Building A Better Death’s Shadow

GerryT can quit writing about Death’s Shadow anytime he wants. First, though, he wants to share his latest build and a complete sideboarding guide for the major Modern matchups! If you plan to attend SCG Dallas, no matter what deck you want to play, this is a must-read!

This is the last article on Death’s Shadow I’ll write for a while, I promise.

Last week, it was unclear what people were going to bring to the table to fight this new menace, but now I have some idea. The results from #SCGINDY are in, and decks like Bant Eldrazi, Abzan Midrange, Grixis Control, and Ad Nauseam are the ones that rose to top of the standings, presumably because they were able to defeat Death’s Shadow with some regularity. Thankfully, those decks are also very beatable. It’s time to work on tuning Death’s Shadow.

I’m mostly convinced that this is the best I can do with the maindeck, assuming Jund is the correct color combination.

This list is a touch different from what I posted last week. The Dismember didn’t pan out because of how rarely it will kill something in the mirror. Tarfire is still in despite everyone being medium on it. It could be an Architects of Will, but then you run the risk of not having enough early interaction in the matchups where you need it.

I learned a few things over the last couple of weeks.

You don’t need the white splash. Lingering Souls isn’t very effective in the mirror, especially if they have Ghor-Clan Rampager and Liliana, the Last Hope. Ranger of Eos is good but can be too slow, and I’ve found the various Lilianas to be a more effective way to grind, especially since they’re easier on the mana.

Tarfire isn’t exciting, but it’s necessary. You need removal for smaller creatures and ways to get delirium early. Architects of Will is a fine substitute if you don’t expect creature decks, but at that point, I’d probably trade red for another color entirely.

Chalice of the Void is cropping up as an answer to Death’s Shadow, as are decks that can reliably cast it. Having an answer to Chalice of the Void that isn’t a direct answer like Ancient Grudge would be nice. Abrupt Decay is a nod to that and a fine answer, but it’s basically nothing more than an Ancient Grudge against something like R/G Through the Breach. Maelstrom Pulse out of the sideboard is kind of perfect, especially since it covers so many bases.

Nihil Spellbomb is the correct graveyard hate. It’s better against Dredge, the mirror, and Grixis. Being able to “counter” Traverse the Ulvenwald (since it checks to see if you have delirium on resolution) is huge. Losing out on the “surprise” of Surgical Extraction isn’t a big deal.

I was wrong about Temur Battle Rage. With all the discard, it seemed like you could put your opponent down to nothing and get enough time to finish then off. As it turns out, all Temur Battle Rage does is speed up your clock by a turn, but it’s very necessary if you want to have a chance in your tougher matchups.

You can defeat your difficult matchups without it, but I don’t recommend it. Temur Battle Rage isn’t training wheels; it’s easy mode. There are so many games where you win with dead cards in hand because you strip your opponent’s important cards, so Temur Battle Rage might as well be one of those cards.

Having access to it is going to increase your win percentage in Game 1, as you won’t have the perfect configuration against your opponent anyway. I sideboard it out a lot, but in the matchups where I keep it in, there is no better card.

In addition to the things I learned about the deck, I anticipated some people coming prepared with strategies that were good against my beloved Death’s Shadows. This is the list of problems I want some possibility of solving:

  • A way to beat a swarm of creatures.
  • A way to interact with lands like Urza’s Tower and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.
  • Removal for protection from black creatures (Etched Champion counts).
  • Removal for big creatures.
  • Lifegain or a way to avoid getting lit up by Burn.
  • Removal for weirdo artifacts and enchantments, mainly Chalice of the Void and Leyline of Sanctity.
  • Graveyard hate.
  • The ability to grind.

A Nature’s Claim could potentially replace one of the Ancient Grudges if you wanted to hedge a bit against enchantments such as Leyline of the Void and Daybreak Coronet. That makes your Affinity matchup worse, but it doesn’t seem like the matchup is that bad overall. Obviously, once you start shaving on Lingering Souls; Kataki, War’s Wage; and other cards that are great against Affinity, your matchup is going to get worse, but I think there’s still a line you can walk where you get to hedge against other matchups while still beating Affinity.

