Good Grief Games has become somewhat of a hub for Death’s Shadow content and we are happy to present another tournament report. This one comes from the winner of the recent SCG Modern Classic in Philadelphia, Alex Vu. He battled his way through twelve rounds and is here to share his list, his experience, and where to go from here with Grixis Death’s Shadow in Modern.
2 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
1 Steam Vents
2 Watery Grave
4 Death’s Shadow
3 Gurmag Angler
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Street Wraith
1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
3 Mishra’s Bauble
4 Fatal Push
1 Lightning Bolt
3 Stubborn Denial
2 Temur Battle Rage
3 Thought Scour
1 Faithless Looting
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Serum Visions
1 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Kolaghan’s Command
1 Stubborn Denial
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Liliana, the Last Hope
1 Anger of the Gods
2 Collective Brutality
75 Cards Total
Grixis is my jam. I am firmly in the camp that Modern players should play what they know, minus the elite of course, since you need to understand what your deck “could” and “will” do. It gets you through those long nights when BGx keeps breaking your heart or when you want to stick it to that new hot broad, Phoenix/Burn, because you can envision what is coming – puns intended. For those that know me, which is nobody (just how I like it), I would like to make other Grixis variants work in Modern; e.g. Delver, Midrange, Control. Alas, Shadow is the boss, hence my choice to keep running this bad boy. Here are some of the nuanced card choices though:
One Tasigur, the Golden Fang
I am in the extreme minority on this ugly mutt, but I adore him. In my play, I have not found the extra one damage to be “that” significant; comparing it to the 5/5 Gurmag Angler. More importantly, I find it impactful to leave a particular card in the graveyard for Snapcaster Mage on a subsequent turn.
Three Serum Visions
I am currently on the Serum Visions bandwagon. I find digging deeper into the deck with the Scry 2 consistently more relevant to set-up turns instead of the “I must have a card now” argument for Sleight of Hand. In the end, I think the choice truly comes down to personal preference and play style. I hear all the commentary against Faithless Looting, however, a singleton has its place. I will gladly take the card disadvantage Game 1 if it means replacing unwanted cards with useable replacements.
You have to bring some spice. There is a lot be said about playing something unexpected. In my opinion, the card has a lot of versatility in the present format including against: Burn, Phoenix, BGx, Tron, UWx, Combo decks, and rising Prison decks.
My boy, David M., had my back on this one. I thought the tech would be insignificant and I wanted to save the slot for other utility. I was wrong. This card single handedly beat Whir Prison and assisted against Affinity. Sometimes you just come with a haymaker.
Rd 1: 2-1 over Whir Prison
We anticipated seeing this deck and I was not surprised to pair with it out of the gate. Despite having the right disruption and early threat, I was overwhelmed in Game 1 with the redundant Ensnaring Bridges. Games 2 and 3 our deck did its thing. Discard and Stubborn Denial were essential, stripping their hand of Ensnaring Bridge and force spiking Chalice of the Void on turn. In addition, Shatterstorm was a welcomed tech that I saw in both games, and it played a critical mop up roll when I cast it in Game 3, clearing the way for our threats.
Rd 2: 2-1 over Jund
As expected, this match was a grind fest. Jund did its thing and stole Game 1 from the home team by trading resources. The sideboard turned the tables as our Lilianas, Snapcaster Mages, and Kolaghan’s Commands played their role in both Games 2 and 3 by keeping my opponent’s hand empty while providing us a ticket on the card advantage train. Remember, if we are able to successfully Snapcaster/K-command during our opponent’s draw phase, we can potentially 3 for 1 our opponent by landing a threat, discarding the opponent’s draw card, and returning a creature in our graveyard.
Rd 3: 0-2 loss to Dredge [Oliver Tomajko]
I was steamed rolled in this matchup. I had poor hands despite aggressive mulligans and my highly competent opponent gave me no opportunities. Take your licks when they come.
Rd 4: 2-0 over Mono-Green Tron
Both games were uneventful. My opponent had poor hands both games. In addition, we had the balance of discard into a fat threat that rode us to victory.
Rd 5: 2-0 over Mono-Green Tron
This opponent had stronger starting hands than my Round 3 opponent, but we aggressively mulled and balanced out the hands with appropriate discard, permission, and threats. Games 1 and 2, I attacked the opponent’s mana selection cards instead of the haymakers and played the tempo game by riding a threat while holding up permission.
Worth noting, I committed to a Thought Scour and Surgical Extraction plan in Game 2. Turn 1, the opponent cast an Ancient Stirrings. On the opponent’s Turn 2 draw step, I Thought Scoured them hitting an Expedition Map and another Ancient Stirrings, unfortunately missing the Tron land. Seeing two Stirrings in the bin, I targeted the opponent’s Map and hit pay-dirt by stripping another Map out of the opponent’s hand. The end result was that my opponent stumbled getting relevant lands together for several more turns, and by the time he was able to play an Oblivion Stone the game was over.
