In case you haven’t heard, some stone-cold tech came out of Minnesota in the last two weeks.
Philanthropist/Rocket Scientist Ken Bearl. With the only two copies of the deck in the PTQ, both Dave and myself piloted the deck to Top 8 berths where
I capped an undefeated PTQ, earning a trip to Nagoya.
A week later, seven Minnesotans would bring the deck to Atlanta. Five of the seven players made day two, and one of them, Jason Ford, ended up taking
home a trophy. In short, you should be aware of the deck because it’s almost certainly coming soon to a PTQ near you.
At first glance, it might not be clear why U/G Scapeshift is all that different as a deck. It certainly isn’t the first deck in the format to
play Prismatic Omen, Valakut, and Scapeshift in the same list. As early as Worlds, the Japanese were finding Prismatic Omens with Wargate, and even in
Atlanta, two of the top 8 decks were using Primeval Titans to search out basic Mountains when they weren’t comboing with a Scapeshift. What makes
U/G Scapeshift different is how it goes about playing its game.
The first — and most important — thing the deck has going for it is speed. The goal of the deck is to assemble six lands, a Prismatic Omen,
and a Scapeshift as quickly as possible, and the good news is that it can do it rather quickly. If your opponent plays no disruption, you’re almost
assured to be able to untap on turn 5 and play both halves of your combo directly from your hand to end the game. About one in four times, you can do
it on turn 4.
Your Ponders, Halimar Depths, and Preordains are usually used to pick a card off the top of the deck while the six fetchlands and Rampant Growths are
used to shuffle and consistently give you a “fresh” topdeck every time you look at the top three. Even when one of your pieces gets
disrupted, Oracle of Mul Daya helps you find second and third copies of the combo pieces in a timely manner.
The second thing the deck has going for it — and this is where the deck distinguishes itself from Wargate lists — is that it’s more or less
a pure combo deck. Many Wargate players cut the number of Scapeshifts in their decks down to one or even zero when they realized that once they
resolved a Prismatic Omen, it was possible to control the game long enough to make a lethal number of land drops or to find extra copies of Valakut.
U/G Scapeshift has no such luxury. Unless you naturally draw two copies of Valakut on your way to six mana, you’re all-in on the Scapeshift plan. This
linear game plan means you can’t afford to spend too much time trying to counteract your opponent’s plays.
For this reason, the mana base is less greedy than traditional Wargate lists. Cards like Cryptic Command need to be available on turn 4, and you need
to be able to play a Preordain, Rampant Growth, and Ponder in the same turn if the play is available. Cards like Wargate itself, which look like they
should be included, end up being too hard on the mana base and — in the case of Wargate — end up being too slow.
Okay, so enough preamble. If I were playing a PTQ list tomorrow, here’s what I’d sleeve up:
As mentioned before, the main deck is tuned to be as fast as possible and probably shouldn’t be changed by much more than a card or two. In some
matchups, you won’t be changing much because that speed is enough to get you there.
Jund is probably the best reason to play Turboland at an upcoming PTQ. Before sideboard, Jund is only marginally more interactive than you are but is
probably a full turn slower at killing you. When Jund is able to play a Putrid Leech into Blightning, then you can get punished for keeping a slow
hand, but in most other situations, you should be able to put the combo together before Bloodbraid Elves are able to make your life miserable. In this
matchup (and many others), your combo should be treated as a six-mana sorcery, so that your opponent can’t respond with sorcery-speed enchantment
removal (Maelstrom Pulse).
You, on the other hand, side in more creatures to help protect you while you can find the combo. Although the Finks and Engines you bring in might feel
like a beatdown plan, they rarely are able to deal a full 20 damage, and so the game plan is still to Scapeshift. As long as you can stay alive through
the early game, the Jund player won’t be able to afford to hold up mana for both a Deglamer and an additional three mana, so your countermagic should
be able to force your combo through given enough time.
While Jund might be the most popular deck, Faeries is probably the best at the moment. The matchup revolves around Prismatic Omen and your ability to
resolve it. Once you can, the only way Faeries can get it off the battlefield is with a Cryptic Command, and you usually can stop them from doing so.
Resolving Omen should take precedence over any other spell, so if you see the opening, then be sure to cast it even if that means being inefficient
with your mana.
