A round of Modern RPTQs just took place for Rivals of Ixalan, and there will be more in the near future, both live and online. I found myself with the opportunity to play in one for the first time in quite a while, and I jumped at it. After the dust settled, I found myself with a shiny invite to the Pro Tour in Bilbao, Spain.
I’ve kept in touch with Modern, feeling its pulse whenever a Grand Prix or Pro Tour showcased it. I wouldn’t call myself an expert compared to the top percentile of people who play it constantly, specializing in certain decks, but can say that I generally know what’s going on. My deck choice for the tournament was Grixis Death’s Shadow, of which there have been a number of quality articles written already. PV wrote one back in late August, and it’s worth a read. Check it out here.
Most of my preparation was from reading a few articles, looking at a lot of deck lists from premier events, and playing in a number of Leagues. While I won’t rehash everything that PV said in his article here, I will detail some of the additional points in gameplay that I noticed during my preparation for the tournament and the tournament itself, most of which relates to the mirror. There may even be a story.
Grixis Death’s Shadow
Modern: A diverse format, with no one deck dominating. There’s a core of fair midrange and control, some of which have combo finishes integrated to help go big and trump what the opponent is doing. Beyond that is a high number of fringe linear strategies that are effective when they catch the field unprepared, like Affinity, U/R Storm, Dredge, and Tron. It’s nearly impossible to be ready for everything. I expected a lot of Death’s Shadow, U/R Storm, Affinity, Eldrazi, and perhaps Scapeshift.
Street Wraith: You should cycle it immediately in most cases. You may draw discard, removal, or a creature that you would rather cast than the Thought Scour or Serum Visions you had initially planned to. Certain cases come up with Serum Visions where waiting to cycle a Street Wraith will allow you to play one of the spells that you scry into. You won’t necessarily have the mana to play another draw spell and the card from the scry that you want to cast.
- Delve creatures are important. They dodge Fatal Push and Inquisition of Kozilek and can pressure you into an awkward spot if the opponent is able to deal with your answers for them. If it is turn 1 or 2 and the opponent passes with a land untapped and you have the option to cast Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek, consider how you will be able to deal with them playing a Thought Scour followed by Tasigur or Gurmag Angler. Their seemingly slow start may actually result in a fairly quick clock, and the last thing you want to do is waste a turn resolving an Inquisition of Kozilek without being able to take their best play on the following turn.
- Liliana of the Veil is great. She kills a creature, potentially multiple, and sticks around afterward. Be mindful of Snapcaster Mage flashing in to foil your plans. Otherwise, she is tough to deal with unless the opponent has multiple creatures.
- Stubborn Denial: There isn’t a consensus on whether it’s good or not, and if so, how good. In the first three turns of the game, it’s not good at protecting your creatures because you’re often tapping out every turn to cast spells and can’t afford to hold up mana to protect something. But in games that progress into the mid- to late-game, Stubborn Denial is usually good and requires an additional discard, permission, or removal spell from the opponent. I would not side them out currently.
The most direct comparison to Stubborn Denial is a discard spell like Duress. They function similarly with the exception that the opponent has to spend mana on the card Stubborn Denial is interacting with, and that has value, especially if you can take advantage of trading up on mana. If I Duress my opponent and see 3 copies of All is Dust, I’ll take one and then attack with a Death’s Shadow for 7 only to have it killed on the following turn. That’s not nearly as effective as using Stubborn Denial to trade with their turn, getting another attack in, and potentially winning the game. There are advantages to playing Duress, but the discard overlaps so much that having a different angle of disruption makes it difficult to navigate a game effectively.
Kolaghan’s Command is expensive and doesn’t usually generate enough value for a 3-mana spell. Yes, there will be a game where you get back Tasigur and kill a Liliana, and that will be a cool story, but often it’s not as stellar. Raise Dead and the opponent discarding a card is usually the best you will get from it, and that’s not great for the cost. While getting back a Gurmag Angler seems like a good plan, the fact that people bring in graveyard hate cards like Nihil Spellbomb to disrupt Snapcaster Mage, Tasigur, and Gurmag Angler make it less reliable.
Temur Battle Rage is below average too. It’s difficult for a creature to stick considering the amount of removal/discard that the deck plays, and Temur Battle Rage doesn’t help against any of those spells.
Liliana, the Last Hope is decent. She doesn’t deal with any of the big creatures, but she can pick off Snapcaster Mages as well as Raise Dead a creature or two. Unless your hand is removal heavy, her ultimate is unlikely. At the RPTQ I was sideboarding -1 Temur Battle Rage, -1 Stubborn Denial; +1 Kolaghan’s Command, +1 Liliana, the Last Hope, but now I would play 2 Denial over 2 Command.
Death’s Shadow is a rewarding deck if you take the time to learn how to navigate it. There is a decent amount of play to the mirror and it has game against most decks if you know what you’re doing. If you’ve found a particularly good strategy in the mirror or against other decks, please discuss in the comments section below.
And now for a bit of bonus material—a bit of story time:
Everyone had just sat down for round 1, which was also doubling for the player meeting with pre-tournament announcements. There were 48 people in the tournament, which meant six rounds of Swiss, cut to Top 8, and Top 4 got invites to the Pro Tour. Simple enough, right? I noticed a distinct lack of an opponent, let the judges know, and after 10 minutes they issued a match loss. I’m 1-0. Great. While it wasn’t the traditional way to collect a match win, I didn’t really have a choice in the matter.
There were a high number of other people that didn’t have an opponent show up as well. Apparently there was lots of traffic on the freeway due to some accident, and perhaps that had delayed people that had pre-registered for the event from getting here on time—weird indeed.
Shortly thereafter it was discovered that those six missing people had been entered into the tournament on accident. They had signed up to play in the LCQ tournament the night before and weren’t supposed to be in this one. “Well, we’ve got ourselves a situation.” Luckily, the judges were pretty quick to correct the problem. Given that it was round 1, there was an easy solution: Pair everyone who had no-show opponents with each other. I had to play now. No big deal. I go on to lose game 3 in far from ideal fashion. Magus of the Moon beat me down and I didn’t have a second land after cycling 2 Street Wraiths and casting 2 Serum Visions. The 2 Kozilek’s Return that I had boarded in were burning a hole in my hand.
Additionally, a fun fact: The cutoff for four invites to the Pro Tour was 43 people. The adjusted number that we had at the tournament: 42.
So in the blink of an eye I went from 1-0 only needing to win three more rounds, double-draw into the Top 8, followed by a single match playoff, to being 0-1, needing to win four rounds, hopefully draw, and then win two more rounds. Yes, you could call that a bit of a swing.