Admittedly, we have always had a soft spot for certain Modern strategies here at Good Grief Games. Yesterday we heard from the Humans pilot that took down the recent NRG 5K. Today we are very pleased to host newly minted Grand Prix Champion Michael Rapp fresh off of his stunning run with Grixis Shadow in Toronto.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Michael Rapp and I am from the Boston, MA area. I began playing competitive magic in 2014. Here in 2019 I would absolutely call myself a grinder, playing whatever events I can get to. “Play the game, see the world”, right? I have always been attracted to black midrange strategies in whatever format I can play them; particularly modern, and legacy, where I can play my favorite card, Thoughtseize.
In preparation for GP Toronto, I was looking to expand my range and just try to play the best deck, instead of the deck I knew; Grixis Shadow. So I spent some time in the weeks leading up to the tournament playing a variety of different decks. I tested Mono-Red Phoenix, UR Phoenix, Dredge, Burn, and of course old faithful. I was doing reasonably well with everything listed, but nothing really jumped out at me. I noticed three things: I was losing to Chalice of the Void a lot, there was not a lot of Reflector Mage, and there was a lot of Lava Spike. On the nine hour drive up form Boston to Toronto, I had a lot of time to think and discuss the merits of what deck I should play with my friends and carmates: Tom Smiley, and Jake Haversat. Who, full disclosure, are much better than me at Magic. You should check them out. We settled on UR Phoenix as likely the deck to play at the tournament so I got to sleeving.
Jake and I got to jamming some games in the car, and at lunch, he was playing Lantern Control. After getting summarily crushed by Ensnaring Bridge for about two hours we decided that Izzet Phoenix, having no main deck answers to Bridge and a suspect Burn matchup, was not the place to be. Especially if Chalice was also going to be popular this weekend. So wanting to have a good Phoenix matchup, maindeck ways to fight Chalice and Bridge, while maintaining a reasonable matchup against Lave Spike led me to play Grixis Shadow. If nothing else I felt confident that I knew the deck that I was playing quite well. With a shiny new 75 from Ben Jones and a sideboard guide for a similar list by Brandon Dollaway, I was confident in my ability to do well. As an aside, Ben and Brandon are both excellent Grixis Shadow players if you are looking for resources, you cannot find better.
Four copies of Fatal Push and zero copies of Lightning Bolt in the maindeck
This is largely attributed to the rise of Phoenix, and the fall of popularity in the Aether Vial decks. Being able to have all of your removal spells able to deal with Thing in the Ice, and Crackling Drake is very important. You always wanted a split of removal spells when Meddling Mage is popular but now that it is not seeing as much play, maxing out on the more powerful removal spell is a thing we get to do again.
Four maindeck Stubborn Denial
As the format moves to more powerful non-creature spells like Ensnaring Bridge, Scapeshift, Faithless Looting, Manamorphose, and Lave Spike the value in having the fourth main deck Stubborn Denial continues to rise.
Four Thought Scour with two Serum Visions
In a format where speed matters the fourth Thought Scour increases our percentage of turn two Gurmag Angler draws, which also makes our Stubborn Denial live sooner, which in the current state of the format is a fine trade for the extra card selection that the Serum Visions offers.
Two Blood Crypt
This makes more sense when you have the fourth Thought Scour so that you do not mill your only Blood Crypt, but that is less of a concern when you have three copies of Thought Scour.
Two Collective Brutality
Brutality goes in and out of the sideboard and has certainly been unpopular for a little while. However, in a GP where Phoenix and Burn are expected to be well positioned, having these again makes sense.
One Shattering Blow and zero Abrade
This seems to be the card I get the most questions about. Yes, this card does not have the inefficient removal spell attached to the Shatter effect but with decks like Humans on the decline having the extra removal spell is less necessary. Shattering Blow gives us a real out to Ensnaring Bridge. Bridge often come with a stack of Welding Jar, which makes Abrade look quite bad. Blow also has added utility against the Hardened Scales decks and Wurmcoil Engine.
One Liliana of the Veil
With the mirror, Phoenix, and resource dependent decks such as Burn that lack card advantage on the rise, Liliana looks a lot better. She currently has great edict targets and there are many decks against which her +1 matters a lot.
One Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Little Jace’s versatility has been outstanding. In the creature matchups he is a pile of Terminates. In the midrange matchups he often acts as a loot machine into what is often two or three copies of Snapcaster Mage. He even acts as an alternate win condition against the Ensnaring Bridge decks.
Rd 1-2: Bye
Rd 3: 2-0 over Mono Red Phoenix (3-0)
Rd 4: 2-1 over Mono Red Phoenix (4-0)
Rd 5: 2-0 over RG Scapeshift (5-0)
Rd 6: 2-0 over UB Faeries (6-0)
Rd 7: 2-1 over Jund (7-0)
Rd 8: 2-1 over Abzan CoCo (8-0)
Rd 9: 2-0 over Humans (9-0)
Rd 10: 2-1 over Ad Nauseum (10-0)
Rd 11: 2-0 over Mono Green Tron (11-0)
Rd 12: 2-1 over Dredge (12-0)
Rd 13: 2-0 over UR Taking Turns (13-0)
Rd 14: 1-2 to Whir Prison (13-1)
Rd 15: Intentional Draw into Top 8
Quarterfinals: 2-0 over BG Midrange piloted by Lucas Siow
Semifinals: 2-1 over UR Phoenix piloted by Kale Thompson
Finals: 2-0 over Whir Prison piloted by Jaxon Flannigan (my Round 14 opponent)
Unfortunately, the whole weekend was kind of a blur so I do not remember a ton of details about how all the game in all the matches played out. I will discuss the general feeling of the matchups I had played against though.
