Optimizing Grixis Shadow

by Eduardo Sajgalik on 08 February 2018, Thursday

Eduardo Sajgalik

 

Optimizing Grixis Death's Shadow

Plane trips are great – they give you time to relax, reflect and think (when you aren't sleeping or catching some in-flight entertainment). They are usually the best moment for me to think about Magic brews.

 

As Foretold Living End Tolaria West


The first one I looked into was a modified version of As Foretold Living End, using W/U's Spreading Seas shell and adding Lotus Bloom as a Tolaria West target to make the deck hum a little differently.

 

Griselbrand Lotus Bloom Restore Balance


The other two builds were both with As Foretold but much more experimental – one with Griselbrand and 4 Lotus Bloom (to help hard cast if needed) and the other with Mox Opal, a bunch of cheap artifacts / mana accelerants + Restore Balance (turn 1-2 "kill").

With a lack of time, I certainly wasn't going to be able to make any As Foretold deck good enough for the Pro Tour.

It left me with the brew that led me to my Pro Tour deck (I had an additional one with 15 lands including Traverse and blue cantrips that is unlikely to be playable).

 

 

Pro Tour RIX Prep

 

Mishra's Bauble 


Adding Mishra's Bauble to Shadow came from a conversation we had after the Team Unified Modern GP in Madrid – I would lose a significant number of my matches because I was flooding all the time – this was such a problem that Andrea Mengucci wrote an article about it!

 

Sleight of Hand


I had time on the plane to truly reflect on the issue he highlighted and remembered Ari Lax's take on the archetype, going down to 17 lands and running Sleight of Hand.

For me, it was the right approach, but I was worried about the high number of Blue cantrips in the deck slowing the deck down too much.





Enter Mishra's Bauble


Why people have not tried running the card in Grixis Shadow before is an egregious error to me. Everyone plays it in Traverse Shadow for Delirium and Tarmogoyf, but Grixis Shadow benefits from it in a few different ways.

Look at all these potential interactions:

  • Draw Serum Visions top card during their turn (perfect for instants)

  • With Fetchland + Visions, check top card of Serum Visions before blind drawing (can then keep one card on top if good due to re-draw, unlikely both)

  • Check own library before Thought Scour (own turn or opp turn - mill them if you need the card immediately)

  • Check before fetchland (Street Wraith / 1 mana instants)

  • Check their top card before Thoughtseize / Inquisition

  • Check their top card before Thought Scour to have the option to fateseal them.

  • Trigger Revolt for Fatal Push.

  • Fill the graveyard for delve.

  • Check their top card before a conditional Stubborn Denial (ie. not a must-counter)

  • Protect extra card from discard by sacrificing on their turn.

The fact that it does all this for ZERO mana makes the list hum. Opt is not good enough for Shadow in my view, but a zero mana one is (some other upsides/downsides).

 


Simply amazing!


I was initially suspicious of running Shadow – not because I thought the new version was terrible (it felt much better than previous versions), but because I was losing quite a bit in testing since people were tuning W/U Control and Humans, a horrific and close match-up respectively. It was hurting my confidence to run the deck, and I liked the look of the UW control list tuned by Jeremy Dezani.

However, a combination of testing laughably favorable match-ups (Storm and Affinity) and Dezani's reassurance that I should play what I know best made me lock the deck Thursday morning, my full 75 by the afternoon, which made for the most relaxing Pro Tour Thursday evening I had in a while.

As for the tournament itself, I felt that only 1 of my matches was indeed out of my grasp to win, with 2 of the losses due to sub-optimal decision making at critical points.

The deck is not forgiving, in any way, shape or form. 7-3 in Modern is a respectable finish and seeing Ben Friedman going 8-2 confirms that you should be adding Mishra's Bauble to all Death's Shadow decks.

Let's walk through my list and specific card notes.



The Manabase

You need to run 17 lands in your 75. I decided to go for 16 + 1 and reduce the number of 2-3 mana spells in the main deck to a minimal amount.

If you run into more Path to Exile or aggro decks or wish to run more 3-drops, then you need the 17 in your 60-card starting deck.

The number of fetchable lands is at its lowest at five but drawing a natural land over a fetch is often poor due to life loss management and Delve (except the Bauble + natural land + fetch).


