Casey Laughman: Pushing the Limits of Scapeshift

Modern is a fundamentally unfair format.

This isn’t a criticism, but a statement of fact. Given what exists — and what doesn’t  — in the format, it naturally gravitates toward overpowered, potentially broken decks that laugh at any attempts to play control or even particularly grindy midrange decks.

Sure, decks like Jund and Abzan exist, but look at some of the cards they play: Tarmogoyf; Dark Confidant; Siege Rhino; Liliana of the Veil; Abrupt Decay; Lightning Bolt; Thoughtseize; and so on. All overpowered cards that can easily be game-breaking, even if they’re in a “fair” shell. The match-up may feel fair, but there’s not much fair about a Thoughtseize-‘Goyf-Liliana curve.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have decks such as Ad Nauseam, Infect and Dredge, which are not the slightest bit interested in playing or even pretending to play fair. Death’s Shadow, Zoo and Affinity are simply trying to kill as fast as possible. Chord and Company decks can at least fake being fair until they combo you for a billion out of nowhere.

And then there’s Scapeshift, which is my particular flavor of unfair. I’ve played G/R Shift off and on for a couple of years; after a brief stint of Kiki Chord and a weekend fling with Ponza, I have returned to the land of the volcano. I don’t foresee myself leaving it any time soon, because it is immensely satisfying to kill your opponent with land drops.

Of course, Scapeshift has a fundamental flaw, which is that sometimes you just die before you can combo off. Aggro decks can be a nightmare, and the format is pretty aggressive right now, so picking up a deck that relies on having seven mana in play or a six-mana big dumb creature could be viewed as an odd choice.

I’ll admit I had my hesitations about jumping back into the lake of fire. But sometimes, all you need is a little nudge. Perhaps even a … Push.

I’m not breaking any news by saying that Fatal Push is one of the most consequential cards to ever hit Modern. Even if you go an entire tournament without ever casting it with Revolt, you’re still going to kill a ridiculous amount of threats with it. In a deck that really, really needs a way to deal with early aggression, Push was a natural fit as a way to buy the one or two turns that you need to be able to send your opponent to a horrible fiery death.

First, the list as it stands right now:

R/G/b Scapeshift, by Casey Laughman
8th place, NRG CTQ

 

This is the build I played in the first NRG Championship Series CTQ last weekend. (Quick digression: The CTQ was a Team Constructed event, which meant each team had a Standard, Modern and Legacy player. After an 0-2 start, Team Combo Platter — myself, Aaron Estrin and Keith Newyear — rallied to finish 4-2, and I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun being X-2 at a tournament. If you have a chance to play this format, take it. It’s awesome.)

Individually, I went 3-3, which doesn’t seem like a ringing endorsement for the deck. But consider this: I crushed Bant Eldrazi, Grixis and Abzan; I lost a very tight three-game match against Ad Nauseam, which is a bad matchup; a three-game match against Infect, which is a terrible matchup, even with Fatal Push; and got blown out in two by Ponza, which is a godawful matchup. So if you expect to see all three of those decks in large numbers, I guess you may want to consider something else.

Let’s break down the deck and what changes I would make moving forward, as well as the possibility of putting Fatal Push in the main. Caveat: I am ignoring Through the Breach because even though it seems like much the same deck, it is fundamentally different.

Acceleration

Search for Tomorrow and Sakura-Tribe Elder are mandatory four-ofs. Search is insane when you can suspend it on Turn 1 and merely excellent when you hard cast it, because the land comes in untapped. Have four mana on Turn 3? Hard cast Search to get up to five, then cast Farseek or Explore to get up to six. Have three mana? Hard cast Search for a Forest, then suspend a Search. Or go get your Swamp and have Fatal Push mana up.

Tribe Elder is pretty self-explanatory, because a chump blocker is important in a deck like this. A chump blocker that accelerates and can’t be hit by removal is even better.

There’s a pretty healthy amount of debate about the exact numbers of Farseek and Explore. Some people use my mix; some people go 3-3; some go four Farseek, two Explore. I like to run four Explore because the draw helps you dig for action, and it replaces itself as a late-game topdeck. Also, running four Explore gives you more chances to play #TwoExplores, and we all know how good that is.

Khalni Heart Expedition fuels your most explosive starts, and gives you the ability to either accelerate quickly or control when you get Valakut triggers. In Game 2 against Ad Nauseam last weekend, I sat on an active Expedition until my opponent played a Laboratory Maniac, then sacrificed it to kill the Maniac with Valakut triggers in response to a Serum Visions that would have won the game. Having two Expeditions in play just feels like stealing, especially when you have a Valakut or two and four mountains in play.

Business

Summoner’s Pact is Primeval Titans No. 5 and 6, and helps you find specific creatures in sideboard games. (I pulled off what I thought was a pretty slick play by Pacting for a Tribe-Elder to have as a blocker against Infect, but then I remembered that Blighted Agent is unblockable. Sure, let’s take a damage mechanic that cuts the game in half and can’t be removed and put it on a creature that’s unblockable. Great idea.)

There’s not really much to say about Titan and Scapeshift beyond what’s printed on them. It’s pretty hard to lose when you cast one or the other, and it’s really hard to lose when Prime Time survives long enough to start attacking.

Staying Alive

Anger is a nice little catch-all against most aggressive decks, and is phenomenal against decks like Chord and Company. Primal Command can buy a couple turns, give you another way to find Titan, and give you an out against random Game 1 Blood Moons. Also, being able to make a Death’s Shadow player gain seven life and shuffle their graveyard into their library can be a hilarious blowout. Primal Command is the 61st card, but I’m entirely comfortable with running 61 cards in a deck that has multiple tutor and ramp effects.

