Modern Death’s Shadow Aggro: A Guide
Nick Desmarais, Cameron Ruether, and I are going to Baltimore this weekend. We plan to play in the StarCityGames Team Constructed Open where each team consists of three players and each player plays a different format. I am on Modern, Cameron is on Standard, and Nick is on Legacy. In preparation for the event, I read Todd Stevens' article "How Has Modern Changed?" and found its current meta-game breakdown useful.
Bant Eldrazi: 11%
Abzan CoCo: 10%
Grixis Delver: 7%
Titan Breach: 5%
Ad Nauseum: 3.6%
WR Prison: 3.6%
8 Rack: 2.4%
Abzan Midrange: 2.4%
Abzan Evolution: 1.2%
Living End: 1.2%
Based on this breakdown, out of the top 54% of the meta-game, only Bant Eldrazi plays mainboard Path to Exile. Because of this, now is a great time to play Death’s Shadow.
After testing and meeting with Grant Haschak, here is the list that I’ve settled on:
Card cuts and choices:
Liliana of the Veil often trades our better cards with our opponent's worst ones. either trading a Temur Battle Rage, Traverse the Ulvenwald, or Kolaghan’s Command for a sandbagged land. At this point, we are playing a 3 mana, sorcery speed Diabolic Edict or a Mind Rot where we discard the second card. No doubt Liliana, the Last Hope is an upgrade here.
Magnus Lantto said "Ghor-Clan Rampager combines some elements of all the other pieces into one, at the expense of effectiveness and speed. It is a trade off that could be worth making in a meta-game where you expect there to be a lot of creatures blocking." This remains as true today as it did 7 months ago. We found that the card was more often mediocre than amazing.
The main concern with Lingering Souls is that we are adding a white 3 drop to a high-variance Jund deck that often loses when cards get stuck in our hand. Moreover, Lingering Souls was less painful when we ran Liliana of the Veil to discard it if it was stuck in our hand. It would seem that now we’ve replaced Liliana', we should be more susceptible to this downside. But this in only true in theory. In practice, we found this downside to be unrealistic. With eight fetchlands that get Godless Shrine, we have three turns to get the correct lands. If we keep this in mind, it’s not very difficult to resolve a Lingering Souls on turn 3. It only gets complicated against decks that run land destruction.
Jund/Abzan/BG Midrange: -2 Temur Battle Rage, -4 Inquisition of Kozilek, -4 Thoughtseize, -2 Collective Brutality; +3 Fulminator Mage, +4 Lingering Souls, +4 Fatal Push, +1 Ranger of Eos
Tips: Grant and I sideboard a bit differently in this matchup. I believe this is an attrition matchup, much like the Jund mirrors. We need to limit the number of blanks that we could draw. When I played Jund, the strategy was very clear. I boarded out my discard spells and some number of Liliana' and brought in everything else. This strategy worked for me then and it works for me now. Abzan is by far the worst of these 3 match-ups.
Burn: -4 Thoughtseize, -4 Street Wraith; +4 Fatal Push, +2 Surgical Extraction, +2 Fulminator Mage
Tips: Bringing in 2 Surgical Extractions may seem strange. It is a card that we were considering cutting from our sideboard, but it has a lot of awkward value. Here is an example. When we use Mishra’s Bauble to see our opponent’s top card and it’s one we can’t deal with, we can use Surgical Extraction to make them shuffle that card away. We'd also like to get ride of cards like Deflecting Palm or Atarka’s Command when we are sitting on a Collective Brutality. Getting rid of a Boros Charm when we can only afford to take 3 or picking off a second copy of a card in their hand is usually good. This matchup relies on a turn two Death’s Shadow and dodging Deflecting Palm post sideboard.
Affinity: -4 Thoughtseize, -2 Liliana, the Last Hope, -2 Collective Brutality, (-1 Mishra’s Bauble); +4 Fatal Push, +4 Lingering Souls, (+1 Anger of the Gods)
Tips: One may feel inclined to cut Street Wraith in this matchup, but I find that this is another matchup that requires a turn two Death’s Shadow. If we reduce the ways to resolve Death’s Shadow early, we reduce our chances of winning. Grant's strategy is to run Kataki, War's Wage which makes it less necessary to resolve a turn two Death’s Shadow. Keep in mind, Affinity can rarely beat a Temur Battle Rage.
Bant Eldrazi: -2 Temur Battle Rage, -2 Collective Brutality, -2 Liliana, the Last Hope, -1 Street Wraith, -1 Mishra’s Bauble; +3 Fulminator Mage, +4 Fatal Push, +1 Anger of the Gods
Tips: This matchup revolves around two cards: Eldrazi Displacer and Drowner of Hope. Keep the Eldrazi player off these cards. Our goal in this matchup is to go wide. Any time you cast a Traverse the Ulvenwald, make sure you are getting Death’s Shadow. Avoid temptation to get a Fulminator Mage with your Traverse the Ulvenwald to attack their manabase.
Abzan Coco/Evolution: -2 Collective Brutality, -2 Mishra’s Bauble, -1 Street Wraith, -2 Temur Battle Rage; +4 Fatal Push, +2 Surgical Extraction, +1 Anger of the Gods
Grixis Delver: -2 Temur Battle Rage, -4 Inquisition of Kozilek, -4 Thoughtseize, -2 Collective Brutality; +3 Fulminator Mage, +4 Lingering Souls, +4 Fatal Push, +1 Ranger of Eos
Grixis Goryo’s Vengeance/Grishoalbrand: -4 Tarfire, -1 Abrupt Decay; +3 Fulminator Mage, +2 Surgical Extraction
GR/GB/GW Tron: -2 Tarfire, *-1 Abrupt Decay, -2 Collective Brutality; +3 Fulminator Mage, +2 Surgical Extraction *Decay replaces a Tarfire on the play
Eldrazi Tron: -3 Tarfire, -2 Collective Brutality; +3 Fulminator Mage, +2 Surgical Extraction
Mono Blue Tron: -2 Tarfire, -1 Decay, -2 Battle Rage; +3 Fulminator Mage, +2 Surgical Extraction
Titan Breach: -4 Tarfire, -1 Abrupt Decay; +3 Fulminator Mage, +2 Surgical Extraction
Scapeshift: -2 Liliana, the Last Hope, -2 Tarfire, -1 Abrupt Decay; +3 Fulminator Mage, +2 Surgical Extraction
Elves: -3 Kolaghan’s Command, -2 Mishra’s Bauble; +4 Fatal Push, +1 Anger of the Gods
Thank you to Grant Haschak for his contribution towards constructing the current iterations of the deck. He also helped me with testing and coming up with a cogent sideboard plan. Thank you also to Christian Sargusingh for his metagame breakdown and playtesting in preparation for Baltimore and this article.