During the first week of February, I’ll be in Bilbao with the rest of Team Coverage as we bring the live stream of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan to the world. For those new to Modern, getting across the huge scope of viable decks is intimidating. To bring everyone up to speed for the Pro Tour, Level 1 Modern is a column that seeks to explain the game plan, strengths, and weaknesses of the format’s major archetypes. This week, I’m looking at Grixis Shadow.
What Grixis Shadow Does
People were pretty slow to wake up to Death’s Shadow. Originally printed in 2010’s Worldwake, it has only picked up in popularity recently. As Modern mana bases already chip away at a player’s life total, a card that rewards having a lower life total is a natural fit. Further supported by cards like Thoughtseize and Street Wraith, Grixis Shadow has no issues getting Death’s Shadow out and about very early on.
Other undercosted delve threats apply pressure, while the rest of the deck consists of powerful interaction across the Grixis colors. Removal and counterspells are flashed back with Snapcaster Mage for a powerful value game, supporting the tempo-oriented game plan of beating down with huge, cheap monsters. Grixis Shadow is a powerful mix of proactive threats and reactive interaction, and offers its pilots huge flexibility in approaching different matchups.
Bradley Yoo, 27th at GP Oklahoma City 2017
Grixis Shadow gets it done by pairing enormous, undercosted beaters with some of the best interaction in the format. Deploying a 4/5 for 1 mana is usually the baseline with this deck, and the stats only increase from there. Both Tasigur and Gurmag Angler come to the party very early indeed, given that Shadow decks have no issue filling their graveyards thanks to cards like fetchlands, Street Wraith, and critically, Thought Scour. A turn-2 Banana King is no joke.
Protecting and clearing the way for these big thumping idiots are some of the best interactive and disruptive cards in the entire Modern format. Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, Kolaghan’s Command—these cards ensure Grixis Shadow decks get ahead and stay ahead, and in many cases accelerate the delve/life loss plan by being cheap or inflicting damage to their controller.
Blue offers further interaction in Stubborn Denial, but it’s the card draw and selection that give Grixis Shadow a further shot in the arm. Serum Visions, Opt, and Thought Scour all combine to allow the deck to cheat on lands, stock the graveyard, and find the right piece of technology the situation calls for.
It’s this enormous diversity of interactive answers that mean that Grixis Shadow can often adopt a different posture depending on how a game is panning out. At first blush, this deck seems somewhat linear—play a big creature, protect it, and win the game. Grixis Shadow, however, can play both sides of the court and especially in post-board games is often happy to adopt a slower, more controlling approach.
In many ways, Grixis Shadow plays out like a Legacy Delver deck, as it hopes to stick an early threat and ride it to victory, interacting to keep the opponent off-balance. One crucial weakness of this Modern take on a tempo-based archetype is that there aren’t a great number of ways to mitigate flooding out. Despite the card selection available to it, Grixis Shadow nonetheless can be punished with land-heavy draws—Tasigur, the Golden Fang is the only real mana sink. There’s no Brainstorm to put back lands here!
Additionally, the ways Grixis Shadow has to generate meaningful card advantage are somewhat limited. Snapcaster Mage is the primary method, but outside of that it’s all 1-for-1 trading, and this deck doesn’t do that as well as Black-Green Rock decks. Grixis Shadow can play out very poorly in topdeck mode, especially when facing off against decks that go much bigger (for example, Scapeshift and Tron).
Finally, the way that Grixis Shadow plays so fast and loose with its own life total can be a crippling liability in many situations. There are a number of decks that capitalize on the self-inflicted damage from cards such as Thoughtseize, Street Wraith, Dismember, and the like, but oftentimes, Grixis Shadow players have little other choice than to ding themselves down to precarious life totals, as that’s how the deck is set up.
The recent resurgence of Jeskai Tempo decks is in no small part due to Grixis Shadow players effectively starting the game at about 12 life. Any deck with a heavy burn component, from Jeskai to good old fashioned Burn, are in a great position to point the heat upstairs and punish a Grixis Shadow player who decided to fly a little close to the sun.
How to Beat Grixis Shadow
Cheap interaction is the best way to keep yourself in a game against Grixis Shadow. Finding the right kind of interaction can be tricky, as the delve creatures don’t die to many of Modern’s favorite options (Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt).
Path to Exile shines exceptionally brightly here, and when sniping a delve creature it helps to close the mana gap. They can’t immediately deploy another monster after delving away their bin.
Another way to punish delve cards is, of course, graveyard removal. Relic of Progenitus is a great colorless option, but there are plenty of others ranging from Rest in Peace to Leyline of the Void. These cards have the additional upside of shutting off Snapcaster Mage!
Finally, look for ways to go after their reduced life total. If they present an opportunity to race, and you’re confident you can control the board, it’s often worth it to aggressively attack their life total with burn spells or evasive creaturelands.
Grixis Shadow is sure to make its presence felt at PT Rivals of Ixalan. As one of the format’s most powerful, flexible, and interactive archetypes, this list will be a favorite for many of the pros that come to Spain to do battle. Expect to see some of the best players in the world contesting the tournament with this list, and expect to see others come ready to beat it!