What Every Death’s Shadow Player Needs To Survive

Even with Grixis Death’s Shadow taking less metagame share all the time, Ben puts up great numbers with it again and again. How? This is his guide to help you understand the archetype’s astounding flexibility in the face of a wildly diverse format!

First, there was “The Red Box.”

Patrick Sullivan used to keep a box of various cards he might, on any given
weekend, swap into his deck to combat predicted metagame shifts. Included
in the Red Box are tools like Searing Blood, Pyrostatic Pillar, Smash to
Smithereens, and the like. For a true aficionado of the Philosophy of Fire,
having such a massive toolbox of deckbuilding options at one’s disposal
helps in fine-tuning their deck from one weekend to the next.

Then, Todd Anderson debuted his own “Temur Box.” He loves his Temur tempo
decks, including wide mixes of threats and answers, like Hooting Mandrills,
Vendilion Clique, Vapor Snag, Forked Bolt, Spell Snare, and more. As he
memorably said at the end of one Temur Box article, “I’ve never had more
fun playing Magic than building a ‘cards I own’ deck.”

While preparing for another round of Modern tournaments last week, I
started racking my brain trying to figure out if there was any undiscovered
gem that I could use to cover multiple matchups in my Grixis Death’s Shadow
sideboard. I spoke about some of these with other Shadow enthusiasts, and
the list grew and grew. While I only wound up using two spicy ones in this
weekend’s list, I have the benefit of an amazing repository of tech for
Death’s Shadow (or any deck that uses some of the Grixis colors) in Modern.

With all due respect to GZA and Method Man, I’d like to share my own
discoveries in the world of Shadow Boxing with you.

Graveyard Hate

As I’ve said before, there are four major options for graveyard hate in
Death’s Shadow.

Sometimes, I won’t include any graveyard hate, but this is not one of those
times. Dredge, Ironworks, Izzet Phoenix, Mono-Red Phoenix, Hollow One, the
Shadow mirror, and Mardu Pyromancer all make some use of their graveyards.
The choice comes down to a classic balance of power, consistency, and
overlap. For example, Leyline of the Void is the most powerful of these
options but has a low floor when you draw it in the midgame. It covers
Hardened Scales to some degree as well as all the aforementioned decks, but
it can be hit with a Nature’s Claim against Dredge or Ironworks (which is a
true disaster). Nihil Spellbomb has a high floor and a low ceiling but
isn’t very flexible. Rakdos Charm is flexible but not particularly
powerful. And Surgical Extraction is free but not always enough to beat
Dredge and not worth it against Hollow One or the mirror match.

The choice is yours. I will say, though, that if you choose to have fewer
than four graveyard hate pieces, you probably want Surgical or Nihil
Spellbomb, not Leyline of the Void. Such a high-variance card requires a
high level of commitment.

Sweepers and Pingers

These are for fighting small creature decks, like Spirits and Humans.
Usually, you want 1-2 sweepers, 2-3 pingers, and a mix of cheap spot
removal to find the perfect balance. Right now, I prefer having Izzet
Staticaster as a small amount of insurance against Dredge’s Bloodghasts and
Narcomoebas as well as Storm’s Goblin tokens. The fact that Spirits is
fairly vulnerable to a Staticaster eating Noble Hierarch, Mausoleum
Wanderer, Selfless Spirit, and Phantasmal Image is another mark in its
favor. Additionally, with Hardened Scales being a notable part of the
metagame, it’s important to be able to clean up Hangarback Walker’s Thopter
tokens. Staticaster gets the job done.

Grim Lavamancer is cheaper, but it competes for graveyard resources and
costs mana to activate. It’s a fine inclusion as well, but right now I
prefer Staticaster.

Liliana, the Last Hope is half-Kolaghan’s Command, half-Staticaster, and
it’s a great crossover tool to fight several different matchups. I’ll
always have one or two in my sideboard for that reason.

Kozilek’s Return was more important when Etched Champion and Auriok
Champion were part of the metagame. Should those cards Return, so will

Anger of the Gods is like Kozilek’s Return, but where one fights creatures
with protection from red, the other fights Prized Amalgam, Arclight
Phoenix, Narcomoeba, Bloodghast, and Hangarback Walker. Double red is a
real hurdle to overcome, but right now it appears that Anger of the Gods is
the better positioned card in the current metagame.

And of course, Engineered Explosives. It’s got a lot of different
applications, and I’m always happy to have one or two in my sideboard, but
it may be worse than other options right now. It’s great against several
niche decks, like Grixis Whir, Selesnya Hexproof, Merfolk, and Elves. It
also sort of covers hard-to-answer permanents like Rest in Peace, although
some of the damage of the spell is done even if you do destroy it. Overall,
a flexible card, but that flexibility comes with a real cost.

Spot Removal With Bonuses

Okay, so you’ve got a few Lightning Bolts, some Fatal Pushes, and a couple
of Dismembers. They synergize with your deck, they work well with
Snapcaster Mage, and you have a few pingers and sweepers to really put the
opponent in a pickle. Now you want to mix it up with a few more removal
spells that also cover other matchups.

My recommendations right now are Izzet Charm and Abrade, but let’s talk
about all the choices.

Abrade is just a high-quality card, killing Mantis Riders and Spell
Quellers or annoying artifacts like Chalice of the Void or Ensnaring

Izzet Charm offers you a split between Faithless Looting, Spell Pierce, or
Shivan Fire, and replacing the Faithless Looting with it is an easy choice
when you need more countermagic and more two-damage removal. Obviously
Looting is the more powerful card, but I often found myself with
insufficient time to use both halves in most matchups. I also liked the
fact that many opponents would play around a single non-ferocious Stubborn
Denial by casting big spells with one mana untapped, but Izzet Charm
surprised them. It also counters Collected Company while killing Drogskol
Captain against Bant Spirits, which is a very nice split of utility.

