The Ultimate Death’s Shadow Primer and Tournament Report

By Star City Games Regional Champion Matt Simpson

Temur Battle Rage is a messed up magic card.

I took a 5 Color Shadow list to Starcity Games regionals in my backyard in Columbia, MO, and ran hotter than the sun just long enough to win my finals match. This is the story of how I did that. It starts with talking about Grixis Shadow and how I went from playing that to playing 5 Color Shadow. If you just want a decklist and a tournament report, just ctrl + f for “soliloquy,” but if you want to hear about why I think 5 Color Shadow is almost certainly a better choice than Grixis Shadow, keep reading.

 

I started playing Grixis Shadow in modern the moment Michael Majors sketched a list and showed it to the world. The deck is very strong, but the ensuing months exposed a few exploitable weaknesses: 1) It’s relatively threat light. Sometimes you get paired against Tron and the only creatures you draw are Snapcaster Mage and Street Wraith, and so you die. 2) The delve creatures are slow and awkward at times. A well timed discard spell or remand can leave you threatless for several turns while your opponent sculpts their hand or commits more to the board. 3) The mana is easily disrupted. Blood Moon, Spreading Seas, Ghost Quarter, you name it. These all can cause major problems. 4) The deck has a lot of air that costs mana. Often you have to spend your first 2 turns casting Serum Visions and Thought Scour just to set up your game plan, or sometimes even Opt for you psychos who want even fewer lands and more air. The card selection does win you games vs. stuff like Jund. But you also lose games when you have to let your opponent set up a strong board position before you can interact. Turbo Xerox is a fundamentally flawed archetype in a format like modern where so much of the action is compressed to the first few turns of the game. It works well despite in legacy because you have access so many free spells, but in modern we don’t have the luxury of Force of Will or Daze, or even Gitaxian Probe anymore.

 

The format fundamentally shifted to exploit these weaknesses. The spikes put away their pet decks and bought a good book to read while they were playing Valakut, and Valakut absolutely punishes you for not finding that early threat. The format backed off of fatal push a bit so it could kill delve creatures, removing one of their main advantages. There was a burst of mana denial decks, though it turned out most of them were bad and were subsequently shelved despite preying on the presumed best deck (I’m looking at you Ponza), but more decks have incidental mana denial elements now. And more people are playing decks that aim to exploit the dead turns that Grixis Shadow sometimes has in the early portion of the game. Especially go-wide decks like Elves and Humans, which are already naturally strong vs. all sorts of shadow decks.

 

Enter 5 Color Shadow, AKA Jund Shadow with splashes. While most people switched from Jund to Grixis Shadow, a few visionaries such as Magnus Lantto and Clay Spicklemire have consistently advocated for Tarmogoyf + Traverse the Ulvenwald paired with Death’s Shadow, and you can learn a lot by reading what they’ve written. Magnus only writes an article when he has something to say, so you can easily read everything he’s written about the card Death’s Shadow in an afternoon – and it’s well worth it if you want to pick up the deck.

 

I did just this, and also lured Columbia, MO expat and current Nashville, TN resident Jon Anderson into picking up the deck again so I could argue with him about sideboard plans and flex slots. He was on various Jund Shadow + splashes builds during most of the time I was on Grixis, so his experience would prove invaluable. The last two times Jon and I were playing the same modern deck, a banning killed it, so you know it has to be good. (RIP Twin, but Probe had it coming) Along the way, we convinced fellow Columbia magician and legacy virtuoso Grant Paris to pick up the deck because, and I’m paraphrasing Grant here, %$&@ Tron.

 

So why play 5 Color Shadow instead of Grixis? Let me reiterate: Temur Battle Rage is a messed up magic card. It gets you out of situations that no other card can. It turns your deck into something closer to the old Grixis Twin lists than the Jund Midrange decks it kind of looks like. You can play Battle Rage in Grixis Shadow, but it’s only medium there. Every time you find yourself beating down Tron with a Snapcaster Mage while you’re holding a Temur Battle Rage in your hand, you start questioning your life choices. Even when you have a legitimate threat, sometimes it’s only a 4/5, which is approximately 10% the size of a 5/6 or 6/7 when you’re racing, and you also only have about half as many Death’s Shadows as the 5 color build. Which brings us to the other two main reasons to play 5 Color over Grixis: Tarmogoyf and Traverse the Ulvenwald.

 

Did you know that you can just play a 4/5 on turn 2 without jumping through any hoops? Sure, it might only be a 2/3 initially, but it’ll be a 4/5 in a turn or two. And it usually becomes a 5/6 and sometimes even a 6/7. You can also just play a second one on turn 3, no questions asked. Tarmogoyf is miles better than the delve creatures under most circumstances. The main exceptions are when your opponent has a pile of Fatal Pushes and Abrupt Decays, and vs. Rest in Peace. The various midrange Death’s Shadow decks are fundamentally tempo decks that try to convert discard spells into tempo by exploiting a hole in the opponent’s hand with a giant fatty. You can’t exploit a hole if you don’t have a fatty.

 

The other main major difference between the two decks is Snapcaster Mage vs. Traverse the Ulvenwald. Snapcaster Mage is not a threat, at least not unless you can reliably flash back Lightning Bolt with it. But Grixis Shadow can only afford to play 1 or 2 bolts, so Snapcaster is usually just a glorified Goblin Piker when you need to beat down. Traverse the Ulvenwald is sometimes a slow threat, but a 5/6 or an 8/8 coming down in a couple turns is better than a 2/1 coming down now. Especially when you have Temur Battle Rage in your deck. Have I mentioned how messed up this card is? Both are susceptible to graveyard hate, so on that front it’s close to a wash.

 

Let’s get back to the exploitable issues of Grixis Shadow. Traverse solves the threat density problem. Goyf solves the awkward threats problem. Outside of occasionally Traversing for a land, the cantrips are free so you’re free to spend mana on your early turns interacting or playing threats while also smoothing out your draws with cantrips, solving the Turbo Xerox problem. And the manabase? Well, everything comes at a cost. But it’s surprisingly not that costly once you learn to manage your fetchlands. It’s easy to get your threats down before a Blood Moon, then TBR kills them. You also still have 8 discard spells to take away the mana denial elements from their hand, allowing you to cast most of your spells before they find another one. Many of the mana denial decks are just bad too – Ponza seems like it should prey on a 4-5 color mana base, but between discard spells and countermagic to disrupt them, and Temur Battle Rage to close, the matchup feels pretty easy. The real scary decks have a fundamentally sound plan A and just use a bit of mana denial to disrupt you. Blood Moon out of U/R Breach. Spreading Seas out of U/W Control. Ghost Quarter out of G/W Company. I’m also not sure how you ever beat a deck featuring both Leonin Arbiter and Ghost Quarter, but Master Magnus say’s it’s a good matchup so I’ll just defer to him.

 

So why play Grixis Shadow at all? The conventional wisdom is that Grixis Shadow is better at grinding than Jund/5-Color Shadow, which gives it an advantage in the pseudo-mirrors and better matchups vs. midrange and control decks. The conventional wisdom is wrong. Grixis Shadow is better in these matchups than particular builds of 5 Color Shadow, but you can build 5 Color Shadow to do anything you want. Want to tempo them out by protecting your threats and countering important things? We used to think that only Grixis Shadow could do that, but then Clay Spicklemire showed us you could just splash blue in your fetchland + shockland + Traverse manabase for Stubborn Denial and SB cards. You think Grixis is better at grinding? Did you know that 5 Color could just maindeck Lingering Souls? How does Grixis ever beat that card? Better hope you draw your one Liliana, the Last Hope. And that I don’t draw an Abrupt Decay.  5 Color Shadow is a 5 color deck. The world is your oyster. Just play the best cards for the metagame you expect, and it’s hard to go wrong.

