‘I don’t always lose all my life, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis (-X/-X)’

So here in Modern we get to enjoy a few perks that other formats don’t have. Mostly, that this is an incredibly open format, host to more viable decks than Legacy or Standard. Modern has new brews popping up posting 4-0 and 3-1 results in Daily Events seemingly out of nowhere. This is the story of one of those decks.

In a format with everything from Turn 3 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn to UWR Control finally finishing someone off on Turn 15, I always wonder why a no-ability creature like Tarmogoyf is not only the most expensive card in the format, but also one of the most played.

No surprise here: Cheap threats are good. A 4/5 tearing through your life total starting on Turn 3 can force you to adjust your plans and postpone your victory dance so you can “Get this guy off of me!” Knowing this, I have discovered a way to get a much bigger threat for even less mana.

Engineering a game state that revolves around forcing an opponent to interact with a cheap, immediate threat, and then stifling those interactions feels almost too much like control for an avid combo player like me, but when the payoff is a 50/50 unblockable creature as early as Turn 3, I can’t possibly say no.

The Basics

The deck seeks to abuse the static ability that decides Death’s Shadow‘s power and toughness. The optimal game involves a rapid reduction of your own life total via Spoils of the Vault or Plunge into Darkness, a large Death’s Shadow, and a few combat steps. Faith’s Shield, a discard suite, and Leyline of Sanctity provide various forms of protection from the format’s most prevalent disruption. And since you can only trust Death’s Shadow as far as you can throw it, Rite of Consumption serves as our “Fling“. This route to victory enjoys a certain amount of stability, as traditional removal (Path to Exile, Abrupt Decay, etc.) can’t stop the Rite from consuming the shadow after Rite is cast.

In a perfect world, a simple game goes as follows: Turn 2 Spoils into a big Shadow — or Turn 2 Plunge into a big Turn 3 Shadow while snagging a sweet card from the Plunge — then, smash for 10, and finally Rite of Consumption for what’s left.

But it’s not always that simple.

It’s Not Stupid… It’s Advanced!

Playing a deck that wants to be at 1-5 life is risky business, so here are some things you’re going to need to know to get out of the mess you’re almost guaranteed to be in.

  • Angel’s Grace allows you to “lose life” below 1. If you cast Spoils of the Vault naming Boggart Shenanigans, the whole deck flips over and Death’s Shadow gets +X/+X where X is equal to your negative life total (made positive) plus 13.
  • Spellskite can target anything on the stack, even a fetch land trigger or a Death’s Shadow being cast. If you have a ‘skite in play, you can almost pick the power and toughness of your Shadow.
  • Rite of Consumption can win it for you out of nowhere if you cast Angel’s Grace and then Spoils of the Vault to search it up. Sometimes, though, your opponent has closer to 35 life than 15, so if you have enough land, you can Spoils of the Vault for a second copy of Spoils first, and then use the second Spoils to snag the Rite to make sure you’re low enough.

 

One way that Modern is balanced is by Wizards’ refusal to print specific card tutor effects since 8th Edition. With Green Sun’s Zenith being banned, only a few tutor effects have survived, and fewer still are even remotely playable. One of the things this deck can boast that no other in the format can, is having 8 “tutor” effects. Plunge into Darkness for 15-17 life basically guarantees you that 4-off you’ve been wanting, while Spoils of the Vault will take you directly to your card of choice, and more often than not, also your life total of choice.

Faith’s Shield is by far the best card in the deck. I would happily cut any card in the deck, including a Death’s Shadow to play a 5th copy, and if I could, I’d go all the way up to 12 copies or so. Faith’s Shield does everything you could ask of a card and more. Need a Falter? How about a Rebuff the Wicked? Sometimes it’s a 5th-8th copy of Angel’s Grace. For only 1 mana, any removal or disruption or “Lightning Bolt”-effect your opponent has is easily thwarted by you only holding up a single Plains. The opportunity to trade a Faith’s Shield for a Cryptic Command or Abrupt Decay puts you in control of the action.

It’s important to appreciate the holistic nature of this deck. Lines of play shift drastically in the first two turns of the game, depending on what an opponent is playing and what you have in the grip. Even how much life you choose to spend on lands during Turn 1 and Turn 2 can change everything. Sometimes we’re playing a blazingly fast combo deck; sometimes we play a longer, controlling game. Working knowledge of the metagame is critical to even begin playing this pile, let alone playing it in any kind of optimal way. With that in mind, let’s go over some of the more common matchups.

Splinter Twin

Against decks with counters, the most important thing you can do is threaten them early with a large Death’s Shadow. Additionally, since Twin can run either Flame Slash or Dismember, you aren’t going to want to put a Death’s Shadow into play that is any smaller than a 6/6. From there, you want to set up a game where you can stifle their interactions through Path to Exile, Thoughtseize, and Faith’s Shield. If you can force them to sacrifice cards to protect their life total, you are going to be in good shape.

