Death’s Shadow Is Back And Better Than Ever In Modern

It’s a super-sized What We’d Play as nine SCG creators give their picks for the weekend’s hottest Modern decks.

Death's Shadow, Magic: The Gathering illustration by Howard Lyon

Welcome to What We’d Play! With the recent introduction of Zendikar Rising, many are unsure what they’d play in Modern. That’s where we come in and let you know what we’d play and why we’d play it. Hopefully this advice aids in your decision making for your next Modern event! Be sure to vote for what deck you would play at the end!

Shaheen Soorani — Belcher

Is this what the world has become?  Nightmarish Turn 3 decks in all these older formats battling it out seems to be the norm these days.  Control can compete effectively; however, I have a hard time passing up a lightning-fast combo deck with maindeck Blood Moon in Modern.

When I unveiled Ironworks Combo at a Pro Tour a few years ago, folks quickly realized that I could not resist a fringe combo deck.  I discovered Myr Retriever and assembled a complete combo, and it took over my Modern life for the better part of a year.  With these DFCs, an older combo like those I have played in the past is reborn.

Belcher was one of the first decks I played in a competitive Legacy event.  That event was won by Tom Martell with Esper Stoneblade, a deck near and dear to my heart.  While he was crushing folks with Batterskull, I realized how awful Belcher was against disruption and put it away for good.  To see it back now, in Modern of all places, is some fresh nostalgia.

Since the DFCs allow Belcher to effectively play zero lands, the deck has eliminated the chance to whiff.  I remember hitting my opponent for eighteen and then questioning my life choices, but that risk has been eliminated.  The amount of mana-producing cards, disruption protection with Defense Grid and Veil of Summer, and having the alternative win condition with a Blood Moon lock are enough reasons to have the Expensive Sorcery Master dip into the combo pool once again.

Ari Lax — Rakdos Death’s Shadow (Lurrus)

I was going to suggest Oops, All Spells just to feel something and play with new cards that aren’t stupid miserable Omnath, Locus of Creation, but I think I can do one better.

I was really digging Jund Death’s Shadow with Lurrus a month or two ago since few things speak to me more than Thoughtseize plus a clock, and adding Scourge of the Skyclaves to cut Tarmogoyf and an entire color sounds great. The mana got weird sometimes with so many one-drop red and black spells along with a third color. Scourge of the Skyclaves also gives unboosted prowess creatures a bit more of a purpose since the little chip shots double up as power on Scourge of the Skyclaves, since I’m assuming reducing their life total is harder than reducing yours.

Andrew Elenbogen — Oops All Spells

Last week, I stated that I would play Humans in Modern and I still think it’s a reasonable choice. However, things have shifted somewhat against it. Most players have moved away from Charbelcher and towards Oops All Spells. These lists are a lot more resilient to Meddling Mage because they have two different win conditions, Undercity Informer and Balustrade Spy, and substantially more answers to Humans’s most annoying two-drop.

I am a huge fan of decks where you mulligan aggressively and then do the same thing every game. (See: Tron.) Also, I think trying to play long games against Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is an exercise in futility. Third, I think Oops All Spells is incredibly hard to disrupt. To win, it only needs to resolve a single creature. The deck can accelerate out that creature, but it often doesn’t have to resolve any spells to achieve this. That means all forms of removal, most traditional combo hate, and the card Force of Negation are all irrelevant. 

If your opponent has one of the few effective ways to interact with this deck’s gameplan, you have access to four Thoughtseize. The deck kills incredibly quickly, meaning that their window to find more answers is very small. Nice Surgical Extraction; can you find another in two turns? The fact that Oops, All Spells gets to sideboard in more cheap or free interaction is just icing on the cake. You are not going to beat this deck by just jamming a few Rest in Peace in your sideboard and calling it a day. Winning against it requires a cohesive gameplan that cannot be broken apart by a single discard spell. Right now, I just do not think most Modern decks have that.