Threats

 

Snapcaster Mage Gurmag Angler Tasigur, the Golden Fang


This is also at a minimum with four Death's Shadow, four Delve creatures, three Snapcaster Mage.

You require more threats in your sideboard for post-board removal-heavy games, ideally, ones that don't need the graveyard (hence the choice of Vendilion Clique). 

For Delve creatures, four Gurmag Angler is likely optimal – one Tasigur was ok, as sometimes you only have five cards to remove on turn two. Three Snapcaster Mage is correct in this version due to low land count and lower utility overall.



Cantrips

 

Street Wraith Thought Scour Serum Visions


I run a full 16 with Mishra's Bauble, Street Wraith, Thought Scour and Serum Visions.

I'll note Ben Friedman is not running Serum Visions, as he feels you need to be always be interacting on turn 1 in Modern. It is my view you should ideally time Serum Visions for turn two, which works into that game plan.

The most significant advantage of the card for me is that it makes the number of 1 landers you can keep substantially higher. The chances to get a 2nd land off 1 land + Serum Visions is high, especially with Mishra's Bauble and Street Wraith in the mix. 

I am not sure what is the best approach here, but it's hard to go wrong with Serum Visions' selection power.



Removal 

 

Fatal Push Dismember Lightning Bolt


I have the 4 Fatal Push / 2 Dismember package. 


I am sure that you should be running 2 Dismember over Terminate due to the synergy with Shadow.

It is possible to run a 3rd removal spell – 1 Lightning Bolt is likely your best option in that slot.




Disruption 

 

Thoughtseize Inquisition of Kozilek Stubborn Denial


4 Thoughtseize, 2 Inquisition of Kozilek and 3 Stubborn Denial is fairly standard. 


In some metagames, you can put the 3rd Stubborn Denial in the sideboard, and it would be 1 of the possible cuts for a Lightning Bolt. In an extensive meta, I strongly recommend sticking to the three main deck.




Bonus 

Temur Battle Rage


2 Temur Battle Rage


There were so many game one matches where this card single-handily swings a loss into a win. I highly recommend 2, but you could cut 1 for a Lightning Bolt. It also makes some tough match-ups winnable (e.g., Dredge).




The Sideboard

  • Island – You need to play 17 lands and the 2nd basic for Path / Field of Ruin matchups. Mine lived in the sideboard since I up the number of 3 mana cards in almost all post-board games.

  • 2 Engineered Explosives / 2 Kolaghan's Command / 2 Ceremonious Rejection / 2 Collective Brutality / 1 Surgical Extraction /
    1 Liliana of the Veil

    I would love to have all these cards in my sideboard no matter how the meta looks for the foreseeable future. These are either universal or a necessity. The second Engineered Explosives can be changed for another sweeper in specific metagames.


  • Surgical Extraction has the bonus of allowing you to understand your opponent's funky decks and sideboard plans in Game 2, although that card has inherent issues if you lack card advantage.

  • A second Liliana of the Veil – I felt there would be a lot of blue control and midrange decks for this card to shine. It was ok – potentially replaceable. The main issue is that it interacts poorly against some post-board plans like Leyline of Sanctity or Lingering Souls and you want to keep some cards in hand.

  • 2 Vendilion Clique – I liked a threat that would be good against GBx Midrange / Control decks that didn't rely on the graveyard. Bonus points for being an all-star versus combo. Replaceable but versatile – I would cut one if you run a 4th Snapcaster Mage.

  • Rise // Fall – You want to board this in for grindy matchups involving creatures, where both modes are good. You can usually tell when they are out of lands and nab two random cards is back-breaking, let alone the synergy with Snapcaster Mage. The card performed well but can be cut.

  • Lack of sweepers – I didn't like any of the damage sweepers aside from the very hard to cast Anger of the Gods because Humans is a deck with many three-toughness creatures. If you wanted one, Izzet Staticaster seems right.

  • Lack of Nihil Spellbomb – this is likely better than most other 15th card sideboard selections if you want to change things around or add the Island to the main deck. I lacked space.


Sideboard Guide



Affinity

 

Master of Etherium


+2 Ceremonious Rejection
+2 Kolaghan's Command
+2 Engineered Explosives
+1 Island

-3 Stubborn Denial
-4 Street Wraith

If you see a lot of three-mana spells which are colored, you can board out a Thoughtseize or two and keep Stubborn Denial.