With this list in mind, the sideboard has been tightened up. I have enough cards for the majority of matchups I expect to face, and my sideboarding plans all make sense.

As a general rule, I rarely cut discard spells or threats, as those are the foundation of the deck and are basically good against everyone in Modern. I’m usually cutting removal or grindy cards, depending on what the matchup is.


Death’s Shadow



The mirror is weird. It can be grindy, but more often than not, someone sticks a threat for a couple of turns and kills the other person very quickly. Ranger of Eos tends to be a liability in those situations, as a four-mana 3/2 is barely going to stem the bleeding. What plan you’re on depends on what’s in both of your hands, and that’s information you’ll typically have access to.

I wouldn’t mind having another card to sideboard in here, since it would allow me to cut the last Kolaghan’s Command. Keeping in a single Tarfire instead could be useful for winning Tarmogoyf wars and finishing off Lilianas, though. Kolaghan’s Command has the same functionality but isn’t nearly as efficient.




Abzan isn’t a good matchup, but it’s far from unwinnable. The further away they get from being controlling, the better the matchup becomes for Death’s Shadow.

This matchup can also be grindy, but depending on their list, you might be able to protect a threat with discard and ride that to victory. Lingering Souls tends to buy them a bunch of time, but you’ll typically find a second threat before they find ample removal.

In these grindy matchups, feel free to sideboard out a Street Wraith or a land. The games will probably go long and you don’t want to flood. Because of Liliana, you might think you’ll need the extra mana sources to get to three on time, but they will probably have to use Path to Exile early on.

The Tarfire / Kolaghan’s Command cut is the same as in the mirror. Neither is great but I could see leaning either way. If they have Grim Flayer and Noble Hierarch, having some copies of Collective Brutality on the play is a reasonable choice. Those also make Tarfire a little more attractive than Kolaghan’s Command.

If you want to beat midrange and control, Liliana is where you want to be. Obviously there’s some awkwardness because Abzan has Path to Exile, but keeping their battlefield clear and threatening to ultimate is also fine.

G/X Tron



This isn’t like old-school Jund vs. Tron, as you actually have a shot. Clock plus disruption is great, and so is having Temur Battle Rage to win the game the turn before they’re able to stabilize. I’m not actively happy to a see a Tron land on the other side of the table, but there are scarier opponents.

The games will probably come down to whether they can get Tron active and stick a Wurmcoil Engine or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. You can work around Karn Liberated well enough, at least in the short-term. I imagine a lot of games are going to come down to trampling over Wurmcoil Engine, especially if you can also kill it in combat.

Artifact removal is one of your best ways to interact with them, as killing Chromatic Sphere, Oblivion Stone, Relic of Progenitus, and Wurmcoil Engine will be key to winning.




This isn’t quite like the Burn matchup, where you absolutely don’t need Street Wraith to make your Death’s Shadows active. Affinity tends to hit you for big chunks of damage, but you never really want to get to that point. Some of the self-inflicted life loss has to stay, but you don’t want as much you would against a deck that puts you from twenty to zero, like Ad Nauseam.

Thoughtseize is somewhat poor, both because you want to preserve your life total to some degree but also because their hand gets empty very quickly. You want enough discard to snipe an Etched Champion and to ensure you have something to do on turn 1, but you don’t need to overload on it.

Fulminator Mage is too slow here. It may seem tempting to go after their creature-lands, but Cranial Plating is the real issue. Having access to Temur Battle Rage is important because they are very good at chump blocking while trying to win a race.

Eldrazi Tron



This matchup is similar to G/X Tron, except they’re not doing anything particularly threatening. Fulminator Mage is a powerful tool for stopping some of their best draws, but they assemble Tron with far less regularity, so it’s not as much of a priority.

Three copies of Fatal Push seems like the right number. You’re going to want some to take out Thought-Knot Seer and the occasional Walking Ballista, but that’s about it.

Chalice of the Void is their best card against you.




