A few weeks ago, I went 13-2 at Grand Prix Hartford with TitanShift, good for 9th place. Prior to the GP, I had lost my win-and-in for Pro Tour Bilbao, Spain at the RPTQ with TitanShift (to the mirror, no less).

My 75 was straight from Thien Nguyen, the pioneer of TitanShift. His prior list was also the inspiration for the 2nd place TitanShift deck at GP Madrid. Without his insights and sideboarding advice, I would have never qualified for the Pro Tour.

TitanShift

Main-Deck Card Choices

4 Bloodbraid Elf

Bloodbraid Elf is the most controversial inclusion. Critics say that a 3/2 haste beater is at odds with a deck that is looking to ramp into Primeval Titan and Scapeshift.

With Modern getting more aggressive, it is not uncommon for a deck like Humans or Hollow One to completely run you over before you can cast your payoff spells. Bloodbraid Elf represents a critical blocker while simultaneously ramping you or providing some interaction through Lightning Bolt or Slagstorm (and the sweeper will resolve before Bloodbraid enters the battlefield). Against grindier decks, Bloodbraid Elf is a speed bump that harasses planeswalkers while being a great value play. Hitting a Summoner’s Pact can be awkward, but in the late game it can be backbreaking.

Bloodbraid Elf will shine post-board after you have cut your situational cards for high-impact sideboard cards. Bloodbraid Elf never comes out because it increases the likelihood of seeing a sideboard card. Against hate cards such as Blood Moon and Leyline of Sanctity, which nullify your Scapeshifts, Bloodbraid Elf combined with Tireless Tracker and Obstinate Baloth give you a solid midrange plan.

2 Growth Spasm

Growth Spasm is a unique ramp spell as it helps you singlehandedly cast a Primeval Titan the following turn without any other ramp.

Growth Spasm overperformed for me at the Grand Prix. The Eldrazi Spawn was critical for chump blocking and ramping. Together with Sakura-Tribe Elder and Bloodbraid Elf, the deck can generate a lot of blockers to stabilize against aggro rushes.

But in some matchups where the blocker doesn’t matter, it can be an awkward ramp spell due to its CMC, so against linear combo decks, Growth Spasm is often the first ramp spell to get cut.

2 Slagstorm

Slagstorm was the main deck sweeper of choice over Anger of the Gods and Sweltering Suns since you can cascade into it off Bloodbraid Elf and apply additional pressure against planeswalkers or life totals.

3 Forest

The third Forest in the deck is useful against the Field of Ruins, Ghost Quarters, and Stone Rains floating around Modern. Running only two Forests and having one of them destroyed is painful.

Notable Exclusions

0 Explore

I chose not to play any Explore at Hartford, as I always wanted to guarantee that my early ramp spells led to turn-3 Bloodbraid Elf. Additionally, Explore is an unreliable cascade.

0 Prismatic Omen

Prismatic Omen is a win-more card because it’s only good if you have an active Valakut in play, and the deck has no ways to tutor for Valakuts except through its payoffs Primeval Titan and Scapeshift (and at that point if you’re resolving one of those, you’re already winning).

0 Hour of Promise

At the moment, I think Modern is too fast for Hour of Promise. I wanted my list to be more interactive, and Hour of Promise does not have the same impact as Primeval Titan or Scapeshift.

Sideboard Choices

2 Ancient Grudge

One of the highest impact sideboard cards you can cascade into, and it is good against Hollow Ones even if discarded via Burning Inquiry.

2 Anger of the Gods

Post-board you can have access to four sweepers that can be cascaded into via Bloodbraid Elf. Good against pesky Bloodghasts, Flamewake Phoenixes, and Kitchen Finks. It’s always a good idea to diversify your sweeper suite against Meddling Mage as well.

2 Fracturing Gust

Bogles is a very real deck, and Fracturing Gust is great hate card against them. Fracturing Gust is also a one-sided board wipe against Affinity and Lantern as well. Three green sources can be difficult to acquire sometimes, so keep the casting cost in mind when you board it in.

3 Obstinate Baloth

In the past I used to run Thragtusks, but Obstinate Baloth’s stock has never been higher due to Burning Inquiry and Liliana of the Veil. Obstinate Baloth is also a respectable roadblock against Humans and other aggro decks as well. The Burn matchup gets significantly easier with effectively five Baloths (three Baloths + two Summoner’s Pact) that can be deployed as early as turn 3.

