500 Matches with Death's Shadow
I'm a grinder at heart and there are few things in Magic I love more than just jamming match after match with a deck I enjoy. With no tournaments to prepare for, I've gone back to my favorite format: Modern!
To the surprise of probably no one, I'm of course on Death's Shadow jund and I also don't think I need to tell anyone shat it's the deck to beat right now in Modern. Unless you've been living under a rock or completely ignored Modern you know that it's been posting some great results both live and online and it's a deck that's here to stay.
What I will tell you is instead what I've learned from the 500 or so matches I've played in the last month and a half. Why my list looks like it does, which matchups go which way and what you should do to beat it.
First off, this is my current list:
Traverse Suicide (26/3) (Modern - Others)
Modern by Magnus Lantto
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Godless Shrine
2 Overgrown Tomb
4 Polluted Delta
1 Stomping Ground
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Death's Shadow
4 Street Wraith
The Mana Base
There is one thing that is different in my list from almost all others I see - the mana base.
I just can't see the reason to dilute your deck with a basic Forest. The deck often cast two or even three black spells in the same turn so I really want my lands to produce black mana. Also it's still a Death's Shadow deck so the pain is helping you more often than not. Drawing both your basics mean your shadows would be very late to join the party. Being a deck playing Traverse the Ulvenwald, you naturally want a basic Swamp, but I would not expect to search for a second basic very often.
Without Forest in your deck you can also go for all black fetches. I still run the Stomping Ground in the deck, but it's rarely an early grab. It's mostly there to be able to keep 1-landers with traverse and still get access to all your main colors. If I have three fetches and don't need white I more often go for Overgrown Tomb / Overgrown Tomb / Blood Crypt than getting one of each shock land. I find myself using three black mana way more often than two red mana in the same turn.
I am a little bit torn on 17 vs 18 lands though.
I've been running 17 more often than 18, but I'm starting to lean towards 18 just due to the power of the deck. When you have a deck this powerful you don't want to throw away games to mana screw.
Also, both Kolaghan's Command and Liliana, the Last Hope get better if you can also cast whatever creature you return on the same turn. If you run 18 lands you should keep in mind that it works completely fine at 17 as well though. I board out a land very often with this deck, especially if I'm not bringing in the white cards.
I'm not a big Tarfire fan.
I think I'm closer to zero than I am to the three I see in most lists. Shock is just not a very good card in Modern and especially not right now. It is your best way to get early Delirium, but I don't think it's worth a card getting there if you have to aim it to the head. I'm fine spending the first three turns without Delirium and you almost always have Delirium by turn four even without Tarfires.
I am running one right now as I want that many 1cc removals against aggressive decks and think four push is too many for the maindeck.
Ghor-Clan Rampager, Yes or No?
Ghor-Clan Rampager wins you games where you're aggressive and they have blockers. Most those games you still win by just keeping up pressure and tutoring for more threats. Temur Battle Rage on the other hand can steal games where you are on the defensive. When you have it in your hand you can set up a game plan where you try to deal 15+ damage on the same turn very easy, something you can rarely do with rampager.
Temur Battle Rage also usually shaves a turn off your clock against combo, which rampager doesn't. In midrange and control matchups I don't like either, but against aggro and combo I think Temur Battle Rage is invaluable.
To Play White or Not
Whether you play white or not is another divider between the lists I've seen. I personally think it's worth it.
Lingering Souls is the "grind"-card that has worked out the best for me as it works both ahead and behind. Other cards like additional planeswalkers and Painful Truths are good, but you can't play too many of them. Souls is also the best way to beat opposing spirit tokens.
The problem with running a forth color is of course your mana. Needing all four colors as well as multiple black sources can be tricky. I've tried to solve this both in deck building and in my sideboarding.
As I've already talked about, I've cut down on the red cards in the deck to not be as punished if I have to chose between getting a white or a red land, and I also tend to board out red cards a lot when I bring in white ones. In some matchups you also have to be weary of fetching your Godless Shrine too early though, to avoid being punished by Fulminator Mages or Ghost Quarters
Close Options Not in the Deck
There are a few cards I'm not running right now, but could easily make it from one day to another.
Dismember: Your best main deck answer to Delve creatures (such as Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler) and Eldrazis. Right now I like Fatal Push and Abrupt better, but I can absolutely imagine changing either of them to Dismember if you expect a lot of the above decks. It's much worse in the mirror and against affinity though which is why I'm not running any right now.
Nihil Spellbomb: I really want this is my sideboard as I struggle a bit with Dredge, but I have a hard time fitting it right now. It's versatile and would come in in a number of matchups, but I still think it's a bit too weak in most. I've chosen to run Surgical Extraction as my main graveyard hate as I think it's better against snapcaster and works better against combo, but it's close.
Kozilek's Return: Decks like elves that go wide are troublesome, but so far these "go-wide" decks don't occupay a large enough part of the metagame to warrant a slot. It also catches Etched Champions which are really hard to deal with, but I've been choosing between it and Ancient Grudge in my sideboard and found that Ancient Grudge is just better.
As I said, I've played more than 500 matches with the deck online and as promised I'm gonna share my results with you. I've played against something like 60 different decks, but I've just chosen to include the ones with more than ten matches played. Even that is a pretty small number, but it tells you some things, while three matches wouldn't.