 

I won’t go so far as to say that 5 Color Shadow is strictly better than Grixis Shadow. There are two main advantages that Grixis has over 5 Color – resistance to Fatal Push and Abrupt Decay, and better against mana denial. If the format is loaded with Blood Moons, Grixis or maybe some other three color build is the better bet. If the format is loaded with Fatal Pushes and Abrupt Decays, delve creatures might as well have hexproof. But under most circumstances, if you think Grixis is the better build, I recommend thinking about how you might build 5 Color Shadow to accomplish the same goals. On the other hand, there’s probably a lot of space to experiment with adding colors to Grixis Shadow. Or adding Snapcaster Mage to 5 Color Shadow. At some point the decks just blend into each other and it’s not clear where to draw the line between the two. Both decks do have trouble with dedicated graveyard hate, so if the format is loaded with Rest in Peace, it’s probably time to juke and just Valakut or Affinity them. This is the secret vulnerability of the modern format: if you find a legit threat to pair with Death’s Shadow that does not depend on the graveyard, you probably just broke the format. No, it’s not Delver of Secrets. I said legit threat.

 

Ok, my soliloquy on Grixis vs. 5 Color Shadow is finished. Time to show my list, talk about some specific card choices, and get to how the tournament went.

 

4 Verdant Catacombs

4 Polluted Delta

4 Bloodstained Mire

2 Overgrown Tomb

1 Blood Crypt

1 Stomping Ground

1 Watery Grave

1 Swamp

 

4 Mishra’s Bauble

4 Street Wraith

 

4 Death’s Shadow

4 Tarmogoyf

4 Traverse the Ulvenwald

 

4 Thoughtseize

4 Inquisition of Kozilek

2 Stubborn Denial

2 Temur Battle Rage

 

3 Fatal Push

2 Abrupt Decay

2 Terminate

3 Liliana of the Veil

 

Sideboard:

 

1 Godless Shrine

3 Lingering Souls

1 Ranger of Eos

1 Stubborn Denial

2 Disdainful Stroke

1 Izzet Staticaster

1 Kozilek’s Return

1 Liliana, the Last Hope

2 Collective Brutality

2 Ancient Grudge

 

I started with Magnus Lantto’s MOCS list from August and tweaked a bit. The big debate for 5 Color Shadow right now is whether to play Temur Battle Rage MD or in the SB or not at all. Clay Spicklemire and Chris Anderson both have argued for not playing it all, and have been successful, but all of the recent lists I’ve seen from Magnus have 2 MD. I have to side with Magnus. The argument in favor of cutting TBR is that you get to play a third Stubborn Denial MD and you have another slot for a piece of removal or other interaction, and both of these things function similarly to TBR – instead of shaving turns of your clock, they add turns to your opponent’s clock.

 

This is often true, but not often enough. Stubborn Denial doesn’t force lethal damage through a mass of elves, or merfolk, or zombies and illusions. Temur Battle Rage does. Stubborn Denial doesn’t counter Primeval Titan or Wurmcoil Engine. Temur Battle Rage does. Your spells are countered when you’re dead. It’s in the rules, look it up. Stubborn Denial counters one burn spell. Temur Battle Rage counters all the burn spells in their hand that they couldn’t cast before they died. The difference is often tremendous. Never leave home without Temur Battle Rage. The card is messed up. The main exception is if you expect to play against a lot of midrange or control decks. TBR is pretty bad there, but honestly in that sort of metagame you should probably put serious consideration into playing something like Valakut instead to punish them for their life choices. This is the main disagreement I had with my buddy Jon, who was probably seduced by Clay Spicklemire and his glorious hair. But I’ve done my best to lure him to the Temur side.

 

The other question mark is Stomping Ground vs. Breeding Pool. The recent Clay Spicklemire / Chris Anderson list without TBR runs Breeding Pool, and I think that makes sense, especially with the extra MD blue card and often more in the SB too. If you’re MDing TBR, it’s not so clear. You can find a list from Magnus that 5-0ed a league with 2 TBR MD, but Breeding Pool over Stomping Ground. It’s not clear whether he was just trying it or if he thinks it’s the best land, but I’ve found the Stomping Ground to be better – it’s often awkward to have a land that cannot cast Terminate, and when you have TBR too the second red source becomes even more important.

 

Other than that, this list is mostly experimenting with some flex slots. There are a lot of Liliana of the Veil because the card has impressed me both in this shell and in Grixis. Magnus’s MOCS list had 1 LotV and 1 Liliana Last Hope, but he mentioned on Twitter that a second LotV seemed good, and I never looked back. I think Jon was the one who suggested cutting the Last Hope for a third of the Veil. In the SB, there’s a lot of flexibility to try things. Basically nothing there is a sacred cow, though I can’t imagine not having Lingering Souls – it just blows open grindy matchups. The Ranger of Eos is somewhat clunky, but you need a strong traverse target in grindy matchups.

 

No graveyard hate in the 75 is a conscious decision. I wasn’t expecting much dredge, and TBR is graveyard hate anyway. You can’t dredge if you’re dead. The second Grudge and the Staticaster are two other spots that are pretty up in the air. But given the ascendance of Storm and that their postboard plan is to quickly empty for a modest amount, I like having access to Traverse for Staticaster. But be careful when fetching so that Stomping Ground doesn’t represent your only green source and your only red source so that you can Traverse for Staticaster and play it in the same turn.

 

I’ve already had people asking me if I would change anything about the list and the answer is, I don’t know. But there are plenty of slots I think are worth experimenting with. 3 Liliana of the Veil MD is a lot, and I’ll probably try shaving one for another Stub or a removal spell. I didn’t get a chance to test alternatives to Ranger, and there are some other sweet Traverse targets to try. Hazoret, the Fervent is one idea, but at the top of my list is my favorite underplayed Grixis Shadow SB card: Pia & Kiran Nalaar. If you insist on playing Grixis, jam two of these in your SB and throw those Young Pyromancers in the trash. The main reason I want to try P&K is that I often find myself wanting to Traverse for Lingering Souls in grindy matchups. Plus using Liliana, the Last Hope to rebuy just sounds like a fun thing to do.

 

The 2nd Grudge could be something else, and once you add Stub #3 to the MD, you start to question the other one sitting in the SB – it could be another Disdainful Stroke, or perhaps a Ceremonious Rejection or a Flashfreeze. Jon wants to try cutting one of the Overgrown Tombs for a Breeding Pool, which would give you more blue mana for those MD Stubs without hurting your access to red mana (and he wants 3 Stubs), but it’s awkward sometimes with Liliana and in turns where you want to cast two black spells. Casting 3 black spells in one turn also comes up fairly often. But given how much blue is creeping into the deck, it might be necessary.

 

You could make bigger changes than this too, but I’m not sure where to go with that. I am sure that I want to keep 2 TBR in the MD though. I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but that card is good. Gerry Thompson talked in his podcast about trying a build with a MD Hazoret or two as a Traverse target, but also as a another way to enable Stubborn Denial and TBR, fight grindy decks that can’t deal with it, and worry less about GY hate. It’s interesting, but it’s probably a slightly different shell that requires more work than just tweaking this one. The same goes for more radical proposals like adding green to Grixis for Tarmogoyf and Traverse, or adding Snapcaster Mage to the 5 color shell. Aren’t these just the same thing? Maybe.

