Farewell Deathrite Shaman

Harry Corvese says goodbye to Deathrite Shaman in Modern by reflecting on all the tournament success he had with the card in the past couple years.

There came a point almost four months ago when I was searching for a suitable topic with which to introduce myself to the Magic community as a strategy writer. I had been given the advice to write about what I know, and when I thought back on my 2012-2013 year in Magic, which included 28 Pro Points and a streak of ten Grand Prix cashes in a row, I kept coming to the same conclusion:

My favorite card is Deathrite Shaman.

What follows is a brief walk down memory lane detailing the ten or so high-level tournaments I played with Deathrite Shaman, concluding with a small update to the U/W Control list I wrote about last time.

In the fall of 2012, Return to Ravnica was released, and Deathrite Shaman made its debut in Seattle during Pro Tour Return to Ravnica.

David Ochoa and Yuuya Watanabe were the first players to put up results in the big show with Deathrite, as it took its rightful place alongside four copies of Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf, Lightning Bolt, Liliana of the Veil, and Bloodbraid Elf (however briefly) as the only cards the current and former CFB players could agree upon en route to a Sunday Top 8 appearance. In the end, Stanislav Cifka won the tournament systematically with Eggs, defeating Yuuya in a five-game slugfest after the former Player of the Year squeaked by Ochoa in the semifinals. The moral of the story here is that Deathrite Shaman cannot remove artifacts from the graveyard; otherwise we might have had a different result.

There wasn’t long to wait before Deathrite Shaman showed up again, this time just two weeks after PT Return to Ravnica at a Grand Prix in Lyon, France.

By the time Grand Prix Chicago rolled around one week after GP Lyon, I had already begun my love affair with Deathrite Shaman during testing sessions, but I had no idea how to build the rest of the Jund deck and sideboard. Enter Jeremy Dezani.

I played the above list card for card to an eighteenth-place finish in Chicago, starting the tournament 0-1 after coming off of two byes. I rattled off eight wins in a row (including defeating an up and coming Josh McClain in round 11), taking me well into day 2 before losing rounds 12 and 13 to knock myself out of Top 8 contention. I managed to close the event with two more wins and finished with a record of 12-3, but I was haunted by my round 3 loss when I fell just out of Top 16. I also picked up my first of two wins against Sam Pardee in the final round of a Grand Prix; the second was also with Deathrite Shaman but came about three months after this tournament.

Next up was Grand Prix Toronto almost a month later, where I was looking forward to battling the same Jund deck as good friend and travel companion Conley Woods. That was until he booked a room for us with only one (king-sized) bed and then proceeded to get violently ill all over it in the middle of the night. I shudder to remember the sounds of that night. It was like pigs to the slaughter. I lost my win-and-in match for day 2 to finish 6-3, but Willy Edel held down the fort with the following Jund list that had been updated from the deck he used to Top 8 PT Return to Ravnica two months before, this time with a fourth color to boot. Thanks Deathrite Shaman!

The following week I arrived in Los Angeles ready to sleeve up Deathrite Shaman in Legacy for the first time at the SCG Invitational. I had my BUG list all ready to go based off success that friends Jarvis Yu and Brian Braun-Duin had the week prior at a Legacy Open on the East Coast. What I wasn’t prepared for however was Gerry Thompson. [Editor’s Note: You’re not the first person to ever have that feeling, I assure you.]

This was the tournament where he first unveiled his greatest contribution to the Legacy format: Shardless BUG. It wasn’t until Josh Cho put a beating on me in round 6 of the Legacy Open that I fully understood how hopeless a matchup Shardless BUG was for the other fair decks at the time. This led me to reverse engineer the following Shardless BUG list for Grand Prix Denver just two weeks later.

Deathrite Shaman was all over this event. Pat Cox, Josh Ravitz, Matt Nass, and Daniel Signorini all had four copies in their Top 8 lists, and Eric Campusano in ninth, I in twelfth, and Conley Woods in sixteenth made for 28 copies of Deathrite Shaman inside the Top 16. At 701 players, this event was small, but my tournament history shows some powerhouse matches. I tallied wins against some big names like Alexander Hayne, Todd Anderson, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and Samuel Pardee (again in the final round!) but fell short of Top 8 again. The pattern here is taking two losses in a row, and they always seem to come right smack in the middle of day 2. This time I lost to Matt Nass and Marc Lalague in rounds 11 and 12 before finishing out the day strong.

