Death's Shadow has been the dominant deck in Modern lately, but unlike during Eldrazi Winter the metagame has continued to adapt and remain interesting. Decks are becoming more attrition-based to fight the longer fight and Death's Shadow decks are responding with their own innovations. The Traverse the Ulvenwald package has given rise to other shells while some Death's Shadow pilots have cut it altogether in favor of adding blue cards. Today I'm going to highlight some of the key innovations made over the past month in response to the rise of Death's Shadow in Modern, focusing on seven specific archetypes.
At first glance this is the regular old Death's Shadow deck we've come to expect in Modern, but upon closer inspection we see that there are no red cards in this build! Kolaghan's Command, Temur Battle Rage, and Tarfire are replaced by Lingering Souls, Architects of Will, and… wait for this… Varolz, the Scar-Striped.
Lingering Souls isn't all that surprising, nor is an extra cycler that counts as both a creature and an artifact, but Varolz is definitely a spicy innovation. Without Kolaghan's Command to bring creatures back from the graveyard, we need another way to do something useful with the Tarmogoyfs, Street Wraiths, and Death's Shadows in our graveyard. We have one copy of Liliana, the Last Hope to bring them back, but Varolz offers us a different effect. Let's say we cast Lingering Souls and the opponent casts Fatal Push on our 5/6 Tarmogoyf. If we have Varolz, we can pay two mana and exile Tarmogoyf to make one of the Spirit Tokens into a 6/6 flyer. The best use, however, would be to pay one mana and exile Death's Shadow to make the Spirt token into a 14/14 flyer! Unlike Tarmogoyf, Death's Shadow's power and toughness are always the same when in the graveyard since getting smaller for your life total is only checked when on the battlefield. So even if you're at twenty life, it still grants 13 counters when exiled with Varolz, the Scar-Striped.
While this deck is certainly innovative, the next deck will really surprise you. Leading with Mishra's Bauble into Overgrown Tomb into Traverse the Ulvenwald doesn't necessary translate to Death's Shadow anymore.
This deck eschews red and white, but more importantly it eschews Death's Shadow altogether! It's actually just a Sultai Delirium deck that utilizes many of the same cards as Death's Shadow's core strategy, mostly because they are both primarily Traverse the Ulvenwald decks.
They both use a lot of the same disruptive spells, including removal and discard. Both also have Tarmogoyf as a four-of, which shouldn't be at all surprising when accelerating to delirium is the goal. Where things get interesting is in the Traverse the Ulvenwald package. Instead of Death's Shadow, we see Jace, Vryn's Prodigy as a way to flashback a disruptive spell or a Traverse the Ulvenwald, which can re-open the toolbox yet again to find any of the following one-ofs.
- Eternal Witness to buy back Traverse or whatever else.
- Glen Elendra Archmage to lock out any spell-based strategy.
- Grave Titan because daddy's home.
- Scavenging Ooze against graveyard-based strategies.
- Shriekmaw when something needs to die.
- Ishkanah, Grafwidow when we need a bunch of blockers.
- Courser of Kruphix or Tireless Tracker when we just want to draw cards.
The sideboard has nine more bullets of various variety, including life gain, artifact hate, enchantment kill, more creature removal, and even Emrakul, the Promised End! If you're looking for something spicy to play, I recommend Sultai Delirium. If you're looking for something a little more tame, check out what Lantern Control has done to adapt to the current metagame:
Everything in this build looks pretty standard except for the FOUR COPIES OF Leyline of Sanctity MAIN DECK!!!
What?!? This is a very bold move, Cotton. But evidently it is working out for them just fine. With the amount of discard in Death's Shadow strategies, frustrated Lantern players decided they would rather show up pre-sideboard than to put down their beloved Ghoulcaller's Bells and Codex Shredders. It also improves the Burn matchup immensely, which is another matchup tough matchup for Lantern. If your metagame heavily consists of decks with Lava Spike or Thoughtseize, then playing main deck Leyline of Sanctity is a legitimate strategy. It's also good against Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle since there are no creature targets in this archetype, making this likely the best strategy to employ main deck Leyline of Sanctity.
The only other strategy I can think of that could realistically get away with main deck Leyline of Sanctity, except perhaps Slippery Bogle, is Sun and Moon.
This version doesn't quite have the boldness of the Lantern deck, but it has those four copies of Leyline of Sanctity in the sideboard just in case.
A piece of innovation that occurred when Kaladesh came out was Chandra, Torch of Defiance. I played with this deck before Kaladesh and felt that it lacked another strong plansewalker. As soon as Chandra was revealed, I immediate thought of this deck. She has held her own quite admirably ever since, but the new piece of innovation is Tezzeret's Gambit.
Tezzeret's Gambit is card draw that can also add loyalty to planeswalkers or counters to Chalice of the Void. It can also add another luck counter to Gemstone Caverns. This won't accomplish anything useful, but it's a flavor homerun, allowing you to be luckier than you ever thought possible!
If you don't believe in luck, maybe you're a robot. If so, I have just the deck for you!
