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Building Your Shadow

Written by Tim Bachmann on . Posted in Modern

Building Your Shadow

Tim Bachmann

Hailing from northeast Pennsylvania, Tim has been playing since Mirrodin, and has been playing competitively since Dragons of Tarkir. With aspirations of playing on the Pro Tour, Tim plays in as many PPTQs and GPs as he can.

If you’ve been living anywhere other than under a rock for the past few months, you know that Modern has been set alight with a new version of Death’s Shadow aggro. If you’re familiar with the old Death’s Shadow decks from last year, the ones that tried to end the game on turn four as either a win or loss, these decks look considerably different. You won’t see any Gitaxian Probes, for obvious reasons, and that leads to a lack of Become Immense, which also leads to a lack of Temur Battle Rage. The deck looks more like a traditional Jund deck, with card selection leaning more toward deck synergies over raw card power, like Mishra’s Bauble and Tarfire being added over Lightning Bolt, say. Here’s the list that Josh Utter-Leyton won Grand Prix Vancouver with a couple months ago.

There are a lot of neat innovations here since the last iteration of the deck, the more combo-centric version. First, you’ll notice the creatures are different. This one only has a technical eight creatures, since you know that Street Wraith and Ghor-Clan Rampager are just spells that buff your Tarmogoyf and help towards Delirium. This is a far cry from the 14-16 creatures that were in the combo version. This deck is also planning to play a slightly longer game in order to get a more consistent game.

With the older version, you’d have to keep weirdo hands with a few cantrips and maybe no lands, or no creatures. Now you have a Traverse the Ulvenwald package that works considerably well with the “Make my Tarmogoyf Huge” plan that’s already going on. It’s feasable to untap with Delirium as early as turn 2, meaning you can just go fetch up a Death’s Shadow and cast it on turn 2 if you’re lucky enough to have a low enough life total. Essentially, you get most of the strength of the traditional Jund deck, with Liliana of the Veil, and Tarmogoyf, and hand disruption, and good, powerful cards like Kolaghan’s Command, but instead of playing mopey old four drops like Huntmaster of the Fells or Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, you get to play with Death’s Shadow, which is just a one mana Tarmogoyf that tries to end the game a lot more quickly.

So that’s the overview of the deck. It’s a deck that looks to power out a Death’s Shadow or huge Tarmogoyf and beat the opponent that way, with just bigger and more efficient creatures.

The reason this deck is neat, and the reason I’ve fallen in love with it, is not because of its inherent strength, though that’s something nice to have with this deck. It’s that it’s to Modern what Delver decks are to Legacy. They are very strong aggressive decks with a core of cards that can be shifted around with different color combinations.

Let’s take a look. The actual core requirement of playing with Death’s Shadow is that you have to play with a few enablers. Powerful cards in their own right, they line up very well with Death’s Shadow’s gameplan. Here are the Death’s Shadow core cards.

4 Death’s Shadow
4 Thoughtseize
4 Street Wraith
12 Fetchlands

It doesn’t seem like much, but it is what it is. Now these are just the base requirements of cards when you say you want to play with a Death’s Shadow deck. When building the rest of your deck, you need some other powerful, undercosted creatures to hang out with your Death’s
Shadow, and that will determine what the rest of your deck looks like.

The next most important decision then is to decide if you want to play with green in your deck for Tarmogoyf. Tarmogoyf is the second best rate in Death’s Shadow decks, so it’s reasonable that the answer to the “Do I play green” question from Wrapter was yes. Deciding to
play with Tarmogoyf gives you the “Tarmogoyf package.” Like playing with Death’s Shadow, playing with Green means you have to run a certain package of spells, because you want to make your Tarmogoyf as large as possible as quickly as possible. Here is the Tarmogoyf package.

4 Tarmogoyf
4 Traverse the Ulvenwald
4 Mishra’s Bauble

Tarmogoyf and Traverse the Ulvenwald are Bread and Butter together in this deck. They are both looking for you to do the same thing, fill your graveyard with junk. Traverse is great because it allows you to find one of your creatures to start beating face with, and it also
allows you to find things like Street Wraith to draw an extra card, a fetchland to add three power and toughness to your Death’s Shadow, or act as a toolbox enabler for sideboard cards.

Mishra’s Bauble is just a free artifact that replaces itself, which is very good, since getting artifacts in the graveyard is not always a trivial thing.

But Tim, what if I answer “No” to the “Do I want to play Green?” question? That’s fine. You don’t get to play such a synergistic package, but you do still get to play with powerful creatures. Those creatures I would say must be the black delve threats though. Any other
package of creatures is just such a large drop in power that I think these are the only other ones that work, at least for right now. You also need some number of enablers for these creatures, as just running them in a random deck doesn’t make the great, as casting them toward turn 4 means you’re just playing old standard. There’s a blue package for these cards:

2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
2 Gurmag Angler
4 Thought Scour
4 Serum Visions

And one could also argue that there is a red package as well:

2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
2 Gurmag Angler
4 Faithless Looting
4 Cathartic Reunion

Obviously the numbers between the Delve threats can be shifted based on personal preference and other deckbuilding constraints, but the others must remain I believe. I also believe that the blue package is much better than the red package here, and I believe that the
blue package is more proven at this point than the red package, and it also gives you access to powerful blue cards, like Snapcaster Mage, but a deck like Mardu Death’s Shadow is still doable, although Cathartic Reunion costs a lot in terms of cards in hand, and mana.

Now, outside of these two main decisions for the deck, the rest of the deck is just powerful spells. Having so many fetchlands, and having a creature that wants you to have a lower life total is conducive to playing more shocklands, so playing a third color is free, and even
playing a fourth color doesn’t have a high opportunity cost, so it’s completely feasible for strong sideboard cards.

The third color can be dependent on whether you want counterspells in your deck, or cards like Kolaghan’s Command, or Lingering Souls, which creatures you want in your sideboard for Traverse the Ulvenwald, or which cards you want to flashback with Snapcaster Mage.

Much like the Delver decks in Legacy, these decks are powerful aggressive strategies that allow you to not be boxed into playing sub-optimal cards, and are, at least for right now, the de facto best decks in Modern. They support a lot of different color combinations to allow for the people building the decks to be creative and play cards they enjoy playing. Personally, for right now, I’m on the Grixis version, but almost any color combination is completely viable.

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