Introduction to BTL Scapeshift, Written By Devon Smith
As a person who has been playing Scapeshift for many years, I have tried just about every variant of the deck. In this article I’m going to cover the Bring to Light version, as I believe it is the most consistent and most powerful version of the deck.
Since the primary win condition is to cast Scapeshift and grab 1-2 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and a whole bunch of mountains and kill your opponent, it’s much easier to do this with 7 copies of shift in the main, since BTL itself using converge for 4 colours can tutor for Scapeshift. This also makes the BTL version far more effective against decks like Jund, as the matchup can often lead the shift player into top deck mode and having extra copies to rip off the top of the library really ups the efficiency of the deck.
By playing Bring to Light it allows you to tutor for the cards you need, such as a board wipe or a key sideboard card. Modern is very much a format where one sideboard hate card can determine the outcome of the game. BTL effectively turns your sideboard one ofs into 5 ofs. Meaning decks like affinity now have to face 5 Shatterstorms! With search effects like Search for Tomorrow and Sakuta-Tribe Elder to fetch extra lands you can also cast BTL as early as turn 3! The list I’m running has 6 creatures in the main and a helix and electrolyze, so you can potentially kill opponent without the combo game 1, although unlikely, it does happen occasionally.
With land destruction cards like Tectonic Edge and Ghost Quarter around, the manabase should always have at least 10 mountains. Although 2 basic mountains may be safer against 2 Ghost Quarters, I think the consistency of having an extra green source (in this case cinder glade), is far more important than 2 basic mountains. You don’t often face double ghost quarter at the same time. The cinder glade can also be fetched in untapped if you have 2 other basics so it’s better than a shock land, but only in that aspect.
Having 3 white sources allows you to cast your supreme verdict if you accidently draw it, which can be un-avoided sometimes. Running black as the fourth colour gives you access to slaughter games, however I feel the meta is moving more towards the aggro side, so decided to stair towards white as the fourth colour. I also love timely reinforcements in this deck as it does so much work!
I don’t think the manabase has room for filter lands, as they can’t be fetched and having an awkward hand with 2 lands, being a flooded grove and a valakut, means you’ll definitely be taking a mulligan. Filter lands are also worse when trying to converge for 4 with worldly Counsel.
Keep in mind when playing this deck, you could need double green for Scapeshift/Eternal Witness, triple blue for cryptic command, double red for Anger of the Gods, double white for wrath effects and one of each colour for bring to light. Fetching the right coloured mana is crucial and requires a lot of practice piloting the deck.
Some specific card choices I will outline:
Eternal Witness – This card is amazing. You often have a hand with just Bring to Light and a couple of lands. You may also have only 5 lands in play, meaning you still need 2 more lands in play to combo off and deal lethal. You also want to keep your BTL in hand, so why not just BTL for an Ewitness and recur the BTL back to your hand? This means you can now block their biggest guy and buy more time. You also may find you have something else in your graveyard you need which you would rather have instead of the BTL, but you don’t want to cast it right away. In this case you can BTL for Ewit and grab any card in your graveyard. You don’t even have to cast it right away! Another note, you can actually soft lock your opponent using cryptic command and Eternal witness by tapping your opponent’s guys and bouncing witness back to hand. You can continually repeat this process. Ewitness gives you plenty of options, such as fetching for a land and returning the fetchland back to your hand or recurring a search for tomorrow then suspending it.
This is just a 1 of, to help against aggro decks like burn and zoo. They may only have 1 creature on board and you need to bring to light for a removal spell. Helix is a cheap removal spell and having snap caster and ewitness also means you can cast it multiple times in one game and gain plenty of life! Some variants run bolt and that is a card I always consider, however this version has access to white and sometimes you just need the extra life from the helix. Path can just about remove any creature in the format, but it also gives your opponents lands. Helix can also get your opponent to 17 life to allow for a 7 land Scapeshift as opposed to 8 lands if they are sitting on 19 or above life. There are now better meta game alternatives which I will talk about in the future changes section at the end of the article.
This card has been seeing a lot of play recently. I like having access to 1 in the maindeck. For certain matchups like boggles for example you’d rather grab this card than a wrath effect because they have spider umbra protecting their creatures. You also really want to cast this card on turn 3 against burn. In the tournament it also bought me as many as 5 turns against hatebears, because the player often doesn’t want to attack with 2/2 ground creatures into a double block scenario.
