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Seldom do powerful combos remain untouched in Standard, and the year of Scapeshift-free Standard has mostly come to an end. Core 2020 brought us the perfect enabler for this Modern Staple, letting us generate insurmountable board swings in the middle turns of the game. For anyone who loves large amounts of mana, splashy spells, and Valakut, Standard finally has a powerful archetype to consider.

In this article, I’ll be discussing the card choices of the Sultai Scapeshift list I took to Top 50 mythic this season, as well as discuss other options and recommendations. At the end you’ll find a brief sideboard guide with notes on each matchup.

The Ramp

Paradise Druid | A defining ramp spell since its printing, Paradise Druid serves as nearly guaranteed ramp while giving just enough mana fixing. Crucial for hitting double black, Paradise Druid is also important in the aggressive matchups, as it can trade off against an early creature, though its primary purpose is to cast a Turn 3 Circuitous Route.

Growth Spiral | While not quite the guaranteed ramp of Paradise Druid, Growth Spiral’s advantage is as a way to smooth out early game draws while sometimes ramping into early plays. Incorporating ramp into the list lets you accelerate the combo draws, by turboing out Scapeshift kills.

Circuitous Route | Critical for ramping into Casualties of War and Turn 4/5 Scapeshift plays, Circuitous Route also converts Green heavy draws into mana fixing for both Blue and Black. The best draws for the deck involve Circuitous Route, and it is the key to racing aggressive decks. Play four copies and never cut them.

Risen Reef | While early iterations chose to play Elvish Rejuvenator and Grow from the Ashes, Risen Reef has, well, risen to the top of the available card pool. It synergizes with Cavalier of Thorns, and prevents the deck from flooding in the late game. While harder on the mana, the upside is worth it.

Cavalier of Thorns | Another ramp spell that incorporates a midrange plan, Cavalier of Thorns ramps and digs for Field of the Dead, while giving insurance against Kaya’s Wrath and difficult to remove flyers like Rekindling Phoenix. Cavalier is also an elemental, making Risen Reef draws into value machines.

The Payoffs

Hydroid Krasis | One of the premier payoffs of any ramp strategy, Hydroid Krasis adds to the consistency of the deck, while turning into a game winning threat. Four copies is what most lists start with, though it can be trimmed in Narset heavy metagames, or to make room for more removal.

Casualties of War | An unorthodox choice for Growth Spiral decks, Casualties of War is the secret sauce for a successful Scapeshift list. Converting Circuitous Route into an easy to cast Casualties lets the deck convert mana advantage into an ever increasing board state. It’s also one of the few catch up cards in the deck, letting you remove multiple threats in the same turn. Four copies is important in Nissa heavy metagames, though I would trim one if aggressive decks are more important.

Scapeshift | The ultimate combo card with Field of the Dead, Scapeshift lets you turn seven lands into seven 2/2 zombies, and can be deployed as early as Turn 4. Additionally, Scapeshift can thing the deck in grindier matchups, letting your suite of cantrips dig into spell after spell. This does require running enough different lands to trigger Field, but that’s an easy ask in most green decks (even Shock + Check mana bases can turn on Scapeshift).

Field of the Dead | Combining with Scapeshift to generate huge board swings, Field of the Dead gives the deck access to both a powerful payoff and an explosive on curve play. The singular reason to play the archetype, Field of the Dead’s condition is easy to accomplish in a Standard format this rife with dual lands.

Massacre Girl | While not explicitly a payoff, Massacre Girl serves as a board wipe attached to a proactive play, and dodges most countermagic. Additionally, the amount of zombie tokens generated ensures an almost guaranteed board wipe with just a single starter creature — like Paradise Druid or Risen Reef.

The Lands

Breeding Pool/Overgrown Tomb | Shocklands diversify land names, while giving untapped lands for on curve plays.

Hinterland Harbor/Woodland Cemetery | Similarly to the shocklands, these Green checklands will often enter untapped, but worst case they function similarly to guildgates.

Golgari Guildgate/Simic Guildgate | Acting as both diversified lands for Field and searchable dual lands for Circuitous Route, the guildgates add to the consistency of the archetype.

Jungle Hollow/Thornwood Falls | While replaceable, life gain lands can stabilize the board against burn spells, while once again diversifying lands.

