After a weekend of abject failures in Modern at the StarCityGames Invitational, I knew that I had to go back to the drawing board for the other weekend’s pair of in-store invitationals. Between the Hairy Tarantula’s Final Challenge and Face to Face Games Toronto’s Ultimate Showdown, I had a ton of Modern to play for significant prizes, but absolutely no confidence in myself to do well at either event. I had played U/R Storm at the Invitational to middling results, losing back-to-back matches to miss Day 2 at both the main event and the Open. I dedicated a solid chunk of my post-event article to complaining about the variance inherent in Modern to a pretty sordid response from my friends. They were right: there’s very little point in whining about the perceived inadequacies of something you have to engage with to be competitive – unless you’re Brian Kibler, of course.
So I figured I was best-off backing up and looking back at my history with Modern, finding the kinds of strategies that I’ve had the most success playing. Every time I played a Thoughtseize deck at a Showdown, before the resurgence of Tron, of course, I would win the event outright. Back when Snapcaster Mage targeting Lightning Bolt was a format-defining play, I had great success with these interactive blue cards. So why wasn’t I just playing the tier-1 Snapcaster/Thoughtseize deck? I had literally made $10k with Grixis Shadow. Was I so traumatized by losing the finals of that Invitational that I was unwilling to register the powerful deck I had used? I was being ridiculous. It was time to go back to what I know best. Let’s take a look at the Shadow deck I played at the Ultimate Showdown to a Top4 finish, compare it with some of the decks from Sunday’s MODO PTQ, and come to a final list for the coming weeks.
Daniel Fournier, Grixis Death’s Shadow – Ultimate Showdown Top 8
There are a couple aggressive deckbuilding decisions in here, but otherwise my build here loosely follows the plan from my Invitational list. I’m focusing more on the Jund aspects of the deck, with extra discard and maindeck Lilianas rather than the card selection of additional cantrips or cheap removal like Lightning Bolts. I wanted to fit a maindeck Kolaghan’s Command to free up a sideboard slot, and with that many 3-drops in the main, I felt 18 lands with 12 cantrips wasn’t quite enough. I added a 19th land over the fourth Serum Visions from stock lists, allowing us to add additional powerful 3-drops to the sideboard.
In the end, I think I corrected too hard towards this Liliana plan, and ended up with a deck more likely to flood out than the stock lists. Access to card-selection in a long game is very powerful, as we saw when Yuuya decided to go down to 17 lands in his Standard Delver deck for more cantrips, revolutionizing how people built the deck. One of the problems I have with this in Modern is that it can be dangerous spending a bunch of time playing cantrips rather than interacting with your opponent. Furthermore, your lands are one of your most consistent means of getting Death’s Shadow online, and so cutting them will weaken the card.
Randomdrooler (Steve Mann), Grixis Death’s Shadow – MTGO PTQ – 1st
Steve Mann to the rescue. He piloted this list to win Sunday’s PTQ, and it does a bunch of very intelligent things to solve the 18 land problem that I was having. First, it cuts down the proactive 3-drops in the 75 to a more manageable 4, with most of them in the sideboard. This helps by further informing you as to how many land drops you need to hit with your Serum Visions. He also solves both my issues with mana efficiency and turning on Death’s Shadow by replacing the frequently-awkward Terminates with a pair of Dismembers, a card that’s consistently underappreciated in this archetype. I had always shied away from it due to its weakness against Burn and propensity to put you to an unacceptable life total, but that life total is significantly more of an asset with a pair of maindeck Temur Battle Rages.
Our sideboards are also extremely similar, and I certainly agree with the inclusion of Collective Brutality over the marginal cards in my last few sideboard slots. I’m not a fan of Izzet Staticaster, however, since Liliana, the Last Hope is a very similar card that’s also a total house against a lot of the fair matchups that can otherwise out-grind you.
Lickadonkey, Grixis Death’s Shadow – MTGO PTQ – 4th
Both other Shadow decks in the top 8 of this PTQ featured Opt as their cantrip of choice, here with a 3-1 split. I’m extremely confused as to why someone would do this. It’s not like the cards have significantly different applications in specific situations. They’re a core of your deck’s functionality, not bullets to hit. That’s also essentially why I significantly prefer Serum Visions as a cantrip in this deck. It’s more effective at setting up game plans and land drops, something that a deck that plans on going to two-life then casting a pump spell will do quite frequently. Grixis Shadow is a deck that spends most games spending a few turns setting up a particularly powerful sequence of plays that invariably results in your opponent being dead, while disrupting them from doing the same. Opt is a better reactive card, but this deck is absolutely terrible at being reactive.
I’m also not a fan of some of the sideboard cards. Three pieces of low-power graveyard hate seems awkward to me. If we wanted to commit our sideboard to defeating graveyard decks to that degree, a bunch of Leylines of the Void would serve as a much stronger hedge. If you want only one or two pieces, then Spellbomb is good, but Leyline just ends games when it’s your plan. This deck also crushes big mana decks by virtue of having one-mana double-striking 8/8s, so adding land destruction in the sideboard seems like a waste of space.
Daniel Fournier, Grixis Death’s Shadow
This is what I would register were I lucky enough to get to play Magic instead of, ugh, Christmas this weekend. I love a lot of the changes from Steve Mann’s deck, but ultimately prefer some more powerful sorcery-speed cards over the instants from his list. Liliana of the Veil is just such an all-star of disruption in a format full of linear decks, and I think the Dreadbore in the sideboard is a pretty significant upgrade to Terminate when it mostly comes in against decks that will have planeswalkers against you post-board.
Happy holidays to everyone – I’ll be escaping to Santa Clara in January for my next major event, where hopefully I’ll get to play this deck in the Modern seat. Unfortunately, there’s no Showdown this weekend, so I’ll be pretty hyped to play the Standard Showdown on New Year’s Eve. Will one of you be able to stop me from qualifying for the Ultimate Showdown on the first week of the new season? We’ll just have to wait and see!