Despite having championed the deck for a while and obtained a lot of expertise during this time, I’ve never actually written explicitly about Red-Green Valakut in Modern. Earlier this week you saw me talk about how to update your Modern deck and in the process I showed you my Valakut list and how I got there.
Over the weekend I managed to top 8 the Modern Challenge with the deck, but since I went 1-2 against Dredge in the tournament, I decided to add a couple extra sideboard cards for the matchup. This is where I‘m at now:
RG Valakut by Simon Nielsen
I could see the one Nature’s Claim become a Natural State because Leyline of Sanctity doesn’t see much play anymore and the lifegain can actually easily be relevant.
Also, the one Roast should maybe be Lightning Axe because it kills flyers like Crackling Drake and Mantis Rider.
Anyhow, this is the list I will base my sideboard guide on, and whether or not you make these changes, the guide still mostly stays the same:
General sideboard philosophy
This is how I like to handle my lava
First of all, I’d like to point out something that’s very important for understanding Valakut: It’s a deck that gets better postboard.
Most people look at this and group this with all the other linear decks, albeit a slower one. And it is true that this deck is slower. It can kill turn 4 at the earliest, but most of the time it’s a turn 5 kill which is quite slow for Modern.
The thing is that it produces this kill quite consistently (making its average kill turn not that much worse than the linear decks), and it is not very easy to interact with. Valakut also has a relatively easy time interacting with the opponent while progressing its own game plan.
This is partly because the ramp spells give you extra mana to spend on reactive cards, and partly because one of your pay-offs, Primeval Titan, gets to fetch up a Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle-trigger and kill something immediately.
Postboard you get to make sure that you have the right interaction, so that you can efficiently slow them down enough that you can get to your own slower, but steadier, kill turn. And usually the opponent won’t have nearly as effective sideboard cards. I’ve seen many opponents slam down their Leyline of Sanctity or Blood Moon confidently, thinking themselves invincible, only to realise that they can’t beat a turn 4 Colossal Dreadmaw.
Oftentimes you’ll see me submit fewer than 4 Scapeshift in the postboard games. There are multiple reasons for this. If the opponents are not going to deal two damage to themselves through their mana base, Scapeshift is essentially an 8 mana kill spell, because 7 lands can only deal 18 damage, whereas 8 lands gives you two Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and 6 mountains for 32 damage. When you also board in interactive cards, it can be hard to have enough resources to Scapeshift with 8 lands, especially if you draw multiple copies.
The other reason is that while Primeval Titan is still a 6/6 in the face of hate cards, Scapeshift doesn’t do anything but thin your deck when your Valakuts are disabled by opposing sideboard cards.
I always thought that Scapeshift was never that important for this deck, it’s more like a secondary win condition. This is also why I call the deck “RG Valakut” rather than Scapeshift or TitanShift.
Often you’ll end up shaving a couple ramp spells when you sideboard. Whenever I do this, I almost always take out Explore on the play and Farseek on the draw. The reason is that the extra card draw makes Explore much more reliable, because you are more likely to have extra lands in hand. Explore can also be played together with a 1-mana spell on turn 2, which is a tempo play you might be more desperate for on the play.
So whenever one of these guides mentions to board out Explore it means that you should board out Farseek instead when you are on the draw, unless specified otherwise.
Sideboard against UR Phoenix
On the play:
On the draw:
Usually you don’t care much about Arclight Phoenix, as you can easily handle it with Relic of Progenitus, Anger of the Gods or simply race it. Postboard we just rely on our graveyard hate to handle it, as it’s not that good to take a hit before you spend 3 mana to get rid of it.Thing in the Ice is much more of a problem, and it’s really hard to win a game if it gets to flip, so we board in removal that can handle it as well as Damping Sphere to slow Thing down.
You also need to be aware of Blood Moon. They will have it most games, so you need to be ready to fetch up Forests. This is a matchup where you can’t just rely on Primeval Titan to win, because it’s not very hard for them to defeat it, so you need to kill the moon.
Also be aware that they frequently board in Spell Pierce but otherwise don’t have much countermagic. It depends a lot on their build, but I’d say the matchup is basically even. Valakut is probably a slight favourite.
Sideboard against (Hardened Scales) Affinity
These are the matchups you want to turn into a Primeval Titan-control deck, where you attempt to kill everything and mop up the rest with your big green Giant. If you have more cards to bring in, don’t be afraid to cut even more Scapeshift, it’s really not what you are trying to do, but currently I have to shave artifact hate and can’t quite board like this. Even then, I still feel quite favored in these matchups, especially due to the sideboard plan.
Sideboard against Burn
Here you see one of the cases where I think it’s okay to shave Primeval Titan. This is only something you do when you need to be fast and you often die the turn after you jam a Titan. This is especially the case against Burn, which is a bad matchup because they are fast and you are not very good at interacting with them.
This version isn’t very tuned against Burn. You can fix this with more lifegain in the sideboard, maindeck Courser of Kruphix or even Witchbane Orb if you are desperate.