After sideboarding, the matchup turns into more of a counter war. Thanks to Spell Pierces and Mana Leaks, you eventually will be able to push a
Prismatic Omen through if you’re given enough time to prepare. Faeries, however, isn’t too happy to let you do that and brings in more
Thoughtseize effects, which are probably the cards most effective against you.
Oracle of Mul Daya is a little bit of a guessing game in the matchup. Faeries usually sides out Disfigures against you, which increases the utility of
the Oracle. If they don’t, however, you can always switch your Oracles with Kitchen Finks in an attempt to force pressure on the Faeries player.
This is one of the few matchups where you win by making land drops as opposed to casting Scapeshift, as really the whole fight is about the Prismatic
I played this matchup twice in Atlanta — once against Ben Stark and the other time against Christian Valenti. Both times, it went to three games,
and both times, the third game came down to a topdeck (one of which I was on the right side of). Simply put, this matchup is a straight race.
Both decks can combo at about the same speed, so the die roll becomes pretty important. R/G is more consistent at killing you, while you have
countermagic available to you. When looking at your opening hand, you want to try and sculpt your game plan early on. R/G will tap out on most of its
turns, so you have to balance when you’ll be countering their spells and when you’ll be playing ramp spells yourself.
After sideboarding, your opponent will either have access to Nature’s Claim or Guttural Response. Your game plan will largely be the same except
you need to be sure to get value out of your Spell Pierces, since R/G can effectively play around them beginning turn 3 or 4. When on the draw, the
Pierces give you a greater ability to play a defensive game, so that’s usually the route you want to take. If you don’t want to attempt to slow
them down, be sure your hand can put together a turn 4 kill, as they’ll almost certainly have you on turn 5.
The Nature’s Claims don’t come in here, as they’re reserved for the mirror or for decks that you believe will be bringing in heavy-handed
hate like Leyline of Sanctity or Runed Halo. Because R/G can win without Prismatic Omen, the Claims just don’t do enough.
Naya and G/W Trap
Although the two decks have different game plans, the cards that matter to you are pretty much the same. Both decks play creature-based threats
alongside disruptive creatures like Gaddock Teeg and Qasali Pridemage.
Of those two, the Pridemage is the only one that really hinders you, as you can still combo at six mana through Gaddock Teeg by playing your Omen before you make your sixth land drop. As a result, you once again want to play both pieces of the combo at the same time to avoid your
opponent destroying your Omen with a Pridemage or with a War Priest of Thune.
After boarding, the Firespouts go a long way in making the matchup very favorable. The amount of search you have makes your three Firespouts feel more
like five or six of them. Your opponent is usually disruptive enough (or fast enough in the case of G/W Trap) that you’ll end up needing to sweep the
board once before you combo, but after that, you should be able to end the game quickly. While searching, it’s often correct to grab a combo
piece before you grab a Firespout if there’s no immediate need for a reset button.
Then again, G/W Trap can always cast Emrakul on turn 3, which you’re pretty much cold to.
And lastly comes the matchup that isn’t all too rosy for you. Mono-Red, the champion budget deck of MODO, is essentially a faster
“combo” deck game 1 than you are. Because you offer little answers to creatures, Goblin Guide and Plated Geopede can be just about the
scariest things around. Try to keep hands that fishbowl quickly to give yourself the best chance of stealing game 1.
Post-board, they may bring in Leyline of Punishment or Stigma Lasher against you but are otherwise probably keeping the same sixty. The Leylines are
good against you, but it’s not worth siding in the Nature’s Claims because having a dead card in your hand is pretty brutal. On the play, I’d
bring in the Mana Leaks and probably take out the Jace and two Explores. On the draw, the Mana Leaks aren’t able to counter the two-drop
creatures and are weak enough against the burn that you probably just want a more proactive card.
As for future updates to the deck, I think the best place to look for innovation is in the sideboard. Until people adapt with more Duress effects and
instant-speed enchantment removal, the streamlined main deck puts you in a good position to grab wins by outracing your opponent. After starting 9-0 in
Atlanta with the deck, I ended up missing the money due to a series of three-game losses in some very close matchups. Still, Atlanta was a blast, and
I’d say the deck was — and still is — an overwhelming success.
Hopefully, there will be more such adventures in two weeks in Paris.
Feel free to bring any questions or discussion about the deck in the forums or by tweeting me at @MtGMatthias