(Decklist found on the bottom of the post)
Colors: Black, Blue, Red.
Distribution: 16 creatures, 16 instants, 10 sorceries, 18 lands.
Archetype: Tempo, All-in.
Pilot Difficulty: Intermediate.
Tier Ranking: 1
It’s the start of your local game store’s modern tournament, and you and your opponent are in game 1 at 20 health. But instead of trying to beat your opponent and get them to 0 life before they do the same to you, instead you damage yourself and get yourself below 13 life.
Yes, you read that correctly. Get YOURSELF down below 13, not kill your opponent. That part comes later when you’ve stripped them of everything they can do that game.
But that doesn’t explain why we need to hurt ourselves with the flail before swinging it back at our opponent’s face.
This creature here is the reason. I introduce you Death’s Shadow!
This creature relies on your life total being as low as possible so that it’s power and toughness gets higher. With this deck, you will be hurting yourself in order to make your Death’s Shadow grow.
However, the idea here is not to slam Death’s Shadow onto the field as fast as we can, because that would just leave us open to removal. That’s why we run a hand-disruption package, as seen down below.
Modern is full of decks that run mostly cards with casting cost 3 or less, so Inquisition of Kozilek is a catch all in this format (for the most part).
Thoughtseize goes perfectly with our suicide plan while taking something we don’t want to deal with out of our opponent’s hand.
Now, if a creature gets through our hand disruption, we have a removal package that will mop them up before they can get to work.
While Fatal Push can be bad against some decks that run more expensive creatures, the majority of Modern contains cheap-costed creatures, so Fatal Push is a single mana-costed card of death. If Push can’t deal with it, then Terminate will pick up Push’s slack.
We also get access to 3 card draw sources, each having a total cost of 0-1.
Serum Visions is the blue staple of Modern, letting us draw a card and filtering the next two. This allows to set up the best draw that we can for the next turn and plan out how we play it.
Street Wraith’s draw ability is in line with our plan of getting below 13 life while also giving us a new card from the top of our deck. If for whatever reason the game stalls to where you have 5 lands out on the field, you can just play it as a beater.
Thought Scour isn’t really on the same plan as Serum Visions. Though Scour’s purpose is to fill up our graveyard to power our graveyard-related cards. Those being the following:
Snapcaster Mage is hands down the best 2 drop blue creature. Every instant and sorcery has an additional virtual copy thanks to Snapcaster Mage. So if you Fatal Pushed a creature, and they play another one that needs to be answered, Snapcaster Mage will get the job done and clear out that other creature as well.
The other two have something in common, other than being the back up beaters of the deck: the mechanic Delve. Delve lets you exile a number of cards to be an alternate resource to paying for the casting cost of the card. So if you exile 6 cards, then you only have to pay the colored mana required to cast said card.
Cover the numbers in the casting cost with your thumb, and each of them virtual costs 1 black mana to cast.
Tasigur gives us the ability to fill up our graveyard and get something back (of the opponents choosing) if we ever need to. Since this is a low land-count deck, chances are we won’t get to that point, but never say never.
How to Play
Grixis (Black, Blue, Red) Death’s Shadow is for all intents and purposes a tempo deck. Usually with these decks you want to get your threat on the board and control/burn your opponent out while beating them in the face. Delver of Secrets is the poster boy of tempo decks because it’s virtually a 3/2 flyer for 1 mana that can be played on turn 1 and be effective for the rest of the game.
Death’s Shadow plays the tempo game differently, however it does play it straight forward. Since we won’t be able to get it out immediately like most creatures in the game, we need to pave the way for it to do it’s damage.
Use Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize as often as you can to strip away your opponent’s hand of all the cards that you don’t want to be dealing with. Any creatures that get under the radar, kill it with either Fatal Push or Terminate. If they play something that dodges your removal, stop it with Stubborn Denial (they will be able to pay the 1 mana if you don’t have your big beaters out). If you need to do any of the above again, Snapcaster Mage will allow you to do so while also giving you a beater/blocker.
