Historic Anthology IV has rolled out, and Historic players all over the world are crafting new decks around all of their favorite cards. I’ve been playing Historic almost non-stop since the Anthology’s release last week, and I’ve tried a handful of decks in various archetypes. Unsurprisingly, Death’s Shadow has consistently been my favorite card in the set, and I have a lot of ideas for how to incorporate it into various decks going forward.
Last week, I wrote about a Rakdos Shadow deck I built when the Anthology contents were first spoiled, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are tons of ways you can build around Death’s Shadow, and I’m going to share even more decks with you today.
Building a Death’s Shadow Deck
No matter what flavor of Death’s Shadow you want to build, there are some best practices you’ll want to keep in mind. All Death’s Shadow decks rely heavily on getting your life total under 13 as quickly as possible. In eternal formats, Death’s Shadow decks can use fetchlands to lower their life total while fixing their mana; in Historic, where the options are more limited, we’ll need to get a bit more creative.
Modal double-faced cards are a great tool in Historic if you’re looking to lose life quickly. Agadeem’s Awakening is a must-have for any Death’s Shadow deck because it taps for black mana and it allows you to pay three life. Additionally, every deck can play shocklands, as well as deserts like Ifnir Deadlands.
So, we have access to a lot of different lands that make us lose life, but how should we build our mana bases? That’s a little trickier because each Death’s Shadow deck is built with a different goal in mind. In more aggressive decks with a lot of one-mana cards, you’ll want fewer lands than you would in a midrange deck. As a general rule, most Death’s Shadow lists should have about 20-24 mana sources, including the dual-faced cards, but your mileage may vary.
Your selection of lands also depends on the rest of your deck. If I’m playing a three-color deck, I’m going to have more shocks than I would in a two-color deck. I’ll also want to run 6-10 dual-faced cards, which only tap for one color of mana. A three-color deck will therefore have a hard time making room for deserts, but one- or two-color decks can accommodate them without straining their mana bases.
As for the rest of the deck — well, it depends on what you want to do! Here are a few deck ideas to get you started.
While Rakdos Shadow was a bit more aggressive, I was looking to build a more midrange- or tempo-based Grixis Shadow deck, similar to a well-known Modern version of the deck. If you liked Rakdos Arcanist, this is where I would start if you wanted to play a Death’s Shadow deck.
This deck centers around casting a lot of one-mana spells to control the opponent’s board and hand. These spells synergize well with the creatures in the deck — every spell can make a token with Young Pyromancer, and every one-mana spell can be played again with Dreadhorde Arcanist’s ability. Thoughtseize helps you plan out future turns with information about the opponent’s hand, take their best card, and lose life to help enable Death’s Shadow. Since there isn’t a strong sacrifice theme in this deck, I’m running just two copies each of Village Rites and Claim the Firstborn.
This deck splashes blue for Sea Gate Stormcaller, Opt, and Dive Down. I really wanted to play a deck with Dive Down because it’s an easy way to protect your Death’s Shadows during key turns, such as when you’re swinging for lethal. Sea Gate Stormcaller has always impressed me in Grixis Arcanist, mostly because it can copy Village Rites without forcing you to sacrifice an additional creature. Now, it’s especially relevant to cast two copies of Thoughtseize to lower your life total.
Orzhov Shadow is a more aggressive take on this archetype. This deck focuses more heavily on creatures than the Grixis version, and it uses more evasion spells to protect your creatures — ideally, Death’s Shadow.
This deck uses a lot of small creatures to put on pressure on your opponents early while you’re still working away at your own life total. Since both players’ life totals will be dropping quickly, we can get away with playing Scourge of the Skyclaves, which serves a similar role to Death’s Shadow.
White is probably one of my favorite colors to play with Death’s Shadow because we get access to a lot of good cards for the archetype in Historic. Most importantly, we get to play four copies of Adanto Vanguard — one of the quickest ways to enable Death’s Shadow. Another great addition is Dire Tactics, because you get a removal spell attached to your life loss. Maul of the Skyclaves and Gods Willing can protect your Death’s Shadow or give it flying to make sure it can get through a board stall. Finally, Ranger of Eos is a great way to grab more Death’s Shadows right after a board wipe or if you’ve failed to draw any so far.
Mono-Black Shadow is another great aggressive option. This version focuses on creatures and removal spells so you can push through damage quickly, which makes it another great home for Scourge of the Skyclaves.
Mono-Black Shadow is one of the most consistent versions of this deck because of its mana base. Because you only need one color of mana in this deck, you can play black shocklands like Blood Crypt to still have access to additional ways to lose life. As far as creatures go, this deck starts off with a typical mono-black aggro shell, including cards like Knight of the Ebon Legion, Dread Wanderer, and Scrapheap Scrounger.
Along with the mana base, cards like Feed the Swarm, Thoughtseize, and Demonic Embrace help fuel Death’s Shadow and Scourge of the Skyclaves. Like the Orzhov Shadow list, this list also has some evasion with Demonic Embrace and Spawn of Mayhem to get through a board stall with flying.
If you are looking for a Death’s Shadow deck that has more of a midrange or combo feel to it, Golgari Shadow might be a good starting place for you.
After I built Mono-Black Shadow, I found myself wanting more evasion, so I added Blossoming Defense to the deck and Shapers’ Sanctuary to the sideboard. Fatal Push is becoming one of the best cards in Historic, specifically to deal with all the Death’s Shadow decks. As a countermeasure to all the extra spot removal, these seemed like excellent additions to this shell.
However, my favorite addition to this deck is Ram Through. Ram Through can often give you a combo kill early in the game because excess damage is dealt to the opponent if you kill a small creature with it. This opens up opportunities to kill a 1/1 while dealing nine extra damage to the opponent’s face right before you move to combat to attack for lethal. It’s even more powerful if you have a large Scourge of the Skyclaves as well.
Ram Through and Blossoming Defense make this deck feel more combo-oriented than some of the other versions, but they also allow you to play a longer midrange game. Murderous Rider and other removal have been perfect in controlling the opponent’s board until you are able to land a threat in the mid-game. Feed the Swarm is one of my favorite cards in any Death’s Shadow deck because it’s an efficient piece of removal that enables Death’s Shadow. As an added bonus, you can deal with any problematic enchantments your opponent may have in the main deck or post-sideboarding.
I talked about Rakdos Shadow in my article last week, so I won’t go into too much detail here. I just wanted to post an updated list.
In tuning the deck, I’ve made it a bit more aggressive, while updating the numbers to make the deck more effective and consistent. Knight of the Ebon Legion has been a great addition to most Death’s Shadow decks, especially the ones that are trying to put pressure on the opponent’s life total to support Scourge of the Skyclaves. This is still one of my favorite Death’s Shadow archetypes because I’m fond of the Dreadhorde Arcanist package in this deck.
Death’s Shadow is not the end-all-be-all in Historic, but it has been the card I’ve been most excited about in Historic lately — and many other players feel the same way. I have a lot of other ideas for new and exciting Historic decks, and I’ll be sharing them in the following weeks as I delve deeper into the best format on Arena. Stay tuned!
Ally Warfield is a member of the Rivals League, a full-time streamer, and a Splinter Twin apologist. Her focus is in Historic and Standard, but she also loves to dabble in Vintage and Limited formats as well.