TCGPlayer Modern States Tournament Report
This past Saturday Double Midnight Comics in Concord hosted TCGPlayer Modern States. With a lower than anticipated turnout we swapped two of our judges (myself and Alex Lloyd) from being staff for the event to being players. This occurrence gave me a chance to, instead of showcasing a deck in my normal fashion, go over a deck from actual tournament experience.
When we got close to the start time we made the decision to switch from the judge role to being players, and luckily I had brought Scapeshift with me. Any of the players at the shop I frequent know that I mainly play this deck in modern, having brought it to GP Worcester and a ~200 player PTQ last year (running 6-3 in Worcester, and 6-2 at the PTQ). It had been a while since I had played the deck and was not sure how relevant it was to the current modern meta, especially with the recent ban of Dig Through Time (a card that gave the deck the consistency to be a “tier 1” deck). Knowing that our 16 player field was ~20% burn I made some last minute sideboard changes, and here is the deck that I registered for the event:
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Search for Tomorrow
4 Cryptic Command
4 Serum Visions
2 Think Twice
2 Izzet Charm
1 Breeding Pool
1 Flooded Grove
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Scalding Tarn
4 Steam Vents
4 Stomping Ground
2 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
2 Engineered Explosives
3 Dragon’s Claw
2 Obstinate Baloth
1 Izzet Staticaster
1 Ancient Grudge
Round 1 – 4 Color Control
My deck performed exactly as I needed it to here and my opponent got stuck on lands in both games. Scapeshift can punish other fair decks that stumble on mana very harshly until it is ready to win and this is exactly what happened here. Game 1 my opponent only got to attempt to cast Lingering Souls a few times, which met a Remand every time. Game 2 I got to explain how instant speed land destruction works in regards to Scapeshift decks, which is hugely valuable information for both players piloting the deck and players facing it.
When Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle comes into play after Scapeshift resolves, it will check to see if the condition has been met for all of the mountains that entered with it. The most common resolutions involve sacrificing 7 lands to get 6 mountains plus Valakut (resulting in 6 triggers and 18 damage), or at 8 lands getting 2 copies of Valakut and 6 mountains (12 triggers, 36 damage). Once the spell resolves you have missed your opportunity to stop a Valakut that’s already in play and the triggers will go on the stack regardless, removing it at this point will not matter. However, if there are only 6 mountains, removing one of them will result in most of the triggers not happening as the condition is no longer met. The removed mountain’s trigger(s) will see 5 other mountains and still deal damage. The rest of the mountains will only see 4 others when their trigger(s) go to resolve, and will not deal any damage. A player piloting this deck who fails on a 6 mountain resolution likely just loses the game on the spot. You can also fight through multiple effects like Fulminator Mage or Tectonic Edge by just making sure you will have enough mountains in play when the triggers resolve that 6+ are still on the battlefield. Ghost Quarter works slightly differently because you get to fetch a basic mountain (assuming you make sure to leave one in your library), which makes it almost worthless against the deck in this regard.
Round 2 – GR Tron
Tron is probably the most fair of the unfair decks in the format and also has great inevitability. Usually matches against Tron go one of three ways: (1) Turn 3 Karn without disruption, Scapeshift loses; (2)you never draw Scapeshift and lose; (3)you win. I lost game 1 to just never getting the namesake card of my deck, won game two in the regular fashion, and lost game 3 due to missing a few land drops and not having a Snapcaster Mage + Counterflux ready to stop a Witchbane Orb (I can’t remember if I could’ve played this differently, and agonized over it for a while afterwards). A number of times I had my opponent dead with just a land draw, but the deck just wasn’t working with me and my opponent got sideboard cards in place that delayed me afterwards until his inevitability worked out.
