Welcome to my ‘A History of…’ series, where we’ll be exploring the history of different decks including how they came about, when they saw their rise to power, and where they are now. I figured, what better way to kick off such a series than with the deck I know more about than any other deck in Magic: Scapeshift.
Scapeshift has been a part of the Modern Metagame for over six years now, and though it’s never been dominant, it has seen its days in the spotlight. More recently, Sung-Jin Ahn piloted Bring to Light Scapeshift to a top 4 finish at Grand Prix Phoenix, and Marshall Jankovsky piloted Titanshift to a top 8 finish at Grand Prix Oakland. But for now, let’s go back to its roots.
Scapeshift first popped up as a Standard deck back in the day. The first major event won by it was GP Atlanta in January of 2011; Jason Ford piloted a U/G Scapeshift deck to a first place finish.
Grand Prix Atlanta, 2011
This wasn’t the first deck to play the Valakut combo, but it was one of the first to take down a large tournament. The deck quickly picked up steam, and Scapeshift became a part of the meta. What I would give to have played competitively back then.
The standard deck went through a few variations in its life cycle, morphing into a variant that is similar to today’s Titanshift. The deck was simple: play Primeval Titans, throw Valakuts.
When Modern was first recognized as a real format back in August of 2011, they kicked the format off with a ban list. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle was on that original banlist due to its time in Standard.
It wasn’t until over a year later, in September of 2012 that Valakut was unbanned in Modern. RUG Scapeshift quickly became a tier 2 deck and solidified itself as a portion of the metagame. RUG remained the favored version of Scapeshift in Modern until November 11, 2015, when Thien Nguyen piloted R/G Titanshift to a 7th place finish at Grand Prix Pittsburgh.
Grand Prix Pittsburgh, 2015
While this version is not necessarily considered the “best” version of the combo, it is considered to be the most consistent. Focusing more heavily on ramp rather than control, Titanshift takes an aggressive stance towards the combo, able to kill opponents with natural Valakut triggers and 6/6 Trampling giants, rather than using the combo as a control finisher.
The main reason Titanshift became an archetype, in my opinion, was the printing of Cinder Glade in Battle for Zendikar. Acting effectively as copies 5 through 8 of Stomping Ground (Or as I’ve found, copies 1 through 4 of Taiga) Cinder Glade gave the deck the added dual lands it needed to support it’s heavily green card base, while still grabbing much needed mountains out of the deck to turn Valakut online as quickly as possible.
Cinder Glade wasn’t the only impactful card for Scapeshift that came out of Battle for Zendikar however. We were also given the card Bring to Light, or, copies 5 through 8 of Scapeshift.
Bring to Light Scapeshift
Grand Prix Phoenix, 2018
Bring to Light gave birth to an entire new archetype of Scapeshift, allowing for a four color toolbox control deck, rather than the traditional RUG control. In recent showings of the deck, people have even began trimming down to as few as two Scapeshifts in the 75, while running a full grip of Bring to Lights.
Bring to Light acts as such a good utility card due to its versatility. Casting a Bring to Light for four converge gives you a lot of options. Need a sweeper? Grab a Supreme Verdict. Need to stop your Tron opponent? Grab a Crumble to Dust. Need to ramp? Grab a Hunting Wilds. Need to win? Grab a Scapeshift.
It wasn’t until the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor that the deck made a top table appearance, when Sung-Jin Ahn top 8’d Grand Prix Phoenix this year with the deck. While being my personal least favorite variant of the deck, I do respect Bring to Light as an archetype.
This has been an exciting year for Scapeshift. Jace, the Mind Sculptor got unbanned, alongside Bloodbraid Elf (which has been popping in and out of Titanshift lists) and cards like Search for Azcanta and Growth Spiral have been printed, which has proven to add much needed consistency. On top of it all, we even got a reprint for our beloved combo piece in Core 2019, allowing a much needed restock in the secondary market, allowing more players than ever to buy into the deck.
Titanshift remains the current dominant force for Scapeshift, but we may be seeing that change here in the next couple of weeks as our community will collectively work together to solve this new KCI-less format. If we’re lucky, RUG may land on top again.
So, as sad as it makes me, there is one question I wouldn’t feel right leaving unanswered before we close today.
How Do You Beat Scapeshift?
While there are the obvious cards that stop Scapeshift such as Blood Moon and Leyline of Sanctity, there are a few things you should keep in mind while facing a Scapeshift player. First, you need to know exactly how Valakut works.
Valakut is worded so that the sixth mountain that enters the battlefield will trigger it. Not the fifth, as is commonly misinterpreted, but the sixth. Once the sixth mountain enters, a Valakut trigger get’s placed on the stack. At this point, people fall under the misconception that removing the Valakut will remove the triggers; This is not true.
The Valakut trigger checks to make sure that there are still six mountains on the battlefield upon resolution. If there are less than six mountains, the trigger will fizzle. Meaning, if you can remove one of the mountains, all of the Valakut triggers will fizzle. There are a few ways to interact with this, Cryptic Command being a good one. They resolve their Scapeshift, and you respond to the triggers by bouncing a mountain. This is strictly better than simply countering Scapeshift, because letting them resolve the Scapeshift and then forcing the triggers to fizzle will get enough mountains out of the deck to make future Scapeshifts duds.
Crumble to Dust is also a card with a lot more versatility in this match up than people give it credit for. Crumbling a Valakut will win you the game most of the time, but if a Scapeshift player is at five lands and there’s still no sign of a Valakut, you’re going to be staring down the barrel of a Primeval Titan backed up by two Valakuts. This is why you shouldn’t be afraid to fire off a Crumble to Dust on a Stomping Ground or Cinder Glade.
A good Scapeshift player will be careful to play their Valakuts out of their hand until they plan to win against a red deck, because Crumble to Dust is a real card that hurts a lot. This doesn’t shut off Crumble in the matchup though. Crumbling a Stomping Ground or Cinder Glade (or Steam Vents for the blue variants) is back breaking most of the time. It takes us down a land, as well as rips 3 to 4 mountains out of our deck. This automatically takes blue Scapeshift off of a lethal Scapeshift most of the time.
If Valakut is an option for Crumble, obviously always go for it, but attacking our mountains is still a good way to fight us.
I have just one more point I would like to make before I let you on your way.
ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS MAKE THEM RESOLVE SCAPESHIFT.
It is impossible for me to stress this enough. I have won roughly twenty games that I should have lost, simply because my opponent scooped to Scapeshift being placed on the stack. Scapeshift can run out of mountains in their deck. This means that Scapeshift is no longer lethal, and we don’t have a good chance of winning at all. This is partly why Jace, the Mind Sculptor is so important to the deck, being able to brainstorm mountains back into the deck is crucial.
The blue variants of Scapeshift usually run between 10 and 12 mountains, while Titanshift typically runs between 13 and 15. I say these numbers only for your information, but do not let that deter you from making them resolve their Scapeshift 100% of the time. Make them show you that you are dead.
I hope you enjoyed hearing about the history of this deck as much as I enjoyed writing about it, and even if only one person makes every Scapeshift they stare down the barrel of resolve, I’ll consider this a success.