Hello all! I am excited to say this is my first ever article on StarCityGames.com®! I've been reading content from the site since I started playing and couldn't be more proud to be a part of the website I've learned so much from.
Most of you probably recognize me since I've been playing on the SCG Tour® for about three years now, and specifically, I've been playing a ton of Grixis Death's Shadow these past few months. However, as of late, I had been pretty down on the deck.
Even Death dies, apparently.
Recently, my Lotus Box teammates Collins Mullen and Jonathan Rosum jumped off the deck to new archetypes. Everyone in our group thought it would just be a poor choice in the metagame. I considered a few other decks, such as Affinity, Jeskai Tempo with Geist of Saint Traft, and TitanShift. However, by Wednesday, I decided to just stick to what I know (often a winning strategy in Modern) and just play Death's Shadow.
Grixis Death's Shadow is the "known best deck" in Modern, and it has been for some time. However, even though the deck is super-powerful, it's no longer "too good" for the format like many people once said it was. A big reason that's the case is because of the extent the Modern metagame has adapted to the deck. When playing Death's Shadow, you should fully expect almost every deck you play against have a plan for you at this point. Even though you're a fair deck with interaction, you still get crippled by things like Rest in Peace, Leyline of the Void, and even Supreme Vedict. As a way to counter act all the hate, my buddy James Foerst and I decided to play a pair of Young Pyromancers to go wide.
James made 25 Elementals against Ross Merriam on his way to the finals! It felt amazing seeing one of my best friends using the tech we brought to take him to the finals (and running the judges out of my token). Here is the list he and I brought to battle with in Richmond.
There are no sacred cows in deckbuilding.
Three Street Wraith is something you basically never see, but we firmly believe it's correct. Basically, after a while, we learned Street Wraith is counterintuitively one of the worst cards in the deck. Most decks in Modern deal you damage and you can afford to play slowly and just take a hit or two. Also, your deck has no shortage of ways to pay life already. At some point in the late-game, it's just an actively bad draw because you can't afford to pay the life. It's also the card we sideboard out the most. It comes out versus almost every fair deck and all the aggressive decks attacking your life total. When you think about it, that represents a large percentage of the format.
This entire innovation goes out to James, and he had been preaching it for a while. The Pyromancer did great work for both of us this past weekend and almost singlehandedly got James to the finals. Not only did he make 25 Elementals one game, but he also won a game where his opponent had Liliana of the Veil ready to ultimate as well as both delve creatures in the mirror!
She's no match for SCG Invitational winner tokens.
We decided to put them in our deck where most lists have sweeper effects (like Flaying Tendrils), since the little creature decks are already bad matchups. However, looking back, I do think we overlooked this, and I will be adding sweepers back to my Grixis Death's Shadow 75 moving forward.
Seriously, Play Young Pyromancer
Have I mentioned Young Pyromancer is great in Grixis Death's Shadow? First and most importantly, it is the best way to fight the graveyard hate you should expect almost every sideboard game. Graveyard hate can cripple most hands out of Grixis Death's Shadow due to it nuking half of the threats in the deck. It's important to be able to adapt now; all your opponents will have some hate just for you. That's the nature of playing the most popular deck.
Most of the time, Liliana of the Veil is a great card versus your deck and a key plan in the mirror match. Pyromancer shuts that down, and the 1/1s matter a lot in the mirror.
Don't forget that it's incidentally good versus the decks that don't have sweepers (honestly, it's good against the ones that do) and overload on one-for-one removal. I even tried a build with two Claim // Fame as well as two Young Pyromancers maindeck. However, I thought the Pyromancers would have more value as sideboard surprises.
If I were to play an event today, I'd change the sideboard like this:
Fine, Fine. Let's Talk About Other Things
Grixis Death's Shadow has become significantly less popular in the Modern metagame. So why has the most powerful and efficient deck in Modern started to creep down in popularity?
Ever since the deck quickly started to see an incredible amount of success, it started to be hated out. Like I mentioned earlier, even though it's a fair deck with interaction, it differs from a normal Jund deck because of how easy it is to beat with specific cards. This allowed a lot of new Modern strategies to be successful since they had a good Death's Shadow matchup. The metagame is still warped, but in a much more healthy way.
