Before we dive in I would like to remind you that this week’s giveaway ends tomorrow so make sure to participate while you can. While yesterday’s article went over the basics of traditional Titanshift builds, today we will be getting off of the beaten path. We must run a number of fetchlands and ramp spells that act as mana fixing, so why should we restrict ourselves to two colors?
BBE and Nahiri: The Love Story
When Bloodbraid Elf was unbanned, I knew Valakut could be a good shell for it. For a few months I tried to force it into a classic RG Valakut list but it never worked. I was able to cast Bloodbraid Elf on turn three consistently, which is great, but the value out of Cascade was not reaching my expectations. I was either super happy so to see ramp spells like Farseek allowing me to cast a Primeval Titan turn four, or very disappointed to see Summoner’s Pact or Khalni Heart Expedition. I knew something was wrong but I could not put my finger on it at the time.
As a biologist, and a fanboy of Charles Darwin, I feel like playing Naya is all about the necessary adaptation to our environment. As the metagame evolves, we need to evolve alongside it to survive everything new the format can throw at us. By adding white to our deck, we are evolving to make sure we can keep up with the fancy graveyard and artifact decks of the meta. Adding a new color to the deck is like learning a new language; it opens so many new options. From the mainboard to the sideboard, I tried to rethink the deck in a way that would try to compensate the flaws our deck might have while still advancing our primary gameplan. After looking at many other decklists I realised that I can have a great turn three with Bloodbraid Elf so why not make every turn three great? I knew from the start that splashing a color in a deck with that many fetch lands and ramp spells would not be difficult so I tweaked the manabase a bit to play Nahiri. From the start she seemed promising: card selection, removal and an ultimate that wins me the game! To make some room for Nahiri, I got rid of the bad cascading cards and tried to focus only on Bloodbraid Elf and her, keeping in mind that they are tools for our big guns: Primeval Titan and Scapeshift. To make sure I am not missing anything I will list below why I think they are strong. They both must be answered, or they will often win the game. They are drawing a lot of attention away from our life total and that gives us lot of time to find the right win condition. Also, they keep the deck consistent while adding a new dimension to our gameplan.
Bloodbraid Elf: Cascading to victory
BBE will allow you to have a board presence early that will require an answer. If not respected, BBE can deal a lot of damage and bring our opponent in range of just few bolts or Valakut triggers. In aggro matchups BBE can allow you to create a board presence to block while still ramping; especially if you find Sakura-Tribe Elder. Cascading into a ramp spell turn three will usually sallow you to cast Primeval Titan or Scapeshift turn four; dealing the three damage necessary to bring them in range for a seven land Scapeshift. In post-sideboard games, BBE will dig for the cards we side in, as all of our payoff cards cost four or more and all of the sideboard cost three or less. Everything that BBE can Cascade into furthers our gameplan or disrupts the opponent’s gameplan. BBE is definitely a great card but it does have a real deck building restriction. I believe it is a mistake to play it with Summoner’s pact and other non relevant Cascade effects.
Nahiri, The Harbinger: Her Pluses and Minuses
+2: In a deck like ours, one that lacks card selection, she can put in a lot of work on sculpting your hand on matchups against decks that do not generate early pressure. Getting rid of useless ramp spells in control matchups to find multiples copies of Scapeshift is extremely strong. Note that while we are plussing we are also getting closer the the ultimate which forces them to have an answer.
-2: She can naturally deal with hate by removing problematic enchantments like Blood Moon, Alpine Moon, Leyline of Sanctity, Search for Azcanta, etc. You do not need to pack your enchantment hate every game, especially if you are unsure if you even need enchantment removal. Nahiri does a great job of incidentally being enchantment removal while not being entirely dead if they did not draw any valid targets. Because we play BBE and we want to cascade into relevant spells all the time, we are not playing Path to Exile but do not worry. Nahiri will take care of that part too if necessary. She also gives even more value to late game Sakura-Tribe Elder, as the opponent will need to think twice before tapping a creature to attack.
-8: If not answered while cast on Turn 3, she will be able to ultimate by Turn 5 for a Primeval Titan and quickly close the game. Same as in the Breach version of the deck, any Titan that attacks usually ends the game in short order.