Rd 6: 2-0 over Eldrazi Tron
I think my opponent was searching for a one-way ticket out of the tournament. He played fast and loose and made a number of sequencing mis-plays that could have impacted the outcome. Nonetheless, we stuck to our game plan, permitted him to make the misplays, and prioritized stripping cards from his hand that could have otherwise been played on curve. This essentially prevented our opponent from playing any meaningful Magic.
Rd 7: 2-0 over Hardened Scales Affinity
I think this matchup can be very challenging depending on the opponent’s draws. This version of Affinity can play the long game successfully and creates card advantage for days when orchestrated properly. We need to disrupt properly.
Game 1, I played a number of timely removals to turn off the opponent’s artifact synergies. For instance, I was able to remove Steel Overseer and Arcbound Ravager when he was short on mana thus, to prevent him for taking advantage of Animation Module.
Anticipating your opponent’s potential lines is always critical with Shadow. In Game 2, I had the option of dropping a Delve threat or Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy on Turn 2. I played Jace as bait for a removal spell so I could play a delve threat as my follow-up threat. My opponent obliged by Dismembering Jace and the subsequent threat went uncontested.
Rd 8: 2-1 over BG Rock
This was the toughest match of the day and had all the typical swings you would expect. My opponent was extremely competent and came well prepared for a Shadow showdown. Game 1, the opponent top-decked like a boss and squeaked out the victory as BG is designed to do. Game 2, I took the draw, side boarded out all of my discard, and committed to playing the long game. The match looked destined to have a similar fate as Game 1, with the opponent trading resources and top-decking appropriately. Things turned, however, as I started chaining together the Snapcaster/K-command duo. Timing the K-Command during the opponent’s draw phase was significant on at least two occasions in Game 3 as it permitted me to attack his hand with little opportunity for him to respond with his drawn card.
Bluffing can sometimes win games. In Game 3, I tried to trick my opponent into thinking I was re-side-boarding “in” my discard that he previously did not see in Game 2. Knowing that my opponent would likely draw versus play, I hoped he would be thrown off at the thought I could run a Turn 1 discard. He later confirmed that he fell for the ruse and it affected his decision making.
We had approximately 6 minutes left on the clock at the start of Game 3. I committed to playing for the win as a draw would likely not assist in the standings. Plus, I estimated that it was unlikely my opponent’s deck could defeat us within the time, minus a nut draw. We came out fast, dropped Ambush Vipers, laid delve threats, and snuck out a quick win.
Rd 9: 2-0 over Izzet Phoenix (Jonathan Carter)
The standings forced all 7-1 matches to play for Top 8. Thanks to pre-scouting, I knew Izzet Phoenix was coming. I feel comfortable in this matchup as I think our cards line up well if the pilot comes prepared and sequences correctly.
Game 1 I was on the play and stripped his hand of the necessary pieces; Manamorphose and Faithless looting. A delve threat quickly won the game before he could assemble his threats.
Game 2, on the draw, I mulled aggressively to Surgical Extraction, played around Blood Moon, and stripped Lightning Axe from his hand. By the time, he assembled an Arclight Phoenix combination, I dropped a Surgical during his combat phase and rode a follow-up Delve threat to victory.
My opponent was competent, kind, and genuine; traits you do not always see in players. If he sees this, I wish it did not have to be him. We all know how it feels. Best of luck, amigo.
Cut to Top 8 – 3rd in the Standings:
Quarterfinals: 2-0 over Izzet Phoenix (Christian Baker)
Game 1, I chose to play despite knowing that my opponent was on Izzet Phoenix. The play/draw topic is currently up for debate by the bright minds of Shadow community in this matchup. Notwithstanding, I felt more comfortable here sticking to our game plan of trying to get under Izzet Phoenix on the play for Game 1. Fortunately, a Turn 1 discard gave the information needed to sequence the subsequent turns. In Shadow fashion, we discarded away the essentials and rode a fatty to victory.
Game 2, was a grind fest but I committed to the strategy of slowing down, since we are on the draw, deploying a well-timed Surgical Extraction, and playing around Blood Moon. With some patience, I found the right time to Surgical an Arclight Phoenix during combat. The following turn, I removed a Thing in the Ice and used Snapcaster Mage to Surgical it once it hit the yard. My opponent had previously milled both Crackling Drakes. After I searched his library on the second Surgical, the only remaining win conditions were two Snapcasters and a Lightning Bolt. I played the match knowing that it was only a matter of time. Eventually, the opponent scooped.
Semi-Finals: 2-1 over Burn (Kevin Thanakit)
Burn is a very skill intensive matchup, particularly when you have a strong opponent like Kevin. Game 1 saw too many opposing haste creatures with no sufficient answers, despite a hand filled with two Shadows. The opponent’s sequencing was excellent and gave us no room to sneak out a win.
