Death to Death’s Shadow?

by | Jun 28, 2017 | MTG

Death, taxes, and…the incessant call for some card – or cards – to fall to ban-hammer in Modern? If the ever-increasing call for Modern bannings isn’t a guarantee in life, then it’s awfully close. And the latest call: Death’s Shadow decks. Depending upon which person you speak to or what forum(s) you stumble across, opinions range from banning Street Wraith or pushing the nuclear button and completely nerfing the entire deck by banishing Death’s Shadow.

So let’s discuss…

I actually play Grixis Death’s Shadow – though it isn’t the traditional (meaning: popular) build. Always a fan of Delver of Secrets, I’ve done away with the Street Wraiths in favor of the transforming 3/2 beat-stick. And I love it.

The deck is inherently powerful: the average CMC of the deck is slightly north of 1.0, allowing only 19 lands to be needed; the deck is incredibly consistent; and it can morph from aggro to control back to aggro unlike any other deck I’ve ever run. But it’s not perfect – far from it, honestly.

Bant Eldrazi and/or Eldrazi Tron is just a terrible matchup – especially is they find any Path to Exiles or Engineered Explosives. And let’s be honest: a Turn 1 or Turn 2 Chalice of the Void is as auto-win as anything in Modern against Grixis Death’s Shadow. Affinity just chews up and spits out the deck because it’s simply faster and more explosive (more on this later). And Merfolk is increasingly frustrating because they simply flood the board with too many creatures to fight through. In fact, in order to beat Fish, several things have to occur: my removal needs to line up perfectly, they need to start slow, and I have to always be cognizant of Cursecatcher.

But, still, that hasn’t quelled the call for the deck – or a piece or pieces of the deck – to get the axe.

And then GP Las Vegas happened.

In a shocking – or not so shocking – chain of events, Grixis Death’s Shadow, considered by some to the dominating deck of the format, failed to crack the Top 8. In fact, here’s the Top 8:

  • 3x Affinity
  • 1x Mono-White Hatebears
  • 1x Eldrazi Tron
  • 1x Naya Burn
  • 1x Green-White Hatebears
  • 1x Blue-Black Taking Turns

For those keeping track at home: Affinity placed first, third, and fourth in the event.

Now, to be fair, Affinity and Grixis Death’s Shadow put the exact same number of copies in the Top 32 with six apiece. But this is far from the format warping dominance that people were projecting/expecting.

Was it a strong showing by Grixis Death’s Shadow? Yeah, absolutely. It comprised slightly more than 18% of the decks that made the Top 32. That proves that’s it’s strong, not unbeatable.

So let’s take it one step further and look at the overall meta:

  • According to Avi Mikhli, who runs a weekly Tiered List, Grixis Death’s Shadow, unequivocally the best version of Death’s Shadow, makes up just a smidgeon over 10% of the actual meta. Dredge, Eldrazi Tron, a deck that’s arguably just as powerful, and Affinity, who people tend to forget about every now and then, all clock in at about 6.5%.

So what’s the take away from this?

Well, it depends what angle you look at it:

  1. Grixis Death’s Shadow is the most popular deck, nearly 57% more popular than the next most played deck.
  2. On the other hand, no matter what format, there has to be a top, most played deck.
  3. Back in 2014, according to MTGTop8, Creatures Toolbox made up 11% and Splinter Twin made up 10% of the meta.
  4. And, of course, the latter two would eventually get nerfed.

It’s not so clear cut, is it?.

Death’s Shadow decks don’t do anything broken like Birthing Pod. And it’s not an oops-I-win deck like Twin. But it’s ridiculously consistent, obviously powerful, and yet, can be easily beaten.

So, does Death’s Shadow need a banning?

I don’t think so – at least for the next six months to see how things shake out. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see something happen either. Obviously as a pilot of a Death’s Shadow deck, I’m hoping nothing happens.