Let me first start by telling you something about numbers like this in general. Even with 500 matches played it's still a somewhat small sample size. More importantly, I don't know who I'm playing against. While I think the Magic Online Modern community is good, this is definitely not the same thing as my usual pro team. There are decks and players that are pretty bad hiding within those stats and that obviously changes the results.
Looking at the stats in general I've been doing incredibly well. The only decks that have rivaled this win rate for me online are pod, rally and the "old" Death's Shadow deck, three decks which were really busted and that I also played a lot.
I don't think this deck is "ban worthy" good right now, but the one thing that is worrisome is the lack of bad matchups near the top. It's a deck that's pretty hard to beat with hate cards so you really need to beat it with your strategy instead, but the decks that do are not among the strongest decks in Modern.
Matchups: The Mirror
One number that stands out to me is the 75% win rate in the mirror, with quite a lot of games played. I don't mean to brag (ok, a little!) but winning that much means you're doing something right and that there is a lot of room to maneuver in the matchup.
The old Death's Shadow mirror was always over in two or three turns and only a few cards mattered, but this is completely different. The games go long as both players have more answers than threats and having a game plan is important. You need to be careful with how you use your discard and need to have a clear path to victory so you don't throw away your threats unnecessarily.
The list I'm playing right now is also well set up to beat the mirror and I think that shows. Splashing white is just way better than not in this matchup and going up on Fatal Push and Abrupt Decay in favor of Tarfire makes a big difference as well.
If you plan on playing this deck seriously it's worth investing the time in mastering the mirror. It's a matchup you'll face a lot and knowing the matchup makes a difference!
In my opinion, Death's Shadow is the best midrange deck.
Common knowledge used to be that midrange beat Death's Shadow with its many removal spells, but I think that's wrong. Jund is now one of the decks best matchups and Abzan is not all that bad. I'd also consider the BW eldrazi deck in the same bracket and that matchup is great as well.
The reason for this is simple. Death's Shadow is just much more effective at playing basically the same game. This deck moved from being creature combo straight to "out-Junding" Jund with the printing of Fatal Push.
In the "mirror" you both pack the same amount of discard and removal, but your threats are better and more importantly, you run 18 lands where they run 24. With eight cantrips and four Traverse the Ulvenwald your deck is just a leaner and more focused machine than they are.
You won't be able to outgrind this deck with midrange. If you want to beat it in the long game you need to go further over the top into control.
Matchups: Control Decks
Esper and White-Blue Control are among the matchups I fear the most. They are also matchups where the stats don't tell the whole story.
I'm actually ahead online with 10-7, but without it being an established archetype with a stock build, there is quite a lot of diversity in the builds online and not all of them are good. It's also quite a hard deck to play. The times when I've played someone with a good list who knows what they are doing I've felt quite a bit behind.
That it is a tough matchup makes perfect sense to me as well. The combination of cheap removal and Supreme Verdict makes it much harder to overwhelm your opponent, and the creatures they play are either none at all, tokens, or ones with built in value like Snapcaster Mage, Kitchen Finks and Wall of Omens, making your removal quite bad.
Grixis Control is not nearly as bad a matchup, probably slightly favorable even, but I want to mention it in relation to the Grixis Death's Shadow deck that is gaining in popularity. If you want to beat Jund Death's Shadow I think you should stick with control. Turning on all your opponents removal spells and losing out on powerful card advantage like Cryptic Command is in my opinion not the way to go.
Matchups: Combo Decks
If want to play combo or big mana decks the thing you have to worry about is, of course, the discard spells.
The trends I've seen in these matchups are that the decks that are better at handling it are doing much better than the ones who are not. Trying to beat Death's Shadow with these strategies is still a losing proposition, but choosing the least bad deck might be worthwhile still.
I divide these decks into two categories:
- Tron decks and Storm are quite bad at fighting this battle. Storm just have a hard time building up critical mass and the big spells out of Tron don't always win the game on their own.
- Primeval Titan decks, Ad Nauseam and Goryo's Vengeance decks are better at this. With the jund deck being one to two turns slower than the old suicide zoo list even with it's best draws these decks have plenty of time to set up. Titan and goryo's are great at playing from the top as they often win right away with the right spell, there is no discard in the world that can help against this. For ad nauseum it's all about the sideboard - you almost always win game one, but when they add four leylines it actually becomes pretty tough.
Matchups: Decks That "Go Wide"
I'm ending this with what I think is the best way to beat Death's Shadow - going wide. Elves and Dredge are the only decks I have a losing record against and they both follow the same recipe - going wide with easily replaceable creatures.
They have enough chump blockers that it's hard to kill them without a battle rage and at the same time spot removal is pretty ineffective against what they do. They are also able to build up a critical mass pretty quickly once things start to spiral out of control and you have to start defending instead of putting on pressure.
You'd think that Merfolk would also fall into this category as it's game plan is quite similar, but it's missing one key aspect for this to work - it's creatures are not replaceable.
They are very soft to Fatal Push so instead of being able to go wide and over the top, they usually have to snipe you with Islandwalk, something that sometimes happens, but not consistently enough to make it a bad matchup like the decks above.
I hope these findings help you learn about Traverse Suicide. Thanks for reading and towards the end of the week I'll be sharing a complete sideboarding guide for the common decks in Modern. Let me know if you have any comments, questions or feedback! Thanks!