Dom Harvey — Sultai Control

When in doubt, play Modern’s most egregious cards — Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Mystic Sanctuary are still atop that list. I’ve safely endorsed playing Omnath in as many formats as possible, including last week’s Modern What We’d Play, but I think it fits much better in a proactive strategy like Five-Colour Niv-Mizzet than the blue decks running around right now.

In particular, the common builds of these decks have atrocious manabases. Trying to curve Wrenn and Six into Teferi, Time Raveler into Omnath or Cryptic Command when you already have a low land count that includes Field of the Dead alongside some highly greedy copies of Field of Ruin is a pipe dream. The Sultai mana is much cleaner and lets you support colour-intensive cards as well as both Fields in an Hour of Promise manabase. 

Additionally, Fatal Push has come back around to being Modern’s best removal spell. Stormwing Entity and Bedlam Reveler have mostly vanished and Prowess in general is being supplanted by experimental aggro decks built around Scourge of the Skyclaves, often paired with Death’s Shadow. Fatal Push once again hits the vast majority of important creatures while not giving the opponent a crucial extra resource in the early-game.

Bloodchief’s Thirst does a good impression of Fatal Push in those situations while also tagging a dangerous threat in Wrenn and Six against Uro ‘mirrors’ or decks like Jund and Gruul Midrange. Assassin’s Trophy is a strong catch-all that’s an actual Sinkhole against the Balustrade Spy or Goblin Charbelcher decks whose manabases consist entirely of DFCs.

Bryan Gottlieb — Jeskai Control

I’m not sure anyone on the planet has spent more time trying to convince people not to play Jeskai Control in Modern than I have, so if I’m on board, you know something pretty significant has changed. First and foremost, there’s been an alteration to the core structure of the deck with the addition of Cleansing Wildfire. Cleansing Wildfire hard-targets the archetypes that have made their living exploiting the folks trying to employ fair strategies like Jeskai Control. A significant hurdle for both Mono-Green Tron and Amulet Titan to overcome, the card is even scoring some points exploiting folks who are moving away from basics altogether like Oops All Spells.

Cleansing Wildfire also combines with Flagstones of Trokair to address one of Jeskai’s other problems: mana inefficiency. Playing ahead of curve starts to push Jace, the Mind Sculptor into the realm of a card that can compete with 2020’s nonsense and lets us lean harder on Snapcaster Mage recasting two-mana spells like the suddenly critical Lightning Helix.

Regarding Lightning Helix, the rise of Scourge of the Skyclave in Modern is very real and I’ve tilted a lot of my removal and sideboard towards accounting for the card. Also on the rise are decks attempting to cast four-mana spells like Wilderness Reclamation and Omnath. Countermagic is often a losing proposition in Modern because threats are so cheap, but even deeper formats can’t pass up the raw power we’ve seen in the three- and four-mana slot lately. This feels exploitable.

While I like the Jace, the Mind Sculptor-focused build for the time being, there are lots of potential rebuilds for this deck. Stoneforge Mystic, Monastery Mentor, and a higher concentration of maindeck Shark Typhoons all deserve a look after the addition of Cleansing Wildfire. I’m looking forward to trying them all out, and for once not feeling like I’m spewing value by playing one of my favorite archetypes in Modern.

Ben Friedman — Rakdos Death’s Shadow (Lurrus)

Holy cow, Death’s Shadow is looking nice again! First off, Dimir Mill is one of the new kids in town and it inadvertently supplies this aggressive deck with a juicy graveyard full of Lava Darts to power up all the Prowess creatures and win in one big turn.

Second, this deck is closer to an Infect version of Death’s Shadow than any list we’ve seen since before Gitaxian Probe was banned years ago. In a format that’s only become more and more degenerate over time, it stands to reason that the best way to keep up is to turn into a hyper-aggressive blend of Prowess and Death’s Shadow that casts giant creatures for one or two mana as early as possible.

