15, May, 24

Unique Thunder Junction Crime Payoffs Add New Twist to Valakut Strategy!

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Article at a Glance

One of the more interesting MTG mechanics to come out of Outlaws of Thunder Junction was Crime commitment. While committing Crimes may feel a bit weird from a flavor standpoint sometimes, it’s a rather simple concept to grasp. Just target any of your opponent’s stuff, and you’re golden.

Up to this point, we’ve seen multiple Crime payoffs see play in Standard and Pioneer. In Standard, Duelist of the Mind is an efficient, evasive beater that lets you sculpt your hand as you engage in criminal activity. Meanwhile, in Pioneer, Kaervek, the Punisher has appeared in various Waste Not shells. Kaervek’s synergy with Fatal Push and Thoughtseize is certainly impressive.

Once we get down to Modern, though, Crime payoffs haven’t exactly manifested in any top-tier archetypes. However, well-known content creator Aspiringspike took it upon himself to construct a unique deck built on maximizing the power of two Thunder Junction cards. He went 7-2 and made top 16 of the Magic Online Modern Showcase Challenge, which featured 220 players. Clearly, these cards are strong, but let’s just say they are criminally underrated (yes, pun intended).

The base of the deck looks very similar to a typical Scapeshift strategy, but there are actually zero copies of Scapeshift to be found in the maindeck. Let’s take a look at exactly what this deck is trying to accomplish and how the new cards fit in.

Valakut, the Primary Win Condition

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

Like most Scapeshift decks, the way this deck typically closes games is with the all-powerful Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Valakut is an awesome card that offers you clear inevitability, but does require some work to maximize.

First, you ideally want to be ramping in some fashion. Second, you need the vast majority of your mana sources to be Mountains. Dryad of the Ilysian Grove in particular is awesome at facilitating both of these gameplans. It lets you play additional Lands every turn cycle. On top of that, it makes sure all of your Lands count towards Valakut’s six-Mountain threshold. Importantly, this counts Valakut itself.

From there, Wrenn and Six and The One Ring help ensure that you have a continuous flood of Land drops to make during your turn. As long as you can find and stick Valakut, you’re golden.

Still, not seeing cards like Scapeshift or Primeval Titan in the maindeck may seem a bit strange. After all, these cards speed up your ability to win the game considerably. This deck does feature a couple copies of Wish and a copy of Scapeshift in the sideboard to tutor for, but it is not reliant on the potent Sorcery. Instead, a full-on Crime package centered around two Thunder Junction Creatures takes center stage.

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Crime Enablers and Payoffs

Magda, the Hoardmaster

As strong as Scapeshift and Primeval Titan are individually, they are a bit clunky. As such, most Gruul Scapeshift shells in Modern are heavily focused on using ramp elements such as Search for Tomorrow and Farseek. Unfortunately, this doesn’t leave much room for interaction.

Sometimes a few copies of Lightning Bolt or Anger of the Gods will sneak into a decklist. However, Scapeshift decks typically require a high level of redundancy to keep the main gameplan as consistent as possible. This is because winning the game with Scapeshift requires a lot of resources. Every card that doesn’t search for Lands, doesn’t provide a significant resource advantage like The One Ring and isn’t a Land itself comes at huge cost to play.

This is where the Crime package comes in handy. The two Thunder Junction cards featured in this decklist are Magda, the Hoardmaster and Freestrider Lookout, both of which are awesome ramp elements that actually work well with pieces of disruption. The goal is to immediately get value off of these cards. That way, even if the opponent kills them, you generated value, nonetheless. Cheap ways to trigger these cards include casting Lightning Bolt or using the -1 ability on Wrenn and Six. The fun doesn’t stop there, though.

This deck kicks Crime committing up a notch with the presence of both Relic of Progenitus and Mishra’s Bauble. Relic and Bauble are efficient ways to commit Crimes that can simply sit in play until you cast Magda or Lookout. Relic has the benefit of sticking around, letting you commit Crimes by tapping it and targeting the opponent once every turn cycle. Magda and Lookout may be limited to triggering once each turn, but Relic and Bauble provide ways to commit Crimes on the opponent’s turn without investing any mana!

With this in mind, if the opponent doesn’t kill these cards right away, they are in a world of trouble. Magda can start converting Treasures into Hasty 4/4 Fliers, while Lookout will keep digging for Valakuts and Mountains. Getting to essentially free-roll graveyard hate and removal in a ramp deck is a huge bonus that this deck takes great advantage of.

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Strengths and Weaknesses

Blood Moon

These innovations to a typical Valakut ramp archetype, beyond being super cool, also shore up some notable weaknesses that Scapeshift decks have had in the past. One thing we mentioned is the uptick in interaction. Dedicated Valakut decks don’t always win super quickly, so getting run over by Prowess decks or outclassed by a turn one Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is a bit of a concern. Luckily, Lightning Bolt and Flame Slash out of the sideboard help this cause.

In a similar sense, the four maindeck Relics go a long way in helping you beat Living End[/tooltip] combo. That deck can generate a huge board presence as early as turn three. Add in [tooltips]Grief and Force of Negation as free pieces of disruption, and it makes sense why the matchup can be a bit of a problem.

Additionally, by not relying entirely on Scapeshift, this deck has a much better time against Blood Moon effects. Magda can singlehandedly win a game through a Blood Moon by making Dragons. Otherwise, the Treasures give you access to green mana to cast your spells. In some cases, beating down with Lookout, Dragons, and Jegantha, the Wellspring can get the job done.

The one weakness this deck opens itself up to when compared to traditional Scapeshift decklists is the fact that opposing removal spells are decent against you. Copies of Fatal Push might simply rot in the opponent’s hand, but now become useful at killing Magda and Lookout. In grindy matchups, you’d rather have your ramp cards not be in Creature form. Against decks like Indomitable Creativity combo, having access to more copies of Scapeshift as an “I win” button out of nowhere would certainly help.

The emergence of Magda and Lookout in this Valakut shell is yet another example of the massive impact Thunder Junction cards have had on Constructed formats as a whole. Players are still figuring out unique ways to use the new cards. With Modern Horizons 3 coming in short order, Modern will surely be in for an even bigger shakeup. Will this Valakut shell stand the test of time? We’ll just have to wait and find out.

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