Battle Scars, it’s spoiler season, and we all know what that means. That’s right, blurry camera photos of Magic cards! Full disclosure, I don’t have a preview, but there’s a bunch of neato ones you can check out on the mothership.

I did take pictures of my own cards for this article, for reasons that will become apparent. Battle Scars is one of my more ambitious deck building challenges, and while I will certainly share my list, be advised that today it’s not about which specific cards you put in your deck, it’s about what you do with them.

Battle Scars.dec


1 Plagued Rusalka
1 Festering Goblin
1 Dwarven Scorcher
2 Ember-Fist Zubera
1 Ronin Houndmaster
1 Vulshok Sorcerer
1 Tuktuk the Explorer
2 Rakdos Ickspitter
1 Desecration Elemental
1 Horobi, Death’s Wail
1 Mogg Fanatic
1 Weed-Pruner Poplar
1 Deepfire Elemental

Other Spells

1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Firebolt
1 Lava Spike
2 Dead // Gone
1 Swallowing Plague
1 Wild Guess
2 Eyeblight’s End
2 Lightning Coils
1 Diabolic Tutor
3 Endless Whispers
1 Chill to the Bone
1 Blood Rites
1 Death Pits of Rath
1 Tide of War
1 Choice of Damnations


2 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Rakdos Guildgate
9 Swamp
11 Mountain

As I said, the particular cards aren’t important, and it’s a good thing. In terms of actually putting together a win with this deck, you’re helpless to the whims of fate, on account of the one-ofs which abound, and the fact that none of the creatures are particularly good on their own. So if I’m writing about it, holding it up for all to see, it must have a good story behind it right? Wrong. This deck doesn’t just have one story, it has a bunch of them!

So, here’s the history of Battle Scars. Back in 2003 or so, I was a teenager playing Magic on weekends and during lunch breaks, playing with usually the same people who would usually bring the same deck. I wasn’t interested in tournament play, outside the occasional prerelease, but I was still hungry to be challenged. Then I read an article on the old website which inspired what I have since called “Battle Scars.” The details of the original article are lost in the haze of my youth, but I’m pretty sure it had to do with a limited format where your opponent each round signed a card, which you then had to play for the rest of the tournament. If anyone bothers to dig up the article, I’ll probably be embarrassed by how badly I messed up that synopsis.

What is clear in my mind is that I was inspired to build a deck that would be a constant challenge. I’m not sure why I thought I needed a challenge, but soon I had a red/black aggressive deck made out of cards I happened to have lying around, and after sleeving up for a test game, I set the following 2 rules:

  1. Every opponent, win or lose, must sign a card in my deck (or doodle or write something; they must leave an indelible mark on the card.)
  2. I could make changes to the deck as I would a regular deck, except that any card which has been written or doodled on by a human may not be removed or exchanged for any other card.

Simple as that.

This meant of course that changing the deck got very difficult after the first few games. One of the first cards to get signed was Lava Spike, which to my disappointment, did not hit creatures. The original build only had one Endless Whispers, and I traded for the other two diligently before deciding I couldn’t open up another slot for the fourth without cutting a signed card or a land.

Despite the rarity of wins, the deck put together some interesting games, and the Endless Whispers interactions I learned here would inform other decks (see my article titled, “Endless Explosions.”)

Before launching into the next part, let me just apologize for the low picture quality. I believe I at least made them clear enough to get the point across. Also, a content warning, people wrote dirty words on some of my cards. Reader be warned.

We’ll start with a few of the more interesting basic lands. One of my Mountains was written on with blue Sharpie and I guess now it’s a blue Mountain. One person thought it was necessary to point out that a Mountain was a Mountain, and another got a Rakdos symbol (pretty good rendering, if I do say so.)


Yes, those Swamps say Boobies, Bigger Boobies, and Even Bigger Boobies. Magic players have always been a classy bunch.

Then we have a few more lands. Yep, the Terramorphic Expanse says Bigger Boobies as well. Grow up. The Rakdos Guildgate was probably the very last card to actually get added to the deck, as I was wrapping up the signatures on the last few basic lands. I guess I took my time filling out the deck.


Bonus points if you can guess what the card that got blacked out with sharpie is. (Pro tip: you can’t. It’s a second Terramorphic Expanse.)

The creatures, when they don’t have simple signatures, mostly have messages about how my best things got taken from me, usually as a result of my own effects. The Ember-Fist Zubera and the Festering Goblin that says “Happy Leif Erikson Day” are particular gems.


One detail that’s hard to make out with my blurry photos is that the Tuktuk the Explorer says “No, it be Legendary!” That happened back when the legend rule said that there couldn’t be more than one copy of a legendary permanent on the battlefield, even your opponent’s side. Tuktuk is much better now that everyone gets to have a 5/5 (assuming Endless Whispers is around.)

Artifacts are particularly interesting. Note the Sensei’s Divining Top signed by Squirrel Boy. At the time I had no idea what a good card it would end up being, and if I were to raid this deck for anything, it’d be my copy of Top.


The Lightning Coils were another later addition as I realized how much the deck liked for its own creatures to die. I suppose Matt had a lower opinion of it.

Spells have a few cool things going on. Firebolt says “That’s a Spicy Meatball,” one of my Dead//Gone says “You Rock!” on Dead, and “You Suck!” on Gone, and the other copy was my second complaint about Tuktuk. Too bad that guy was printed too late to get more slots in the deck.


My Diabolic Tutor guy has an evil goatee and mustache. I’d say an improvement, overall.

Finally, just for the sake of completion, here’s the rest of my basic lands. Nothing terribly notable here, but no less important to the completion of the deck.


Now there’s a couple of thoughts I’ll throw out in case someone out there is thinking it might be worthwhile to try something similar. When you get right down to it, this isn’t an ideal way to build a deck or to play Magic. For a nuts and bolts Spike, having a Battle Scars deck means you’re limiting your metagaming options and devaluing your cards. For those with a serious Johnny streak, though, it can be a fun challenge, and the Vorthoses out there might value their cards more highly once there’s a personal story behind them.

It’s not about what cards you bring to the table, it’s about what you do with them.


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