The semi-recent Modern unbannings have set a plague of Jace and Bloodbraid Elf midrange loose on my local shop, creating an environment in which U/X Control and Tron are set to clean up. My Grixis Death’s Shadow deck, however, seems less well-positioned. A top-decked Jace can bounce Shadow’s Delve threats and lock up the game in short order, and Bloodbraid Elf usually provides a removal spell (or worse, a Liliana) alongside a Haste-y attacker that pressures Shadow’s already low life totals. Combine those cards with an increased prevalence of Lightning Bolts, and you’re looking at a relatively hostile meta.
With that in mind, I decided to try something new. A take on Grixis Shadow that can consistently produce more than one threat, dodging Jace and Liliana downticks and potentially solving the deck’s problem with go-wide aggro. Without further ado, I present Grixis PyroShadow.
This list eschews Grixis Death’s Shadow’s typical Delve threats entirely and, as a result, plays zero Thought Scours and zero Stubborn Denials. Instead, Young Pyromancers, Opts, and Spell Pierces fill those slots. Here are the pros and cons of the changes, in my mind:
- Young Pyromancer can create an army of chump blockers and Liliana-fodder, allowing our Death’s Shadows to safely go to work on opponents’ life totals.
- Young Pyromancer is easily replayed through bounce spells (Jace, Vapor Snag, Reflector Mage) and Remands, unlike Gurmag Angler and Tasigur. Additionally, Young Pyromancer can always come down on turn two (provided we’ve drawn two lands and one of them is Red), whereas Angler and Tasigur sometimes cannot.
- Removing the deck’s Delve creatures allows us to upgrade the quality of our cantrips, swapping Thought Scour for Opt. This will hopefully smooth the deck’s early mana issues and provide a slightly more consistent late-game.
- Opponents will likely continue sideboarding as if we are playing Anglers and Tasigurs, leading to games in which they draw dead Relics of Progenitus and Nihil Spellbombs.
- Adding Pyromancers makes the deck incrementally less vulnerable to Blood Moon, as the deck now has threats to deploy using Red mana.
- By adding additional Red spells, we make Grixis Death’s Shadow’s already shaky mana base even shakier. When Terminate and Kolaghan’s Command are your only Red spells, you can afford to not fetch Red mana until later in the game. Pyromancer, on the other hand, almost always wants to come down on turn two or turn three.
- We lose out on Stubborn Denial (because we have less Ferocious creatures) and are forced to replace it with Spell Pierce (or your counterspell of choice; I’ve chosen Pierce for now). Stubborn Denial is a very good card, and the hard-counter mode has won many games that a Spell Pierce would not have.
- We increase Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push’s power against our deck. Both these spells can kill a Pyromancer but not Delve threats.
- We lose out on the explosive kills that a turn two Angler can provide against decks like Tron and Scapeshift (trading those explosive starts for the late-game power that an army of Elemental tokens can provide against midrange).
The Pros and Cons seemed even enough, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try this configuration out. I took the above list to Feb. 27’s Tuesday Night Modern at Crazy Squirrel Games, where I faced off against:
- Blue-Red Delver (Tempo-oriented)
- Green-Red Ponza
- Moist Jund (a Jund list splashing Blue for Ancestral Vision and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy)
- Blue-Red Delver again (Aggro-oriented)
This is what I learned in those four matches:
- If you play this list, opponents WILL sideboard as if you are playing Delve creatures. I had multiple Relics of Progenitus and Nihil Spellbombs brought in against me, even after opponents had seen Pyromancer and no Delve creatures in games one and two. Expect that to change if this list somehow takes off. For now, it’s an edge.
- The deck’s mana base IS noticeably shakier. In a couple games, I ended up fetching a Steam Vents on turn one, rather than a Watery Grave. Typical Grixis Death’s Shadow decks NEVER do this. But because I wanted to both cast a cantrip and guarantee myself a turn two Pyromancer, fetching Steam Vents seemed correct. Also, casting Young Pyromancer into Terminate was sometimes hard, due to these same mana issues.
- Casting Opt feels much better than casting Thought Scour. Being able to push away dead lands and draw a spell instead won me at least one game. This swap didn’t completely solve the deck’s late-game consistency issue (or the mana issue), but it helped.
- A situation in which Young Pyromancer’s vulnerability to Bolt and Fatal Push came back to bite me: Against Moist Jund, I cast Thoughtseize and found a hand with Bolt, Push, Dreadbore, and other stuff. I had both Pyromancer and Death’s Shadow in hand. If the Pyromancer had been a Gurmag Angler, I would have taken Dreadbore and gone off to the races (as Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt can’t kill it). As it was, I took Fatal Push and hoped I’d be able to counter or strip the opponent’s Dreadbore.
- A situation in which Young Pyromancer’s vulnerability to Bolt may have saved me: In a couple of those Blue-Red Delver games, opponents Bolted my Pyromancers instead of my face. This gave my Death’s Shadows an extra turn or two to seal the deal (at an incredibly precarious life total). I do not think Angler alone would have closed those games before I’d been burnt out.
- Young Pyromancer did clog up the ground and buy time against opposing Lilianas. However, Elemental tokens don’t help the deck block fliers. I died to Stormchaser Mage multiple times. Mantis Rider and other Haste-y fliers will likely also continue to prove problematic.
- Young Pyromancer did, in fact, get Remanded a lot. Being able to immediately play it again was wonderful.
- Casting a Kolaghan’s Command into a revived Young Pyromancer is often tougher than casting one into a revived Delve creature. In the late game, Delve creatures often cost only one mana, meaning Kommand into a creature costs only four mana. Increasing this cost to five can slow your threat deployment by an entire turn.
- Spell Pierce was fine in most every game except against Moist Jund. I kept it in to counter Maelstrom Pulses, Lilianas, and Kommands, but it mostly sat in my hand and failed to counter cheap spells.
- Not specific to the Young Pyromancer-related changes: Playing with Thoughtseize is still hard, y’all. Just in case you forgot.
I ended up going 2-2, winning against the first Blue-Red Delver deck and Green-Red Ponza and losing to the second Blue-Red Delver deck and Moist Jund. So I don’t think I broke it, but neither do I feel like my modifications were a significant downgrade. If anything, the changes felt like a step sideways.
However, I think my list’s surprise factor contributed to my wins (and close losses). I’m not sure I’d feel as good about the deck if my opponents knew exactly what they were up against from the start of game one. So further testing is merited and required. I’ll be getting around to that over the next couple months, but for the next little bit, I’m going to be loading my decks up with Blood Moons. Because a Jund deck that SPLASHES FOR BLUE is a mockery of Magic‘s mana system and cannot be allowed to stand.