Death’s Shadow Sucks

Death's Shadow
“I can’t wait for Street Wraith to get banned” — me about six months ago because I’m stupid.

At the time, I felt like this was quite reasonable to consider. Death’s Shadow variants had begun to dominate the meta. It was the best performing deck and one of the most consistent piles of degeneracy to come from “fair” decks in quite some time. It was a while before we saw a Top 8 without three copies of the deck wedged in.

While Modern can be cyclical, it appears the more time goes on the less Death’s Shadow is relevant in the meta. So what happened?

As usual, Modern can be slow to adapt to its new overlords. This has always seemed odd to me because it feels like Modern is played at a high enough clip and with such frequency the meta should be ‘solved’ quicker. However, Modern more often rewards you for learning your deck and knowing your matchups. The format is so open and wide, trying to fit everything and change decks every week can end with some disastrous results. Instead, changing decks ever so slightly can give a large boost in win percentage.

Death’s Shadow decks thrive on being hyper efficient and lean but truly only work on one axis. In many ways, Shadow tries to replicate a Jund strategy by tearing an opponent’s hand apart and trying to present a fast clock, turning the corner quickly and ending the game fast. Turns out the game can end pretty quickly when you’re playing a 1-mana 10/10.

But this isn’t really adding up. The deck is good because it can shred an opponent’s hand apart, has plenty of fantastic removal, and heavy hitting creatures that end the game in a turn or two.

Well, turns out players started adapting. As the Shadow decks started to inbreed to become good in the mirror (Jund and 4-Color ended up being worse than Grixis) the deck started to slow down a notch. This allowed some decks to try either going over or under. Shadow became more of a control deck and less of a combo or aggro deck and it started having losing ground in certain matchups.

Meddling Mage
There’s a major cost to building your deck for Shadow: sometimes it comes at too high a cost. Death’s Shadow incentivizes you to deal a ton of damage to yourself and build your deck in such a way to reward that you’re rewarded for doing so. With 12 fetchlands and an almost fully Shock Land mana base, you’re going to have to lose a ton if you don’t want to get tempoed out and cast your spells on time. Because of this, it’s easy for a deck like Affinity to punish you. Even consider a deck like Humans which is great at going wide and hitting hard. It can be quite punishing to have Meddling Mage name Fatal Push while a large Champion of the Parish is attacking for six. Sideboard cards like Kozilek’s Return look downright atrocious against this style of deck but might be a necessary evil to beat Affinity.

Even a deck like Storm has a fantastic ability to Grapeshot for a small amount to clean up the damage you did to yourself. Post board, the deck is great at grinding and for punishing a Shadow player who was forced to take action. Keeping a Shadow player off balance is easier when every deck list is copy and pasted from the last one.

On the other side are decks that try to go much bigger. Deck’s like Eldrazi Tron or Jeskai Control fit into this category nicely. Eldrazi Tron does nicely against Death’s Shadow since it makes the removal look questionable with Matter Reshaper and hits hard with Reality Smasher. It doesn’t take long for the deck to crumble under the pressure of a difficult to remove 5/5. Jeskai Control is packed with so much removal and burn it’s tough for Death’s Shadow to put out a fast clock without exposing itself to death.

Can Death’s Shadow recover from all this? Eventually. But every deck is currently built in such a way as to punish Shadow players for enacting their gameplan. But what can Shadow do?

If I had to point it in a direction, I would start with Temur Battle Rage. While slightly worse against the control decks of the format, sometimes all you need against some of the faster decks is a turn. Temur Battle Rage can help induce a sense of urgency in your opponent after seeing it which can allow you the time you need to set up or maneuver the game to where you need it to be.

However, I think I might be off the Shadow plan. Maybe it’s time to revisit a powerful deck from the past in Grixis Control. Ryan Overturf Top 8ed SCG Regionals with an interesting variant on the deck.


Leveraging the power of Opt, Ryan was able to play a game at mostly instant speed. This let him be flexible and utilize his counterspells and removal on his terms rather than playing with the randomness that comes with playing Thought Scour. In a control deck it’s important to be able to filter properly to find the pieces you need. In Modern, Control can be a scary proposition to play but Opt allowing you to filter breathes new life into the deck. While I want to build my deck differently, I do like where Ryan is at.

Here’s where I would like to try.


I’m a little more mana heavy in exchange for having some bigger mid to late game spells. I love me some Cryptic Command and that won’t change anytime soon; but, without testing I’m unsure where I’d like to end up.

There’s plenty of ways to build this and I don’t know which is correct, but I like that control is at a spot where it can contend with the field.

Now if I could just beat Tron . . . 


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