DreadShift Is Standard’s Newest Combo

You don’t need Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle to combo off with Scapeshift! Dread Presence gives you a great effect in Standard, and Todd Anderson shares that list and several more ahead of SCG Worcester!

With the introduction of Core Set 2020 to Standard, all eyes are on SCG Worcester this weekend. I’ll admit that the last few months of Standard have felt a little watered-down thanks to some really powerful planeswalkers making their presence known, but that looks like it might change. Or, at the very least, we might have some reasons to play some other decks!

Whenever a new set is released, one of my favorite things is trying to find older cards that work well with new ones. And one year ago, this little gem was reprinted to help alleviate some availability issues for Modern.

If you’ve played Modern before, you should know that Scapeshift is a combo-oriented card that works with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle to send your opponent from twenty to zero in one fell swoop. In some ways, Scapeshift acts like a one-card combo. All you really need to do is play Magic and hit your land drops, and eventually Scapeshift should just end the game.

But we never really had that in Standard. Instead, anyone who wanted to use Scapeshift effectively needed to pair it with Guild Summit to draw a bunch of cards. It was never really a one-card combo unless your “one card” was just making a bunch of Plaza of Harmony and gaining some life.

But with now we’ve gotten two absolute heaters to go with Scapeshift, and I’m starting to be pretty thankful this is only going to be legal for a few months.

Let’s start with Dread Presence, a card that looks like it might fit into a variety of black-based strategies. Dread Presence rewards you for playing Swamps. The ability to kill a creature or draw cards makes it versatile in regular usage, but it can gain you precious life points against aggro decks when you fall behind. On its own, Dread Presence might be a real role-player in Standard in the coming months.

If you pair Dread Presence with Scapeshift, everything changes. Dread Presence becomes a fair card in the early turns but ultimately starts to look more and more like a combo card. If you cast Scapeshift with Dread Presence on the battlefield, it takes ten Swamps to kill the opponent. But more realistically, Dread Presence will usually sweep your opponent’s side of the battlefield while drawing you a bunch of cards. If that isn’t #value, I don’t know what is.

It might not be the same as the one-shot kill with Valakut, needing more raw resources on the battlefield to get the job done, but I do like that it plays well even without needing that raw combo to function. But what about the one-card combo aspect?

If you fill your deck with seven different land names, you’re virtually guaranteed to make fourteen power or more when you cast a “good” Scapeshift. Field of the Dead gives you a Standard-power Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, and gives you something insanely powerful for Scapeshift to find without needing to jump through a bunch of hoops. Field of the Dead does require you to play a few different lands with different names, but that shouldn’t be too difficult with so many strong multicolor lands running around. As long as you’re playing three colors, you should already have eight or so differently named lands in your deck.

I will say that Dread Presence and Field of the Dead don’t exactly work well together, but you can “mini-combo” if you have access to both cards when you’re casting Scapeshift. If your opponent doesn’t kill Dread Presence before Scapeshift resolves, feel free to draw a bunch of cards and shoot your opponent’s creatures and/or planeswalkers down. If they do kill your Dread Presence, then just search up Field of the Dead and a bunch of other random lands. And with the Temples coming back to Standard, even finding one or two of those could help you dig for another copy of Scapeshift, which lets you trigger Field of the Dead all over again!

But enough about the interactions. Let’s get to the deck and prepare you for the weekend.

The Meat and Potatoes

This deck is all about ramping, but not in the same way you’re used to. Since Dominaria was released, the default ramp effect has been Llanowar Elves. Other creatures were used to ramp as well in order to help overload removal from the opponent. Ideally, one of those ramp creatures would stick and help you cast a five-or-bigger-drop a turn or two ahead of schedule.

But Scapeshift requires a high number of actual lands on the battlefield to get full value. So we’re looking at creatures like Arboreal Grazer and Elvish Rejuvenator, as well as spells like Growth Spiral, to help us get there more quickly. And while Paradise Druid doesn’t actually give us more lands, I thought it was powerful enough to warrant inclusion in spite of that.

Our big five-drops are Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Golos, Tireless Pilgrim. I don’t think Nissa, Who Shakes the World requires any real introduction. The card has been stellar over the last few months, acting as a way to generate a ton of extra mana as well as a way to produce bodies and apply hasted pressure to opposing planeswalkers.

Golos, Tireless Pilgrim is an entirely different story, and one that I think makes a lot of sense. First of all, Golos searches out any land, which means it can find a Swamp if you control a Dread Presence, giving you that potent effect. It can also find Field of the Dead and start generating Zombies before you ever even have to cast Scapeshift. And to boot, the extra ability is pretty powerful too, which is why we’ve included one of each Godless Shrine and Blood Crypt, Swamps for Dread Presence that also allow for the activation of Golos if the game goes really long.

Golos, Tireless Pilgrim is surprisingly better than I think anyone thought on paper. The body plays defense well, and I’ve even considered adding in a Thornwood Falls or something for added utility. In this deck, all you want to do is generate mana and find ways to use that mana. Golos, Tireless Pilgrim does both of those things.

