Way back in Return to Ravnica, we saw a mechanic for the Golgari called Scavenge. Cards with it could be exiled from the graveyard to put +1/+1 counters on a target creature on the battlefield based on the power of the exiled card. It was a good way to grind out extra value from the creature cards in your graveyard, and despite the typically high mana cost, it was value you wouldn’t otherwise have.

As I said, the number of counters Scavenge provided was based on the power of the creature card with the ability, so a 5/5 would add five counters, while a 2/1 would only add 2. This saddles the mechanic with several limitations. At its most basic, this means that Scavenge can only appear on creature cards, but moreover, because it’s tied to the card’s power it further restricts the variety the ability could have.


AN ECHO OF ECHO

Scavenge’s restrictions remind me a lot of the Echo mechanic:

“…pay its casting cost or sacrifice it.”

Echo requires a permanent’s controller to pay a cost on the upkeep after it enters play. When the mechanic was first introduced in Urza’s Saga, the cost of paying for Echo was simply equal to the casting cost of the permanent. It was straightforward enough to understand, but when the mechanic came back in Time Spiral, Echo was changed to be its own separate “Echo cost”:

“…sacrifice it unless you pay its echo cost.”

The first few cards with it had an Echo cost equal to their casting cost, but this change opened up a lot of possibilities. By the next set, Planar Chaos, there were already variations on this idea, and by Future Sight, the end of the Time Spiral block, you could see all kinds of Echo costs: red creatues could require you to pay black mana, cheap creatures to cast could end up being expensive later on, and Echo could even be something completely different than mana:

“Echo – Discard a card.”

The possibilities that this little change opened up were incredible, and the Time Spiral block saw some really interesting Echo designs because of it. If Echo stayed tied to the permanent’s mana cost, its design space would have stagnated, and we likely never would have seen it come back. I feel that the way Scavenge is now is a lot like how Echo was back in Urza’s Saga; it’s a simple design, but one that’s overly restrictive. The design could do with an update, and I have an idea.


AN UPDATE TO SCAVENGE

I have a proposal to update Scavenge in an effort to open up its design space, much in the same way that Echo was rejuvenated. The intention is to tweak the templating of the ability without actually changing it mechanically. After all, if we changed it mechanically we would just end up with a similar but distinct ability. After a bit of puzzling I think I’ve found a way to accomplish my goal, but before I get into the details of my solution, I want to look at an earlier attempt that failed. I’d like to go over why it didn’t work, because I feel that seeing what I inadvertently changed will highlight how impactful these small changes can be.

First off, let’s see what we’re working with. We’ll use Drudge Beetle as our example, because it’s a simple, uncluttered design. The current template for Scavenge looks like this:

Drudge Beetle
1G
Creature – Insect
Scavenge 5G
2/2

Scavenge is written as an ability (“Scavenge”), followed by a cost (“5G”). It’s simple to write and to read, which is one of its big strengths. Any update to the mechanic should maintain that elegant simplicity as much as possible.


ADDING A NUMBER

The basic idea for my proposal is to change “Scavenge” to “Scavenge N,” adding a number value (N) to the ability. It’s a small change, but this would remove the ability’s reliance on the power of the card it’s on. Not only would this allow for greater flexibility with the ability, but it would also allow it to appear on other card types that don’t have a printed power, like sorceries or lands.

How this would work would be that the number of +1/+1 counters put on a target creature would be equal to “N” rather than the power of the card it’s printed on. For instance, a creature with 0 power could be given “Scavenge 2,” and it would put 2 counters on target creature when used. Similarly, you could make a creature with 5 power but only “Scavenge 3,” or even a Hydra card with “Scavenge X.” Moreover, you could make a land with “Scavenge 1” or an artifact with “Scavenge 5” if you wanted. Because the Scavenge value would be defined by the number indicated (N) and not the card’s power, there would be all sorts of possibilities for new designs without needing to completely change how the mechanic works.

For all exisiting cards with Scavenge, the “N” value would simply be the power of the card. Drudge Beetle would have “Scavenge 2,” and Deadbridge Goliath would have “Scavenge 5.” This would be a lot like how the original cards with Echo were updated to have an Echo cost written out that was simply equal to their mana cost. By doing it this way the functionality of these old cards is maintained while simultaneously opening up the ability’s design space.

