Modern Horizons 2 has added a wealth of powerful cards to Modern. These cards have bolstered weaker decks, created new decks, and (maybe most importantly) given our favorite decks some new toys. Grixis Death’s Shadow is no exception — in fact, the deck got quite the face lift since the last time we’ve seen it. Let’s take a look!
So, why change from the Boomer GDS shell that we know to a Lurrus build? For years, the issue with the old shell was that Gurmag Angler, while powerful, was difficult to cast early or in multiples. Gurmag Angler also forces you to play less-than-stellar cards, such as Thought Scour, in order to fuel it. Let’s look at some of the upgrades that push us into the Lurrus version, shall we?
The New Friends
How it started:
How it’s going:
Grixis had a hard time playing Scourge of the Skyclaves effectively because those colors just didn’t have good, cheap creatures that supported the Grixis Shadow plan. Now that Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Dragon’s Rage Channeler are around, the quality of one-mana creatures has jumped significantly. Grixis decks can play Scourge of the Skyclaves effectively without having to go out of the way to play cards like Monastery Swiftspear and Soul-Scar Mage that don’t fit the plan.
Dragon’s Rage Channeler is almost built for Grixis Shadow. It’s a cheap threat that can turn on Scourge; it scales well throughout the game to become an evasive threat; the surveil ability feeds delirium, and it puts cards into the graveyard for Lurrus and Snapcaster Mage. That last point is worth underscoring: putting cards into the graveyard is crucial in a deck like Grixis Shadow, which plays a variety of situational cards like Stubborn Denial and Unholy Heat that you won’t always need.
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer isn’t the most on-plan card, but the power level is just so high. Not only does Ragavan make the cut, but it’s worth reconfiguring the deck to support it. I’ve seen a lot of different Ragavan shells (check out Mason Clark’s article from yesterday), but Grixis Shadow has the perfect confluence of removal, counterspells, and discard spells to make sure Ragavan is able to hit turn after turn. Ragavan’s Treasure tokens supercharge this deck; often, you’d have to choose to play to the board or hold up disruption, but because so many of the spells in this deck cost one mana, the Treasure often allows you to cast another spell.
Counting on the Counterspells
Before MH2, I would have thought cutting Stubborn Denials from Grixis Shadow was unthinkable, but now, I’m down to just two in the 75. I originally switched back to Grixis from Mardu because I thought Stubborn Denial was going to be powerful in the face of Crashing Footfalls, Living End, Archmage’s Charm, and Cryptic Command. I still have the two Stubborn Denials to help against Burn and faster combo decks, or even just to win counter wars against control decks.
I also wanted to put Counterspell in the deck because it better protects Ragavan, and the spells that you really want to counter don’t show up until about turn three, anyway. I still have Counterspell in the sideboard to handle combo and interactive decks, but the big gain here is the catch-all nature of the card. Now, I can cut narrow land destruction spells like Damping Sphere and Cleansing Wildfire, which are really only useful against big mana decks.
The more I thought about it, the better Drown in the Loch seemed as a main deck choice. It’s a counterspell for any early removal my opponents may aim at Ragavan, as well as a removal spell to clear the way for attacks. Modern has a lot of decks incidentally filling their graveyard for value, and a lot of players are casting zero-mana value cards, so it’s a great environment for Drown in the Loch.
Where Have All the Fatal Pushes Gone?
Fatal Push is almost completely gone from this deck, and again, that may be strange to longtime Death’s Shadow players. Lightning Bolt earns top marks and is the only removal spell that I’m playing four copies of. In a format full of Ragavan, Stoneforge Mystic, and Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar, Lightning Bolt cleans up a ton of relevant creatures. And, if needed, you can point a Bolt at your opponent’s face to turn on Scourge of the Skyclaves, or even at yourself to pump Death’s Shadow!
Unholy Heat is another card from MH2 that continues to impress. It kills almost everything that Fatal Push does, but it can also take down Primeval Titan, Reality Smasher, and Niv-Mizzet Reborn. And the difference between the two cards becomes even clearer when you use Unholy Heat to kill a planeswalker. This deck already achieves delirium fairly easily because of Dragon’s Rage Channeler, but even as an early Shock, Heat is going to kill a lot of things that you want off the battlefield. Teferi, Time Raveler, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Liliana of the Veil, and Wrenn and Six all go to two loyalty or less if they use their minus abilities they turn they come into play. In addition to that, Karn Liberated is the only popular planeswalker in the format that upticks to more than six on the first turn, so Unholy Heat will nearly always get its money.
Dismember is a nod to early Tarmogoyfs and Stormwing Entities, which can both be problematic for this deck. Perhaps more importantly, Dismember is both a removal spell and an enabler for Death’s Shadow (if you pay life to cast it), so it’s hard for me not to play at least one copy.
There is still one Fatal Push in the sideboard, mostly just to have an extra one-mana removal spell for the creature decks like Prowess, Humans, and Heliod. Notably, Fatal Push is also great in Death’s Shadow mirrors, as both Death’s Shadow and Scourge of the Skyclaves can easily outgrow the damage-based removal spells.
I’m quite happy with how Modern Horizons 2 has turned out so far, and I’ve had a ton of fun building and tuning Death’s Shadow decks with the new cards. I do think this Grixis shell is the most robust and what I’ll likely be continuing to play in the near future. I’ll be busy finding the best way for Shadow mages to attack the new Modern metagame, but I’m also curious to hear what decks you’re enjoying the most. Be sure to let me know on Twitter at @Rappaciousone. Until next time, be safe, and watch out for dashed Ragavans!
Michael Rapp is a Modern specialist who favors Thoughtseize decks. Magic sates his desire for competition and constant improvement.