Burn


+2 Collective Brutality
+2 Liliana of the Veil
+1 Engineered Explosives
+2 Kolaghan's Command
+1 Island

-4 Street Wraith
-2 Dismember
-2 Thoughtseize 

Take note that "discard a card" is a key mode for the Kolaghan's Commands. Interestingly, Thoughtseize can discard a four-damage burn spell, Path to Exile, or Deflecting Palm and is better than other sideboard options.



Collected Company

 

Collected Company


+2 Engineered Explosives
+2 Kolaghan's Command
+2 Collective Brutality

-1 or -3 Stubborn Denial
-1 or -2 Temur Battle Rage
-2 Inquisition of Kozilek
0 - 4 Street Wraith
0 - 4 Mishra's Bauble

You can keep one or two Stubborn Denial in if you see lots of Path to Exiles or if they have Chord of Calling and Collected Company.

As for the number of Temur Battle Rages, you need to determine if their plan is value-centric rather combo-focused. You should keep both if their disruption is limited, or if they have  Voice of Resurgence.


Take these plans with a grain of salt, as there are many Company decks with tons of different plans.




Dredge

+2 Kolaghan's Command

-3 Fatal Push

Dodging the matchup is the best plan – otherwise,  focus on Temur Battle Rage



Eldrazi Tron

 

Thought-Knot Seer Dismember


+2 Ceremonious Rejection

+2 Liliana of the Veil
+2 Kolaghan's Command
+1 Island

-3 Stubborn Denial
-2 Temur Battle Rage
-2 Inquisition of Kozilek

Temur Battle Rage can be an awkward liability against Thought-Knot Seer and Dismember. You can keep one keep instead of a Mishra's Bauble.



Tron

+2 Kolaghan's Command

+2 Ceremonious Rejection
+1 Surgical Extraction
+1 Island
+2 Vendilion Clique

-4 Fatal Push
-2 Dismember
-1 Street Wraith
-1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang

I board out Tasigur, the Golden Fang because I want to limit the damage Relic of Progenitus can inflict on me – I am not 100% sure here. It may be possible that removing a second Street Wraith or Snapcaster Mage is better.

 

Thought Scour Surgical Extraction


Remember that a good plan is to check the top of the library with Mishra's Bauble, Thought Scour them and then hit their Tron land and break their set with Surgical Extraction.




B/G/X Midrange

+2 Kolaghan's Command
+2 Engineered Explosives
+2 Liliana of the Veil 
+1 Island
+2 Vendilion Clique
+1 Rise // Fall
+0 or +1 Surgical Extraction

-2 Temur Battle Rage
-3 Stubborn Denial
-2 Inquisition of Kozilek
-3 or -4 Mishra's Bauble

 

Lingering Souls


I dislike Stubborn Denial against discard and tend to board it out in favor of Liliana of the Veil, except versus Abzan where she can be awkward due to Lingering Souls.

 

Mishra's Bauble Tarmogoyf


We board out three or four Mishra's Baubles because our opponents play Tarmogoyf. I will definitely board out the fourth one if I intend to sideboard in Surgical Extraction.

There is a wide variety of Black-Green-based decks out there, so this is a generic plan that needs to be adapted accordingly.



Jeskai Tempo / Control

+2 Collective Brutality
+1 Island
+2 Kolaghan's Command
+2 Liliana of the Veil
+1 Rise // Fall

-2 Dismember
-3 Fatal Push
-2 Temur Battle Rage
-1 Street Wraith

You keep in one Fatal Push to kill Celestial Colonnade and other threats such as Snapcaster Mage or Vendilion Clique.



White-Blue Control

+2 Kolaghan's Command
+1 Island
+2 Liliana of the Veil
+2 Vendilion Clique
+1 Rise // Fall

-4 Fatal Push
-2 Dismember
-2 Temur Battle Rage

 

Engineered Explosives

Detention Sphere Runed Halo


Engineered Explosives is optional but it kills enchantments like Detention Sphere and Runed Halo. It is slow and it isn't a threat, but it may be better than Kolaghan's Command.

You're boarding out all the Fatal Pushes. Remember that nine life is the magic number to be because that means you can survive two hits from Celestial Colonnade.

