jay85's picture
By: jay85, Jay Nelson
Apr 02 2015 12:00pm
Login or register to post comments

Any deck that can win without having to turn creatures sideways will always pique my interest, and it is for that simple reason why I enjoy playing Scapeshift. Beating your opponent with lands can be very satisfying.

I’ve been playing Scapeshift for some time now. I love how the deck is first and foremost a control deck. Your whole goal is to disrupt your opponent with counter spells and cheap removal until you reach seven lands and then resolve Scapeshift, searching up Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and six Mountains, dealing 18 damage. If your opponent has more than 18 life then you sacrifice eight lands, this time searching up two Valakuts and six Mountains. Sounds simple, right? After playing the deck a few times you will discover it is in fact quite simple. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself in some problematic situations. A lot of time people will lose because they cast Scapeshift without the right amount of lands in play, or they sacrifice too many Mountains and don’t have enough left in their deck to search up. These mistakes are mostly corrected through simple trial-and-error. Yes, there is a steeper learning curve with this than with most other decks, but not as high as something like Bloom Titan or Storm. I would like to share with you my particular decklist and some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned while playing this deck.



Sakura-Tribe Elder Search For Tomorrow

These are your sources of ramp and they allow you to combo off earlier than turn 7 or 8. They are vital for when you are trying to race an aggressive deck and therefore I would not recommend cutting them from the main when facing aggro. Sakura-Tribe Elder is particularly important because you can block and then sacrifice it, saving yourself some damage. Also, don’t forget you can attack with him. Getting your opponent down to 18 life is important with this deck. I didn’t realize at first just how important that extra 2 damage can be. It means you can combo off a turn earlier which is sometimes the difference between winning and losing the game. Thankfully most decks require players to deal some amount of damage to themselves with shocklands and fetchlands, so more times than not your opponent will do the work for you.

If you are facing a more midrange/control deck, I believe it is correct to shave down on some of these ramp spells, and if you were to do that I recommend cutting some of the Search for Tomorrow over Sakura-Tribe Elder. The old snake-man just has more utility.


Lightning Bolt

I’ve seen decklists favor Serum Visions over Lightning Bolt recently and I disagree with that. My reasoning is I don’t care about finding Scapeshift as soon as possible in most of my matchups. This deck isn’t Splinter Twin. You are not looking to win on a particular turn. The early game is all about disrupting your opponent until you CAN win, which is why I prefer Lightning Bolt over Serum Visions. You are first a control deck, which means you don’t care if the game goes long. You want to one-for-one your opponent while drawing extra cards off things like Remand, Repeal, and Electrolyze. The longer the game goes the more time you have to draw into Scapeshift, anyways.


Izzet Charm

Izzet Charm is nice in the sense that it’s a utility card. You will be using all of its abilities in a lot of your matches and you should not limit its usefulness by thinking it is in your deck only as removal or a pseudo Negate. One of the worse things to do in Magic is become close-minded on what your cards are capable of doing. Izzet Charm can help you dig for the cards you need. I run just two and I think that is a fine number for this build.



Electrolyze is great and I wish I could squeeze in one more (along with another Snapcaster Mage). The card is your best answer to things like Lingering Souls and can deal that much needed 2 damage to your opponent so you can win with Scapeshift. Not to mention it draws you a card in the process. Awesome removal and cantrip all in one card.



I have been playing Scapeshift since before Jun Young Park’s version was brought to light, and though I don’t agree with everything in his decklist, I think it is safe to say that his addition of Repeal was a great improvement for this archetype. It does exactly what you want to be doing in a game; disrupting your opponent’s tempo, bouncing a Blood Moon, Tarmogoyf or Leyline of Sanctity back to their hand, and all the while drawing a card. Repeal is a card I rarely think about sideboarding out, and for good reason.



Remand is one of the best counter spells in Modern, and it is without a doubt best in Scapeshift. Your game plan should be trying to Time Walk your opponent, and often times that is what it feels like you are doing when you cast it.


Cryptic Command

Cryptic Command is probably your best card in the entire deck, and I don’t think I have to go into great detail on why. If you are confused by that statement, go back and read what the card actually does. The one thing I should note about Cryptic Command is sometimes it is not always best to draw a card with it. If you are "going off" the last thing you want to do is get greedy and accidently draw into a Mountain, causing you to not have enough left in your library to combo off. Just like with Izzet Charm, don't fall into the hole of only doing the same couple things with Cryptic Command.


Peer Through Depths  Versus  Telling Time

I feel every Scapeshift player can sit down with someone and talk endlessly about which is better, Peer Through Depths or Telling Time. My answer to this debate would be Dig Through Time, but since we aren’t allowed to have nice things in Modern, I am going with the latter.

