With GP Liverpool coming up this weekend, I've been focusing strongly on Modern. As blasphemous as this is, in order to properly prepare for the event I put down my trusted White-Blue Control and instead have been playing other, much less interactive decks. I didn't come here to talk about my personal problems, but… well, White-Blue and I are going through a rough patch right now, and I think it's best we spend some time apart, meet new people, play with new decks. White-Blue Control is a great deck and I'm sure it'll be okay. It's just that right now I need something faster, something more exciting. It's not you, it's me.
In all seriousness, I was getting sick of slogging through a single match in 45 minutes and feeling super drained at the end of every drawn-out grindfest and decided to change tack. I still think White-Blue Control is a very powerful choice and when built properly is a real world-beater, but I was heavily fatigued after weeks and weeks with the deck. I wanted to play a high volume of matches very quickly so as to experience the breadth of the format as swiftly as possible, so I sought out a new deck to play with.
Many people decry Scapeshift decks as linear, uninteractive and repetitive. Perfect! I found a likely-looking list and started running it through leagues, and unbelievably started racking up wins. It is a ton of fun. You hardly ever mulligan, the deck is consistent, streamlined, focused, and powerful. You can win with an explosive Scapeshift on turn four or ride a Primeval Titan to victory over consecutive turns – but the best feeling is when they're grinding you out, ticking up Liliana, poking in for damage, and… oops! You draw a Scapeshift and kill them.
Here's the list I played.
I did lead off by saying this deck was "uninteractive," while playing quite a heavy component of interaction. Three Lightning Bolts to deal with an early Noble Hierarch or similar felt good (they're also useful for stubborn opponents who refuse to fetch-and-shock themselves down past 18), and the two Sweltering Suns got the nod above Anger as cycling away a dead sweeper provides enormous upside.
I cut a lot of the one-ofs. No Wood Elves, Reclamation Sage or Prismatic Omen – Omen is a cute way to combo with six lands, but it does stone-cold nothing on turn two and is a horrific topdeck. Get it outta here. Apart from that, there isn't too much about the main deck that's all that exciting.
I never tended to sideboard very heavily, just subbing out Relics, Bolts or Sweltering Suns as appropriate (I'd shave an Explore if I needed an extra card to come in).
I love casting Damping Sphere. I hate Tron – obviously – and the splash damage against KCI and Storm is very welcome. This card is great. I cut Ancient Grudge, however, as Nature's Claim is the better choice – being able to destroy Hardened Scales as well as their creatures is critical, and with Affinity and KCI not seeing widespread play, Ancient Grudge isn't necessary. Reclamation Sage is obviously excellent, especially in conjunction with Summoner's Pact, and probably warrants a main deck slot.
Tireless Tracker comes in for grindy matchups like Jund or White-Blue, as does Carnage Tyrant. Obstinate Baloth is excellent against both Liliana of the Veil and Burn. Anger of the Gods and Grafdigger's Cage, along with the Relics in the main deck, fight Dredge – overall, however, I was unimpressed with Grafdigger's Cage and usually would have preferred a Relic to maintain velocity (bringing it in against Collected Company felt… loose).
Bring in Reclamation Sages if you expect Blood Moon, Leyline of Sanctity or Runed Halo to have a tutorable answer to them. Having said that, these cards are at an all-time low. Leyline and Runed Halo hardly see play, while Mardu Pyromancer is one of the only decks playing Blood Moon.
Again, don't over-sideboard. Scapeshift is still a combo deck and changing your main deck configuration dilutes the explosive potential of your deck. If you're cutting any cards that aren't Relic of Progenitus, Lightning Bolt, Sweltering Suns, (or Explore, I suppose,) make sure you have a very good reason.
Andreas Petersen, generally known for his masterful exploits in the 1v1 Commander Challenges, instead crushed this weekend's Modern Challenge with an insane Scapeshift build. I've already played his list a bunch, and it is...wild. Throwing a bunch of established wisdom out of the window, Petersen pulled together something very special indeed.
After a few leagues with this monster, I'm still making up my mind about it. There are a bunch of exciting and very cool positives, but I've run into situations where the more traditional build would have been much better positioned.
- Wood Elves is an expensive Rampant Growth that can poke in for a few points of damage, useful when an opponent is above 18 life. It also soaks up damage from opposing Gurmag Anglers, Tarmogoyfs, and the like.
- This list is virtually pre-boarded against Dredge with three Angers and four Relics. This is a reasonable call to make, given the preponderance of Dredge now that Creeping Chill has juiced up the archetype.
- Fourteen Mountains is an excellent call – no matter what, I'll be adopting this number. Especially without Prismatic Omen, 13 sometimes felt a touch low.
- No more awkward opening hands with too many Explores and not enough lands, no more Khalni Heart Expedition doing nothing off the top – this list is seeking to eliminate lowrolls, which makes good sense.
- Zero Lightning Bolt actually felt fine, especially with the extra sweeper. It enables very scary Noble Hierarch based starts from the opponent, but Bolt loses value so quickly in Scapeshift – eventually you reach a point where Valakut makes more or less every draw step a Lightning Bolt or better.
- The sideboard is even more streamlined than before. Cutting Grafdigger's Cage is a good move, and by cutting Lightning Bolt it made more room in the board to play extra high-value cards like Tireless Tracker and Obstinate Baloth.
- Wood Elves is clunky, expensive, and low-impact a lot of the time. Costing three sucks - anyone who has hard-cast Search for Tomorrow on turn three will know how awful it feels.
- As great as Anger of the Gods is against Dredge, having three main deck copies against deck like White-Blue Control or Death's Shadow feels horrific when you could be cycling away Sweltering Suns instead.
- Khalni Heart Expedition has an extremely high ceiling and leads to some busted opening sequences. I get that this list is trying to take the middle-road approach to minimizing variance, but the Expedition feels so powerful when it fires (which is most of the time).
- The lack of Damping Sphere feels like a mistake. It gives you a huge leg up in two tricky matchups. Given the four Trackers and Baloths, I'd be cutting Thragtusk to find room for Damping Sphere.
Ultimately, I'm still undecided as to which approach is better. I'm not sold on a playset of Wood Elves – sometimes it feels like a 200 IQ inclusion, other times I look at an opening hand and which I weren't playing a 1/1 that cost a million mana. I like cutting Lightning Bolt, and I like four main deck Relics, but I think I'll stick with Sweltering Suns as cycling dead sweepers against control feels like you're getting away with Murder.
Any way you slice it – regardless of whether you're playing four Wood Elves or zero – Scapeshift is a great choice in Modern right now. Despite its linear nature, you can reconfigure its flexible slots to attack the format in a manner of your choosing, and ultimately you're playing a consistent combo deck that isn't hugely vulnerable to hate and can keep pace with the keep-'em-honest pace of decks like Humans and Burn. After a string of reasonably strong performances, it'll be interesting to see if the deck can get up and go this weekend in Liverpool and Portland!