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SEARCHING FOR TOMORROW; A TITANSHIFT PRIMER SEAN LI 07/12/2017

Lands that do more than just add mana to your mana pool have held a special place in my heart for a while now. The Deserts in Hour of Devastation were an incredible part of the format and recently Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle has been my weapon of choice in Modern. It turns every Mountain you play after the 5th one into an almost uncounterable Lightning Bolt! It also interacts favourably with Scapeshift for a sort of combo kill.

Scapeshift sacrificing 7 lands gets you Valakut and 6 Mountains for 18 damage. That’s often enough to end the game in Modern. There have been a few decks based around Valakut and Scapeshift, but I’m going to talk about Titanshift. This deck is focused around playing ramp spells and playing a high impact finisher such as Primeval Titan, Scapeshift or Hour of Promise.

Primeval Titan is an extremely strong card and can get you any combination of Valakuts and Mountains, picking off some of your opponents’ creatures or setting up the kill for the following turn.

I think the best reason to play Titanshift is to beat random creature and midrange/value decks. Your game plan just goes over the top of a variety of decks like Counters Company (if they don’t combo you) and Humans. You also have a good matchup vs decks like Abzan as their clock is not particularly fast and your deck is resilient to hand disruption as you can draw any one of your finishers off the top of your deck. Various flavours of Tron are also good matchups as a lot of them don’t interact effectively with your combo. Turn 4 kills with Titanshift aren't out of the question, and turn 5 is often where you essentially win.

If you think your metagame will have a large share of fast decks like Storm, Infect, Burn or Affinity, then I’d lean away from playing this deck as they are not particularly kind matchups. Affinity and Burn get better post-board and aren’t too bad, but you can’t interact favourably against some of these decks. I’ve found that Blue based control decks can be tricky to play against too, especially those that run main deck land destruction.

Let’s look at the cards in the deck I registered for the Modern RPTQ.

4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

6 Mountains

4 Stomping Grounds

3 Cinder Glade

  • This gives you 13 lands with the Mountain subtype to accompany Valakut, and an ample number of basic Mountains to grab with your basic ramp spells.
  • Cinder Glades are really good later on where they almost always ETB untapped but can be a liability early on when you need to be using your all your mana to ramp, hence the 4th Stomping Ground over the 4th Cinder Glade.
  • Some lists run a 1-of Sheltered Thicket, which may be a reasonable choice, but I'm not sure if the benefit of being able to cycle a land away outweighs the downsides of always entering the battlefield tapped.

2 Forests

  • We are at two Forests which allows us to play all of our green spells through Blood Moon but they don’t contribute to our Valakuts dealing damage so it’s best to stay at the minimum here.
  • Recently, there has been an uptick in decks running Field of Ruin that may attempt to starve you on green mana. There could be an argument made to adding in a third Forest if such decks exist in high numbers in your expected metagame, but I believe the trade-off isn’t worth it in general.

4 Wooded Foothills

4 other green fetchlands

  • Wooded Foothills are a given, as they grab any fetchable land in our deck.
  • We want green fetchlands to get a painless untapped green source when needed earlier in the game and otherwise can grab our dual lands.
  • We have a mix of fetchlands against Pithing Needle and for minimal amount of mindgames. The actual choice of lands doesn’t really matter.

4 Scapeshift

4 Primeval Titan

  • These are the main cards we use to end the game. Resolving a Primeval Titan and getting to attack with it is essentially game over in most cases. You either want to grab lands to get immediate triggers (often Valakut + a Mountain) or 2 Valakuts to set up your future turns.
  • Scapeshift with 7 lands is 18 damage, but sacrificing 8 lands and grabbing two Valakuts and 6 Mountains gives you 12 triggers and 36 damage when 18 isn’t enough.

2 Hour of Promise

  • Hour of Promise is the most recent addition to Titanshift. These essentially act as additional one-shot copies of Primeval Titan and can be played as early as turn 3 if you manage to play Search For Tomorrow and a 2 mana ramp spell beforehand. What you grab is based on the same considerations as Primeval Titan.

