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King of the Hill – Scapeshift

As soon as I went back from Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir I started looking around for a deck to play in Modern. I’m a huge fan of Jund and BG/x strategies but it was already clear to me that linear strategies like that were not viable anymore due to the new delve cards Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise. Also an increase of Burn in the metagame didn’t help the cause and I quickly moved on.

At first I start playing Jeskai Control, which I believed had a good matchup vs. UR Delver, Burn, and Affinity, but struggled against Twin and Scapeshift. Also I wasn’t excited to play in a 15-round GP with a 26-land deck filled with reactive spells, so I moved on to other choices.

In the end, I moved to Scapeshift. The last time I played the deck was in PT Seattle 2012, but I’ve faced it a lot in the interim, and I knew that Dig Through Time had improved it a lot. I started playing a pretty stock version with Electrolyze, Peer Through Depths, and a bunch of Dig Through Times but I was always losing to UR Delver and that’s not where I wanted to be, so I started tuning a better version. What can I say—I was probably still attached to my dear Jund, but I ended up with a spicy tech to improve my bad matchups: Courser of Kruphix.

Courser is insane against Burn and Ur Delver, and if it comes into play against both decks usually you are able to easily win the game. Both in testing and at the GP the card really shined, and my teammate and I (who reached the Top 32) crushed every UR Delver we faced, with an overall score of 23-7.

I really like Courser because it synergizes perfectly with the deck, letting you to hit your land drops, and with multiple shuffles effect we can easily decide what to draw. It lets you gain a decent amount of life very quickly and really helps you stay alive, providing a good blocker for cards like Goblin Guide or Eidolon of the Great Revel, although I strongly suggest not blocking against Delver decks because it will never trade with a Swiftspear and his effect is really important to keep you alive. It also helps the beatdown plan against certain matchups along with Obstinate Baloth post-board, and it’s even possible to use Courser in combination with a Scapeshift “for value,” gaining a bunch of life against Burn decks.

Sadly it has its flaws: Scapeshift is a deck with a strong game one also because it completely blanks removal. Playing Courser will activate cards like Path to Exile, Abrupt Decay, Dismember, Searing Blood, or Vapor Snag and also it takes Electrolyze’s slot, which is far better in the Affinity matchup.

Another card that nobody played but I like a lot is Burst Lightning as the fifth (and worse) Lightning Bolt. On the draw you really can’t let a Delver flip and Izzet Charm and Electrolyze both got countered by cards like Remand, Spell Pierce, or Spell Snare, and you can really get behind if they are simply able to protect their threats.

The last card you won’t see in a stock deck list is Farseek. I was playing 2 copies of it along with the usual package of Sakura-Tribe Elders and Search for Tomorrow to be as fast as possible and kill the opponent before he can do the same.

This is the version of the deck I would play if the GP were tomorrow. It’s really close to the list I registered at the tournament, but I made some important changes:

Cards that Didn’t Make the Cut

Electrolyze : I find this card to be too slow for this format. When your opponent already has a Delver of Secrets in play you can’t just wait until turn 3 to kill it and you can easily be tempo’d out by their Remands or Spell Pierce while taking damage. Against Affinity or Pod it’s certainly better than Courser of Kruphix, but I made a metagame call.

Peer Through Depths or Telling Time: Those cards are just terrible nowadays!  The first one can just fizzle or let you take a useless card like a ramp spell or a Bolt, while you are searching for Scapeshift. The second one provides a little bit more card selection but it just doesn’t dig enough for a deck like this. I will never play these spells anymore.

Pyroclasm in the main: It’s better than Courser against Affinity and Pod but can be worse against UR Delver and Burn, but it’s completely blank in the mirror and against creatureless decks, while Courser attacks and provides you a nice card selection. For reference, I won game 1 of a mirror match just attacking with Courser and SnapcasterBolting my opponent.

Inferno Titan: I don’t like having overcosted cards like this, I could understand having this or Wurmcoil Engine back in the age of Jund and Slaughter Games, but now that menace isn’t real so we don’t need to waste sideboard slots for it.

Engineered Explosives: I simply hate this card, it rarely provides a good advantage and you don’t have to deal with anything specific they might sideboard against you. This card also sucks against UR Delver, because it really can’t deal with a Pyromancer and his buddies in one go. The only reason I can understand playing Explosives is for Bogles, but I just don’t consider that deck such a bad matchup, so I don’t think I need it against them.

Ancient Grudge vs. Creeping Corrosion: While the first one is more versatile, say against Pod or Tron, it doesn’t win on the spot against Affinty like Corrosion does, and since Affinity isn’t a good MU I want to be as strong there as I can.

