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Primers

Archetype

Name: RG Valakut
Tier: Tier 1

Contributing Authors: Rob San Juan, Jason Schousboe

RG Valakut

Introduction

RG Valakut is a linear combo deck built around its namesake card, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, that aims to reproduce the old deck from Standard featuring Primeval Titan. Scapeshift decks have been around in Modern for a long time, but they usually skewed towards the control spectrum with a heavy blue component. Unlike its Temur predecessor, the straight red-green variants are pure combo. With the exception of a few pieces of interaction, every card in the deck is either a Mountain, a Valakut, or a ramp spell. Given enough turns, the deck will inexorably find and assemble the combo of 5 Mountains plus Valakut, at which point every draw step is a 3- or 6-point burn spell.

One-for-one ramp spells form the bread and butter of the deck, but its real power lies in multi-land searchers Primeval Titan and Scapeshift. These two cards take Valakut from four-five lands and no board state to 20+ damage seemingly out of nowhere. An opponent who has fetch-shocked will often succumb to a Titan or Scapeshift on seven lands (for 18 damage), but even one who survives is likely to be dead to a land drop the subsequent turn.

Non-blue versions of Scapeshift have been around for a while, but they generally languished in the lower tiers, underperforming relative to their blue cousins. Older versions experimented with such cards as Commune with Lava, Summoning Trap, and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (to cheat into play with Breach or Trap). In 2016, as Temur Scapeshift was falling out of favor, players began to perfect the red-green archetype and arrive at a consensus build of both Titan Shift and Titan Breach variants. As these builds became more tuned, they also crept up the metagame tierings. Today RG Valakut usually hovers between Tier 1 and Tier 2.

Sample Decklist

RG Valakut, by Vitor Grassato (2nd, Grand Prix São Paulo 2017)

Creatures (10)
Primeval Titan
Reclamation Sage
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Wood Elves

Enchantments (3)
Prismatic Omen

Instants (5)
Lightning Bolt
Summoner's Pact

Sorceries (15)
Farseek
Hour of Promise
Scapeshift
Search for Tomorrow

Lands (27)
Bloodstained Mire
Cinder Glade
Forest
Mountain
Stomping Ground
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Ancient Grudge
Anger of the Gods
Beast Within
Chalice of the Void
Crumble to Dust
Engineered Explosives
Fracturing Gust
Grafdigger's Cage
Obstinate Baloth
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General Philosophy & Variants

RG Valakut is a critical-mass combo deck that uses many similar and replaceable pieces to generate its lethal damage. In a certain sense it’s like a one-card combo, with a pile of tutors to find the Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. The fragility that comes from relying so heavily on a specific card is offset by that card being a land—one of the most difficult card types to interact with.

RG Valakut decks break down into two major categories, Titan Shift and Titan Breach. These two sub-archetypes form something of a gradient, with many builds straddling the line between the two or adopting tech from the other variant. The consensus build(s) are much more firmly established these days, but significant variation still exists.

Titan Shift prioritizes consistency over speed, playing four copies of Scapeshift as an additional “win now” card. This version often has additional ramp in Khalni Heart Expedition or Wood Elves, and may also use Prismatic Omen to reduce the number of lands needed for a kill. The most recent innovation is Hour of Promise, which provides more tutor effects to find Valakut while ramping.

Titan Breach is built to be more explosive. It focuses on the Primeval Titan itself, trying to power it out earlier with Through the Breach and Simian Spirit Guide. Extra virtual copies of the Giant are provided by Summoner’s Pact. Breach variants may occasionally run a Scapeshift as well, but rarely more than one copy. As of November 2017, this build is the less popular of the two.

Valakut’s strength is its consistency and its resistance to interaction. Since virtually every card does the same thing, the draw step rarely fails a pilot who has assembled the requisite lands. Meanwhile, when even your lowly Search for Tomorrow acts as a Lightning Bolt in the mid game, it becomes impossible for opponents to weather the storm for too long or counter everything. Because the combo naturally generates an large number of incidental Lightning Bolts, Valakut can also make short work of aggressive creature decks.

Where Valakut is strong against durdly decks it can struggle against fast combo. Especially where the free Bolts don’t disrupt an opponent, like against spell-based combo, it can be hard for Valakut to interact. Like most combo decks, a clock plus disruption can spell problems too, as a Thoughtseize nabbing a Titan might buy the aggressor several turns. Finally, there are a few hosers to shut off (or delay) the Valakut itself, including Ghost Quarter, Blood Moon, and Leyline of Sanctity. These countermeasures are not lights out but they do present challenges, especially when backed up by pressure.