The recent Modern bans produced perfect conditions for Death's Shadow decks to take over the metagame. The banning of Gitaxian Probe nerfed Infect, the format's fastest aggressive deck, which created a void to be filled with a Death's Shadow Aggro deck that occupies a similar niche in the metagame. It too beats up on the slower, un-interactive and linear decks that define Modern, but by leaning less on its speed and more on its massive disruption suite. This strategy finds itself disadvantaged against a discard and removal-resistant deck like Dredge, but the banning of Golgari Grave-Troll has weakened it enough that it's not able to consistently stand up to Death's Shadow and the rest of the decks in the field. The presence of Death's Shadow has forced the metagame to find other answers, and on Magic Online Modern players have been continuously working to come up with a solution. It has now been over a month since Death's Shadow's breakout, and at this point there are some interesting and creative strategies that have emerged to combat the menace.
The burning question in Modern is how to beat other Death's Shadow decks using your own, and the latest development is moving into a Grixis shell. Grixis Shadow is the fastest-growing deck in Modern on Magic Online, in big part because of its advantage against Jund Death's Shadow, but it's proving itself capable of competing with the wider Modern metagame.
The addition of Snapcaster Mage to the Death's Shadow strategy adds an extra source of card advantage to help against a metagame that has reacted with more creature removal and other disruption in an attempt to contain the deck's relatively few threats. Where Tarmogoyf is simply destroyed, Snapcaster Mage will generate value but is still aggressive enough that it's a legitimate creature can't simply be ignored. Snapcaster Mage is specifically excellent against other Death's Shadow decks for its ability to flashback Fatal Push, which gives this deck an advantage against the traditional Jund build. Combined with Kolaghan's Command's ability to recycle it, Snapcaster Mage creates a powerful card advantage engine, which gives Grixis a distinct advantage over the Jund version during a long game.
Blue also adds diversity to the disruption suite by mixing in counters – Stubborn Denial is perfect for protecting threats or stopping the opponent's strategy. It's a great alternative to more discard because it stops opponents from topdecking the win, which also means Temur Battle Rage is unnecessary because the deck isn't forced to kill the opponent before they untap. An excellent blue addition to the sideboard is Threads of Disloyalty, which delivers a crushing blow against the Jund version by stealing their threats.
Giving up green does come with a cost; the loss of Tarmogoyf means sacrificing speed and aggressive power, but delve threats Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler are suitable replacements. These are powered by Thought Scour and Serum Visions, which help make up the consistency lost by cutting Traverse the Ulvenwald.
An alternative option for fighting back against Death's Shadow is to combine the best green cards with blue and blackto create a new breed of Sultai midrange deck.
The core of this deck is very similar to Death's Shadow, with a massive discard and creature removal suite, but rather than use Death's Shadow itself this deck fights back with a more controlling game plan that seeks to slow the game down and win through a combination of card advantage and more powerful cards. Traverse the Ulvenwald is still front and center of this deck, but instead of just finding Tarmogoyf and Death's Shadow it can instead find any one of a huge number of silver-bullet creatures in the main deck or sideboard. These creatures answer specific problems or present problems of their own, and their diversity casts a wide net that should catch nearly every opponent off-guard with something they aren't readily able to defeat. For example, Ishkanah, Grafwidow has made its way to Modern, and it can help to shut down aggressive opponents with its team of blockers. Glen Elendra Archmage stands out as a simple way to end the game against a combo deck like Storm or Ad Nauseam. When there's an opportunity to turn the tables on the opponent, Tireless Tracker will generate massive card advantage while producing a threat, or Grave Titan will go over the top of most fair decks. Emrakul, the Promised End from the sideboard is sure to punish anyone looking to play a control game and go long against the deck.
This deck uses Jace, Vryn's Prodigy rather than Snapcaster Mage, which is a telling sign that it's not looking to be aggressive, but instead play a longer control game where the looter and planeswalker will ultimately generate more value than a one-shot flashback effect. Looting is particularly effective for ditching toolbox creatures or removal in matchups where they aren't relevant, and the ability to play spells from the graveyard is potent in a deck so heavy with disruption.
A possible way to beat Death's Shadow decks is to play heavy control with cards specifically chosen to cause them problems, and this deck from a well-known MTGO grinder appears to be an attempt to do so.
At its core this is a Black-Red Control deck, and a set of Damnation are central to this plan as a sweeper that cleanly takes care of any Death's Shadow or Tarmogoyf in play. It also happens to be very well positioned against the rest of the metagame, including Affinity and all variety of Eldrazi decks, which have emerged as second to only Death's Shadow. It's even serviceable against the next biggest deck, Burn, where it excels at destroying Eidolon of the Great Revel. Damnation cleans up the battlefield against decks like Merfolk, Abzan Company, and Delver of Secrets decks, and generally seems fantastic in this metagame.
