Back in September, I promised y’all I’d build and pilot a Modern version of Blue-Black Death’s Shadow. With the theory laid out, the cards ordered, and the deck constructed, I finally took my Blue-Black build out to my local shop a few weeks ago.
This is how it fared.
But quick, because it’s going to be relevant throughout this post, here’s my current decklist, as well as an explanation of a few key cards:
- Devour in Shadow. Devour replaced the two Terminates I’ve been playing in Grixis Shadow. Going into this first tournament, I had no idea whether the tacked-on life loss would be beneficial (because it strengthens Shadows) or detrimental (because it kills me).
- Hieroglyphic Illumination. I shaved one land for a Hieroglyphic Illumination, hoping to mitigate late-game flood and give my Snapcasters something more consequential to flash back than Stubborn Denial or Fatal Push.
- Underground River. After going back and forth on what final land to play, I settled on Underground River. I hoped the ability to tinker with my life total would prove useful in some matches. As you’ll see below, it certainly did …
But that’s enough intros and teases; let’s get into the games!
Match 1: Blue-Black Death’s Shadow Vs. Izzet Reveler
My first opponent played a budget and/or unconventional version of the Izzet Spells deck that’s been floating around since Guilds of Ravnica released, packing cards like Swiftwater Cliffs, Hollow One, and Flamewake Phoenix instead of Steam Vents, Thing in the Ice, and Arclight Phoenix.
In Game 1, I was able to Thoughtseize away my opponent’s Burning Inquiry, keeping my reasonable hand of two Death’s Shadows and additional spells intact. My opponent didn’t cast much of interest this game, but I dealt myself enough damage that Devour-ing a Hollow One set me to 5 life. This put me within range of both killing my opponent in two turns, and also dying to double Lightning Bolt.
Playing Death’s Shadow against Bolt decks is always interesting, as you need to manage the tension of keeping your life total low (to make your Death’s Shadows large enough to attack for lethal quickly) but not too low (where your opponent can burn you out before you kill them). As is, I hedged toward killing my opponent before they could draw more Bolts. I was nearly punished for it. If my opponent’d had one more mana on their last turn, they could have discarded and cast a Fiery Temper (using Chart a Course), then cast a Lightning Bolt to finish me off.
As is, I successfully ran this first Bolt gauntlet, attacking for lethal and moving on to Game 2.
During sideboarding, I took out my Fatal Pushes (as my opponent’s deck contained no good targets) and an Inquisition of Kozilek. I brought in my Nihil Spellbombs (to stop Revelers and Phoenixes – incredibly annoying attackers) and Disdainful Strokes (to stop Revelers and Hollow Ones).
In Game 2, my opponent mulliganed and then led on Island into Serum Visions, stacking both cards on top. On my turn, I Thoughtseized and saw that my opponent’s hand contained no additional lands, a couple Chart a Courses, another Serum Visions, and a Burning Inquiry.
I briefly considered taking the opponent’s Serum Visions, since they were stuck on one Blue mana. I then remembered that my opponent kept two cards on top of their deck with their first Serum Visions, one of which was likely to be a land. With that knowledge in mind, I took my opponent’s Burning Inquiry. My hand was good (containing both threats and disruption), and I didn’t want to lose those cards randomly.
My opponent did find their second land, though it took their second Serum Visions to do so. I cast Tasigur and began beating down, slowly lowering my life total with Underground River as I did so. The River was my only Blue source, and so I was forced to repeatedly take damage off it, lowering my life total from 13 to 9.
At 12 life, my opponent attempted to Just the Wind my Tasigur back to my hand. Seeing I was in triple Bolt range, and that my opponent still had a number of cards in hand, I considered letting the bounce spell resolve. Instead, I decided to flash in a Snapcaster and counter the Just the Wind, putting my opponent on a two turn clock. My opponent had neither enough Bolts nor Red mana to kill me before I killed them, and Blue-Black Death’s Shadow won its first match.
Result: Win (1-0)
Match 2: Blue-Black Death’s Shadow Vs. Esper Vial
This opponent was playing an Esper Aether Vial deck full of disruptive creatures like Tidehollow Sculler and Spell Queller. In Game 1, my opponent cast two Aether Vials but did not summon any creatures early, instead spending their time casting Serum Visions and removing my early threats. I drew removal as they drew creatures, which led to an interesting sequence in which I almost cost myself a card:
- My opponent cast Tidehollow Sculler while I had Fatal Push and two Devour in Shadows in hand.
