26 Feb 2019 – Update: Added some more detail on how my Round 10 match against Amulet Titan concluded.
A couple of months ago, a friend showed me a discussion thread asking, “What attracts you all to winning via a ramp/combo strategy in Valakut?” The top comment was:
Me play big mountain and make opponent go boom boom!
Inspired by such pragmatic poetry, I decided that I will accept this as my personal mantra for GP Toronto. With a strong finish at GP Portland, which you can find in my recent article here, I felt confident in my list. In a refreshing turn of events, my confidence was boosted to new heights in late January, when we received this announcement:
A ban on KCI means that Titanshift loses one of its worst matchups. With little interaction beyond Ruric Thar and some artifact/enchantment hate, Titanshift lacked the ability to slow down KCI enough to win. While this would ordinarily mean that Titanshift is positioned to take over the format, I am humbled as the announcement coincides with the release of Ravnica Allegiance, and with it these new powerhouses:
Hype for these cards is justified, as they bring a powerful resiliency to the omnipresent archetype. With an expected uptick in Burn due to these powerful additions, it seems prudent to devote extra slots to this matchup.
Day 0 – Thursday
I drove to Los Angeles International Airport super early Thursday morning and landed in Toronto late afternoon (the three-hour time difference really threw me off). The Toronto metro system is super easy to navigate, and I reached my Airbnb with enough time to take a nap before meeting with my brother (who will be hanging out with me throughout the weekend) for dinner at King Rustic Kitchen & Bar.
Day 0.5 – Friday
The weekend started off with a light day, as I got some decent sleep and braved the crisp, cold morning of downtown Toronto with my brother for some breakfast sandwiches. Packing my list from GP Portland, I decided to sign up for the morning Modern Double Up to get some reps in and to see what changes have been made to the Modern metagame.
My Round 1 opponent, Dawson, opened with turn 1 Mountain into Goblin Guide. Fresh off a mulligan to 5, I started with basic Forest and a suspended Search for Tomorrow. On Turn 2, my opponent swung with Goblin Guide, revealing a land, and fires off two Skewer the Critics. In order to set up a blocker, I had to play a shockland untapped. A few burn spells later and we were into sideboard games. In Games 2 and 3, I got a bit lucky as I hit two of my three Obstinate Baloths to buy me enough time. This, combined with some timely flood from my opponent secured a first-round win. After the match, my mind is racing. Skewer the Critics is real, and I need to account for that in my list for tomorrow.
Round 2 was a typical big mana matchup as my opponent Peter piloted Mono-Green Tron. It came down to Game 3, which brought up a very awkward moment of me having the Scapeshift combo with seven lands and my opponent being at 20 life. With not enough lands in play to win, I found myself with an unfortunate loss. In the 1-1 bracket, my opponent Sau and I agreed to draw and to play the games out for fun. He was piloting the much lower to the ground Rakdos Burn list featuring Bump in the Night and designed to be fully utilizing both Skewer the Critics and Light Up the Stage. Confirming my suspicions of these cards, I had in mind what changes I would need to make for the upcoming main event.
After playing my matches and browsing the vendors for some choice singles, I dined on a delicious dinner at the chef’s bar at Momofuku Kojin, before closing the night out by attending an amazing classical music concert performed by Ólafur Arnalds.
Day 1 – Saturday – Modern Main Event
With the Burn matchup ever on my mind, Theros-block all-star Courser of Kruphix stuck out. The card offers great card advantage in grindy matchups, has a decent body to combat aggressive strategies and synergies well with our ramp plan. I decided to cut Reclamation Sage (from the main deck) and Wood Elves to jam two of these for the weekend.
Coming off of my two byes, my Round 3 opponent Ben and I got the random deck check. While waiting in my seat, I had the opportunity to watch some of the other matches around me such as the Counters Company mirror and Eldrazi Tron versus Jeskai Control. After receiving our decks back and five minutes of extensive shuffling (our decks were completely sorted out), we started our match — the Titan mirror. Ben was on Amulet Titan, and this matchup is a race to see who can cast their haymaker first. I found one first, as I curved Prismatic Omen into Scapeshift on Turn 4, and cast the first Titan in Game 2. Feeling good about my first win for the day (I have a history of botching my first round of every tournament), I get paired up Pierre-Yves on Jund for Round 4. Aside from a strange first game of not hitting any of my win conditions and flooding out, this matchup was an easy win for me despite Fulminator Mage on the other side of the table.
For Round 5, I am up against Andy on Jeskai Control. He proceeded to burn me out quickly Game 1 and surprised me Game 2 with a turn 3 Field of Ruin into Surgical Extraction targeting my destroyed Valakut. The rest of that game was an uphill battle, but my creatures proved no match for his removal spells. In Round 6, I met another Titanshift pilot and frequent visitor of the Valakut Facebook group Ian. The mirror is pretty much a die roll, which Ian won in Game 1. I returned the favor with a Prismatic Omen-into-Scapeshift win in Game 2. During Game 3, however, I had Prismatic Omen and Titan in play with a fetchland and two Valakuts on the field. Ian, at one life, had one green source up, signaling to me that he had Nature’s Claim. I thought about whether or not to sac my land for the lethal triggers and proceeded to make the incorrect decision of passing the turn and fetching in response to his Prismatic Omen. He next-leveled me by casting Pulse of Murasa to gain six life and return his Sakura-Tribe Elder for lethal. As my girlfriend Kristin would say, I got got.
