A New Form of TitanShift

Jacob Nagro

Jacob Nagro

Introduction

The year 2019 has upped Magic’s power level significantly. We’ve been seeing cards from War of the Spark, Modern Horizons, Magic 2020, and Throne of Eldraine taking over every format, and especially Modern. More recently we’ve seen Simic based Urza decks performing incredibly well and even winning GP Columbus.

I’ve been paying more attention to Modern recently as I plan on attending GP Austin, and from what I can tell this is the clear deck to beat. At the same time I’ve recently seen 《Field of the Dead》 getting banned in both Standard and Pioneer as it has the ability to go over the top of just about anybody. Given this Urza deck seems to just be a powerful midrange deck, I figured trying to use 《Field of the Dead》 to defeat it might be a viable strategy.

Right now there already exists two powerful decks utilizing 《Field of the Dead》 in Modern, Amulet Titan and TitanShift. In the abstract I view Amulet Titan as the better of the two decks, but given the heavy amount of 《Damping Sphere》 in the format right now, I wanted to avoid playing into them, so I decided to start looking at TitanShift. I also knew Eldrazi Tron has been getting popular on Magic Online, and I knew TitanShift has traditionally been excellent against Eldrazi decks.

I decided to play a Modern Challenge with the following:

This was mostly based off of a list I got from Thien Nguyen shortly after Throne of Eldraine was released, but I found some room for 《Hour of Promise》 and 《Arboreal Grazer》 as I wanted to experiment with them a little bit. I ended up losing my win and in for top 8 of the Challenge to Burn and finishing 5-2 in the event. I liked how the deck played out despite not playing against any Urza or Eldrazi decks.

Field of the DeadCastle Garenbrig

《Field of the Dead》 giving the deck two angles of attack is the most notable of recent upgrades, and I really like playing the 2nd copy to play into it more. The other card that impressed me was 《Castle Garenbrig》. In the Challenge 《Castle Garenbrig》 allowed me to cast 《Primeval Titan》 on turn 3 in one of my games, and in many spots I wanted to draw it to let me cast it on turn 4 with only 1 ramp spell in games I’d been disrupted.

Rebuilding the Deck

Later on in the week I started thinking about the deck again, and I decided I wanted to maximize my odds of casting 《Primeval Titan》 on turn 3. The first draft ended up here:

The thought progression here involved finding room for more 《Castle Garenbrig》 by adding more lands and cutting the 3rd 《Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle》. A higher land count made me more comfortable playing the full 4 《Arboreal Grazer》, which was also an important piece of controlling 5 lands on turn 3. Because I was aiming for 5 lands on turn 3, I wanted to also try maxing out on 《Hour of Promise》, as it impressed me in the Challenge now that I have 《Field of the Dead》.

Summoner's Pact

Going up to 4 《Summoner’s Pact》 also made me more excited about post-board games, where I have a wide variety of heavy hitting green creatures for certain matchups. After playing the Challenge I also wanted to go down to at most 3 《Scapeshift》, as I was unimpressed with how they clogged up my hand and required 7 or sometimes even 8 lands to matter, but to make room I felt comfortable just going down to 1.

After a couple leagues I liked what my deck was doing but I certainly felt punished by some of the faster matchups like Infect and Burn.

The first thing I noticed is that 《Hour of Promise》 wasn’t cutting it, and the matchups where it shines seem to be quite good anyways. I also realized after casting 《Once Upon a Time》 for 0 mana a couple times that it was silly of me to not be playing more, especially considering my initial goal was to maximize turn 3 《Primeval Titan》, which either involves 《Castle Garenbrig》 or 2 《Arboreal Grazer》.

After some more thought I ended up here:

This list performed excellently and I even got to win against some of the matchups I was worried about like Mono Red Prowess and Grixis/4 Color Shadow. As it has already proven in many matches of Magic, 《Once Upon a Time》 just added an incredible consistency to my gameplan.