Temple of Malady/Temple of Mystery | Lands that filter through land clumps tend to be exceptionally powerful, and the scrylands are the most effective Turn 1 play. Four copies is sufficient, though I would play more if you want to play without the life gain lands.

Other Choices and Recommendations

Unmoored Ego | Exclusively an option in Scapeshift and Nexus heavy formats, Unmoored gives this deck access to a silver bullet sideboard card — a powerful option for combo decks.

Thrashing Brontodon | Like Unmoored Ego, Brontodon serves an important role against Nexus, but also shores up the Mono Red matchup by handling Frenzy and being resilient to removal.

Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar | A haymaker sideboard option in Scapeshift mirrors, Multani gives the deck access to an unrelenting horde of threats. One copy would be sufficient if you’re in the market for late game plays.

Shifting Ceratops | Primarily justified if you are playing against Mono Blue, Simic Flash, or Teferis, Shifting Ceratops is a difficult to beat threat that is easy to cast. Turn 3 Shifting is lights out against most Blue decks.

The Sideboard

Veil of Summer | Blocking both Thought Erasure and Dovin’s Veto, Veil of Summer ensures that our big threats make it onto the field. Three copies is adequate in the current state of the format, as blanking Duress or Negate is enough in most games.

Legion’s End | A conditional but powerful removal spell, Legion’s End shuts down most token strategies, while slowing down Vampires. It also can remove Adanto Vanguard and Dreadhorde Butcher without difficulty. Exiling an animated Nissa land lets you remove lands with the same name from their hand, leading to potential blowouts against Hydroid Krasis or an unchecked Nissa.

Negate | Critical for slowing down Nexus and opposing Scapeshift decks, Negate is an important addition to the sideboard. The minimum I would play is two copies, but I am strongly considering moving up to four copies if Growth Spiral decks become more popular.

Noxious Grasp | With Elementals and Nissa decks proving popular, Noxious Grasp hits a variety of threats in the format. Color hosers continue to impress, so bring Noxious Grasp in against most decks with targets.

Ritual of Soot | Ramp decks need to get mileage out of every spell, and Ritual of Soot gives access to a sweeper against most decks (even Elementals and Nissa decks), while castable on likely the same turn as Massacre Girl. Diversifying removal is likewise important, so Ritual of Soot gets the nod over Cry of the Carnarium.

Agent of Treachery | A midrange trump card in both the mirror and against Esper, Agent of Treachery feeds into the land destruction plan while serving as a catch all answer against midrange decks.

Massacre Girl | An extra sweeper that dodges Negate is important for Hero of Precinct One or Risen Reef matchups, while increasing the win rate against Vampires.

The Elderspell | A powerful answer against both Nissa and Teferi, The Elderspell is an easy Turn 4/5 play that removes otherwise sticky threats.

Liliana, Dreadhorde General | Having top end threats for grindier matchups is all upside when paired with easy mana acceleration, but Liliana also acts as removal stapled onto a Kaya’s Wrath proof threat. One copy is adequate though, so look to play a smattering of different threats instead of doubling up.

Sideboard Guide and Philosophy

Elementals Simic Flash
2 Ritual of Soot, 2 Noxious Grasp, 1 Massacre Girl
3 Veil of Summer, 1 Legion’s End, 2 Ritual of Soot, 1 Massacre Girl
4 Cavalier of Thorns, 1 Growth Spiral
4 Casualties of War, 1 Scapeshift, 1 Growth Spiral, 1 Cavalier of Thorns
Simic Nexus Rakdos Aggro
2 Negate, 2 Agent of Treachery, 2 Noxious Grasp, 3 Veil of Summer
1 Legion’s End, 2 Ritual of Soot, 1 Massacre Girl
2 Massacre Girl, 4 Hydroid Krasis, 3 Cavalier of Thorns
Out 4 Casualties of War
Gateshift Esper Walkers
2 Agent of Treachery, 2 Negate
3 Veil of Summer, 2 Negate, 1 Noxious Grasp, 1 The Elderspell, 1 Liliana, 2 Agent
2 Massacre Girl, 2 Cavalier of Thorns
2 Scapeshift, 2 Hydroid Krasis, 2 Massacre Girl, 2 Cavalier of Thorns, 2 Growth Spiral