Affinity's newest innovation is four copies of Glint-Nest Crane. The primary function of the bird is to find Cranial Plating more reliably, making it essentially a flying Stoneforge Mystic, but in this deck it will nearly always find something. I'm a bit surprised it's taken this long for the metallic bird to find its way into the archetype, but I suppose the metagame had been more combo-centric in the past and is now more attrition-based, given the prevalence of Traverse the Ulvenwald strategies. Affinity has nevertheless adapted. Since artifacts are brown like coffee and Glint-Nest Crane is the new innovation, I'm hoping we can finally put to rest the debate between "Affinity" and "Robots" by compromising on "Cawfee" as the deck's new name. Or perhaps since the deck is all amped up and aggro, "Cawffeine."
In the spirit of Tax Day approaching, there are only three certainties in life: Death, Taxes, and Craig Wescoe talking about Death and Taxes in his Modern article. I'd hate to disappoint you, so here we go.
White-Black Eldrazi Taxes has become a Modern staple over the past year and the lists have all been nearly identical, even down to exactly three copies of Wasteland Strangler across all lists. Well, we finally got some innovation in the form of card advantage from an old friend – Dark Confidant.
I'd been thinking this deck could really use something like Dark Confidant as it tends to run out of cards more frequently than the other Leonin Arbiter decks that can afford to run Horizon Canopy. Glad to see that's the direction the deck has gone. It also has Fatal Push in the sideboard as an upgrade to Sunlance, and also Mirran Crusader for the Death's Shadow matchup. Four copies of Rest in Peace sends an emphatic message to all the graveyard strategies, including Traverse the Ulvenwald decks. I like that Wasteland Strangler gets permanently turned on by it.
In the past year, white-black had been the only Death and Taxes variant having success in Modern until I put Mono-White Death and Taxes on the map with my Top 4 finish in the MOCS playoff two months ago. Now, another personal favorite color combination of mine has been cropping back up on the back of a few different innovations.
As I said before, Modern is a lot more attrition-based now than it has been in recent years. In response, decks are adapting by adding slower card advantage engines. In Hatebears, Eternal Witness has been the engine of choice.
Eternal Witness is a good fit for a few reasons. First, it can bring Ghost Quarter back from the graveyard to continue blowing up all the opponent's lands and land-locking them under Leonin Arbiter. It can bring back Path to Exile to continue taking care of annoying creatures like Tarmogoyf or Death's Shadow. It can also rebuy cards lost to Inquisition of Kozilek or Thoughtseize. Or it can simply bring back a creature that has gotten Fatal Pushed or hit by a Lightning Bolt.
All this is pretty standard, but where Eternal Witness gets extra exciting is when you target it with Flickerwisp or Restoration Angel! Blade Splicer is no longer the only exciting target to blink, and this is where the real value is generated.
The other innovation is Smuggler's Copter. It only runs one copy, but really that's all you need. It's another flyer to swing through the air alongside Restoration Angel and Flickerwisp, but it's also a way to discard excess Aether Vials, which is by far the deck's worst draw beyond the opening hand. Lands can be put to good use between Horizon Canopy or Gavony Township, but Aether Vials are usually pretty dead beyond the opening hand. And just to address this question now: no, Aether Vial is not cuttable. It's your absolute best card to draw in your opener and you absolutely want four copies main deck.
The sideboard also has some recent changes. Selfless Spirit is an answer to Anger of the Gods and Supreme Verdict (or Wrath of God), each of which have been seeing a lot more play lately. Engineered Explosives is primarily a response to Death's Shadow. Reclamation Sage is an upgrade to Qasali Pridemage in the sideboard of a deck with eight flicker effects. Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar are responses to midrange and control decks as they each dodge Inquisition of Kozilek, Abrupt Decay and all the creature removal spells while acting as a powerful threat.
I'm pretty excited about these innovations out of Hatebears and this is the version I would play with in an important tournament tomorrow, but the following version is definitely the spicier one:
Aven Mindcensor and main deck Selfless Spirit are interesting, but the two cards that really stand out in this list are Renegade Rallier and Shining Shoal.
Shining Shoal is basically the same response that motivated Lantern Control to move Leyline of Sanctity to the main deck, as an answer to Burn and Death's Shadow. A single Shining Shoal is often enough to finish off a Death's Shadow opponent or to swing a game against Burn. It also does interesting work against Anger of the Gods in the Scapeshift matchup.
Renegade Rallier is the hot new card from Aether Revolt that has shaken up Modern (in addition to Fatal Push). In this deck, you can't afford to run fetch lands, which makes the Rallier considerably worse than it is in non-Leonin Arbiter strategies. The reason for this is twofold. First of all, you can't ramp yourself by getting a land back from the graveyard. Secondly, and more importantly, you can't trigger revolt nearly as reliably. With that said, there are some perks in this strategy that are not existent in other strategies.
The primary perk is the same primary perk of Eternal Witness – the ability to blink the Rallier with Flickerwisp or Restoration to trigger its ability again. And since revolt triggers upon exiting the battlefield, blinking the Rallier out will be enough to trigger it for when it comes back in and thereby getting the bonus. The second biggest perk is getting back Ghost Quarter to continue wrecking the opponent's lands. Ghost Quarter is especially perfect with Renegade Rallier since it is not only a great card to return but is also a revolt enabler when sacrificed.
I'm not convinced the payoff is there to run Renegade Rallier over Eternal Witness right now, but it's another direction to explore and to watch out for when playing against the archetype.
Out of all these lists, I would personally run the Green-White Hatebears list with Eternal Witness in a tournament tomorrow if my goal is to win, but if my goal is to have fun, I'd go with Sultai Delirium.