All About Titanshift: 2nd Place at SCG Atlanta

Written by Drake Sasser on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

All About Titanshift: 2nd Place at SCG Atlanta

Drake Sasser

I am a competitive grinder that focuses primarily on the SCG Tour. I have a Legacy Open win and a Modern Open top 8 to my name. I am also currently on the SCGTour leaderboard.

Last weekend I played Titanshift at the Modern Open in Atlanta. I finished 12-2-1 in the swiss and was finally taken down in my rematch against Zan Syed in the finals. Since then I have received numerous questions and comments about some of my card choices when building the deck. Due to this interest, I decided to provide a write-up with all the information in one place to reference. To start off, I played the following deck:

I am going to discuss why I played the deck, why I included some of the more peculiar cards in the deck, and then discuss the sideboard guide I used at the event.

Why Titanshift?

If you have been following my content recently, you would know I played Bogles with relative success at both SCG Louisville as well as SCGCON. I was concerned, however, with the fact that both Tron and KCI seemed to be rising in popularity based on recent tournament results. Both of those decks are rather challenging matchups, so I was motivated to switch decks for SCG Atlanta but I didn’t really know where to go next in Modern. I spent the few weeks between SCGCON and SCG Atlanta playtesting various decks, and most of them felt underwhelming.

I stuck on Titanshift because I had some experience playing it in 2016 shortly after it was put on the map by Thien Nyguyen. The deck got some recent additions in Dominaria to shore up some bad matchups, gets to play Bloodbraid Elf, and was well positioned against the majority of the metagame I expected in Atlanta.

No Bloodbraid Elf? Explores and Khalni Heart Expedition?

I started with the most recent placing list I could find and began iterating on it through MTGO leagues. Now I mentioned Bloodbraid Elf as a tool the deck got from the unbanning that I was excited to try. The card was deceivingly functional in the deck. A 4 mana 3/2 haste creature that ramps is just acceptable enough to make you think the card is good in the deck. Upon playing more games with it though I realized that paying 4 for a 3/2 haste creature and a land (because it most often cascades into ramp spells as they make up the majority of your deck < 4 mana) is not what Titanshift wants to be doing for 4 mana. To test this theory, I tried out an interesting list with 4 Hunting Wilds in place of the Bloodbraid Elfs. The logic here being that a second land is better than the 3/2 haste body most of the time in this deck. Testing this 4 Hunting Wilds list made me realize something else important: 4 mana for 2 lands is worse than 2 mana for 2 lands. Enter Khalni Heart Expedition. Most lists I found were no longer running any copies of this 2-mana enchantment that was a very common 4 of back in 2016. There are a ton of reasons why that might be: it’s a bad topdeck, the card feels slow if you don’t also have cards like Explore in your deck, and it’s a ramp spell that can be higher risk since it makes cards like Abrupt Decay live against you game 1. Despite these reasons, I am not totally sure why most people seem to have moved away from the Expedition. I started playing a list with 4 Explore and 4 Expedition and very much preferred it to the previous lists I was playing. Being able to cast two 2-mana ramp spells with 4 mana was leagues better than both Hunting Wilds and Bloodbraid Elf, especially when Khalni Heart Expedition was involved. Finally, I ended up settling on 3 Khalni Heart Expeditions since drawing multiples often ended up a little clunkier than I would like, but the first copy was generally always very good. Lightning Bolt and Sweltering Suns

The tradeoff of going back to an Explore and Expedition heavy deck is that although your decks kills speed up, the interaction you have is extremely limited. I think 3 Bolts is the minimum Titanshift should be running and I included 2 Sweltering Suns over a split with Anger of the Gods since Sweltering Suns cycles in matchups where the sweeper effect is irrelevant.

At its core, my decklist isn’t terribly new or innovative; it is the exact opposite. All too often people get the innovative itch and start building decks that are more interesting to play and highlight new cards or a different way of building an archetype, but do not reflect on how the power level of these new innovations stack up against old iterations of a deck. Through my testing, I was confident the deck was over innovated, so I took a step backwards and was pleased at the results.

The Sideboard

The sideboard is where I was most excited to innovate, since Dominaria had provided both Broken Bond and Damping Sphere to help with some of our harder matchups.

Broken Bond

Broken Bond fits seamlessly into the deck in my opinion. Often when Titanshift is interacting they are not also ramping, and this is a perfect sideboard card to let you do both. The trade off of cards like Nature’s Claim is, of course, not being 1 mana and not being instant speed. Not being an instant is most often relevant against decks with Inkmoth Nexus and Blinkmoth Nexus in them or specific scenarios with a card like Arcbound Ravager. In general, though being sorcery speed is worth the upside of being able to further your ramp game plan while still being a Naturalize effect.

