The Rumors of Death’s Shadow’s Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Michael RappModern

When Lurrus was banned, I had an initial feeling of, “well what do I do now? I’m flying to a tournament in two weeks” the answer to that question is simple: get into the lab and figure it out. I believe in a relatively public testing process. Today I want to go into my testing process, my experiences along the way, and what I’ll be playing this weekend in Indianapolis.

Step one: identify the most powerful cards that I couldn’t play before. Murktide Regent, Street Wraith, and Ranger-Captain of Eos were what came to mind. 

Step two: figure out if any of these cards fit into existing shells, or if I’d need to build a new shell around them. Ranger-Captain of Eos, and Street Wraith were easy. Before the printing of Lurrus, Mardu Shadow already played Ranger-Captain of Eos and Street Wraith, so it was just a matter of updating that deck with new cards. Street Wraith also slots easily into Grixis Death’s Shadow, so perhaps the Lurrus build + Street Wraith was close to correct. Murktide Regent was going to demand a redesign, given its need for a high instant and sorcery count.

Step three: what is the expected metagame shift after the Lurrus ban? Does this require anything specific during deck building? I expect Izzet Murktide, Four-Color Yorion, Hammer Time, and Amulet Titan to be more popular than usual for at least the next few weeks. Tourach, Dread Cantor, Terminate, Kolaghan’s Command and Dress Down all are powerful options right now, and cards I want to put in my deck.

Grixis Dragon

Grixis featuring Murktide Regent and Street Wraith was the first place to start. Murktide Regent was one of the big winners from the Lurrus ban. For weeks leading up to the ban it was a strong deck, but just a bit behind Grixis Death’s Shadow.

With Lurrus banned, I wondered if I could make the Murktide package fit with the Death’s Shadow package. Street Wraith seemed pretty close to free in this deck since it is a creature that goes to the graveyard easily, and lets you pay two life. However, checking boxes for Delirium, Delve, and Death’s Shadow didn’t prove to be enough. First thing first, this deck only had four instants for the purposes of Delirium, which is not enough. Second, it felt too creature heavy. I wasn’t about to cut Murktide Regent, Death’s Shadow, Ragavan, or Dragon’s Rage Channeler, which means that Street Wraith was likely on the chopping block. Consider was the replacement I had well…considered. It ups the instant count for Delirium, and it also can put multiple cards in the graveyard to help fuel Murktide Regent

Once I made the change to Consider the deck felt somewhat smoother, but I felt like it was still off. The ratios were still a little off, but I couldn’t afford to spend too much time on this idea if it wasn’t a standout. This version was good but not great, so I figured I’d move to my next idea, and come back to this one if I had time.

Mardu Shadow

Mardu Shadow was up next. The last time I sleeved up Ranger-Captain of Eos it was tutoring such hits as Hex Parasite as a non-Death’s Shadow target. It is safe to say that the one drops available are much stronger now, since Ragavan and Dragon’s Rage Channeler joined the team. Death’s Shadow is the most reliable large threat in this deck, so adding Street Wraith seemed easy to make sure I could maximize the effectiveness of Death’s Shadow. That proved to be wrong again, but for a different reason. Well, this deck once again is short on instants for Delirium. Mardu Shadow has always been the slower more midrange build Shadow, and Street Wraith just doesn’t do what the deck wants.

While Ranger-Captain of Eos showed promise as a way to boost consistency, while providing some disruption against spell heavy decks, Street Wraith yet again wasn’t pulling its weight and ended up getting cut for a few Lightning Bolts and a Kolaghan’s Command. While Mardu may be good against Izzet Murktide and Hammer Time, without Dress Down the matchup against Four-Color Yorion got worse. Especially given that I’m preparing for a team tournament, I’m not willing to have a worse Four-Color Yorion matchup. Moving on to the next idea. 

“Stock GDS”

Okay, stock Grixis Death’s Shadow, but with the addition of Street Wraith. I went into this deck knowing it had a strong core from before the ban. I trimmed a couple of lands (because I was adding four free cantrips), a Drown in the Loch, and a Kolaghan’s Command in order to make space for Street Wraith. Losing Lurrus meant that Shadow decks had to adapt in one of two ways, get slightly bigger to compensate for the loss of resilience, or get faster to achieve the same goal. Street Wraith is the answer to get faster. Being proactive in Modern has historically been a winning recipe, so Street Wraith was the first thing I tested with this shell. 

The core of this version still felt strong, but Street Wraith felt underwhelming without Stubborn Denial to back it up. Adding Stubborn Denial without a secondary large creature isn’t appealing to me. Adding a second large creature would mean cutting either Dragon’s Rage Channeler or Ragavan, neither of which I’m willing to give up. At the end of the day there are just too many good cards available, and Street Wraith doesn’t cut it anymore. On top of that the existence of Solitude makes going fast not always work. That left me wondering how to go bigger. Which I think I figured out before the Magic Online PTQ last weekend. 

