Death Shadow: The Hero Modern Needs
by Connor Bryant
This past weekend, Death Shadow Jund put up huge results in the hands of the Channel Fireball Team Fire and Team Mutiny conglomerate. Josh Utter-Leyton took down GP Vancouver with this 75.
The card Death Shadow isn’t new to the Modern format. It was featured in a more aggressive Temur Battle Rage- Become Immense version last season before the Gitaxian Probe banning. This version of the deck is fundamentally different. Instead of using Death’s Shadow as a combo piece, this deck utilizes the 13/13 better as a stand in for Tarmogoyf. In the spirit of a traditional Jund deck, this deck is trying to disrupt its opponents plan and present a fast clock. The presence of a few Temur Battle Rage keeps the opponent honest and gives deck reach in a clogged board state. The 8 cyclers that pay into the synergy of the deck are reminiscent of Gitaxian Probe. Traverse the Ulvenwald even allows for a small tutor package and increased redundancy. Every card is at a great mana-to-impact rate. The threats in the deck invalidate Lightning Bolts and other red point removal. It is no mystery why this deck smashed the tournament last week.
Where does that bring us? The removal suites in Modern need to be aware of this deck and the recent trends in the format. The delve creatures have gotten better with the emergence of Fatal Push as premium removal spell. Thought-Knot Seer and his Eldrazi buddies have reemerged in the Eldazi Ton decks. Lightning Bolt as a removal spell is not what it once was. If you are being aggressive, keep firing off them Bolts but if you are using it to clear creatures you may want to look elsewhere. The transition away from Lightning Bolt leaves the other two premium 1 mana removal spells to gain. Fatal Push hits most creatures in the format in conjunction with a fetchland. Path to Exile gives the opponent a bump in mana but handles everything in the format cleanly. This pushes midrange decks away from red and towards black and/or white. Lingering Souls has defined midrange mirrors since its printing and will continue to do so. A list that exemplifies these trends comes from GP Brisbane.
For a while, Modern hasn’t been a format that revolved around the midrange mirrors. It has been defined by linear decks teeing off on each other to see who can assemble their game breaking combos first. Decks were incentivized to curve out and do their thing as opposed to try to interact. Decks like Scapeshift, Infect, Storm, Affinity and Burn have been the pace setters for Modern, until now. There has been a general dissatisfaction with those iterations of Modern; it made the variance in pairings and die rolls soul crushing. The best chance you had was to pack versatile sideboard cards and pray you played against the decks you came packing for. Modern was a frustrating format for most.
Death Shadow Aggro may change that. It is a lot like the Delver decks in Legacy but with the inherent Modern characteristics. The Modern interaction isn’t as good as Force of Will or Daze but Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek aren’t far off. It’s clock can sometimes be just as fast as the Modern combo decks. Having a fair deck that can hang with the combo decks is important for Modern. It incentivizes a fair fight instead of two linear decks racing by each other. The level of interaction in decks is a general indicator of how much “Magic” is being played in a format. Death Shadow Aggro has upped that index.
The next step is the emergence of bigger midrange decks like Abzan or the Esper Delve deck featured above. The combo decks beat up on these slower midrange decks and then Death Shadow Aggro beats up on the combo decks. It looks like we have found a Rock-Paper-Scissors situation. While Modern is never that simple because there are so many playable decks, this general paradigm is a good thing for the format; it lends some predictability.
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