Grixis Death's Shadow has solidified itself as a staple deck in Modern over the past year. Death's Shadow itself remains on the watch list for cards next up for bannings in the format, but I expect Grixis Shadow decks to maintain strong results until that happens. Along with Street Wraith, Thoughtseize and fetch lands, Shadow is a truly broken card.
Over the years, we have seen different versions of the deck. Death's Shadow Zoo was perhaps the most quietly dominant deck ever in Modern, and since then Shadow decks have adapted to more midrange strategies. Jund Death's Shadow is the new-school Rock deck, and Grixis Death's Shadow has also supplanted traditional Grixis Control strategies.
Modern is quite a fast format, and readers of my Modern content know that I prefer decks that are fair decks that have a bit of unfair in them. When Brad Nelson won SCG Baltimore last year with Grixis Death's Shadow, it was the most controlling version of the deck yet. Sporting the full playset of Snapcaster Mage in addition to multiple Kolaghan's Commands and Terminates made the deck great at grinding long games. Death's Shadow is unfair on its own, but recently Grixis Shadow decks have been going back to Temur Battle Rage plans. The rise of big mana decks and Baral pushing Storm to a new level has necessitated changes to slower Grixis decks.
Modern is still a wide format that doesn't change too much on a month-to-month basis, and sometimes decks take a bit of extra time to tune themselves. After playing with Temur Battle Rage it's very likely that it went overlooked for the first year or so after this deck broke out – the power Battle Rage brings to the deck makes this a truly unfair Modern deck. At the same time, having tons of disruption and removal while also having incredibly undercosted threats makes Grixis Shadow one of the best weapons to combat combo decks of all flavors. I have found that having the full four Stubborn Denial adds a ton of protection to beat combo decks, while also providing more brute-force, threat-heavy draws.
Many people mistake Grixis Shadow as a control deck. This could not be further from the truth, but it does remind me of the Grixis Delver decks I used to play because of its fluidity in roles. Grixis Shadow surely can play like a control deck, just as much as it can play as a combo, aggro or midrange deck. This ability often separates good decks from great ones, putting Grixis Shadow in good company.
Most of these decks look the same with two or three tech choices. I'm playing two Battle Rage, an extra Gurmag Angler and Stubborn Denial. I'm certainly positioning my deck to be better against any non-control decks. I've also been playing one Lighting Bolt over a Fatal Push as there are many matchups where Push is either dead or Bolt is essentially the same card (though harder to cast). This lets you steal some wins where Push would be stuck in your hand, oftentimes Bolting yourself to grow the Shadow.
Control matchups are certainly the deck's weakness – I've found many Jeskai and Grixis Control to be tough matchups. One of the reasons I play Fulminator Mage is actually to combat Celestial Colonnade control decks. While it helps against Tron, that matchup is already incredibly favorable. A huge issue against these Jeskai decks is Colonnade since it can often just one-shot you and it's hard to leave in Fatal Push as you can lose to having a dead card. Fulminator Mage is awesome here since it's almost always a two-for-one as you can kill a land if they try to remove it.
Death's Shadow is still pretty much favored against any deck when it's on the play, as your life total matters much less while your Thoughtseizes and Denials are extra strong. This makes it a pretty awesome tournament deck as it can't really be hated out, and sometimes it's a good thing to embrace a bit of die roll variance to spike a Top 8.
- Steve Rubin