Peer Through Depths is better game one because in the first game of your match you are all about trying to combo off and win with the Scapeshift combo. Peer Through Depths is just better in doing that. Letting you dig five cards deep to find your one card combo is what you want. But I feel Telling Time is way superior post-sideboard. I don’t think I’ve ever played a match where I don’t sideboard in alternate win-cons, whether it be Inferno Titan, Batterskull, or some amount of Obstinate Baloth. Not to mention other cards in your sideboard that Peer Through Depths can’t grab for you and Telling Time can. Also, it should be noted that Telling Time is great in response to something like Thoughtseize because you don't have to draw the card you need, but instead borrow a trick players use with Brainstorm and put the wanted card on top of your library to draw on your turn, preventing your opponent from seeing and taking it with Thoughtseize.  

All in all, what it comes down to is I would like to cast the cards I sideboard in, not just look at them and then proceed to put them on the bottom of my library because they aren't an instant or sorcery. I’ve played with both cards and take it from me, Telling Time is what you want to be doing, especially in games two and three.


Desolate Lighthouse

With most of my decks I will usually have a card or two that I personally think is a good addition and improvement on the list. While others may disagree with the card choices, these little additions are what people call pet cards, and we all have them. Mine in Scapeshift is Desolate Lighthouse. The land works really well in my Splinter Twin deck and I figure if that deck can use it to dig for a combo piece than why can’t another combo deck like Scapeshift use it just as effectively?

Some decklists run Halimar Depths, Cascade Bluffs, or another Misty Rainforest, but why not Desolate Lighthouse? Am I missing something here? I believe the lighthouse is an improved version of Halimar Depths.

I don’t think another fetchland is needed in this deck. To be honest, Scapeshift doesn’t really need fetchlands, anyways. I run three Misty Rainforest simply because I own them and it is nice to search up a Mountain for your Lightning Bolt or that third Island so you can cast your Cryptic Command, but don’t feel like you need to have them in order to be competitive. Sakura-Tribe Elder and Search for Tomorrow can just as easily filter and fix our mana.

Scapeshift isn’t like a lot of other Modern decks where mana-fixing is important in order to cast our spells. We only need one Mountain in play to cast all our red spells except Anger of the Gods, and I advise running Flooded Grove so you can cast Scapeshift or Cryptic Command (the two cards in the deck that are actually picky about what kind of mana you have available).


Prismatic Omen

A card I don't like seeing in decklists is Prismatic Omen and here is why, Prismatic Omen is simply not needed. I feel it is a card people who are new to the deck like to run because it makes it easier to combo off with Valakut, The Molten Pinnacle. With the enchantment in play you don't need to keep track of how many Mountains are left in your deck, and you can trigger the volcano with each land drop after your fifth one, giving you a free bolt to direct to an opposing creature or your rival's face. Also dealing 6 damage with a fetchland is nice. I see why people want Prismatic Omen in there deck, but I'm sticking with what I said earlier. You don't need it. I used the card a few times when I was first playing Scapeshift and I soon took it out once I became comfortable with the deck. If you must run it because it's your pet card than I would not run more than a single copy in your 75. A nice feeling is knowing a lot of your opponent's cards are dead draws against you. Don't give them the opportunity to use their Abrupt Decay on something of yours. And if you are worried you may draw too many of your Mountains during a game and so you want Prismatic Omen, I'll tell you now, drawing too many Mountains should not be a concern of yours.

For example: let's say you have eight lands in play, six of those being Mountains (This scenario is a stretch, but for the sake of argument let's go with it). What this means is you only have four Mountains left in your library. You resolve Scapeshift and sacrifice six of your lands, keeping two Mountains on the board. You search up your last remaining Mountains and two Valakut, The Molten Pinnacle, dealing your opponent 24 damage. 4 Mountains+2 Valakuts=8 triggers. 24 damage. You don't need Prismatic Omen as long as you remember you have ten Mountains total in your deck and to leave some in play when casting Scapeshift in order to hit that sweet spot of six Mountains so Valakut, The Molten Pinnacle can trigger.  



As I said earlier in the article, I tend to always sideboard in alternate win conditions. In Modern you never really know what somebody will be bringing in to hate on you. Without a backup plan, a Slaughter Games or some sort of land destruction will wreck you. Blood Moon is actually not very good against you. Though I agree it is correct to bring in against Scapeshift, I always think about the feeling I get when I see Blood Moon, and it's probably the same feeling Tron players get when they see it. Sure, it slows you down and can be annoying, but it’s nothing a well-timed Cryptic Command or Repeal can’t handle. My advice when you see one Blood Moon is don’t sweat it, your deck can deal with it, but do not let your opponent have more than one of these enchantments out on the board. Two Blood Moon is significantly worse for you and is very difficult to deal with, unless of course you brought in Inferno Titan or Batterskull and plan to win with those instead.


