Recently, Grand Prix Denver was won by Luis Scott-Vargas (read his report here), piloting the Bant Scapeshift deck popularized by Ondrej Strasky. The Top 8 contained four Bant Scapeshift decks in total, so right now in Core Set 2020 Standard, it is the Deck to Beat.
1 Azorius Guildgate 1 Blast Zone 1 Blossoming Sands 2 Breeding Pool 4 Field of the Dead 2 Forest (347) 1 Field of Ruin 2 Hallowed Fountain 1 Hinterland Harbor 2 Island (335) 1 Memorial to Genius 1 Plains (331) 1 Selesnya Guildgate 1 Simic Guildgate 1 Sunpetal Grove 1 Tranquil Cove 2 Temple Garden 2 Temple of Mystery 1 Thornwood Falls 4 Arboreal Grazer 4 Elvish Rejuvenator 4 Hydroid Krasis 4 Circuitous Route 2 Grow from the Ashes 4 Growth Spiral 2 Prison Realm 4 Scapeshift 4 Teferi, Time Raveler Sideboard 2 Ripjaw Raptor 2 Ajani’s Welcome 2 Ixalan’s Binding 3 Dovin's Veto 2 Deputy of Detention 3 Veil of Summer 1 Crucible of Worlds
This is the updated list that LSV shared after the event.
The strategy of this deck is simple: Get seven or eight lands on the battlefield, then cast Scapeshift. With seven lands, you can fetch Field of the Dead and six different other lands, creating 7 Zombie tokens. With eight lands, you can add another Field of the Dead, allowing you to create 16 Zombie tokens in total. And with 14 lands, you can create as many as 56 tokens. Which is a number with a nice property…
That's easy. It's the only known number n such that φ(n − 1)σ(n − 1) = φ(n)σ(n) = φ(n + 1)σ(n + 1), where φ(m) is Euler's totient function and σ(n) is the sum of the divisor function.
— Frank Karsten (@karsten_frank) July 23, 2019
Silliness aside, even if you never draw Scapeshift, you can grind out opponents with a naturally drawn Field of the Dead or a Hydroid Krasis chain. All in all, Bant Scapeshift can go over the top of basically every strategy in the format (except for Flood of Tears or Nexus of Fate).
A natural question is how to beat this deck. In Denver, almost no one had dedicated hate cards, but fortunately the Standard card pool does contain several effective answers. In this article, I will go over eight of them and analyze their strengths and weaknesses.
Cards to Beat Standard Scapeshift
Sweeping all Zombies is surely better than a single Lava Coil or Cast Down. But Flame Sweep won’t stop the Field of the Dead that remain on the battlefield, nor will it stop an instant-speed, end-step Scapeshift enabled by Teferi, Time Raveler. As a result, Flame Sweep is not a reliable plan for control decks.
But Flame Sweep is a useful sideboard tool for aggro decks that can pressure Teferi and that just need one additional attack for the win. Decks like Jund Dinosaurs, Jeskai Fliers, or Boros Feather, whose creatures mostly live through Flame Sweep, can benefit from a few copies in their sideboard. Flame Sweep doubles as an answer to small creature decks.
Legion’s End is basically a two-mana Flame Sweep that doesn’t affect your own creatures. It can even take out Hydroid Krasis if need be. So it’s an excellent removal spell for W/B Vampires, either main deck or sideboard. However, there is one downside: it is countered by Veil of Summer.
Deputy of Detention
In decks that can support it, like Esper Hero, I like Deputy of Detention even more than Legion’s End. It does practically the same and has the same vulnerability to Veil of Summer, but it has the advantage that you can bounce it with Teferi, Time Raveler to exile all Zombie tokens once more.
Unmoored Ego also gets countered by Veil of Summer, but it is a good hate card. If your opponent doesn’t have Field of the Dead on the battlefield when you cast Unmoored Ego, then you can name the land, forcing them to win with only Hydroid Krasis (and perhaps Shifting Ceratops from the sideboard).
Overall, Unmoored Ego is higher-impact than a card like Duress. It also doubles as an answer to Nexus of Fate, so it deserves consideration for the sideboard of decks like Esper Control.
Ashiok, Dream Render
Ashiok prevents your opponent from searching their library, which shuts off Scapeshift, Grow from the Ashes, and Circuitous Route. Suddenly, 10 cards in their deck have no text anymore. Brutal!
What I like best is that Ashiok circumvents Teferi, Time Raveler or Veil of Summer. To answer Ashiok, opponents will need Prison Realm, Hydroid Krasis beatdown, or a slow stream of Zombies. Most of the time, Ashiok will stick around.
Unlike Unmoored Ego, Ashiok does nothing against Simic Nexus or other combo decks. But if Bant Scapeshift remains popular, any blue or black deck may want to add a pair of Ashioks to the sideboard.
Alpine Moon is an effective way to shut down Field of the Dead. It is easily answered by Blast Zone or bounced by Teferi, Time Raveler, so it’s not an instant win. But since it only costs one mana, it deserves consideration in any red aggro deck.
Blood Sun is similar to Alpine Moon in that it removes the relevant ability from Field of the Dead. Additionally, Blood Sun shuts down utility lands like Blast Zone and shuts off scry from Temple of Mystery. They basically need Teferi, Time Raveler as an answer.
Alpine Moon may be slightly better for mana-light aggro decks where a lower casting cost is essential, but Blood Sun seems better if you’re ramping, aiming for a longer game, and/or in need of card advantage.
Naturally, Blood Sun is also better if you’re running Lotus Field. Perhaps these janky brews might actually be competitive viable now.
This is one of my favorites. Sure, Crafty Cutpurse is useless when they have Teferi, Time Raveler on the battlefield, just like Negate. But if they don’t control Teferi, then you can let their Scapeshift resolve, let them put 16 Field of the Dead triggers on the stack, and cast Crafty Cutpurse to steal their entire Zombie army. It’s a perfect fit for the sideboard of Simic Flash, if only for the memes.
There are plenty of answers to Bant Scapeshift in the format, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. I didn’t even mention land destruction effects, such as Casualties of War, Assassin’s Trophy, or Field of Ruin. However, while destroying a single Field of the Dead is useful, these land destruction spells won’t effectively answer the card Scapeshift.
All in all, the metagame can adjust to Bant Scapeshift and is already adjusting. The highest-profile Standard event next weekend will be the $60,000 finals of Red Bull Untapped, which will be streamed live on Sunday afternoon. It’s going to be exciting to see if Bant Scapeshift will dominate. But if I have to guess, then the answers will keep the deck in check.