2 Summoner’s Pact

  • These help make the deck more consistent by effectively providing a Primeval Titan or a ramp creature, depending on what you need. Don’t forget to pay for your pact!
  • One of the appeals of the deck is its consistency and resilience to hand disruption, any of the above cards are good top-decks as all you need to do is make land drops/ramp before landing one of these cards.

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

  • Sakura-Tribe Elder (STE) is a slightly flexible card. It’ll often chump and prevent some damage to you before turning into a land but can also attack a couple of times to get your opponent to a lower life total if needs be.

4 Search for Tomorrow

  • Search for Tomorrow provides you with one of your only turn 1 plays but also effectively costs 2 mana in a later turn, letting you play two ramp spells in a turn as early as turn 3.

3 Farseek

  • Farseek is a great spell as it can get your dual lands, providing the Mountains you need as well as the green to cast your spells. I think 3 is the minimum you want.

1 Wood Elves

  • Wood Elves is maybe not the strongest card but it’s a sweet card - it can be tutored for with Summoner’s Pact and is similar to STE but you can save it for chumping/attacking, even if you need the ramp straight away. Being able to grab your dual lands is a bonus too!

1 Explore

  • Explore can be a fantastic 2nd turn play if you have excess lands in hand, but is lacklustre otherwise. Despite the low floor, I like having one at least.

4 Lightning Bolt

  • 3 Lightning Bolt is the minimum amount of interaction I would play main deck. You are slower than a lot of the decks in Modern by a turn or two, and a well timed Lightning Bolt can often buy you the time to finish your opponent off.
  • There are situations where your opponent is above 18 life and a Bolt can take them into range for a 7 land + Scapeshift kill.
  • I decided to go with 4 as it is good versus various creature decks and slows down decks like Affinity and Humans. I also had some hopes that being able to kill a turn 2 creature from Storm would also slow them down enough to have a chance.

1 Sweltering Suns

1 Anger of the Gods

  • Having main deck sweepers is not uncommon in Titanshift and I felt that they were a good addition. Affinity is one of the more popular decks around right now and sweepers really help shore up what is otherwise a reasonably difficult matchup.
  • Sweltering Suns has the upside of being able to cycle when it’s dead so I like it as a main deck option. I ran a 1/1 split main deck for the RPTQ to hedge against Meddling Mage but feel that starting 2 Sweltering Suns may be a better option going forwards.

2 Prismatic Omen

  • There are some lists that don’t run Prismatic Omen but it gives you the potential to kill with just 6 lands, as Scapeshift getting Valakuts will count themselves as Mountains giving you a ridiculous amount of triggers. It also turns fetchlands into 6 damage per Valakut and it feels like a very worthwhile card. The downside is that a second Prismatic Omen has no effect, and is why we’re only playing 2.

These are the cards I decided to play main deck, but the 4th Lightning Bolt and the two sweepers are flex slots that could be replaced.

Other potential cards

4th Farseek

2nd Explore

3rd Hour of Promise

  • If you want to eschew interaction and focus on your own game plan game 1, I like having these cards over the 4th Bolt and 2 sweepers. You become more streamlined and consistent, and is what I ran at the PPTQs I played.

Other lists have different cards for interaction.

Relic of Progenitus

  • This is a safe option as it can be cashed in for a card against any deck but is a potent card against graveyard-based decks and decks that utilise the graveyard like Grixis Death Shadow. Green/Red also doesn’t have many good options in this area.

Roast

  • Some decks play this as another piece of interaction, it can kill threats like Gurmag Angler and Eldrazi.

Green creatures like Obstinate Baloth, Thragtusk, Reclamation Sage

  • These are all interesting as they can be tutored by Summoner’s Pact and may help you in some tougher matchups but I don’t think they’re worth it. I believe the best plan to start with is to be streamlined and focused on your own game plan, with the sideboard tuned to interact with your opponent.
  • These could all be run alongside or instead of the Wood Elves.

Pia and Kiran Nalaar

Chandra, Torch of Defiance

  • The members of the Nalaar family have seen place in lists before but recently have fallen out of favour. I don’t really like them as they don’t contribute directly to your game plan and aren’t tutorable with Summoner’s Pact.

