This week, I’ll be testing with my brother Olivier. This matchup is quite interesting for the two of us. In Austin, I played Scapeshift/Valakut splashing Blue for Peer Through Depths, and Oli played Hexmage/Dark Depths. When we tested for that event, I used to win about one game in eight.
Now that the lists have evolved, I am curious to see how bad the matchup is. It might end up even worse than last week against Manu. If it does, maybe I should rename the column into “Be Cruel To Ruel.”
Here is my decklist:
This is the deck that I would playtest heavily to play in Oakland, if I were attending the Grand Prix.
There are many versions of this deck and strategy. The other popular version is straight Green/Red with the Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows combo, which is easier to play. I do not really see the point in playtesting a matchup in this column that has zero interaction between the two players. I chose to play the decklist above, which seemed the best, and I added a couple of Spell Snares too. I might have done it to give me more chances to win this matchup, but with the exponential rise of the Hexmage/Thopter decks, I really think that the Scapeshift deck has to evolve a little. Moreover, the one-mana counterspell will protect your combo against the Blue decks and still be really efficient in almost every matchup.
For reference, here is the decklist Olivier ran. I did not know his list before testing.
Pregame Feelings About The Matchup
As I said earlier, I will probably lose. He will have two combos at his disposal, while I have one, and his will kill me a lot faster. I have some disruption, but his will probably be more effective as Thoughtseize / Muddle the Mixture are cheap. He has many tutor effects, whereas mine – Peer Through Depths and Ponder – do not necessarily provide the needed card. I can probably bounce a Marit Lage often enough, and still win with Scapeshift when he does not have enough time to gain sufficient life with the Thopter/Sword of the Meek combo.
Presideboarded Games (14 wins, 10 losses, 58% won)
This surprising result is mainly due to Olivierâ€˜s draws. He mulliganed more than once per game, stooping low enough to mulligan to 4 and 5 a few times. Even though the stats after 25 games only give an idea about how good or bad a matchup may be, I still have the general feeling that I should win this one.
Neither of the players here can rely on a beatdown plan. Any Firespout can deal with all his threats at the same time. Coiling Oracle, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Wood Elf provide excellent chump blockers, but when it comes down to attacking, they are too weak to kill without an efficient support.
As the minimum damage dealt by Scapeshift is 18 (with seven lands, you search for six Mountains and Valakut), you have to make sure that if you need to cast it early, it will still be lethal. One more reason to try to get your opponent’s life decreased early is the Thopter/Sword of the Meek combo. With 8 lands in play, you can search for six Mountain and a pair of Valakut to deal 36 damage.
Considering that he needs to perform his combo seventeen times here to get out of eight-mana Scapeshift range, plus an extra time for each point of damage already dealt, and that that the combo usually shows up late due to the fact that the deck only plays five combo pieces, it is a relatively minor threat, especially if you force through some damage early. Do not forget that countering Sword of the Meek is, most of the time, utter nonsense, as it comes back from the graveyard when the Foundry is activated.
With nine Mountains in the deck, you will draw between one and three of them minimum in every game. Be sure to have enough in your deck by not searching for any Stomping Ground with Wood Elf, for instance. It seems pretty unrealistic to try to get Valakut on the table and drop enough Mountains to kill without Scapeshift. The only Red card that you will cast is Firespout, and you probably won’t need to go for a Mountain in the process. Even if you do, you will still have eight in the deck.
The Vampire Hexmage/Dark Depths combo is more annoying. As the Scapeshift deck has no lifegain main deck, the 20/20 Marit Lage Token will always hit for lethal damage. My biggest advantage there is that he needs to sacrifice the two pieces of his combo to get the Avatar. Then Cryptic Command or Repeal can bounce it. The following situation came up quite often:
Oli spends a turn casting Beseech the Queen or transmuting Muddle the Mixture, then another turn to put his two-card combo into the graveyard. I bounce the token for a Blue. He counters with Muddle. I Remand my Repeal, and cast it again.
As a result, he lost three cards in the process, and two or three turns. I lose zero cards and one turn. It is hard to get more efficient than that. The bounce spells are good because as he needs to untap with his big dude. You can tap out in the early game to cast your mana acceleration (whenever he hasn’t tutored for something that you will need to counter), and you will be safe afterward.
My one-card combo, at the opposite end of the scale, is quite easy to protect. As he does not have tons of Blue lands, Remand can counter his only way of stopping Scapeshift : Muddle the Mixture. If he has four Blue mana on the table, you can easily bounce a Blue Chrome Mox or an Island at the end of his turn and make sure he will not be able to counter more than once.
This makes the control versus control games very easy. Basically, you reach the point that you should win whenever you draw Scapeshift if he does not have the Thopter/Sword combo active for too long.
Some advices on how to play the cards:
Definitely the most complicated spell in the deck. First, you have to use it to hide and protect your topdecks from Thoughtseize (make sure not to shuffle your deck with Sakura-Tribe Elder at end of turn and lose your game plan).
It also offers great synergy with Fetchlands, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Coiling Oracle. The synergy with the Snakes is sick, but if you really think about it, it is very often a two-card combo into a Wood Elf. If the other cards from the Ponder are irrelevant, it will often be better to just shuffle your deck and reach another card.