Damping Sphere

Damping Sphere is another addition from Dominaria that multiple decks in the Modern format want in their sideboards. Titanshift is among them. While the Tron matchup for Titanshift is extremely lopsided in our favor already, the Storm, Ad Nauseam, and KCI matchups are lopsided against us by about the same margin. Before Damping Sphere, there were very few good sideboard options against both of those decks in red and green. Now, however, we get to play a colorless pseudo-Ethersworn Canonist effect which should allow our deck enough time to win the combo race against these decks.

Commune With Lava

Commune with Lava is a card that was played in the maindeck of the early iterations of Titanshift. I found it to be extremely effective against the decks trying to invalidate our payoff cards with counterspells and/or discard spells. Decks like Jund and UW control fit this description, and they are good matchups for Titanshift. However, going into the weekend I expected a lot of Jeskai, which I felt less confident in being able to beat. After Atlanta, I think Commune might be too narrow to include in the sideboard going forward, and I would probably play Relic of Progenitus in those spots.

Anger of the Gods

I wanted more sweepers than just the two maindeck Sweltering Suns in the deck for creature heavy matchups and I really liked the 2/2 maindeck/sideboard split between Sweltering Suns and Anger of the Gods in this deck. Playing a split like that allows our deck to be a little better against Meddling Mage out of Humans, as well as swap the sweepers out in matchups like Hollow One and Dredge where the exile is extremely relevant against sticky creatures.

Obstinate Baloth

Obstinate Baloth is a card that Scapeshift style decks have played for a long time. The card is extremely effective against Liliana of the Veil while also being a relevant life gain effect against burn. Titanshift can ramp this card out by turn 3 in most functional hands which should buy time to combo off. However, the card recently got new utility against Hollow One because of Burning Inquiry. Being able to have our own 4/4 body to put out off early Burning Inquiries can easily make the difference in a game against Hollow One. Even if you don’t get the Baloth for free, playing it on turn 3 as a blocker that gains life also buys a ton of time against Hollow One.

Engineered Explosives

Engineered Explosives is a card that has been very powerful in Modern for a long time. If a deck is playing 2+ colors and does not have any Explosives in the 75, I typically assume it was an oversight. For Titanshift, Explosives is quite good against Humans, Affinity, and much of the Tier 2 Modern,such as Bogles and Lantern Control. Overall, Explosives is not a silver bullet like you would expect most modern sideboard cards to be but is very flexible and ranges from an overpriced Maelstrom Pulse, to a matchup breaking sweeper.

Caustic Caterpillar

Most Titanshift lists circulating had included a copy of Reclamation Sage in the maindeck. I found that I not only, didn’t want Reclamation Sage in the maindeck, but I think Caustic Caterpillar is better than the Sage. Caterpillar is still able to be found by Summoner’s Pact, but the card also can be cast on turn 1 then activated on turn 2 against decks like affinity where stifling early damage is important. Caterpillar also costs 3 total mana to destroy and artifact like Rec Sage, and the second green rarely matters as our deck is 2 colors with multiple ways to tutor lands. With the addition of being able to activate at instant speed to catch things that Broken Bond can’t, I was really impressed with Caterpillar this weekend and would include it going forward.

Fracturing Gust

Fracturing Gust is a card I saw as a one of in a few of the Titanshift sideboards that I was skeptical about at first glance. The card tested incredibly well and I ended up keeping it. Gust is the ultimate card to have against Affinity as it recovers your life total while obliterating their entire board state. It also has a lot of utility against decks like KCI, Ad Nauseam, and Bogles. While Gust appears narrow, it gets you out of a lot of situations in bad matchups that other cards simply could not.

Overall, after playing this weekend, I think I would cut the 2 Commune with Lava and a single Damping Sphere for 2 Relic of Progenitus and a Melira, Sylvok Outcast. Melira can be searched with Summoner’s Pact and is a one card silver bullet to have in our sideboard against Infect, which is going to pick up in popularity after winning back to back SCG events.

The Sideboard Guide

I wrote a few months ago about how I create a sideboard guide for every tournament weekend. The following is the sideboard guide my friends and I came up with on the way to Atlanta.

Humans – Even
IN: 1 Engineered Explosives, 2 Anger of the Gods

OUT: 3 Explore

This is pretty cut and dry. Sweepers are fantastic, explore is the worst ramp spell against decks that are not trying to grind.

Hollow One – Unfavorable
IN: 2 Anger of the Gods, 3 Obstinate Baloth

OUT: 2 Sweltering Suns, 1 Farseek, 2 Explore

Anger of the Gods is much better than Sweltering Suns against Hollow One due to the recursive threats. We also shave a mix of the worst ramp spells in the deck to make room for the Baloths.