Before this version of Naya some people just splashed for the sideboard, which is a great choice if you like the traditional build but still want the sideboard options. Others tried Renegade Rallier but the card is really bad in our deck as we cannot reliably trigger revolt with only seven fetches and four Sakura. In some ways BBE is the better version of Rallier as you will always have something good to cast with it. Because of the curve of the deck the difference between three and four mana is negligible. Apart from the interaction pieces I do not think that this deck has a lot of flex slots to toy with:
Lands (27) – The manabase is pretty set but I could see some update to adapt to the meta. Shaving one Sacred Foundry or one Valakut might be an option to either play one more spell.
Ramping (12) – Sakura, Search, and Farseek. I never cut any Sakura or Search but postboard if I am expecting the game to be longer I cut up to two Farseek to make some room for interaction.
Interaction (6) – Lightning bolt and Lightning Helix. These ones are entirely meta dependent so pick the best for your expected metagame. Note that it is a real plus if you can keep the Cascade always relevant: Slagstorm is a good example as it can be cast to wipe the board against creatures matchups or it can go to the face when needed.
Win condition (15) – BBE, Titan, Nahiri, and Scapeshift. Small numbers of these cards can be boarded out as needed depending on the matchup.
Differences from RG Scapeshift
In the Naya version, cards like Nahiri and BBE have a higher floor but of course in some situations a lower ceiling too. Think about Khalni Heart Expedition vs Nahiri. Nothing beats the ramping of a turn two KHE, allowing you some ridiculous number of lands on Turn 4 for an easy, lethal Scapeshift. However, you will feel the pain of topdecking a KHE on Turn 4 when you need action. Nahiri can bring a little bit of everything. She can have the same explosive nature as the KHE by activating her ultimate on Turn 5 and can single-handedly win the game. But unlike KHE she will always be a decent topdeck later with multiple options. You can also think about Explore. The draw and the extra land drop are great if it comes together. Though in some ways I think that is what BBE is doing when she flips Farseek and deals 3 damage. It is similar to an Explore drawing a Lightning Bolt. So overall we are doing the same things, just not in the same ways. As I increased the average mana cost of the Naya version, even if it might sometimes slow it a bit, it increase my options and my potential plays according to the situation’s need. We also increased the total number of threats in the deck, which can be bothersome in traditional builds. It is frustrating to wait for one of the ten win conditions and just lose if they do not show up.
Brief Matchup Notes
Being good at sideboarding is not just knowing what card to take in and out, it is also about learning what role you need to take in a specific matchup while on the play or the draw. Modern constantly evolves, as decklists are tweaked every week so I will not go into detail about which cards must be sided in or out. To be quite frank, I am still not entirely sure of everything but here is a condensed version of my experience and what I have learned from Greg Chen’s article:
Affinity is usually faster than you are, so post-board you play like a control deck. You also want to shave Scapeshifts to avoid clogging your hand with win-cons, and often seven lands Scapeshifts will not be lethal since the deck does not deal much damage to itself. Stony, Knight of Autumn and Anger are great. If you are playing vs the Hardened Scale version, RIP will stop all the modular triggers.
A lot of lists are only playing 1 Pact of Negation these days, so you can try to jam multiple win-cons and force them through the Pact. The matchup is a pure race so cut two Nahiris and Farseeks for Fulminator, Damping Spheres and two Knights. It is not great but if you can double bolt the Titan in response to the fetch trigger you might be able to survive one more turn.
Difficult matchup Game 1 especially on the draw, but post-board you have access to Knight of Autumn. Primeval Titans come out since they are too slow; you need to untap and attack with it, and will often die before you can untap with Titan. Note that Nahiri can exile an untapped Eidolon and will attract a lot of damage.
Always be cognizant of how much damage your Scapeshifts can deal since they can gain massive amounts of life. Turn-0 Leyline followed by a Bogle is almost unbeatable Game 1. Game 2 you want Knights and Angers. If they have a slow start you might catch the Bogle with a wrath.
You can usually pay for the Wanderer tax and you can bait Queller with Nahiri before Scapeshift. Titan is your best card. Spirits are exponentially strong together, do you best to keep the lowest amount on the board at all time. Anger for one or two spirit is still good.
Game one you can just ramp and ignore their noninteractive strategy, especially on the play. Anger of the Gods and Rest in Peace buy you a lot of time post-board.
