Strictly Eternal 101 – To Wish Upon a Shift

Aloha, my friends, and welcome to yet another edition of Shake and Bake: California’s Tectonic Plates! This week we’re gonna go deep, and actually discuss a deck that’s near and dear to me, the archetype I adore so much that I even started the subreddit for it. I’m talking of course, about Nic Fit.

Nic Fit revolves around two central cards: Veteran Explorer and Cabal Therapy. The name of the deck actually stems from the deck designer listening to the song by Sonic Youth while he was creating the original deck. It has just kind of… stuck. Nic Fit presents a unique take on the Legacy format by creating advantage over the format’s reluctance to run more than 1-2 basic lands in their decks as well as being one of the most customizable archetypes in the entire format. If there’s a strategy you adore, there’s probably a Nic Fit build for you.

I myself have played several different versions of the deck. The variant we’re going to talk about today is commonly known as Scapewish.

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The Core of the Deck

At its core, Scapewish is a Jund-colored variant of the Nic Fit shell; it contains the normal core of Veteran Explorer, Cabal Therapy, and Green Sun’s Zenith. However, Scapewish’s primary engine is derived from Burning Wish, as well as using Scapeshift itself to attain victory. In addition, the deck packs an array of solid midrange threats and can often pivot back and forth between those two plans easily and flawlessly mid-game.

Scapewish as a variant has actually been around Nic Fit world for quite some time. It was originally pushed heavily by Kevin McKee (Arianrhod from the Source). It did quite well for a while, but as time crept on many of the deck’s midrange threats (such as Huntmaster of the Fells) dropped off in terms of playability versus the rest of the format’s powerful threats.

Enter… Ixalan.

Warning: Do not feed the implacable death lizard.  Do not… Oh.  He fed it.

Ixalan, combined with recent releases of Kaladesh and Shadows Over Innistrad have given Nic Fit decks powerful new card options in the form of Carnage Tyrant, Regisaur Alpha, Tireless Tracker, and Nissa, Vital Force. These powerful cards mean only one big thing… Shift is back on the menu, baby!

The primary threat base of Scapewish is pretty simple. Ramp cards like Sakura-Tribe Elder and Veteran Explorer further your game plan of land count, while also allowing you to cast your threats. Green Sun’s Zenith acts as a way to tutor up specific creatures, and Burning Wish lets you find a powerful answer when you need it or lets you fetch up a kill condition when you want it.

Because much of the deck revolves around the potential usage of Burning Wish, our sideboard is extensively packed with a sorcery wish board for various scenarios. In addition to stuffing a Scapeshift in the sideboard (giving our maindeck effectively 6 copies of the card) we also see our fourth Cabal Therapy. In addition, we have a bevy of additional effects from combo hate (Lost Legacy, Slaughter Games) to creature hate (Pyroclasm, Toxic Deluge, Innocent Blood) as well as a great catch-all answer in Maelstrom Pulse.

One of the things that I’ve learned greatly about playing this version is that patience is key. This deck maximizes resource management from managing how many lands you have in play (as well as how many mountains are floating around in each zone), but also has you using your life total as an extreme resource as well. I have won a number of games while being within Lightning Bolt range sheerly off the back a Scapeshift kill.

Speaking of Scapeshift (before we get onto the matches) let’s talk a little bit of math for math’s sake. For those wholly unaware of how the card works, Scapeshift sacrifices any number of lands and lets you go fetch that many up from your library into play tapped. How this interacts with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle is the important thing. Vakalut specifically only triggers if it sees a Mountain enter the battlefield and there are at least five other Mountains already on the battlefield. So, when Scapeshift puts in a bunch of Mountains and a Valakut into play, they see each other all enter the battlefield at the same time, which means each Mountain will trigger if there are at least five other Mountains in play.

This makes the math relatively simple. To ‘shift an opponent, by default you need seven lands in play (any seven lands; doesn’t matter if those lands are even extra fetches you haven’t cracked yet). The default option here is to get six Mountains and one Valakut. This adds up to 18 damage (3 x 6 Mountains). The danger in this play is against decks that either don’t impact their own life total much (Death and Taxes comes to mind) or decks that play Wasteland. If you can reduce the Valakut player’s total # of Mountains to just five or fewer in play, the only triggers that resolve and cause damage are the ones that were destroyed. This is because Valakut checks this condition both to put the trigger on the stack and also to resolve.

You may have to play around these conditions, and possibly ‘shift them at eight lands instead (seven Mountain + one Valakut for 21 damage). However, I’ve often found that unless it’s a player who also plays Modern this interaction is not well known amongst most Legacy players.

