One very cool and unique aspect of MTG is that many players take it upon themselves to try to innovate, even in formats that are sometimes deemed stale or somewhat unhealthy. In some cases, this innovation is sparked by the introduction of new MTG cards into the environment. For example, cards like Agatha’s Soul Cauldron revolutionized an array of archetypes in multiple different formats. From Standard infinite mana combo decks utilizing Sleep-Cursed Faerie to Golgari Yawgmoth, Thran Physician combo decks in Modern, Wilds of Eldraine cards like Cauldron added new dynamics into a multitude of Constructed formats.
Every now and again, though, players will dig deep to find cards that were either overlooked or never found a home. In this day and age, it’s easy to take decklists straight from other sources without questioning if there’s any room for improvements. However, sometimes, it can be rewarding to differentiate from the norm, even within a well-established archetype. This is exactly what we are going to highlight today.
In last night’s Magic Online Modern Challenge, the winning decklist showcased some pretty intriguing deckbuilding decision-making. On the surface, it may look like an ordinary Scapeshift deck. Taking a closer look, though, there’s a lot of interesting factors that may have helped the pilot have such a good finish. What changes were made that were out of the ordinary? Were they all beneficial? Let’s take an in-depth look at the deck to see.
The main goal of the Scapeshift deck is one thing that has remained largely unchanged. Once you reach seven Lands in play, you can cast Scapeshift, sacrifice your Lands and search for Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and six Mountains (all of which will trigger Valakut’s ability to deal damage since they all enter the battlefield at the same time and see each other) and deal 18 damage to the opponent. If you have eight Lands out when you cast Scapeshift, you can instead sacrifice your Lands and search for two copies of Valakut along with the six Mountains to deal 36 damage to your opponent.
In order to make Scapeshift as fast and reliable of a kill condition as possible, the deck runs cards like Search for Tomorrow and Sakura-Tribe Elder to help you ramp towards the requisite number of Lands. This deck also plays a huge number of Lands (this list plays 28) in order to make sure you can naturally keep hitting your Land drops. Wrenn and Six helps a lot in this regard, too.
Where Things Began to Change
Starting in 2020, a few sets in particular presented some major upgrades to the deck that ultimately led to some major changes in how the current Scapeshift deck is built. First, the release of Dryad of the Ilysian Grove made this deck both more consistent and faster. Not only does Dryad allow you to play extra Lands each turn, which can potentially speed up your Scapeshift kills, but it also makes every Land you control every basic Land type. Notably, this makes every copy of Valakut a Mountain as well. Therefore, you can cast Scapeshift with only six Lands in play, grab multiple copies of Valakut alongside some Mountains, and dome your opponent for a ton of damage.
In 2021, the addition of Wish further altered how Scapeshift decks would be constructed. Rather than playing four copies of Scapeshift in the maindeck, you could simply move a copy to the sideboard to tutor for via Wish. This helped make the deck more consistent at finding its best win condition. Wish also could find key hate cards, interaction for problematic permanents such as Blood Moon, and more.
Fast forward to 2023, and we get yet another amazing addition to the deck. The One Ring not only helps buy you time against aggressive decks thanks to the “Protection from everything” clause, but it digs for copies of Wish, Scapeshift, and Valakut to make sure you can win the game quickly and reliably. It’s no surprise that The One Ring is seeing play in a bunch of different archetypes, but this is one of the best shells for the card to shine.
No Primeval Titan???
The biggest glaring omission from the winning decklist is that there are, in fact, zero copies of Primeval Titan in the list. For a deck that was called “Titanshift” for so long, due to Primeval Titan and Scapeshift being the deck’s primary win conditions, this may seem a bit strange. When considering all of the new additions to the deck, it does make some sense.
First of all, the fact that Wish can be used as additional virtual copies of Scaepshift as long as you have seven mana available means the deck has more redundancy than it used to. The One Ring’s ability to draw a ton of cards also makes it less necessary to have additional clunky win conditions in the deck.
It’s also important to recognize that, in slower matchups, such as when facing control decks, simply playing Mountains naturally with Valakut in play is a valid strategy. Using Wish to find Valakut further supports this plan, and Dryad can help speed this process up by letting you play additional Lands.
This decklist is opting for efficiency, which makes sense in a format dominated by combo decks and Rakdos Scam. No card encapsulates this more than the inclusion of Cartographer’s Survey. While this seemingly random uncommon is essentially a worse version of Hour of Promise, it costs one mana less to cast.
Importantly, it can still find copies of Valakut, and it allows the deck to reliably go from four mana to seven the next turn when counting the two Lands obtained from Survey plus your Land drop for the turn. Given that this is the requisite number of mana required to combo in most instances without Dryad in the mix, lowering the deck’s curve helps allow for quicker combo kills on average.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The focus on efficiency and the inclusion of both Wish and The One Ring have elevated this archetype, helping it compete with powerhouses like Rakdos Scam and Living End. Wish plays a big role, allowing you to search for cards like Chalice of the Void against Cascade combo decks like Living End or Path to Exile to answer a quick Fury from your Rakdos Scam opponent.
The One Ring is also quite good at digging you out from a hole caused by a quick Grief from Rakdos Scam. Overall, this deck topdecks very well and has a solid gameplan against a lot of the top decks in the format.
Where the deck falters a bit in its current form is against decks like Izzet Murktide. Izzet Murktide is capable of putting on a ton of early pressure with cards like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Murktide Regent and backing these threats up with Counterspells is a solid strategy against this deck. The Scapeshift deck doesn’t play much early removal, and Counterspells can be a pain given how many mana sources and ways to find them the Scapeshift deck plays. Additionally, Izzet Murktide runs Blood Moon. While Wish can find Boseiju, Who Endures as an answer, Blood Moon backed up by enough pressure can be very problematic.
Still, Izzet Murktide has fallen a bit in the metagame in the presence of Orcish Bowmasters. As such, Scapeshift seems like a great meta call for the time being, and it’ll be interesting to see if more players begin to pick up the deck in the coming weeks.