Also in this deck you frequently cast it for free on turn 2 after suspending 《Search for Tomorrow》 on turn 1, which gives you even more information to know what you need. On top of that, it added even more consistency to the post-board gameplan of finding an important green creature bullet.

Potential Improvements

Obstinate BalothReclamation Sage

Right now I can’t imagine making any changes to my main deck, and most of my sideboard seems to line up with the amount of cards I’d actually like the board out in a given matchup. The things I’m currently considering are another 《Obstinate Baloth》 for the Burn matchups, and another 《Reclamation Sage》 to answer 《Blood Moon》.

Collector OupheMelira, Sylvok OutcastTireless Tracker

As for cards I would cut, 《Collector Ouphe》, 《Melira, Sylvok Outcast》, and 《Tireless Tracker》 seem to be the weakest of my bullets. 《Collector Ouphe》 and 《Melira, Sylvok Outcast》 obviously depend on what you expect to face, but keep in mind that 《Collector Ouphe》 isn’t actually too great against the Urza Oko decks, especially if you’re Pacting for it on turn 3 after a ramp spell.

Hornet NestDeep Forest HermitAcidic Slime

《Tireless Tracker》 mostly serves as a way to go under some counter magic against a control deck, or get something to proactively prepare you for a 《Liliana of the Veil》. I did a quick skim through every green creature legal in Modern and the only other ones I would consider are 《Hornet Nest》, 《Deep Forest Hermit》, and 《Acidic Slime》. I really don’t put any value on creatures that cost the same or more as 《Primeval Titan》, because it seems rare I’d ever want to get something besides 《Primeval Titan》 if I had access to 6 or more mana.

Dismember

I’m not confident about all of the noncreature sideboard cards. I’ve been rather impressed by 《Dismember》, I think the life cost from the first copy isn’t too bad in the matchups you want it, like Infect, Urza, Eldrazi, and Shadow, and I really don’t want to spend more than 1 mana on a single target removal spell, as I’ve been impressed by how well advancing my own gameplan pans out. If I added more removal spells I’d consider another 《Dismember》 or just some 《Lightning Bolt》.

Veil of Summer

《Veil of Summer》 is certainly a nice addition, but it’s a little hard to use it to prevent early discard spells as you frequently want to tap out a lot on the early turns, so while I still bring it in against discard decks I mostly value having a couple to fight counter magic on the later turns. It also can protect your lands from 《Assassin’s Trophy》 or 《Fulminator Mage》 which is nice.

Anger of the Gods

《Anger of the Gods》 hasn’t been as impressive as I’ve wanted it to be. I justified a couple of them as some outs to Dredge, but a lot of the Dredge matchup comes down to them being effectively a burn deck. I think 《Obstinate Baloth》 would prove itself a lot more valuable in that matchup, but I wouldn’t mind keeping 1 《Anger of the Gods》 around to help against creature heavy decks, and I like having access to it against Infect as well.

Damping Sphere

Being able to sideboard 《Damping Sphere》 is one of the main appeals of this deck over other big mana strategies. It is notable however that with more 《Summoner’s Pact》 the 《Damping Sphere》 can be a little annoying for your own game plan.

Keep that in mind and consider casting a 《Summoner’s Pact》 on your opponent’s end step and paying for ahead of schedule, in order to set up casting 《Primeval Titan》 on the turn you have 6 mana. I could see finding room for the 4th 《Damping Sphere》, but the big mana matchups aren’t all necessarily bad now that we’ve increased the speed of our deck as well.

Sideboarding

In general you want to keep sideboarding kind of light. This deck has now become much less reactive and much better at forwarding its own gameplan. If you’ve played TitanShift in the past, you might be used to playing a control role in creature heavy matchups, which involved a combination of you not being able to present much before turn 4, and being built to use 《Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle》 and ramp spells to more effectively control the board.

