Count the Counters!

Modern has completely taken me, so we continue to talk about this wonderful format this week. After seeing Ugin and friends impose themselves in online tournaments, today we’re rediscovering Hardened Scales, another deck that was a little lost but is now competitive with Hammer Time and Izzet Tempo.




Modern - Gruul Scales

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Creature (19)
Arcbound Ravager
Arcbound Worker
Hangarback Walker
Walking Ballista
Zabaz, the Glimmerwasp
Sorcery (4)
Ancient Stirrings
Artifact (8)
Animation Module
Pithing Needle
The Ozolith
Throne of Geth
Welding Jar
Enchantment (5)
Goblin Bombardment
Hardened Scales
Land (24)
Cragcrown Pathway/Timbercrown Pathway
Grove of the Burnwillows
Inkmoth Nexus
Karplusan Forest
Llanowar Reborn
Power Depot
Urza's Saga
Cards 60
Sideboard (15)
Chalice of the Void
Damping Sphere
Grafdigger's Cage
Nature's Claim
Relic of Progenitus
Shapers' Sanctuary
Veil of Summer






Creatures are the beating heart of this deck. Let’s start with the most important ones, Walking Ballista and Hangarback Walker. Both fit perfectly with the deck’s plan, which is to have as many counters on the creatures as possible. Ballista is both a great finisher and board controller for its ability to shoot damage at creatures, but the Hangarback Walker is the reason to play this deck. It’s a strong card that’s unmanageable for many decks, such as Izzet Tempo that only shoots at it. Once dead, it leaves tokens that slow it down and make the Regent almost useless. It’s strong against Hammer Time and will make your opponent lose time and force them to look for Shadowspear to create damage. Overall, it’s a good card to have, because it’s capable of putting pressure and opponents will have to manage it without trying to make you take too many tokens.



Looking at creatures with the modular ability, Arcbound Ravager has been central to the fortunes and history of artifact-based decks, such as Affinity, and doesn’t need an introduction. It’s a perfect card for this deck. It increases its number of counters by sacrificing artifacts, so it works well with the whole deck. It moves the counters to useful creatures that use them to inflict damage or create tokens.



Arcbound Worker is always good to play, even though it’s filler, and there’s not much to be said about this card.



Finally, from Modern Horizons 2, the main card that has restored vigor to this deck — Zabaz, The Glimmerwasp! It’s similar to Hardened Scales and is a key card that makes the modular ability stronger because it puts an extra counter and, with a red mana, it destroys an artifact, which can be a good thing with Hangarback Walker, Power Depot or any card with the key ability.





Ancient Stirrings fits best in this deck. For one mana, you look at your deck’s top five cards and add one to your hand, possibly one you need at that moment, like a Ravager to sacrifice something, a Hangarback Walker or Ballista to put pressure, or even just a land.





The Ozolith represents one of the most important recent additions to this deck. The cool thing about this card is that it takes effect “when a creature leaves the game” and not just when it dies, so it works perfectly even with cards like Path to Exile. It’s an insurance on counters, a fundamental card to have in your starting hand, and when combined with Inkmoth Nexus, leaves you in good shape after a mass removal.




There are three Urza’s Saga Bullets. Animation Module used to be played in multiple copies, and is now a wild card that is crucial in match-ups against midrange/control decks, as it puts a lot of 1/1 tokens per turn. Pithing Needle is present as a situational card that is useful against any deck. Shadowspear, just like Hammer Time, gives Lifelink to creatures, improves the match-up against aggressive decks, and gives trample in stalemate situations.




Welding Jar is useful to protect one of our pieces, and with the Throne of Geth, is important to sacrifice pieces and because proliferating everything will often be important.





The enchantment that gives the deck its name is the base of the deck. Any action puts counters on creatures, and this card puts one more. Needless to say, it’s essential to have Hardened Scales in your starting seven.



Goblin Bombardment is a wild card that sacrifices a creature to inflict damage. It has synergy with cards with modular and cards like Hangarback Walker, as it can do an important amount of damage.




The most complicated part of playing this deck is siding out. There are cards that have to be cut despite wanting to keep them. You feel like you can’t touch anything, but something has to be removed, so let’s figure out together what gets the ax.









The match-up is good against Hammer Time. You need to start faster than your opponent and set up boards as soon as possible. A Ballista, rather than a Hangarback Walker, can buy some time, which will be needed to get to the late game when the deck is superior.


Post-side you gain six strong cards that further improve the situation. You can think about siding in Chalices if you start to make them from 0. In that case, you can cut Goblin Bombardment and maybe Throne of Geth, which could be too slow.







This is another good match-up. Your opponent only has single-spot removals and this is to your advantage. They will struggle to hold the board by doing 1×1 since all of your creatures do things when they die anyway, remembering that you also have numerous blocks for their early threats like Channeler or Ravagan, so they won’t be able to put pressure. The only problem might be a Regent made in the early turns and you being without Hangarback Walker.


Post-side you gain 1 Relic of Progenitus that prevents this from happening. 2 Veil of Summer is fantastic against counter decks. 1 Shapers’ Sanctuary gives the right card advantage to start from their removal spells.







This is an unfavorable match-up. The problem is the incredible amount of value this deck can make. Killing Risen Reef has to be your priority, even though that may not be enough. Between Solitude and Fury, you’ll struggle to build a board, and the synergy with Ephemerate will often be untenable.


Post-side we have 3 Dismembers for more removal, but without getting our hopes up, the situation is still bad.







This match-up is also bad. Your opponent only has cards that bother you, including Brazen Borrower, Bonecrusher Giant, Cryptic Command, Fire/Ice and a combo that puts two 4/4 tramples that you can’t easily handle.


Post-side you put Chalices to make them for 0 to stop Rhinos. Veil of Summer tries to make Brazen Borrower and Ice fizz. It defends from Subtlety, Jace, and various counters. Even post-side the situation doesn’t improve much.


There is no better time to play Hardened Scales, although it has some positive and negative match-ups, it’s well-positioned in the current meta, and it’s the right compromise between fun and competitiveness.


I recommend you give it a chance, and you will not regret it!


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