PTQ Deck

I played this deck to a 8-2 finish in the Magic Online PTQ, good for a 10th place finish. Keeping the core of Death’s Shadow, Dragon’s Rage Channeler, Ragavan, Expressive Iteration, and Thoughtseize was strong. I just needed to figure out how I wanted to beef up to be able to hang with decks that wanted to grind. 

The first place I looked was adding more Kroxas, but I don’t think Kroxa does enough by itself against decks like Four-Color Yorion, and Azorius Control. Kroxa being weak to graveyard hate, Solitude, and March of the Otherworldly Light worries me a bit too much to lean too heavily into. March of the Otherworldly Light in particular has been picking up in popularity as a strong answer to Urza’s Saga, but notably it misses Planeswalkers. 

This led me to either Kaito Shizuki, or The Royal Scions. Both Planeswalkers are remarkably close to each other in functionality. The Royal Scions is better if you already have creatures in play because the ability to push combat damage through blockers is useful when Kroxa and Death’s Shadow are around. +2/+0, First Strike, and Trample are all surprisingly good on Ragavan. The downside to The Royal Scions, is that the other +1 ability is always a loot, it never gets you ahead on raw cards. 

Kaito on the other hand is better when both players are on low to no resources in a grindy game. Kaito’s ability to phase out protects him from combat and sorcery speed removal for one turn, which means at a minimum he’ll almost always be a 1/1 unblockable and a card. 

At roughly 1:30am on the morning of the PTQ when I was putting this deck together, I was having trouble deciding between The Royal Scions and Kaito. I have experience a couple years ago playing The Royal Scions in Grixis Shadow, and while these decks and metagames aren’t the same, I know generally how the card functions. I had never played with Kaito before, so I gave him a shot, and it turns out that he was pretty good.

Another easy way to get some extra value is having a companion. Yes, I know Lurrus is banned, and playing 80 card Shadow is crazy. I don’t want to give up Expressive Iteration, so Obosh is out of the question. As much as I may want to, I also can’t make Lutri work. Hmmm, what about Jegantha? All I have to give up to get Jegantha is the already underperforming Street Wraith? Count me in to at least try it. So I sleeved up Jegantha for the first time heading into the PTQ. I have to say, Jegantha far exceeded my expectations, winning me four games over the course of the tournament. Maybe Death’s Shadow and the weird space deer are friends after all!

Going Forward

Okay, but Mike, Indy is this weekend, what are you going to play? That’s a great question, and I have it narrowed down to either GDS Murktide or Jegantha Shadow, leaning more towards Jegantha. I’ll cover both here just to be safe.

My Take on GDS Murktide

This is my updated take on GDS Murktide, with some influences from Ari Zax’s PTQ winning list. I think his 60 looked strong, the only change I made there was cutting the 19th land for the 4th Consider. The exclusion of Street Wraith gives this version of the deck a high enough density of instants and sorceries to make Murktide a legitimate threat. 

The sideboard changes I made were -1 Stubborn Denial -2 Liliana of the Veil -1 Soul-Guide Lantern +1 Dress Down, +2 Terminate, +1 Kolaghan’s Command. These changes bolster the Four-Color Yorion, Hammer Time, and Izzet Murktide matchups. 

GDS Murktide excels against the non-Solitude fair decks, like Death’s Shadow, and Jund Saga. I expect this version to be slightly ahead of other versions of Grixis Shadow against spell based combo decks as well, given the presence of Stubborn Denial. Where I expect GDS Murktide to struggle is primarily against Solitude decks and Hammer Time. The key difference between this version and the Jegantha version is the lack of main deck Dress Down to help protect Death’s Shadow and Murktide Regent from Solitude. Consider does unfortunately take up slots that would otherwise be used for additional interaction. That missing interaction, whether it be Kolaghan’s Command, Fatal Push, Drown in the Loch, or otherwise, will negatively impact the Hammer Time matchup.

What I’m Playing this Weekend

I felt very good about the list I played in the PTQ and I’m unlikely to change anything for this weekend. If I do end up making any changes, it would be along the lines of swapping Kaito for The Royal Scions, or swapping one of the sideboard Kolaghan’s Command for a second Engineered Explosives

Given the nature of team tournaments, I expect Four-Color Yorion, Hammer Time, and Murktide to be the most popular decks. Card availability is less of an issue, and players tend to play better decks on average. Because of this, I think having three Tourach, three Kolaghan’s Command, four Dress Down, and three clean answers to Murktide Regent in my 75 is where I want to be for this weekend. Overall I am pleased where my deck is at, and while I’m sure it isn’t perfect, I would imagine that it will continue to look similar going forward.

That is all I have for everyone this week. I am excited to keep working to make the best version of Shadow that I can as the Modern metagame continues to evolve. Remember, challenges are just opportunities for innovation! Hopefully I’ll get to see some folks in Indy, feel free to come say hi! As always you can find me on Twitter @RappaciousOne for any questions and comments. I’ll see everyone back here next week.