Modern Matchup Analysis – Abzan Pod vs. Scapeshift


Modern is very honestly my favorite format. With the addition of Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise to the format, it seemed like we were all going to be doomed to repeat UR Delver mirrors until the format died a cruel death. Thankfully, MTGO results do not always represent the real in-person metagame at a Grand Prix style event, as GP Madrid showed us a Top 8 with only one copy of the Delver deck. Most of the other decks in the Top 8 were showcasing some other new cards from Khans of Tarkir, so I wanted to make sure that I remained up to speed with the format by looking a little deeper into two of the lists in particular, and how they interact with one another. I enlisted Modern Master and fellow #TeamGeist member Larry Swasey to help me out with the games and analysis. Here are the decks as played, Abzan Pod and Scapeshift Combo.

This one was my weapon of choice:

Abzan Pod – Kevin Grove Top 8 GP Madrid

Note the addition of Siege Rhino to the list, making sure that we have a great threat to add to the arsenal which is very difficult to remove by most decks, and slots well into the midrange beatdown plan which this deck ends up being very good at. Being a 4 drop also positions it well along the Pods chain as Kitchen Finks easily turns into both a Siege Rhino and a Restoration Angel to blink the Rhino, or even two Rhinos. There are no Chord of Callings in the list, as the Melira/Viscera Seer combo itself is also missing from the list. In a format full of Forked Bolt and Electrolyze, assembling the combo is a very fragile objective. The Archangel of Thune and Spike Feeder combo is still on prominent display here, and the Archangel synergizes very well with the other things happening in the deck already.

Here is the list that Larry piloted:

Scapeshift Combo – Till Riffert Top 8 GP Madrid

This is one of the best decks to leverage the addition of Dig Through Time in the format. Scapeshift has been solidly in the Tier 1 category for some time now, and it has only gotten more consistent since adding Dig Through Time. Prior to this, the deck was forced to play a higher volume of cantrip and selection effects in order to ensure that the namesake cards would be easy to find. There was still a high amount of variance at play with the previous versions of the deck, as Sleight of Mind digs only 2 deep, Telling Time 3 deep, and the only sometimes played Peer Through Depths was able to dig for 5 cards down. The deck often found itself with all the draw spells and no answers, as most lists were even cutting cards to interact with the board at the expense of the selection spells. Having access to Dig Through Time has changed all of that. The deck can now play with some number of burn spells instead of some of the selection cards, bringing back Lightning Bolt, and now some number of small sweepers in the main deck, as showcased here in Pyroclasm. You can spend cards ramping and setting up the lands to make the inevitable Scapeshift a lethal end result, while controlling the board with the removal spells and sweepers. If not naturally drawn, a Dig Through Time statistically should find a Scapeshift every time.

I don’t normally post the videos from my stream in my articles, but I think for this one that it’s much better as a frame of reference.

Here are the games that Larry and I played out.

Approaching the matchup in game ones for Pod mean making sure that you keep pressure on the opponent’s life total while keeping yours above 18. This is actually tougher than you’d imagine, as Scapeshift has a lot of permission and burn for your smaller creatures which are needed to help set your tempo up. Most games where I resolved a turn 2 Birthing Pod were finished in my favor, but Izzet Charm and removal for mana dorks can be very frustrating to play through. Voice of Resurgence is a very powerful card for us in the matchup, as it forces the shift player to interact with it before the rest of your spells or face down a sea of Elemental tokens. If you know you are against Scapeshift by the time you are searching for your 3 drop off of a Pod activation, the one Sin Collector in the main deck should not be overlooked. You will often find yourself in situations where you can get a Kitchen Finks as a reliable pod target for the following turn which will assist with your life total buffering, or get the Sin Collector to remove a card from the opponent’s hand. The fact that this is an exile effect should not be missed, as Snapcaster Mage and other Delve spells will not be able to benefit from the discard.

Upon hindsight, there certainly were times in the game sets above, when it would have been a better play to search for the Sin Collector instead of the Finks. Nabbing a Dig Through Time out of hand or a Scapeshift can often set the Shift player back enough turns that your beatdown plan will be successful. Don’t stay laser focused on the life total. There comes a point when being above 18 isn’t safe, and you need to be keenly aware of limiting the number of turns, and draw steps, the combo opponent has to beat you with. Rhino really gets it done in this spot, as it drains for 3, buffering the life, while presenting a threat that Scapeshift can’t actually beat without spending 2 or more cards on it. Be aware of the potential for a Pyroclasm effect in the first game, but ultimately know that you do have to get them dead before they “have it”.

Post-board, the games become much different. We have access to a lot of discard effects, which simultaneously provide us with interaction with the opponent, and information about how to best sculpt your turns. In the second and third games, I find that preserving your life total means much less, as your opponent is likely bringing in more sweepers and potentially large creature threats with which to try to win the game, instead of relying so narrowly on the combo kill. These games often go longer, but it is your job to try to make sure that they end sooner than later. The Scapeshift deck has the inevitability in these games. They can simply make land drops, and just cast Scapeshift when they draw it. The rest of the deck can be set up simply to prevent you from winning in the mean time. We experimented with a couple different ways of sideboarding, but ultimately agreed that the worst cards in the main deck that have to come out are

-3 Abrupt Decay, -1 Reclamation Sage, -1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence, -1 Murderous Redcap, -1 Orzhov Pontiff

This is the definite starting point for sideboarding for Pod here. If you have the slots that you need freed up for more cards from the board, then the option of removing some of the mana dorks is also yours. Similarly, if you don’t think your opponent will be bringing in some bigger creatures in against you (but they likely will), then cutting the Shriekmaw is also reasonable.

Ultimately the core cards we wanted to bring in were:

4 Thoughtseize, 1 Sin Collector, 1 Entomber Exarch, 1 Thrun, The Last Troll

We had Choke coming in for a few of the games also, but in the end it felt very underwhelming, so we began to play without it. The effect that we would be at want for is Memoricide, but it might just end up being too unreliable to resolve. Of the 7 matches that we played, I won only 2, with a third one potentially in our grasp had player error not been a factor. Most of the times I won though, felt like we were curving perfectly with no interference, while Larry was fighting through mulligans and land shortages. I would have to say that in the current configurations, Scapeshift is a very bad matchup for Abzan Pod, and I’m quite sure that for all the reasons I’ve already said above that Dig Through Time is the reason. In more traditional times, the match was closer, with it basically coming down to whether or not the Scapeshift player found a copy of the namesake spell; it is much more often now that they can.

I hope you enjoyed this Modern Matchup analysis. I’m happy to do more of these if they are what you want to see from me. Please let me know in the comments if there are specific matches that you’d like to learn about or see more of, or let me know what else you’d like to hear about.

I’ll be running some updated #TeamGeist in some Modern games this week on my stream, so if that’s something you’re interested in, by all means, come on down!

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