Deck Tech: Legacy Death's Shadow

Posted in Event Coverage on August 4, 2018

By Corbin Hosler

Death's Shadow was something of a revelation when it hit Modern. It was always a kind of "almost there" card since its original printing in Worldwake, but it took years and Josh Utter-Leyton to break it in Modern.

These days, the Death's Shadow deck is just one of the many competitive archetypes of the format, but when he won Grand Prix Vancouver with it the deck was considered a fundamental shift in how the format was played. While Modern was never a "slow" format, it had never seen a deck so lean to the ground and streamlined, and at the time Death's Shadow played out more like a Legacy deck than a Modern one.

Well, it took a few more years, but naturally it was Utter-Leyton who broke Death's Shadow in Legacy.

Blue-Black Death's Shadow, specifically. Nine players came to Pro Tour 25th Anniversary armed with the deck, and most of them—including Andrew Baeckstrom, another player in contention late on Day Two—either tested with or took inspiration from Utter-Leyton's piloting of the deck.

"It's possible only with Deathrite Shaman gone, as that card made it too dangerous to go low on life for Death's Shadow because it could just finish you off," Baeckstrom explained. "Without Deathrite, it's pretty safe to take yourself low."

To do that, the deck has a few innovations, including another key piece of tech new to this tournament.

"The Reanimate is a nice touch," Baeckstrom said slyly. "It gets you back a one-mana creature usually, but it also returns Street Wraith to play, which is another three-power creature with a relevant ability because swampwalk does come up. Plus, it helps grow your Death's Shadow."

In Legacy, a format with the best threats in Magic's history, why is now the time for Death's Shadow to shine? While Deathrite Shaman's exile from the format was necessary for the card to shine, it took more than that for the 13/13 to rise to prominence.

"Gitaxian Probe may be the best card in all of Magic to play alongside Death's Shadow, so it seems weird to play Shadow after Probe gets banned," Baeckstrom explained, "but Legacy now is a such a lean and mean format that even paying two mana for your threats is just too high a cost in a world of Daze and Wasteland. And because of that, Shadow compares favorably with the other creatures. I'd rather have it over Snapcaster Mage or Gurmag Angler or Tarmogoyf. Baleful Strix is basically the only creature that matches up well against it. You have to hurt yourself to play it, but with more one-mana cards you match up well in the Delver mirrors."

To wit, the deck doesn't play a single card in the main deck that costs more than one mana unless there are stipulations. Force of Will, Snuff Out and Daze have alternate casting costs, while Street Wraith will likely never hit the battlefield outside of Reanimate, and Gurmag Angler is most often played for just a single mana.

Of course, a deck relying entirely on one-mana cards can be a liability in Legacy as well, since several popular decks main deck four Chalice of the Void that can be deployed on the first turn. To combat that, the deck has a fascinating sideboard plan.

Throne of Geth. The odd artifact may seem out of place in a deck not running many other artifacts, but it actually serves an ingenious role. By sacrificing itself, it can proliferate the counter on Chalice of the Void, ticking it up to two and unlocking all the one-mana spells in the Death's Shadow player's hand. Even better, it will then counter any future two-mana spells, preventing any further Chalice of the Void coming down with one counter. It may not be as flexible a solution as Engineered Explosives, but it can answer all future Chalices in a way that Explosives cannot.

Put it all together—the most efficient creatures possible, a suite of countermagic, and targeted discard coming out of the sideboard—and you have a new contender at the top of the Legacy metagame, perfectly primed to fill the void left by Deathrite Shaman.

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