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By: olaw, Oliver Law
Sep 04 2019 12:00pm
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Hello!

Welcome to another Becoming A Modern Man!  In this article I am taking a look at Mardu Death's Shadow in Modern. 

DECK TECH

My decklist is based on the deck played by Jacob Wilson at the Mythic Championship IV.

 

Creatures

Death's Shadow
Death's Shadow
The deck's namesake and one of the most powerful one-drops in the format.  The trade off is your life but Shadow can quickly become a huge threat and for just a single-mana is incredibly efficient.

Hex Parasite
Hex Parasite
Hex Parasite is some sweet tech for the deck.  It provides another tutor target for Ranger-Captain of Eos and one that can be extremely powerful.  Hex Parasite's ability can be used repeatedly to reduce your life by 2 each time - allowing you to grow Death's Shadow to epic proportions at a moment's notice.  It's ability can also be a useful way to answer planeswalkers and various other situations so it's definitely no slouch.

Tidehollow Sculler
Tidehollow Sculler
Sculler is a nice supplement to our hand disruption suite.  Hand disruption is an important aspect of the deck as we look to protect our threats.  Sculler adds a body to the board and steals a card from the opponent's hand which is a nice combination.

Ranger-Captain of Eos
Ranger-Captain of Eos

This new Modern Horizons card is the primary reason the deck has moved into white.  Ranger-Captain is a great tutor for Death's Shadow and also works very nicely with Unearth as a way of building a dominating board presence.  Ranger-Captain's sacrifice ability can also be a useful way to buy an extra turn against a deck like Tron or Storm, prevent a last minute board wipe or hurt any other deck looking to operate at sorcery speed.

Street Wraith
Street Wraith
Street Wraith is a free cycle so it digs us deeper into our deck while also reducing our life total.  It's a great card to keep our momentum going while also moving forward our life reduction gameplan.

Gurmag Angler
Gurmag Angler
A former staple of Death's Shadow decks it seems that recent builds are cutting down on the ferocious fish. However, it still provides a substantial and cheap threat.  I guess the delve cards aren't quite as good in Mardu Death's Shadow which doesn't have the support of Thought Scour and other cantrips to really stock up the graveyard. 

Spells

Path to Exile
Path to Exile
Path is a higher value removal spell in the current format than it otherwise has been because it's a great answer to Hogaak, ensuring it cannot come back.

Fatal Push
Fatal Push
More cheap removal to clear the way for Death's Shadow.  Like everything else in the deck, Push is cheap and efficient which is very much crucial to the gameplan.

Unearth
Unearth
Another Modern Horizons newcomer, though admittedly it is a reprint from Urza's Block.  Unearth is a powerful card for the deck capable of bringing back a Death's Shadow or Ranger-Captain from the graveyard for value or can be cycled in a pinch to dig a bit deeper.

ThoughtseizeInquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize/Inquisition of Kozilek
This classic hand disruption package is a powerful way to protect our Death's Shadows from removal and other disruption.  Thoughtseize also helps drain our life to power up Death's Shadow and is a good way to power into an early Shadow.

Temur Battle Rage
Temur Battle Rage
Temur Battle Rage is a big card for the deck as it's a good way to answer strategies that go wide and either chump or attack past Death's Shadow.  Temur Battle Rage when combined with a high power Death's Shadow can end a game in a hurry.

Artifacts

Mishra's Bauble
Mishra's Bauble
Bauble feels like a bit of a hangover from the Grixis Death's Shadow decks.  With the Delve cards largely gone it's not really an essential part of the Mardu shell but it does give us additional draws without having to tap into blue.  Maintaining velocity and pushing towards your key cards is important and Bauble does help to do that.

Nihil Spellbomb
Nihil Spellbomb
The main deck spellbombs are a concession to the Hogaak menace.  Hopefully these will not be necessary moving forward but they do provide a good piece of main deck disruption for graveyards without losing too much in the way of card advantage.

Lands

Silent Clearing
Silent Clearing

Perhaps oddly this card really stood out to me as being one of the best additions to the deck.  With a deck that runs on so little mana it's really useful to be able to cash additional lands in for extra cards.  Also, as a painland, you can use it to slowly uptick your Death's Shadows as required.  Silent Clearing was always useful and added nicely to the deck's velocity.

GAMEPLAY


Our first matchup is against Rakdos Goblins.  Strategies that go wide can be very problematic for Death's Shadow decks but we at least have the benefit of Rakdos Goblins being a bit slower than it's more traditional aggro counterparts.


Our second matchup is against Burn.  Perhaps this isn't a very good matchup.  Our deck has a lot of cards that intentionally reduce our life total which is what the Burn deck is trying to do.  The best hope is probably sticking a quick Death's Shadow and beating down as quickly as possible but this matchup is always going to be tricky given how badly our strategy lines up with theirs.


Our third matchup is against Hardened Scales Affinity.  This was a tricky matchup as their deck has the ability to generate a lot of tokens and blockers and evasive threats.  Hand disruption helps and having access to Temur Battle Rage gives us a way to hit through their board.


Our fourth matchup is against a classic GR Tron deck.  GR Tron has fallen out of favour in Modern for Mono-Green Tron largely - the red primarily being used for board sweepers like Pyroclasm or Firespout back in the day.  It felt like Tron should be a good matchup with Ranger-Captain of Eos being a nice way to lock them out of their turns and Death's Shadow enjoying the lack of blockers in their deck.  The reality of this matchup though was that we just couldn't quite disrupt and kill fast enough to keep them off their gameplan.  Fulminator Mage works nicely out of the sideboard and perhaps a more aggressive mulliganing approach is warranted for this matchup.


Our fifth matchup was against Mono-Blue Tron.   We had a similarly troublesome matchup here as we did against the last Tron deck.  They have a few cards that are quite frustrating for us and Walking Ballista poses a real threat if we go hard on life loss.  The match is certainly winnable and probably even favourable but this ended up breaking the wrong way for us.

FURTHER SOURCES

Michael Rapp, a prominent Death's Shadow, has had some success with Mardu Death's Shadow, winning a MCQ, and wrote a great article about the deck at Hipsters of the Coast.

Even more recently, Rory Kear-Smith took down GP Birmingham with the list below which is extremely similar to Jacob Wilson's original list.

 

CONCLUSIONS

Overall, our run with the deck here was not the best. I wasn't left with the best impression of the deck as a result.  Though certainly other people do seem to be having success with the deck so perhaps a bad run is just a bad run.  However, for me, the deck felt like it lacked a bit of killer instinct while also playing a strategy that leaves it vulnerable.  I never felt quite as in control of the game as I had done playing Grixis Death's Shadow back in the day.

The Grixis version of the deck may have found new life with the recent bannings in the format and it will be interesting to see what form Death's Shadow will take moving forward.

After the bannings I am sure a lot of things are going to change but Mardu Death's Shadow certainly hasn't lost anything and still feels like a viable option.  At these early stages it's difficult to say which direction the format is going to go but Death's Shadow may well have a bigger place in the future.

Thanks for reading,

Oliver Law (olaw on MTGO)