3 Roast

Covers the bases that Lightning Bolt can’t. Roast kills Hollow One, Gurmag Anglers, most Tarmogoyfs, large Champion of the Parishes, and Bedlam Revelers.

2 Tireless Tracker

With all the ramp spells and fetchlands this deck plays you will accumulate Clues quickly. Post-board keep in mind that Tireless Tracker can be cascaded into. If it’s a possible hit, make your land drop after casting Bloodbraid Elf.

Mulliganing

Keep in mind that your “combo” is resource intensive—killing an opponent with Scapeshift involves 8-9 cards: the ramp spells, lands, and Scapeshift itself. Although the deck takes its first mulligan well since a lot of the cards are interchangeable, it is very difficult to achieve this critical density through mulligans to five.

You should also note that the earliest you can ramp out a Primeval Titan or Scapeshift is turn 4, and thus if the opposing deck can kill you before turn 4 (like Infect) you should probably throw away that seven-card hand of lands and ramp spells and try to find interaction.

Tips and Tricks

  • Always do the math when it comes to Mountains and Valakuts, and you should keep a mental note at all times of how many Mountains you have left in your deck (starting from 13). At 8+ lands, you can always Scapeshift and get two Valakuts and six or more Mountains for 36+ damage. If you’ve drawn too many Mountains, you can leave several in play, sacrificing other lands to grab additional Valakuts and Mountains.
  • Always be mindful of what lands you have when you deploy the Jolly Green Giant if you need to trigger Valakut immediately. For example, if you have one Forest, one Valakut, and four Mountains in play and cast Primeval Titan, you can grab two Mountains to trigger Valakut twice.
  • Note that you can cast a ramp spell + Scapeshift on six lands, which will result in a seven-land/18 damage Scapeshift. Don’t forget you can also get a Sakura-Tribe Elder off a Summoner’s Pact for this combo. Keep in mind this requires three green sources, so be mindful when fetching lands off ramp spells and fetchlands.
  • If you suspect that your opponent can destroy/bounce a Mountain after you resolve a Scapeshift (through a card like Beast Within), I like to grab Valakut + 7 Mountains if possible to make sure my triggers do not fizzle.
  • Sakura-Tribe Elder is a 1/1. It’s usually correct to sacrifice Steve as soon as possible for the land, but sometimes not. You can pressure your opponent’s life total to get him or her to 18 to make a seven-land Scapeshift lethal or block an incoming Gurmag Angler. When your opponent attacks with a valuable X/1 such as Dark Confidant or Young Pyromancer, sometimes its advantageous to take the trade with Sakura-Tribe Elder.
  • You can beat Leyline of Sanctity and Runed Halo naming Valakut without enchantment destruction. Here’s how: Cast Scapeshift, and set up active Valakut(s) with as many fetchlands as you can. As you beat down your opponent with Colossal Dreadmaws and Vulshok Berserkers, use the fetchlands to machine-gun down your opponent’s creatures (remember, those hateful enchantments do not protect creatures).
  • You can draw the game with Slagstorm. I almost did this at the GP against Burn where my Primeval Titan only represented 18 damage through his blockers, and I was at 1 life (but luckily I drew a Valakut for the turn so the Titan attack was extremely lethal).
  • Don’t ever miss a Pact trigger! My friend Bobby Fortanely recommends you put a number of dice on top of your library, each showing the CMC of the Pact they’re reminding you to pay for.
  • If you ever need to beat TitanShift really, really badly, just play Gideon’s Intervention. This completely protects your creatures and you from Valakut.

Tournament Matchups and Sideboard Guide

Here were my matchups from the Grand Prix and the sideboarding guide for 36 unique archetypes. Thanks to Thien Nguyen and Bobby Fortanely!

R3: Affinity
R4: Grixis Death Shadow
R5: Hollow One (Loss)
R6: Mono-White Humans
R7: Humans (Loss)
R8: Burn
R9: Affinity
R10: Counters Company
R11: Jund
R12: Elves
R13: Humans
R14: Bogles
R15: Traverse Shadow

Humans

Out

In

The disruptive trio of Meddling Mage, Kitesail Freebooter, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben makes it difficult for you to ignore your opponent and just ramp into win-cons. You’ll need help from your removal, sweepers, and incidental blockers to buy you more time. Sometimes it can be correct to take a hit off a Mantis Rider or Thalia so that you can hold up Lightning Bolt for a follow-up Meddling Mage or Kitesail Freebooter.