 

As far as a SB guide, I’ll just copy the one I had in my google doc when Jon, Grant, and I were arguing about the deck, updated to reflect what I learned playing in regionals. Take these plans with a grain of salt – I don’t have anywhere near enough experience with 5 Color Shadow against most of these decks to be certain about these plans. Think of them as guidelines, and feel free to deviate if you think something doesn’t make sense, or just to try things. And if I don’t mention a matchup, I probably haven’t thought enough about it to write down a specific plan. Or at least Grant never asked me about it. In no particular order:

 

Burn:

 

Out: 2 Street Wraith, 2 Thoughtseize

 

In: 1 Stubborn Denial, 2 Collective Brutality, 1 Kozilek’s Return

 

2 Wraiths stay in to fuel delirium, but in an ideal world you would cut all 8 Thoughtseize + Wraith. If for some reason you expect a lot of burn, find room for more relevant SB cards.


BGx/Shadow Midrange:

 

Out: 2 Stubborn Denial, 1 Watery Grave, 2 Temur Battle Rage, 1 discard spell / Street Wraith

 

In: 3 Lingering Souls, 1 Ranger of Eos, 1 Godless Shrine, 1 Liliana, the Last Hope

 

Optional: +1 Staticaster, -1 discard spell / Street Wraith (and don’t cut Watery Grave)

 

Against Death’s Shadow decks, cut a Street Wraith. Against Jund, cut a Thoughtseize, and against Abzan, cut an Inquisition of Kozilek. You can always cut more discard against the normal midrange decks, but against Shadow decks you want to keep all or most of it in. This category includes Grixis Shadow as well as the green based Shadow decks.

Valakut:

 

Out: 3 Fatal Push, 2 Abrupt Decay

 

In: 1 Stubborn Denial, 2 Disdainful Stroke, 2 Collective Brutality

 

Optional: keep Decays in over Brutalities for Chalice of the Void

 

Eldrazi Tron:

 

Out: 4 Inquisition of Kozilek, 1 Land (Overgrown Tomb? Polluted Delta?)

 

In: 1 Stubborn Denial, 2 Disdainful Stroke, 2 Ancient Grudge

 

I’m not sure which land should be cut and am not very confident in this plan yet – I cribbed it from a Magnus Lantto article and made some changes to reflect my 75, and don’t have much experience with it. But the basic idea makes sense to me.


Other Tron:

 

Out: 3 Fatal Push, 2 Abrupt Decay

 

In: 1 Stubborn Denial, 2 Disdainful Stroke, 2 Ancient Grudge

 

The land destruction is generally too slow and clunky vs Tron and all the other big mana decks. Use discard spells + countermagic to disrupt them and get a threat going fast.

 

Small Collected Company decks (e.g. Counters Company or Elves):

 

Out: 3 Liliana of the Veil, 1 Fatal Push, 1 Abrupt Decay

 

In: 1 Kozilek’s Return, 1 Liliana the Last Hope, 1 Izzet Staticaster, 2 Collective Brutality

 

I’m not sure if that’s the right mix of spot removal spells to cut, or even if it would be better to shave one or more discard spells instead. Against Elves, shaving Thoughtseize instead is definitely better.

 

Big Collected Company decks (e.g. Bant Company with Knight of the Reliquary):

 

Out: 2 Temur Battle Rage, 1 Blood Crypt, 3 Liliana of the Veil, 1 Inquisition of Kozilek

 

In: 1 Kozilek’s Return, 1 Izzet Staticaster, 1 Liliana, the Last Hope, 3 Lingering Souls, 1 Godless Shrine

 

I’m not sure if going full 5 color is correct here, but the Lingering Souls seem pretty good given how grindy this can become. Cutting TBR might also be a mistake even if the matchup is more about the grind than killing them before they put together a combo – definitely more testing needed.

 

Affinity:

 

Out: 2 Stubborn Denial, 4 Thoughtseize, 3 Liliana of the Veil, 1 Street Wraith, 1 Blood Crypt

 

In: 3 Lingering Souls, 2 Ancient Grudge, 1 Izzet Staticaster, 1 Kozilek’s Return, 1 Liliana, the Last Hope, 2 Collective Brutality, 1 Godless Shrine

 

I do think being 5 color is good here – the payoff for both Izzet Staticaster and Lingering Souls is very high.

 

Merfolk:

 

Out: 2 Stubborn Denial, 1 Street Wraith, 1 Watery Grave

 

In: 2 Collective Brutality, 1 Kozilek’s Return, 1 Godless Shrine

 

If you decide you want blue mana for something post-board, I’m very skeptical. This is a hidden cost of having 2 blue lands MD, though it’s a small one.


Storm:

 

Out: 2 Abrupt Decay, 2 Terminate, 3 Fatal Push

 

In: 1 Stubborn Denial, 1 Izzet Staticaster, 2 Collective Brutality, 1 Kozilek’s Return, 2 Disdainful Stroke

 

Your plan A is great against them, so the best Storm players side out the enabler creatures and try to set up a medium sized Empty the Warrens against you. This SB plan reflects that. If they keep creatures in, keep more of the removal in. If they have fetchlands in their deck, they likely have Blood Moon in the 75, so keep Decays in.

 

Uxy Control/Tempo:

 

Out: 2 Temur Battle Rage, 1 Blood Crypt, 3 removal spells

 

In: 3 Lingering Souls, 1 Ranger of Eos, 1 Godless Shrine, 1 Liliana, the Last Hope

 

Think about their exact deck to figure out how to SB. Against the more creature heavy tempo builds, with e.g. Spell Quellers, it’s probably better to keep most or all of the removal spells in and instead shave Stubborn Denial (and make the corresponding change in the mana base). Against these sorts of decks with white, keep Decay in because of Rest in Peace and also Gideon of the Trials in UW.

 

Dredge:

 

Out: 3 Liliana of the Veil, 2 Fatal Push

 

In: 1 Kozilek’s Return, 1 Izzet Staticaster, 1 Stubborn Denial, 2 Disdainful Stroke

 

Loading up on countermagic isn’t anywhere near as good as having actual graveyard hate, but countering their enablers helps, and you also want to have answers to Conflagrate.

 

Ad Nauseum:

 

Out: 3 Fatal Push, 2 Terminate

 

In: 2 Collective Brutality, 2 Disdainful Stroke, 1 Stubborn Denial

 

They typically bring in some haymaker creature postboard. Liliana of the Veil is sometimes insurance against it, sometimes not, plus they have Leyline of Sanctity postboard to shut off that option. Terminate is also sometimes insurance, but until you’re sure it kills whatever they’re bringing in, I’d leave it on the sidelines.

 

My LGS, Magelings, ran a Nerd Rage Games qualifier two weeks before regionals. so I got to give the deck a dry run with the same 75 I have listed above. I started running hot the moment I got the round 1 bye for this event. I ended up 3-0-2 in the swiss, but let’s be real. I went 2-0-2. I didn’t lose until the finals vs. Elves, beating Jund Midrange, Esper Shadow, the same Esper Shadow player again, and Burn. So far, so good. I experimented with a few slots during the two weeks before regionals, but ultimately decided to run back the same 75.

 

Magelings was also running regionals, though they held it in the local KC hall instead of their store. The venue was great – plenty of space, Magelings and Cardhoarder both were vending, and plenty of judges. I did hear that the Ks of C forgot to turn on the wifi, but one judge valiantly sacrificed her mobile data for the month so they could use Wizards Event Reporter, and the tournament went off without a hitch.

 

Onto the matches! I’ve reconstructed these as best as I can from memory and my notes, but I probably forgot something important somewhere.