SIDEBOARD

4 Leyline of Sanctity

  • Some people don’t like the Leyline package as it takes up 3-4 slots and is underwhelming if not in your opening hand. It makes the Burn matchup much more comfortable and many of my Burn opponents have actually failed to bring in Enchantment removal as they were not expecting it.
  • You can bring some in against Storm to slow them down as their Empty the Warrens plan is slower than their Grapeshot plan. Having sweepers and Leyline can really throw a wrench in their plans and let you combo before they kill you.
  • It has some other uses in matchups like the mirror and random other decks. It’s probably not worth it against just cards like Thoughtseize.
  • Prismatic Omen also lets you cast the card so it’s not entirely dead if you draw it later on.

Summoner’s Pact lets you have one-ofs of some cards.

1 Obstinate Baloth

  • I like having one of these against Burn in addition to the Leylines, to help you beat down and gain some life in case.
  • It’s fine against decks with Liliana of the Veil but I would be less inclined to play it against Grixis Death Shadow, where it is low impact and where you should stick to your main game plan.
  • It’s fine as a random dude to play against Control to apply pressure and to not allow them to keep up mana against you all game. Playing a ramp spell turn 2 in to 4 drop on the play is reasonable.

1 Chameleon Colossus

  • This card is great vs Grixis Death Shadow and Jund but I don’t think I have even played against either since picking up the deck. It only takes up one slot but I could see cutting it if it’s not necessary in your predicted metagame.

1 Reclamation Sage

  • This card is great to have one of and I can understand why some lists have 2. It helps you out against Affinity as well as being a tutorable answer against  problem enchantments like Blood Moon and Leyline of Sanctity.

2 Nature's Claim

  • This fulfills the same role as Reclamation Sage but at a very efficient rate and instant speed. This is one of your answers to an Inkmoth Nexus with 4+ counters on it from Affinity

1 Anger of the Gods

  • An additional sweeper helps you against the swarm decks. I like the sideboard sweeper being Anger of the Gods as it gets around death triggers and as you are bringing it in to deal with a problem you are less likely to need to cycle it.

3 Relic of Progenitus

  • We should have some of these in our 75 to have some game vs graveyard decks. It could be that 2 Relics is correct but as always with Modern, you have to decide what to shape your sideboard against.

1 Ancient Grudge

  • Efficient answer to artifacts from decks like Lantern and Affinity. It might not be necessary as a lot of the sideboard targets artifacts already, but it’s one of the best feelings to have this in your opponent hand vs Affinity.

1 Beast Within

  • I’m not in love with this card but it’s nice to have a catch-all answer. I’ve brought it in against control to have the ability to go ‘end of turn: destroy a land’ to constrain them on mana to increase the chances of resolving an important spell the following turn. I’ve used it to kill a Devoted Druid when I had no other answers and it also has applications in the mirror.

I’ll discuss some other commonly played sideboard cards that I considered:

Mwonvuli Acid Moss

  • This card is in some lists for the mirror and against other big mana decks like the various flavours of Tron. I tried it out and liked it even against control but decided to cut it for the RPTQ.

Witchbane Orb

  • Some people play this in lieu of the Leyline package but I haven’t tried it. It takes up less space than the Leylines, but I’m worried that it’s not quick enough to come down against the matchups you want it in.

Chalice of the Void

  • This could be good against various decks like Storm, Affinity, but isn’t something I’ve tried. I have seen it in a fair few lists though.

Shatterstorm/Creeping Corrosion

  • These can be another option against artifact based decks but I think it may be a bit overkill if much of your sideboard is already dedicated to artifact removal, like ours is.

Some tips and notes

Playing the deck is not the hardest thing in the world but you want to sequence your lands correctly so you take the least amount of damage and have the quickest kill you can achieve. When you look at your opening hand you can usually map out the turns of the game to figure out how many lands you have each turn and how to fetch and play your lands.

In general, hands with no ramp are unkeepable, especially against an unknown opponent in game 1.

My ideal hand is something like two ramp spells, a bolt and a big spell (Hour, Prime Time, Scapeshift, Pact), but a hand as simple as a ramp spell and a finisher is often good enough. The ramp is more important than the big spells, and I don’t mind keeping a hand with just a couple of ramp spells when interaction isn’t important. 

