This week, Antoine invited me to share his column and test a match up we know quite well, as I ran a Dark Depths deck in Pro Tour: Austin (and he played Scapeshift in the same event). Of course, the version I’ll be playing today differs a lot from the GB version which I played at the Texan Pro Tour, but I still expect to be a clear favorite here, as I was winning over 80% of these matchups when we were testing for the PT.
The first thing I do is go check for good recent decklists for both decks, in order to remind myself of what he is capable of running, and in order to find the best possible list for me to run regardless of the upcoming matchup.
By the way, it’s pretty important, when you don’t have time to test, not only to find yourself a good decklist online, but also to check for the most played decks. This means you’ll not to be surprised by a deck, a card, or a sideboard option which people didn’t use the last time you were testing.
So, back to my deck. I found the following decklist from an online PTQ for San Juan, and felt it was pretty interesting.
Now to check for Antoine’s possible threats. He can be either RG or UGr. I expect him not to be RG, and I don’t really mind if he is, as the matchup should be about 90/10 for me in this case. The most classic UGr Scapeshift versions run 4 Remand, and most Scapeshift decks play either Into the Roil or Repeal. Many versions also play Condescend, which shouldn’t be a very big deal, while some of them also play the much more annoying Cryptic Command.
For reference, here is Antoine’s list:
Maindeck Games (10-14)
The games start the way I had expected, as I take a clear 4-1 lead, only losing one game to a triple mulligan, and winning the other despite another double mulligan. And then, all of a sudden, I just stop winning. Worse, I feel powerless. When the scores turn to 5-8, even though I took another ten mulligans in the meantime, it doesn’t even seem as if these results were surprising. It’s already time to make a few statements about the matchup.
Antoine is playing something like 3 Repeal, 4 Remand, 3 Cryptic Command, from what I’d seen thus far. And if the first two are “just” annoying, the third is a nightmare. Not because it can bounce my token, but because the deck’s mana is made for short term efficiency and nothing more. If he plays Cryptic Command on Sunken Ruins at the end of turn, there is pretty much no way I can keep him from comboing off. I thought the games would go rather smoothly, but between Cryptic Command and Repeal, it’s really hard for me to get a Marit Lage going.
Therefore, you have a matchup which should be combo versus combo, but which looks more like control versus control. Basically, the games can run to two different scenarios.
a) You have a bad hand but you hold the combo, or a perfect hand (early combo + disruption) and you try and win quickly. This doesn’t happen very often (I went for it 4 times in the 24 pre-board games), and it hardly works when you play second (as he reaches four mana for Cryptic Command before you can attack with the 20/20).
b) Both sides try to build their combo and wait for the moment when they can protect it to go off. This situation happens most of the time, and I often lost when it came to long term play. The reason was that Antoine usually needed one protective shield for his combo, when I needed two.
When Antoine casts Scapeshift, if he has Remand or Spell Snare open, one or even two Muddle the Mixture usually won’t be enough as I rarely have four Blue mana before me. And even if I did, Antoine would make sure to bounce Sunken Ruins at the end of my previous turn. Also, Ponder, by leaving the key cards on top of his deck in order to avoid Thoughtseize, allows him to protect his combo, which is extremely annoying.
In the end, I lost this first session of games with a 10-14 disadvantage. I took quite an amazing number of mulligans (including one quadruple, two triple, and three double), and my draws were generally below average. On the other hand, I won several games because Antoine drew mostly lands, which makes the score look rather fair. If he didn’t have Cryptic Command, but Condescend instead, I’m convinced the matchup would suddenly change, and likely be something like 13-11 10 me.
Before moving to the sideboard plan and to the post board games, let’s analyze a few recurring situations in the matchup.
First, you should try to avoid having two guys on the board at the same time. This may not apply post board, when he will probably take out some sweepers, but in the first game you don’t want to jump right into Firespout. If you feel like beating him down is your best chance, or if you have a third guy in hand, just go for it, but otherwise, you’d better keep a 2/1 in hand for the post Firespout game.
Another thing surprised me quite a lot, until I understood the match up better… When you have Dark Confidant facing their Sakura Tribe Elder in the early game, just attack right into the Green guy. Your opponent will almost never take the trade. He will either block and sacrifice, or take the damage, in which case a Wood Elf is most definitely coming on the following turn. The thing is that a “Rampant Growth” is more precious for him than Dark Confidant is for you. Of course, if his hand is mostly lands, he will take the trade, but if he does, it pretty much means the game is looking quite good anyway.