Sakura-Tribe Elder (Fetchlands and Wood Elf)
The Snake is not a chump-blocking Rampant Growth. Whenever you do not need the extra mana, you should keep it on the board for multiple reasons. It fights, of course, but if you draw a Ponder (four in the deck, when you can only purge one land), it will be good to get rid of the cards that you will not need. Also, taking a land from your deck to avoid drawing it makes absolutely no sense if you’ve played Peer Through Depths earlier and put four bad cards on the bottom of your deck.
Most of the time, when Oli attacked me with Dark Confidant when I had a Sakura-Tribe Elder, I would just block it and sac it before it trades. The land you will get in the early game, if you are a bit short in mana or if you have a Cryptic Command, is more relevant than killing the Invitationalist.
Taking two damage from Stomping Ground or Steam Vents will not affect the game, so you can bluff spells that you do not have. I insist on using the bluff factor a lot. Most of the time, especially against a good player, it will only be intellectual masturbation, but it is part of getting an edge on your opponent. If your opponent just cast a Thoughtseize and knows that you need to play an untapped land this turn, do not give him info about your draw; go ahead and play the Steam Vent you were already holding rather than the freshly drawn Island.
The easy part of the match-up: counter anything annoying. If you need a counter during his turn, do not counter Thirst for Knowledge at the end of yours; only do this if you see that he is naked. You need to counter Beseech the Queen when you do not hold multiple Cryptic Commands. Best case scenario: he goes for Thoughtseize and gets rid of your counter.
You have to cycle it often, even using it on Chrome Mox when it obviously will not have any impact on the game, or whenever you are in a hurry to draw something good. Do not forget to do it on your own countered spells. It usually protects Scapeshift quite well.
Feelings on the Sideboard
His sideboard will probably consist of Duress, Extirpate, and maybe Vendilion Clique. All of them are great against Scapeshift. I only have one combo main deck; if he gets rid of the Scapeshift, I will lose. That is the reason why I will sideboard one of them out, because the Discard/Extirpate provides him a third winning combo. I will also need a Plan B: become the beatdown.
Here is my sideboard plan:
-1 Coiling Oracle
-1 Firespout (still keep 2 just in case it does something great)
-2 Wood Elf
-4 Remand (strictly inferior than Negate)
+ 2 Kitchen Finks (not good enough to consider it a backdoor plan)
+ 1 Magma Jet
+1 Sudden Shock
+1 Rude Awakening (low level Plan B, expensive and sometimes ineffective versus Thopter Foundry)
Sideboarded Games (9 wins, 17 losses 34% game win)
After the first series of games, in which Oli got very unlucky, it was my turn to be unfortunate. I mulliganed a lot. His sideboard creates a dynamic in which starting with fewer cards is terrible. With Duress and Thoughtseize, his deck empties your hand really quickly. You end up short on lands, and on effective cards. You have to keep almost any hand with lands and spells, as any aggressive mulligan will turn into a disaster.
The game process goes the opposite direction to game 1: he has the lead in the control mirror. The main problem is that he deals with your permission spells for a single mana. Dark Confidant becomes the MVP, as it provides a threat per turn, so you need to get rid of it as quickly as possible. Even if it sometimes means that you have to bounce it through Cryptic or Repeal as a sorcery, or that you have to keep some removal after boarding. Sudden Shock might be really good to use on Hexmage, stopping him from sacrificing it, but as he always sees my hand before doing anything, and with only one copy of the spell, topdecking it at the right moment would be a miracle.
I sideboarded out Scapeshift, and was right to do so. I am even wondering if I should not have cut a second. Anytime it was in my hand, Olivier’s goal would become to force the discard and then Extirpate it. When I topdecked it, I often had an empty hand and no backup to protect it.
The plan was not to take it with Peer Through Depths, but to get it later, but Olivier was just happy to remove the only tutor from my deck… and then it was harder. You have to counter Beseech the Queen, as any card he will pick up with it will be a nightmare.
Of the nine games I won, one was to Finks (a miracle, as Hexmage is really annoying), three to Scapeshift (freshly topdecked or kept on the top with Ponder), three to Cloudthresher (his only way to deal with it was the Thopter combo when he did not already win with his other combo), and two to Rude Awakening (which only deals sixteen damage with eight lands which do not have summoning sickness).
He also boarded in Ghost Quarter. The card is not really a problem. The only way it is effective is if you search for six Mountains, including a basic one, and a Valakut. Then he just needs to sac his Quarter on a Stomping Ground or Steam Vent; you will search for an Island or a Forest, and the trigger ability from Valakut will not resolve with five Mountains into play.
Very few cards can change. Meloku the Clouded Mirror is really good as long as he does not have the Thopter combo, providing blockers for Marit Lage and attacking through it. Another interesting card would be Chalice of the Void. If you make it for one, he loses his discard spells and Extirpate; if you make it for two, he will most likely lose. Even if you cannot play some of your spells, it will still be really painful for your opponent.
If you have any questions or comments, or if you don’t like my sideboarding (for instance), please tell me in the forums.
Next week : Tezzerator versus Domain Zoo