After a long stressful week of tests and finals, I am excited to say I’ll be at the SCG Season Two Invitational in Roanoke soon. I’m feeling very confident about this Invitational because I know for a fact my deck selection is great. Of course, I’ll be redeploying Grixis Death’s Shadow this weekend as my Modern deck of choice. After my last performance with it, how could I not?
Brief SCG Baltimore Recap
Two weekends ago I had the pleasure of winning SCG Baltimore with two of my good friends, Oliver Tiu and Noah Walker. The tournament was a blast, and I was honored to play with such great players.
The tournament started off a little rocky with a 2-1-1 start. We drew with lethal on our next turn because we had been all talking about every play and we didn’t pay attention to the clock. That’s certainly a situation where we should have just let Noah do his thing, but lesson learned. From there we smoothly sailed to 7-1-1.
Oliver had a bit of a rough Day 1 playing against a lot of fringe decks in Standard, but boy did he show up Day 2, when it was basically exclusively Energy mirrors. On the flip side, Noah had a bit of a rough Day 2 since we played so many Lands decks. I managed to go a smooth 14-3 during the event, losing to Jeskai Tempo (which I played three times), Jeskai Control, and Burn (which I played twice).
Modern feels like it’s in a healthy place; I even played nine different archetypes on Day 1. Grixis Death’s Shadow performed better than ever for me, though, and taking down the event gave me a nice boost of confidence for playing the deck in the future.
Shadow is without a doubt the toughest Modern deck I’ve ever played. There are many micro-decisions that all add up to small percentages, knowing in which order to cast your cantrips, and of course managing your life total. Pete Ingram mentioned in a recent podcast that “the juice isn’t worth the squeeze” with the deck. Basically, he’s saying that, because the deck is so difficult to play, it might just be better to play a slightly “worse” deck that you won’t have as a high of a margin for error with.
Well, let me tell you something, Peter. The juice is worth the squeeze, my friend, and it’ll be the best damn juice you’ll have ever tasted.
I’ve put in the work with Grixis Death’s Shadow, and it hasn’t been easy. It started out rocky, scrubbing out of my first Open with it back in May and going 4-4 at the last Invitational. I assuredly had cost myself some rounds in those tournaments. But you know how you have success in Modern: you stick it out and play what you know and love.
I’ve learned much about the deck over the course of the year and it’s shown as of late. I finished 6-2 at Regionals, losing in the last round for Top 8, followed by my 14-3 run at the Team Constructed Open. That’s a whopping 80% win rate over the last two events!
I think it’s safe to say I know the ins and outs of the deck this point. My good friend Korey McDuffie also has been putting in a lot of work on the deck over recent months and putting up stellar results as well. Talking with him has certainly been vital to my recent success.
Let’s get into the specifics of the most recent deck list I played.
There have been some changes since the last time I wrote about the deck and I want to explain them all.
1. Opt over Serum Visions. I’m not going to lie: I was very unsure about this going in. But Oliver kept pushing it on me, even going as far to say “It’s obviously better,” and, well, he’s a lot smarter than I am, so I listened. But after playing the event with them, I think he was completely right.
The first thing that comes to mind with Opt is the fact that it’s an instant. That is especially important when it comes to leaving up Stubborn Denial, Fatal Push, or Snapcaster Mage. Next, it’s a better topdeck when you’re in the mid- to late-game searching for a specific card. Also, another important thing is when you have a one-land hand with a Serum Visions and discard spell: you almost certainly need to Serum first. Because Opt gives you that extra look immediately before you draw, it allows you to discard on one.
Last, because of the large amount of fetchlands in your manabase, it’s rare that you Serum Visions and top both cards before shuffling. I’ll be running back the same cantrip suite for this weekend.
2. Four copies of Street Wraith. Like I said, I’ve lived… and I’ve learned. I used to think this was one of the worst cards in the deck and boarded it out very frequently, but that’s one of the things McDuffie helped sell me on. While I do trim them often, starting the full playset of Street Wraith is 100% correct in the deck.