Elementals — Good Matchup

This matchup is all about controlling the board. Lean heavily on having an answer for Nissa and their board, though you can take a few hits without being punished much. They do play Negate, but Massacre Girl is almost impossible for them to stop. Using Casualties or Agent to time walk them is the primary route to victory, and they don’t have many answers to a resolved Scapeshift

Simic Nexus — Weak Matchup

We definitely don’t have a sideboard tailored to beat Nexus, but the matchup is still close. Countermagic goes a long way, and if you tax their resources enough you can set up big plays with Casualties. Mulligan aggressively for ramp, as you need to enable Scapeshift draws to stand the highest chance — they’re likely to take out Root Snare against you.

Gateshift — Slightly Favored

I’ve felt like most of my wins in this matchup have been due to understanding Scapeshift mirrors more than my opponents, but they have all the tools necessary to fight your game plan, plus a planeswalker package that can kill you through your own Scapeshift. There are a few key things to keep in mind.

  1. Try to stay ahead in the land department — using Casualties or Agent to set them behind is the best way to win as they only play two Field of the Dead.
  2. Try not to Scapeshift until the lategame, as they play four Gates Ablaze, instead try to leverage Cavalier and Hydroid Krasis first.
  3. Spend as many resources as possible to fight through a Teferi — it’s often worth trading away multiple zombies, as Teferi lets them instant speed Scapeshift for the win.
  4. Postboard you are the control deck — use Negates sparingly, but prioritize Circuitous Route, Teferi, Guild Summit, and Scapeshift in that order.
  5. Guild Summit is surprisingly poor against us, as we have a variety of answers to it and play more Field of the Dead. Try not to fight over it unless you’re low on resources, as they can often lose by decking if they have one in play.
  6. The best answer to a Scapeshift is your own Scapeshift, as both decks play only symmetrical sweepers.

Simic Flash — Slightly Unfavored

Game One is draw dependent and usually they’re favored. Postboard it gets substantially better for us, and I’d say we’re even a little favored post board.

The matchup comes down to taxing their resources — try to double spell when possible, and keep in mind that they can rarely win through a Scapeshift. They don’t have a ton of Flyers, so a wide board state is enough to stabilize. Krasis and Cavalier are powerhouses, and Massacre Girl can sweep most boards. You are the Control deck in the matchup, and resolving a large Krasis or Scapeshift wins often enough to justify a sweeper heavy plan.

Rakdos Aggro — Weak Matchup

They’re crazy fast, and we don’t have many early tools to stabilize. Mulligan aggressively for hands with Ramp or sweepers, as those are the only ways to win. They are likely to bring in Duress, so there may be a case for Veil but it doesn’t answer the board (but it can combine with Ritual of Soot to prevent Judith, Footlight, and Dreadhorde Butcher triggers).

Esper Walkers — Good Matchup

They are trying to play a grindy game, and often you’ll win Game One by running them out of sweepers. They only have six or seven answers to wide boards, so fight over planeswalkers with Casualties. Still, there are a few tips and reasons for the sideboard decisions.

  1. The matchup goes long, and they have answers to your board. This makes having 4 Scapeshift a liability, as you’ll be able to find one if needed, but often playing a midrange plan is going to force them to sweep the board anyway.
  2. Narset is their best card, and they’re likely to leave all four in. As such, Krasis and Growth Spiral are the weakest cantrips, but a couple copies are good in the right spots.
  3. Command the Dreadhorde and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria are the most frequeny ways to lose the game, so Negate does double duty there, while the planeswalker removal spells can stunt the advantage of Teferi. Boarding out Cavalier prevents large commands from taking over the game, but a couple copies lets you fight through a Kaya’s Wrath.
  4. With few creatures, Massacre Girl is pretty poor, making the swap for Agent easy enough. Agent can’t be countered with Dovin’s Veto or taken with Duress, and can take a planeswalker to start accruing advantage, though stealing a Search for Azcanta is common enough. They also can’t afford to bounce or tuck Agent with Teferi.

Thanks for checking out our Sultai Scapeshift Deck Tech, and as always, let us know what you think in the comments section below. And if you’re drafting, feel free to check out our Core 2020 Draft Guide and Tier List.