I’m a brewer at heart. I’m not averse to playing the “best” deck in any format, but I get more out of Magic when I’m playing a deck I’m personally invested in. So even when piloting established decks, I tweak. I experiment.
Today, I’m launching another of those experiments, one I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Modern’s seen a lot of Death’s Shadow variants, ranging from Jund to Esper to 4-Color to my personal favorite, Grixis. But there’s one variant I have yet to see: Dimir Shadow.
Spurred on by the success of Legacy Death’s Shadow, as well as my own curiosity, I’ve decided to bring Blue-Black Death’s Shadow into Modern. Will the experiment produce results? Read on, and maybe we’ll find out together.
Why Try Blue-Black Shadow?
What do we gain by switching from Grixis to Dimir Shadow? In short, consistency.
Grixis Shadow’s mana base is its greatest internal weakness. I’ve talked about how often I’ve found myself staring at opening hands that contain a lone Blood Crypt alongside Stubborn Denial and Opt, or Steam Vents alongside Fatal Push and Thoughtseize. These one land hands would be keepers if we could cast our spells. But because Grixis Shadow’s Red splash dilutes its mana base, we’re forced to mulligan these hands.
What if we could eliminate those mana screw mulligans and increase the number of seven card hands we get to keep? Would our win percentage go up? That’s what I aim to find out by creating Blue-Black Shadow.
With the Red splash removed, we can play a mana base that includes only two non-Blue-Black dual lands: Island and Swamp. While many Grixis pilots have found success reducing their land count from 19 to 18 or even 17, I’m a coward. I prefer to play more lands. That said, our Dimir Shadow mana base would look something like below:
With this mana base, we’re nearly guaranteed to be able to cast our spells no matter what sort of opening hand we draw.
If we decide later to cut back on the number of lands we include in the deck, we can trim the number of assorted non-Polluted Delta fetchlands from eight to seven or six. And if we want to bump the number of actual mana-producing lands back up from six to seven (which I am considering), we could include a copy of Underground River, which produces both our colors and allows us to further manipulate our life total.
What Do You Lose? And What Replaces It?
Grixis Shadow splashes Red for a reason. Adding Red allows Grixis Shadow access to some very powerful cards, such as Kolaghan’s Command and Temur Battle Rage, that we’ll be losing out on in Dimir Shadow. If we can’t successfully replace these Red cards, Dimir Shadow’s dead in the water. Thankfully, I think we have some options:
- Kolaghan’s Command. Kommand primarily provides Grixis Shadow with the card advantage it needs to battle midrange decks like Jund. Casting Kommand to rebuy a Snapcaster Mage that rebuys Kommand is a daisy chain of card advantage that allows Grixis to fight through early removal and disruption, beating midrange decks at their own game.
Straight Dimir has no Instants or Sorceries that fulfill this purpose. So for Blue-Black Shadow, we’ll have to leverage Planeswalkers as our card advantage engine of choice. Liliana, the Last Hope and Liliana of the Veil seem best suited to providing the card advantage Dimir Shadow needs to fight midrange decks. And since one of Kommand’s most prevalent use cases is buying a Thought Scour‘d threat back from the graveyard, Lili the Last Hope seems the best place to start.
However, note that Kommand performs additional functions that neither Liliana can mimic. Against Affinity, Kommand kills a Cranial Plating and a Steel Overseer. Against Tron, Kommand forces them to discard during their draw step so they can’t cast that Karn they just drew. The Black Planeswalkers I’m recommending do not perfectly fill the gap Kommand leaves behind, but I’m not sure any card could.
- Temur Battle Rage. Temur Battle Rage is the least replaceable card on this list, because there is no other card like it in Modern. Battle Rage gives Grixis Shadow outs to win “unwinnable” games by Trampling over blockers for lethal damage. An opponent can feel safe at 16 life and then lose on the next turn, thanks to one Temur Battle Rage.
The best replacement we can include, I figure, is one copy of Apostle’s Blessing. Blessing can both protect our threats from opposing removal and allow a Death’s Shadow to attack through blockers for up to 12 damage (provided all those blockers are the same color).
12, however, is not 24, and Blessing will likely not win as many games as Battle Rage does. I’m not sure whether including Blessing is right, or whether we should give up on scoring the “free wins” a card like Battle Rage provides.
- Lightning Bolt/Terminate. These cards, on the other hand, are completely replaceable, though there are drawbacks to even their best replacements. Grixis decks already split Lightning Bolt with Fatal Push and Dismember, and we can simply include more copies of either or both instead of playing Bolt. We lose out on the reach and easy three-toughness removal that Bolt provides, but Push and Dismember are still great removal spells.
Terminate, however, removes threats that neither Fatal Push nor Dismember can take care of, such as Primeval Titan and Wurmcoil Engine. To take care of these sorts of creatures, I’d like to pack at least one copy of either Murderous Cut or, more likely, the very on-theme Devour in Shadow. Devour will make our Death’s Shadows bigger very quickly, but comes with the drawback of not being able to cast it if we’re already at a low life total. To start, I may pack one copy each of Murderous Cut and Devour in Shadow, in the hopes of trying out both.
What About the Sideboard?
Grixis Shadow’s Red splash also allows it access to more sideboard cards than Blue-Black Shadow, cards we’ll have to replace in the Dimir version. Specifically, Red allows Grixis Shadow to access:
- Artifact Hate. Blue-Black has no easy answer to on-board artifacts, unlike Grixis. If we’re looking to replace Abrade, Rakdos Charm, or By Force, Hurkyl’s Recall is likely the best we can do. We could pack additional artifact counterspells, such as Annul or Steel Sabotage, but those don’t clean up on-board Cranial Platings like the aforementioned Red cards do.
- Anger of the Gods/Kozilek’s Return. I already don’t play Anger or Kozilek’s Return, opting for Flaying Tendrils instead. So we’ll continue to play Tendrils here.
- Young Pyromancer/Grim Lavamancer/Izzet Staticaster. These cards allows us to answer opposing creature decks, those that clog the board with attackers and blockers that a single Death’s Shadow can’t handle alone. To fill this slot, I’d suggest an unconventional answer: Pack Rat. Pack Rat allows us to transform extra lands, Street Wraiths, and discard spells into more on-board creatures, clogging the board and creating virtual card advantage. I could see bringing Pack Rat in against midrange creature decks like Jund or Collected Company, where turning every dead card into another rat could turn the match-up. However, it’s far too slow against decks like Humans or Affinity.
- Engineered Explosives. We can still play Explosives, but we can never set it to three like Grixis Shadow can. While Explosives is likely still worth including, we may want to look to additional answers like Echoing Truth, which also handles problematic permanents.
With those notable exceptions, we can play most typical Death’s Shadow sideboard cards, and maybe even find room for eccentric one-ofs like Shadow of Doubt.
When Do You Expect to Try It Out?
Dimir Death’s Shadow will be coming to a game store near you (provided you live near Fresno, CA) this October, as I plan to buy myself the cards I’m currently missing for my birthday. (Yay, a birthday gift for me!) I’m also excited to see what goodies the Dimir section of Guilds of Ravnica will provide for this deck, as multicolor sets tend to provide powerful new two-color cards. Because that set will release fairly closely to when this blog post goes live, I’m holding off on providing a full Dimir Shadow decklist. But I think you could piece your own version together using the information above.
You can bet I’ll be back on the blog with a tournament report from Dimir Shadow’s first run, including a full decklist and analysis. Until then, don’t try this at home.