Modern Scapeshift Primer (MTG GP Madrid Report), by Fabrizio Anteri
This pasted weekend I was one of the lucky players in Madrid able to play the Grand Prix. For those of you who didn’t hear about it, there was a cap of 1900 Magic: The Gathering players, which was not announced prior to Friday during registration and about 500 players couldn’t play in the main event (or those are the numbers I heard, I may be wrong of course).
Scapeshift was the deck giving me the more consistent results of all the decks I’d tested before leaving for Madrid; I’d lost some games due to mistakes while I was learning how to play the deck, lost others to bad draws or mulligans, lost some very very close games, but I’ve never lost a game where I’d felt hopeless and without a chance of winning. This definitely was the deck I’d wanted to play and I was feeling really comfortable with.
Here are the 75 cards I registered with for the GP:
3 Obstinate Baloth
2 Swan Song
2 Destructive Revelry
2 Inferno Titan
1 Ancient Gridge
Main deck card decisions
First of all I will discuss the unusual numbers and the absence of certain cards:
2 Floded Grove when normally everyone play just 1: Playing 2 of these will make you mulligan more often because of the likelihood of opening hands with Grove and Valakut or Mountain as the only two lands in hand (95% of the time you don’t want to keep hands without blue or green), however, it will make Cryptic Command easier to cast, Gigadrowse more powerful, the mana base less painful (since you can operate with Island, Forest and Grove instead of multiple copies of Breeding Pools) and it will make games where Choke resolve slightly more winnable.
Sleigh of Hand: Not everyone likes playing cantrips in this deck, however I do feel it’s worth playing. You normally want a specific part of your deck at every instance of the game, for example you’ll want to make sure that you do not miss a land drop in the first few turns, you’ll want a burn spell as soon as you know that your opponent is playing creatures, you’ll want acceleration if you already have enough lands and Scapeshift in hand, and ultimately YOU’LL WANT SCAPESHIFT it. This is not to mention that you are filling your graveyard to Delve with Dig.
And why ">Sleigh of Hand instead of Serum Visions? The main reason is because when you are in topdeck mode you want to find the Scapeshift the same turn you cast the cantrip, since you may not survive an extra turn if you just scry it to the top. The second reason is because the deck shuffles a lot and it’s sometimes awkward having to depend on the cards you scry’d to the top, casting Serum Visions the turn after suspending Search for Tomorrow is a joke basically, same as depending on your Sakura to block in their turn before finding you a land.
3 Lightning Bolt and 3 Pyroclasm main deck: I started testing the deck with 4 Lightning Bolt and 1 Pyroclasm (I’d originally thought that needed a 5th Lightning Bolt against creature decks and felt that a Pyroclasm would do the job), but the games I was wishing to topdeck my only Pyroclasm maindeck became more and more frequent and soon I made space for the second one.
I couldn’t find space in the deck for an extra burn spell, so I decided that I’d wanted Pyroclasm more often than I’d wanted Lightning Bolt and switch from 4 and 2 to 3 and 3. This is of course only a metagame call, if you don’t expect creature decks in your area, don’t bother having all these burn spells in your maindeck and/or consider changing the numbers.
3 Cryptic Command and 3 Dig Through Time: These spells are great and the most powerful ones of the deck, sadly the average casting cost of the deck is too high in relationship to the metagame (another reason to play Sleigh of Hand): Too many decks are able to cast 4-5 spells in their first 3 turns and you just can’t afford to cast only 1 or 2 at the same time, so I wouldn’t go up to four copies of these cards anytime soon.
Only 1 Izzet Charm: The card is really flexible, but none of its modes is good enough. Yes, it’s a card you can draw in every match and never be dead card as such, but sadly it’s never going to be powerful enough either and so you would rather avoid having too many. The draw and discard mode of the card plays very well with Dig Through Time, but the deck normally needs to generate card advantage and slipping in to card disadvantage when you don’t have the Dig is just bad.
No Snapcaster Mages: This was a really tough call, the card itself is really good, but sometimes too slow and many times I found that I was one mana short of casting Dig one turn before because I had previously exiled a card with the Mage. I can see this card getting better if more GB base decks rise in popularity.
2 Dispel and 2 Swan Song: Dispel is much better at defending your combo and against Burn, I was on 3 Dispel and 1 Swan Song before, however I was concerned by the number of people bringing Ascension and Bogles to the Grand Prix, so I decided to have an extra card to help myself against those match ups.
2 Gigadrowse: This card is the nuts, or as we say in Venezuela: Las nueces. Most control decks in the format have Counterflux somewhere in their 75, that card is going to destroy you no matter how many Dispels, Swan Songs or Remands you have to backup your Scapeshift. Note that they can still Overload their Counterflux to counter all the replicated copies you put on the stack, but play the card well and it should still give you the advantage. This is the card you are looking for going off the turn after.