Backing up Damnation is a large suite of discard and creature removal that you would expect from a black-red deck, and including planeswalkers Liliana of the Veil and even a Chandra, Torch of Defiance that function as disruption but also represent a serious threat to the opponent.
This deck is designed to function under the crimson light of Blood Moon, which it uses to beat unsuspecting opponents, including Death's Shadow decks that typically fetch nothing but shock lands in the early turns if they aren't aware of Blood Moon. The enchantment is also a fantastic hoser against the nonbasic-rich Bant Eldrazi, which is particularly susceptible to having its colorless mana shut off and being left with Eldrazi stranded in hand.
To close out the game, this deck includes a set of Demigod of Revenge, which might turn the heads of most Modern players, but it has a history of being an effective win condition in Standard and even the old Extended format, and it looks great in a Modern format where the most popular removal spell is now Fatal Push. It's particularly effective with Faithless Looting, which beyond smoothing draws can pitch Demigod of Revenge to be reanimated by a later copy.
With many of Modern's best disruption spells forming its backbone, and a strong threat base of planeswalkers and the robust Demigod of Revenge, this deck has what it takes to compete in a Death's Shadow-driven metagame, but time will tell if can succeed against the huge variety of decks Modern is known for.
One of the most exciting recent developments in Modern is the birth of new sort of combo deck. Krark-Clan Ironworks has spawned many decks in many formats since its printing, but none have been able to seriously compete with Modern's top tier. The printing of Scrap Trawler has changed the equation by combining with Krark-Clan Ironworks to create a card advantage and mana-generating engine, which can form the core of a combo deck capable of drawing through itself when combined with a critical mass cheap artifacts.
The plan is to use Krark-Clan Ironworks and Scrap Trawler to turn the cogs of this deck into card and mana-generating machines that will eventually rip through the deck and generate the mana needed to play Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and end the game. The beauty here is that Scrap Trawler makes cards like Open the Vaults or Faith's Reward unnecessary, and it's even perfectly functional without Krark-Clan Ironworks because the deck is otherwise filled with cheap artifacts that can generate value.
The highlight is Mishra's Bauble, which can be returned to generate a card for any artifact sacrificed. It doesn't allow the deck to easily go off in one turn, but it's the sort of value-engine that makes this deck competitive in the real world where opponents will always be trying to disrupt the combo and games are more likely to grind on than end on turn four, particularly after sideboard when opponent's bring in artifact removal.
This deck makes use of another busted zero-mana artifact, Mox Opal, to power its mana engine and get going fast enough to compete with the fastest linear decks in the format. Also exciting is the inclusion of Ancient Stirrings to help find combo pieces in a deck filled with colorless spells. It has been integral to another artifact deck in Modern, Lantern Control, and this deck is also made possible by the consistency its card selection adds.
This Krark-Clan Ironworks has some unique advantages in the metagame, specifically that it doesn't rely on being aggressive with creatures, so it avoids Fatal Push and all of the other removal that pervades the format and makes life difficult for a deck like Affinity, so it's an option to push back against a metagame revolving around Death's Shadow. This deck is also a very interesting option for Team Unified, as it plays one of the format's best cards in Mox Opal but not much else. Dan "danabeast7" Musser could be seen 5-0ing a league this week with his version of the deck that gives up Mishra's Bauble, most likely a concession to a teammate playing a Jund Death's Shadow deck, but perhaps an unnecessary one if combined with the Grixis version of Death's Shadow.
Another Mox Opal deck, Blue-Black Tezzeret, stands out as a potential solution to the metagame after winning two TCGplayer Modern State Championship events.
These decks include the Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek combo, which hasn't made waves in Modern since being unbanned, but the printing of Whir of Invention may have changed things by providing the deck with a fantastic way to tutor for its combo pieces or Ensnaring Bridge. Whir of Invention is reminiscent of Chord of Calling, a Modern staple, and these decks demonstrate that Modern has the artifact tools necessary to support it and the payoffs to make it worthwhile. The deck seems strong against Death's Shadow decks, which won't be able to easily take Thopter Foundry off the table, and is vulnerable to a stream of chump blockers or Ensnaring Bridge. While discard spells do buy a lot of breathing room for Death's Shadow, Whir of Invention shines as a fantastic topdeck that will put combo together out of nowhere or shut down their offense completely with an Ensnaring Bridge.
The winning list from Delaware went even further than Whir of Invention with Glint-Nest Crane as another way to dig for combo pieces. It's a great topdeck, and a fine chump blocker to help keep Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas around. The deck's namesake is yet another way to dig for combo pieces, but it's also a win condition that can quickly run the opponent down with 5/5 creatures, or inevitably kill them with its life drain ability while hiding behind an Ensnaring Bridge. I am excited to see if Tezzeret decks start to pick up any popularity when players realize they gained so much from Aether Revolt, and it could even pop up next weekend in San Antonio as a Team Unified option.
What's your favorite deck in Modern these days? How are you fighting back against Death's Shadow? Share your ideas in the comments, and I'll answer any questions!