If you don’t have to chump-block anything and plan to win with Scapeshift, remember to hold priority and sacrifice Sakura-Tribe Elder as soon as you play it. This way, they won’t get a target for Searing Blaze.
Sideboard against Jund and other BG(x)
Liliana of the Veil is their best card, but luckily we have Obstinate Baloth to combat it. Remember you can Summoner’s Pact for it in response to Lilianas activation.
Use your Relic of Progenitus to keep Tarmogoyf small and remove fodder for Scavenging Ooze which might require you to target yourself. If there’s a chance that your Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle would hit the graveyard, keep up Relic to protect yourself from Surgical Extraction. Even if your Valakuts get removed, you can still easily win via Tireless Tracker. I feel very confident about this matchup, but you need to play it tight.
Sideboard against Dredge
This matchup got so much worse with the printing of Creeping Chill. Not only does it make them at least a full turn faster, it also makes it so that you can never Scapeshift with 7 lands.
It took me a while to understand the matchup. At some point I realized that this is like when you play against Burn where you usually just die the turn you cast Primeval Titan. Even more so, since you often need to keep up a mana for Relic of Progenitus. So you need to rely on your hatecards and speed-bumps like Obstinate Baloth to slow them down enough that you win with Scapeshift and 8 lands, hopefully by turn 5.
With this build and sideboard plan I feel slightly favored, but Dredge is very scary. You need to be very patient with your Relic, as they will play in a way where they try and get you to crack it. If the cards they get in play are not enough to race your Scapeshift, you can easily just sit on your Relic, so they can’t get a good Cathartic Reunion in.
Sideboard against Jeskai and Blue-White Control
This match-up has a very fluid sideboarding that can change a lot based on the cards you see from them, the way they play, your game plan and so on. This is just a baseline.
Game 1 they don’t play too many counterspells, so if you have a threat-heavy hand, don’t be afraid to just jam them into open mana. Otherwise you can use your ramp to try and set up a turn where you cast two Scapeshift before they have 6 mana up to counter both.
You can also play a game where you pressure them with a natural Valakut until they have to spend mana to defend themselves, at which point you can go for it. This won’t work if they have enough Field of Ruin, but you can sometimes sandbag Explore with two Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle in hand. Wait until you have 5 mountains in play and a bunch of fetchlands and other ways to get lands instant speed. Then you deploy both Valakuts on the same turn and start responding to Field of Ruin activations by dealing them 6. It becomes a weird sort of counterwar, where they might have tapped low enough for you to cast Scapeshift by the end of it.
Postboard you get to bring in more cheap threats. Don’t sacrifice Sakura-TribeElder, don’t be afraid to play Reclamation Sage without a target. Just keep pecking in damage, so that the control deck can’t stick a Planeswalker and are forced to spend some attention on their life total.
Use Relic of Progenitus very patiently. You should generally just keep them in play to empty graveyards to keep Logic Knot, Snapcaster Mage and Search for Azcanta in check. Also remember that they sometimes have Surgical Extraction.
In this matchup, I also bring out Explore on the draw. The reason is that the game goes very long and usually you end up playing all the lands in your hand anyway, so it’s just 2 mana cycler (which isn’t to shabby anyway). You often have a problem with running out of basic Mountains, so that’s why I shave a single Search for Tomorrow even though it looks odd.
I like to keep in a couple Lightning Bolt to kill Vendilion Clique or a potential Spell Queller. They can also just pressure planeswalkers or win the game.
Sideboard against Grixis Shadow
It’s the exact same sideboard plan as against BG, but the games play out quite differently. Instead of being trumps to Liliana of the Veil, your Obstinate Baloth are mere chump-blockers (sometimes they also attack or double-block though), but that’s all you need to buy you as many draw steps as possible to get out of their disruption.
They basically can’t beat Primeval Titan. Even if they manage to kill it, they still die to the Valakut triggers next turn, because they always have a low life total.
The best sideboard tech you can have for this match-up is the cute Spitebellows as it kills a big Death’s Shadow and can’t get hit by Stubborn Denial or Inquisition of Kozilek.
Sideboard against Tron
The thing about this matchup is that while they are a faster ramp deck than you, they have very few cards that matter. Karn Liberated is tough if it comes down early, but sometimes they are forced to kill a land right away, at which point you can just Lightning Bolt it or brute force through it with enough ramp. You just have to hope they don’t have Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger too early, as this is the only card that meaningfully disrupts you while also putting on a fast clock.
I think it’s reasonable to keep in Flame Slash to kill their sideboarded Thought-Knot Seer, but it doesn’t feel necessary.
Sideboard against Humans
Without the artifact-destruction this is just a light version of the same strategy you employ against Affinity. Of all the creature decks, Humans is the worst matchup (about 50/50) because their clock is very fast and their hatebears are surprisingly annoying. You might want to pull the trigger on Anger of the Gods before you think you should, so you don’t get got by Meddling Mage.
Sideboard against Whir Prison
I haven’t played this matchup much, so I sadly can’t bring many tips and tricks. This is the primary reason for packing Shatterstorm, so set up your Tireless Tracker to dig aggressively for it before you die to a planeswalker.
