Deck Tech: Death’s Shadow Aggro

Posted in Event Coverage on August 27, 2016

By Craig Jones

Jund was the most popular deck amongst the 3-bye players. The next most popular after that – Death's Shadow Aggro. This has been Team EUreka's Modern weapon of choice ever since PT Oath of the Gatewatch and they've been refining and tweaking it ever since.

If you're unfamiliar with the deck it is a zoo-type strategy revolving around Death's Shadow. Essentially the deck relies on charging out of the gates with mana-efficient one-mana creatures and finishing the opponent off with Become Immense and/or Temur Battle Rage. Death's Shadow is a one mana 13/13 with the downside that it gets -X/-X where X is your life total. To get the best out of Death's Shadow the deck has a ton of effects that inflict damage on their caster – Thoughtseize, Gitaxian Probe, shock lands and cycling Street Wraiths. It is risky as one of the goals of the deck requires doing a lot of damage to itself in the early turns, but the payoff is a frighteningly huge Death's Shadow that will finish off an opponent very quickly.


I caught up with PT Dragons of Tarkir winner Martin Dang after his round six feature match to find out where the deck is now.

During the conversation I asked him why he and most of the other members of Team EUreka had stuck with this strategy.

Dang: “Modern is about picking what you're most comfortable playing. There's no real standout deck, so I wanted to play a deck I've played a lot.”

Dang: “It's what I like about Modern. You can just play your favourite deck. It's all about playing the deck you're most familiar with.”

I asked how the deck came about. Dang couldn't remember exactly.

Dang: “We started with normal zoo and tried out a lot of different versions with Death's Shadow.”

He mentioned at one point they had a Grixis version with Kiln Fiend that was even faster than the current iteration, but that extra speed came at a loss of consistency. Dang said he thought they had the best current configuration.

And it has been doing well for them. Dang made the final of the recent WMCQ and fellow teammate Brad Nelson took it to the semi-finals of a recent StarCityGames Invitational.

Although Martin said he thought they had the best configuration, he did say that even though a lot of Team EUreka are playing the deck, none of them has the exact same decklist. 56 of the cards are the same across all versions, but there is still some debate on the remaining 4 slots. This stretched back to the PT. There they ran Goblin Guide as one of the one-drops. Since the PT the Goblin Guide was changed to Steppe Lynx. Recently they looked at Gnarlwood Dryad, but found it wasn't quite good enough. The deck can hit delirium fairly reliably, but usually by about turn four. To get the best out of the Dryad the deck really needs to hit delirium by turn two. Martin thinks the Lynx might be the best option, but he mentioned one of the team was running an extra Thoughtseize and two Tarmogoyf instead.

Dang: “We like the deck and keep trying to evolve it.”

I asked him what he thought were the good matchups.

“The really good matchups are the slow decks – Scapeshift, Tron, Jeskai.”

He also surprised me by classing Burn as a good matchup. I thought this would be a bad matchup given how much damage the deck inflicts on itself.

But as Dang pointed out. “The Burn decks are feeding your own game plan.” And the creatures, especially a low-life Death's Shadow are big enough to give burn decks problems.

As for the bad matchups he said: “Jund is slightly unfavourable, which is unfortunate.” He also mentioned Bant Eldrazi as slightly unfavourable.

I asked if they'd tweaked the list to compensate and he showed me Path to Exile and Tarmogoyf in the sideboard.

He also said the newest tech is Faith's Shield for the sideboard. It's the fateful hour part of the card that is the most interesting. This can either give the player protection to neutralise a critical Liliana activation, or give all their creatures protection to swing through a stalled board. Getting down to five life to turn on fateful hour is easy for this deck.

Despite a lot of good matchups the deck is not that popular. Dang thought it was because “the deck is pretty hard to play,” and “you can't just pick it up.”

The self-damage aspect to the deck is also scary.

I asked Martin if it was always correct to inflict damage on yourself with the deck, or whether it depended on the draw. Would the deck still be as eager to damage itself if Death's Shadow wasn't drawn, for example.

Martin said you always had to go with the self-damage strategy. You need to get the cards in the graveyard and dig through the deck as quickly as possible to setup the Become Immense/Temur Battle Rage kill.

Given the deck is difficult to play, I asked him for tips.

He mentioned there was an obvious tip with Mishra's Bauble. “You can use it on yourself. If you don't like the top card you can shuffle it away with fetch lands. If you want it, you can draw it with the many cantrip effects.”

He said one of the things he liked about the deck: “Between Thoughtseize, Bauble and Gitaxian Pobe you nearly always have perfect information on what the opponent has in hand and about to draw. This allows the deck to setup its plans.”

He described the deck as a Zoo deck with a combo. “Maybe more of a combo deck than zoo.”

Dang: “Even though the game is usually over in four turns there are so many plays… decisions… in those four turns.”

Unfortunately, the Death's Shadow Aggro deck wasn't so kind to Dang this time around. After picking up a second loss in his round six feature match, he followed it with another loss in round seven and dropped. This isn't the end of Death's Shadow, though. Fellow EUreka teammate Thomas Hendricks ended the first day on the very top of the standings with a perfect 9-0 record.

Martin Dang’s Death’s Shadow Aggro at GP Lille 2016

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