This third game also showcased another important interaction of Sakura-Tribe Elder. There is much more to this card than play it, sacrifice it, and get a basic land to fuel your deck. In this game the biggest role was chump blocking a Wurmcoil Engine and sacrificing after blocks were declared to prevent lifelink. Another often overlooked aspect of this card is that your deck is a land faster if your opponent is at 18 or less life. While 1 damage at a time isn’t very appealing, if it shaves an entire turn (or more) off of your clock it is very much worthwhile. While sometimes it’s 100% correct to play and sacrifice during your opponent’s end step, it is sometimes not correct if you don’t need the mana right away and/or think you can either use it to prevent damage or get some damage in to drop them to 18 or less.
Round 3 – UB Tezzerator
I adore Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and think it is one of the most powerful planeswalkers ever printed. However the deck didn’t work out so well against me for my opponent. Game 1 I didn’t see much other than a Dimir Signet and [/c]Etched Champion[/c] (which got hit 3 times with Remands). I had no idea what he was playing after game 1 and sideboarded very conservatively (bringing in I believe only Ancient Grudge). Game 2 I was sure I would lose after a turn 3 Liliana of the Veil was dropped, however my opponent valued the contents of their hand higher than using her +1 ability. My opponent and I chatted a bit after this match ended and he was very much unsure of how to play against Scapeshift, as it was only like his second time playing against the deck.
One of the best ways to fight a Scapeshift deck is to attack their hand with something like Liliana, who also has an ultimate that will simply end the game. My deck has to play differently than it wants to against a deck that potentially is playing Liliana (just like Karn Liberated because of their ability to strip my hand every turn and the fact that I have no good ways to remove them or keep them off of their ultimate.
Round 4 – Zoo
This round featured one of the most insane homebrew innovations I’ve seen in a long time and I was glad that I was able to prevent it from happening (or, more correctly, my opponent’s deck helped). Game 1 it was made pretty obvious that my opponent was playing Zoo, but I was able to stop the damage and win the game within Lightning Bolt range for a few turns. Repeal is a very powerful card against Zoo simply because you can spend 2 mana to save damage, force them to use mana to recast their creature, and cantrip. It’s like a good Remand for this matchup, which is generally a pretty bad card here. The biggest card brought in that is great here is Engineered Explosives, as it can be such a blowout (and it did end up being just that). My opponent kept a one land hand and led off with a Quest for the Holy Relic. This was quite the headscratcher for me, but was overall not a huge issue as I kept a hand with 2 copies of Repeal. No second land on turn 2 meant that there was little pressure on me and I was pretty confident in my victory. Again no land on turn 3, and a draw of Engineered Explosives mopped up the creatures and the enchantmenet. Finally on turn 4 my opponent was able to play the second land, proceeded to play 2 copies of Burning-Tree Emissary, 1 Vexing Devil, and I believe another creature. This explained the keep to me, as he had 2 draws to hit any land which would’ve enabled a 4 counter quest on turn 2, with a followup creature on turn 3 to then fetch Argentum Armor and just blow up a land every turn (or he could get one of the swords). This line would have been hilarious as a spectator if it actually happened, and would have been terrifying for me as the opponent at the time, but too much damage has already been done with the 2 missed land drops and my mana getting out of control at this point.
Round 5 – UR Twin
After looking at standing I ended up being the 9 pointer that got paired down (we had 2 players at who drew round 4, and 2 others at 9). I believed that all of these players were safe to make top 8 regardless of what happened. Of the 5 players at 6 points, any of them that won would also make top 8, and I would have been the final top 8 regardless of result (with 8th seed being based on breakers or draws or some such if I won). Twin is generally an unfavorable matchup for me as they are a much faster “combo”, so long as they actually draw it. I also think that my opponent may have been leaning on Blood Moon to stop me, but I was able to play around it and bounce it when ready to go off. Game 2 then proceeded to drag on forever and was one of the most hilarious games of Magic I have had in a long time (probably since I had somebody play Knowledge Pool against me). I landed my Spellskite early which allowed me to not fear the combo at all so long as I could keep the artifact creature protected, but at the same time I needed to use it as a blocker for his Deceiver Exarch. My opponent did try to kill it off with a Lightning Bolt, but a Repeal was enough to protect it from the graveyard while also helping me dig. I eventually audibled into the plan of just playing mountains to trigger Valakut as a defensive tactic, using it to kill a Vendilion Clique and a Pestermite as I had no other way to prevent the damage from them. Eventually we got into a fight over Scapeshift, which ended up getting countered but left my opponent tapped out. A second Scapeshift that turn resolved, and I miscounted my mountains and only sacrificed two lands to get my second Valakut plus a mountain to kill a second Pestermite and drop my opponent to 10 life (with one mountain in hand, and accidently one left in library). Had I counted properly I could have done 12 and won the game on the spot. The next turn saw me draw a Cryptic Command to bounce a mountain to get me the triggers for the win on turn 5 of extra turns.
