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Silvestri Says – Salt, Sweat, Scapeshift

Happy holidays everyone! I hope everyone had a nice Christmas and isn’t completely blanketed in never-ending snow. During my time off I had a chance to get some substantial Extended testing done and I learned quite a bit about the format post-Worlds. First off, most of the Worlds decks are pretty bad now that the metagame is being based specifically around them instead of being built around guesses of what the metagame would be. This is to be expected, but from the people netdecking those exact copies of Jund, Faeries and 4cc like they were going out of style, this could be a disappointing realization. Just ask most of the people playing in the Gold Queues this past week as I saw any number of terrible netdecks getting played and promptly smashed. It doesn’t take much to make your Jund deck less terrible; you could start by running the maximum amount of Anathemancer for one thing.

Still, now I’m getting off message, since as the title of the article implies, I’ve been playing a lot of Scapeshift. I think it’s one of, if not the, best deck in the format and was amazed at the resiliency and speed the deck featured. While it isn’t Thopter-Depths all over again, the ability to win on turn five and play Cryptic Command along with any number of strong sideboard cards makes me a happy camper. Here’s the Oiso list from Worlds for anyone who hasn’t seen Scapeshift.

And here’s my most recent Wargate build.

There are also a multitude of variants that one could try, including traditional Valakut, an aggressive version featuring [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card], a URG version which actually runs Mountains to kill with Scapeshift, and I’m sure others will be tried as the season progresses.

Lessons I’ve learned when building and playing Scapeshift

#1: Finding and resolving Prismatic Omen is the only thing that matters

When I was initially playing Scapeshift I was under the mistaken impression that the Wargate variation was a combo-control deck. I thought that while I could win with Prismatic Omen + Valakut + Lands, it was simply a side benefit and really Scapeshift / Omen was the center stage attraction. I was wrong. After playing with the deck a great deal, I find myself winning more and more with Prismatic Omen + Valakut and simply resolving a Cultivate or playing a Fetchland and normal land to end the game. You race through the deck with a fair amount of speed and since Wargate and Scapeshift fetch them out, it isn’t difficult to fetch up two in time even against aggressive strategies.

Yes, I realize Scapeshift is typically lethal. Sometimes though it’s worth setting up a non-lethal Scapeshift so if you ever resolve the Omen you can win immediately afterwards. Often I’ve found it to be difficult to win off the Wargate -> Omen and next turn Scapeshift plan due to the amount of disruption in the format. By going for Scapeshift earlier you can either get them to waste a resource stopping it or resolve it – making every Omen and Wargate into a potentially lethal spell.

Long story short, the majority of matches don’t need Scapeshift and post-board I’d almost always rather have a list with 0 Scapeshift than one with 2-3 in it. By eliminating these slots and solidifying yourself into a role where you primarily win with either a boarded in man-plan or Omen – Valakut, you can resist common hate easier and have more slots dedicated to protection. It can be different if you have a version with actual Mountains in the deck to have Scapeshift able to kill by itself, but otherwise I just prefer Omen doing all the work.

#2: The mana is the most important factor in any Scapeshift build

This may be the only area where I actually like the R/G Valakut build from Standard being ported over into this format. They only have to focus on casting R/G spells and Rampant Growth makes that so much easier. Additionally you don’t need to rely on having Cryptic Command or Wargate mana so the mana ends up pretty solid. In fact that’s the only thing stopping a lot of people from embracing the various Scapeshift builds; shoddy mana work and inability to accept that some hands will come up lame without a resolved Omen.

You want a huge portion of your lands to produce Blue since other than the single G you need to get Rampant Growth / Omen / Explore rolling, GG isn’t needed until your ready to actually end the game and sometimes not at all. Ideally you want nearly every single land to be producing blue, with the exceptions of Murmuring Bosk, 2-4 Forest, Plains and Valakut (And any basics you run for a 4th color) Your deck should only end up with 9-11 lands that cannot cast a Cryptic Command.

Filters help make up the difference here, but at its core, the blue spells are more important than anything else in the deck, with the exception of Omen, and they should be treated as such.

#3: Shift into a different gear

There are a multitude of ways to make the deck effective against the field, though for me Wargate is the big reason for me to play the deck; 8 Omens being a hell of a lot more important than any number of Scapeshift. GerryT took to running maindeck Leyline of Sanctity to help make the deck immune to a lot of problem cards G1 in the format and stay relevant after board. Probably the most interesting of these uses is Knight of the Reliquary, which will usually have a few basics to swap around and is obviously bonkers with a resolved Omen. A combo of KOTR and Vendilion Clique (Perhaps Kitchen Finks or Doran sideboarded) can provide a nice set of three-drops to brawl with while still assisting the combo aspect of the deck.

Primeval Titan is another way to take the deck and even though it’s only seen use in the traditional G/R versions of the deck, it’s power as a bootleg Scapeshift attached to a 6/6 body isn’t to be overlooked in the UWG versions. A Titan fetching a pair of man-lands is a potent tool against 4cc and Faeries while still usually killing people with a pair of Valakut if you have an Omen in play. In fact, the Titans in general are pretty amazing in the Scapeshift deck if you make small allowances for them. Sun Titan rebuys Omen, Tectonic Edge, man-lands, Small Jace and Fetches, not to mention the assist it gives the man plan. If you pack Red, Inferno Titan offers obvious merits against a variety of creature decks in the field. GerryT turned me onto the use of Sun Titan against control decks and I’ve been pleased with the results so far.