The new template would look like this:

Drudge Beetle
1G
Creature – Insect
Scavenge 2 5G
2/2

There’s just one problem. As you can see, by having the “N” value so close to the mana cost, it makes it difficult to read. For the purposes of clarity, something has to change, otherwise that elegant simplicity of Scavenge would go to waste.


FLIPPING THE SCRIPT

At first I thought I could just change the order of how things were written to solve the problem, but as you’ll soon see, doing this ended up causing a whole host of new issues.

Let’s see what things would look like if we changed where the mana cost of Scavenge is placed:

Drudge Beetle
1G
Creature – Insect
5G: Scavenge 2
2/2

At first glance, this looks functionally the same as what we had before. You would pay the mana cost, exile the card from your graveyard, then add your +1/+1 counters. If that were the end of the story, this would be just fine. But there’s a lot more going on here than just exiling cards and adding counters.

For starters, if Scavenge was written as “5G: Scavenge 2,” it would change from being a keyword ability to being an effect. In essence, this would completely alter what it means to “Scavenge” in-game. The most noticeable consequence of this change would be the timing of when you exiled the card from your graveyard. The way Scavenge works now, the card is exiled as part of the cost, but by moving where Scavenge is written, the card would be exiled as a part of the resolution of the ability instead. This may not seem like a big change, but as it turns out, it makes a huge difference to how players could interact with Scavenge on the stack.


MULTIPLE ACTIVATIONS

Scavenge specifically states that you can only activate it any time you could cast a sorcery, but let’s imagine for a moment that it didn’t have that restriction. By exiling the card as part of the cost, you are limited to activating Scavenge only once, after all, you can’t pay the cost again if the card is already exiled. However, by exiling the card in your graveyard as part of the resolution, you could conceivably activate it as many times as you want before the first ability resolves. With most Scavenge cards you would need a lot of mana to pull this off, but there’s one little card that would absolutely break the game with these changes: Slitherhead.

“Scavenge 0”

If Scavenge could be activated multiple times in a turn, this 1/1 for one would be one of the most broken cards ever printed. Imagine discarding it on turn 1, then casting a creature with haste. You could pay 0 to put a +1/+1 counter on that creature, then pay 0 in response. In response to the second activation you could pay 0 again, and so on. After the first hundred activations your opponent would do well to concede; your arbitrarily large creature would undoubtedly kill them without issue.

Even if you couldn’t activate Scavenge in response to itself, it would still be possible to return the card with Scavenge from your graveyard to your hand in response to the activation, allowing you to cast the card later or discard it to Scavenge again later. This is quite different from how Scavenge functions now.


“IF YOU DO”

Some cards get around players trying to reuse their ability by saying that an effect will only occur if you actually exile the card. Take Academy Rector, for example:

“When Academy Rector dies, you may exile it. If you do, …”

This restriction prevents players from returning Academy Rector to their hand before the ability resolves and also gaining the benefits of its effect. It also means that opposing players can exile the card with a card like Surgical Extraction to effectively counter the ability.

In the case of Scavenge, a similar clause could be implemented to prevent any possible shenanigans of returning the card from the graveyard or finding some way to circumvent the “any time you could cast a socrcery” clause, but this leads to some frustrating moments. If a player goes out of their way to pay six mana for two +1/+1 counters, it would feel terrible if their opponent exiled their Drudge Beetle from their graveyard to prevent the counters from being added. Yes, an opponent can already destroy the creature on the battlefield in response, but adding this new interaction would only serve to make Scavenge weaker.


“Search your library for a card with ____”

One of the other consequences of flipping around how you write Scavenge is how other cards can interact with them. Currently there aren’t any cards that let you look for “a card with Scavenge,” but it’s certainly something that could exist. We already have cards like Isperia the Inscrutable that look for cards with specific keywords, and the way Scavenge is currently templated, it’s something that other cards could actively look for. However, if we flipped Scavenge around, suddenly we wouldn’t have that option anymore.

Let’s take a closer look at Isperia the Inscrutable to see why Scavenge as an effect is different from Scavenge as a keyword:

“…search your library for a creature card with flying…”

Isperia has a lot going on, but what I want to focus on specifically is the part of her ability that can find creature cards with Flying. Obviously it isn’t a problem for her to find a Faerie Miscreant, but there are a few cards she can’t find that a new player might not expect, like Dukhara Peafowl or Archetype of Imagination.

“…flying until end of turn.”