One difficult thing about this matchup is playing Thirst for Knowledge at the right time. As it is pretty much your most expensive spell, you’ll suffer a considerable loss of tempo if it is Remanded. Also, if you open up your guard in the midgame, your opponent knows he can try to combo off. Therefore, you will generally cast Thirst for Knowledge in two situations:
a) At the end of his turn, in which case you should be able to resolve it on next turn if he plays Remand on it. In the late game, he will simply let it resolve in order to keep mana open for the real deal.
b) At the end of your own turn if he plays Peer Through Depths and taps out. It’s important to let him resolve his spell before you play the drawing spell. If he shows that he is also sacrificing a Tribe Elder at the moment his spell will resolve, let him do so. Then, and only then, still during your end of turn step, should you play your draw spell. There is no need to give away any free information.
One final point concerns the choice you will have to make when playing an early Thoughtseize.
At first, you must cast it in early game. There is no point in holding it until turn X to have better chance to catch Scapeshift, for instance. What you’re aiming for is not a specific card (unless you can combo out quickly and he only has one bounce/counterspell), but at disrupting his development. And in order to do so, you will often take Sakura-Tribe Elder, or possibly Ponder or Peer Through Depths. He just has too many cards you dislike, so when his hand is good it’s better to simply try and attack cards which will, actually, make his draw even better.
The results of the preboard games were rather surprising, but I don’t really see myself losing after board. Well, I know it’s already pretty much what I’ve said before losing 14 of those 24 previous games, but here, I don’t see how I wouldn’t win about two thirds of the time. In the first game, he can only win with Scapeshift. With Extirpate in the board, I just need to catch one with Duress or Thoughtseize and then draw Extirpate or resolve Beseech the Queen in order to win. Of course, he should have sideboard plans, including guys, which is why I leave my artifact combo in the deck. I don’t really need removal anymore, as Hexmage and the artifact tokens should be more than enough to block Kitchen Finks and Tribe Elders, and therefore guarantee the win if the Extirpate plan is successful. I don’t feel like boarding any extra artifacts in, as the matchup should be slow enough for me to find my combo with only 3 Foundry and 2 Sword.
I don’t need my main combo that much, as Antoine and my perspectives should change after board. He was trying to be control while I had to kill him as fast as possible in the first game, but the roles should be reversed after board. I even considered playing just the artifact combo, but in case he has a Kitchen Finks plan, I like to keep some Hexmages. The Ghost Quarter is 95% guaranteed to be useless, but I still bring it in, as I consider Academy Ruins has a 99% chance of being useless. Here, if I can destroy one of Antoine’s 6 Mountains when Scapeshift resolves, or, more unlikely, destroy Valakut when he has two of them on the board and Scapeshift is on the stack and I’ve the artifact combo out, it could make me win. Unlikely, but if it makes me win one game out of 100, it will be enough to make me happy. Antoine has to know I’ll be using Extirpate, and thus he’ll think of an alternate win condition. As said before, Hexmage will handle possible Kitchen Finks, while it will be the artifact combo’s mission to handle cards like Meloku or Cloudthresher. Rude Awakening is too expensive not to be dealt with by a discard spell; it should only be dangerous as a top deck.
+1 Ghost Quarter
-1 Vampire Hexmage
-1 Into the Roil
-1 Slaughter Pact
-1 Dark Depths
-1 Academy Ruins
Postboard Games (17-9)
And thus we start the games with sideboards. After a few games, we’re still tied (3-3), but somehow the games are different. Pre-board, Antoine was clearly dominant. I had to constantly adapt to his plays, mostly because he had fewer “dead” cards than I did. However, with no removal and fewer combo cards, my deck turned into an anti combo-anti control deck, exactly what I need in order to take him down. I now dominate the games, and he often reaches the point when he has to topdeck, which he successfully does several times (as is to be expected from a deck running Ponder and Peer Through Depths), but not repeatedly enough to win more than one game out of three in the long term.
I noticed when casting Extirpate that Antoine took out a Scapeshift, which is pretty smart. Indeed, not only is the card useless in the early game, you don’t want to give your opponent a window to Duress/Thoughtseize it before you can cast it, and then Extirpate it.
