This past weekend was the last big hurrah for M20 Standard, so this week instead of going over the Magic Online MCQ results, I want to do something a little different before we dig our teeth into Throne of Eldraine previews. I'm going to go over the history of Scapeshift and Field of the Dead strategies in M20 Standard, from preview season to the MTGO MCQ this past weekend. Let's start at the beginning.
During preview season nobody really put together just how good Elvish Rejuvenator was, or how capable Field of the Dead was of grinding people out all by itself. As a result, people mostly looked for ways to port the Scapeshift/Field of the Dead combo into existing shells.
Discmanbarz posited one early strategy that leaned on comboing Scapeshift with Dread Presence, with a little bit of regular Jund midrange to back it up.
I put Scapeshift in a Gates shell, identifying Circuitous Route and Gates as a good way to ramp up to seven lands for Field of the Dead.
I should also mention ThyrixSyx, who identified that trying to combine Dread Presence and Field of the Dead resulted in weakening both cards, and instead added Dread Presence and Scapeshift to a Bolas's Citadel combo shell:
Wizards invited a large number of streamers to play with M20 ahead of its Arena launch. Lots of preview season decks got to finally hit the road and have a simple test drive, albeit solely in best-of-one. The next day M20 launched publicly and everyone got to work iterating on what they saw from the early access event as well as their own ideas. My Gateshift list took hold with a lot of people, and many continued to iterate on it and other versions of Scapeshift built around Circuitous Route. The other popular branch of Scapeshift leaned on Risen Reef and Cavalier of Thorns as a way to jump up to seven lands without leaning as much on spells, and one list in particular looks pretty close to what Sultai Scapeshift lists looked like much later in the format:
At the tail end of week 0 several players were starting to figure out how to play Bant and really take advantage of Teferi, Time Raveler and other ways to kill people on the spot with their Scapeshifts. The most notable was AnnaMae who identified Elvish Rejuvenator and Grow from the Ashes very early on. While she didn't have all four Teferi, she did have Samut, Tyrant Smasher as a way to combo-kill immediately after playing Scapeshift, without allowing your opponent to untap. This list is from July 5th:
This was the first week with a big tournament, and people started to really take each others' work as a base as the Magic hive mind continued to iterate on Scapeshift. The next big adjustment from AnnaMae's list was Lee Shi Tian's article containing a rough draft of a list taking her lessons while keeping Golos, Tireless Pilgrim and adding in Hydroid Krasis as an additional mana sink.
Obstinate Baloth also realized the power of Hydroid Krasis in the archetype and reached #1 Mythic on the Arena ladder:
Scapeshift also saw its first big finishes, with a Top 32 finish at SCG Worchester by Jonah Gaynor and a Top 8 in NRG's team trios event in the hands of Max Magnuson.
At this point Bant Scapeshift was no longer a secret; the only thing to figure out was what the best version looked like. The version that eventually went on to crush GP Denver showed up in the July 18th Fandom Legends event, achieving a Top 8 in the hands of Huey Jensen, but that list actually came from an Arena Super Cup Qualifier, where emerald000 lost in the finals.
The deck then went on to absolutely crush GP Denver, taking up a full half of the Top 8. The format quickly warped around Scapeshift decks; Legion's End became the #1 removal spell and Deputy of Detention quickly became a very popular inclusion in almost any deck that could cast it.
From here the tournaments got a little more sparse, and the only big tournaments were all online. The big changes to Bant Scapeshift during this time were maindeck Deputy of Detention and maindeck Time Wipe. Vampires was #1 during this time and Scapeshift was #2, so Scapeshift decks needed to have these cards in the maindeck or risk having a very unfavorable game one. Scapeshift sideboards also started becoming more cohesive, playing fewer narrow hammers like Ajani's Welcome and Shifting Ceratops and leaning more into the control role in slower matchups.
During this lull people continued to work on other Scapeshift archetypes. Sultai Scapeshift started to catch up to Bant Scapeshift, leaning on Legion's End to beat opposing Scapeshift strategies and help against Vampires. Sikolio in particular put in a lot of time refining Sultai and reached Top 100 Mythic with this list:
Sam Black also worked on a Temur version of Scapeshift that could more consistently find and enable Field of the Dead even when you didn't have Scapeshift, leaning on The Mending of Dominaria to fight through control matchups and people who could answer your Scapeshift turns. This list was very consistent but ultimately not as powerful as versions with Teferi, Time Raveler. After a solid week of incredible success the list slowly fell off as people got better at answering Scapeshift with aggression: mostly in the form of Vampires, but also Jund Dinosaurs, which preyed on Temur's lack of access to board wipes.
People also began to experiment with Golos, Tireless Pilgrim again, often combining it with Nexus of Fate as a way to go over the top of other Scapeshift decks. Golos dodges a lot of the removal that's good against Scapeshift and punishes Teferi, Time Raveler's -3. The earliest example I can find of this is Sam Black's article on the idea, but Ali Aintrazi's list from July 9th looks a bit more like what the archetype spawned from.
