed 2, it would probably have been unplayable in most of those decks. Costing 1 allows it to fit into an aggressive mana curve without getting in the way. Often, you're dropping Cursed Scroll and then just leaving it there, with the card doing nothing for a a couple of turns, as you're busy using your mana to cast spells. But once your hand is empty and your opponent is still alive, Cursed Scroll becomes a valuable source of repeatable damage to help finish off the pesky opponent who withstood your initial onslaught.

In Pox decks, the most important feature of Cursed Scroll is that it's a non-creature, non-land damage source. This sort of deck will cut off its opponent's resources even as its own resources are depleted. Cards like Smallpox and Liliana of the Veil slow the game down, artificially leaving both players in topdeck mode for an extended duration. Cursed Scroll is unaffected by Smallpox and such. It can slowly wear down your opponent's life total while blanking most utility creatures. If you've never seen it in action, it might seem insufficient. But Cursed Scroll in a typical Pox deck probably does more damage on average than the card unleashes in an aggro deck.
 
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Oversoul

The Tentacled One
Reading over my previous post, it occurs to me that Smallpox and the advent of Legacy "Pox" decks built around it has been dominating my perception of Pox in black decks for so long that I'd neglected to think about how things used to be. Sure, Smallpox is a great card. But Cursed Scroll was showing up in black decks before Smallpox existed. I couldn't think of a good resource to get some real decklists showcasing that, so I spent a minute searching old CPA posts and found a list. This was a deck I was testing for "the new Type 1.5" back in September of 2004...

4x Diabolic Edict
4x Duress
4x Hymn to Tourach
4x Pox
4x Dark Ritual
4x Sinkhole
3x Hypnotic Specter
4x Chimeric Idol
4x The Rack
3x Cursed Scroll
4x Chrome Mox
18x Swamp

A common feature of my test lists from this period was that I vastly underestimated the prevalence of nonbasic lands in Legacy. My local playgroups tended to skimp on nonbasics. Even though I was technically aware of the Brainstorm + dual lands + fetch lands engine, I was thinking in terms of mostly basic lands, rather than mostly nonbasics. So I didn't run Wasteland, although I had tested it already. This list is also missing Mishra's Factory, although I seem to recall that I was either testing it around this time or perhaps just a little later.

Anyway, although Smallpox wasn't around yet and Liliana of the Veil wouldn't exist for many years, decks like this one could empty their hands pretty quickly, allowing Cursed Scroll to have guaranteed damage.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
I have a record of at least one more Legacy Pox deck that I was testing in late 2004.

3x Chimeric Idol
4x Chrome Mox
3x Cursed Scroll
4x Dark Ritual
4x Diabolic Edict
4x Duress
4x Hymn to Tourach
4x Pox
4x Sinkhole
3x Spinning Darkness
19x Swamp
4x The Rack

Sideboard:
3x Choking Sands
3x Dystopia
3x Funeral Charm
3x Phyrexian Negator
3x Planar Void

This one also had notes on cards that I was swapping in and out during testing. Those were...

Hypnotic Specter
Icequake
Mishra's Factory
Nether Spirit
Steel Golem
Wasteland

So I was aware of the option to use Wasteland and Mishra's Factory and had actively tested them. At the time, I seriously thought that Legacy tournaments might have too many decks full of basic lands for Wasteland to be worth it, which turned out to be a silly notion.

Anyway, other options would arrive in newer sets, but this captures most of what I was looking at in 2004. Because they were cheap, flexible artifacts that always survived Pox, Cursed Scroll and Chrome Mox were pretty much constants. I can't think of a good archive to find other lists from this time period, and by the time Pox was becoming a prominent Legacy deck, Smallpox had already been printed, which fundamentally changed the archetype.

Here's a black/white list from some small tournament in 2005, predating Smallpox:

2 Nether Spirit
3 Withered Wretch
3 Swords to Plowshares
4 Dark Ritual
4 Duress
4 Hymn to Tourach
4 Pox
4 Sinkhole
4 Vindicate
3 Chimeric Idol
3 Cursed Scroll
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Scrubland
4 Wasteland
10 Swamp

Sideboard:
2 Diabolic Edict
2 Disenchant
4 Infest
3 Mishra's Factory
4 Seal of Cleansing

There are important distinctions, but the use of Cursed Scroll carries over pretty well and really, even though the actual card Pox and its corresponding strategic nuances are mostly a thing of the past, this style of using Cursed Scroll remains pretty strong to this day. While we're looking back, though, we don't need to stop at 2005 or 2004. Here's Rakso's Casual Pox from 2001, found on the now-defunct CPA front page articles section.

4 Pox
4 Sinkhole
4 Duress
4 Hymn to Tourach
4 Diabolic Edict
4 Nether Spirit
4 The Rack
3 Cursed Scroll
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Yawgmoth's Will
1 Demonic Consultation
4 Dark Ritual
1 Charcoal Diamond
1 Sol Ring
1 Strip Mine
4 Wasteland
16 Swamp

In that same article, Rakso provides a list for "Schneider Pox" from the Type 2 format in 1997.

4 Cursed Scroll
4 Funeral Charm
2 Phyrexian Furnace
4 Diabolic Edict
4 Stupor
4 Pox
4 Evincar's Justice
4 Drain Life
4 Spinning Darkness
3 Steel Golem
18 Swamp
4 Wasteland
2 Stalking Stones

Sideboard:
4 Choking Sands
4 Dread of Night
3 Touchstone
2 Perish
2 Essence Bottle

That's about as far back we can go and the earliest popular usage of Cursed Scroll in a black control deck.
 
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