Grixis Death's Shadow
Grixis Death’s Shadow is an aggro-control deck that is set up to take advantage of the potentially cheap casting costs of large creatures like Death’s Shadow, Gurmag Angler, and Tasigur, the Golden Fang alongside efficient disruption like Thoughtseize and Stubborn Denial. Grixis Death’s Shadow’s main game plan is to get a large creature into play ahead of schedule by either reducing its own life total to enable Death’s Shadow, or by filling its graveyard quickly to reduce the casting cost of delve creatures. Once a threat has been deployed, the deck’s goal is to disrupt its opponent’s plays with discard, counterspells, and removal spells for long enough to end the game with said creature.
For a midrange-style deck, Grixis Death’s Shadow’s core cards depend on each other a great deal in order to function, in a way somewhat reminiscent of a combo deck. The core of the deck is the creatures (Death’s Shadow, Gurmag Angler, Tasigur), the set-up cards for those creatures (Street Wraith, Thought Scour, Thoughtseize, fetch lands), and the payoffs for establishing a creature on the board (Stubborn Denial, sometimes Temur Battle Rage). These core elements mingle in a way that makes each of them more powerful in this deck than they are elsewhere.
Outside of the slots these cards occupy, there exist some strong options for Grixis Death’s Shadow. General purpose interaction like Fatal Push, Dismember, and Terminate are easy inclusions. Serum Visions or Opt are usually included for additional card selection. Inquisition of Kozilek, while weaker than Thoughtseize, is included to more consistently disrupt opponents’ hands. Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan’s Command are included in some number to add late-game staying power or as additional disruption, and both 3-mana Lilianas often find their way into lists as well to add some diversity to the deck’s threats.
Grixis Death’s Shadow’s manabase is very lean and is built to compliment the set-up of Death’s Shadow and delve creatures, being composed of 12 fetch lands, 4-5 shock lands, and 1 of each basic Swamp and Island. Fetch lands help enable delve and Death’s Shadow by adding cards to your graveyard and reducing your life total, shock lands help enable Death’s Shadow by reducing your life total, and basic lands give you the option to fetch without paying too much life if you feel your life total is in danger, and also help ensure you don’t get completely wrecked by Blood Moon, Field of Ruin, or Path to Exile.
Because of the somewhat reactive nature of Grixis Death’s Shadow, your sideboard is likely to mostly include matchup-specific interaction that your maindeck doesn’t cover very well. As such, what you choose to commit sideboard slots to is going to vary greatly depending on what you expect to see in your metagame. Some of the more popular options are discussed below:
Engineered Explosives - Catch-all for problematic permanents, good for killing multiple cheap creatures.
Ceremonious Rejection - Efficient counterspell against Tron, Eldrazi, Lantern, or Affinity, which all have lots of problematic cards that Ceremonious Rejection answers cleanly.
Liliana’s Defeat - Good in Death’s Shadow mirror matches, or against traditional BGx decks with Dark Confidant and Liliana.
Nihil Spellbomb - The best option for efficient graveyard removal that doesn’t disrupt your own graveyard-dependent game plan.
Surgical Extraction - Decent to great against graveyard decks, and reasonable against combo decks that only have a few cards that matter against you.
Collective Brutality - Primarily good against Burn where all 3 modes are relevant, secondarily good against spell-based combo and control as an additional discard effect.
Disdainful Stroke - Mostly included for ramp decks like Tron or Scapeshift, as stopping their big plays is usually life or death.
Izzet Staticaster - Repeatable removal for decks with lots of 1-toughness creatures.
Lightning Bolt - Not included as much anymore, but there are matchups where having additional 1-mana removal is very good, and Lightning Bolt is the second best option for this after Fatal Push. Also answers Jace if opponent doesn’t +2 right away.
Pyroclasm / Kozilek’s Return / Anger of the Gods - Efficient ways to catch-up against creature swarm strategies. With Grixis Death’s Shadow I tend to lean towards Kozilek’s Return, as Anger can be hard to cast, and Pyroclasm doesn’t deal with opposing man lands or Etched Champion which are problematic out of the Affinity deck.
