Back in Black and Blue: Death's Shadow in Legacy
- Rodrigo Martin
Legacy is currently a wild jungle full of Modern Horizons cards: Wrenn and Six, Hogaaks and Arcum's Astrolabe. However, one deck might fight them all. Blue-Black Death's Shadow even works without dual lands! Rone shares his thoughts on the deck, his experience, and his sideboard guide.
Welcome to my first Legacy article in a while. I recently moved to another city in Spain: Valencia is way bigger than my previous hometown, which means a larger local Magic community and therefore some Legacy action! Thanks to a great friend, I managed to piece together a small card pool, so now I am ready to play, test, and write about one of the most intricate, intriguing, and interesting formats around.
Playing Death's Shadow in a world full of removal such as Fatal Push, Abrupt Decay, and—what's worst—Swords to Plowshares is a challenge. But the deck's discard and counter suite remains one of the strongest in the history of the game. There often is a path to victory, especially against Legacy's many combo strategies.
The State of the Metagame
Modern Horizons had a huge impact on the format. Wrenn and Six has made Temur Delver the new deck to beat. Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis has found its home in Legacy once it got kicked out of Modern. Arcum's Astrolabe is a cantrip and a mana fixer all in one. Mana bases have started to accommodate snow-covered basic lands, becoming more resilient to Wasteland. The Astrolabe even provides a reliable target for Teferi, Time Raveler's minus ability.
Other impactful cards include Force of Negation, which complements Force of Will as another free permission spell against unfair archetypes. Many blue decks are packing two between the main and the sideboard. Prismatic Vista is another great addition to search for basic lands rather than duals, and Magmatic Sinknhole offers a clean answer to big creatures and planeswalkers in red.
Blue-Black Shadow first showed up in 2018 at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, where Josh Utter-Leyton piloted it to a second-place finish. Previous incarnations started as rogue decks that toyed with the combination between Death's Shadow, life-loss spells, fetch lands, and Ravnica duals to set up an alpha strike using Berserk. However, "wrapter" proved that the deck doesn't need a third color to function—quite the opposite. Being straight blue-black and able to work with just a couple of lands while being resilient to opposing Wastelands is a major upside.
|Josh Utter-Leyton's Shadow|
|2Bloodstained Mire||4Death's Shadow||4Brainstorm|
|1Flooded Strand||4Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration||4Daze|
|1Marsh Flats||2Gurmag Angler||2Fatal Push|
|1Misty Rainforest||4Street Wraith||4Force of Will|
|2Verdant Catacombs||2Snuff Out|
|1Diabolic Edict||2Hymn to Tourach||3Surgical Extraction|
|3Dread of Night||2Liliana, the Last Hope||2Throne of Geth|
|1Engineered Explosives||1Nihil Spellbomb|
I already covered the basic strategy back then, its main strengths, the budget factor that allows you to play Legacy without (m)any dual lands, and the drawbacks. Here's a summary of what remains true:
- Great matchups against combo decks due to the mixture of discard and counters
- Ability to end games quickly thanks to Shadow itself
- Worse against Swords to Plowshares and go-wide decks
Another advantage when playing the pseudo-mirror versus Delver is that Temur or blue-red decks have a hard time dealing with our 5/5 Zombie Fish and the Shadow. Nevertheless there is a thin line where you have to lower your life enough to grow your Shadows, but not so much that they can finish you off via burn. Let's dig into the new additions the deck has gained in the past year and kick things of with the creature base …
Nothing has changed here and our threats remain intact. Delver and Shadow are our primary ways to win. It is crucial to start pressuring our opponents as early as turn one, which Shadow cannot do. Normally, it's a good idea to start blindly with Delver, unless we already know which deck we are playing against and we have to develop our discard/mana denial instead. These days, we have to be careful not to expose our Human Wizards to Wrenn and Six. If you are on the draw, play around that card, or it will wreck your plans.
Gurmag Angler is our third threat that comes later in the game and naturally dodges removal like Fatal Push, Abrupt Decay, or Lightning Bolt. Additionally, there is a small chance you end up using Reanimate on your own Street Wraith if you have the chance. Otherwise, it's pretty odd to cast the Wraith from your hand, unless the game goes super long and at that point you're probably losing.