We saw Death and Taxes win the Season One Invitiational and land a finals appearance at a Grand Prix. We've seen Jeskai Control in multiple forms Top 8 different events. Todd Stevens's G/W Company deck is a sweet archetype that absolutely crushes Death's Shadow by just playing disruptive must-answer threats.
Not to mention other Tier 1 decks are quite strong against it! Think of decks like Eldrazi Tron, Affinity, and TitanShift. Grixis Death's Shadow struggles a lot with decks that swarm with little creatures. That's why decks like Elves, Affinity, and Death and Taxes variants have come back into the limelight of Modern as of late. This is also a big reason on why we've seen Storm have so much recent success. Between SCG Syracuse having two copies in the Top 8 and Kazu Negri taking down SCG Richmond, it's safe to say the deck is here to stay.
So even though I am a firm believer in not metagaming in Modern, I think this format is one of the most defined it's been in years. Although Modern is a format full of twenty playable decks and twenty unplayable ones people still show up with, the subset of decks seen on Day 2 is smaller than ever. Modern has always had two or three decks that you should fully expect to be played among the top players in Day 2. Back in the day it was Splinter Twin or Affinity; last year it was Infect and Dredge. Now those decks are Grixis Death's Shadow, Affinity, and Eldrazi Tron.
Day 1 of any Modern Open or Grand Prix is going to be the Wild West, and that's just a fact. But in Day 2, I think it's safe to say you're not going to play too many bad decks. As I like to joke with my friends, there isn't a whole lot of R/G Ponza or Five-Color Scapeshift running around in Day 2, so don't worry. That said, I'd fully expect Eldrazi Tron, Affinity, Grixis Death's Shadow, Storm, and TitanShift to dominate Day 2 of Modern events for the foreseeable future.
This matchup is pretty easy in my experience when they don't have a turn 2 Chalice of the Void or an early Cavern of Souls. If you can trade one-for-one with their big spells by paying one mana with things like Ceremonious Rejection, you'll end up ahead.
Now, this is quite a controversial subject. I've heard a lot of really great players have vastly different opinions on how to sideboard here. I believe James and I have a good plan figured out, though.
Fetch your lands tapped if you can. This matchup is usually a grindfest unless either of you sticks an early delve creature. I just try to play the long game and eventually card advantage them with my sideboard cards or Kolaghan's Commands. It's pretty great when your opponents just Thoughtseize and Street Wraith themselves so low that you only have to play a Snapcaster or a Young Pyromancer to represent a significant threat. I love this matchup a lot because it feels like a Legacy Delver mirror, but hey, that's what playing this deck feels like anyway.
Easily the worst matchup among the decks I listed. Luckily this new sideboard looks a lot better than it did last weekend! Again, this is another matchup where you want to minimize paying life. Sideboarding out the discard is a no-brainer since their hand empties so quickly. If you were to leave some Inquisiton of Kozileks in, I'd sideboard in one less Young Pyromancer and sideboard out one Sleight of Hand. Most of the sideboard cards are obviously great, and Temur Battle Rage is very important for getting through Etched Champion. Sideboarding in the Young Pyromancers is a bit of a hedge for graveyard hate but it's also just generally good at fighting on the ground as well.
This matchup is quite favorable in my experience. They will try to Empty the Warrens you, so be ready for it. Koziek's Return answers it (even through a Blood Moon) and Temur Battle Rage will in situations too. Sideboard out Street Wraith because they actually attack your life total pretty quickly between Goblins and Grapeshot, as well as the two clunkier gold cards in the deck and my beloved Zombie Fish friend because of how week they are to Remand. You still have all four Fatal Pushes and two of Collective Brutality to kill the cost-reducing creatures.
Not a matchup I hate playing, but one I hear a lot of talented people say is favored for the TitanShift side. The removal basically does nothing, since if a Primeval Titan hits, you're likely dead that turn. You can leave in one Terminate as a hedge for Obstinate Baloth or potentially Tireless Tracker. Young Pyromancers are actually pretty great, since most lists sideboard in Relic of Progenitus as well as Chameleon Colossus, which will destroy you otherwise . Just stick a fast clock and counter their early mana, since you don't have a counter for Primeval Titan.
Out of the Shadows
That's a peek inside my head on how I think about Modern and Death's Shadow impact on the format. The deck is on the downswing as people have adapted, but that just means it's our turn to adapt! Stay tuned. This deck isn't dead yet.