Sometimes you will draw enough artifact destruction to brute force your way through, but don’t count on it. They attempt to get down Witchbane Orb which is the only thing that really matters to get rid of. Remember that it won’t protect their creatures or their planeswalkers from your fiery Valakuts.
I board out a Sakura-Tribe Elder, because they have Sorcerous Spyglass, and we don’t want that to happen to multiple of our ramp spells.
Roast and Flame Slash are for Spellskite, Sai, Master Thopterist and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas.
Sideboard against Amulet Titan
Ah, the eternal struggle of who is the better Primeval Titan-deck. I still stand firm that Valakut is, and I even think we’re slightly favored in the head-to-head, though it’s hard to say because the Amulet-lists are getting tuned really well. It’s important to try and set up your mana base so that your Titan can kill theirs. This means drawing natural Valakut or ramping 3 times in the first three turns.
Sideboard against Red-Green Valakut
This must be the least skill intensive match-up in Modern. We don’t even have a real sideboard-plan which is why I bring in Relic of Progenitus to be as consistent as possible.
Try as hard as you can to stay above 18 life while presenting the best clock you can. We keep in Lightning Bolt to bring their life total below the threshold, bring in Obstinate Baloth to stay out of range and nudge their life total (though we rarely have time to cast it). Nature’s Claim can kill a stray Khalni Heart Expedition or Prismatic Omen, or it can target our own Relic to put us out of range.
Make sure you can kill a Titan if it comes down – or just kill them with Scapeshift. Sometimes they have Crumble to Dust in their sideboard, so think twice before playing your Valakut.
Sideboard against Bant Spirits
Basically the same plan as against Humans, except we can’t quite bring in Roast against the deck with all flyers, so we settle for Grafdigger’s Cage to try and catch a Collected Company.
Don’t be afraid to cast a ramp-spell into a turn one Mausoleum Wanderer, you are generally happy if they lose the clock to counter it.
Sideboard against Storm
This matchup is baaaaad. We can’t really tap out for Titan that much, so we just want to keep them at bay with graveyard hate and removal spells for their Goblin Electromancer and Baral, Chief of Compliance.
I board out Summoner’s Pact over additional copies of Primeval Titan for two reasons: One is that they play Remand, and getting our Titan remanded after we search for it with Summoner’s Pact is devastating as we can’t replay it next turn. The other reason is that we bring in Damping Sphere which isn’t exactly a combo with Pact.
Usually they don’t run Blood Moon, but if you see fetchlands, they might. I don’t really bother with it anyway, because we are already in bad enough shape that I think it gives us a higher winrate to just ignore the card and hope they don’t draw it.
Sideboard against Mono Red Phoenix
On the play:
On the draw:
Right before I wrote this paragraph, I spent a couple hours testing this matchup postboard. I must admit, that I am still not sure what to do, and as you can see the resulting sideboard plan is pretty exhaustive.
In this matchup, you want to rely on Anger of the Gods to get rid of Arclight Phoenix, because it also sweeps up their prowess-creatures. Grafdigger’s Cage makes sure that no recursion happens and it also locks out flashbacking Faithless Looting in your grindy games.
The majority of Mono Red Phoenix lists play upwards of 3 Blood Moon in the sideboard, but if you just get rid of all copies of Scapeshift, you can just win with 4/4s and 6/6s as you kill all their creatures. We just bring in a single Reclamation Sage for good measure.
The biggest obstacle I met when testing this plan was that I had too slow of a clock and often flooded, so that I would die to their burn spells in the late game. They have Blood Moon often enough that I don’t think Scapeshift is the answer. I started out without Relic of Progenitus in my deck, but I came to the conclusion that we do want the cycling and the ability to better control phoenix.
Sideboard against Ad Nauseam
And we end on a low note. Valakut vs Ad Nauseam is probably one of the most lopsided matchups in Modern. Not only are they a spell-based combo deck – already bad news for Valakut – they can also easily stop you with Angel’s Grace, Phyrexian Unlife and Pact of Negation. Plus they board in Leyline of Sanctity and Thoughtseize!
You just have to bring your enchantment and artifact destruction, hope you can destroy some key piece or that they brick for so many turns that you can kill them with Titan. Or hope they don’t have Leyline of Sanctity and you race them with Scapeshift.
Last time I played this matchup, I even lost to Simian Spirit Guide beats. Now THAT’S embarrassing!
General sideboarding conclusions
As you can see, no card is safe from getting boarded out. Well except for our lands of course, though it isn’t the worst to take out a single Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle on the draw if you don’t expect the matchup to come down to a natural Valakut draw.
And of course Wood Elves still remains safe. For now… I’m sure you can come up with reasons to cut it in some matchup.
It’s quite unique that a Modern deck has so much flexibility when it comes to sideboarding, and I think that understanding this crucial part Valakut is the kernel of understanding the deck itself. Here’s hoping I gave you some useful insights into my inner magma chambers.
Until next time, may all your opponents always play their first shockland untapped!