This is not the case anymore, you are mostly looking for a quick 《Primeval Titan》, or one of your sideboard bullets to pull you far ahead, preferably on turn 3 after a ramp spell.

Arboreal Grazer

In slower matchups, you can afford to take out all of your 《Arboreal Grazer》. They are the highest variance card in the deck, and if you aren’t under a lot of pressure they aren’t needed. They also are at their best when they are blocking creatures with 1-2 power, rather than just chump blocking, or worse, doing nothing. 《Arboreal Grazer》 also is slightly more powerful on the draw, due to a combination of being less likely to miss a land drop, and being more likely to want a blocker.

Eldrazi Tron

Matter ReshaperThought-Knot SeerReality Smasher

vs. Eldrazi Tron

Out

Summoner's Pact
Scapeshift

In

Reclamation Sage
Dismember

This is a pretty good matchup but I’m unsure if I want to remove any 《Summoner’s Pact》. If this version of TitanShift becomes popular and well known, your opponent would probably be somewhat happy to have a hand with 《Chalice of the Void》 to deploy on 0.

At the same time I don’t like hurting the consistency of our gameplan, and cutting an effective copy of 《Reclamation Sage》 could also be poor against 《Ensnaring Bridge》. It’s worth noting that both 《Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle》 and 《Field of the Dead》 can function against 《Mycosynth Lattice》 + 《Karn, the Great Creator》, so keep that in mind before you consider conceding to the combo.

Grixis/4c Shadow

Death's ShadowStreet WraithTemur Battle Rage

vs. Grixis/4c Shadow

Out

Arboreal Grazer Arboreal Grazer Arboreal Grazer
Scapeshift Scapeshift Scapeshift

In

Veil of Summer Veil of Summer Tireless Tracker
Dismember Thragtusk Chameleon Colossus

This is a great example of a matchup that I believe is tremendously improved by playing this version of the deck. 《Castle Garenbrig》 is hard to interact with, and even if their disruption prevents a turn 3 《Primeval Titan》, 《Castle Garenbrig》 can still enable a turn 4 or 5 《Primeval Titan》 in spots where they’d be rotting in your hand instead.

On top of that, moving to 4 《Summoner’s Pact》 and 4 《Once Upon a Time》 makes it much easier to find the 《Chameleon Colossus》, which can frequently beat them on its own. 《Tireless Tracker》 and 《Thragtusk》 aren’t really there as tutor targets, but rather just solid draws that contest 《Gurmag Angler》 and sometimes 《Death’s Shadow》/《Tarmogoyf》.

Urza Oko Midrange

Emry, Lurker of the LochUrza, Lord High ArtificerOko, Thief of Crowns

vs. Urza Oko Midrange

Out

Arboreal Grazer Arboreal Grazer Arboreal Grazer Arboreal Grazer
Farseek Farseek

In

Veil of Summer Veil of Summer Tireless Tracker Collector Ouphe
Dismember Reclamation Sage

Their deck is somewhat slow so we can afford to make our deck full of powerful top decks in the late game at the cost of some our ramp spells. Once again, we aren’t really looking to 《Summoner’s Pact》 for creatures that aren’t 《Primeval Titan》 a lot of the time, but the bullets we bring in can have their moments and be fine draws in the early game.

Infect

Glistener ElfScale UpVines of Vastwood

vs. Infect

Out

Farseek Farseek
Scapeshift Scapeshift

In

Anger of the Gods Anger of the Gods
Dismember Melira, Sylvok Outcast

This is a difficult matchup, but you definitely force them to have a good draw, and sometimes 《Arboreal Grazer》 can buy you enough time if they don’t have 《Blighted Agent》. I like bringing in the 《Anger of the Gods》 because I believe my opponents usually feel safe just leaving up 1 mana and you can actually answer their threat through a lot of their protection spells with 《Anger of the Gods》 in those spots.

