Last updated on December 29, 2023
Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves | Illustration by Ryan Pancoast
Scout is not the most iconic fantasy world archetype. They aren’t rangers like Aargorn, they aren’t rogues or burglars like Bilbo and Frodo, and they aren’t archers like Legolas. Instead, the scout mixes aspects of all three of these archetypes into a unique conglomeration of their best parts.
The scout creature type never took off with much unity. Scouts from across Magic perform all sorts of functions, and only most recently have been focused into Ixalan’s explore mechanic. But scouts have a long history with Magic: The Gathering, and a wild disparity in power levels.
Which scouts are the best? Let's hop in and hunt down what makes scouts so special!
Cloudblazer | Illustration by Dan Scott
A smattering of scout creature types have appeared in Magic since Mirage, with two cards from before then updated to gain the “scout” type during The Grand Creature Type Update. They haven’t had much of a unifying theme; scouts, on the whole, tend to be small creatures that top out at about 5 mana. There are a few exceptions, and most of them have made the list.
The best scouts in MTG will be the most relevant in the formats where they’re legal, or will have a legacy of being a powerful card in one format or another. Or they might just top the list because I like them. It’s my list!
Elvish Scout is technically the first scout ever printed, but it didn’t acquire the creature type until The Grand Creature Type Update of 2007. At the time, Elvish Scout was intended to save your attacking creatures and bait your opponents into bad blocks, but now it sees a fair amount of play as an attack-trigger enabler. Many commanders, like Ghired, Conclave Exile or Thrakkus the Butcher, want to attack as often as possible, and sometimes that’ll mean attacking into deathtouchers. Pulling those valuable cards out of combat but still resolving their attack triggers is a sneaky tactic for the avid combat tricks player.
Elvish Pathcutter does one thing: gives elves forestwalk. For a 7-mana investment. Probably skip this one and go with Weatherseed Elf if you’re looking to swing your creatures past a green player, unless you’re really partial to the art (like I am).
Llanowar Scout is our Walking Atlas in green, and it’s up for debate whether or not it’s better than our artifact creature alternative. The extra points of toughness might help in the early game, but is it worth the green mana in the casting cost? It’ll depend on your mana base. Best run both in a landfall deck, just to be sure.
Intrepid Adversary is the white card in the cycle of Adversaries from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt. It might be the worst of its cycle, but it’s still a modular anthem. It’s unfortunately very fragile as well, and I have distinct memories of losing mine to Play with Fires over and over.
Hans Eriksson completes the tale of Saffi Eriksdotter and the Lhurgoyf. It’s got a cute thematic ability where Hans is potentially attacked by a big scary creature you get for free off the top of your library. It can be hard to set up the top of your library in Gruul without a Sensei's Divining Top, but Oracle of Mul Daya and Courser of Kruphix can help filter away those whiffs.
Realm Seekers scales with the number of opponents you have, but it’s a little too swingy to be used reliably, especially when so many options for discarding cards at instant speed are available in EDH. Besides that, its 3-mana Sylvan Scrying is too expensive to justify its inclusion in most decks. This repeatable tutor isn’t unplayable, you just need specific lands to fetch to make it worth it. Field of the Dead, Rogue's Passage, Maze's End and Bojuka Bog are all good choices.
Say it with me: “You Can’t Get Poison Counters!” I’m always hyped up about cards with unique rules text, and Melira, Sylvok Outcast is the only card in the game that shuts poison down so completely. This scout silver-bullet was a must-have for any sideboard that could run it back in New Phyrexia Standard. Nowadays, it's relegated to whatever odd metas it can find at kitchen tables around the world. It still goes infinite with any persist creature, so it’ll always have a home in combo decks.
Note that you cannot use Melira, Sylvok Outcast to combo infinitely with Devoted Druid. Melira prevents you from placing a -1/-1 counter on the druid, and since its second ability’s activation cost can’t be paid, it can’t be activated.
A scout with middling utility, Elanor Gardner is best played within Food token themed decks. Fetching a basic for “free” (read: the 2 mana you spend on a Food token) seems useful at first, but this card is mostly held back by the once per turn, during your end step wording on its ability.
Zombie Trailblazer is a neat utility zombie that’s often omitted from the traditional zombie themed deck, and I don’t think that’s fair. Swampwalk is the vintage unblockable! Have some class, people. On average you’ll have more than enough zombies to spare a couple here and there to guarantee your larger zombies connect. You only need to connect with your Grimgrin, Corpse-Born and a Grave Titan, anyways.
Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves has one use, and that’s in a wolf themed deck. Unfortunately, Tolsimir won’t make a great commander even for a wolves deck, seeing as there are a mere 51 wolves in its colors and most aren’t looking to fight anything without serious support. You are putting 6 power on the board and gaining 3 life and potentially removing a creature all for 5 mana, but that’s hardly relevant in anything outside of EDH.
Village Bell-Ringer is another all-star common. Untapping your board with a surprise 1/4 after your opponent’s attackers have been declared is priceless. Village Bell-Ringer is a popular target for my Alesha, Who Smiles at Death’s reanimation ability after I’ve sac’d it to a Bloodflow Connoisseur.
Copperhorn Scout is great value for its rarity. Untapping a board full of mana dorks after a big main phase at the cost of possibly losing your 1/1 is worth it every time. Copperhorn Scout sees play in Pauper Elves decks that revolve around Viridian Longbow.
Modern Horizon 2’s Lonis, Cryptozoologist is a sort of pseudo-Foster for your opponents’ permanents. Lonis decks work well with token doublers to create Clue tokens quickly. Lonis is fairly swingy depending on what your opponents are playing, but odds are most Commander pods will have at least one deck with a lot of juicy permanents to steal.
A 2-mana 2/3 with an upside of repeatable ramp makes this a no-brainer. There are faster and less dangerous ways to accelerate your mana base, but not so many that come with the relevant merfolk creature type.
Fallaji Wayfarer was printed just so those “multicolor matters” decks would have something to drool over. Anything that grants convoke to something that’s not supposed to have it is fine by me, though. Its best application is in the 99 of Jared Carthalion and Jenson Carthalion, Druid Exile decks, but I love it alongside Rienne, Angel of Rebirth, too.
The one, the only, Wood Elves have been tutoring up an untapped Forest since Portal and have seen more than 20 reprints. It's a staple in any green deck, especially in landfall decks, and has the added bonus of being able to fetch shocklands and dual lands. If it had even 1 more point of power or toughness this card would be overpowered.
Tlincalli Hunter has flown under the radar since its release in Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate. This 7-mana scout has a unique adventure that lets you exile and then cast a creature from your graveyard in a similar manner to red’s Act on Impulse effects. Tied together with its creature side’s static ability, you’re looking at a 7/7 trampler plus a creature from your graveyard for just 9 mana spread across two turns. Tlincalli Hunter works best in decks that’ll already be casting a lot of creatures from exile; I’d recommend it with one of the new Doctor Who commanders, Yasmin Khan.
Everyone is being sooooo normal about The Lost Caverns of Ixalan’s Amalia Benavides Aguirre. Amalia is a bear that Lightning Bolts your opponent when they try to remove it, and makes the best use of the explore mechanic that we’ve ever seen. Being a walking board wipe, it’ll be hard for Amalia to not draw removal, but its explore ability is incredibly easy to trigger. You’ll have no trouble gaining life 18 times before you need to wipe the board, and even then this creature will be huge.
Commander Legends’s Ardenn, Intrepid Archaeologist is one of my favorites from the mono-colored uncommon partner cycle. Arden’s ability is simple enough: Just go ahead and skip the equip costs of any equipment you’ve been hanging on to, and move any auras you were saving around to their best targets. Even if you can’t commit to Ardenn as your commander, it still belongs in any equipment-based deck.
The best Magic cards tend to play into themselves, so to speak, and Hakbal of the Surging Soul sure does love triggering its own abilities. It both draws you cards, toughens up your merfolk, and helps you drop those extra lands from your hand, all at once and without any outside interaction. Hakbal made a splash in merfolk decks (sorry) the second LCC hits shelves.
Alena, Kessig Trapper goes hand-in-hand with another partner that’ll generate the mana needed to cast big-power creatures. Alternatively, it works great by itself, adding 6 red mana after you cast a Ball Lightning, rolling you into some potentially huge Fireballs. All you need is an untap effect like Thousand-Year Elixir and you’re really cooking.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer is part of the Magic Origins cycle of flip-planeswalkers. Like most Nissa cards, Vastwood Seer fetches lands from your deck and then rewards you for having lands. This card is already a better Wood Elves with extra power, and can possibly facilitate transforming itself as soon as it arrives. If it does, Nissa, Sage Animist can be activated immediately, either granting you the legendary 4/4 Ashaya, the Awoken World token, or ramping into another land. A non-game ending ultimate ability being a minimum of 4 turns away is the only thing holding this Nissa back.
Shadows Over Innistrad’s Tireless Tracker was a powerhouse of value in the Standard of its day, and still is in today’s Commander environment. Tireless Tracker, besides generating a ton of value on its face, also combos with Kodama of the East Tree and any bounce land like it’s nothing. Create infinite Clue tokens and landfall triggers, slap a Lotus Cobra or Cosi's Ravager and do what thou whilst.