Sideboarding:
-4 Leyline of Sanctity
-1 Plains
+1 Cavern of Souls
+1 Thoughtseize
+3 Inquisition of Kozilek

UWR Control

Leyline of Sanctity is your best card in this matchup. While it’s true that they can bounce it with Cryptic Command (assuming you don’t have a Faith’s Shield), it often buys you enough time to put them on the back foot. Similar to the Twin matchup, you want to be aggressive with your Death’s Shadows, but in this matchup you need to be aware of Path to Exile. If it all possible, do your best to protect your Shadow with a Faith’s Shield. The best advice for this matchup is to force them to have it. They play a lot of cards that won’t interact favorably, and you can steal a lot of wins with sheer aggression.

Sideboarding:
-3 Avatar of Hope
-1 Slaughter Pact
-1 Swamp
+1 Cavern of Souls
+1 Thoughtseize
+3 Inquisition of Kozilek

Melira Pod

This matchup is considerably easier than the first two, since the Pod player has very few cards that disrupt what you’re doing. This is one matchup where you get to function more like a combo deck. The general idea here is to sculpt a hand that contains a Death’s Shadow, a Faith’s Shield, and some way to kill your opponent in a single attack. We can’t beat an infinite life loop, so make sure to avoid the trap of keeping a hand with no specific plan, even if that plan is Path to Exile and Thoughtseize.

Sideboarding:
-1 Slaughter Pact
-2 Thoughtseize
+3 Infest

Jund/BG/Ajundi

The most important card in this matchup is Leyline of Sanctity. Starting the game with Leyline on board can blank 4-5 different cards depending on the build, and can buy you those extra turns. Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze aren’t threatening compared to Inquizition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize, so its not crazy to mulligan a decent hand to hit that Leyline. Other than direct discard, Liliana of the Veil is really the only thing that can put them ahead, and Leyline of Sanctity mutes the -2 and the ultimate ability.

Sideboarding:
-2 Thoughtseize
-1 Slaughter Pact
+3 Celestial Purge

Robots

Robots only has a few weapons against us, namely Inkmoth Nexus and Etched Champion. It plays perfectly into our hands, damaging us enough to slam a well-timed Avatar of Hope to hold the fort, while we put them in “the abyss” with a 10/10 Death’s Shadow. This is one of the matchups where we are playing control, not combo.

-4 Faith’s Shield
-2 Thoughtseize
+3 Inquisition of Kozilek
+3 Infest

Scapeshift/R(x)DW/Storm

Sometimes we’re 80%+ to win from the start. Scapeshift, Storm, and R(x)DW all have problems with our strategies. Scapeshift and Storm are weak to a single Angel’s Grace during their “going off” turn, and in the case of Storm, also a Faith’s Shield. This, followed up by a Path for a Primeval Titan or an Infest for Empty the Warrens, leaves these decks dead in the water. R(x)DW, of course, has a hard time with Leyline of Sanctity, and this is only compounded by an Avatar of Hope and a series of Faith’s Shields and Angel’s Graces.

Bogles

Bogles used to be our worst matchup, almost unbeatable. With its continued popularity, I reached out to my stream for answers. We came up with Favor of the Mighty. By boarding out Avatar of Hope, nearly all creatures that will enter play have 1 converted mana cost. This makes all their enchantments fall off their “bogles” while also giving Death’s Shadow protection from Path to Exile. Since the deck basically plays 8 tutors, it’s very easy to find a Favor of the Mighty to make Game 2 and Game 3 a slam dunk.

The deck is exhilarating; it’s life on the edge. The risk is certainly there, but the reward is an array of one-shot kills. If you want to challenge yourself, if danger is your middle name, then dance with Death’s Shadow.

Click below to watch a video on my Youtube channel of me playing a version of this deck in an important Modern matchup!

 

I want to thank:

  • Nick “King of Games” Benoliel
  • My viewers on Twitch, for their time, feedback, and support.
  • Luis Scott-Vargas, for featuring the deck on DailyMTG and for his words of support.
  • Dan Kaplan and Dan Bopes.

 

You can visit my Twitch.tv channel at http://twitch.tv/stealthpants.

 
  1. I’ve watched this deck on stream from almost the inception, and have even built it in paper (with permission of course). I can’t tell you how much fun this deck is.

    The first time my LGS saw it in play, no-one knew how to handle it and I x-0′d a local.

    I do, however, completely agree with Dan – Kaboom! for the win…

    Great article, great deck, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Great article! Keep up the good job, Mr Stealthpants, I’ll try to catch up with the stream, like in the beginning!

  3. ptenbob said: “’I’ve watched this deck on stream from almost the inception, and have even built it in paper (with permission of course)….”

    Asking permission is sweet of you, but it’s Magic, not sampling Toys in the Attic. :P

  4. Dear “anonymous”,
    We tried Phyrexian Unlife but went against it because if it gets Abrupt Decayed that can be a big problem. Also 3 CMC can be stressfull on the manabase if we want to hold up for Faith’s Shield or Angel’s Grace

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