Game 2 and 3 were different stories. Familiar Shadow pilots know this matchup can turn Burn’s game plan to our advantage. In addition, our sideboard came stocked with tech that assisted us. Like many matches with Burn, the math is critical and the lines presented are constantly changing. Unfortunately, I am unable to recall precisely how the math worked out in my favor each step of the way for Games 2 and 3, but it did. As Robin Thicke wrote, “Blurred Lines.”
Although not pivotal here, I note the following: I leave some number of Thoughtseizes in post board. The opponent’s hand information is crucial in this matchup and if the discard is casted correctly, taking the two life from Thoughtseize is materially better than the three or four damage from the opponent’s burn spell.
Finals: 2-1 over Dredge [Rematch with Oliver Tomajko]
We got our rematch from our only loss in the swiss. My opponent is a well-known face in the community and his play demonstrates that. He gave us nothing, which should be expected. Game 1, both Oliver and I mulled deep. Turns out Oliver’s hand was just slow enough for my hand to get on line and slam a Shadow into a Temur Battle Rage for the win.
Game 2 our deck performed masterfully with discard, Surgical, and Shadow. This pilot, however, did not. A window for the win presented itself early, but I let the anticipation of victory get to me and stopped thinking for long enough to make a stupid misplay. I could have hit a pair of Bloodghasts with Surgical during upkeep or draw step, but instead I waited until main phase, when my opponent played a land and I dit it with the trigger on the stack. It was a fetchland so he simply fetched, re-triggered them, and swung. Not only was there no reason to wait, but this all occurred in front of an audience that watched it all unfold. I was defeated, literally and figuratively, with a Stubborn Denial and TBR in hand for the crack-back win. It happens. As one of the rail birds said best, “Magic can be hard.” Thanks for the consolatory remarks Paul. And, more telling, even Oliver stated “never look ahead to the win.” Well, duh. Do not tell me a comment like that does not motivate you. Though he did not mean it that way. I shook it off, laughed about it, stood up for a quick stretch, and zoned back in.
Game 3 our chance came again. I played a Turn 2 Nihil Spellbomb which slowed down our opponent’s aggressive dredging – at least I think it did. The second to last turn of the game my opponent attacked with a Bloodghast, and held back a Stinkweed Imp while I was at 11 life with a Shadow in play. I paid four life to Dismember the Imp, and blocked the Bloodghast with a Shadow. During the second main phase, Oliver thought deep in the tank; the only time I saw visible emotion from him across our five games. He cast a Creeping Chill, downed me to four life, and tapped out. End of turn, I popped Spellbomb for an extra card. Untapped with a Shadow, fetched down to one life, and showed a TBR for the win. Feels good.
Ben Friedman wrote an excellent article on Star City Games on March 19, 2019, linked below here. He summarized many of the same thoughts I had on matchups and the current state of Grixis Death’s Shadow, particularly in light of the rise of Phoenix decks. My current thoughts are:
Take the Draw in Grindy Matchups
I am a believer in this for the mirror, Jund, GB Rock, etc. This tournament, and my play testing, was consistent with the intelligent Shadow community minds on this matter. As noted above, my only exception is Izzet Phoenix, which I am still internally debating.
Pass on Baby Jace
I am not currently all in on Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in the sideboard for this current meta. He has been underwhelming and I think his slot could be dedicated to other desirable, versatile cards (e.g. Snapcaster, Liliana, Grim Lavamancer, etc.).
Constantly Update your Sideboard
My sideboard changes often, even after a big win such as this. If I had to re-tool it right now, I would probably run something like this:
1 Stubborn Denial
2 Collective Brutality
2 Kolaghan’s Command
3 Surgical Extraction
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Grim Lavamancer
1 Liliana, the Last Hope
Liliana of the Veil
Take Your Time
Admittedly, in intense competitive moments, I take a significant amount of time, sometimes to the annoyance of my opponents. I do not care. I work through the decision trees which serves us better than vomiting our hands and making mis-plays. Assuming you are not just milking the clock (which is definitely not what you should), I think more players should step back, breathe, and think out their
Spreading the Love
Like most players, there was a group behind me that helped with this win. Find your group, listen to them, and be sure to spread the love when someone finally spikes something. Thanks to the boys that had my back: Dave, Alex, Mark, Gabe, Russel, and even you flakey fools: Guy and Fadi. And, most importantly, I will always be the Beta to my Alpha – LN.
We hope that tournament report can help guide you to the top tables with Grixis Shadow or maybe even give you a leg up against it. In either case we hope that you enjoyed reading it. There really is no better feeling than losing only one round in swiss to then take revenge in the finals. What was your most satisfying tournament win? Come tell us about it in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back tomorrow with a tournament report from Grand Prix Tampa. Until then my friends.