I recently piloted an old favorite of mine in the quarterfinals of the Team Modern Super League and thought it would be a good time to talk about my past with the archetype and dissect the list I used. While this was before the recent bannings, the Super League metagame is a thing of its own, and in a format as open as Modern is after the bannings, it’s always a great chance to reevaluate old favorites.
A long time ago in a metagame far, far away…
Back in 2013 I was only a Vintage and Legacy player, and Modern was slowly catching fire and getting my attention. I remember hearing about the format from Thomas Enevoldsen who was playing Blue Scapeshift at the time. He told me that the game plan was to ramp, buy time and finish the game with a lethal Scapeshift no matter how much power your opponent would have on the table. A Control deck with a Combo finish? I was hooked and started working hard to learn the deck, not to mention the format as a whole.
The metagame back then was a lot of BGx Midrange, Birthing Pod, Jeskai Control, Splinter Twin, Burn, Tron and Affinity with some fringe strategies on the side. It wasn’t long before I felt comfortable against all decks and I started cashing at Modern Grand Prix across Europe.
I kept playing Daily Events on Magic Online and attended all Pro Tour Qualifiers in Denmark with the
deck. I even remember driving to Germany with three friends (I believe we brought three Scapeshift decks and a funky Goryo’s Vengeance deck) at midnight the day before for a PTQ that started at 10am just to play my favorite deck which I thought was great against the field.
2014-2015: We were on the verge of Greatness
A pivotal moment in my Magic career was when I played the monthly Magic Online Championship Series tournament which back then qualified you for not only the following Pro Tour, but also awarded a spot in the MOCS finals in Seattle, the best tournament a Magic Online player can qualify for.
I had a great read on the metagame, so my sideboard was only focused on beating Affinity, Burn, Abzan Midrange, Twin and Jeskai Control, which was all I faced through the event. I 7-1 the swiss and cruise through the top 8, getting ready for the grand finals. At this time, it’s 2am and I’ve played Magic for 10 hours after a night on the town and very little sleep, so my brain starts cutting out. My matchup is Abzan, which is the dream playing for any amount of money, but I start to play super slow and can barely stay awake. I end up losing to time with lethal Valakut triggers on the stack which leaves me heartbroken. The lesson here is that playing Magic on a high level requires decent sleep and gasoline for the body in the form of food and drinks.
Roughly 1,5 years later, after Battle for Zendikar was released, I started working on a Bant version with Path to Exile as removal. Not only did it deal with big creatures out of Lightning Bolt reach, it could also ramp your own gameplan targeting a Snapcaster Mage or Coiling Oracle. I took this deck to one of the World Magic Cup Qualifiers hoping to team up with Martin Müller, Simon Nielsen and Anders Gotfredsen, but I lose game three in the finals to a timely Slaughter Games – the bane of Blue Scapeshift because we can’t afford to run any secondary win conditions.
The Scapeshift Awakens
With the release of Modern Horizons, Wizards of the Coast gave me a good reason to check back with Blue Scapeshift. First, I started working on a list with Fact or Fiction, but awkward scenarios involving Valakut and Mountains came up, and I shelved the idea for the time being. It wasn’t long before I saw Legacy Storm master Cyrus Corman-Gill sleeve up some interesting versions of Bant Scapeshift with another recent printing: Teferi, Time Raveler. In the fast format that Modern evolved into, Remand was no longer great, but I knew this archetype needed have a lot of speed bumps in order to be successful.
Teferi’s ability to bounce a threat, cantrip and force the opponent to spend time to cast it again was
exactly what the deck needed to become competitive again.
Here is the VOD for the aformentioned quarterfinals matchup of Team Mage vs. ChannelFireball.
The fully operational Bant SnakeShift Decklist
Bant SnakeShift by Andreas Petersen (TMSL)
I noticed that players aren’t playing this card in the deck, probably out of mana concerns. While the
manabase can be a bit tricky at times, Cryptic Command is the bread and butter of this deck. Aside from answering game-ending threats on the stack, the tap mode will work wonders against creature strategies, where it buys precious time to find and resolve a lethal Bring to Light or Scapeshift. I wish the deck could support one more Flooded Grove to help cast Cryptic Command more consistently, but I can’t find the room and don’t want to play 27 lands.
When you’re playing a controlling blue deck, Jace, the Mind Sculptor should always be at least considered. In this deck, Jace excels because we can play it on turn three and even have some expendable bodies to protect it.
Coming back to what I talked about earlier about buying time, even getting a Brainstorm and then losing Jace to an attack is a fine exchange in your quest to protect your life total while making land drops and working towards lethal.
Adding a single sweeper to have access to five copies via Bring to Light is a very small cost. Sometimes you need to clear the board when you only have five or six mana available to avoid dying.
The rest of the list and sideboard is pretty self-explanatory, but feel free to ask about other card choices.
Having a bad feeling about this?
I’ll round off the article with some tips for when you play the deck:
- Prioritize getting to UUU before you worry about red or white. Cryptic Command will take you home.
- If you have two snow lands in play and double Ice-Fang Coatl in hand, you can take opponents by surprise if they send in creatures they don’t want to trade.
- Pathing your own snake is sometimes more important than trading with a good creature.
- Oftentimes, Praerie Stream is a painless “Tundra” from Misty Rainforest to cast Cryptic.
- You don’t HAVE to block with or sacrifice your Sakura-Tribe Elder. Sometimes waiting is key when you gather information on which land to get, and patiently waiting for a bigger creature to block might matter.
- An opposing Teferi, Time Reveler stops your suspended Search for Tomorrow and Bring to Light for Scapeshift (or for anything else) from working.
- Keeping a basic Mountain in your deck will foil most “Hail Mary” plays from the opponent involving Field of Ruin, Ghost Quarter and Assassin’s Trophy.
- Because you need at least 7 lands and a Scapeshift to win, the deck mulligans poorly. That means you should keep your hand if it’s playable at all.
- While bouncing your own Snapcaster Mage with Cryptic Command is tempting, be careful about turning on your opponent’s otherwise subpar spot removal. If you choose the tap-mode alongside bouncing, and you lose the Snapcaster Mage, Cryptic will even fizzle.
- Using Cryptic Command aggressively on turn three can be useful on the play vs. Control decks to push your mana advantage.
- Exposing your Valakut to Field of Ruin + Surgical Extraction can oftentimes be avoided if you sandbag it.
- Be wary of the clock on Magic Online. Just kidding…
I’m sure there are many more tips that will help you do better, but that’s all I could think of right now. Until next time I hope your opponent brings in Grafdigger’s Cage to stop your Bring to Lights!