 

Round 1 vs. ?? playing Dredge

 

I lose the die roll and keep a very medium hand of Goyf, Shadow, TBR, and four lands. My opponent leads on Blackcleave Cliffs into Wooded Foothills, but otherwise does nothing. I draw more lands and play the Goyf on turn two, crossing my fingers that he doesn’t get bolted. He taps his Cliffs and… Darkblasts it. Suddenly my hand is looking pretty good. He later Conflagarates the Goyf, but ultimately Shadow + TBR are faster than a bunch of shambling zombies.

 

Out: 3 Liliana of the Veil, 1 Blood Crypt, 3 Fatal Push

 

In: 1 Stubborn Denial, 3 Lingering Souls, 1 Godless Shrine, 1 Izzet Staticaster, 1 Kozilek’s Return

 

The plan is to basically stall for as long as possible to find a TBR and close the deal. This game I have a double Goyf draw and even find the TBR, but never push through enough damage for the TBR to be threatening. Eventually his battlefield becomes too large, and I succumb.

 

Out: 3 Lingering Souls, 1 Godless Shrine

 

In: 1 Blood Crypt, 2 Disdainful Stroke 1 Fatal Push

 

During game 2 I realized that Disdainful Stroke counters Conflagarate. I originally got the Souls plan from an old Magnus Lantto SB guide from a version of the deck that did not have Stroke in the 75, and he admitted that it wasn’t great, just better than the alternatives given the decklist. I think this is a little better, since it gives you plenty of insurance against Conflagrate when you try to make a large Shadow and race. Game 3 I have a hand with a Goyf and two Stubs, and begin munching on his life total. He gets an early Bloodghast, and then later puts a pile of Prized Amalgams in his GY, but has no way to get them back. He Darkblasts his Bloodghast and… I let it resolve. With 2 Stubborn Denials in hand. Not a good idea. He plays a land, gets the Amalgams going, and makes it difficult to simultaneously attack his life total and not die. I add a Shadow to the board and find a TBR, but it’s still a tough spot. On the crucial turn he only leaves back one blocker, so when I attack, Goyf gets through and TBR pushes the Shadow through the chump blocker for lethal. Had he left something back to chump Goyf too, I was dead.

 

Matches: 1-0

Punts: 1

Punished by punts: 0

 

Round 2 vs. Anthony playing Burn

 

I recognize my opponent from my first PTQ 6 or so years ago at The Fantasy Shop in St. Charles, MO, where he was playing burn with Goblin Guide in Standard. I briefly think that’s what he might be playing now, but put it out of mind because it’s been so long. I’m on the play and keep a hand with a Shadow while my opponent mulligans to 6. I have the turn 1 IoK and sure enough, he’s on burn. I take a Goblin Guide and leave him with a Monastery Swiftspear, a Searing Blaze, and a couple burn spells. I don’t have any removal, but I draw both Stubborn Denials to keep things in check and get the Shadow into play. He draws several creatures, making it very close, but I find a spot where I can aggressively cycle a street wraith to try to kill him, and hold up the last Stub for his burn spells. He has 4 lands in play, including a fetchland, and 3 cards in hand, including the Searing Blaze I saw in his opener. He has to have exactly 2 Lightning Bolts as his last two cards to kill me, or maybe a Shard Volley, and he already has a Bolt in his GY. So I go for it. He only has one bolt and he dies.

 

Out: 2 Thoughtseize, 2 Street Wraith

 

In: 2 Collective Brutality, 1 Stubborn Denial, 1 Kozilek’s Return

 

Game 2 is more difficult since he has Goblin Guide into Goblin Guide on the play. I get a Goyf and a Shadow into play quickly and find a TBR + Stub, but I’m at 4 and he has two cards in hand. He’s at 14 with no blockers back, so my attack is lethal without TBR, but if he has a way to stay alive I’m very dead on the crack back. My spidey senses tell me he has either Path or Deflecting Palm in hand. I attack for lethal and he attempts to Helix my Goyf to stay alive, which  prompts me to TBR with Stub backup and him to offer the handshake. We chat a bit after the match and I ask him if he was the burn player I remember. He doesn’t remember me, but we’re pretty sure it was him given what I remember, and we talk about burn and joke around a bit. I decide not to remind him that I ranched him 6 years ago too.

 

This is one of the matchups where 5 Color is significantly better than Grixis Shadow. You don’t have to jump through hoops to play Goyf like you do with delve creatures, you don’t have to waste your mana cantripping, you have Traverse to find Shadow instead of Snapcaster Mage to hopefully flash back something relevant and hopefully not get Searing Blazed, and Temur Battle Rage is almost always a game winner. With two skilled pilots, Grixis felt like it had about a 40/60 matchup vs. burn depending on SB and flex slots, but with this build of 5 Color it’s got to be 50/50 or better, maybe 60/40.

 

Matches: 2-0

Punts: 1

Punished by punts: 0

 

Round 3 vs. Derek playing Grixis Shadow

 

Game 1 I keep a very nuts and bolts discard spell into Goyf hand on the play. I cast IoK and see a 1 land hand with Serum Visions, Thoughtseize, Snapcaster Mage, Tasigur, Shadow, and Terminate. I agonize over what to take and eventually land on Snapcaster. I really wanted to pick Serum Visions, but then he’s locked into casting Thoughtseize on turn 1 and taking my only threat, so I’m going to have trouble taking advantage if he misses land drops. He finds land and I find mostly irrelevant stuff, then Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan’s Command bury me.

 

Out: -2 Temur Battle Rage, -2 Stubborn Denial, -1 Watery Grave, -1 Street Wraith

 

In: +3 Lingering Souls, +1 Ranger of Eos, +1 Liliana the Last Hope, +1 Godless Shrine

 

This matchup hinges pretty heavily on Lingering Souls. They have a real hard time beating it, but otherwise we have a real hard time beating Snapcaster. Drawing more planeswalkers than them can make up for not drawing Lingering Souls though.

 

I have a creature heavy start with T2 Goyf, T3 Goyf, T4 empty my hand to play 3 Death’s Shadows, but do not draw any interaction. On his turn 4 he plays 2 Death’s Shadows and passes. On my turn I draw a fetchland and tank. I’m at 11 and he’s at 9 and my Goyfs are 4/5s. I have 2 fetchlands in play so Shadow + any threat is lethal if I want it to be, but he has 5 or so cards in hand. I need to convert my massive board advantage into card advantage to be able to win the game, but my attacks aren’t great. If I swing with the team, he can block Shadows with Shadows, take 8 from the Goyfs, then he just needs a single removal spell for the 3rd Shadow to go to 1 and kill me on the crack back. Yes, the Death’s Shadows will bounce off each other here. State based effects and Death’s Shadow. Fun. Attacking with 3 Shadows is the same because he can take the hit from the unblocked Shadow, use his removal spell on a Tarmogoyf, then kill me on the crack back. Attacking with two Shadows isn’t great either, since he can just take it unless I crack a fetch, but then a removal spell leaves me with one less Shadow and him with much larger Shadows. Not attacking at all also looks bad since his hand is presumably filled with terrible terrible things for me. I attack with two Shadows, he doesn’t block, I don’t crack, then he Pushes the 3rd Shadow EOT, and forces me to chump block with both Goyfs. Snap + Push at the end of my next turn seals it. I’m not sure what the right line here is or even if I played my chosen line correctly, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t beating his hand ever. He showed me a Liliana of the Veil from his hand after the matche ended. Never in a million years. He was a nice guy though, and we had a good talk about matchups and SB cards for various Shadow builds after the match. At the end of the swiss I ran into him, and he finished 6-2, good for T16. Congrats!