- Like a dummy, I cast my Fatal Push with the Sculler’s enter-the-battlefield trigger on the stack. If this had resolved how I intended it, the Sculler would’ve died, but my opponent would’ve permanently exiled one of my other cards (since the Sculler’s leave-the-battlefield trigger would resolve before its enter trigger).
- Thankfully, my opponent cast a Spell Queller to lock up my Fatal Push. He then took one of the Devour in Shadows with Sculler, leaving me with the other.
- This allowed me to cast my last Devour on the Queller, cast the previously-exiled Push to kill the Sculler, and get my first Devour in Shadow back.
This sequence ended up working out very well for me, but could’ve been an absolute nightmare if my opponent hadn’t bailed me out.
We moved on into the late game, where I cast my singleton Hieroglyphic Illumination to draw two cards and gain an edge. The Death’s Shadow I drew got Path‘d, but the Street Wraith I drew survived long enough to attack for lethal.
For Game 2, I took out Stubborn Denial, figuring it counters only Path to Exile, and brought in Ritual of Soot and Pack Rat. Ritual proved useful, as it swept a board of Brimaz, Monastery Mentor, Spell Queller, and multiple tokens. But my opponent had done enough damage that it didn’t matter.
I figured that if I could dodge an additional threat for a couple turns, I might be able to take the game, but my opponent summoned a second Monastery Mentor and put things away from there.
In Game 3, my opponent mulliganed to four, did not play a land for two turns, and watched as I created an 8/8 Death’s Shadow that won the game in short order. This was a slightly disappointing end to a relatively tense match, but I’m not going to lie: I was happy to secure the win.
Result: Win (2-0)
Match 3: Blue-Black Death’s Shadow Vs. Mono-Green Tron
Death’s Shadow’s Tron match-up is “easy,” in that you can put a lot less thought into managing your life total. Unless you’re worried about Walking Ballista, you can fetch and shock with abandon to create large Death’s Shadows, as you’re not going to lose to damage; you’re going to lose to your opponent resolving any big spell before you can kill them.
That’s exactly what happened in Game 1 of this match, in which I may have Thoughtseize’d too greedily. A turn two Thoughtseize revealed two cards worth taking: Karn and Sylvan Scrying. My opponent had played two unique Tron lands already, meaning Sylvan Scrying (cast through a Chromatic Star) would immediately turn on Tron. So I could either disrupt my opponent’s ability to find the third Tron land, and hope they did not draw another way to find it for the next couple turns, or I could take the opponent’s Karn, and hope they did not draw another threat to cast two turns from now.
I took the opponent’s Sylvan Scrying, figuring my opponent’s chances of drawing the exact Tron land they needed were lower than drawing a replacement threat. As is, they top-decked the correct Tron land, cast their Karn, and ran away with the game.
I’m still not sure whether I made the right choice. If I’d taken my opponent’s Karn, the Death’s Shadow I had on board would’ve gotten at least a couple turns of attacking in. But then again, I also made my opponent draw exactly one out of four cards to beat me as badly as they did.
During sideboarding, I took out Fatal Pushes, Liliana, and Dismembers, bringing in Ceremonious Rejection, Disdainful Stroke, Stubborn Denial, and Shadow of Doubt. In Game 2, I got to make the exact same decision while Thoughtseizing: Scrying or Karn?
I took the Scrying again, but with an actual plan this time. I had a Ceremonious Rejection ready for my opponent’s Karn. By the time they got around to casting it and getting it countered, I was attacking for lethal.
In Game 3, I got stuck on two lands and wasn’t able to make enough mana or drive my life total low enough to summon an early threat. This resulted in me Thoughtseize-ing, Ceremoniously Rejecting, and Disdain-ing all my opponent’s threats, one by one, over the course of several turns.
I then, finally, made a Gurmag Angler and a couple Death’s Shadows, while my opponent ripped through their deck with Sphere after Star after Sphere. Luckily, my opponent drew nothing, and I top-decked the land I needed to set my life total three points lower and make my Shadows lethal.
I drew almost all my sideboard cards and still only narrowly won this match, but sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good!
Result: Win (3-0)
Match 4: Blue-Black Death’s Shadow Vs. Jeskai Control
Man oh man, was this ever a match.
As I said above, any deck that packs Lightning Bolts makes playing Death’s Shadow hard, as you need to estimate how many Bolts your opponent has in hand, how many they can cast per turn, how that damage interacts with your own self-damaging cards, and on what turn you can (or need) to make your Death’s Shadows lethal.
Jeskai Control complicates that math even further by playing Lightning Helixes, which can not only kill you, but also save your opponent from a seemingly lethal attack! As a result, this match contained a lot of interesting decisions on both sides, which my opponent summed up by saying, “This match-up feels like doing five dimensional math.”
