During the first week of February, I’ll be in Bilbao with the rest of Team Coverage as we bring the live stream of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan to the world. For those new to Modern, getting across the huge scope of viable decks is quite intimidating. To bring everyone up to speed for the Pro Tour, Level 1 Modern is a column that seeks to explain the game plan, strengths, and weaknesses of the format’s major archetypes. This week, I’m looking at Scapeshift.
What Scapeshift Does
Scapeshift decks are, rather unsurprisingly, built around the one-card combo that is a resolved Scapeshift. Sacrificing 7 lands to search for 6 Mountains and a Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle means that 6 Valakut triggers will scone an opponent for 18, and in a format defined by fetchlands and shocklands, that’s generally enough.
This deck ramps hard and early, seeking to get as many lands into play as quickly as possible. As almost every card in Scapeshift is either a land or a way to find one, the deck has a very consistent game plan that is relatively straightforward. Sakura-Tribe Elder, Farseek, even Khalni Heart Expedition all do more or less the same thing.
A resolved Scapeshift is almost certainly game over, but Scapeshift players are not all-in on the one-shot kill. Primeval Titan is an absolute powerhouse and ends games almost as quickly, by both fetching lands to turn on Valakut as well as slamming for 6 a turn. Scapeshift generally forgoes disruptive elements, although it will sometimes play a light removal suite, generally featuring Lightning Bolt.
Larry Li, 1st place at GP Oklahoma City 2017
As mentioned above, essentially every non-payoff card in this deck does the same thing—add an extra land to the battlefield ahead of time. This means it is very difficult to disrupt Scapeshift‘s setup process. More or less, every card does exactly the same thing. This built-in redundancy means that discard such as Inquisition of Kozilek is pretty ineffective, and counterspells like Mana Leak are easy to play around given how much mana the deck can generate.
Further, creature removal such as Fatal Push does stone-cold nothing against Scapeshift. Blanking disruption like this is one of the ways that Scapeshift punishes its opponents, as part of its combo-esque game plan, which, unlike most combo decks, remains somewhat difficult to pull apart.
Once set up with all the lands it requires, Scapeshift generally only needs to resolve a single Scapeshift or Primeval Titan for it to be game over. Scapeshift will, rather obviously, end the game on the spot, while Prime Time can search out multiple Valakuts to provide double or even triple triggers for every follow-up Mountain.
Even in cases where Scapeshift can’t seal the deal emphatically with one of these big cards, it still plays very well into a long, drawn-out game in topdeck mode. Once Valakut is online, Scapeshift decks essentially draw a Lightning Bolt (or better) every turn. Rather than its ramp spells being blanks, and rather than lands meaning the deck floods out, Scapeshift decks are happy to snap off Valakut triggers until the game is over.
As a deck that relies heavily on its lands, Scapeshift suffers from the fact that the format is very well-prepared to go up against it (as well as other Big Mana decks like Tron). As you might expect, Blood Moon is a huge beating for Scapeshift, which will often be unable to win through one.
Whereas Tron can hard-cast its threats to win the late game, Scapeshift has no such luxury when its Valakuts are all basic Mountains. For this reason, Scapeshift decks generally play Reclamation Sage in addition to Summoner’s Pacts to find them.
While Scapeshift lines up pretty well against much of the format’s interaction, it struggles significantly in the face of hard counters. There is no way for Scapeshift to play around hard counters like Cryptic Command or Stubborn Denial, which sets back its game plan significantly against many blue decks.
Speaking of interaction, Scapeshift is most definitely a non-interactive deck. In most cases, Scapeshift decks devote very few slots to disruption, perhaps running a couple of Lightning Bolts, Sweltering Suns, or a few copies of Relic of Progenitus. Obviously, once Valakut is online, it can shoot Bolts all over the place. But outside of that, Scapeshift interacts very poorly indeed.
How to Beat Scapeshift
It may be something of a cliche, but as usual the most effective way to beat a non-interactive deck like Scapeshift is with the one-two punch of pressure and disruption. In many cases, disruption may not even be necessary—Scapeshift isn’t the quickest deck in Modern (certainly no turn-3 kills like with Storm!), so a very quick clock can put the game out of reach for them.
Other combo or combo-like decks, such as Storm and Burn, do very well against the goldfish-like nature of Scapeshift. Being fast and getting under Scapeshift before they can fully set up and resolve a game-ending card is a legitimate strategy, given Scapeshift can be a just a touch slower to end games than other glass cannon-style decks.
If you need a simpler way to beat them, however, it can be reduced to just three words: Play Blood Moon. Perhaps more than any other deck in Modern, Scapeshift folds to a timely Mooning. Just be sure that you have a way to win through their Reclamation Sages. Still, main-deck Blood Moons, as we’ve seen in decks like Mardu Pyromancer, are an excellent way to steal game 1s.
Finally, don’t plan on winning the long game against Scapeshift. It’s an odd thing to think, given that they’ll be drawing Farseeks and Explores, but Scapeshift will probably draw stronger cards as the game goes long. With Valakut, especially in multiples, more or less every card off the top of their deck is going to unload a heap of damage on you. Try to finish the job quickly, and don’t seek to grind it out.
Recently, Scapeshift has been on a bit of a downswing. The Blood-Moon-dominated land hate packages that tackle it so well are at an all-time high given both Scapeshift and Tron decks have been performing strongly over the past months. Having said that, we may see a Scapeshift enjoy a resurgence at PT Rivals of Ixalan, as it remains a fast, consistent, and powerful way to win games in Modern.