 

Matches: 2-1

Punts: 1. Or 2. Not sure. I’ll just go with 1.

Punished by punts: 0

 

Round 4 vs. ?? playing Affinity

 

Game 1 he gets Signal Pest + double Vault Skirge + Blinkmoth going, and while i manage to pick off the Pest, I have no other removal. I have a 5/6 Tarmogoyf in play and a TBR in hand, but chump blocks and Vault Skirges have him at 24 life, and I’m at 4 while he still has the three 1/1 fliers in play and nothing else relevant. I play a Death’s Shadow and pass, pretty sure that I’m dead. He topdecks an Arcbound Ravager and plays it. I still have no removal in my hand, so he can sacrifice it to put a counter on any of his 3 evasive creatures, and I’m dead. But I have a few cards in hand and open mana, so he wisely plays around a removal spell, puts me to 1 and him to 26, leaving back Ravager as his only blocker. On my turn I draw Terminate, but I only have one red source, so I can’t cast both Terminate and Temur Battle Rage this turn. I can’t win by not attacking though, so I send in Goyf + Shadow. If he blocks Tarmogoyf, I’m dead. He’s at 26, and TBR + Shadow represents 24 damage, while TBR on Tarmogoyf represents at most 22 damage. If he blocks Shadow, I’m dead. He has plenty of artifacts to sacrifice in order to soak up damage, while still leaving two lethal threats for the crack back. Instead… he chooses not to block. He felt pretty safe at 26 life I guess, but 12 + 12 + 5 = 29. I’m not sure if you are aware, but Temur Battle Rage is a messed up magic card.

 

Out: 4 Thoughtseize, 3 Liliana of the Veil, 2 Stubborn Denial, 1 Blood Crypt, 1 Street Wraith

 

In: 1 Izzet Staticaster, 1 Kozilek’s Return, 2 Ancient Grudge, 1 Liliana the Last Hope, 3 Lingering Souls, 1 Godless Shrine, 2 Collective Brutality

 

The plan postboard is to play like a legitimate control deck, and to try not to die to Etched Champion. But you can also just randomly cheese them with TBR + a big dude. You’re basically Grixis Splinter Twin against them. This is one of the few matchups where you are truly 5 colors in any given game since both Lingering Souls and Izzet Staticaster are fantastic.

 

I keep a hand with several pieces of spot removal and Tarmogoyf. He manages to stick some pesky fliers, but I kill or force him to discard all of the real threats, and I’m setting up for Traverse for Izzet Staticaster to lock it up. He rips Cranial Plating and gets a massive hit in with Vault Skirge while I’m tapped out. I’m still in an ok spot though, because removal into removal into Staticaster should be good, and a topdeck Decay or Grudge at any time makes it a lot easier. But he topdecks Rest in Peace next and there’s nothing I can do.

 

Game 3 I keep a hand with Liliana the Last Hope, Kozilek’s Return, 2 land, some removal, and a Traverse. I Traverse turn 1 for the basic swamp to set up my hand, and on turn 3 Liliana starts going to town on his army of 1/1s + Ornithopter. He plays more 1/1s into the board, and when I topdeck an IoK I see why: he has only inkmoth + springleaf drum in play to generate mana, and double Etched Champion in hand along with a Steel Overseer. He just wants to make sure he can cast Champion when he finds mana source number 3. I take one of the Champions and pass. He rips the land and slams the leftover Champion, which just gets blown out by an EOT Kozilek’s Return, leaving him with Inkmoth, land, and drum in play. On his next turn, he tries to attack Liliana with his Inkmoth, but I have a Fatal Push. He concedes before I am able to ultimate Liliana.

 

Matches: 3-1

Punts: 1

Punished by punts: 0

 

Round 5 vs. Oren playing UW Merfolk

 

I don’t remember my opener, but I play a purely defensive game outside of a Goyf hit putting him from 20 to 17, and just try to control his board while setting up Shadow + TBR. It’s tough because discard spells keep revealing that he has stuff like Harbinger of the Tides, so I do my best to keep my life total high and bait him into using these cards in unimportant spots. Finally I get to a spot where I’m at 7, have the Shadow in play and TBR in hand, and he has a Silvergill Adept back to block, 4 lands, 3 of them untaped, a tapped Aether Vial on 3, and a couple of unknown cards in hand. Harbinger can’t stop me now, so he has to have something like Echoing Truth. I decide to go for it. I play a shockland and attack. He blocks, I crack a fetchland to go to 2, then TBR. He doesn’t have it and dies.

 

Out: -1 Watery Grave, -2 Stubborn Denial, -1 Street Wraith

 

In: +1 Kozilek’s Return, +2 Collective Brutality, +1 Godless Shrine

 

Do. Not. Leave. Blue. Mana. Sources. In. Vs. The. Islandwalk. Deck. I considered sideboarding Izzet Staticaster in anyway since I’ll probably get Spreading Seased at some point, but decided against it. I’m on the back foot again the entire time game 2, and stuff like Echoing Truth keeps keeping me from establishing a board presence and clocking him. Eventually he gets a couple lords in play and makes a big swing that kills me if I have nothing, which is exactly what I have, and I die with him still at 20 life.

 

Game 3 I keep a hand with Kozilek’s Return, Liliana of the Veil, and some other action. I get into a pretty good spot with Liliana in play and K Return in my hand whilehe doesn’t have much of a board. I already have a Blood Crypt in play for the K Return too. I have Bloodstained Mire, TBR, and Death’s Shadow  in hand to go along with my K Return. I plus Lily and discard the Mire, which was a huge mistake. Basically the only way I’m losing the game here is via Spreading Seas on my lone red source if I discard the Mire. Guess what he has next turn? I should have done nothing, or maybe played and cracked the Mire to get Shadow into play. He assembles a board of lord + Kira + Kopala while chipping away at my life total – ripe for Kozilek to return. At some point I topdeck Polluted Delta and immediately play it, thinking I’m out of my hole. One problem. Blood Crypt is already in play. And Polluted Delta doesn’t fetch Stomping Ground. Now I can’t even plus my Liliana because the TBR + K Return in my hand are too important. Shadow is holding off some of the damage, and Liliana sacrifices herself to keep the board from getting too big, but it’s looking pretty bad until…. Verdant Catacombs off the top. I play it and pass since he has a vial on 2 in play. He doesn’t vial anything in EOT, so on upkeep I fetch down to 8 and fire off the K Return and wipe his board. Shadow gets a couple hits for 5 in and he gets a hit in with Mutavault + random dude to put me to 4, but then TBR seals it through a blocker next turn.

 

This is another matchup where 5 Color is much better than Grixis Shadow. The standard TBR + Goyf + Traverse reasons apply, but the biggest reason is just not being a base blue deck.

 

Matches: 4-1

Punts: 3

Punished by punts: 0 because, let’s face it, if you don’t lose the game, were you really punished?

 

Round 6 vs. Alex playing RUG Delver/Traverse

 

Alex is local and we’ve run up against each other a few times the past couple weeks playing this matchup. His deck is mostly a burn deck from the perspective of 5 Color Shadow, and it took those matches for me to figure this out. He has no real removal for my threats, but will aggressively Vapor Snag anything I play. Game 1 I’m on the play and he mulligans to 6 into my discard spell revealing Young Pyromancer, Bolt, 2 Thought Scour, Island, and Bedlam Reveler. I take the YP and get to work on his life total with a 5/6 and later 6/7 Tarmogoyf. He never really manages to gain a footing and dies to Tarmogoyf beat down.