Right now I’m also hoping my opponents don’t bring in 《Oko, Thief of Crowns》, as it answers 《Melira, Sylvok Outcast》 and I’m also counting on 《Primeval Titan》 as my win condition because I think it can end the game in one attack, likely making it the same effective clock as 《Scapeshift》. I do think without perfect information that Infect players would think it’s in their best interest to make their deck as fast possible and not bring in 《Oko, Thief of Crowns》.

Dredge

NarcomoebaPrized AmalgamStinkweed Imp

vs. Dredge

Out

Scapeshift Scapeshift Scapeshift
Farseek

In

Anger of the Gods Anger of the Gods Obstinate Baloth
Thragtusk

As someone who’s played a lot of Dredge, I believe this matchup is unfavorable. They are basically a burn deck and they frequently can win on turn 4. Game 1 《Arboreal Grazer》 can help give you time but you’re mostly looking to win on turn 4 yourself, which the life gain from 《Creeping Chill》 can make difficult.

Post-board I believe 《Obstinate Baloth》 is among your better cards, and I don’t like 《Scapeshift》 because they are frequently above 18 life which means you need 8 lands for a lethal 《Scapeshift》. If I wanted to respect this matchup more I’d consider 《Scavenging Ooze》, more 《Obstinate Baloth》, or dedicated graveyard hate like 《Relic of Progenitus》.

Burn

Goblin GuideBoros CharmRift Bolt

vs. Burn

Out

Farseek
Farseek

In

Obstinate Baloth
Thragtusk

This matchup is also difficult but at least your 7 lands 《Scapeshift》 are frequently lethal because they deal a lot of damage to themselves. Sometimes you have the luxury of developing your mana instead of playing into 《Skullcrack》 with a lifegain creature, so keep that in mind. I actually don’t mind not having removal in this matchup, because between 《Arboreal Grazer》 and 《Sakura-Tribe Elder》 you can usually avoid a lot of combat damage.

5c Humans

Champion of the ParishThalia's LieutenantMantis Rider

vs. 5c Humans

Out

Farseek Farseek
Scapeshift Scapeshift

In

Anger of the Gods Anger of the Gods
Dismember Obstinate Baloth

This matchup is incredibly punishing for not having removal due to 《Meddling Mage》. A creature I might consider in the sideboard for this matchup is 《Dragonlord Atarka》. While 《Dragonlord Atarka》 is good enough to bring in for other matchups, I would not include her in my sideboard unless I wanted help in specifically this matchup. It’s also a nice bonus that 《Castle Garenbrig》 can still help accelerate her in to play as well.

Tron

Urza's TowerKarn LiberatedUlamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

vs. Tron

Out

Farseek Farseek Arboreal Grazer
Scapeshift

In

Damping Sphere Damping Sphere Damping Sphere
Collector Ouphe

Their important cards are the ones that exile your lands, which makes me want to go lower on 《Scapeshift》, given it also requires 8 lands to be lethal. You mostly want to play a quick 《Primeval Titan》 and hope they don’t have 《Karn Liberated》, or play a turn 2 《Damping Sphere》. The 《Collector Ouphe》 is mostly just there to be good on turn 2 if you have it, and it might not even be worth it on the draw.

When to Pick TitanShift

I don’t believe that my version of the deck is some broken new challenger into the format, I just believe it’s the best way to play TitanShift when TitanShift is well positioned. This deck is extremely good at winning through interaction and a slow clock, especially with the addition of 《Field of the Dead》.

Castle GarenbrigChameleon Colossus

I think the matchup I’ve most improved is the 《Death’s Shadow》 matchup, which I used to believe was quite unfavorable, but now thanks to frequently having 《Castle Garenbrig》 and/or 《Chameleon Colossus》, I think it’s slightly in our favor.

It’s really easy to compare this deck to Amulet Titan, and like I said before, the main advantage is being able to ignore and even play with 《Damping Sphere》. The other advantage is that I believe this deck is just better against almost all forms of 1 for 1 interaction. I think Amulet needs to assemble a specific mix of spells for it’s faster 《Primeval Titan》 draws, whereas our deck has a ton of redundant spells.

