Take a walk with me, friends. A walk through an archetype that lets you be
as aggressive or as controlling as you want to be. A strategy that can
quickly turn corners, that can pummel opponents out of nowhere, that can
draw a single card and turn certain defeat into certain victory. When you
walk through the valley of the shadow of death, your opponent is forced to
walk with you. And with this guide, you will be better equipped to survive
such excursions than the average opponent.
Two enter, one leaves. That’s tournament Magic, and that’s Grixis Death’s
Folks have been clamoring for updates, and I aim to give the readers what
they want. Here are the updates and sideboarding principles to give you the
tools to succeed with the closest thing to a Legacy Delver deck in Modern.
Before we begin, the list we’ll be using:
are some resources and previous articles I’ve written here on
StarCityGames.com with varying degrees of insight and guidance for the
There isn’t much to change, as the core of the deck is fairly
straightforward and the objective is clear: disrupt, stick a threat or
three, and control the pace of the game down to the wire to sneak in a win
with your undercosted monsters before your opponent can pull together their
game plan. You’re priced into playing some cantrips, some discard, some
threats, some removal, some Stubborn Denials, and a handful of Snapcaster
Mages to fill in the gaps.
As I’ve said previously, the Disdainful Stroke could be turned into a
Ceremonious Rejection, though I’d prefer to hedge against Primeval Titan
and Thragtusk rather than Affinity. One or two additional cantrips, either
Serum Visions or more Faithless Lootings, could come in over a Snapcaster
Mage, a removal spell, or (more likely) a land. A fifth delve threat
wouldn’t be ridiculous, and I may end up playing a 3-2 Gurmag
Angler/Tasigur, the Golden Fang split in the future to increase threat
density. That would be over either a Mishra’s Bauble, a Snapcaster Mage, a
removal spell, or a Faithless Looting. This would only happen if Humans
fell out of favor, as it’s incredibly important to maintain a high density
of interactive spells for that matchup. Too many delve threats also
stresses the Grim Lavamancers and Snapcaster Mages, which are incredible
cards in their own right. More likely than a fifth delve threat is a single
Kolaghan’s Command in the maindeck as a pseudo extra threat that also
interacts with Humans.
The Fatal Push/Lightning Bolt split is always a difficult decision, and
right now I still prefer a 3-1 split in favor of Bolt, but an uptick in
Jund and the mirror would move it back to an even 2-2 split. A third
Dismember over the Fatal Push is also something to consider, as that card
offers some of the most broken starts the deck can execute. All my
turn-three wins have come on the back of sequences involving Dismember into
Death’s Shadow into Temur Battle Rage.
Liliana, the Last Hope is incredible against a wide variety of troublesome
matchups. Don’t cut it. Cutting any of the twelve non-counterspells in the
sideboard for cards that are not good against Humans can throw a wrench in
the Humans sideboard plan, which is not something I’m willing to do. Again,
adding more cards that are not good against Humans to the maindeck over
cards that are good against Humans is also contraindicated. Just watch out
and don’t play yourself by tinkering too much!
You’re a control deck after sideboard. Let their Reflector Mages rot in
hand. Now they can flood out on lands, Reflector Mages, Dismembers, or
whatever other countermeasures they have for your Shadows while you simply
play 30 interactive spells and eventually win by playing two or three
Death’s Shadows on the same turn (usually somewhere around turn twelve or
so). If you do decide to change some stuff around with the decklist and end
up without enough to sideboard in, you can keep in a couple of Street
Wraiths (I’m not a huge fan of them in the matchup, though).
VS U/W & Jeskai Control
You can cut the one Fatal Push, but it’s nice insurance against Celestial
Colonnade. If they’re playing Spell Queller, this changes as well, as
you’ll want a few more removal spells and can cut into your Street Wraith
count. You can also cut the second Temur Battle Rage, though it
occasionally allows you to set up an unexpected Tiger Uppercut
kill when your opponent believes that you did in fact sideboard both out.
VS Mono-Green Tron
You can cut a Mishra’s Bauble instead of the Island if you fear mana screw
more than mana flood. It’s just a matter of picking which you’d rather
VS Hollow One
Out (on the draw):
In (on the draw):
Out (on the play)
In (on the play):
This is a tricky matchup. On the play, Inquisition of Kozilek is actually
good. On the draw, it’s a bit underwhelming. An alternative sideboard
strategy that may be superior is sideboarding out all the Street Wraiths on
both the play and the draw and keeping the interactive spells in.
This matchup is very similar to Mono-Green Tron. It may be acceptable to
keep in a couple of Lightning Bolts or Dismembers as ways to punch yourself
and beef up your Death’s Shadows. This is the primary matchup where you
want a fifth delve threat.