 

Out: 3 Liliana of the Veil


In: 1 Stubborn Denial, 1 Izzet Staticaster, 1 Kozilek’s Return

 

The plan is to not be clunky and have countermagic for his burn spells. Lingering Souls seems like it’s good against him, but it’s too slow and the burn is usually how he wins. I have a removal-less hand game 2 and cast a turn 1 Thoughtseize to see Bolt, Tarfire, Tarmogoyf, Vapor Snag, and Spirebluff Canal while he has one land in play. I take the Goyf. We play this cat an mouse game where I want to go all in on Shadow, but I also don’t want to get blown out by Vapor Snag or Snap + Snag, and I keep not going for it and he keeps having Snag. Eventually he nickles and dimes me enough that the burn in his hand kills me.

 

Out: 2 Street Wraith

 

In: 2 Collective Brutality

 

This was an oversight on my part – of course I want the Brutalities against the burn deck. We get into a very tempo-y game where I’m on the back foot the whole time, but stopping him from getting too much damage or too much of a board position. Eventually I get a Shadow + Goyf into play and start munching on his life total. A chump block + bolt kills the Goyf, slowing my clock. Now I’m at 8 with a land and a Thoughtseize in hand and the Shadow and an uncracked fetch in play while he’s at 11 with a tapped Monastery Swiftspear in play and an unknown card in hand. I can’t beat much, so I attack for 5, putting him to 6. He draws for turn and attacks for 1, putting me to 7. I draw another fetchland and consider my options. He wouldn’t attack unless he had a good reason, so this is very scary for me. I decide that attacking is the best line since it baits out Vapor Snag before my second main phase and swing. He extends the hand. He didn’t take into account the Shadow math during his attack, and also didn’t notice I had a fetchland in play. His top card was Traverse too, which would have found him Bedlam Reveler, which he could then cast with 1 mana up. Bad beats Alex, but you’ll get me next time.

 

Matches: 5-1

Punts: 3

Punished by punts: 0

 

Round 7 vs. David playing Ad Nauseum

 

Before the match starts he asks me if I’m playing affinity because he’s played it 3 times today. He goes on to say it’s a great matchup for him. I remember him saying something similar to a different opponent while sitting next to me and rack my brain to remember what he was playing. I come up with nothing, but figure he’s on a fair deck like Jund or UWR, or a degenerate combo deck like Storm. He’s on the play and I keep a 3 discard spell hand with Traverse, a couple lands, and I believe a Mishra’s Bauble. I draw a 4th discard spell, rip his hand apart, and Traverse for a Shadow that kills him in 3 hits.

 

Out: 3 Fatal Push, 2 Terminate

 

In: 1 Stubborn Denial, 2 Disdainful Stroke, 2 Collective Brutality

 

I keep a good hand with IoK + Thoughtseize, and Shadow + Tarmogoyf. But he has the turn 0 Leyline. So I go to work making my dudes as big as possible by Thoughtseizing myself and taking IoK. I get the Goyf into play and start munching while he starts digging. When I get to 12 I try to cast Shadow, but he Pacts it and casts Angel’s Grace on his turn purely to buy time. I get him to 12, and he plays Simian Spirit Guide to chump. When he does chump, I fire off my Temur Battle Rage to force through the damage and put him to 6. Two turns later and he still hasn’t found anything, so he dies. Lucky for me, since I never drew a counterspell.

 

Matches: 6-1

Punts: 3

Punished by punts: 0

 

Standings go up and there are eleven 18 pointers, so only the 21 pointers can lock top 8 with a draw. Plus I’m in 10th, so it’s definitely not worth taking the chance.

 

Round 8 vs. ?? playing Grixis Shadow

 

Game 1 I’m on the play and cast the turn 1 discard spell to see Polluted Delta, Shadow, Tasigur, two Scalding Tarn, Thought Scour, and Snapcaster Mage. I have a Terminate in hand so I take the Snapcaster Mage. He plays the turn 2 Tasigur, and on my turn 3 I can Terminate and play a Watery Grave tapped, or shock for a recently drawn Liliana of the Veil. I choose to play Terminate and protect my life total – experience playing Grixis Shadow tells me to protect my life total a bit until I’m moving in for the killing blow. This is wrong since I’m playing 5 Color Shadow, which plays out a bit differently, but more importantly because Lily is the best MD card in the matchup, and getting her into play protects her from a discard spell. Sure enough, he draws Thoughtseize and punishes me. He gets to Snap + Thoughtseize me to leave me with just a TBR in hand and lands in play, including one uncracked fetch, and follows up with a Death’s Shadow. At this point I’m at 7 with only TBR in hand while he’s at 8 with Shadow + Snapcaster in play and a couple unknowns in hand. It looks hopeless – like the universe is about to punish me for all my previously unpunished punts. I topdeck a Death’s Shadow and cast it. Suddenly, he’s in trouble if he doesn’t have a removal spell. Given how long he tanks on his turn after drawing a card, I know he doesn’t have it. He passes, I draw another fetchland to put into play uncracked and attack. He tanks for some time, then double blocks. First I cast TBR. It resolves. Then I crack one fetch for a shock, going to 4, and pass priority. He decides that I know what I’m doing in this spot and scoops em up.

 

Out: 2 Temur Battle Rage, 2 Stubborn Denial, 1 Street Wraith, 1 Watery Grave

 

In: 3 Lingering Souls, 1 Ranger of Eos, 1 Godless Shrine, 1 Liliana the Last Hope

 

I don’t remember much of what happened game 2, and my notes don’t help, but I think it involved me taking some hits from a Tasigur while I tried to dig for a removal spell or a blocker, and him having Snap + removal spell for the eventual blocker.

 

Game 3 I keep a hand with IoK, 2 lands, Liliana of the Veil, Liliana the Last Hope, Lingering Souls, and Mishra’s Bauble. Basically the best cards. I Bauble him to see a Tasigur on top, then lead on IoK and see Young Pyromancer, Angler, Thought Scour, Island, Blood Crypt, Bloodstained Mire, and Steam Vents. Remember what I said about a timely discard spell preventing a Grixis Shadow player from casting their threats? I take the Scour and pass. He plays a land and passes, and between the Bauble and my draw step on my next turn I find a Tarmogoyf, which get into play. He dutifully jams Young Pyromancer on his turn 2, and on my turn 3 I find the 3rd land and slam LtlH to eat the peezy and get in with Goyf. He gets his Tasigur into play on his turn 3, and I slam LotV and eat it on my turn 4, then get in with Goyf again and uptick the other Lily on nothing. Don’t you just love the new planeswalker rules? He jams 2 Death’s Shadows on his turn. On my turn I cast Lingering Souls and uptick both Lilianas. He attacks LotV with the un-shrunk Shadow, which a spirit token jumps in the way of, then passes. I downtick LotV to trade her for a Shadow, attack with the leftover token, flashback Souls, and uptick LtlH on the leftover Shadow. We get into a bit of a standoff where I want to pressure his life total, but the only way I can lose is if I don’t leave enough blockers back and he gets to kill them all and get in with a large Shadow. So I ping away for 1 or 2 a turn. I find a Bauble and play it, and pass. He draws for his turn, and passes. He’s at 3 so if he has nothing in hand, I can just attack for lethal with spirits, but if his last two cards are removal spells I’m dead on the crackback.