This matchup is similar to the mirror, except their deck is much worse. If they can stick a Dark Confidant, they can run away with the game, but that’s difficult to do in the face of so much disruption and removal.

Eventually they’ll flood more than you and you’ll probably win the topdeck war.

Bant Eldrazi



This is one of the matchups where I don’t have a great sideboard plan.

They get to sideboard in more removal while also having a great top-end in Drowner of Hope and Reality Smasher. Most of the games you win are going to involve getting under them and winning the game before those cards come online.

You could go on a mana denial plan with Fulminator Mage, but I think that only works on the play.

Liliana, the Last Hope isn’t great, especially since they have four Path to Exiles, but it’s a reasonable card at controlling their aggression.

Worship is a card to be wary of, and if they show it to you, consider bringing in Collective Brutality in some number.




This matchup is good for you, but I think I may have been overstating by how much. At Grand Prix Vancouver, I had draws that included Death’s Shadow and Temur Battle Rage, and those are typically the easy games. Those other games are the ones you need to be concerned about.

In addition to me drawing the good portion of my deck, my opponents tended to have creature- and/or land-heavy draws, which again made my life easier.

You can handle their creatures easily enough, so it’s all about trying to set up lethal before they can burn you out. Collective Brutality helps with this to some degree.

Street Wraith is the card you will frequently end up with rotting in your hand, so those are easy cuts. I don’t mind keeping one as you’ll probably be able to find a good time to cycle it. If not, it’s not the end of the world.

R/G Through the Breach



If they have Simian Spirit Guides, they likely have Chalice of the Void. At that point, I’d recommend bringing in the Ancient Grudges for the Kolaghan’s Commands. If they have Obstinate Baloth, you might want to swap some Tarfires for Fatal Pushes. If they have Through the Breach and Scapeshift, you could bring in some copies of Collective Brutality.

Overall, this should be a relatively easy (but scary) matchup.

Grixis Control



Again, my sideboard plan is somewhat lacking here. I’m not a huge fan of trying to grind them out with Fulminator Mage, but I don’t like keeping Tarfire in against them either. This is a matchup where the third Collective Brutality could probably be something more effective.

Since I’m on the Liliana plan, I like keeping in all the discard to force one of them through a counterspell. Nihil Spellbomb constricts their Snapcaster Mages, meaning you can probably power through their removal and stick a threat. Tasigur, the Golden Fang is an issue, but if you can stick a threat, you can mostly invalidate it.

This isn’t an easy matchup and is one that maybe requires more attention, depending on how much popularity it picks up.




Again, not an easy matchup and one that I would expect to become more popular in the coming weeks. Most of your cards don’t interact with what they’re trying to do. If you win the die roll, you can slow them down with discard, but it might not be enough on the draw.

Since you can’t really stop them from doing their thing, you really need a Temur Battle Rage to get through for lethal.

Ad Nauseam



If they start with a Leyline of Sanctity, it’s kind of bad times. However, you have enough mana denial that you might be able to keep them off six mana entirely.

Again, Temur Battle Rage could be excellent here. I’ve played against some people who have brought in Darkness or Ethereal Haze against me, so watch out for that.

Despite Ad Nauseam winning the Open in Indianapolis, I’m not very worried about this matchup.




In matchups like this, I’m fine with sideboarding out the Forest, especially on the draw. For the most part, the mana curve is being lowered, but at the same time, you really want to hit your land drops in order to keep up. Forest doesn’t particularly help with that, but it gives you what is effectively a generic source of mana to help cast Nihil Spellbomb and Collective Brutality.

This matchup is relatively easy. They’re kind of slow and weak to discard, spot removal, and graveyard hate, which you happen to have plenty of.


That’s it for now. This is my go-to Modern deck for the foreseeable future unless things get too dicey. Michael Majors has repeatedly said it’s like playing a Legacy deck in Modern, and that seems like something I should be doing.

If your plan is to beat it, that’s reasonable too, and last week’s Open has proven that it can be done. Death’s Shadow is probably the best deck in Modern, but it is definitely beatable.