Field of the Dead

I also think our deck is a better 《Field of the Dead》 deck when we don’t have access to a 《Primeval Titan》, given the bounce lands really make it hard to achieve controlling 7 lands. I’ve found multiple times I’ve drawn one of my 《Field of the Dead》 and just been able to start getting zombies as early as turn 4, and win without ever casting 《Primeval Titan》 or 《Scapeshift》.

Why Play Red?

Valakut, the Molten PinnacleMountain

When building the deck I questioned if it was necessary to even include 《Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle》 and so many Mountains when I only play 2 red cards in my sideboard, but I believe it is to give you a better win percentage across the board. While the fast matchups are what you’re looking to avoid, they are still winnable thanks almost entirely to having access to 《Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle》 and Mountains.

It’s possible White or Black spells could fix the problems I have in the fast matchups, but right now my maindeck is incredibly streamlined and I don’t even play the red interaction available to me. It could definitely be worth looking at a dedicated 《Field of the Dead》 deck in Modern, but I’d be worried about my speed and therefore my interaction not lining up the way I need it to most of the time.

It’s also worth mentioning that the 《Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle》 in this deck are a lot worse than before. While I’ve only cut 1 Mountain from most lists I’ve seen (a 《Cinder Glade》), you frequently want to develop 《Castle Garenbrig》 or Basic Forest in order to give yourself the out of drawing a 《Primeval Titan》 or whatever piece of the puzzle you’re missing.

This means the 《Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle》 are mostly there to be an option for 《Primeval Titan》, and giving you speed with a fast win with 《Scapeshift》, rather than a tool that pairs well with just drawing a lot of ramp spells against a creature deck.

Primeval Titan

On the surface it might look like 《Primeval Titan》 can’t present lethal fast enough with so many non-Mountain lands in the deck, but even if you play a t3 《Primeval Titan》 off of 《Castle Garenbrig》, Forest, and 3 Mountains (one that produces green of course), you can get 2 《Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle》, and next turn cast a ramp spell or play a Mountain, attack with the 《Primeval Titan》 and get 2 more Mountains to deal 12, then 6 in more combat damage. While this gives your opponent the opportunity to block or remove the 《Primeval Titan》, it still presents a similar clock to that of a turn 4 《Scapeshift》 dealing 18 damage.

Conclusion

Oko, Thief of Crowns

Modern seems pretty open right now and I think there is still a lot of exploring to do with the clear power creep from recent sets. I also wonder if we’ll see any bans anytime soon. Despite no single archetype taking up a lot of the metagame, I’m currently looking at the Modern decklists from the SCG Players’ Championship, and noticing that 13/16 players have registered 《Oko, Thief of Crowns》 in Modern across 5-6 (depends on how you count Bant/Sultai Urza) different archetypes.

It seems somewhat rare that we see a card dominating a format but not necessarily an archetype, but that might still be worth a ban. I doubt anything will get banned before GP Austin however, so if you’re attending like I am, I would definitely keep TitanShift in mind as you watch the metagame develop leading into the tournament.

As always, thanks for reading, and if you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me on Twitter @jacobnagro. I’ve also been streaming somewhat regularly at twitch.tv/banjocargo, so keep an eye out for my stream if you want to see what decks I’m trying out.

Jacob Nagro (Twitter / Twitch)

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Jacob Nagro

Jacob Nagro Jacob Nagro is a pro player from United States. His first appearance was GP Denver 2016 where he made top 8 with UW Flash. He keeps trying hard and his effort was paid off as the Silver Level Pro in the 2016-2017 season. He played a spicy RB Bridgevine deck featuring Greater Gargadon and Bloodghast at the Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. His team went 7th place and he became a Gold Level Pro with the impressive record. Read more articles by Jacob Nagro

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