Modern is great. The format has tons of viable decks and the games are fast-paced, exciting, and interactive. There are enough different decks that any player can find one that plays to their strengths and interests.
I like a wide range of decks but it’s no secret that “combo aggro” like Affinity is a big favorite of mine. It makes sense, then, that I naturally gravitated toward Death’s Shadow Aggo.
It is worth noting the flavor of the card is unreal. It’s a very well and thoughtfully designed card. It’s so cool I don’t even mind that it is busted in half!
Death’s Shadow is an unbelievably broken Magic card in the this shell. I know that I explicitly said that Mox Opal is more broken in Affinity than any other card in any other deck in Modern last week, but Death’s Shadow gives Opal a run for its money.
Basic Death’s Shadow Aggro
The deck has been putting up great numbers on MTGO and has had some recent success in large paper tournaments. In my preparation for Grand Prix Indianapolis, it was the deck that I spent the majority of my time and energy practicing with, tuning, and working on.
Here is the list that ended up being my runner-up choice for the tournament:
Death’s Shadow Aggro
I started with Brad Nelson’s list and played the deck through 3 local events. There were a lot of positives, and a few things that I didn’t like, and so I adjusted accordingly.
Steppe Lynx was universally terrible for me across a wide array of games, matches, and matchups. The only upside of the card was that it made finding the first 3 cards I wanted to sideboard out very, very easy…
To be fair, there are a lot of Jund and Jeskai decks in my area (which makes the card much worse) but I don’t want to ever put myself too far down the “soft to Jund” path if I can avoid it.
I was super impressed with the sideboard Tarmogoyfs and found I wanted them more often than I didn’t. Since, I was boarding out Lynx for ‘Goyf most of the time I just decided to cut the Lynx altogether for Tarmogoyfs.
I love the way that ‘Goyf is a creature that already has a pump spell cast on it for the purposes of casting Temur Battle Rage!
My ‘Gofys are almost always 5 or 6 power, which typically makes them lethal when paired up with a Mutagenic Growth.
My creatures are sufficiently big enough to rumble with pretty much any other creature in the format and so the key is to efficiently eliminate little cog creatures like mana dorks, infectors, or flyers equipped with Cranial Plating. I’m not nearly so worried about being beaten down by fatties as I am about getting raced by synergistic creature decks.
One thing I noted was that most of the creatures I was hitting with my Lightning Bolts would also have died to Tarfire, and so I decided to cash in and make the switch. The extra point of power and toughness on Tarmogoyf is a pretty big deal when paired up with Battle Rage.
Death’s Shadow Aggro with Basics?
I ended up not playing the deck because I was a little bit afraid of playing a deck that was trying to do so much damage to itself in a field where Burn and Affinity are real decks.
Trade life points for cards…
Trade life points for time until Upheaval and ‘Tog seal the deal…
Actively throw away your hit points as quickly as possible to make a gigantic Death’s Shadow…
Some things never change. Any deck that can use its life points as a resource to generate advantage is doing something right!
But I was noticing that there were some games where I had no choice but to throw away too many hit points and wasn’t able to win the game. In particular, there was one game that stuck out where I had the cards to win but just couldn’t get lands + spells deployed in time without taking too much damage from an opposing aggressive deck. If I would have had one basic land in my deck to fetch up untapped I would easily have won.
My teammate Stu Parnes turned me onto a new variant of the deck that still packs much of the explosiveness but also has a little bit better game against opposing fast aggro decks.
The deck can still throw away hit points with the best of them. Yet, it has the option to be a little bit more conservative and fetch basics in matchups where your life total is being pressured.
The deck also focuses heavily on delirium:
You give up Nacatl and gain Dryad. I’ve found the deck can consistently hit delirium on turn 2, which makes Dryad comparable. But there are some times where Dryad can be better. It shines on the draw against decks like Zoo and Burn because the deathtouch allows you to trade it off with bigger attackers like Nacatyl, Goblin Guide, or Kird Ape.
Traverse has impressed me. It can find a land early if you need one (which is real in a very land-light deck). The real upside is that it insulates your Death’s Shadow count and allows you to essentially play 8 copies. As far as raw power is concerned, the Shadow is your best card by a mile and being able to quickly find more copies is awesome!
All things considered, I think Death’s Shadow decks are very exciting and fun to play. The biggest drawback is that trying to micromanage your life total is tricky and takes some practice to get used to. Once you get past the initial strangeness of it all, the deck is rewarding and fun to play. There are few things more exciting in Modern than attacking for lethal with a gigantic, double strike, trampling monster!
I love the deck but I chickened out of actually playing it at the Grand Prix just because I felt I didn’t have the practice to play well enough to justify the choice. Yet, I’m going to continue to practice playing locally and online so that next time I’ll feel more comfortable pulling the trigger if the metagame feels ripe for “Blood Lust Berserk.dec.”