Swan Song vs. Counterflux vs. Teferi vs. Boseiju vs. Dispel: These cards basically fit the same role, so you have to chose which you prefer based on the little edges they can provide in different situations. At the GP I played Swan Song, but I disliked the card since it isn’t good against Counterflux which is played in a lot of Scapeshift lists, whereas Teferi and Boseiju beat it. Counterflux is a defensive weapon in the mirror rather than a way to protect your combo. If they try to cast Scapeshift you simply have to cast Counterflux, and even if they Remand their own Scapeshift they will pass with 6 lands tapped and it will be easy for you to combo off yourself. Although, they might sideboard in a beatdown plan to kill you with Baloth and Snapcaster, and in this case Counterflux is not very helpful. For this reason, since we don’t know our opponent’s sideboard plan I strongly suggest you stay away from that card.

For the mirror I really love Teferi. You may say that he’s not that good because, if you are on the draw and your opponent plays a ramp spell, you can be caught without Counterflux backup when they try to combo off, but since we play 2 more ramp spells than the average list, we should be able to be at their same level of lands even on the draw, and the more the games goes long, the better Teferi/Boseiju are. Dispel, on the other hand, is just great vs. UR Delver and Burn and in general as protection against non-Counterflux counters out of Jeskai Control or Twin and it really deserves a 3-of.

UR Delver

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My teammate never lost a match vs. UR Delver so I’m sticking with our current plan. Remand has just one target in this matchup in the form of Treasure Cruise and it’s bad against the rest of the deck. I prefer leaving in a single Dig Through Time, even against Remand and stuff like that you should find the right spot to resolve it. You don’t care that much about Blood Moon, I won multiple times against that card just because you shift into a beatdown plan while they keep dealing themselves tons of damage.

Burn

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Here Cryptic is slightly better because after you stabilize and they run out of gas you can just sit back on a counterspell. Pyroclasm is great if they play Monastery Swiftspear, and the majority of Burn players do.

Affinity

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If you don’t see a Creeping Corrosion or if they Thoughtseize it the game will be in their favor even post-board. Our disruption is not good enough to provide us a good win rate. Cryptic Command shines in this MU though and you are able to win even game one if you see a pair of Cryptic, some ramp spells, and Scapeshift.

Scapeshift

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There are multiple ways to play the mirror. I really dislike boarding in Obstinate Baloth. We tested that card and it just sucks, but it still remains a common choice for a lot of people. I encourage you to board just counters.

Twin

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The matchup is in our favor, but you have to be aware of Blood Moon.

Jeskai Ascendacy

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The matchup is very bad, their sideboard is usually 4 Swan Song, 4 Leyline, and if they go Caryatid into Ascendancy you just can’t win. At the GP I beat it twice but they were very unlucky.

GB/X

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The matchup is in our favor, unless they are dead-set on beating us with Slaughter Games or Choke. Discard spells don’t work in the Dig Through Time era.

Pod

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A very good matchup unless they board in Choke, so be aware of that. I was defeated by this one just because I didn’t think about that card. Also I always like Remand vs. green-based decks, even if they do have 3 Voice of Resurgences in their deck.

Jeskai Control

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Another very good matchup, I love siding Baloth here since the only way they can win is through durn and Geist of Saint Traft, and this stops both. Also here you can easily Remand your Scapeshift if they have Counterflux, so before going off be sure to have a Remand in hand.

I covered pretty much all the decks you can find in a Modern Tournament and hope you liked my unconventional deckbuilding choices.

I will end the article with 6 tips for playing and defeating Scapeshift:

1) If you have 7 lands in play and your opponent has a Tectonic Edge or a Fulminator Mage do not play Scapeshift! If you tutor for 6 Steam Vents/Stomping Ground and a Valakut, you put 6 triggerS on the stack and your opponent will destroy your one Mountain and you will deal only 3 damage—from the one Mountain he destroyed. The same goes for Cryptic Command bouncing a Mountain.

2) If you have 8 lands in play and your opponent has Tectonic Edge or Fulminator Mage, you have to search for 7 Mountains and a Valakut, put 7 triggers on the stack, and even if your opponent destroys a Mountain, Valakut will still deal 21 damage.

3) Ghost Quarter works differently since Scapeshift lists always play 2 Mountain, use it only if you see that he has played both, or if you have nothing to lose do it, he could hold the last basic Mountain in his hand. But remember when playing Scapeshift that if you get Ghost Quartered and you have a Mountain in the deck you will trigger Valakut again, dealing additional damage.

4) Never Tectonic Edge or use Fulminator Mage to destroy Valakut with the trigger on the stack, because nothing will happen.

5) If you are running out of Mountains, for example you have five between your hand and the battlefield, you can either sacrifice 6 lands leaving a Mountain in play and search for 5 Mountains and a Valakut for 15 damage total, or wait a turn and search for 2 Valakut and 5 Mountain dealing 30. The same goes when you have only 4 left—you can either deal 12 or 24 damage depending on how many Valakuts you’re bringing with you.

6) Remember to float mana while casting Scapeshift. This is very important because if the opponent doesn’t do a thing you pass directly to resolution and you have to sacrifice your lands, and if they have a way to deal with a combo (like bouncing a Mountain) you might be left unable to cast your protection.

Thanks for reading, Ciao!

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