Izzet decks have been all the rage in Modern lately. First, Izzet Prowess became a top deck, and now Izzet Murktide has taken those reins.
When I sat down and really dissected Izzet Murktide, I felt an odd sense of familiarity. I knew these play patterns and how this deck was designed. Then it hit me: Izzet Murktide is the spiritual successor to Grixis Death’s Shadow. And I think that, given what we know about the history of Grixis Death’s Shadow, we can apply some of those lessons to playing Izzet Murktide.
Izzet Murktide has some striking similarities to one of Modern’s most beloved tempo decks, Grixis Death’s Shadow. This isn’t a comparison to the newer Grixis Shadow lists that play Lurrus of the Dream-Den (you can find my recent article on that deck here), but rather the boomer Grixis Shadow version that many of you may be familiar with.
So what do I mean when I say that Grixis Death’s Shadow and Izzet Murktide function very similarly? Let’s take a look at an incredibly scientific image:
Ah yes, it all makes sense now.
Murktide Regent has the same weaknesses as Gurmag Angler: drawing multiples early in the game can be awkward, and it prevents you from playing Lurrus in a deck that otherwise wants it. Fortunately, Murktide Regent has been doing some gravity chamber workouts or something, because it has all of the strengths of Gurmag Angler, and more. Gurmag Angler‘s greatest strength is its size relative to its cost; it’s a big body that comes down early in the game, that is largely immune to most of the commonly-played removal spells. Murktide Regent checks all those boxes, except it can also outsize Angler. Oh, and it flies.
Speaking of removal spells, Izzet Murktide sports eight, including full sets of Lightning Bolt and Unholy Heat. As I mentioned in my last piece on Grixis Shadow, times have been tough for Fatal Push since the release of Unholy Heat in Modern Horizons 2. Unholy Heat neatly handles nearly all of the prominent threats that Fatal Push does, but notably, Unholy Heat can take down Primeval Titan and planeswalkers.
Now I guess Fatal Push is just a removal spell that we used to know.
All About the Value
Dreadhorde Arcanist is a card that I’d tried in Grixis Death’s Shadow on multiple occasions, and it never quite worked out. Izzet Murktide gets to use Arcanist to much greater effect, thanks to both Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Murktide Regent. Arcanist’s problem previously was that it was kind of slow, and the average mana cost in decks was higher, so you didn’t have enough one-mana spells to cast from the graveyard. Now, with eight one-mana removal spells, you can clear the way for Arcanist turn after turn.
And in this deck, it gets even better than that. Every time you cast a spell from the graveyard, you can grow any Murktide Regents that you have in play. The final sneaky mode of Dreadhorde Arcanist is that it’s a 1/3: a great power/toughness combo for walling off opposing Ragavans. Seems to me that Dreadhorde Arcanist has supplanted Snapcaster Mage in the value role comparison.
Dig Dig Dig
Now that we’ve covered delve threats, removal spells, and value creatures, we can get into the cantrips. Both Boomer Grixis Shadow and Izzet Murktide play a fairly high number of cantrips, clocking in at ten or more. Grixis Shadow had to play a lot of cantrips to find their small number of threats, but Izzet Murktide gets to use them to power out early (and large) Murktide Regents. Plus, each spell also gets you a surveil when you have a Dragon’s Rage Channeler in play, which really lets you tear through your deck to find exactly what you need.
Counterspells are the last piece of the puzzle. Part of why Grixis Shadow was so successful is because it was a deck that could kill quickly, but also interact with the board — and, maybe more importantly, on the stack. Izzet Murktide encapsulates that ideology with — well, actual Counterspell. Having access to Counterspell gives Izzet Murktide a certain line of safety against unexpected threats, and that’s huge in a largely unsolved Modern metagame.
Why Does This Comparison Matter?
Of course, Boomer Shadow and Izzet Murktide aren’t completely analogous; they existed in what are effectively different formats. What we can do is look at the evolution of Boomer Shadow and the decks around it to try and stay ahead of meta shifts in current Modern.
When combo decks are good, loading up on counters makes sense. But you also have to be careful, because Humans tends to show up in those types of metagames. Humans can be a rough match-up for decks like Izzet Murktide — which lean on delve threats to be able to turn the corner — thanks to Reflector Mage. In metagames like that, it would be good to have a more controlling configuration to sideboard into.
Jund, and other decks with a high number of removal spells, were always some of the harder match-ups for Boomer Shadow. This is going to be true for Izzet Murktide as Rakdos Midrange starts increasing its Terminate numbers to back up Dauthi Voidwalker and keep Murktide Regent off of the table. So, what’s the best way to combat this?
Noncreature threats such as planeswalkers, or cheap counterspells. In Izzet colors, you could end up seeing Jace, the Mind Sculptor show up in sideboards. As for the cheap counterspells, the best options available are Veil of Summer or Drown in the Loch, but both require a third color. To avoid putting too much strain on the mana, I’d imagine that Spell Pierce or additional copies of Counterspell will make an appearance to combat those strategies.
Inversely, you can expect both Grixis Shadow and Izzet Murktide to have similar good match-ups. Temur Footfalls, Living End, and Amulet Titan are all decks that tempo decks can feast on. You can get established on the board before these opponents can set up, and then disrupt them with removal and counterspells until you can cross the finish line. Izzet Murktide can pose a big problem for decks that can’t interact well with its creatures.
If you enjoyed the disruptive tempo play style of Boomer Shadow, I think Izzet Murktide is an excellent deck to try. Both decks have a ton of flexibility to be able to target whichever decks you want for any given weekend, and both reward preparation. Plus, anything playing Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer has a high floor. If you have any questions about the deck, you can always find me on Twitter at @RappaciousOne.
Michael Rapp is a Modern specialist who favors Thoughtseize decks. Magic sates his desire for competition and constant improvement.