I know, I know, it’s much more trendy to talk about Nexus of Fate and Goblin Chainwhirler, or even write yet another article about Approach of the Second Sun which rotates out of Standard soon enough but I’m not here for that. I’m here to talk this week about Essence Scatter, a common from the core set (and previously printed several other times). Why?

11 copies in the top 8 of Grand Prix Orlando. 10 copies in the top 8 of Grand Prix Brussels. 19 total copies in the top 32 at Grand Prix Orlando. 17 total copies in the top 25 at Grand Prix Brussels. This is not a format-defining card but it is a prominent player in the meta-game and a strong sign of how powerful the creatures in Standard are right now.

Essence Scatter primarily appears in two different archetypes: Grixis Control and Esper Control (and the less greedy UW Control version thereof). Every deck in the format today plays at least one creature card that is just begging for Essence Scatter. Control decks have The Scarab God, aggressive red decks have Glorybringer and Hazoret the Fervent. Even cards like Rekindling Phoenix make a good target for Essence Scatter.

Essence Scatter is a surprisingly unique card in Magic. “Counter target creature spell” is a phrase that only appears on 22 cards in the history of the game. Of course, “Counter target spell” is a much more common phrase, appearing on 82 cards but let’s focus on the former, more narrow implementation of counter-magic.

If we narrow our search to cards that only cost two mana, making them not only effective at stopping creatures but efficient with our mana as well, we only find seven cards. One of those is Brine Shaman who we will strip out of our search for the obvious reasons, leaving us with six instant-speed counter-spells that read, “Counter target creature spell.”

What’s really interesting is that four of those six cards are redundant. Remove Soul (Legends), Preemptive Strike (Portal: Three Kingdoms), False Summoning (Portal: Second Age), and Essence Scatter (Magic 2010) are all the exact same spell. Ignoring the two printings from Portal because of their questionable relevance, we are left with the original Remove Soul, and Essence Scatter which replaced it.

Is this effect, “Counter target creature spell,” a pillar of Standard that helps keep the format in check? Remove Soul was around from the earliest days, and was reprinted in 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th Edition. In Magic 2010, Essence Scatter functionally replaced Remove Soul, likely as a flavor update, and was subsequently reprinted in Magic 2013, 2014, Amonkhet, and now Magic 2019.

That leaves us a few small gaps during which Essence Scatter/Remove Soul was not a Standard-legal effect. Did that lead to a rampant metagame full of unchecked creatures? Maybe, but that could have been by design, or rather by development, a tool for the Play Design team in its current iteration to use to tune the format to their liking.

The successful execution of Standard relies on cards like Essence Scatter. If it cost {U} instead of {1}{U} does the format skew too much towards control decks? If it costs {1}{U}{U} is there no more breathing room for control to stabilize before succumbing to an aggressive opponent?

Amazingly, this effect has been relatively unchanged since the beginning of Magic. Legends was printed 24 years ago and here we are, at the highest levels of competitive Magic staring down a handful of Remove Souls (essentially) at the top tables, keeping those dragons and demons in check in whatever form they currently take.

The more things change, the more they stay the same?

Rich Stein is a retired Magic player, an amateur content creator, and a Level 2 Social Justice Sorcerer. He hopes to eventually become a professional content creator and a Level 20 dual class Social Justice Sorcerer/Bard but he’s more than content to remain a retired Magic player. You can follow his musings on Twitter @RichStein13

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