Grixis Death’s Shadow
The deck presents a fast clock along with lots of disruption, which is not what TitanShift wants to face. Game 1 usually boils down to who draws more dead cards, and you usually have a couple turns in the midgame to draw a game-winning Titan. Rest in Peace can lock them out of the game and it is harder for them to interact with you if you try to play a more midrange game. It is often correct to not swing with BBE when cast as you do not want to help them with Deathshadow. Anyway your game plan is to one shoot them.
The disruptive trio of Meddling Mage, Kitesail Freebooter, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben makes it difficult for you to ignore your opponent and just ramp into win-cons. You will need help from your removal, sweepers, and incidental blockers to buy you more time. Sometimes it can be correct to take a hit off a Mantis Rider or Thalia so that you can hold up Lightning Bolt for a follow-up Meddling Mage or Kitesail Freebooter. Post-board you can cut all your Scapeshifts to make sure you have maximum interaction and you do not want to clog your hand with too many win-cons. A resolved Titan should be sufficient to close out most games.
Some players will side out some number of Burning Inquiry due to potential Obstinate Baloth, but Baloth is still a good blocker that will buy you time. Scapeshifts are shaved to minimize the impact of the multiple Collective Brutalities, as well as the incoming Blood Moon(s). Knight of Autumn and RIP are amazing in the matchup. Knight will hit Hollow One, Blood Moon and can be paired with a Sakura to block a Flameblade Adept. Once declared blocker you can still sac Sakura for the land, Knight and Adept will trade. Nahiri will also exile Blood Moon, and creatures.
Hope to dodge this matchup. You absolutely need to keep hands with interaction with them or else you will get run over. You will never be able to race them, you can mulligan aggressively for interaction and hope to kill their only infecter. You never want to interact with them during their combat step unless you must. Play your kill spells during your turn or on their end step.
You want to deploy ramp spells before they are discarded. You have a great midrange plan post-board between Bloodbraid Elf, Knight of Autumn, and Tireless Tracker, which will punish them for putting in clunky cards like Fulminator Mage. The matchup is easy as long as they do not play Liliana of the Veil on turn three. If they do, you can sometimes race them with a Nahiri. Lili can ultimate turn 6 while Nahiri will ultimate turn 5.
Similarly to UW, Jeskai is forced to answer your creatures that you have already gained incidental value off of.
One of the combo decks you do not want to sit across from as they are way faster than you and have Remand/Unsubstantiate to slow you down. You need to keep them off-balance with a removal spell to the cost-reducer while enacting your own game plan, which can be difficult. [[Damping Sphere]] will help a lot with this matchup. Bring in at least one Anger to answer their goblins. You can punish their attack with a cost-reducer with Nahiri too. Once into play she will win by herself as they do not have much interaction for her.
This matchup is purely a race, with you hoping to fade turn-3 Karn Liberated or turn-4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Bloodbraid Elf does a fantastic job of harassing their planeswalkers. Fulminator mage, Stony Silence and Damping Sphere can cut dry their manabase. Bolts and Helixes will not be very useful.
U/W Control has many dead cards against you Game 1 and a very slow clock. Apply pressure with Bloodbraid Elf, the occasional Sakura-Tribe Elder, Valakut triggers, and wait for a window to jam multiple win-cons in one turn (such as double Scapeshift with 8 mana). I probably fear Search for Azcanta the most since it shifts the inevitability back to them. Nahiri and Knight of Autumn can hit Runed Halos, Spreading Seas, and unflipped Search for Azcantas. Game two you will remove some Farseek and Bolts/Helix to bring in all the gas you have: Tracker, Knights, Fulmi and RIP (protect Valakut from extraction and stop their Field of Ruin/Crucible gameplan). If possible do not sac your fetches and or expose your Valakuts. Once you have a clock, do not overextend as they can easily punish you for that.
You cannot beat their best draw but they will not expect to have their Thing in the Ice exiled by Nahiri or a Lightning Helix on a Phoenix. Game two you will need Damping Spheres, RIP (not great but will do) and Angers. Titan is awkward as it can die to a flipped TiTi and might be too late.
Thanks a lot for reading. With Phoenix and Burn at the top of their game right now, splashing White to give yourself access to Knight of Autumn seems invaluable. Do not forget to participate in the giveaway while you still can. If you find yourself having any questions you can come to the discussion group or find the author on the Valakut Discord. If you find a new innovation, especially about NayaShift, please let us know! Until then my friends.