I don’t understand why this card is not in the current Scapeshift decklists, I was completely happy with it when I tried it, and as soon as people started trying it too then I would expect to see it more often. What about Boseiju, Who Shelters All? I find the land very slow and can be dealth with using Tectonic Edge (think about the matches you want to have Boseiju, but where your opponent doesn’t play Tectonic Edge and let me know), not to mention the surprise factor you get with Gigadrowse.
2 Destructive Revelry: most of the list I see around play Krosan Grip, I understand the advantage of using Split Second against Ascendancy combo, but three mana for a Naturalize effect feels like infinite mana to me.
I will play Krosan Grip in a metagame full of Ascendancy and probably where I can have 20 cards in the sideboard and still have another Naturalize effect for the other matches. That said, we have Deglamer which is better against Wurmcoil Engine and probably decks that can use the graveyard too. However since Tron has drop in popularity to less than 2% of the metagame, I would go with option C: Destructive Revelry. I saw some people playing Nature’s Claim, but putting your opponent at 24 doesn’t make any sense to me when your are playing a combo deck that normally want to go off and do 18 damage, and guess which card puts them on 18 from 20?
2 Inferno Titan: If you are playing Scapeshift and you are not playing couple of these guys in the sideboard, then I can tell you that you are doing it wrong. The card wins by itself and you want it mostly in matches where they don’t even have an answer for it. You are basically “going off” and winning for 6 mana instead of 7 while avoiding all the Dispels, Spell Pierces and Negates in their hand. Also you always feel like its party time when he hits the board.
4th Pyroclasm in the board: I’d tried Anger of the Gods originally, but the double red was sometimes hard to get early in the game and in this metagame Pyroclasm feels much better. Note that Melira Pod is already a good match up for you, so there really is no need to improve on your sweepers here.
1 Ancient Grudge: You should always respect affinity in this format, that’s another reason why I hated Krosan Grip when I tried it, you want extra help from the sideboard in this match up and casting a removal spell at 3 mana was just a joke.
The Matches and Sideboard guide
I think this is a very good (probably the best) match up for you (Delver players must be thinking: “With 3 Pyroclasm maindeck of course!”). I considered UR Delver to be the best deck of the format and was expecting to play against it many times during the Grand Prix (instead of the 1 time I got paired) and as such my maindeck was really geared up towards beating it. It had a lot of creature control, they can’t burn you out and their counters are soft counters, so it doesn’t matter how many cards they get to draw, it’s going to be very hard for them to kill you in the late game.
For game 2 things look even better because you are resolving Baloths on turn 3-4 when they are still trying to set up their board and hand:
-3 Cryptic Command
-1 Dig Through Time
I haven’t play this match enough, but it looks really really tough. They rely on early damage from creatures to get there before you do, so if you manage to kill their guys before taking too much damage from them then you are probably fine. Sideboard could get better or worse depending on how many Molten Rains they play and if they manage to timely Skullcrack you in response to the Baloth.
-1 Cryptic Command
This is probably the only match where I regret not having the 4th Lightning Bolt to kill their hasty guys.
I lost a couple of matches to this deck on Magic Online, but they were very very close games and I would say the match is “not bad”. I think every deck with access to Pyroclasm is well placed against Affinity and Scapeshift is no exception; they risk to lose the game on turn 2 if they play their entire hand and ignore the Pyroclasm, and they risk to be too slow to win on time if they don’t put enough pressure early on.
+2 Destructive Revelry
+2 Inferno Titan
+1 Ancient Grudge
-4 Remand (may keep 1-2 on the play if I see Etched Champion post board)
-1 Sleigh of Hand
Splinter Twin, UWR Control and Mirror Match
+2 Swan Song
-3 Lightning Bolt
All these match ups are the classic “land go” until someone feels like they have enough counter backup to do something. That’s why I love having Gigadrowse in these matches, your plan is just much better when you can count on it. Probably the skill level of most of my opponents online with these decks were slightly lower than mine and that’s why I won more matches than the ones I’d lost (I think I am currently like 6-0 in mirror matches). That said, I wouldn’t know what to expect when both players have the same skill level, I am especially curious about the Scapeshift-Twin match, but I have the feeling that because they can just flash in creatures and attack you, gives them the edge.
Maindeck they have no defense at all and are really vulnerable to all your burn spells. Post board they will have some Thoughtseizes and better targets for their Pod: Sin Collector and Entomber Exarch. I don’t know if the match get’s to be 50-50 post board, but game 1 should definitely be yours.
+2 Inferno Titan
-2 Sleigh of Hand
-1 Lightning Bolt
Sometimes they will just try to make you discard your cards before they actually start playing our their creatures. As such I don’t like having too many burn spells, however Pyroclasm is just better than Lightning Bolt as it gives you the option of 2:1’ing your opponent. Also the matches will most likely last longer than 7-8 turns which means you won’t need your Sleigh of Hand as much. You really just want to draw all your 2:1 spells.