Top 8 – Burn
This is the matchup that I was hoping to dodge all day, as unlikely as that was. Luckily for me I managed to pull second seed out of my 4-1 record, meaning I was able to at least be on the play. Game 1 was virtually the perfect draw where I was able to turn 4 Scapeshift for the win, and game 2 was the exact opposite where I simply lost to Eidolon of the Great Revel. Game 3 saw a lot of using Sakura-Tribe Elder to save me some life early and Goblin Guide helping out and feeding me multiple lands. In the end I won the game at 2 life while my opponent was playing around Obstinate Baloth. I had 5 mana visible at the time and had just cast Remand on his Eidolon of the Great Revel. He chose to hold up 2 mana for Skullcrack instead of recast the Eidolon, as Baloth would have been a huge blowout. I was then able to play 2 copies of Dragon’s Claw on my turn, still have a Repeal for a goblin on his turn, and only needed to live long enough to play my next land and Scapeshift for the win. My opponent made the correct play of casting Skullcrack first in his turn to prevent me from gaining life on the remainder of his red spells, but the 2 life I gained from that one spell was enough to prevent the loss.
However, I was still not out of the woods yet. In the first of two neat interactions I would have lost to drawing Valakut or any mountain in my deck, as I would then have had to delay my Scapeshift by a full turn due to having too many in play. The play I decided to make was to cast Repeal on a Goblin Guide during beginning of combat (so it could not simply be cast again to attack) rather than after the triggers went on the stack. I already had all of the lands I needed to win, but drawing too many would actually make me lose so I felt making sure I didn’t get those triggers was correct. The other was on a turn after I had cast a Serum Visions and set up a Sakura-Tribe Elder as my top card. I wanted to draw the Elder, but also wanted to Repeal a Goblin Guide, plus needed to crack my in play Elder while my opponent had a Grim Lavamancer. With the goblin’s trigger on the stack I cast Repeal, which my opponent then correctly used Lavamancer on my Elder to force me to either draw the card I set on top, or get a land. My correct play would have been to activate the Elder with the goblin’s trigger on the stack while retaining priority, and then casting the Repeal. This would have drawn me the Elder on top, fetched my land, and shown me a fresh card to hopefully draw a free land. The Elder on top was super important at the time as my opponent was at 19 life at the time and I had the green mana to Elder plus Scapeshift on my turn for a 36 point turn 4 if needed, but he cracked a fetch to not make it a turn 5 win.
Top 4 – Blue Moon
This is one of those matches that just seems horrible for me. Game one went on forever and I thought that maybe I had a chance to win with counterspells in hand, Scapeshift, Repeal and 3 copies of Snapcaster Mage. This all went out the window when my opponent dropped the second Blood Moon. Game 2 was very similar in that I felt helpless the entire time after an early Vendilion Clique showed my opponent 2 copies of Counterflux and 1 Negate. The faerie did most of the work for my opponent, and a Blood Moon after he had picked apart my counterspells with “must counter” spells ended my tournament.
Overall I had a blast playing in this event, as I always seem to do while playing modern (the same cannot be said of tournaments where I play standard). While Scapeshift is often not considered a tier 1 deck any more, it is still a very viable contender and shouldn’t be ruled out. Currently the deck is a bit more expensive than many of the other decks I’ve recently featured, mostly on the back of the fetchlands (which should see a reprint soon, and could be replaced by Wooded Foothills if on a budget), Cryptic Command, and Snapcaster Mage.