This card is almost always better than anticipate in a 4 colour scapeshift list. It’s like playing impulse in modern! The card is busted, especially when you snap it back with snapcaster you are effectively digging 8 cards! Since my list isn’t running farseek like traditional versions, this card is often used to grab lands when you need them. Unlike peer through depths, Worldly Counsel can grab any card and you don’t even need to reveal it.
You want 2 of these 100%. It’s super versatile, being able to kill dark confident or counter a turn 3 Karn Liberated or even dig for shift when you are desperate for answers.
Hunting wilds is an alternative win condition and helps with the ramp. You often use it to grab a temple garden or a breeding pool. You may already have a Valakut in play with 4 mountains in which case you can grab double stomping ground and deal 6 damage. You can BTL for hunting wilds, put it on the stack and pay the kicker allowing you to create 2 creatures. You may be staring down a Leyline of Sanctity or you may have had your Scapeshifts surgically extracted or exiled from Slaughter Games, and this is your next best win con when you don’t have creatures. Having Snapcaster and Witness means you can recast it later on with the kicker for those long drawn out games. Making 2 bodies with a total of 6 power on the board is a lot! Casting hunting wilds on turn 3 helps turns on cryptic mana (grabbing double breeding pool) and allows for turn 4 kills a lot more consistently. With other search effects and hunting wilds you can get to 8 lands on turn 4 and deal 36 damage! Hunting wilds is also insane against land destruction because grabbing 2 lands is much better than grabbing 1.
Glen Elendra Archmage is insane against just about any control deck. The Dispels are cheap CMC and good against collected company/chord decks. They are super-efficient against so many decks and unlike negate can’t be countered by spell snare in the counter war and cheap to flashback with the Snapcaster. The popular Nahiri Control deck now often plays up to 3 spell snares in the main. Spellskite is super effective against boggles, burn and infect. Sudden shock is mainly for infect matchup, but can also kill an Arcbound Ravager with split second before they can try and load up +1+1 counters onto another creature. The night before the WMCQ I had been thinking a long time about whether to run Back to Nature, but figured there wouldn’t be any boggles so decided to run a Nature’s Claim instead as it hits more decks as there are more artifacts around.
01Win(2-1)Bant summoning trap
04Loss(2-1)BW hatebears/death and taxes
Round 1 - Bant Summoning trap
This was a scary matchup as casting a counter spell on any creature could result in them getting a free summoning trap into an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Other than tapping down Emrakul with cryptic command, like most decks, Scapeshift has no way to deal with it. The bant player did manage to catch me off guard and get an Emrakul in one game.
The deck also has access to Vendilion Clique so it can attack your hand and take your Scapeshift or Bring to Light. I board into removal because I want to keep the opponent off mana generators like Noble hierarch and Birds of Paradise. With sufficient ramp the bant player can get an early primeval titan down. Clearing the creatures slows the deck down significantly. Other than Vendilion Clique, there isn’t many ways the deck can interact with our combo and casting BTL for a board wipe can give you huge card advantage. My strategy here in games 2 and 3 was to avoid the counter spell plan and just try and combo off as fast as possible. Another thing to note is that cryptic command doesn’t always have to be used at the combat step and you can tap down mana dorks in your opponent’s upkeep to stop them playing spells in their first main phase.
-1 Timely Reinforcements
-1 Cryptic Command
+2 dispel (This is insane against summoning trap)
+1 Anger of the Gods (kills mana dorks)
+1 Sudden Shock (kills mana dorks)
+1 Glen Elendra Archmage (also good versus summoning trap, if you can get this down early and hold up 1 blue mana, it’ll be hard for them to ever resolve one).
+1 Engineered Explosives (kills mana dorks)
Round 2 and 3 - Jund
I played against 2 Jund decks in a row. In the NZ meta, Jund is really popular at the moment.
A notable play against the first Jund player was casting a Bring to Light for a Sakura Tribe-elder. It meant that I was able to block lethal while searching for my 6th land, so I could play my 7th land on my turn for the 18 damage kill.
In the second Jund matchup the Jund player didn’t have hand disruption early and played cards like grim lavamancer instead, this allowed me to kill him turn 4 on the play with hunting wilds followed by BTL the next turn.
In this matchup you have to be weary that Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet can exile your tribe elders as they hit the graveyard and create the Jund player 2/2 zombie tokens. You need to think carefully whether you need tribe elder to block on the turn Kalitas comes down or whether you want to fetch for a land while Kalitas is still on the stack and hasn’t yet entered play. Kalitas can also stop Glen Elendra from persisting back from the graveyard, however I don’t think you want to board in Glen in this matchup.
