Over the past few months, I’ve been asked the same consistent question: why am I playing Grixis Control and not Grixis Shadow? My answer is that it’s because I’ve put the time into Grixis Control. I know the card choices of Grixis Control, the reasons behind why they’re there, and I’ve been in the mindset of the deck for years. Shifting from that mindset to playing Grixis Death’s Shadow can be a totally different ballgame and it takes time to learn.
Thus, with the Modern Pro Tour coming up, and tons of people asking me questions about Grixis in general on social media, I decided to bite the bullet and spend some time learning Grixis Shadow the past week. If anything else, learning how to play with a deck helps you understand its pressure points and its weaknesses, and help you identify why your opponents are making the decisions they are. Maybe they’re short on lands or maybe they’re missing a threat. These are some the things you can discern just from the first couple of plays an opponent makes, and with that, you need to adapt your game plan quickly, as the games with Grixis Death’s Shadow can range from very quick to very long, but a single misstep on either side can swing the game widely in the other player’s favor.
Here’s the list I’m playing with this week. It’s based on a few recent performing lists (in fact, I believe it’s still Dylan Donegan’s main deck from the most recent Open) but I tinkered with the list to fit my play style:
The first thing I learned with Grixis Shadow is the sheer number of micro decisions you need to make. If you like trying to figure out small decisions and seeing how they play out 3 to 4 turns later, this deck is for you. For example, you have access to Thought Scour, Thoughtseize, Street Wraith, one land, and a fetchland on the play, how do you sequence your first turn? With Death’s Shadow you get decisions like this every game where you have nearly 5-20 lines of play that are possible just for the next 2 to 3 turns, and identifying what you need to do in each spot is a different puzzle. These were some quick lessons I made for myself:
- Any hand with 4 or more lands on the play is a mulligan.
- Any hand with 4 or more lands on the draw is a mulligan unless your opponent has mulliganed.
- Any hand with 0 lands and less than 3 Street Wraiths is a mulligan (unless on 6 cards, then you want 2 Street Wraiths).
- All 1-land cantrip hands are a keep if they include other spells you can cast for 1 mana.
- If you keep a 1-lander, you should cantrip first.
- If you have 2 lands and 2 discard spells, play a discard spell on turn 1, and the other on a later turn—this allows you to gain additional information about what your opponent has drawn and their game plan.
These are not all 100% tried-and-true rules with the deck, just my early takeaways. The biggest one for me was the inability for this deck to draw so many lands. I’m used to wanting to make land drop number 4. In Grixis Shadow, land number 4 is a death sentence. You want 3 lands—the fourth land is when things really start working against you (unless you have the single copy of Tasigur on the battlefield to try to draw cards with).
Some ways to mitigate flood include:
- Scrying lands to the bottom.
- Fetching aggressively. I mean, as soon as you have the fetchland in hand aggressively (you usually want to do this anyway, as drawing any of your 6 fetchable lands is undesirable, and you want to fill your graveyard for delve as quickly as possible).
- Keeping cards on top of your library with scrys from Serum Visions and milling them with Tasigur or Thought Scour.
- Holding back a copy of Street Wraith when you hit 4 lands. Usually, I find that cycling Street Wraith on 4 lands to be a mistake, as a 3-power unblockable creature is fairly effective in the current metagame when it cannot be killed by Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, or Lightning Helix.
I could write a whole article about mitigating land flood with this deck and how to use your cantrips most effectively, as each one has so many decisions and so many scenarios. I was surprised to find that Serum Visions is vastly superior to Opt in nearly every way. The scry 2 is exceptionally relevant. The instant-speed on Opt, while relevant, is really only great when you’re in that sweet spot on lands (at 2-3). The extra scry is important and the sorcery speed is not much of an issue because you want to be casting your Serum Visions later in the game when you’re digging for specific pieces (Thought Scour is not great at finding one specific card, but instead filling up your graveyard for Commands, Snapcasters, and Delve). Thus, Serum Visions seldom runs into conflicts with the mana you need to hold up for disruption like Stubborn Denial or Dismember.
The sideboard is mostly my own touch. I really like cheaper spells, and spells that are true haymakers. Despite only having 2 lands that produce red mana, I’m sill on board with Anger of the Gods. Similarly, it’s hard to pry Surgical Extraction, Ceremonious Rejection, and Izzet Staticaster from my hands at this point, as each just decimates certain opponents.
Thus far in my testing, I’m a fan of Grixis Shadow. It’s a good deck, but I think it’s a good deck in a sea of good decks. Modern is full of diverse strategies, and the metagame is constantly evolving. Grixis Shadow needs to constantly be on top of those metagame shifts as it’s looking to apply a clock and have some disruption to back it up. The individual card choices on the interactive cards and the sideboard cards matter a lot, and it’s difficult to show up with the right answers to a single tournament (trust me, I know the amount of time it takes). I don’t think the deck is broken like I once did, and I can safely say that not playing Grixis Shadow is totally okay, but learning how to play with and against the deck is very important!
Next week, I’ll be getting into Standard, and I’ll be playing with some tribal strategies as we look forward to what Rivals of Ixalan has in store for us.