 

It’s at this point that I realize that I missed that Bauble trigger. I get very visibly upset with myself, tilting off from my very advantaged position. I never miss Bauble triggers. No, I don’t think you understand. The only person who started playing with Bauble in modern before me is Patrick Chapin. The moment he scrubbed out of the PT with Esper Delve with 8 (!) delve creatures and Mishra’s Bauble for support, I picked up the deck, dumped the white for red and Delver of Secrets, and started tearing up the local pptq circuit, at least until Chapin built Grixis Control and everyone started going over the top of me with that. When Chapin brewed his terrible Temur Abbot of Keral Keep + Bauble deck, I took the deck and cut green for black, and tried to make it work for months. I was on the Death’s Shadow combo deck that played Bauble until WOTC took Probe away from me. I even built a version of Grixis Shadow with Baubles to enable Whispers of Emrakul. Yes, it works. No, it’s not as good. If I had picked up Jund Shadow earlier, I might be live for most Mishra’s Baubles cast in history. I might be anyway. I can’t remember the last time I missed a Bauble trigger. I don’t treat my pets like that.

 

But I just did, and I continued to tilt off as I drew IoK for the turn, cast it to see nothing but lands in his hand, and attacked for lethal. I’m sure this is all no consolation to my opponent. Sorry man. You played well though. I’m sure you’ll get there next time.

 

Matches: 7-1, in the top 8

Punts: 5

Punished by punts: 0

 

Top 8 vs. Blythe playing Infect

 

Before the T8 starts, the judges facilitate splitting by giving us secret ballots. Good move on their part, but I’m not interested. I’m 5th seed and Blythe is 4th, so she gets the play. I keep a hand with Push, Decay, Goyf, Shadow, and some lands and maybe a Bauble or a Street Wraith. She leads on Glistener Elf, which gets Pushed immediately. She follows up with land + Hierarch and passes. I draw TBR, get my Goyf into play, and ship the turn. She plays a Blighted Agent + land and passes with 2 mana up and 3 cards in hand. I draw Thoughtseize and have a couple options. I can snap off Decay, but potentially die to protection spell + untap + double pump spell if the pump spells are good enough. I can Thoughtseize and play a small Shadow, or Thoughtseize and hold mana up. I opt to Thoughtseize and take it from there. She reveals 2 Might of old Krosa + Mutagenic Growth, so I take a Might, get in a small hit with Goyf, and hold up mana hoping to scare her off going for it. She is not scared. She snaps off the main phase Might but holds on to the Mutagenic Growth to keep from being blown out too bad if I have it, putting me to 6 poison. I untap and kill the Agent with Decay, then get a big 5/6 Goyf hit in. Her next turn she draws nothing relevant, and fetches Dryad Arbor to chump. She draws nothing relevant in the short window she has, and finally TBR on Goyf being blocked by Hierarch finishes her off.

 

Out: 3 Liliana of the Veil

 

In: 1 Stubborn Denial, 1 Kozilek’s Return, 1 Izzet Staticaster

 

I thought about siding in the Collective Brutalities and the Liliana, the Last Hope, but I wasn’t sure how to make room. So much of the deck is already fantastic against them that it’s best to just not be too clunky and have enough removal for Inkmoth Nexus. We get deck checked and chat a bit. It turns out that she’s a professor of microbiology at Saint Louis University, where she studies infectious diseases, so this deck is a major flavor win. I counter that I’m a postdoctoral fellow in statistics and my deck requires me to do a lot of math, but concede that she got the better of me in the flavor battle. The deck check comes back clean and we get to battling in game 2.

 

I keep a hand with a Fatal Push, a Stub, some lands, a Goyf, and a discard spell. I cast it to reveal a hand with Spell Pierce, Blighted Agent, Kitchen Finks, Vines, Inkmoth, and Verdant Catacomb. I take the Vines and get to kill the Agent when she plays it. She gets the Finks into play to slow my attacks down, then gets a hit for 1 in with Inkmoth. Next whe finds a Pendlehaven and uses a Blossoming Defense to put me to 5 infect. She finds another Inkmoth, and I sit on a Push, waiting for an opportune moment to cast it and so as to not walk right into Spell Pierce. An Abrupt Decay finishes off the Finks, and get a hit for 5 in with Goyf. She gets me to 7 poison counters, then she goes for a Might of Old Krosa on her turn into 4 open mana, but with Spell Pierce backup. It’s risky line that not many people would take, but one that I think it probably right in her seat given her prospects with Goyf in play. After she attacks, I Push, she Pierces back, and I pay for it, holding up a fetchland to grab Watery Grave for Stub if she has anything else. She does not, and I’m in pretty good shape. I get another hit for 5 in with Goyf and while she pecks away with her remaining Inkmoth, putting me to 9 poison. I find TBR along the way, which allows Tarmogoyf to close the deal a turn earlier.

 

Matches: 8-1

Punts: 5

Punished by punts: 0

Splits taken: 0/1

Flavor battles: 0-1

 

Top 4 vs. Alec playing Bant Counters Company

 

I no-sir the split again, and get to be on the play since my opponent is the 8th seed. I keep a hand with no removal but plenty of discard spells, Shadow, TBR, and lands. I rip his hand apart with discard spells, including taking a CoCo and a Geist, leaving him with a Vizier in hand, and 2 lands + Hierarch in play, while I have Liliana of the Veil and Shadow in hand. He topdecks and plays Devoted Druid. So he’ll have infinite mana next turn, but nothing to spend it on unless he topdecks well. I fail to find a point removal spell, and I can play Liliana of the Veil or Death’s Shadow this turn, and choose to play Liliana and minus, he sacrifices his Hierarch and I hope that I’ll be able to break up the combo in 2 turns before he finds a way to use the mana, or just topdeck a removal spell. He draws a land and plays it and the Vizier. I draw a TBR and play Shadow, plusing Liliana to pitch a blank. I’m in a pretty good spot now as long as he doesn’t topdeck me this turn – I’m even potentially threatening Lethal with TBR next turn. But he draws and shows me Duskwatch Recruiter. I make him go through it for the information, but he finds the Walking Ballista on his first try.

 

Out: 3 Liliana of the Veil

 

In: 1 Izzet Staticaster, 1 Kozilek’s Return, 1 Liliana, the Last Hope

 

Again, the Collective Brutalities are theoretically very good, but I’m not sure what to cut. I probably should have shaved a couple point removal spells since Brutality is theoretically the same, but also can hit Collected Company and Path to Exile. We both mulligan to 6 and I have a hand with a pile of removal plus a discard spell. I cast Thoughtseize to see Meddling Mage, Noble Hierarch, Gavony Township, Mirran Crusader, Collected Company, and Windswept Heath. I take the Crusader which I can almost never beat. Not much happens until he CoCos, hitting only a Hierarch. I get a Shadow and a Goyf into play, and he Reflector Mages the Shadow, and follows up with Meddling Mage on Shadow. I get LtlH going and Push his Mage and play Shadow in the same turn, and ride Shadow + Goyf to victory.

 

Game 3 we both keep 7 and he gets to work with land + Hierarch. I get to cast a Thoughtseize and take a CoCo before he can cast it, and get a Shadow into play with a TBR in hand and him at 13. We sit in a holding pattern for a couple turns, until I miss another Bauble trigger, partially because my opponent was chatting me up while I shuffled my deck and passed the turn. %&$#. Seriously. I tap out to play some removal spells on my turn, so he taps out for a CoCO on his turn to protect against a counterspell, and hits another Hierach and a Spell Queller. But now the coast is clear, so on my turn I reduce my life total to 3 and TBR for the win.

 

This is a matchup where TBR shines, since they’re mostly a combo deck and have infinity chump blockers. His build with blue instead of black and some spicy hate cards is more difficult for me than the more common Abzan lists, but it’s still pretty favorable barring some unlikely scenarios like what happened in game 1.