With two losses, my back is against the wall. I need to win out in order to make Day 2, and in Round 7 I faced off against Ryan on Bant Spirits. He won Game 1 with timely Spell Quellers and Selfless Spirits for protection, but in Games 2 and 3, I boarded in a very unorthodox way (-4 Scapeshift, +1 Anger of the Gods, +3 Obstinate Baloth). These games went as expected, as I stranded Spell Queller by curving Hour of Promise into Primeval Titan. Round 8 was my win-and-in, and it would have seemed the Magic gods have blessed me with a redemption matchup against Jeskai Control piloted by the recent SCG Modern Classic winner Kazu Negri. Game 1 was very strange as Kazu was missing land drops, and I proceeded to deal 14 points of damage with my 2 Courser Kruphix before hitting a Titan to deal the final points. In Game 2, Kazu had an aggressive Surgical Extraction targeting my Sakura-Tribe Elder followed by Search for Azcanta. The window was open for me to resolve turn 3 Prismatic Omen followed by a Valakut as my fifth land. I proceeded to hit my land drops to slowly bolt my opponent’s life total away for the match 2-0. With a sixth victory secured, I had made the cut for Day 2 and would get to play the extra round that day. Round 9 was tough as I faced Justin (with his first Day 2) on Izzet Phoenix. It was pretty much a damage race, which unfortunately I lost (1-2), but that did not deter me away from making my 3rd Magic career Day 2. I was playing well and returning the next day confident in both deck and ability.
Day 2 – Sunday – Modern Main Event
Wanting to stay fresh for Day 2, I went to bed early and slept well. I left the Airbnb early for some breakfast from the Tim Horton across the street and a chai tea latte from Starbucks. My day started with Round 10 against Leslie on Amulet Titan. He started off with a quick turn 1 Amulet of Vigor and proceeded to cast his Titan first with Pact of Negation backup. Game 2 was strange as he had Titan on the battlefield with no Amulet at 18 life, but I had a Prismatic Omen in play with five lands (two were Valakuts) and two fetchlands and an Explore in hand, allowing me to have eight triggers to deal 24 points. During Game 3, I had Scapeshift and Prismatic Omen in my opening hand on the draw. I just needed the time to get there. Leslie was able to produce his Titan first with no Amulet in play, but I held up mana to respond with Beast Within targeting his Titan while his enter the battlefield trigger was on the stack. Looking back, I probably could have waited to see what he searched for and then responded pre-combat. He then searched for two of his taplands, and I presented my turn with the sixth land, Prismatic Omen, and Scapeshift for the win (2-1). Round 11 proved to be a strange matchup, as I was paired up against Jamie on Izzet Living End featuring the RNA card Electrodominance. In Game 1, he was unable to cast Living End due to my two Sakura-Tribe Elders and a Primeval Titan (countered with Cryptic Command) in the graveyard. He thought about it for a moment and proceeded to scoop up his cards at 7 life. Jamie was able to hit his combo off quickly in Game 2 to rush me with his cycled creatures. A tense Game 3 ensued, with a mistake that almost cost me the match. I resolved Scapeshift with nine lands in play. I proceeded to pick up 7 lands leaving behind a Valakut and a basic Forest (which I had misidentified as a Mountain) for the 2nd Valakut and six Mountains. My opponent responded to the triggers by sacrificing his Fulminator Mage to destroy the sixth Mountain to reduce my twelve triggers to two, bringing him down to five. Calming down from my mistake, I proceeded to auto correct by using floating mana from the untapped lands I sacrificed to find the basic Mountain to deal lethal damage. I noted this as one of the few times my foils had tried to foil my game plan (see what I did there?).
After that close call, I took a walk around the convention center to calm my nerves and to refill my water bottle. For Round 12, I am paired up against Bant Spirits and made quick work of my opponent due to this lack of a quick clock. Round 13 was another Bant Spirits matchup was against a seasoned pro, Tyler Hill. I was able to quickly combo off Game 1, but lost Game 3 to a timely Collected Company. I had an opportunity to stabilize the board by destroying a Spell Queller with an exiled Anger of the Gods, but his Collected Company found him a lord and a Selfless Spirit to prevent my plan from coming to fruition. Rounds 14 and 15 were very rough for me as I lost to Hardened Scales and Izzet Phoenix respectively to keep me from getting my tenth win and my very first pro point.
Overall, I was a bit disappointed in not being able to achieve my first pro point (so close, yet so far), but despite that setback, I am very happy in having my strongest performance to date. Even though I never faced the Burn matchup again all weekend, Courser of Kruphix proved beneficial in other matchups where my life total was important (Jeskai Control and Spirits). Aside from that, the list felt solid, and I would definitely jam a similar configuration for the upcoming GP Los Angeles.
As an added bonus, I was brewing between rounds during the GP to come up with this Temur Scapeshift list featuring Growth Spiral that I may be experimenting in the future:
You can follow Thien on Twitter @EarthToThien