KCI- Very Unfavorable
IN: 3 Damping Sphere, 2 Broken Bond, 1 Caustic Caterpillar, 1 Fracturing Gust

OUT: 2 Sweltering Suns, 3 Lightning Bolt, 1 Explore, 1 Khalni Heart Expedition

The damage based interaction in this matchup does little-to-nothing against KCI so it all has to come out. I cut an expedition here along with an Explore since we have loaded our deck up with a lot of better things to be doing on turn 2 in this matchup and Expedition and Explore both get a lot worse if not played on turn 2.

Tron- Very Favorable
IN: 3 Damping Sphere, 2 Broken Bond

OUT: 2 Sweltering Sun, 3 Lightning Bolt

This matchup I believe to be our actual best matchup among tiered decks in Modern, but it just so happens that the printing of Damping Sphere made the matchup even better than it was before. As a result we get to upgrade the damage based interaction significantly postboard.

Jund- Favorable
IN: 3 Obstinate Baloth, 2 Commune with Lava, 1 Engineered Explosives

OUT: 4 Explore, 2 Sweltering Suns

These changes shouldn’t be too surprising. Explosives is likely to kill Tarmogoyfs and other impactful 2 drops with it whereas Sweltering Suns does not. Explore is terrible against decks pressuring your hand. Commune and Baloth however are fantastic against discard.

Storm- Unfavorable
IN: 3 Damping Sphere

OUT: 2 Sweltering Suns, 1 Summoner’s Pact

We need to kill their creatures as soon as they are played, so we remove the Sweltering Suns which are too slow and keep the Bolts. Sweltering Suns is made even worse by the fact that opponents do not typically bring in Empty the Warrens. Pact is the worst payoff card and excessive payoff is backbreaking in this matchup. Despite having 3 Damping Spheres, I feel like we are low on sideboard cards for this matchup. In particular, this is a matchup where having Relics in addition to Spheres would be a vast improvement.

Burn- Even
IN: 3 Obstinate Baloth

OUT: 1 Explore, 1 Farseek, 1 Khalni Heart Expedition

In my experience, the player that wins the die roll in this matchup is favored to win. Having access to a virtual 6 copies of Obstinate Baloth post board with Summoner’s Pact does a lot to shore this matchup post sideboard. We simply trim a little on 3 of the two mana ramp spells since we are likely going to be killing creatures in the early turns then playing Baloths.

Mardu Pyromancer- Favorable
IN: 2 Broken Bond, 1 Caustic Caterpillar, 2 Commune with Lava, 2 Anger of the Gods

OUT: 3 Lightning Bolt, 4 Explore

This matchup is favorable since Mardu Pyromancer lacks an effective clock. Typically this matchup is like playing against Jund but they kill you slower and lean very heavily on their Blood Moons to lock us out. Spot removal is bad since they make a bunch of tokens; sweepers are good for the same reason. Explores are bad since they are going to pressure our hand.

Affinity – Even
IN: 2 Broken Bond, 1 Caustic Caterpillar, 1 Fracturing Gust, 1 Engineered Explosives, 2 Anger of the Gods

OUT: 2 Khalni Heart Expedition, 1 Summoner’s Pact, 1 Farseek, 3 Explore

This matchup I find to be unfavorable in the maindeck game but favorable in the sideboard games, which is how Affinity is for most decks. We bring in a lot of powerful interaction and shave most of the slower or less powerful ramp spells.

Jeskai- Favorable
IN: 3 Obstinate Baloth, 2 Commune with Lava, 1 Caustic Caterpillar

OUT: 3 Lightning Bolt, 2 Sweltering Suns, 1 Explore

Jeskai is a harder matchup than just UW because they have the ability to provide a much faster clock backed up by counterspells. With the 2 Commune with Lava in the sideboard I felt slightly favored however. We bring in Baloths to block Snapcaster Mages pressuring us and pad our life total a bit to keep from dying to burn spells. Caustic Caterpillar is insurance against Runed Halo. The damage based removal is usually dead in this matchup and Farseek is the least exciting ramp spell here.

Grixis Death’s Shadow- Unfavorable
IN: 2 Obstinate Baloth, 2 Commune with Lava, 1 Engineered Explosives

OUT: 3 Lightning Bolt, 2 Sweltering Suns

Grixis Death’s Shadow has been less popular recently but is still a very powerful deck that is still played. Engineered Explosives is our best sideboard card here because it kills all the Death’s Shadows. Overall this deck has a quick clock backed up by counterspells and discard spells but Baloth can buy you time and chump block while Commune with Lava gives us more payoff cards to combat discard spells.

Conclusion

Titanshift is great! I had my doubts going into the weekend but the deck really performed well and getting second at the Open was a vital success for me in this SCG Tour season. I would be a little wary of of playing Titanshift going forward since Infect is on the rise, but otherwise the deck seems like a very viable competitor in Modern right now and I would happily play the deck again! If you have any further questions about the deck, matchups or otherwise feel free to post them in the comments. Until next time!

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