Swan Song

When Swan Song was first spoiled I was immediately intrigued by it. I told my friends how awesome it was and they kind of looked at me funny. Now yes, Swan Song is not the greatest counter spell ever, but I believe it is in Scapeshift. A counter spell for one mana that can pretty much counter anything relevant is good, and giving your opponent a creature with some sort of evasion built into it is usually not recommended, but with this deck it really isn’t that big of a deal. I’ve never played a game where that little bird actually clocked me and won my opponent the game (of course I’ve just jinxed myself and it will happen the next time I play). I’m telling you, Scapeshift will outrace it every time, and if you feel like you can’t, then bolt it out of the sky.

With all that said, Swan Song is not something to bring in against Burn or other aggro strategies. So if you don’t agree with me in that Swan Song is the best counter to have in the sideboard then by all means use Dispel or Negate instead. Swan Song is mainly in there to be used against control or the mirror match, not to necessarily counter things like Eidolon of the Great Revel.


Inferno Titan Batterskull

Inferno Titan and Batterskull are your heavy hitters. Bring them in when you doubt you will be able to win with Scapeshift. The Titan is good against Abzan decks that try to win with Tarmogoyf and Lingering Souls. I've seen other decklists favoring Keranos, God of Storms or Stormbreath Dragon. I think those are fine inclusions and have their own advantages worth exploring in the format. I prefer Inferno Titan in this slot only because he has an ETB trigger, so even if he gets destroyed you've still managed to do something instead of wasting your turn casting him. Batterskull is a nice card to have in your back pocket. It is hard to deal with once it resolves and you can always equip it to Snapcaster Mage or Sakura-Tribe Elder if the token is destroyed and you don't have the luxury of bouncing it back to your hand to recast. I don't like running Wurmcoil Engine over this since your opponent can easily Time Walk you with a Path to Exile.


Boseiju, Who Shelters All

Boseiju, Who Shelters All is another card for the control matches and works extremely well as long as you play around Tectonic Edge. I have a story for you about this particular card. I was playing against American Control, I had two Scapeshift, six lands out and one in hand. My opponent had been on the draw/go strategy for the last few turns, making it obvious he was ready and willing to fight a counter war with me.

Before playing that seventh land I cast one of my Scapeshift. There was a long pause from my opponent. I knew he was thinking it over. Doesn’t he need at least seven lands in play before he can combo off? Does this guy not understand how his own deck works?

He finally let Scapeshift resolve. My trap was set! I sacrificed one land and searched up Boseiju, Who Shelters All, putting my opponent on a one turn clock to either deal with Boseiju or the other Scapeshift in my hand. He couldn’t. I won.



It’s these little tricks you learn as you play that make Scapeshift and Magic in general so much fun. Using a Cryptic Command to counter a Molten Rain and bounce your Obstinate Baloth so you can recast it and gain another four life. In the mirror match redirecting all the damage from your opponent’s Valakut, The Molten Pinnacle to your Spellskite before any of those volcano triggers resolve. Equipping a Sakura-Tribe Elder with Batterskull or the Scapeshift/Boseiju, Who Shelters All combo is why I play with these kinds of decks.

Just like any other deck you play, practice makes perfect. There is a higher learning curve that comes with Scapeshift than with other decks, but once you become familiar with it, the deck can be very rewarding and a blast to play. 


A very insightful article. by Procrastination at Fri, 04/03/2015 - 14:35
Procrastination's picture

A very insightful article. Thanks for sharing some of those little tricks with us.

With the printing of Anticipate, how do you feel it fits into the choice between Telling Time or Peer Through Depths? Do you think Anticipate is the best of both worlds, or simply another contender in the fight?

Between those three spells I by jay85 at Fri, 04/03/2015 - 16:14
jay85's picture

Between those three spells I still consider Telling Time the better option. There are times where I want two cards, like a Forest and Scapeshift. Peer and Anticipate won't work in that scenario, and that happens more than you would think. Really the only downside to Telling Time is sometimes you only want one of the 3 cards but you still have to keep one of them on top of your library that you don't want to draw. If for some reason you just hate Telling Time and refuse to play it, then Anticipate is probably better for you. Peer may let you dig two cards deeper, but Anticipate can at least grab a vital sideboard spell like the baloths or batterskull.