-1 Timely Reinforcements
-1 Cryptic Command
-1 Lightning helix
+3 Obstinate Baloth - Insane against Liliana and you can also izzet charm to remove other cards from your hand so they have to target the Baloth with their thoughtseize. You can also Timely Counsel while Lilliana’s trigger is on the stack and grab baloth and then once the trigger resolves put it into play. Another strong play is when opponent ticks up Lilliana, you can cryptic bounce your baloth to your hand, drawing a card and put the baloth back into play again.
+1 Engineered Explosives ( kills Dark Confidant and Tarmogoyf )
Although Timely Reinforcements is good, I think I’d rather just play wrath of god, or supreme verdict in this matchup. Tribe elder is also a really good blocker and the Jund player clock is not fast enough to need the life gain early on. The helix is hard removal for dark confident, however we have izzet charm which does the same and also counters Liliana and I don’t think we need the life gain. Electrolyze I feel should be kept in because it kills bob but also replaces itself.
Round 4 - Hatebears/Death and Taxes
This matchup is very difficult to win because of cards like Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor shutting off your BTL and other ramp/search effects. This particular version had access to Tidehollow Sculler which also disrupts your hand.
When your opponent plays an early Leonin Arbiter and ghost quarters your land and you are unable to pay 2 for the search cost for the GQ it’s very hard for shift player to come back. I feel extra anger’s and engineered explosives will really help in this matchup.
Over the course of a game my opponent managed to get a Leonin Arbiter, a Thalia, Gardian of Thraben, ghost quarter and a tech edge, while stripping my hand with Tidehollow Sculler making it very difficult to win. Thalia means bring to light costs 6 and the card you tutor for still costs 1, plus you need to pay 2 mana for the Arbiter to search. That’s a total of 9 mana! Not easy to get to. On top of that they can shut you down altogether by flashing in an Aven Mindcensor. Afterwards I realised my sideboard really needs 2 Anger of the Gods! I feel if I had drawn it when needed, it may have changed the outcome of the match.
-4 remand (terrible against aether vial)
-2 Cryptic command (hard to hit tripple blue when opponent is constantly attacking your manabase)
+1 Anger of the Gods
+1 Ancient Grudge (hits tidehollow and aether vial and bladesplicer tokens, if they run it)
+1 Engineered Explosives (kills so many cards with 2CMC when using sunburst for 2)
+1 Sudden Shock
+2 Obstinate Baloth
Round 5 - UW control
This matchup is usually very good for Scapeshift. You don’t need to combo off until you have enough counter backup and you can sit there while your opponent applies next to no pressure. They won’t want to activate Celestial Colonnade because it’s so mana intensive and ties down their options. Restoration Angel is quite a clunky threat (being 4 mana) and makes it an easy target to remand. Izzet charm is great at countering any planeswalkers. You essentially want to ramp ahead as fast as possible and win the counter war. The alternative is just to put a threat on the board and sit there attacking with it. The other control player should be slowing you down by countering your ramp also. Ancestral vision is probably one of the biggest threats here because it allows the control player to draw into a ton of cards which helps them to counter your combo. Remand is very good against control because you can always counter your own spells to gain card advantage.
-2 Cryptic Command (too clunky in a counter war)
-1 Timely Reinforcements
-1 Lightning Helix
-1 Supreme Verdict
+3 Obstinate Baloth (get this down early and pressure them with it, they can’t even block and trade with restoration angel). Also if they path it they are only helping your ramp plan. They will also be most likely boarding in negates and dispels etc, so having a creature makes for an alternative threat that’s harder to counter.
Round 6 - Boggles
This matchup is hard because the boggles player can get an explosive start and kill you with trample before you get a chance to block with tribe elder. I was killed relatively early game 1. My opponent did have some rough mulligans during this matchup which really helped me. Cryptic tap mode and izzet charm to counter Daybreak Coronet are key here. You also have to be weary of Gaddock Teeg post board and still need to keep in some removal for Kor Spiritdancer. Spellskite is insane post board in this matchup! As noted in the sideboard improvements later on, I will always keep 1 Back to Nature. You just never know when you may face a boggles deck and get completely wrecked by it.
-1 Lightning Helix
+1 Anger of the Gods (you need to cast this before the auras make their creatures too big)
+1 Engineered Explosives (card is insane on sunburst 1)
+1 Nature’s Claim
+2 Spellskite (redirect opposing auras to your Spellskite)
Round 1 - Burn
Drawing my 1 of Lightning Helix and killing a goblin guide was critical in this matchup. Being on the play allowed for a quick kill with Hunting Wilds into Scapeshift. In game 2 I was able to cast Izzet Charm to kill an Eidolon of the Great Revel so I wouldn’t take 2 damage from my search for tomorrow coming off suspend in my upkeep. I then proceeded to cast timely reinforcements. Once I hit 5 land I grabbed Eternal witness to hold up an Izzet Charm for countering follow up burn.