Here’s an example list showcasing one of the alternate plans:

As you can see you aren’t limited to just Oiso’s frame when building the deck, he got a lot right, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tweak and test out new models. I know even a few modifications to the basic Scapeshift frame have helped immensely with post-Worlds lists.

#4: Relevant sideboard strategies

The big weakness of Scapeshift is that it’s vulnerable to instant speed enchantment removal after a bout of disruption. Something like War Priest of Thune by itself isn’t any sort of an issue, but backed by Thoughtseize and Tidehollow Sculler with a clock? Worse still is the most common anti-enchantment card, Esper Charm, which can be backed by a variety of counter magic as well as Vendilion Clique and Thoughtseize. Counter magic itself isn’t a major threat against the deck, but can buy time for a deck like Faeries and 4cc. Key point is that post-board many decks I’m pretty open to playing against, like the Brotherhood of Steel, 4cc, Faeries and even the mirror, are a lot tougher post-board as they can key in on your main strategy better than you can defend it. So what sideboard plan looks sexy?

I suspect the most common sideboard plan will be man-plan since that takes some of the burden off of Prismatic Omen while providing some additional defense against creature decks. Seeing as the deck has plenty of its own options on the defensive end, ranging from Negate and Cryptic Command to Vexing Shusher, I’m not too worried about finding a few extra slots against a deck like Faeries. Against the 4cc deck though with a variety of angles it can take shots at me from, I need a blunt overwhelming move like a Titan or Anathemancer so I can ignore much of what they do.

The alternative is changing the dynamic of the match by switching my approach, such as using Bloodbraid Elf, Vendilion Clique and other creatures to attack. If you’re willing to dedicate the slots, the latter is better because it doesn’t rely on the opponent adapting to your one gimmick. Instead it forces them to guard against two valid plans of attack and potentially waste resources in game three (or game two once everyone knows about the plan) and you feint in sideboarding.

If I was just trying to bowl people over with an aggressive approach post-board, I would choose out of the following creatures:

 

All of these have great stats for the investment, with the possible exceptions of Bloodbraid Elf and Vendilion Clique, both of which come with benefits that make them worthwhile in their own right. Which ones are superior depend on the amount of pressure you want to place on them with an individual threat or if you want to have a deck with 12-16 creatures in it post-board. Against 4/5cc with only 6-7 slots, then Vendilion Clique and Anathemancer will give you the best bang for your buck on most occasions. But what if you don’t want to focus on any black cards in the sideboard? Well then, how about Clique and KOTR? If you already have an aggressive build with KOTR and Bloodbraid Elf main, then Steppe Lynx may be the next step for early beats.

Of course you also may need to answer specific threats against you. For example, Vendilion Clique and Anathemancer do nothing in the face of Leyline of Sanctity. If Cryptic Command isn’t enough for you, then Qasali Pridemage can step up to the plate and take care of Leyline while beating down early. It also takes out Bitterblossom and Prismatic Omen, which gives it a specific answer role in the sideboard. For just an answer sideboard, cards like Day of Judgment, Thoughtseize, Leyline of Sanctity, Pridemage, Nature’s Claim, Sun Titan, Ratchet Bomb and other answers are available to suit your needs.

For just a generalized metagame, this is a possibility:

 

Each subset of cards has a specific plan in matches, so you won’t be overboarding.

Vs. Racing Decks

 

Vs. Attrition Battles w/ Creatures

 

Vs. Attrition Battles w/ Control

 

Vs. Control w/ Hate

 

Vs. Wargate Mirror

 

Vs. Titan Mirror

 

No more than seven cards come into any match, and often times all you do is swap out unneeded acceleration in the matches where you plan on going long. Against quicker aggro usually

 

isn’t going to do anything relevant anyway and Day just demolishes most aggro when you win two turns after you cast it.

If I wanted to go with a man-plan then this is what I like (assuming Knight of the Reliquary maindeck):

 

Match-wise the deck is pretty well positioned, I have yet to find a match that just feels hopeless or that I can’t get an edge in with a good sideboard plan. The two toughest matches are definitely Steel aggro decks and 4cc players that are familiar with the match-up. People have told me I should be worried about Faeries or W/U, but both of those matches require very specific circumstances for me to be on the back foot. Faeries needs to resolve turn two Bitterblossom and back it up with a Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek early just so I don’t overpower them with mana and counter advantage later in the game. WU falls apart quickly if they don’t have Leyline of Sanctity in play, as they don’t have enough cards that actually do anything relevant. The best they can do is buy some time, and the only major threat is active Sun Titan and Tectonic Edge which can not only screw up your mana, but keep you off lethal Valakut turns.

If people would like, next week I can go into detail about the matches and sideboarding or move onto a different deck. Let me know guys!

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

Bonus Complaint: Anyone else notice how the MODO PTQ Qualifiers for Nagoya on the schedule are half SOM Sealed and half Extended? Somebody please tell me this is a joke or a mistake, because the idea of giving up constructed qualifiers for more of the worst sealed format of all time is not my idea of a good time. I guess that 15k they make by filling those PTQ’s up to capacity makes all the difference though, right?

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