Why You Should Play Titan Shift in Modern in 2020
- Marin Magda
Titan Shift, although not the most popular Modern deck right now, still saw a decent amount of play throughout 2019, especially in the final few months. Read on to see why it shouldn't be any less of a factor in the year to come, and what new tools and circumstances have improved its position in the metagame.
|2019 was quite a dynamic year for the Modern format. From the absolute dominance of graveyard decks to the Faithless Looting ban and the Stoneforge Mystic unban, not to mention the Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis summer, we witnessed a lot of monumental metagame shifts.|
The decks that left their mark on Modern at the beginning of 2019, such as Izzet Phoenix and Dredge, weren't all that bad for Titan Shift. But they weren't good news either, as they would often outrace it due to their explosive potential. To make things (much) worse, this prevalence of graveyard-centric decks made Surgical Extraction one of the most played cards in Modern, which didn't help the Valakut plan at all. This further escalated with the printing of Hogaak, which immediately became one of the deck's worst matchups. However, with Looting banned and the Mystic unbanned, most of these archetypes either completely died off, or barely managed to survive. This heralded a massive resurgence of midrange decks, which caused Titan Shift to spike in popularity, as it is favored against them. Although Tron, another big mana deck, does see quite a bit more play, you'll underestimate Scapeshift decks at your own peril. Here are some of the main reasons why.
It Relies on Lands
In short, to win a game with Scapeshift, you need to get enough lands, usually seven, to cast the namesake spell and point 18 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle damage wherever you want, usually straight at the opponent's face. However, even if you don't draw your Scapeshift, Titan Shift can, should the opponent not have a Field of Ruin at their disposal, win thanks to an unanswered Valakut.
Eldrazi Tron is on top of the meta right now, which means Chalice of the Void is popular again. Fortunately, the worst thing that Chalice can do to Titan Shift is prevent Summoner's Pact by being played with zero counters, but that doesn't counter the Primeval Titan itself, nor does it counter Scapeshift. Speaking of hate cards, one of the most hated cards of 2019, Oko, Thief of Crowns, does not interact with lands at all.
Primeval Titan can also win the game without Scapeshift, fetching Valakuts or Field of the Dead, and presenting a threat that, if not dealt with immediately, tends to seal the deal. Additionally, there's always the midrange plan if things go south. Even if there's a Blood Moon or Alpine Moon on the other side of the table, the green Titan is a decent beater, and so is Tireless Tracker. Speaking of Moons …
There Is Less Scapeshift Hate
Since Surgical Extraction is off the radar, Titan Shift has a fighting chance against most, if not all of the top decks in the metagame. This is very likely the most efficient card against Valakut decks, so with it gone, the future looks bright. To make things better, neither Blood nor Alpine Moon saw a lot of play at the end of 2019. Among the Top 64 decks at Grand Prix Columbus, just a single one ran a single Blood Moon and two of them contained Alpine Moon. We're over the moon!
Ashiok, Dream Render has become more popular and found a place in nine sideboards from the same sample, but it's generally less scary than other hate cards. Also, the decks using it aren't the most scary opposition in general. Jund decks are generally a good matchup for Scapeshift decks, while the ones revolving around Urza, Lord High Artificer place somewhere in the middle. Additionally, planeswalkers are much easier to destroy, since Valakut triggers and the occasional Lightning Bolt can deal with them. As for the permanents that grant their owners hexproof, such as Leyline of Sanctity and Witchbane Orb, the green Titan can still deal lots of damage to the opponent, while Valakut triggers keep potential blockers at bay and Field of the Dead makes boatloads of zombies.
It Has Received a Lot of New Cards
Among the biggest reasons why 2019 turned out to be a good year for Valakut is that the strategy received new cards both high in number and quality. Starting off with Field of the Dead, which presents a completely new win condition for Scapeshift decks, fixes some bad matchups, and reduces the threat level of various hate cards such as Alpine Moon or Leyline of Sanctity. It also helps deal with Ashiok and tribal decks very efficiently, which is important since Humans started seeing play again. With Field, when the Titan enters the battlefield, it's usually lights out for them. Playing Field delays Valakut triggers, as you might need to put a basic Forest or a fetch land onto the battlefield just to make 2/2 Zombie creature tokens. It doesn't go well with Valakut triggers as you can't always have both, but note that this is just a minor setback. Also, you'll be left with more Mountains to Scapeshift into later, which tends to matter quite a bit in longer games.
Another land card that's a powerhouse in Titan Shift is Castle Garenbrig which makes a turn three Titan a very real possibility, even though the deck doesn't have Through the Breach. Both single and double Garenbrig lists have seen a lot of success, since getting stuck at five lands is now a bit less of an issue. Unfortunately, similarly to the Field, the Castle itself may also delay Valakut triggers, though it helps trigger the Field.
Magmatic Sinkhole is another potential main-deck inclusion that saw some play and that one might consider underrated. Its delve cost works well with six or seven fetch lands and a plethora of cheap ramp spells. It can kill Ashiok, Urza, Lord High Artificer, and even some bigger creatures such as Eldrazi or Humans that leave Bolt's range.