 

Matches: 9-1

Punts: 6

Punished by punts: 0

Splits taken: 0/2

Flavor battles: 0-1

 

Finals vs. Logan playing Burn

 

As we sit down, one of the judges asks us if we want to split. We both say no. The head judge who didn’t witness this walks up and asks us again. Again, we both say no. Good man, Logan. Good man. Logan drove 6 hours from Arkansas to play in this event, and it’s clear he’s tired, but he still plays pretty well the whole match. He’s also a hilarious guy.

 

He gets the play game 1 for being first seed. I mulligan a no lander into 2 Street Wraith, Fatal Push, 2 fetches, and a Bauble. This hand has no action and minimal interaction, but plenty of ways to dig. But digging with Street Wraith is a very real cost against burn, and this hand is very unlikely to find the necessary threat and interaction in time. So I decide to ship it back hoping for something better. My 5 is Tarmogoyf, Tarmogoyf, Stubborn Denial, Traverse the Ulvenwald, Terminate. It’s a no lander, but if I find any green source I can Traverse for Swamp, and my hand is very strong. A random 4 doesn’t sound better than a roughly 40% chance of getting to play magic, so I decide to keep. I scry a nonland to the bottom and pass. At this point the table judge asks me if my opponent has had any undue influence on me. Jokingly. I think. Nope, I just kept a no lander in the finals with $600 on the line because it seemed like the best play. As one does. I brick off and die, of course. I think the keep on 5 is 100% correct because you have a reasonable amount of cards that are absolute garbage against burn, especially game 1, so a random 4 is very unlikely to get your there. On the other hand that no lander is just under a coinflip to find the land it needs by turn 2, and with that it has a decent shot of winning. About as well as can be expected given the circumstances. I’m less sure about mulliganing that 6 card hand though. I still think it’s right, but it’s a tough spot.

 

Out: 2 Thoughtseize, 2 Street Wraith

 

In: 2 Collective Brutality, 1 Stubborn Denial, 1 Kozilek’s Return

 

Game 2 my opener is Death’s Shadow, 2 Stubborn Denial, Temur Battle Rage, a couple lands, and I don’t remember or even really care what else. It’s exactly what I want, and he mulligans to 6. I play conservatively with my life total and also don’t run out the Shadow until I know it won’t be killed by a bolt, and get to Force Spike a Shrine of Burning Rage with Stub along the way. It takes a bit but I eventually take a bolt out of his hand with an IoK leaving him with a Skullcrack, which he fires off end of turn to put me to 8. I get the Shadow into play and he resolves a Shrine. The Shrine puts me in an awkward spot where I have to blow my Stub on any burn spell because it will be lethal with any other burn spell very quickly, but the Shrine won’t be threatening on its own given my clock. I get a hit for 5 in and dutifully blow the Stub on the first burn spell I see, while he topdecks a Guide and gets in for 2. This makes TBR on Shadow exactly lethal on the crackback.

 

Game 3 my opener is 2 Goyf, Collective Brutality, some lands, and again, I don’t remember or care what else, this hand is pure gas. He plays a fetch and passes. I play a fetch and pass. He cracks his fetch for a tapped shockland, untaps and plays and cracks another for mountain, then slams Eidolon of the Great Revel. Eidolon only makes Tarmogoyf angry. I fetch for Stomping Ground EOT then fetch for Swamp on my turn and briefly consider running out a Goyf first. Instead I double escalate Collective Brutality, killing the Eidolon, putting him to 16, and taking a Path out of his hand, leaving him with another Path, Skullcrack, Bolt, and 2 lands. He passes his next turn, and I play Goyf #1. He Paths it and Skullcracks me, but has nothing on his turn and passes again. I get Goyf #2 into play. It gets a hit for 6 in, then next turn for a lethal 12 with the help of a TBR. Didn’t I tell you that card is messed up? I’m at 14 life when the game ends, and its outcome was never really in question.

 

Matches: 10-1

Punts: 6

Punished by punts: 0

Splits taken: 0/3

Flavor battles: 0-1

Rewarded for keeping a 5 card no land hand in the finals vs. burn: 1/1*

Championship trophies earned: 1/1

PT qualifications: 0/0**

 

* Did you see those opening hands games 2 and 3 in the finals? If that’s not being rewarded, I don’t know what is.

 

** This tournament sure felt like an old school PTQ.

 

And now for the best part of any tournament report: props and slops.

 

Props:

 

Temur Battle Rage, for being a messed up magic card. Have you read this thing?

 

Nat, his employees at Magelings, and the judges, for keeping the tournament running smoothly. Let’s run this thing back next season.

 

My finals opponent, Logan, for driving 6 hours from Arkansas, sleeping for 2 hours in the parking lot, and somehow not falling asleep at the table in the finals. And for getting a judge to abruptly stand up and walk away from the table in pure shock.

 

The judge who abruptly stood up and walked away in pure shock, for abruptly standing up and walking away in pure shock.

 

Jon Anderson, for seeding my initial doubts about Grixis Shadow, then being a great sounding board for flex slots and SB plans in 5 Color Shadow. Even if he wasn’t initially on the TBR train.

 

Collin Bradley, for starting the day 1-2 including losing game 3 of round 3 to Jeskai Control after keeping a 1 land 6 card hand filled with gas on the draw, and not seeing another land or mana dork in the scry or the next 11 draw steps, then dealing with me fumbling with the calculator on my phone so I could tell him the probability of missing land that many times in a row was approximately 0.00000004*, and then instead of tilting off, rattling off 5 straight wins to finish 6-2 for T32 and a bit of cash. A lesser man couldn’t have done that. A better man would have slashed my tires or something.** But he played a 61 card deck, so he probably deserved it.

 

* “That’s 7 zeroes, Collin.” – me

 

** “Wait, where are you going Collin? We still need to take into account the mana dorks!” – me

 

Grant Paris, for, having never played a Shadow deck before, picking the deck up days before the event, only playing 3 matches of a MTGO league, 3 matches of unsanctioned FNM, and a few practice matches, and still finding good lines* and putting up some wins, and also for forcing me to think through my lines and SB plans by asking copious amounts of questions.

 

* “Missed a line of Thoughtseizing my Lilly out of hand to get Goyfs bigger to win with TBR, then didn’t drop a red source to Terminate a creature to play around Deflecting Palm.” – Grant

 

Austin Baker, for, after seeing me win this event, finally, possibly, considering playing a Shadow deck instead of a traditional midrange deck or one of his Gifts piles. Perhaps. I mean, maybe. Nothing in life is certain.

 

Collin, Austin, and Peter Trapani for taking the initiative and starting a new eternal podcast and blog: Dead on Board. They cover modern and legacy, and also a bit of vintage. You can find this tournament report there as well, and some day soon they’ll let me be a guest on the podcast so I can tell you more about the deck and the tournament. Check it out.

 

Collin, Grant, Austin, Derek, Peter, Micah, Alex, Carson, and the rest of the Columbia, MO magic community for being a cool group of people to play magic with whether you’re trying to get better or just have fun.

 

All of my old nemeses/friends from Iowa, for going to the Minneapolis regionals instead of making it harder on me here in Missouri.

 

Slops:

 

Me, for punting so many times. Magic is hard.

 

The universe, for never punishing me. No justice, etc.

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3 thoughts on “The Ultimate Death’s Shadow Primer and Tournament Report

  1. This article is gold. Great content, extra gold star for any publication that includes the phrase “#@_& tron”, the only minor thing missing is links(ex. Magnus’ writings on deck). I understand there’s so much content it’s hard to maintain an index of links for everything you read, but even mentioning which site a source typically posts on would be helpful. Thanks again, this helps going into RPTQ weekends.

    Liked by 2 people

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