You may also want to remove Street Wraith or Mishra's Bauble for one Engineered Explosives.



5-Color Humans

+2 Engineered Explosives
+2 Kolaghan's Command 
+2 Vendilion Clique
+1 Rise // Fall

-3 Stubborn Denial
-2 Temur Battle Rage (they have a lot of disruption to make the card clunky – if you want to keep one in, board out the 3rd Street Wraith)
-2 Street Wraith

 

Engineered Explosives Thalia, Guardian of Thraben


Remember that Engineered Explosives is good because it does not get "taxed" by Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. The discard mode for Kolaghan's Command is important because they usually bring in some three-drops.

 

Vendilion Clique Mantis Rider

Vendilion Clique can help you trade for Mantis Rider. Vendilion Clique also can't be disrupted by their creatures and it is a solution to an extremely troublesome three-drop.



Lantern Control

+2 Kolaghan's Command
+2 Engineered Explosives
+2 Ceremonious Rejection
+1 Surgical Extraction
+1 Vendilion Clique

-2 Temur Battle Rage
-4 Fatal Push
-2 Dismember

Temur Battle Rage is a dead card in many situations.




Mardu Pyromancer

+2 Engineered Explosives

+2 Kolaghan's Command
+1 Surgical Extraction
+2 Collective Brutality
+1 Rise // Fall

-2 Temur Battle Rage
-2 Fatal Push / Dismember
-2 Inquisition of Kozilek
-2 Street Wraith

 

Dismember Bedlam Reveler


Dismember kills Bedlam Reveler so I prefer to sideboard out Fatal Pushes. However, since Mardu Pyromancer is a damage-based deck which plays Lightning Bolt, I would watch out for my life total.



R/G Valakut

+2 Collective Brutality

+1 Surgical Extraction 
+2 Liliana of the Veil 
+2 Vendilion Clique

-4 Fatal Push
-2 Dismember
-1 Street Wraith

 

Surgical Extraction

Primeval Titan Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle


As with the Tron matchup, you try to mill your opponent's Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or Primeval Titan and try to get those with Surgical Extraction if able. 

Liliana of the Veil is good but do watch out for Obstinate Baloth.



Grixis Shadow

+2 Liliana of the Veil

+2 Kolaghan's Command
+2 Vendilion Clique
+1 Rise // Fall

-2 Temur Battle Rage

-2 Inquisition of Kozilek
-2 Stubborn Denial
-1 Fatal Push

Stubborn Denials are okay but not necessarily great. If you want extras, board out Street WraithMishra's Bauble or Thought Scour instead.



Traverse Shadow


+2 Liliana of the Veil 
+2 Kolaghan's Command
+2 Engineered Explosives
+1 Rise // Fall
+1 Island
+2 Vendilion Clique 

-2 Temur Battle Rage
-2 Inquisition of Kozilek
-2 Stubborn Denial
-4 Mishra's Bauble 
-2 Thought Scour 

 

Lingering Souls


I am not 100% sure of what the best board out cards are as this deck varies a lot, so improvise as needed. Liliana of the Veil and Vendilion Clique are poor cards against versions which contain Lingering Souls.




Storm

+2 Vendilion Clique

+1 Surgical Extraction
+2 Engineered Explosives

-2 Dismember
-1 Fatal Push
-2 Street Wraith

You can board out more Fatal Pushes if you suspect they might sideboard out some copies of their Goblin Electromancer or Baral, Chief of Compliance. They might aim to burn you out in the post-board games, so you don't want to cycle too many Street Wraiths.


Other Shadow Builds from PTRIX

Of course, Ben Freidman saw the same opportunities as me at least two months ago. I really should be reading his work more often. Anyway, he played this list to a money finish at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan!

 



But while Ben Friedman and myself were on the right track with adding Mishra's Bauble to Grixis Shadow, it may be Immanuel Gerschenson that out-leveled us all out with this list:

 


This list is clean, efficient and brutal.

I am not convinced about some choices (the 3rd Temur Battle Rage and lack of 2nd basic land as examples). However, Gerschenson's Constructed decks are usually very powerful, so I would want to take a close look at his build.

It may be worth considering the addition of 1-2 Manamorphose as identified by other teams to help with the instant count and unstable mana base. 
You can read about his deck here and thanks for reading my article too!

Eduardo




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