Over the past two sets, we’ve been introduced to the land subtype of Desert. It started as little more than a minor inclusion of flavor with Amonkhet, but exploded in a big way with the release of Hour of Devastation. The number of deserts jumped from 5 (including the OG Desert from Arabian Nights) to 20 with the new sets release with one card in particular that I think will see some serious play: Scavenger Grounds.
I don’t know if you have heard, but graveyard hate is pretty important in EDH. Recursive elements in the format lead to many broken plays, causing many of the endless loops that end games in a hurry or provide value that buries the decks in their way. Most decks have options available to them via artifacts (Relic of Progenitus, Tormod’s Crypt, Crook of Condemnation etc.) or what is provided in each color (Leyline of the Void, Rest In Peace, Bojuka Bog, Scavenging Ooze etc.). Scavenger Ground combines the best of these worlds, providing a colorless option that can go in every deck, takes up a land spot instead of a main deck place, and is repeatable. The repeatable part comes with a caveat; it only works if you’re running multiple deserts. So is it worth crafting a mana base to get maximum value out of Scavenging Grounds?
To start, I think running it by itself is absolutely worth it. Extra graveyard hate is never a bad thing, especially when it comes in the form of a utility land. Bojuka Bog is seen in basically every black deck because it is basically a swamp with graveyard hate upside. Scavenger Grounds builds upon that, as it has the added bonus of being activated at your convenience instead of immediately upon hitting play. If the only thing it does is one well timed graveyard sweep, than it will have been worth it.
Repeatability is where this card can really shine, keeping any graveyard deck in check with multiple activations over time. The easiest way to achieve this is Hour of Devastation’s common cycling lands. People have been running Onslaught’s set of cycling lands for ages now, and these new versions can replace them since they provide a secondary effect with Grounds. I’ll happily pay one extra to cycle them if that also allows them to be graveyard hate the part of the time that they hit play.
Things get to be even more intriguing with the uncommon cycle of deserts. In the vein of the Odyssey sac lands like Cephalid Coliseum, this cycle provides either colorless mana, 1 damage to create the corresponding color of mana, or an ability that sacrifices a desert for an effect. This cycle figures into the greater plan of leveraging deserts for repeated effects, and some of the abilities are pretty nifty. I especially like the Red, White, and Green versions of the land and could see them being used in a pinch if needed. Either way, they are further fuel for Scavenger Grounds or useful in their own right.
The rest of the deserts don’t exactly fall into cycles, but are situationally useful to decks that want them. Endless Sands is a mana producing Safe Haven, and decks that lean heavily on EtB effects could find a home for it. Hostile Desert is a creature land that requires some hoops to jump through, and I’m not entirely sold on its usefulness. Dunes of the Dead has great synergy with Scavenger Grounds, netting you a free Zombie when it is sacrificed. Survivors’ Encampment can net you mana of any color when it is not scavenged. The Amonkhet deserts all have their uses, but are limited to more niche roles in comparison to the to the Hour versions.
I feel that anywhere from 4-6 deserts accomplishes a goal of adding in some solid graveyard hate without sacrificing flexibility in your mana base. Mono color decks can add the grounds, the on color cycling land, on color ability land, and whichever other deserts that keep the deck rolling without sacrificing much in terms of utility or color fixing. Two color decks are what I think the sweet spot are, adding 4 other deserts easily with on color versions and throwing in one additional gets you to 6 and provides ample amounts of activations. Going for a full package in 3+ color deck is doable, but just be wary that you might be hurting your tempo with all the EtB tapped lands or setting yourself up for pain activations of the ability lands. A special case for all of this is the colorless deck, which can run every colorless desert without feeling any crunch on mana and has plentiful options for activations.
With all of this in mind, go out there and grab your copies of Scavenger Grounds now. Like the colorless utility lands of the past, I can see it steadily rising in price and becoming a fixture in the format for years to come. Whether you go with just the card itself or a full desert package, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with just how effective this card will be for you.
(Until this happens:)