Tireless Provisioner is the Modern Horizons 2 upgrade to Tireless Tracker, giving us access to the other two typical noncreature tokens. A Treasure token for each land effectively doubles your mana the first chance you get, and that's ignoring its brief moment in the sun in Glimpse of Tomorrow decks. Tireless Provisioner is one of the best ways for green to create noncreature tokens on the cheap.
The mono green Selvala, Heart of the Wilds is both ramp and card draw all in one 3-mana legend. It shouldn’t be hard to trigger that first ability in a green deck, since you’ll be adding way more mana than you’ll need before long.
March of the Machine: The Aftermath was kind of a flunk of a set. That said, its mythics’ power levels didn’t disappoint. Nissa, Resurgent Animist has (surprise!) a landfall ability. A combination Lotus Cobra and pseudo-Bounty of Skemfar, Nissa ramps you and refills your hand with creatures to spend that mana on. All while being a 3/3 for 3? Insane value. Thissa Nissa makes regular appearances on the Arena ladder.
The classic Saffi Eriksdotter starts comboing out if you sneeze too close to it. Players use them alongside everything like Karmic Guide or Reveillark and any sacrifice outlet like Altar of Dementia or Blasting Station to obliterate opponents in one fell swoop. This is on top of being a 2-mana 2/2 that can always be used to save any target creature.
Conspiracy’s Selvala, Explorer Returned scales up nicely in multiplayer games, essentially a 3-cost mana dork that taps for 4 mana, 4 life, and a draw in ideal circumstances. A favorite in pillowfort and group hug Commander decks, the original Selvala has one of the weirdest rules interactions in all of Magic, and I’d be remiss not to mention it.
Panglacial Wurm is the only card you may cast while searching your library. Because of this odd timing, if Selvala, Explorer Returned is on the field and you attempt to cast the Wurm from your library while searching, you’ll have the opportunity to activate Selvala’s mana ability to attempt to cast the Wurm.
This is an odd occurrence because you can technically see the top card of your library, influencing your decision on whether to reveal and draw a card now or after you’ve shuffled your deck. This doesn’t affect Selvala’s ranking in the context of scouts, I just think it’s neat and wanted to spread the good word!
2019 was an insane time. Mostly because of the Standard environment during that back half of the year, when we saw some wild choices from WotC with regards to powerful cards and their subsequent bannings. Golos, Tireless Pilgrim was my favorite from that time. Golos was just too good in a format with Field of the Dead, Risen Reef and two different Omnaths running around. Golos’s second ability puts it on par with several planeswalker ultimates, except it’s easier to activate.
Imagine this, if you will: It’s turn 3 in Commander, and I’ve just cast Cultivate to ramp me once and fix my mana, taking me to 4 mana. The following turn I play a land and cast Golos and fetch another land (maybe even Field of the Dead), bringing me to 6 mana. If Golos survives to reach my next untap step, I can play a land and activate its ability immediately for three free spells off the top of my library, usually game-ending. I’ve Golos’d into Omniscience, Worldfire (before it was unbanned, don’t tell anyone), Draco; all sorts of messed up payoffs. There’s no reason that sticking Golos, Tireless Pilgrim shouldn’t win you the game.
Goblin Guide is one of the best goblins out there, so it’s no surprise it tops the list of scouts as well. There are scant other 2/2s for 1 mana in Magic, and they all come with significant downsides. Goblin Guide is the only hastey 1-mana 2/2 (we don’t talk about Wayward Guide-Beast), and its drawback isn’t even that bad. Sometimes, it’ll even be an upside if your opponent is flooding out. Four copies of Goblin Guide still see play in Modern burn decks.
Scouts lack any real unifying theme, so making them play together requires we look outward. Coat of Arms is one of the best creature-type matters cards for creature types that don’t matter, and if you’re absolutely dying to run every scout you can use Morophon, the Boundless as a Commander for them. Herald's Horn and Urza's Incubator can help you reach for those top-end scouts like Tlincalli Hunter.
Goblin Guide | Illustration by Filip Burburan
There are just under 200 scout type creatures in Magic, and we’re just now starting to see the playable ones, honestly. This creature type has never been relevant before, and the class doesn’t seem to have much consistency across colors. Magic’s scouts have, however, fulfilled whatever flavor role was necessary for their environment, be it exploring the world of Ixalan or scouting the graveyards of Innistrad.
What are your favorite scouts? How would you build a deck around them? Let me know in the comments, or over on Draftsim’s Twitter/X.
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