A lot of people run Courser of Kruphix instead of Anger, and I’ve experimented with that myself. Courser is fantastic against Burn, but if it dies against a Tarmogoyf deck, it gives ‘Goyf two card types. Also, Fatal Push is a dead card against us in Game 1, and having Courser gives it a potential target.

Mana

Valakut is an obvious four-of, because it’s the primary win condition. I like having at least 13 mountains, which right now breaks down as seven basics, three Stomping Ground, two Cinder Glade and a Smoldering Marsh.

It’s not unusual for Scapeshift decks to splash black for Slaughter Games in the sideboard, and it’s usually accomplished with a single Blood Crypt. I wanted more black to be able to cast Fatal Push reliably, but the Overgrown Tomb isn’t necessary. I’m going to change the Smoldering Marsh to a Blood Crypt and possibly replace the Overgrown Tomb with a Forest. You have to have at least two basic Forests to fight Blood Moon, and I prefer to have three, which I’d be back to by replacing Tomb.

Stomping Ground is critical to give you another untapped green source on Turn 1, which is why there are more of them than Cinder Glades. I have considered replacing the Overgrown Tomb with another Stomping Ground; I would still have two basic Forests and it would bump the mountain count up to 14. Another fetch would also be a possibility.

Sideboard

4 Fatal Push

At first, I thought of Fatal Push as something I could swap in for Lightning Bolt against Death’s Shadow, but, oddly enough, I haven’t played against Death’s Shadow since adding Push to the sideboard.

I have, however, boarded Push in a lot, and it’s been fantastic. Don’t forget that it hits creaturelands, which gives you a way to kill both Inkmoth Nexus and Blighted Agent, or Shambling Vent and Tarmogoyf.

It kills mana dorks. It kills walls. It kills Spellskite. It kills basically every single thing that can kill you before you start blocking out the sun with clouds of volcanic ash. It started out as an experiment, but I can say now that I won’t be leaving home without it. The only question at this point is whether it’s worth putting it in the main instead of Lightning Bolt; I’m leaning towards no because there are times you need to be able to Bolt someone to bring them within lethal range, but it won’t take much to flip my opinion.

2 Slaughter Games

This is mainly for the Ad Nauseam matchup, because if you Slaughter Games away their Ad Nauseams, they basically can’t win. It’s also good in the mirror, because hitting Titan or Scapeshift is usually lights out. Basically, if your opponent’s deck can’t function well without one particular card, Slaughter Games can come in.

2 Tireless Tracker

Tracker is pretty dang good in a deck that has landfall triggers coming out its ears. Mostly for controlish matchups, but it can come in as another blocker or threat in other matchups as well. You don’t really want it against super aggressive decks, but it’s reasonable against midrange Jund or Abzan decks that aren’t trying to combo.

2 Obstinate Baloth

Pacting for a Baloth in response to a Liliana of the Veil activation or a Kolaghan’s Command is pretty great. It’s a nice blocker against a lot of things and four life is nothing to sneeze at in aggro matchups. Baloth is also responsible for the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in a game of Magic, which was back when Cruel Ultimatum and Baloth were both Standard-legal.

Player A: “Cruel Ultimatum.”
Player B: “OK. (Reveals hand of three Obstinate Baloths.)”

2 Surgical Extraction

For Dredge, cards with Persist and Snapcaster Mage decks. Could be any one of the other common pieces of graveyard hate such as Grafdigger’s Cage or Relic of Progenitus, but I prefer Extraction due to it being a little more flexible.

1 Reclamation Sage, 1 Nature’s Claim

I’m probably just going to change this to two Reclamation Sage, because Fatal Push handles so many of the things you want Nature’s Claim for, without giving your opponent life. Being able to Pact for Sage still gives you the ability to answer something quickly.

1 Gaea’s Revenge

I love this card out of the board against controlling decks. If they don’t keep in sweepers — which they usually don’t — then they don’t have a way to deal with it. Just remember that it can be hit by Maelstrom Pulse.

Overall, I’m very happy with the deck, and feel like it only needs minor tweaks. It basically goes over the top of everything else in Modern, and adding Fatal Push gives it the boost it needed against aggro strategies. If you’ve been shying away from sending people to their fiery doom because of an aggressive meta, sleeve up four Fatal Push and thank me later.

Casey Laughman is editor of Nerd Rage Gaming. Contact him at casey@nerdragegaming.com.

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6 thoughts on “Casey Laughman: Pushing the Limits of Scapeshift

  1. Brian Edwards

    Congrats on the 8th place finish, I was the Standard team mate of the infect opponent you faced. We went 2-3 and dropped after the 5th round, but it was a blast and I hope to see more tournaments like this one around, it was well worth the time spent.

    1. Casey Laughman Post author

      Thanks! We were pretty happy with running the table after starting 0-2. The event was a blast, and our match against you guys was a lot of fun. Well, except for the fact that I had to play against Infect. 🙂

      1. Brian Edwards

        Understandable. Not always a fun matchup. Your team mate in the standard seat did a good job shielding information game one, conceded as I was making my land drops and played a Nahiri, but only played a Inspiring Vantage, Plains and two Harnessed Lightings (Which had me debating if he was mirror as he was or Mardu instead). Between this and your play, I saw tight plays from your side. Good luck in future tournaments good sir. (We were the Three Musketeers)

        1. Casey Laughman Post author

          Aaron is an ace, that’s for sure. The highlight of that match was watching Keith (our Legacy player) roll the dice 15 straight times on Release the Ants.

          1. Keith Newyear

            I mean, to be fair, I think it was only 13 Release the Ants that first time. Through 2 counterspells and a Sneak Attack activation no less.

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