In Game 1, I managed the Bolt and Helix math fairly well. An early Tasigur hit for four damage and then got Path’d, but Thoughtseizes and Stubborn Denials kept my back-up threats, two Death’s Shadows, from meeting the same fate. In the meantime, my draw (multiple Thoughtseizes and a Street Wraith) had forced me down to 8 life.
With my opponent short on cards in hand, I decided to drop my life total even lower and go for guaranteed lethal over two turns, regardless of whether one of my Shadows got removed. I locked myself in at 5 life and attacked my opponent for 16 damage, knowing I needed to dodge two Bolt effects on my opponent’s next turn in order to win. My opponent drew for their turn, showed me one Bolt, and then conceded.
For Game 2, I sided out my Dismembers, knowing they did not have many targets to hit, but kept in Fatal Push (for my opponent’s Wandering Fumaroles) and Devour in Shadow (for Torrential Gearhulk, which I’d seen my opponent play earlier in the night). I also sided out a couple Street Wraiths and Thoughtseizes, bringing in Nihil Spellbombs (to hinder the opponent’s Snapcaster Mages), Disdainful Strokes (to counter Cryptic Commands and Teferi), Stubborn Denial, and Pack Rat (as an extra threat).
Game 2 did not go well. I mulliganed into a hand that was half lands and self-damaging spells, which put me well within the danger zone of getting Bolt’d to death. My opponent easily removed my threats (having sided in Celestial Purge to complement their Paths) and then stymied my offense even further by casting a full-value Timely Reinforcements (which I’d enabled by attacking with Snapcaster Mage).
From there, my opponent made short work of my remaining life total by attacking with Soldiers and casting Bolts. So we moved on to Game 3.
Game 3 presented a few interesting sequences. My opponent was once again full-up on removal, but I drew enough threats, discard, and counterspells to fight through it. I also set my life total perilously low, knowing my opponent had at least two Bolt effects, hoping I could draw at least one of those Bolts onto my creatures.
At this point, my opponent did a couple odd things that lined up in my favor. First, rather than use their Wandering Fumarole to just cast their potentially-lethal spells, they animated the manland and attacked me. I Fatal Push’d the Fumarole and was able to cast a Death’s Shadow on my next turn, avoiding a Logic Knot I’d known about.
My opponent then attempted to Bolt my three-toughness Death’s Shadow. I responded by sacrificing a Flooded Strand, raising my Shadow’s toughness. My opponent thought I might’ve had a Street Wraith in hand, but forgot about this on-board trick, which saved me two damage.
With the Fumarole dead, my opponent had just one Red source, meaning they could cast only one Bolt per turn. Knowing this, I tapped my Underground River just for self-damage at the end of my opponent’s turn, lowering my life total to 6. I then cast a Thoughtseize to set my life total to exactly 4.
It’s at this point that my opponent almost got me. With my Thoughtseize on the stack, they cast a Lightning Helix targeting my Snapcaster Mage. Just removing the Mage would not have made my attack less lethal, but gaining 3 life would have! Thankfully, I had one last Fatal Push remaining in hand, and the presence of mind to remember that I could stop my opponent from gaining life by Pushing my own Mage.
After all our spells resolved, I was left with a 9/9 Death’s Shadow and a Snapcaster Mage ready to attack, and an opponent with 11 life. So I attacked and won this (very math-intensive and very fun) match!
Result: Win (4-0)
So was Blue-Black Death’s Shadow everything I’d hoped it’d be? Yes, it was! I don’t think it is “better” than Grixis Shadow by any means, as it doesn’t have the ability to just win games thanks to Temur Battle Rage. But (within this extremely small sample size) the deck did feel slightly more consistent and easier to play (though Underground River math gave me headaches). I mulligan’d only twice over the course of the evening, and both of those mulls were due to drawing too many or too few lands, not the wrong colors of mana.
I also didn’t feel I gave up any real ground in my sideboard. I had access to most everything I needed in each match-up and never felt I was forced to keep “dead” cards in my deck. I did miss Terminate a couple times over the course of the evening, especially against the Lightning Bolt decks where Devour in Shadow felt like a liability. I did not particularly miss my own Lightning Bolts, however; Fatal Push was either good or came out during sideboarding in my match-ups.
For now, I think Blue-Black is a completely reasonable version of Death’s Shadow, and I’m going to gladly take it out for another run at my local shop next week. If my opinion changes, you’ll certainly hear about it, as I’ll be writing up more Blue-Black Death’s Shadow exploits here!
Until next time, may your own brewing prove successful.