Once you feel confident and/or your graveyard is filled up, play out your threats. This turns Stubborn Denial into a hard counter spell for 1 mana, so any removal that comes their way will be stopped.
To finish off your opponent as quick as possible, we run 2 Temur Battle Rages as a finisher. It fits perfectly into this deck considering when we play out Death’s Shadow that it will be at or above 4 power, and the other two finishers are at 4 or above by themselves.
Because each environment’s meta game will be different, I won’t be giving you a copy and paste 15 card sideboard. Rather, I’ll put up the most common cards that you’ll see in the sideboard.
Grixis Death’s Shadow is one of those decks that doesn’t exactly have a bad match up in Modern. However, certain cards can mess up our plan.
This card with 1 charge counter on it turns off 75% of our deck. While Stubborn Denial can fight a Chalice on 1, you’ll want to bring any artifact hate against cards playing this, like Kolaghan’s Command, or By Force.
This card right here is why you want to be running a few basic lands. Not only does this card lock us out on our colors, but because of recent rule changes, we can’t even pay 2 life for our lands to come into play untapped to lower our life total (as seen below).
Blood Moon is an aggravating card for us to deal with, so either counter it or get it out of their hand as soon as you see it.
Not only does this disrupt our Snapcaster Mages and Delve creatures, but we can’t even interact with enchantments when they are in play, which is one of Grixis’s main weaknesses. You have to either Stubborn Denial this card when it’s cast, or take it out of their hand with Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek.
The one archetype that Grixis Death’s Shadow reigns supreme over is combo. Before sideboard, combo decks usually don’t carry a heavy removal package, but rather focus on themselves getting their win-con activated.
Because the first half of our game plan is taking out their most important cards, combo usually has a difficult time over coming the disruption that we throw at them before they go to their sideboards.
When trying to disrupt their plan, a good rule of thumb is always take out their card draw or any card that allows them to go get a card from their deck into their hand or on the battlefield. If you see their win con in their hand already, 90% of the time you will want to take it out of it immediately.
Counters Company is a combo deck that relies on it’s creatures to combo off. This means that both your disruption AND removal will rain hell upon them.
-Because part of our plan is to strip away our opponents hand, it’s a good idea to study up on what other people are playing and their decklists. Watch how other people play their decks so that way when you are deciding what card to take out of their hand you know which one will get them to their goal the fastest.
For example, you get to go first and your opponent is playing R/G Titan Shift. You play Thoughtseize and their hand looks like this.
The win-con for this deck is to get as many mountains onto the battlefield as possible so that way Valakut can start shooting the opponent for 3 damage per mountain drop. One of the cards that turns this engine on effectively is Primeval Titan. Since the rest of the cards are ramp spells (cards that get more lands onto the battlefield from the deck), the choice here is to take out the Titan, making it to where the opponent has no pay off and has to draw another win-con that they may or may not get.
-Rest in Peace turns off a lot of our cards, since it exiles everything in all graveyards and everything coming into them.
However, it does change the function of another card we have: Thought Scour.
A neat little trick that you can do is instead of targeting yourself to put cards in your graveyard, you can target your opponent instead. This may not stop their plan, but it’ll make it a little more difficult for them, especially if you manage to exile a win con of their from the top of their deck.
-Even though our plan is to get our life total down as low as possible, that doesn’t mean that we do that mindlessly. Against combo and control, this is fine as they typically don’t damage you until later on. Against midrange and aggro, this can be a death sentence.
If you know that your opponent has a deck that will do a lot of damage over time, you will want to chill with hurting yourself. Let them do the damage, and then play out your threats to put them to a grinding halt. This only works to a point, so make sure adjust accordingly.
If you are looking to play the best deck in Modern, then I cannot recommend Grixis Death’s Shadow enough. Modern is a format that is currently running rampant with combo and aggro deck. This deck is designed to stop those kinds of decks dead in their track while having the ability to go toe to toe with other tempo and control decks. If you’re going to win, do it right by playing Death’s Shadow.
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I will be back next week with another deck tech. Keep your eye out on my introduction on competitive MTG as well.
Happy holidays to all!