It's not just the main deck that got much stronger, though. The sideboard has received both major hate cards and hate answers. Among the most significant ones is Veil of Summer, a card that not only fights discard and counters, the usual bane of combo decks, but also draws you a card. It's quite easy to see why it's so successful in Valakut decks — it turns the opponent's discard into cantrips that work in your favor and helps resolve Scapeshift/Titan in most cases. As if that was not enough, it can drastically improve the otherwise underwhelming Storm matchup, fizzling Gifts Ungiven as it directly targets the opponent.
Another mandatory sideboard card is Collector Ouphe. This little guy usually wins against Hardened Scales decks if they don't have a Dismember at hand, and can slow down Tron decks quite a bit as well. Especially on the play, you can disable the opponent's Expedition Map. It can also mess with the Urza players' plans and finally it's green, so it's fetchable via Summoner's Pact. What's not to like?
If you don't draw your Ouphe or your Pact, but have a Force of Vigor in hand, you're in luck, as it can help with similar matchups, and then some. This is one of the most convenient answers for Titan Shift hate around, as it deals with Moons, permanents that grant their owner hexproof, and, of course, helps out against Urza decks.
Fry also saw play in some versions as it can help with Humans, Urza, and Ashiok. It's much more situational than the cards mentioned above, so not many run it. But the card is a solid consideration if you're certain you'll keep bumping into these decks a lot, which is probably why the only Titan Shift list in the Grand Prix Columbus Top 64 boarded two.
Unfortunately, not all new additions managed to prove themselves. When Karn, the Great Creator came out, Karn Shift variants saw some play, but faded away rather quickly, since Karn doesn't get the required protection here. Once Upon a Time, although a green card, only sees play in all-in Titan Shift lists — more on this later — just like Arboreal Grazer.
The list with which I recently won a Modern tournament showcases most of the new cards I believe are mandatory in each Titan Shift 75. I found Courser of Kruphix and Prismatic Omen surprisingly powerful, as the former helps you survive, while both of these let you find the win straight out of nowhere. This version may not go all in, but it doesn't interact much either, which is a tactic I found extremely consistent.
It's Good in the Meta and Good at Adapting
Titan Shift tends to have quite a number of flex slots. With between four and seven copies of Farseek and Explore combined, as well as some free agents, you can customize this deck to both suit your play style and the metagame. Red has a multitude of removal spells, while green has all sorts of ramp spells and adaptable creatures. Facing very fast decks? Go all in on Castles, Pacts, and even Explores to enable the turn three Titan. Having a hard time with Tron? Use Mwonvuli Acid-Moss and Damping Sphere to slow it down. The possibilities are many, with Beast Within being a card that's great against basically everything and that can even be put in the main if the need arises.
Speaking about the turn three Titan, a list that won the MTGO Modern Challenge ran full playsets of Castle Garenbrig, Arboreal Grazer, Summoner's Pact, and even Once Upon a Time. This mix of traditional Titan Shift and Titan Breach elements is not to be overlooked.
|Tommy Ashton, R/G Valakut, MTGO Modern Challenge Winner|
Running multiple different fetch lands other than Wooded Foothills for Field of the Dead barely makes a difference and is not something that has mattered to me once. But there's no reason not to include Misty Rainforest and Verdant Catacombs if you have them.
If this list doesn't hold up in the meta, you could also play Titan Breach, although it's somewhat less consistent and much more vulnerable to discard spells and counters. Discard spells are all over the place currently, with Death's Shadow decks actively using them, and Sultai Urza variations keeping them steadily in the sideboard. Titan Shift isn't a bad choice against the Urza, Lord High Artificer decks because it doesn't get hit by some of its most prominent cards. Oko, Thief of Crowns can only turn a Titan into an Elk after it's done its thing, and Karn, the Great Creator doesn't shut anything down by himself. With a little bit of patience, Titan Shift can also play around counterspells that require the opponent to pay additional mana. Metallic Rebuke is popular here, and cannot counter a lethal Scapeshift.
The deck does need to race against Shadow variants, as well as Infect, but thanks to new cards, it does this better than before. On the other hand, the Humans and both Tron matchups aren't bad. As long as they don't have an overly aggressive start, all these matchups are quite beatable. After all, being able to recover from a turn three Karn Liberated with just a little bit of luck is no small feat. Dredge is still around, but is slower than it used to be, so it shouldn't present an issue. The main thing here is that Titan Shift has great sideboard options for an open meta, making prepping hate for all these decks at the same time rather easy.
All in all, the amount of support Titan Shift got is outstanding, as some of the best sideboard cards that got released in 2019 are green. Field of the Dead provides a solid plan B, while Castle Garenbrig, which doesn't hurt the deck that much as a singleton, can make it more explosive when drawn. That's not to mention the metagame, which is full of decks Titan Shift has a fighting chance against. Just pray you'll get to escape Infect. Ad Nauseam doesn't see much play at the moment, so that might as well be the worst matchup in current Modern.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.