Choosing the Right Flavor of Death's Shadow

by Magnus Lantto on 11 July 2017, Tuesday

Magnus Lantto

 

Choosing the Right Flavor of Death's Shadow

Even after two years of playing almost exclusively Death's Shadow decks, it remains my favorite card to build around. Maybe it is because I enjoy the play style, but most likely it is because it is so powerful.

 

Death's Shadow


Lets not kid ourselves here. Death's Shadow is the most powerful card in Modern. It might not be as widely played as cards like Thoughtseize, Lightning Bolt, or Serum Visions, but it is a key card in several strategies with the sole purpose of maximizing Death's Shadow. If you're not playing a Death's Shadow deck yourself, you most definitely have a good plan against it.

Or at least, you think you do.

It's been interesting to follow the development of Death's Shadow decks in Modern. From the fringe card that few people took seriously, it because a key piece of the premier creature-combo deck n the format. From there, it evolved into a midrange deck, partly because of the banning of Gitaxian Probe, but also because people learned how to combat Death's Shadow, which resulted in his adaptation.

 

Gitaxian Probe


I think this shift might have happened regardless of whether Gitaxian Probe got banned. These midrange versions have also evolved from Jund to Grixis, but my prediction is that we might see a rise of Jund again, so there is a place for both of them in Modern.

 

 


Finding the Impeccable Timing

Figuring out which version to play is exactly what this article is about. For every tournament, one version will definitely be better than the other.

I think Death's Shadow has been on the edge of deserving a ban for a while now, but time and time against the results have proven that it is not overly-oppressive and that Modern has retained its great diversity.

I do believe it is "the best deck" but mostly because of its versatility. It has the tools to deal with everything in the format and it allows a good player to leverage his or her skills against the opponent, which makes it a perfect "pro" deck. I think its dominance over the last few months have been largely due to a large skill gap between the experienced pilots of Death's Shadow and their opponents. It is a very complicated deck to play and to play against but now that Death's Shadow has been around for a while now, this gap is closing gradually.

Jund or Grixis?


Now. Back to the discussion of Jund versus Grixis.

 

Snapcaster Mage Tasigur, the Golden Fang


Like many others, I made the switch from Jund to Grixis after Grand Prix Copenhagen. I had a tough time in the "semi-mirrors". The Grixis deck has an incredibly solid late game thanks to Snapcaster Mage and the cantrips. Tasigur, the Golden Fang is also a big part in this, making you flood less. While Jund is happy to stop draw lands after it has three, Grixis can use up to five or six lands efficiently.

With Grixis Shadow established as the deck to beat, there has been a shift in the metagame. Death & Taxes won the SCG Invitational and took second place in Las Vegas. Affinity had been doing well lately and the White-Black Smallpox deck wrecks Grixis Shadow. There are also lots of different Collected Company-decks around, and while the early Abzan versions were pretty bad, both Bant Company and Human Company are good contenders. Against all these decks, I think you are better off with a more aggressive game plan, and especially a plan involving Temur Battle Rage.

I believe the this is how the matchups roughly fall.

 

Grixis Shadow is better against:


Jund Shadow is better against:


About even:

  • Eldrazi Tron
  • Storm and other combo decks
  • Red-Green Titan Shift


All in all, it's a pretty close call but I actually prefer Jund against a wide range of decks. However, considering how popular Death's Shadow decks are, I still see a big case for picking Grixis.



Hour of Devastation Addition

 

Claim // Fame


There is also a new card coming in Hour of Devastation that is quite intriguing - Claim // Fame. While this card could go into both Grixis and Jund, I do believe it fits better in the more aggressive shell.

Claim is good in both decks, but I think that Fame is much more useful in Jund, especially together with Liliana of the Veil making hasty creatures show up from out of nowhere. If this card turns out as good as I think it is, that could be a big push towards Jund.

With this in mind here is my updated version of "Jund".



I still call it Jund, but as you see it plays all five colors in the 75. It's not really five-color deck though. Think of it more as a BG deck with a toolbox from which you pick the most important cards for each matchup.

Red offers the most versatility so that's the color in the starting lineup, but post-board all kinds of iterations happen depending on the matchup.

 

Temur Battle Rage Terminate


Red offers Temur Battle Rage and some very effective removal in the form of Terminate. Temur Battle Rage is absolutely key against all green and white decks with small blockers, as well as giving you faster draws against combo. Terminate is needed against Delve creatures such as Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and also against Eldrazis.

 

Lingering Souls Ranger of Eos


White offers the best grindy cards in form of Lingering Souls and Ranger of Eos. I board these against all types of Black-Green decks, Death's Shadow mirrors and White-Blue Control. Lingering Souls also provides a bunch of good blockers against Affinity.

Finally, blue gives you counters against combo and big mana decks. I don't like Stubborn Denial in the mirror or against Collected Company, but it's great against Red-Green Titan Shift, Ad Nauseam, and the likes.

 

Liliana, the Last Hope Liliana of the Veil


I've always had a high opinion of Liliana, the Last Hope, but the Grixis matchup together with Claim // Fame makes me want to switch to Liliana of the Veil. I can imagine discarding either a creature or the card itself to Liliana's +1 for a surprise attacker with at least six or seven power, if not more. Fame also combines well with Temur Battle Rage for some really big damage just like Mutagenic Growth used to do in the past.

If I instead chose to stick with Grixis this is my current list.



Dismember


I've taken a page out of Owen Turtenwald's playbook with Dismember instead of Terminate in the main deck. The reason for this is mostly due to the mana base. It doesn't change the lands that much (although I do run more Watery Graves than most), however it does change the fetching patterns a lot. 

Without any red cards at two casting cost you can always fetch two Blue-Black lands first. This is a bigger difference than you think and makes the deck run much smoother. The sideboard, however, has a few too many red cards which I find crucial so I'm not always sticking to that post board.

 

Pyroclasm Kozilek's Return


I've chosen to divide the sweepers this way for many reasons.

First of all, I've discarded Anger of the Gods due to it being double red and Flaying Tendrils because I think it's pretty bad. However Kozilek's Return and Pyroclasm both have it's strengths – Kozilek's Return is great against Affinity where it deals with Etched Champion and various Nexi. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is starting to see more play, which makes Pyroclasm a surprise. As the meta game shifts I might reconsider this split, but right now I like one Kozilek's Return and one Pyroclasm.

 

By Force


The other somewhat unusual card in the sideboard is By Force. The reason is twofold. I wanted something more against Affinity and another way to deal with a resolved Chalice of the Void. I started out with another Kolaghan's Command at first, but found myself not having room to board it in against other matchups and found out that I had too many cards at three mana against Affinity, so I changed it to By Force instead.


While these are my two of my most current decklists, keep in mind that they are always changing. Changing two or three card makes a pretty huge difference in these deck and the real key in understanding what to change depending on your perception of the metagame.

How much graveyard hate you need is definitely up for discussion, while both versions of Liliana have different applications and strengths. The same goes with the sweepers and artifact removal. Whether to run blue or white, both or neither in your Jund list is never a given and which counterspell or removal spell you play in Grixis is also dependent.

Feel free to post any questions and I would be also happy to share any updated lists. Also, you can expect another Death's Shadow article anytime I expect a big shift incoming. Thanks!




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