The final big event of the season was the Arena Mythic Championship Qualifier Weekend. Thousands of players battling for just 16 slots to the Arena Mythic Championship V, all working their hardest. Bant Scapeshift now included Time Wipe by default, and the big tech from this weekend was Brad Nelson's inclusion of Agent of Treachery in the sideboard as a way to fight through both mirrors and Esper strategies that could not be countered with Dovin's Veto. He published both his Bant Scapeshift list and a sideboard guide for it in an article on Friday before the event, heavily influencing the MCQW by writing not one but four full sideboard guides for the format.
My own list sideboarded heavily for Vampires and Mono-Red with an Angels package to really hammer those matchups home. Shalai, Voice of Plenty protects you, your Teferi, Time Ravelers and your Zombie tokens, while Lyra Dawnbringer halts combat and provides a way to stabilize early and can bait your opponent into overcommitting into your Time Wipe.
Golos Nexus builds also saw success and looked much cleaner, playing only one or two copies of Nexus of Fate and playing more interaction than previous versions. Martin Müller in particular championed a build playing both maindeck Time Wipe and Brad's sideboard Agent of Treachery. He also included The Immortal Sun as a way to go over the top of other grindy decks, taking full advantage of Golos, Tireless Pilgrim as a source of non-planeswalker-based repeatable card advantage.
The most unorthodox list of the weekend was Jeff Hoogland's no-Scapeshift, no-Golos, Field of the Dead deck featuring a complete playset of Yarok, the Desecrated. He played a full 30 lands and the full Elemental package of earlier Scapeshift lists while still including the more modern package of Arboreal Grazer and Elvish Rejuvenator. The deck leaned on a singleton Nexus of Fate as an endgame package along with one Tamiyo, Collector of Tales, both of which are enabled by Yarok-doubled triggers from Risen Reef and Cavalier of Thorns. While this isn't technically a Scapeshift list, it is a Field of the Dead strategy that branched off from Scapeshift and was successful at the MCQW.
One final, unexpected shift to M20 Standard arrived last week in the banned and restricted announcement. Wizards unbanned Rampaging Ferocidon. Scapeshift strategies are uniquely hurt by Rampaging Ferocidon because it punishes both Scapeshift and Hydroid Krasis. This unbanning, combined with the meteoric rise of Kethis Combo meant that Scapeshift strategies had to adjust once again. This past weekend was not kind to previous builds, but there were two pioneers who were able to adjust and make Top 16 in the MTGO MCQ.
_Batutinha_ played a list very close to stock, but was playing two Drawn from Dreams alongside the two Time Wipe in order to more consistently find Time Wipe and Deputy of Detention or the one-two punch of Teferi, Time Raveler and Scapeshift. _Batutinha_ was also very prepared for both Kethis Combo and Rampaging Ferocidon in the sideboard, playing the full four Baffling End and a pair of Devout Decree on top of that.
TheD recognized that Scapeshift itself was now more of a liability in Golos Nexus lists, instead opting for the playset of Baffling End maindeck and two Zacama, Primal Calamity as the top-end threat alongside Nexus of Fate. Zacama cleanly answers Rampaging Ferocidon and can straight-up kill people—a 9/9 isn't small. TheD also brought a sideboard ready to fight more midrangey games with Ugin, the Ineffable on top of Agent of Treachery. This list is far less explosive than previous versions of Field of the Dead strategies, but far more resilient in the face of this new Standard.
Scapeshift has taken a Circuitous Route through this Standard format. Field of the Dead has been in everything from a linear combo deck to a ramp-control hybrid with an inevitable land-based endgame. While this may seem largely like a history of a single deck across a specific format, there are a lot of lessons we can take away from this for future Standard formats. When nobody is truly prepared for an archetype or strategy, it is most powerful to take the deck to its logical extreme and get to the desired combo or game state as fast as possible as consistently as possible—the rise of Bant Scapeshift with Arboreal Grazer, Elvish Rejuvenator and Grow from the Ashes. When that isn't good enough or when the format punishes you for not interacting, you can slow down and maintain the core of the shell while trading off speed and power for the ability to survive—the shift of Bant to include maindeck Deputy of Detention and Time Wipe. Once other people get to that stage and it is acceptable to slow down, you can trade off additional speed to maintain power—the rise of Golos Nexus builds and Yarok Field.
You can trace similar trajectories through the rise, fall, and adaptation of several other decks across their time in Standard: Nexus of Fate strategies, Vampires strategies, even Mono-Red. These cycles can even be cyclical, where once the format slows down too much you can often get fast and linear again to punish the arms race to the best slow endgame. Keep these lessons in mind going into Throne of Eldraine!
Adam "yoman5" Hernandez is a streamer, brewer and competitive player with a keen sense for what makes a deck tick. He loves writing about changes in the Standard metagame and the art of deckbuilding.
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