Concerning Extirpate: the card removed Scapeshift only 4 times out of 26 games. And it was still awesome. As a paradox, it didn’t fulfill my expectations, but it also overwhelmed them. No, I didn’t get as many auto wins as I had expected, but I got many other things:
– Instant speed information on Antoine’s hand, and therefore a guarantee to know when I can combo off with no risk.
– The possibility to reshuffle his deck after a Ponder (he usually uses Ponder to hide his best cards and keep them from my discard spells) or Magma Jet.
– Nullifying Peer Through Depths, as the card which usually guarantees Antoine’s deck’s stability can’t search for Scapeshift in the early game anymore, and as it makes quite a good target for Extirpate. Once removed, it is much harder for him to topdeck a kill in the late-game. And games are indeed much longer after board, as I don’t have to gamble anymore.
An interesting fact post board is that Dark Confidant becomes clearly the MVP, rather than Cryptic Command. As I’m not aiming for a fast combo kill anymore, and as I’ve more disruption spells, I can deal with the magic counterspell much more easily. Also, now that I don’t have all those useless cards, and now that my curve has got even cheaper, Bob can definitely win games on its own. One of the games we played was quite crazy. Antoine took two mulligans on the play, while I took four on the draw. I still luckily opened with turn 1 Dark Confidant, and despite revealing Beseech the Queen when I was on 7 life, I managed to win that one by a margin, even though I had zero card in hand on turn 1! After board, I definitely protect Bob with Muddle the Mixture when I’ve the opportunity to do so; I’ve so many good cards that I should regain a card of this quality quite easily.
A hand I opened in the 11th post-board game we played illustrates the change in the matchup. I’m on the play with:
2 Thirst for Knowledge, 2 Swamp, River of Tears, Sunken Ruins, Dark Depths
I’d ship this hand without a doubt game 1, but I keep it here as I have lands and the guarantee I’ll be able to draw spells and cast them, which is all I’m asking for. I’m not concerned about speed anymore, and I ended up winning this game rather easily.
Antoine brought in something like 1 Cloudthresher, 3 Kitchen Finks, 2 Rude Awakening, 3 Negate, 1 Sudden Shock, and 1 Magma Jet. And it’s interesting to see that my deck was able to counter each of the threats as predicted. Scapeshift was hard for him to draw, while Finks would be stopped by Hexmage, and Cloudthresher was often too slow for the artifact combo.
It is true that Antoine took too many mulligans in this second series of games, but it is still interesting to see the equally divided kills he used to take his nine wins. Scared of Extirpate, he couldn’t allow himself to have Scapeshift in hand, and therefore he always had to decline drawing it when it was optional. Therefore, two of the three wins the 2GG sorcery came from late game topdecks.
Cloudthresher also took three games, even though there is only one copy. The fact he can’t be dealt with by Duress and Muddle the Mixture compensates with the fact that it is slow enough for me to draw answers and often to install my artifact combo. He did, however, manage to get past my combo once, thanks to Cryptic Command and Repeal. Kitchen Finks took one game as well. 1/26 is an acceptable loss, I guess, so keeping 3 Hexmage was probably enough.
Eventually, Rude Awakening took two games from me, both shortly after I had removed Scapeshift with Extirpate. In the first one I tapped out during my turn despite holding Muddle the Mixture as I thought I was safe, and in the second one there was just nothing I could do as we were in top deck mode (which happens a lot post-board), and I had nothing to defend from it.
Overall Matchup Impressions
When we played with our main decks, his deck was clearly superior to mine, and my pretty bad draws didn’t change much. I feel like 10-14 was about fair, and if it wasn’t it would have been more 9-15 than 11-13. Post- board games where a bit different, as it was his time to draw badly while my deck was feeling more cooperative. That 17-9 score may be a little harsh, but the matchup had clearly turned into my favor. Still, 16-10 would probably have been fairer.
I don’t think the deck as it is needs any adjustment for this matchup. The thing is, you can face three different type of Scapeshift deck. The RG one is pretty much a bye for you. You’re probably about 65 to 70% favorite facing the UG without Command version, and against the most annoying one, the one I’ve just playtested against, you take a little more than half the matches (55% or so). However, if you feel like Scapeshift will be popular and/or they will be running Cryptic, feel free to add another Duress and another Extirpate to the sideboard.
There ends my first shared column with my brother Antoine; I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!