While the Peafowl can gain flying, the card itself doesn’t actually have that ability. Somewhat counterintuitively, the same is true of Archetype of Imagination:

“Creatures you control have flying.”

When the Archetype is in play, its ability gives itself Flying, but that is different from just having the ability inherently. It may always be a creature with flying while on the battlefield, but it’s not actually a “creature card with Flying.” In this same way, if we changed “Scavenge 2 5G” to read “5G: Scavenge 2, ” then none of the cards with that ability would technically be “cards with Scavenge.”


A FAILED ATTEMPT

All of these cases highlight just how much of an impact changing “Scavenge 2 5G” to read “5G: Scavenge 2” would have. This isn’t the minor tweak I thought it might be at first; it’s a complete overhaul of the ability. Obviously this approach doesn’t work to preserve the original functionality of Scavenge, and since that was one of my primary goals with this update, I need another solution if I want to provide Scavenge with greater design space.

Thankfully, after further consideration I came up with the answer I needed. It just took me a little bit of time.


A DASH FROM SUSPEND

Drudge Beetle
1G
Creature – Insect
Scavenge 2 5G
2/2

Going back to my original problem, it was really just one of notation. “Scavenge N” wasn’t sufficiently different from “Scavenge,” I just needed a better way of writing it out. Having the numerical value right next to the mana cost like that wouldn’t do, but obviously changing the order of things was also out of the question.

Thinking it over, I realized that there were already abilites that existed which had numerical values immediately followed by a mana cost. The most prominent “Ability N” mechanic that came to mind was Suspend, so I took a look to see how it was written:

“Suspend 4 – 1G”

A dash is all it took. Suspend may be a complicated mechanic, but the way it’s written is visually simple. With the dash in between the Suspend value (N) and its mana cost, it breaks it up and makes it easy to read. We can actually see a similar technique when non-mana costs are involved, like the Echo cost of Deepcavern Imp:

“Echo – Discard a card.”

Using this technique, my updated version of Scavenge would be templated like this:

Drudge Beetle
1G
Creature – Insect
Scavenge 2 – 5G
2/2

What’s nice about this notation is that nothing really changes for the ability mechanically. We’re still exiling the card as part of its cost, and these cards are still considered “cards with Scavenge.” The only tweak to Scavenge is that the number of counters put on the target creature are equal to N, not necessarily the power of the card it is on, which is exactly what I intended. It still looks simple, too, which is important.


VAROLZ

There’s one other card that refers to the Scavenge mechanic which we need to consider with this update:

“…sacrifice it unless you pay its echo cost.”

0

If Scavenge is updated the way I propose, Varolz, the Scar-Striped would also need to be reworded slightly. While a bit longer to write, his Oracle text would likely read:

“Each creature card in your graveyard has “Scavenge X,” where X is that card’s power. The Scavenge cost is equal to its mana cost.”

All things considered, I feel that wording is still pretty concise. It’s maybe a little longer than I’d like, but future printings could probably save space on the card by rewording and shortening the reminder text.

Even if Varolz ends up a little more wordy as a result of this change, I still think this update to Scavenge is worthwhile. The benefits of a more varied and versatile mechanic far outweigh the cost of taking up a little more space on one card. What’s important is that functionally, Varolz would also remain the same if “Scavenge” became “Scavenge N.”


ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES

One argument against my proposed change might be that Scavenge could become like Kicker: a very flexible mechanic that eats into the design space of other abilites. Even with increased flexibility, I actually don’t see that happening here; Scavenge is a lot more thematic than Kicker, and what it can do mechanically is pretty narrow by comparison.

By opening Scavenge up to appear on noncreature cards it can end up sharing some design space with Flashback or Aftermath, but pretty much any graveyard mechanic will do that. Scavenge is different enough from other mechanics that expanding its design space like this shouldn’t cause big issues down the line. Quite the contrary; I would expect it to open up several possibilities for both individual card designs, and the design of entire sets.


What do you think of my proposal? I always like the idea of revisiting and updating existing mechanics whenever possible, but you may disagree. I’d like to hear what you think of my change to Scavenge in the comments; do you think an update like this is worthwhile? Would you be interested to see Scavenge come back in a future set with a change like this? Are there any other mechanics that you think could do with a revision? How would you change it?


Scavenge 1 – Leave a Comment (Leave a Comment, Exile this article from your web browser: Put a +1/+1 counter on target creature. Scavenge only as a sorcery.)

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