Mono Red Phoenix
I think this matchup is pretty close to even, as it plays pretty similarly to the Burn matchup. You have to be careful to not get got by their explosive Phoenix hands, which you can beat by disrupting cards like Faithless Looting and Manamorphose. Your removal is much more valuable than it is against Burn because the Prowess creatures are likely to be able to hit you for more than five damage in a turn. Being on the full set of Stubborn Denial is big game here.
This matchup favors Scapeshift by some amount, but not a ton. Being able to Thoughtseize or Inquisition your opponent early in the game so that you know what you have to fight over is going to be very important over the course of the match. This is all about finding a fast clock and you need to keep hands with disruption that can present a turn two threat.
I think this matchup is truly awful as they have a seemingly unlimited stream of blockers via Bitterblossom. They also have a bunch of good removal spells in Fatal Push and Cast Down to effectively answer our threats and Spellstutter Sprite is actually bonkers against us.
Another matchup where I think we are unfavored for similar reasons as Faeries. They have an absurd number efficient answers to our threats. Tarmogoyf often outgrows Angler and mid-sized Shadows as well. Positioning in this matchup is key. You have to use your discard spells to clear a path through their cheap interaction and try to Stub their expensive removal, while using your own clear through their threats. If you know your opponent is on Jund or Golgari you should choose to take the draw. No one is dying particularly quickly in most games and in the Thoughtseize war I like to be up a card.
The tough ones continue to come. Decks that present a lot of creatures, especially ones they do not mind blocking with, that can also win without the combat step are traditionally rough matchups. Game 1 is difficult. Save your removal spells for combo creatures and Stub anything you can. Postboard you are the control deck. You want anything that can kill a creature to be in your deck so that you can grind them out. Be careful not to be too aggressive and get got by something like a Gavony Township.
This matchup is pretty polarized. In games where your opponent sees Reflector Mage you are most definitely a dog but in games where they do not you are usually in a good spot. This is similar to the CoCo matchup. You want to be the control deck and taking Reflector Mage with Thoughtseize or Inquistion is of the highest priority.
I believe this matchup to be quite good for Shadow. They need to resolve a five mana spell to be able to win the game against the deck full of discard spells and Stubborn Denials. Our deck being one mana 5/5 tribal does not hurt either.
I feel slightly favored in this matchup moving closer to even depending on how many copies of Wurmcoil Engine are in my opponent’s deck, which Shattering Blow is excellent at dealing with. Like Ad Nauseam your opponent needs to resolve high impact expensive spells to win. Keep hands with disruption and a clock, and you should not have a terribly hard time in this matchup.
Well, the tough ones are back. This matchup was slightly unfavorable before the printing of Creeping Chill. That card has pushed this matchup to quite bad. Discard spells on the play to nab Faithless Looting and Cathartic Reunion are great, but less good on the draw. Stubborn Denial is important to not get killed early by Conflagrate. Temur Battle Rage is basically required to win Game 1 and is very helpful in winning postboard games.
UR Taking Turns
This might be as easy as they get. Their deck is a bunch of expensive Time Walks, but their Howling Mine effects make it much easier for us to find Stubborn Denial, and Snapcaster Mage. Counter/discard every Time Walk you can, while making sure you do not get clowned out by something like Gigadrowse into Exhaustion.
Another close but likely slightly unfavorable matchup. Chalice is annoying in some games but the card you really need to watch out for is Ensnaring Bridge, and by extension Whir of Invention. You have no main deck ways of beating a Bridge once it is on the board so targeting those card with your disruption is imperative. Surgical Extraction in the postboard games makes your life much easier as once you deal with the first Bridge you can get them all out of the way.
This matchups is similar to Jund but you trade the accidental “dying to Bolt” games for your opponent having four copies of Assassin’s Trophy, which truth be told, may be worse for us. The games will play out largely the same though.
I believe this to be one of our better matchups if you can navigate the game around not letting your opponent put Phoenix on the table. We have a wealth of answers for Thing in the Ice and Crackling Drake in Fatal Push and Dismember. The core principles of Mono Red Phoenix also apply here. Looting and Manamorphose are the most important cards to deal with. Sideboarded games get much easier when we have access to Surgical Extraction; just watch out for Blood Moon.
Moving forward, I think Grixis Death’s Shadow is in a solid place with a good matchup against a lot of the most popular decks. The deck is robust, and can prepare for whatever the metagame looks like. Make sure you get your reps in if you are just picking up the deck because there are a lot of unintuitive lines that operate on thin margins.
Shout outs to Ben Jones for the 75, Brandon Dollaway for the sideboard notes, Jake Haversat, Jt DiMaio, Tom Smiley, Mitch Moody, Griffin Russell for making the weekend in Toronto great, Zac Turgeon for helping with testing, Nex-Gen Comics for being an amazing LGS, and all of my friends back home for the outpouring of support throughout the years. I love you all.
“Just keep beating people until they tell you to go home”