  • Valakut always enters the battlefield tapped so you often want to play it first but there’s also the possibility that you want to play your dual land so you don’t have to take damage to play a ramp spell on turn 2. Valakut can come down in a later turn as you often have spare mana after the first few turns.
  • Sometimes you want to play Cinder Glade first when it’s unlikely that it’ll come into play untapped any time soon, or if you want a painless green source by turn 2.
  • Sometimes you want to Farseek for a Mountain so that any non-Valakut land you draw can come into play untapped.
  • I often play my fetchlands last after other lands as Prismatic Omen turns them into Mountains, giving you double triggers with Valakut.
  • Prismatic Omen also lets you tap your fetchlands for mana so you don’t have to crack them and lose life! Every life point counts!
  • Fetchlands are important in some matchups to use as instant bolts in combination with Valakut. They can help you take down flash creatures and creature lands for example.
  • If you have 6 lands in play and need to draw your 7th land for Scapeshift, then it is often correct to not crack a fetch at the end of your opponent’s turn to leave an additional land in the deck to increase the likelihood of drawing one.
  • Don’t get too cute with this. If you have 5 lands and Sakura-Tribe Elder you will want to sacrifice it to get up to 6 lands for a possible Primeval Titan off the top, or even a ramp spell into a 7th land for Scapeshift.
  • A reasonably common play on 6 lands is to play a ramp spell into Scapeshift. This also works with Summoner’s Pact for a ramp creature and Scapeshift. Just make sure you want to do this. At 6 lands you can get Titan, but if your opponent is tapped out and below 18, go for the kill.
  • You don’t really want to expose your Valakuts early to things like Spreading Seas, Ghost Quarter, Tectonic Edge, and Field of Ruin. Keep that in mind if playing against a deck that runs these cards.
  • Against specifically Ponza, you may not want to expose your Forests early to Stone Rain and leave them to be fetched by cards like Search for Tomorrow and Sakura-Tribe Elder. Just be sure to have a plan vs both Stone Rain and Blood Moon in the matchup.
  • You need to do a little maths when fetching with Hour of Promise or Primeval Titan. Depending on how many turns you expect the game to go on, either getting more Mountains or more Valakuts may be correct.
  • If you don’t need the triggers right away, getting more Valakuts is often correct as it turns almost every card you draw into damage and can set up for a lot of damage in the following turns.
  • When playing Primeval Titan on 6 mana, you want exactly 5 Mountains in play so you can get a Valakut and a Mountain to get a trigger straight away. This means you can get a Forest early on if needs be, or have a Valakut in play.
  • With Prismatic Omen out, you can even grab fetchlands off Prime Time’s trigger to deal some damage and get additional use out of them the following turn.

  • One of the best things about Sakura-Tribe Elder is that she can save you some life before ramping you, so if you have Farseek and STE in hand and are wondering about which to play on turn 2, you can play Farseek first if there’s nothing to chump or you think STE can save you more life later. If you don’t need to ramp desperately you can play STE to attack for a couple points.
  • You can also choose not to chump at the first opportunity if you think you’ll get another chance and you don’t need the land immediately. Be aware of what you could draw to make you need the land though, you don’t want to be unable to cast your spells because you wanted to save an extra point of damage.

Titanshift is a relatively simple and straightforward deck, but one that rewards focusing on what matters each turn and executing your game plan.

If you haven’t tried the deck, I would recommend at least giving it a go. There’s something quite satisfying about defeating your opponent with lands, and you haven’t lived until you’ve put 4 Valakuts into play at once, dealing upwards of 72 damage to whatever you please.

About Sean Li:

Sean Li started playing Magic at a young age during the Onslaught block. After building 62 card decks and going 2-10 at his first 3 prereleases, he started to learn how to actually play the game. He has one Grand Prix Top 8 and has played on one Pro Tour. His current goals are to improve his constructed skills and re-qualify for the Pro Tour. Sean’s favourite part of Magic is exploring new Limited formats, how the cards interact together and discovering novel strategies.