Post-board you cut all your Scapeshifts to make sure you have maximum interaction (and you don’t want to clog your hand with too many win-cons). A resolved Titan should be sufficient to close out most games. The 3rd Roast and 3rd Baloth are concessions to Humans’ metagame share, and can be cut if Humans decline in popularity.

B/R Hollow One

Out

In

Some players will side out some number of Burning Inquiry due to Obstinate Baloth, but Baloth is still a good blocker that will buy you time. Scapeshifts are shaved to minimize the impact of the multiple Collective Brutalities, as well as the incoming Blood Moon(s).

Mono-Green Tron

Out

In

This matchup is purely a race, with you hoping to fade turn-3 Karn Liberated or turn-4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Bloodbraid Elf does a fantastic job of harassing their planeswalkers.

Affinity

Out

In

Affinity is usually faster than you are, so post-board you play like a control deck. Roast is clunky but you just need more interaction. You also want to shave Scapeshifts to avoid clogging your hand with win-cons, and often seven-land Scapeshifts will not be lethal since the deck does not deal much damage to itself.

U/R Gifts Storm

Out

In

One of the combo decks you do not want to sit across from, as they are way faster than you and have Remand/Unsubstantiate to slow you down. You need to keep them off-balance with a removal spell to the cost-reducer while enacting your own game plan, which can be difficult. Damping Sphere from Dominira will help a lot with this matchup.

Jund

Out

In

It may seem counter-intuitive to shave Growth Spasm post-board, but against discard spells, Growth Spasm can be clunky. You want to deploy ramp spells before they’re discarded. You have a great midrange plan post-board between Bloodbraid Elf, Obstinate Baloth, and Tireless Tracker, which will punish them for putting in clunky cards like Fulminator Mage.

Burn

Out

In

Difficult matchup game 1 especially on the draw, but post-board you have access to five Obstinate Baloths with Summoner’s Pact. Primeval Titans come out since they are too slow (since you need to untap and attack with it, and will often die before you can untap with Titan).

Grixis Death’s Shadow

Out

In

The deck presents a fast clock along with lots of disruption, which is not what TitanShift wants to face. Game 1 usually boils down to who draws more dead cards, and you usually have a couple turns in the midgame to draw a game-winning Titan. Obstinate Baloth is not completely ideal post-board due to its awkward 4/4 size but you need it to buy extra turns.

Mardu Pyromancer

Out

In

They will disrupt you early in the game, but they are slow to close games and a sweeper tags most of their creatures outside of Bedlam Reveler. Lightning Bolt is replaced with Roast to kill it. Watch out against Molten Rain + Surgical Extraction on a Valakut, as well as the Blood Moons they bring in. Your midrange beaters can punish them if they spend their turns trying to disrupt you with Blood Moon and Surgical Extraction.

U/W Control

Out

In

U/W Control has many dead cards against you game 1 and a very slow clock. Apply pressure with Bloodbraid Elf, the occasional Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Valakut triggers, and wait for a window to jam multiple win-cons in one turn (such as double Scapeshift with 8 mana). I probably fear Search for Azcanta the most since it shifts the inevitability back to them. Fracturing Gust can hit Runed Halos, Spreading Seas, and unflipped Search for Azcantas.

G/W Hexproof

Out

In

The biggest reason Fracturing Gust was added to the deck over a card like Nature’s Claim. Always be cognizant of how much damage your Scapeshifts can deal since they can gain massive amounts of life. Turn-0 Leyline followed by a Bogle is almost unbeatable Game 1.

U/R Breach

Out

In

Their Blood Moons and counterspells buy them so much time and their combo is just lights-out. Always jam since you can’t afford to give them extra draw steps.

TitanShift

Out

In

Staying at 19 life can be critical to avoid dying to a seven land Scapeshift. But most of the time you will not have that luxury. Bring in Reclamation Sage if you see Witchbane Orb.

Eldrazi Tron

Out

In

You can discard Obstinate Baloths to Reality Smasher’s trigger and cheat them into play for free.

G/R Land Destruction

Out

In

You can outramp their land destruction spells, but Blood Moon stops you cold. You need to transform into a G/R midrange deck post-board. Having access to three Forests is a huge boon.

Living End

Out

In

Sakura-Tribe is amazing against them since it comes back after Living End. Sometimes you can fetch all basics to play around Fulminator Mage. Don’t forget they can disrupt your Scapeshifts with a Beast Within on a Mountain after Scapeshift resolves, so I like to grab seven Mountains + a Valakut if possible.

