Hardened Scales is not a flashy card. In a world where Deepglow Skate and Doubling Season and heck, even Winding Constrictor exist, spending a card that doesn't affect the board simply to get an extra 1/1 counter doesn't seem like much of a deal.
But if there's one thing I've learned from living in the boonies otherwise known as Oklahoma, just because something doesn't jump out at you doesn't mean it won't bite. And Hardened Scales most definitely packs a bite.
So does the tag team of Champion of the Parish and Thalia's Lieutenant. Put them all together, and you have one of the most explosive Modern decks this side of Affinity.
I'll admit, I have a love-hate relationship with Collected Company decks. I love the card, and I hate every time I whiff on the thing. But Collected Company is great here, as we take a mishmash of Human and Allies decks and turn them into something that may be better than either.
Champion of the Parish is the ideal start, but when that doesn't work out we have Hada Freeblade and Noble Hierarch to pick up the slack, along with a few Expedition Envoy to ensure a one-drop. The best starts involve Noble Hierarch, Hardened Scales and basically any other creatures in the deck. A first-turn Noble Hierarch leads to a second-turn Hardened Scales and something like Kazandu Blademaster, which will become a 3/3 upon entering. That sets you up for a bonkers third turn with something like Collected Company or just a pair of Allies to kick things into hyperdrive.
Of course, Thalia's Lieutenant is perfect here. It won't trigger the Allies in the deck, but the effect will be the same since they're all Humans. Meanwhile, it will add double counters to Champion of the Parish and will even put counters on Noble Hierarch, which is more relevant than you might think given Hardened Scales.
One of my favorite cards to play in a Hardened Scales strategy is Dromoka's Command. It certainly doesn't see the widespread play that Atarka's Command or Kolaghan's Command do, but in this deck it checks a lot of boxes. It will double pump with Hardened Scales, of course, but it's also a surprisingly relevant combat trick and removal spell all in one. And it turns out there are two other modes as well! Making players sacrifice enchantments comes up more than you might think, and it's main deck protection to damage-based sweepers like Anger of the Gods.
Path to Exile rounds out the removal suite, and the mana base features some nice added value in Horizon Canopy, Cavern of Souls and Gavony Township. White gives access to the best sideboard cards in Modern, and at the end of the day you have a Hardened Scales deck that is capable of so much more than you might guess simply from its namesake. In the wide-open field that is Modern, something that can fit in flexibility while also executing its own primary game plan is worth quite a bit, and this deck does that while being a blast to play.
Thanks for reading,