3. One copy of Blood Crypt. Another hot spot subject of Grixis Death’s Shadow players is playing the second Blood Crypt or not. I used to be a strong advocate for it, as milling one’s sole copy with a Thought Scour can be a huge problem occasionally. Also, sometimes you just want an extra fetchable land in your deck because you might need it in tough times where you need to hard-cast a Gurmag Angler. But ultimately these situations are just not going to come up as frequently as the times where the fourth Scalding Tarn is relevant for you.
4. The miser’s maindeck Temur Battle Rage. Another suggestion Oliver Tiu made for the deck. My maindeck was exactly like Korey McDuffie’s Atlanta Regionals-winning list with one maindeck Temur Battle Rage over the third Stubborn Denial. The thinking there was that they both take a turn off the clock most games, but one is excellent against the little creature strategies that can be troublesome for Grixis Death’s Shadow. The card overperformed all weekend and I’ll certainly be playing it main deck going forward.
5. No graveyard hate. This probably raised a few eyebrows, I’m sure, and it was a bit of a bold statement. I simply didn’t expect to face many graveyard decks. First off, Dredge is just not popular in real life (although it is certainly rising on Magic Online), and any deck trying to cast Goryo’s Vengeance or Living End, I’m happy to play against.
On top of that, and something a lot of people might be surprised to hear me say, it isn’t even good against Storm! They are almost certainly sideboarding in ten to twelve cards like Pieces of the Puzzle, Blood Moon, Lightning Bolt, and of course their main plan after sideboarding of Empty the Warrens. Caleb Scherer even recommends taking out all of the copies of Gifts Ungiven and going down to one Past in Flames.
Sideboarding Against the Tier 1 Decks
Obviously there are far too many archetypes in Modern for to cover them all, but I will go over sideboarding plans for what I believe to be the “top dogs” of the format.
Grixis Death’s Shadow Mirror
The sideboarding here is pretty straightforward. Removal is already weak against the deck, but on top of that most people are on the Jon Rosum school of thought where they take out all their Geist of Saint Trafts and Spell Quellers. I like to leave on Fatal Push in so you aren’t just straight dead to Celestial Colonnade but so you can never flood on them. I also like trimming a land because the games typically are long.
This could vary depending on the opponent. My finals opponent at the Team Open, Zack Kiihne, sideboarded out all of his creatures against me, which I caught onto during Game 3. If your opponent does that (which I don’t believe most people do), I’d remove the three extra Pushes for the Street Wraith and the Tasigurs. I think it’s fine to trim on the delve threats in matchups where they aren’t touching your creatures.
Fatal Push just isn’t what you want against them, since you must revolt it anyway for it to be a card. And aside from Chalice of the Void, Inquisition of Kozilek isn’t really hitting anything of importance, so I like to trim there. Stubborn Denial, I’ll either have one or two in my deck, depending on the opponent. I believe it is optimal to take out your Karns on their side and sideboard in more creature threats like Hangarback Walker and Blight Herder. I don’t think you’ll ever feel too bad drawing a single Stubborn Denial every game, but it certainly gets worse post-sideboard when they cut some of their clunkier noncreature spells.
The newest kid on the block in Modern, and a deck I have little experience playing against. I presume this matchup to be tough, but post-sideboard we get plenty of good tools. I even played a split of Pyroclasm and Kozilek’s Return as a hedge for this deck.
Cutting Stubborn Denial and some amount of discard is pretty obvious. Street Wraith comes out because most of the time they will be doing a lot of the work for you. I like trimming on Gurmag Anglers in this matchup (note it was Tasigur instead against Storm); because the body is so important versus this deck, I’d rather it just be cheaper. I like shaving one cantrip because you need your mana to interact early and often against them, and since we cut Gurmags, I think it’s safe to shave one Thought Scour. I used to never do this, but when you’re cutting half the delve threats, I think it’s reasonable. On top of this, we also shave one Snapcaster mostly because we are sideboarding in so many other three-drops.
I hope this guide to Grixis Death’s Shadow was helpful for all you brave souls out there who love this deck like me. Let’s hope I can keep up my good run with the deck this weekend!