Collective Brutality is great against combo decks that are not
Ironworks, and it’s an absolute slam dunk on Burn and Abzan Company decks.
I’m never sad to include a few of these in my sideboard, as they’re rarely

Funeral Charm is cheap, it has some minor utility against Dredge
(swampwalk), and against combo decks (instant-speed discard), but it would
need to be a very specific metagame for me to include a copy of this or
Piracy Charm.

Entrancing Melody can steal Death’s Shadow or Hangarback Walker for a
fairly low price, and using Snapcaster Mage to recast it is a true dream,
but I’m not sure I like it when the most popular creature decks use
Reflector Mage. Hold off on this one for a bit, same as Threads of

Dreadbore is your one-size-fits-all answer to Liliana of the Veil or Jace,
the Mind Sculptor. If midrange and control pick up, this may be a fine
one-of to include over a Lightning Bolt or Fatal Push.

Slaughter Pact costs my favorite amount in all of Magic – nothing at all!
If only Gurmag Angler and Death’s Shadow weren’t so prevalent, I’d throw
one in my deck just to surprise people. Being able to win combats with a
completely unexpected card is absolutely incredible, but it’s not likely
the right time for this card. The time will come, though! For what it’s
worth, I think this is a must-include if you’re playing Mausoleum Secrets,
as it’s the only real card in the format you can find with the Secrets if
your graveyard is under attack.

And of course, Kolaghan’s Command, one of the most flexible cards of all
time. It’s never too terrible and often loops with Snapcaster Mage to
provide a nice four cards or so of advantage. I’m pleased to have one in my
sideboard, but I’m a little low on it in this fast Modern format. If the
format shifts towards midrange and control, this card’s stock will rise,
alongside several the cards in the next section.


Mausoleum Secrets, as discussed in conjunction with Slaughter Pact, is a
fine card but requires some shifting of the play patterns of the deck. It’s
unclear to me if a powerful tutor effect is worth that cost, but it might
be an acceptable addition under the right circumstances.

As for my two favorites on this list, Spellskite and Kira, Great
Glass-Spinner, I ended up playing the singleton Spellskite in my sideboard
this weekend, and I’d do it again. Spellskite, like Slaughter Pact, allows
you to do some crazy things for no mana at all. I’ve had a 2/2 Death’s
Shadow suddenly become a 12/12 and find itself trampling over for 24
damage. I’ve redirected Welding Jar activations and Arcbound Ravager
modular triggers. I’ve defeated Infect despite them drawing their sideboard
cards (Shapers’ Sanctuary and Invisible Stalker). It’s solid against Burn
and Hexproof alike and even happily eats a Path to Exile against Azorius
Control. The card is solid against a wide swath of the metagame, and I’m
excited to draw it whenever I sideboard it in.

Kira, Great Glass-Spinner is a better choice when midrange and control
abound. The card is incredible when Jeskai Control and Mardu Pyromancer are
popular, and I’ll have one in reserve for when the metagame looks
vulnerable. It’s not good with Temur Battle Rage, but fortunately you
sideboard those out in the very same matchups you bring this in!

Claim//Fame is one that Hunter Cochran kept suggesting in our group chat
this week, and in a build with four Thought Scour, it can sort of serve as
a fifth Death’s Shadow. The fact that the back half allows for
out-of-nowhere hasty kills is something to keep in mind, and I’m sure there
are many ways to set up a surprise ten-to-fourteen damage against an
unsuspecting opponent. This one is on my short list for additions to the
75, and I’m eager to try it.

Consign//Oblivion was my best answer to Leyline of the Void and Rest in
Peace. I’m not particularly enthused by it, and for the most part, I’ve
come to the conclusion that the best tool for fighting graveyard hate as
Death’s Shadow is to find your Shadows as consistently as possible (hence
the renaissance of Serum Visions in Grixis Death’s Shadow) and protect them
with cards like Spellskite or Kira.

Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is an underappreciated gem. Along with Rise//Fall,
Kolaghan’s Command, and Claim//Fame, this card allows for a transitional
sideboard to a much more controlling Grixis deck. Snapcaster Mage and Jace,
Vryn’s Prodigy can grind out just about any opponent. I wish there were
more room for nonsense in my sideboard, so I could include a full-blown
Grixis Control transformation. Depending on the way the metagame shifts,
there might be such an opportunity, and when it comes, I’ll be ready.

As for miscellaneous permanents like Bitterblossom and Damping Sphere, they
are specifically designed to target particular matchups. If you’d like to
fight exactly Tron, Storm, Ironworks, and Amulet Titan, play Damping
Sphere. Those are generally solid matchups anyway, so I’m not including the
card in any of my lists.

If you are concerned with Azorius Control, Bitterblossom is a fine
inclusion, but overall I suspect it’s just worse than Liliana, the Last
Hope or Liliana of the Veil. I’m not thrilled with Liliana of the Veil in
current Modern, either; it seems poorly positioned when compared with the
metagame of a year ago.

Figuring out which cards are best for a given weekend is a neverending
task. Happily, though, once you become a master in the technique of Shadow
Boxing, you’ll enjoy a massive advantage against those who haven’t
prepared. The next time you cast a surprise Izzet Charm or Claim//Fame,
your opponents won’t know what hit them!