Another option for Shifting is to double up on Valakuts. This requires an eight or nine land shift (if you’re playing around Wasteland), with six Mountain + two Valakut. Because there are two Valakuts, each trigger is essentially doubled so an eight land shift of this nature would deal 36 damage to your opponent.

To prep for this article, I played out five matches on XMage (basically a league’s worth of matches), and recorded them for posterity sake. Primarily this play time was not only for the sake of this article, but also just good practice for myself since I play this deck competitively.

Over the course of the five matches I went 4-1 with wins against Turbo Depths, Miracles, Nyx Fit, and W/B Bomberman, with my only loss going to U/B Reanimator.  Note, these videos only show the games and not sideboarding, which I will discuss in depth in each match.

 

Match 1 – Turbo Depths (Record 2-0 WIN)

Game 1 of this match started relatively slow; I was teetering on the edge at every second. Turbo Depths is not a good matchup for Nic Fit, but being able to just deal with the early Sylvan Safekeepers and keeping him off potentially having a kill was enough to seal the deal here. Sylvan Library pulled its weight in this game, letting me get enough lands to hit a Scapeshift. On his end of the game, it seemed like his hand was slow; he never saw a piece to combo me with Dark Depths, and it felt like variance was not in his favor.

Sideboarding – Sideboarding for Turbo Depths basically means dropping big options out of the deck and leaning hard on discard. It’s unlikely we’re ever going to cast cards like Carnage Tyrant or Primeval Titan, but we want to keep five drops like Thragtusk (because they give us a buffer to beat a Marit Lage). Conversely, we bring in hate like Lost Legacy / Slaughter Games, as well as Innocent Blood and Surgical Extraction.

Game 2 started off fairly interesting, but I think the tipping point of this game was actually his turn 2 when he swings with the Sylvan Safekeeper. The extra mana doesn’t seem to help him that much, but it creates a huge swing in my favor, giving me enough mana to Abrupt Decay his Sylvan Library and be ahead of the game. There’s a bit of a glitch in this game, as XMage sometimes likes to randomly skip turns, so there’s a function to roll back if needed. What clenches this game is the fact that Thragtusk adds the velocity needed for me to survive the Marit Lage swing. After that, it’s as simple as Innocent Blood -> Burning Wish -> Scapeshift.

 

Match 2 – Miracles (2-0 WIN)

Game 1 of this matchup I nearly thought I was playing against Red/White Taxes, since most of the time Miracles pilots want me to actually trigger Veteran Explorer. I was a little surprised when they played Swords to Plowshares. I think this Miracles player never once saw a really solid win condition, and played their Brainstorms incorrectly. Regardless, I somehow managed to take this game away through Counterbalance, so that’s real enough. Most of this game ended up being me overloading their threats until they died to a Scapeshift.

Sideboarding – Sideboarding versus Miracles with Scapewish means cutting just enough Veteran Explorers to matter. You don’t want them to have basics at all; it’s just never good for you. Conversely, this leaves some dead cards, but I lean heavily on Sakura-Tribe Elder post-board. Cards I do not bring in are things like Surgical Extraction or Lost Legacy/Slaughter Games, because those cards are strictly dead in this matchup (no matter what anyone tells you). I tend to board in cards like Lightning Bolt and Maelstrom Pulse (to deal with Jace and annoying Mentors) and I aggressively fetch nonbasics, because it’s Miracles.

Game 2 I mulliganed to a hand of six, with a Sakura-Tribe Elder on top. Just the guy I want to see in a matchup where I want to get lands but not give my opponent any. I also see a decently positioned number of mountains in my hand, which annoys me because the deck does only play ten Mountains. It’s during this game that my opponent makes the questionable play of casting Surgical Extraction upon my Nissa, Vastwood Seer (strangest play I’ve seen yet) again reinforcing my thoughts that Surgical is a bad crutch that many people rely on in the strangest ways. This game is amusingly enough not closed out by Shift, but by Carnage Tyrant, who is a beautiful and brilliant Magic card in itself.

 

Match 3 – Nyx Fit (2-0 WIN)

Game 1 of this match I was pleasantly surprised to find that my opponent was on a Nic Fit deck. When it comes to Nic Fit decks, Scapewish is uniquely positioned; the more lands you give us, the better positioned we are to kill you. I whiffed on early Therapy here, but in the long run of things it hardly mattered.  Academy Rector is the scary card, but I was able to keep it out of his hand long enough to hit a Scapeshift for lethal. I do believe my big misplay was that I should have gotten Lost Legacy off my Burning Wish, and LL’ed the Rectors.