VS G/W Hexproof
Destroy them with Engineered Explosives or use a sequence of multiple
Stubborn Denials on key enchantments and a Temur Battle Rage-d up Shadow to
sneak the win through. Note that they also sometimes just do nothing and
VS Mardu Pyromancer
On the play, it’s acceptable to keep in a Street Wraith and cut one of the
Faithless Lootings. It’s also acceptable to cut an extra Street Wraith and
keep in a Lightning Bolt. Sneak your threats through, get them chump
blocking, and protect with Stubborn Denial. Liliana is also your best card
in the matchup. If they have a Leyline of the Void in their opening hand,
the game gets a little more difficult, but it’s still winnable with
disruption, protection, Death’s Shadows, and a little luck.
This is awfully similar to the Humans matchup. Etched Champion is the
hardest card to beat, but you should be able to pick apart their median
draw. Their best hands are going to beat you (and everyone else). You can
also get them to do interesting and unusual plays by creating some fear of
a Temur Battle Rage kill with your Shadows.
This matchup is easy if you draw Death’s Shadow + Stubborn Denial + Temur
Battle Rage or land a turn two Gurmag Angler and follow up with some
Stubborn Denials or ever resolve Collective Brutality.
Play cagey, play slow with your fetchlands, make them use their spells to
get you down to single digits, then once they’ve expended some gas, drop
the Shadow and shut them down with your countermagic. Protect your life
total, and don’t do their job for them! They also bring in Path to Exile
and Deflecting Palm, so Thoughtseize is actually a real card here.
Faithless Looting is terrible against Liliana of the Veil (which is already
great against you). Just like Mardu Pyromancer, if you stick a threat, you
will probably win. You also have a great late game with Liliana, the Last
Hope + Snapcaster Mage + Kolaghan Command loops. It’s also acceptable to
cut a Temur Battle Rage, though having access to one is frequently more
useful than it’d first appear.
Storm is a good matchup, but not one that has a clear sideboard plan. Many
times, opponents will cut down on their creatures and move in on being a
pseudo-Burn deck with Empty the Warrens kills. In anticipation of that, we
cut Dismember and add Engineered Explosives. Collective Brutality is an
acceptable option, but it’s a lot worse than Lightning Bolt as a removal
spell when Baral, Chief of Compliance is still a concern. It’s okay to cut
your Island and keep in the second Faithless Looting as well. The reason to
cut the one Looting is because your whole deck interacts with Storm, so
there’s little reason for card disadvantage when you aren’t looking for any
specific cards or filtering. Feel free to run your own plan here.
You can Disdainful Stroke a Conflagrate for two or more on Flashback, so
keep that in mind. You can sideboard in Kolaghan’s Command for Lightning
Bolt or your second Dismember, but it’s not particularly good. Lightning
Bolt can squeeze a win out of nowhere if an opponent makes a risky attack.
This one is all about finding your Temur Battle Rage and manipulating the
game into a spot where you can Tiger Uppercut them. Additionally, your
Stubborn Denials should be countering either early Cathartic Reunions or
late Conflagrates. Midgame Faithless Lootings or Reunions are often
irrelevant to the main gameplan.
Michael Segal has been putting in countless hours to try to bring this
archetype back, and out of the various combo decks in Modern, this one is
one of the tougher ones because they are often drawing live to a Primeval
Titan to kill you. Disrupt them and put a clock down as fast as possible.
If you can stay out of Lightning Bolt range, try to do so. I’ve lost more
than my fair share of games to a pair of otherwise useless Bolts.
This isn’t a common matchup these days, and it’s awfully tricky. The
addition of Lightning Bolt makes it even trickier, as now you must balance
the importance of having a larger Shadow with the risk of getting Bolted
out. You can sideboard out more Bolts if the opponent seems like they
aren’t going into Bolt range. Liliana, the Last Hope is great if they are
trying something fancy like Lingering Souls or Young Pyromancer. It’s
probably too slow for the true mirror, though. On the play, it’s fine to
have them both in.
VS Collected Company Decks
This sideboarding plan is as unclear and mutable as the Company
macro-archetype. Each list is a bit different. Each pilot is a bit
different. Some have more targets for Stubborn Denial, some have only
Collected Company. I’ve tried several different configurations, and I could
see leaving in Street Wraith and cutting Mishra’s Bauble. I could also see
cutting more Gurmags, depending on if you want to go all the way into a
control strategy. That plan would involve putting in Kolaghan’s Command,
but I’m not currently interested in that plan because it’s hard to fully
control them because Eternal Witness and Company are always live draws.
Note: If you cut your full four Gurmags, you need to cut Stubborn Denial as
well and probably just default to the full Humans plan.
Modern is as diverse and complex as life. There are nearly 50 viable decks
that could win a given tournament, and there’s no true substitute for
repetitions and intimate knowledge of the format. One of the wonderful
things about Grixis Death’s Shadow is that it can play the opponent’s game
or its own, fluidly moving from answer-based deck to threat-based deck. The
more you recognize how to navigate each game and how to cut your opponents’
outs while maximizing your own, the better-equipped you’ll be to leave your
opponents in the valley of the shadow of death, while you walk out