Deck of the Week: 5-color Bring to Light ScapeGifts

I will freely admit that I’m a sucker for a good Scapeshift list, and Nerd Rage Gaming’s own Max Kahn has come up with an interesting one.

Max took it to the finals of a Modern GPT last weekend, losing in the finals to Amulet Titan. Let’s check out what he has going on:

OK, pretty standard here.


Ah, it’s a RUG list. The Izzet Charm is a dead giveaway.


Correction: It’s a Bring to Light Scapeshift list. Even better.

Uhhhhhhhhhh …

Before we go any further, let’s take a look at the entire list:

5-color ScapeGifts, by Max Kahn


So, it’s just your basic 5-color Scapeshift/Gifts Ungiven list. Or ScapeGifts, as Max likes to call it.

As you may have noticed, Scapeshift isn’t always plan A, because there are only two Valakuts and 10 mountains in the deck. While most, if not all, RUG Scapeshift lists run Prismatic Omen to guard against running out of mountains, doming people for lethal out of nowhere on turn 4 isn’t the only focus of this deck. In fact, it’s entirely possible to use Scapeshift here as simply one heck of a mana fixer.

As for Gifts, there are a couple different things you can do. First, you can take the traditional line of abusing what used to be a horrid loophole before the text on Gifts was fixed; despite the original printing saying “four cards,” you could actually get any number. (Thankfully, they fixed the wording so that now it says “up to.”)  So, you get Unburial Rites and either Iona or Elesh Norn, then dump both cards into the graveyard when your opponent has to choose the two cards you searched up with Gifts.

The other preferred line with Gifts is to guarantee yourself access to a Scapeshift. Tutor up Bring to Light, Scapeshift, Snapcaster Mage and Eternal Witness; then, no matter what your opponent chooses, you have two cards in hand that give you a way to cast a Scapeshift. (Possible exception: If your opponent chooses to put Scapeshift in the yard, then uses Surgical Extraction to exile all four copies. Try to avoid this.)

None of this is to say that you can’t just blow your opponent out with an early (or late) Scapeshift. Max describes the deck as winning 50 percent of the time with Scapeshift, 35 percent with Elesh Norn, and 15 percent with Iona. Let’s explore each of those possibilities in a little more depth.

Scapeshift: If you’ve played much Modern at all, then the odds are good that you’ve been on either the receiving or the giving end of a big ol’ bucket of lava. By running Search for Tomorrow, Farseek and Sakura-Tribe Elder, Max has an acceleration package that’s pretty similar to most Scapeshift lists, regardless of whether they’re R/G, R/G/x, or Bring to Light.

Bring to Light is a fairly common sight in Scapeshift lists, because it gives you a way to tutor up and cast a Scapeshift, and also lets you search up bullets after sideboarding. It has a bit more utility in this deck, but can certainly still fill the role of giving your opponent a one-way ticket to Mountaintown.

Either way, the plan is the same as other Scapeshift lists: Search up a Valakut or two and a whole bunch of mountains, then start counting by threes.

Elesh Norn: Being able to cheat Elesh Norn into play early has been a tried and true strategy since the card was printed in New Phyrexia, and it’s still effective. Modern is filled with decks that rely on little creatures to do big things, and giving them all -2/-2 is lights out. What do Affinity, Burn, Elves, Tokens and Infect all have in common? Their creatures can’t do a thing against Elesh Norn. Other decks such as Abzan and Jund struggle with her as well, but at least have better removal options.

Basically, a 4/7 vigilance creature that pumps your team and nukes their team is pretty good regardless of the stage in the game it comes down, and it’s downright unfair when it comes into play on turn 4/5.

Gifts decks have abused Elesh Norn before, but this one can do it a turn or two earlier thanks to the acceleration available. You even have Izzet Charm to be able to dump Elesh Norn into the graveyard if you happen to draw it and need to cheat it out; or, if you feel confident you can survive, you can just hardcast it — well before turn 7, most likely.

Any one of your 10 turn 1 or 2 accelerators make it possible to have Gifts mana up when you pass your third turn. Then, Gifts at your opponent’s EOT, untap, then either hardcast or flashback Unburial Rites.

Or, if we’re in Magical Christmas Land, Suspend Search on turn 1, cast Farseek on turn 2, hardcast Search/cast Farseek/cast and sac Tribe Elder on turn three, then simply hardcast Elesh Norn on turn 4. Seems fair.

Iona: While Scapeshift and Elesh Norn are good against a whole lot, Iona is narrower. But when she’s good, she’s amazing. Being able to cheat her out and shut down an entire color basically invalidates entire strategies. What does Burn do if they can’t cast red spells? What do Ad Nauseam or Living End do if they can’t cast black spells? Playing against mono-blue turns? Not any more, you’re not. Oh, and she’s also a 7/7 flyer.

Iona does cost nine, so hardcasting her is pretty unlikely in most situations. But through acceleration all things are possible, so don’t just write it off.

Supporting players: With all the different things Max has going on here, he needs a pretty broad range of other cards to help stay alive and find the pieces he needs.

Bring to Light has been mentioned a couple times already, but its utility earns it a spot here as well. While casting it for a Scapeshift is just fine, it can also tutor and cast Gifts or Unburial Rites. Slaughter Games is a great sideboard card for Valakut decks because it can take certain match-ups from unwinnable to a slam dunk, and you effectively have three of them with Bring to Light in the deck. BTL can also tutor up Anger of the Gods, Dosan or Obstinate Baloth, depending on exactly what you need.

Serum Visions is the best draw spell we have in Modern, which is sad, but true. Lightning Bolt cleans up early threats and can bring an opponent into lethal range for an early Scapeshift. Izzet Charm does a little of everything; it’s a good way to force through a Scapeshift or Unburial Rites, it digs for pieces while putting stuff you want in the graveyard into the graveyard, and it can kill a creature here and there. Snapcaster Mage and Eternal Witness play numerous roles here, but at worst, can be cast when you don’t have much going on to give you another crack at something that’s in the graveyard.

Sideboard: By Max’s own admission, the sideboard is all over the place. A lot of the cards are industry standard for Scapeshift decks or blue decks, but there’s one that I want to highlight.

I have to be completely honest here: I had completely forgotten about this card’s existence. It’s an interesting effect, and if it resolves, it gives you free rein to do whatever you want on your own turn. That’s helpful when you’re playing against countermagic or combo decks that might want to respond to you casting Unburial Rites on a target that’s going to lock them out of the game.

What I would probably do in the sideboard is replace an Ancient Grudge and the Ray of Revelation with Nature’s Claim. The four life to your opponent is a cost, but being a single green makes Nature’s Claim much easier to cast, and that can matter in a lot of matchups. You do lose the ability to Gifts for artifact/enchantment removal and be able to flash it back if your opponent sends Grudge or Ray to the graveyard, but a lot of times all you need to do is be able to kill one annoying artifact or enchantment, so Claim should do the trick.

I would also probably go up to three Anger of the Gods in the sideboard, because the card is really good right now. With decks like Abzan Company running around, the exile clause is extremely relevant; being able to cast Anger off of Bring to Light is another point in its favor over Engineered Explosives. But, EE is good against Death’s Shadow, and Anger is certainly not, so I’d probably cut the second Ancient Grudge instead of Explosives. Anger is pretty strong against Affinity, so you don’t lose too much by cutting a Grudge for it.

Overall, Max has a lot of interesting stuff going on here, and the deck looks like it’s a blast to play. So if you’re interested in doing a little of everything, this might just be the deck for you.

Deck of the Week is a breakdown of an interesting deck from the preceding week in Magic. Email deck suggestions to

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Casey Laughman