Vendilion Clique - Additional attacker that also disrupts your opponent
Jace, the Mind Sculptor - For matchups where you expect your opponent will be able to deal with your first few creatures. Pressures your opponent on a different axis and serves as a way to catch up or solidify a lead.
Fulminator Mage - Disruption for big mana decks. Couples well with Kolaghan’s Command as a way to bury opponents whose game plan involves having lots of lands in play.
Young Pyromancer - Additional threat that couples well with all of your cheap spells.
Dreadbore - Supplement or alternative to Terminate for decks with planeswalkers.
What to sideboard out:
Because the core of Grixis Death’s Shadow is such a well-oiled machine, sideboarding can be tricky as there are many cards you can’t touch because they are too important to the deck’s functioning. Usually you are going to be swapping out one type of interaction for another. In matchups where creature removal is bad, you are going to want to take out Fatal Push, Terminate, and Dismember. In matchups where Stubborn Denial doesn’t have many great targets, you will want to take those out. Against decks you expect will want to kill all of your creatures and grind you down to few resources, you will probably want to take out cards that require you to have a creature in play like Temur Battle Rage or Stubborn Denial because you can’t guarantee they’ll be good if you draw them.
It may feel weird at first, but with this deck it’s usually correct to pay the 2 life for your shock lands to enter untapped even if you don’t need the mana that turn. Getting a large Death’s Shadow into play early can be very important.
Sequencing the early turns with this deck is very important, as most of your spells cost 1 mana and your decision trees change drastically based on what order you cast your cards in. It’s usually correct to Thoughtseize or Inquisition your opponent on turn 1 if you have the option, and use the information you gain from it to decide how to sequence the rest of your hand. It’s also important to note how many cards you will have in your graveyard after each spell you cast in the first couple turns so you know at what point you can cast a Tasigur or Gurmag Angler, as it’s usually the case that the earlier you get one of these into play the better. Most draws that contain a Thought Scour will produce a delve creature on turn 2 if you have one. Games where you have a big creature in play with Stubborn Denial up by turn 2 or 3 are the reason to play this deck, and mis-sequencing your set-up cards can cause this to come online a turn or 2 later than it should.
Street Wraith is a bit trickier to use than it looks on the surface. There are going to be times where you have sufficient action and don’t need to cycle it right away. But, if you are looking for a creature to play and don’t have one, or you know hitting something like a Stubborn Denial will seal the game, go ahead and cycle it. If you have what is probably close to the best possible play sequence already for how much mana you have or the game state, you don’t need to cycle your Wraith right away, as you can get value from it by suddenly pumping a Death’s Shadow in combat, or using it to draw a card that is scried to the top with Serum Visions. Sometimes if games go long enough it can be correct to just cast Street Wraith instead of cycling it as well. It’s easy to just cycle Street Wraith without thinking about it, but considering the reasons why you should or shouldn’t cycle your Street Wraiths right away can give you a huge edge.
When is Grixis Death’s Shadow good?
Grixis Death’s Shadow is great in metagames where spell-based combo is popular, as the combination of a fast clock with lots of disruption is usually too much for these decks to work through. It is also somewhat favored against most builds of blue-based control. Its other matchups are mostly even or somewhat favorable, and it’s hard to argue that there is really a truly bad time to play Grixis Death’s Shadow if you are proficient with it.
When is Grixis Death’s Shadow bad?
Grixis Death’s Shadow is usually somewhat unfavored against slower BGx midrange decks, as their combination of removal, card advantage, and large creatures invalidate some of Grixis Death’s Shadow’s main angles of attack. Blue control decks are usually good matchups, but ones that dip heavily into white for cards like Supreme Verdict can give Grixis Death’s Shadow a hard time. The Burn matchup is controversial, but it seems games that involve Death’s Shadow itself are very difficult for the Burn player to navigate, while games that don’t are very favorable for Burn. But, the Grixis colors give you enough flexibility to tailor your Grixis Death’s Shadow deck for your metagame, so like I said above, there is no truly bad time to be playing this deck.
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