Two months of non-Eternal Magic went by before I got the chance to pick up my favorite card again. This time in San Diego, stepping off a flight that I had picked up on very short notice, I moved away from Lightning Bolt as the feature removal spell and jumped on board with Ari Lax and a Junk list instead.

I again finished 12-3 after David Sharfman crushed my hopes and dreams in the first round of day 2, but this time I came away with a thirteenth-place finish. Coupled with two Grand Prix Top 8s earlier in the season (Philadelphia and San Antonio), I had quite a hot streak going on. There were two big lessons that I learned in San Diego. Lightning Bolt is super important when Deathrite Shaman is everywhere, and Conley Woods can pass absolutely anything off as an acceptable article submission. Even when that includes his own creation of a fictional superhero called "The Scrambler."

By this time in the season, I had done some serious number crunching and determined that I was within striking distance of the 30 point threshold required to make Gold level in the Pro Players Club. What I found myself tasked with was to continue my streak of Grand Prix finishes for two more events, one in Strasbourg, France and one in Portland, Oregon, the last event of the year. After spewing off $1500 for travel and accommodations, I arrived in France and registered the following:

By the end of round 12, I had already accumulated three losses and was staring down the barrel of it all being for naught. In front of the eyes of the world and recording my post-match thoughts in Rich Hagon’s webcam after every round, I steamrolled my next four opponents and finished once again at X-3. This time it was good enough for tenth place and three of five necessary Pro Points, and for a brief moment I was on top of the world.

I will never forget that trip. It took some convincing to get Gerry and Ben Friedman out of our hotel room to go support Jacob Wilson in his finals match against Thomas Enevoldsen and his Death and Taxes deck, but in the end it was no decision at all. Thousands of miles from home, we were the only four American competitors in that place, and Jacob Wilson was not going to win that Grand Prix, silence a throng of scarf-wearing Europeans, and then turn around to be congratulated by no one.

So there we were on the outskirts of a roped-off crowd of almost 150 people. I stood on a chair covered in dirt (because the floor was made entirely of dirt for cattle) next to Ben doing the same. Gerry gave an interview to Nathan Holt dressed like a monk, and traitorous Frenchman Louis Deltour was just waiting for me to pay him off for chanting "USA! USA!" if Jacob won.

He didn’t win. And I didn’t pick up two points the following week in Portland. But I will still never forget that trip.

Since then I’ve cashed another Grand Prix with Deathrite Shaman; I even got to put away powerful wizard Owen Turtenwald in Kansas City on a "win into money" match late on day 2. But I’m still left battling to prove that my six-month rush with Deathrite Shaman wasn’t the best it’s going to get for me. I want more. Like Peyton Manning.

Before he got banned for being too good.

RIP Deathrite Shaman.

And here are some obligatory remarks on U/W Control in Standard:

So how has everyone been liking Archangel of Thune? Pretty good, right? It seems like everyone last weekend was winning with the deck but me. Friends were lighting up PTQs, winning Grand Prix, Top 4ing SCG Opens. It’s a little bittersweet, but I accept it. Since the banning, I’ve been working tirelessly on Modern with only two weeks until the Pro Tour, but I did have a small conversation with Brad Nelson at the Open Series in Baltimore last weekend, and it went something like this.

Me: "Hey! I didn’t know you were playing U/W Control yesterday; did you catch my article that went up?"

Brad: "No, I didn’t."

Me: "How was Soldier of the Pantheon for you?"

Brad "It was okay. I had a G/W opponent and used it to win a mirror match."

Me: "I changed it to Doom Blade. I figured the concept works the same as Dark Betrayal."

Brad: "Interesting . . . I think if you’re going to do that you need two more black sources to compensate for the fact that the decks you want Doom Blade against are going to be pressuring you much more aggressively than Mono-Black Devotion."

Me: "But Stormbreath Dragon . . . "

Brad: "I also think those sources should be two Godless Shrines (cutting two Plains) because you want them to come into play untapped. But you also want double blue on turn 3 for Dissolve without taking two damage, so keep the five Islands."

Me: " . . . "

Brad: "Time to battle, good luck!" *hustles away*

Me: " . . . "

Me: "Brilliant."

+ 2 Godless Shrine

– 2 Plains