GB based decks (Junk-Jund)
I still haven’t play against these decks enough, but so far I am not as happy to play against them as I am to play against decks with creatures or counters. That said, they have a lot of dead cards (removal) and their clock is not necessary the fastest one (Tarmogoyf). I don’t know how painful is their discard is, or how much time you normally get to recover from it. If my build is not the favourite in this match, I am sure the deck can be tuned to improve against the match up and as such I wouldn’t be that afraid if these type of decks become more popular in Modern.
-1 Lightning Bolt
-2 Sleigh of Hand
This may change depending on their built. I am considering that Junk with Lingering Soul is the most common build, so I would rather keep the extra Pyroclasm over the 4th Lightning Bolt. But if I also see Dark Confidant for example, I may take out another Sleigh of Hand instead.
This deck has a lot of different builds and I am not sure how consistently they can be at gaining more than 20 life, considering all the disruption you have. Their clock is quite slow and they don’t play counterspells, so you will be able to do 36 damage with 8 lands (turn 7-8) and some more depending how many Mountains you drew before playing Scapeshift.
If you get there on time the game is yours, if they manage to get to 50-60 lives, just scoop up the cards. They may make the mistake of taking out too many or all their Path to Exiles, so you may have a better chance to win with creatures post board, regardless their life total.
-1 Sleigh of Hand
I would bring Destructive Revelry also if I see Honor of the Pure and definitely if I see Leyline of Sanctity. This is the only match where I would take 1 Scapeshift out because they don’t have any way to interact with your combo anyway and games could go very long which means you won’t want to draw 2.
How to beat Scapeshift
I think that covers most of the matches in the metagame and gives you a good idea of how the deck wants to behave post board games against the different archetypes.
As a reward to all of those reading until this point that don’t really like, care or want to play Scapeshift, I will give you some tips of the best way to beat it:
First of all, stop siding in cards like Relic of Progenitus unless you really have nothing better, the deck doesn’t rely on cheap Delve spells to win. Relic could be annoying, but the deck is completely capable of casting Dig for 7 or 8 mana and most of the time I will think that my opponent has mulligan’ed when he cast a Relic and tries to keep it in play.
Sowing Salt is also annoying, but unless you hit one of the two Valakut of the deck, you are not going to get anything better than a 4 mana Stone Rain. Land destruction is much better when you are putting some pressure for example Tarmogyf followed by Fulminator Mage could be enough to win a game (note that sometimes you don’t have to sacrifice the Mage the same turn, you can always respond to Scapeshift by destroying the seventh land).
As mentioned before, Molten Rain in Burn is basically 1RR: Take an extra turn after this one, deals two damage to target opponent. Hate cards like: Slaughter Games, Choke and Boil are all very good and should get more sideboard slots if the deck continues to be a solid part of the metagame.
Spellskite is a decent option to bring in, it could buy you a lot of time (you redirect every single trigger from Valakut and basically take 2 instead of 3, so a Scapeshift for 18 damage will be reduced to 12 and much better than that if you have some blue sources open).
Also important to mention, Valakut triggers will resolve even if the Valakut gets destroy, so the best use for Tectonic Edge is on one of the 6 Mountains to reduce the damage from 18 to 3, but to be honest it will be hard for a Scapeshift player to go off with only 7 lands if the opponent has Tectonic Edge available.
Another common way for a Scapeshift player to lose is to not have enough Mountains left in the deck. It happened to me during the Grand Prix when I resolved Scapeshift on turn 6 with 7 lands in play and my opponent at 17 lives. I only had 4 Mountains left on my deck because I drew too many and lost (of course I knew about it because I always keep the count of Mountains left, but I was loosing the game the next turn and had to try to make him concede to the Scapeshift). So, don’t be that guy that just counts 7 lands in play and concede to the Scapeshift on stack. The deck normally plays 10, could be 11, also keep in mind that even if he just has 1-2 Mountains in play, he may have more in hand and is going to be short of damage. These situation are not very likely, unless the games go longer, but it’s always important to keep that count in mind.
I don’t like tournament reports and normally avoid doing them, I think this sort of article is more useful in general and I hope that you’ll agree with me, enjoyed reading it and learnt something new. That said, for those of you wondering how I did in the GP, I recovered from a 4-2 record (1-2 after my 3 byes), survived until 11-2, lost against the guy who won the GP and then lost again for top16, ending up in the top64 with a 12-4 record.
For the numbers this is how it went (order may be wrong, but those are definitely the matches and results):
4 Mono Green Aspect of the Hydra WON
5 Junk LOST
6 UWR LOST
7 UWR WON
8 Burn WON
9 Scapeshift WON
10 RG Through the Breach Valakut WON
11 Melira Pod WON
12 Bant Delver WON
13 UR Delver WON
14 RUG Delver LOST
15 Twin LOST
Community Question: What are your feelings towards tournament reports? And how should they be written?
Thanks for reading and see you at the next one,