These were some really close matches, however I felt the burn player stumbled on land in game 1 which cost him the game.
-1 supreme verdict
-1 cryptic command
+3 obstinate baloth
Round 2 - Grixis Control
The grixis player was able to get me to just 1 life on game 1, but I narrowly escaped by casting back to back Scapeshifts after using an Izzet Charm to dig for the second one.
In the 2nd game I just ramped ahead and the grixis player didn’t have any counter spells, so after tapping out for a kalitas, Traitor of Ghet I knew I had the game.
-2 Cryptic command
-1 lightning helix
-1 timely reinforcements
-1 supreme verdict
+2 obstinate baloth (insane versus Kcommand)
+1 Glen Elendra Archmage
Round 3 - Dredge
Game 1 I had all the ramp spells in the world but wasn’t able to top deck my Scapeshift or draw another option like Cryptic Command or Worldly Counsel. I thought 2 tribe elders would be able to buy time, but my opponent Conflgrate on my blockers killing them and shooting me in the face.
I was able to combo game 2. Game 3 his explosive start on the play was just too fast. As mentioned earlier with the hate bears matchup you need more than 1 anger of the gods in sideboard to beat creature heavy decks like this. I don’t think there is room in the sideboard for graveyard hate. But you can alter the sideboard depending on the metagame.
+1 Anger of the gods
+1 Engineered Explosives
+2 Obstinate Baloth
After the WMCQ and recent top 8 in a PPTQ I have come up with the following improvements for the list.
-1 Timely Reinforcements
-1 Lightning Helix
-1 Cryptic Command
+3 Engineered Explosives
I wanted to make my maindeck to be more versatile and have cards which are effective against more decks, so I have moved timely into the sideboard. I feel Engineered Explosives is insane right now. It’s really good against decks like Infect and Suicide Zoo which are growing in popularity. It can also kill Lilliana on sunburst 3, as well as blood moon (a card you definitely don’t want to be seeing as it turns your combo by turning Valakut into a mountain). EE is super versatile and will help win so many more matchups. It’s also going to improve my hatebears matchup (which I keep losing). Even with thalia out you can still cast EE with 2 sunburst and only pay 2 mana. I feel it’s only bad against control, but you can even put it on sunburst 4 if you need to kill a Nahiri, the Harbringer or sunburst 2 to deal with a Snapcaster Mage. The cards we are swapping out for EE aren’t particularly great against control anyway. I’ve been finding having 4 cryptic command very clunky and I’m often siding out 1-2. Although I’m a greedy person and love the card advantage you get using the counter draw mode on Cryptic, I feel this is the only viable card we can cut, purely because it’s so mana intensive trying to hit triple blue. At the end of the day, we do have a snapcaster and an ewitness to get re-use one of our 3 cryptics. Another option I’ve been considering is Farseek. I just can’t seem to find the space for it as I really like having the Snapcaster Mage and Eternal Witness in the main. I also feel that 8 ramp + the hunting wilds is enough as worldly can always dig for lands if needed.
-1 Sudden Shock
-1 Natures Claim
+1 Back to Nature
+3 Chalice of the Void
Removed the Sudden Shock and the 2 Spellskite which are primarily for infect. I feel having 3 Chalice hits more decks at the moment. Scapeshift doesn’t play any one drops, although you are suspending search for tomorrow on turn 1, so it almost feels like you are abusing Chalice by doing so. Chalice also combats suicide zoo and helps the burn matchup. I’m sure I’ll have other uses for it – the card feels super powerful, just remember to announce the counter spell trigger!
The Back to Nature had to come back in as I’ve been facing more Leyline of Sanctity and blood moons recently. On top of this, you never know when boggles might come around. I feel like there’s enough artifact hate now in the maindeck using the versatility of engineered explosives, so we can now free up a slot for this silver bullet card.
Decided to cut one dispel for a Negate, as it hits anything and when we Chalice for one, we turn off our own dispel.
The final list will look like this. I guess we’ll still lose to ad nauseam, although engineered for 0 can kill lotus bloom. Other previously bad matchups will be greatly improved with the addition of chalice and engineered explosives. We can even Chalice for 0 to stop living end (if that deck is still a thing. I think it is J).