Sideboarding – Like most Nic Fit matchups, I do cut some number of Veteran Explorers. This is because I like to rely on my opponent doing the job for me. I do keep some in case I have an explosive enough start that it doesn’t impact me. Because this is Nyx Fit, I also brought in Surgical Extraction, Lost Legacy, and Pulse of Murasa to deal with the combo.

Game 2 of this match, I flub through a Surgical Extraction with a misclick and have to back up (since we’re treating this as serious play, we’d never just miss the one in his yard). My opponent was really solid about this mistake, and we proceeded through the rest of the game without a hitch. I spent most of this game feeling like I was going to die to a combination of Vets and Spirit tokens from Lingering Souls. I went to two life, then solidly stabilized under him having a Leyline of Sanctity. I’m finally able to get above the Leyline with Carnage Tyrant and Regisaur Alpha.

 

Match 4 – U/B Reanimator (0-2 LOSS)

Game 1 was super quick. Even though I keep a hand with nice early interaction, he had a Chancellor of the Annex Turn 0 effect, which I spend on the discard spell I’m least likely to hit with (my Therapy). I quickly realize he’s on U/B Reanimator (which is often much more difficult than B/R Reanimator. Sure enough, he makes a quick Griselbrand, and I die to it, trying to Innocent Blood it and losing that to a Force of Will.

Sideboarding – Threats get boarded out in this matchup. Carnage Tyrant, Primeval Titan… these are all cards you don’t want your opponent to have access to reanimate from your graveyard. Instead, bringing in cards like Innocent Blood, Surgical, Pulse of Murasa are key.

Game 2 he has yet another Chancellor effect, which I spend a card on quickly. He is however able to make a Sire of Insanity, which pretty much nukes whatever plan I had. I see no relevant interaction for the next few turns (not even a 3-drop blocker to stall) and die to a 6/4.

 

Match 5 – W/B Bomberman (2-0 WIN)

Game 1 starts off right off the bat with him playing a Dark Confidant on Turn 1. With the combination of cards I’ve seen, I already know that this is W/B Bomberman. Bomberman is a combo deck that relies heavily on Auriok Salvagers as a combo piece, in addition to Monastery Mentor as a beatdown piece. I quickly take and remove a Salvagers. He then has to draw another copy to get to his combo. Combined with some fast mana work off a Sakura-Tribe Elder, I’m able to stem the bleeding until I hit a Pernicious Deed and kill his board. The game ends unceremoniously as he struggles to reassemble his board, and I instead Scapeshift him in the face for lethal.

Sideboarding – This deck was actually kind of difficult to board against, but keeping their creatures under control and not letting them have Dark Confidant is a big piece. Pyroclasm, Maelstrom Pulse all get brought in, as well as Lightning Bolt (since the deck has no instant speed way of pumping a Mentor team in response), and we bring out big threats we’re never going to cast and lean hard on the shift plan.

Game 2 he comes out of the gate right off the bat with a Turn 1 Confidant, but no land drop (instead using a Mox Opal and a Lotus Petal to do it). This is fortuitous for me since I’m able to Pyroclasm out his Confidant on Turn 2, shutting off his ability to draw out of this. Couple this with a well timed Pernicious Deed for 0, and Abrupt Decay blowing up another mana rock, I’m able to secure a solid win here with an eight-land Scapeshift.

Post Thoughts

As of right now, I’m fairly happy with this list and I’m happy with the reps these games gave me. Even if it isn’t the most serious of testing grounds (see some questionable choices my opponents made) I still think the games I got in were nice and solid games. It’s always a little disheartening to lose to a deck like Reanimator but those games happen with this style of deck. More than anything, I was surprised at being able to beat a deck like Turbo Depths.

Regardless, I’m looking forward to my next competitive outing on this deck. It will be this month (March) at the StarCityGames Team Trios Open in Cincinnati. I will be part of Team Strictly Average, along with Dennis Gabriels (Modern) and Harrison Stoddart (Standard). We hope we can bring a little Strictly Average love to Team Trios.

Wrapping Up

That’s all the time we have this week folks; this was a larger article than I normally post on Strictly Average. Still, this was great fun and I really enjoyed getting to reinforce testing with content for an article. I hope to do more later on. Next week I’m going to be working on video content playing around with Punishing Fire + Dack Fayden in Czech Pile.

Until next time, join me in singing When You Wish Upon a Shift!

– Joseph Dyer

Joseph is an avid player of eternal Magic formats, including Vintage and Legacy.  As a Nic Fit player who will tell anyone who will listen about his deck, Joe spends his time analyzing and playing on Magic Online and various online platforms, while prepping for competitive events.  To follow more from Joe, check out his Twitter!

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