Glaring Omissions

As I said before, cards like Llanowar Elves have been the default ramp effects in Standard for about a year. However, this deck specifically wants to hit actual land drops instead of just gaining more mana. We could play Llanowar Elves, Incubation Druid, and many others if we really wanted to get to a high amount of mana in a short period of time, but Scapeshift is a strange beast that we’re not really used to and requires focusing on a type of resource that we’re not used to focusing on.

I might be an idiot for not incorporating this one, but I feel like Thought Erasure (and cards like it) are built to strip the game down to bare resources. And once both players are low on overall resources and in topdeck mode, decks like Esper Control thrive because their individual card power is very strong. As a ramp deck, we only have a handful of cards that are good payoffs, so playing into the Thought Erasure game just doesn’t make sense to me.

In traditional Standard formats, cards like Thought Erasure are quite good for protecting your combo because you can preemptively take their counterspells. But as most of us already know, counterspells aren’t really what Standard is about right now thanks to Teferi, Time Raveler. So, with that in mind, I’m going to focus on my own plan instead of trying to disrupt my opponent, putting the onus of interaction on them.

I might also be an idiot for not playing this semi-obvious one-two punch. Risen Reef could easily take the place of Elvish Rejuvenator, and Cavalier of Thorns could supplant Golos, Tireless Pilgrim at the top of the curve. It would make our mana better, and overall probably make things a bit easier, but I want to try the weird stuff first. Golos, Tireless Pilgrim just feels broken, and I want to keep experimenting with it before I set it down for the obviously good Mythic rare.

As for Risen Reef, I know the card is really good already, but how good is it if we aren’t focusing on the Elemental theme? If the Elementals in our deck are limited to these two cards, is Risen Reef actually better than Elvish Rejuvenator? I don’t think so.

Different Directions

Sultai Shift isn’t the only way to tackle the card. I’ve seen a number of builds featuring Scapeshift and Field of the Dead. Here are a few more lists I’ve been working on.

This build of Scapeshift is a lot more creature-oriented and is specifically built around Risen Reef. While this isn’t the best Risen Reef deck, or even the best Scapeshift deck, it is a cool middle ground between the two. Both sides can function without the other working, but Risen Reef and Cavalier of Thorns are both phenomenal with Scapeshift. Helping you ramp while providing you bodies for offense and defense is really cool. The downside is that all you’re doing with Scapeshift is making a bunch of Zombies, which might not end up being worth it if the rest of your deck is dedicated to putting a bunch of creatures onto the battlefield.

The removal package might be less than ideal, but I wanted to give Chandra, Acolyte of Flame something to do besides create two 1/1 Elemental creatures. These types of removal spells give you time for Risen Reef to start taking over the game. There’s almost no question already that Risen Reef, if left unchecked, should overwhelm just about every opponent. You’re up so many raw resources and getting to put those lands directly onto the battlefield is just disgusting.

I do think there’s a lot of room for improvement on these Elemental decks, and I’ll be working on that for later this week. I have a cool card to introduce into the archetype that I think you’re going to like. But for now, let’s keep focusing on Scapeshift and figure out exactly what it can do!

This version focuses on interacting with the opponent a bit before casting Scapeshift. Not only do you have Lava Coil and Fight with Fire to kill some early creatures, but the latter can also act as a big sweeper or kill condition later in the game. On top of that, the drain-two from Dread Presence should do a lot of work in this particular version.

This deck wants to go really big, utilizing Wayward Swordtooth to hit all those extra land drops. And when you combine Wayward Swordtooth with Dread Presence, things can really get out of hand. Drawing extra cards could allow you to continue fueling those extra land drops, which in turn gives you more draws with Dread Presence. They’re feeding into each other, but they’re also reasonable without each other.

The new Chandra, Awakened Inferno is also a pretty good reason to be playing red in your ramp deck. It’s a great sweeper that can close the game relatively quickly, while also acting as potent spot removal for larger creatures. What more could you ask for?

I love the new color hosers, as they give you some real game against annoyances out of Esper. Fry can knock down most of their planeswalkers while also dealing with the dreaded Lyra Dawnbringers. Red removal traditionally has trouble killing those large flyers, but Fry lets you kill them and planeswalkers alike.

Shifting Ceratops, on the other hand, is a huge threat that just munches planeswalkers if your opponent isn’t prepared. It comes down swinging, can’t be countered, and has five power (which conveniently kills most planeswalkers that have ticked up). I expect both cards to be seeing a lot of play, especially in the early weeks of the new Standard format, if only because Esper was so good in the previous Standard format.

Shifting Gears

While I have my eye on Scapeshift, I definitely think another archetype has a great chance to come out on top at SCG Worcester. And while I’m sure the usual suspects will continue to show up, there are a lot of potential game-changers from Core Set 2020. Not only are there cards that fit seamlessly into existing archetypes, but we also have plenty of cards that just scream “Build a deck around me!” We even have a lot of sideboard tools to keep specific annoyances in check!

Over the last week, a lot of people have been talking about Risen Reef and the strength of Elementals as a tribe. I think Risen Reef is insanely good, but I also think the deck could be significantly improved. I’ll be getting my exact list, sideboard, and guide for SCG Worcester worked up over the next few days, but make sure to check it out later this week.

You won’t want to miss it!