Additionally, all the new cards from Zendikar Rising boost this deck to the next level. Scourge of the Skyclaves is a second Death’s Shadow that can get even bigger, even faster. Feed the Swarm and Cleansing Wildfire are both absolutely perfect for a deck like this as life loss that offers flexible removal and velocity-granting disruption for big mana decks like Mono-Green Tron. Agadeem’s Awakening is a super-shockland that also doubles as a great mana sink in the late-game, putting your entire graveyard back on the battlefield. 

This deck is flexible, powerful, resilient, interactive, and can win the game on Turn 3 without a second thought. It’s exactly what you need in Modern today.

Patrick Chapin — Four-Color Ramp

Since Modern is a format, I would play Omnath, Locus of Creation in it. Nathan Steuer’s list jumps out at me for just how many broken cards it makes use of. Wrenn and Six; Teferi, Time Raveler, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria? That’s just so unbelievable of a starting point; and with Uro and Omnath for creatures, this list is a veritable Who’s Who of banned and arguably-should-have-been-banned cards. 

Hour of Promise to pull together a Field of the Dead package is more brokenness, of course, but it also synergizes extremely well with Omnath. The rest of the deck is just mana and flexible support cards, but when you have three of the five best planeswalkers of all time along with two of the five best creatures of all time, plus Field of the Dead, backed by cards like Cryptic Command, Path to Exile, Mana Leak, Lightning Bolt, and so on, this deck’s card quality is unparalleled.

Sam Black — Oops All Spells

It’s easy to sell me on an explosive combo deck with Thoughtseize.  This deck is fragile, but Thoughtseize goes a long way toward beating hate, so if you generally expect to win Game 1 and then need to beat a hate card in one of the next two games, Thoughtseize makes that a lot more likely than it would be in such a glass cannon strategy without it.

I think Oops All Spells has gotten enough press that it won’t be unfamiliar, but I also don’t think it’s popular enough that people have a lot of hate for it (this isn’t Hogaak from last year or anything). It’s also nice that this deck can hard-cast Vengevine pretty realistically, which means it has a passable “mediocre beats” plan if your opponent does manage to stop you from comboing.

I don’t know that this is necessarily the best choice, but, while I used to love playing Uro in Modern, I’ve had more than enough of the card these days, so playing a deck that I can count on to play short games is pretty appealing.

Ross Merriam — Mono-White Death and Taxes

Last week, I recommended Belcher, but that kind of all-in combo deck is only going to work for so long. Players are adapting, and while it and Oops All Spells are still powerful, I’m not comfortable bringing them to a well-prepared field.

Mono-White Death and Taxes is an under the radar deck right now that has improved a ton from Zendikar Rising. Skyclave Apparition is the best of the bunch, offering the deck additional removal that can hit problematic cards like Wrenn and Six and Amulet of Vigor in addition to most creatures not named Primeval Titan. This deck needs a high threat density to pressure the opponent while they’re stumbling on mana, so attaching that removal to a body is especially nice. I’ve been very impressed by the card in Modern and it’s seeing play in many decks, but playing it alongside Equipment and Aether Vial is an ideal home.

Having access to Apparition not only raises your removal count against opposing creature decks, it gives you more freedom to cut Path to Exile when sideboarding against decks with only a few powerful threats like Four-Color Control.

The other additions, Maul of the Skyclaves and Archon of Emeria, are solid role-players. Maul also helps get aggressive, especially with the disruptive creatures that due to their lack of evasion are often rendered irrelevant in combat-centric matches. Jumping your Leonin Arbiter over a Tarmogoyf or Uro is a great way to close games. Archon is another solid disruptive creature that comes with evasion built-in, to the point where some builds maindeck it, but I prefer the bigger body of Restoration Angel.

Death and Taxes has been a fringe deck in Modern for years, but these additions make the deck significantly better, and I expect it will be underrated this weekend — exactly where I want to be in Modern.