Dredge

Out

In

The deck has gotten slower since the unbanning of Golgari Grave-Troll, so you can just ramp and ignore their noninteractive strategy especially on the play. Anger of the Gods and Obstinate Baloth buy you a lot of time post-board.

Amulet Combo

Out

In

A lot of lists are only playing 1 Pact of Negation these days, so you can try to jam multiple win-cons and force them through the Pact. Keep in mind that Spell Pierce seems to be the counterspell of choice these days post-board instead of Swan Song.

Ad Nauseam

Out

In

One of your worst matchups, you need to hope they stumble game 1. Post-board you can attack their fast mana with artifact destruction.

Jeskai Control

Out

In

Keep Slagstorms if they have Geist of Saint Traft and board in Reclamation Sage if you see Runed Halo.

Lantern Control

Out

In

Take the draw versus Lantern Control games 2 and 3 because they become longer and grindier, so raw card advantage is more important than taking the play. There is a consensus among the Lantern Control community that being on the draw in this matchup is better than being on the play. You can easily grind them out with Tireless Tracker and your artifact destruction spells. Game 1 is hard since you have no outs to Ensnaring Bridge + Witchbane Orb.

Counters Company

Out

In

Their combo kill is faster than yours so you need to keep interaction. If you have only one piece, it is sometimes to correct to let their turn-1 mana accelerant live and kill the subsequent Devoted Druid.

G/R Eldrazi

Out

In

Some lists play Crumble to Dust so watch out for that post-board.

G/W Company

Out

In

End their trip to value town by just killing them with Scapeshift. Watch out for Ghost Quarter + Surgical Extraction games 2 and 3.

Elves

Out

In

You need interaction especially on the draw. Having 11 removal spells post-board helps.

Ironworks Combo

Out

In

They are often faster than you and it can be difficult to kill them with a seven-land Scapeshift so they don’t deal damage to themselves with their mana base. Damping Sphere will help a lot with this matchup. Anger of the Gods is worse than Lightning Bolt as they can just sandbag a Scrap Trawler after resolving a KCI.

Infect

Out

In

Hope to dodge this matchup. You absolutely need to keep hands with interaction with them or else you will get run over.

Grishoalbrand

Out

In

Another matchup you’re hoping to dodge, don’t forget to bring in Reclamation Sage for any potential Blood Moons or Leyline of Sanctity.

Bant Eldrazi

Out

In

Their counterspells postboard hit mostly noncreature spells ( Negate or Stubborn Denial) but sometimes they have Disdainful Stroke or Unified Will.

Skred Red

Out

In

You’ll play out like a R/G midrange deck due to the presence of Blood Moon. Fetch green sources and Forests aggressively due to Fracturing Gust.

U/B Mill

Out

In

It’s almost impossible to play around Archive Trap, so most of the time just make them have it.

8-Rack

Out

In

Take the draw in this matchup. Ancient Grudge and Fracturing Gust will buy you a lot of time and life against their Rack-effects.

Bant Company

Out

In

The Devoted Druid combo is becoming more popular in these Bant company decks, so budget your removal accordingly. Their counterspell of choice post-board is Unified Will.

W/B Eldrazi and Taxes

Out

In

Note that Wasteland Strangler can process your suspended Search for Tomorrows, but it must always have a target for its -3/-3 effect, including itself. If you ever see a Vial on 1 and they purposely did not tick it up, that signifies Burrenton Forge-Tender.

Blue Moon

Out

In

You’ll need to lean on your midrange plan post-board. Sometimes they have the Madcap Experiment + Platinum Emperion combo post-board.

Traverse Death’s Shadow

Out

In

The sideboard plan is slightly different compared to Grixis Shadow as your Baloths are even worse due to the presence of Tarmogoyf.

Merfolk

Out

In

Be careful not to get mana screwed off double green by Spreading Seas.

Looking Forward with Dominaria

With the Dominaria rule changes, the damage from Slagstorm can no longer be redirected to planeswalkers. While I wish Slagstorm was given three modes: players, creatures, and planeswalkers, the card is no longer versatile enough to make the main deck. Instead, I would run two Sweltering Suns main, with one Anger and one Slagstorm in the board (because of Meddling Mage).

On the bright side, Leyline of Sanctity becomes worse against TitanShift as the enchantment does not protect planeswalkers anymore. I would also find room in the sideboard for two Damping Sphere, as combo decks such as Storm and Ad Nauseam are bad matchups and the splash hate for Tron and Amulet Titan never hurts.