I’ve been a fan of Valakuting people out for a while now. I don’t claim to be that good at it–I don’t have the tens of thousands of hours that some of the Scapeshift masters do, but I’ve definitely eighteen’d my fair share of opponents. Recently, Modern hasn’t been a friendly place for the deck, but with the recent bannings completely changing the landscape of the format, I was excited to see what the future held.
As it turns out, Scapeshift got off to an absolute flier. Jake Durshimer crushed last weekend’s online MCQ with the deck, putting together a truly incredible performance, rattling off twelve wins on the trot. I think it’s fair to say people saw the deck as being a fringe player at best, but it might be time to re-evaluate that perspective!
I was lucky enough to chat with Durshimer, and get his perspective on a deck that is not only my favorite archetype in the Modern format, but one that also might be poised to make a real return to greatness.
Scapeshift by Jake Durshimer & Ross Merriam
Scapeshift in New Modern
Modern has been turned on its head in the wake of the recent bannings, which is always a great point to experiment with decks of all kinds to see how they stack up after a big change. Very wisely, as it would turn out, Durshimer concluded that Scapeshift was an excellent choice for the field he expected:White-Blue Control, Tron, and infinite Stoneforge Mystic decks.
Anyone who has played Modern recently will know how overrepresented Stoneforge Mystic is right now. Durshimer had an astute observation to make about the newly unbanned card: “I enjoy playing Legacy,” he told me, “and have witnessed firsthand how often people will play Stoneforge decks regardless of how good they actually are.”
Most Scapeshift decks are pretty similar. Four Scapeshift, four Primeval Titan, 27 lands, 20 or so ramp spells, a smattering of interaction. With the hamstringing of graveyard decks, maindeck Relic of Progenitus isn’t a maindeck necessity any more, freeing up room for cards such as Explore or even a few extra win conditions.
Playing four copies of Explore, rather than something like Farseek, incentivizes you to play one-mana spells such as Lightning Bolt, so you can spend your second turn ramping and disrupting the opponent. This also meant Durshimer was happy to cut down on sweepers like Anger of the Gods and Sweltering Suns, although he described this as a “calculated risk,” as it does weaken the Humans matchup.
It’s certainly a risk that paid off, in any case, paying dividends against any deck with turn-two SFM. Four Bolts and zero three-damage sweepers is a great pick in a format where you have to beat SFM powering out a turn-three Batterskull. Besides, four Bolts still beats a lot of aggro starts, and you don’t need to exile Arclight Phoenix with Anger of the Gods any more.
Durshimer played a few sweet one-ofs in his list. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is an alternate win condition that can beat hate cards such as Blood Moon or Witchbane Orb, which crop up in the maindeck of some weird prison lists. It’s always good to have an out! Plus, as Durshimer pointed out to me, her -3 ability very neatly cleans up a Batterskull token or a Thought-Knot Seer.
The maindeck Obstinate Baloth was a hedge against the Kolaghan’s Command decks that Durshimer expected. K-Command is the rock to Stoneforge Mystic’s scissors, so why not maindeck some paper (especially when the paper in this case doesn’t lose to scissors)? The Jund matchup is already decent for Scapeshift, but every little bit helps–and maindeck Baloths will definitely catch people by surprise, not to mention its utility against decks like Burn.
Field of the Dead is the most interesting new addition to Scapeshift, cropping up as a one-of in a lot of new lists. The jury still seems to be out on the card’s place in the deck, however, as it doesn’t come for free–you still need a critical mass of Mountains for Scapeshift to function. “The opportunity cost isn’t as low as it seems,” explained Durshimer. “However, it’s a good excuse to play a 28th land, which improves the consistency of the deck.”
Time will tell as to whether Field of the Dead sticks around in Scapeshift–we simply need more data.
New Sideboarding Options
Scapeshift didn’t benefit all that much from Modern Horizons, receiving very few new pieces of technology. One card it has already made good use of, however, is Collector Ouphe. As a walking Stony Silence that can be fetched with Summoner’s Pact, Collector Ouphe helps shut down artifact decks like Hardened Scales and Julien Henry–and, as Durshimer pointed out to me, will usually survive in post-board games. Most people cut their Bolts and Pushes against Scapeshift, so the Ouphe will stick around unanswered much of the time.
Force of Vigor is the other new card seeing play in Scapeshift, and it’s not immediately clear how you want to split Ouphe and Force. Durshimer opted for one and two respectively, but mentioned to me that the extra Ouphe might be the right call–Blood Moon, after all, isn’t heavily played (and there’s always Reclamation Sage, anyway).
Finally, Modern Horizons brought us Weather the Storm. This hasn’t become a mainstay inclusion for Scapeshift, perhaps as Storm isn’t highly represented in Modern at the moment, but it definitely helps to shore up an otherwise tricky matchup, while providing additional utility against decks such as Burn. It’s worth keeping an eye on this card, and maybe finding room for it if people start trying to Grapeshot you out.
While it’s not from Modern Horizons, Fry joined the Modern format with Core Set 2020, and has a good level of utility in postboard games. Durshimer noted that it kills planeswalkers and Colonnades in White-Blue Control as well as fighting through creatures like Unsettled Mariner and Mausoleum Wanderer, as well as generally being very useful against any small white creature decks.
Finally, Durshimer wanted to plug Beast Within, a card he characterized as “criminally underrated.” Not all of us are sold on Beast Within, but as Durshimer reminds us, it kills everything from Urza’s Tower to Death’s Shadow to new format staple Batterskull.
Stoneforge Mystic vs. Scapeshift
One of the reasons Scapeshift is a great choice right now is its position against Stoneforge Mystic decks. SFM lists naturally look to play a longer, grindier game, which, as Durshimer puts it, “simply isn’t an effective strategy against Valakut.” Stoneforge Mystic simply doesn’t pose a huge threat to Scapeshift decks, because it on its own is never going to beat Valakut or Primeval Titan, and also because the decks it is usually in don’t have the right tools to effectively contest Scapeshift decks.
The best weapons at their disposal tends to be counterspells and discard spells, which explains the three copies of Veil of Summer in the sideboard. You might think it odd to play more copies of Veil of Summer against a field awash with Stoneforge Mystic, but the chain of reasoning is solid; SFM is most often paired with blue for countermagic, and sometimes sees play in grindy decks that dip into black for discard. Then, and only then, can the card be a real threat, so Veil of Summer ameliorates that risk quite nicely while also fighting through the increased presence of Kolaghan’s Command.
Much of the time, it’s safe enough to ignore Stoneforge Mystic and her various equipment, because no amount of Batterskulls or Swords can beat the inevitability of Scapeshift. “I do think you should Bolt Stoneforge when you have the opportunity,” warned Durshimer, “but you can generally just ignore the SFM package.” Big mana decks have always had excellent game against decks that play a “fair” gameplan, and lists with Stoneforge Mystic can hardly do anything else.
At the end of the day, if Modern continues to be overrun with Stoneforge Mystic (Durshimer is spot-on in saying people will play SFM decks “regardless of how good they actually are,” after all), playing a deck with an inherent advantage against these overrepresented strategies is an excellent call. Besides, Scapeshift’s positive matchups against both Jund and Tron set it in good stead for success at the top tables.
I very strongly suggest you follow in Durshimer’s footsteps and play Scapeshift at your next Modern event–especially if the metagame pans out as it has been, with plenty of Stoneforge Mystic and Kolaghan’s Command decks flying about. May your Valakuts runneth over!