Permission and Discard Spells
Here we find our only brand new main-deck inclusion. Force of Negation, as previously mentioned, is a great addition to Legacy and increases the number of free counterspells blue mages can pack to fight each other as well as unfair decks. This deck in particular suffers a lot if Chalice of the Void makes it onto the battlefield, it's almost impossible to win. Thus, having a total of six ways to counter that start is a huge improvement. Older versions tried out a wide variety of countermagic such as Spell Pierce, Spell Snare, and Stubborn Denial. Denial is a must in every Shadow deck in Modern, but in this faster format the ability to counter something for free is too important to pass up. Besides, the new Force's casting cost is way more affordable compared to the older Force. The fact that it exiles the card it counters becomes relevant too when dealing with flashback cards like Faithless Looting or dredgers such as Life from the Loam, something to keep in mind.
The rest of the cards are pretty much usual suspects. Force of Will and Daze are the bread and butter of every blue midrange shell, and Thoughtseize is the perfect tool to break our opponents' plan while diminishing our life total on our path toward casting a deadly Shadow.
Rest of the Spells and Mana Base
Before we move onto the sideboard guide, let me give a quick reminder about the remaining instants and sorceries that round out the deck:
Again, the cantrips don't need further explanation. Some people run a single Preordain, but that's totally up to each player. I never felt it necessary at all, and looking at three cards is more powerful than scrying just two. This leaves four spots for removal, split here between a pair of Pushes and singletons of Snuff Out and Dismember. They all are maximally efficient, and the latter two can be paid, in part, with life to help grow Shadow. I have recently found Snuff Out overperforming against other Delver decks, when I was on the draw and wanted to dodge Daze on turn one to kill their Delver.Wasteland, three copies of Watery Grave so we can get our life under the magic number 13, between eight and nine fetch lands, and finally a couple of Underground Seas. I have been running a basic Island and a Swamp for budget reasons in these last two slots. I also tried cutting one fetch land for a black Horizons land, but it wasn't worth it. I consider myself a big fan of basic lands and there are some spots where fetching basics saves you against recursive Wasteland or an early Blood Moon. However, you are paying a big price since sometimes you will need a dual land that doesn't hurt you. All in all, I felt comfortable playing zero and the deck can perform well without any, though I would recommend at least one copy of Underground Sea.
Now we get to the main order of business on today's agenda: how to adapt the deck after game one in the current metagame. I have some crazy ideas for you that have worked for me so far. Let me know your own choices when facing the top-tier decks in the comments!
|1Bloodstained Mire||4Death's Shadow||4Brainstorm|
|1Flooded Strand||4Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration||4Daze|
|1Misty Rainforest||2Gurmag Angler||1Dismember|
|4Polluted Delta||4Street Wraith||2Fatal Push|
|1Scalding Tarn||2Force of Negation|
|1Island||4Force of Will|
|2Engineered Explosives||1Nihil Spellbomb||2Plague Engineer|
|2Blue Elemental Blast||2Surgical Extraction||2Narset, Parter of Veils|
|2Tyrant Scorn||1Winter Orb||1Liliana, the Last Hope|
This is my build at the moment, complete with sideboard. I will try to explain every inclusion, especially the new cards that have earned a place in my 15, as well as the boarding decisions for each of the major matchups.
RUG Delver (eight cards)
- In: 2 Explosives, 2 Blue Elemental Blast, 2 Tyrant's Scorn, 2 Plague Engineer
- Out: 4 Force of Will, 1 Force of Negation, 2 Reanimate, 1–2 Daze (on the play/draw)
This matchup is a grindy resource war, where each deck has a powerhouse card to beat. Death's Shadow and Gurmag Angler are tough to answer, whereas we have to play around Wrenn and Six and the Wasteland loop; that's where our basic lands shine.
Since card advantage is key, I get rid of every Force of Will. We have Blue Elemental Blast to deal with their walker, with eventual burn spells, and with Dreadhorde Arcanist which can win the game if uncontested. Engineered Explosives are great here since you can two-for-one them as they run ten 2 drops between Wrenn, Arcanist, and Tarmogoyf. Tyrant's Scorn is extra removal, and finally Plague Engineer naming Merfolk cleanly answers True-Name Nemesis and can also trade with any other threat aside from Delver.
Blue-Red Delver (same eight cards)
This matchup works similar to RUG Delver with a bit more burn to the face and Young Pyromancer instead of Wenn and Six. The sideboarding doesn't differ, although it becomes more important to keep your life total as high as possible so they don't kill you with direct damage. Explosives are even better here. The card once again hits 2 drops, but can sweep away a bunch of Elemental tokens too.
Jeskai Mentor (ten cards)
- In: 2 Blue Elemental Blast, 2 Scorn, 2 Engineer, 2 Narset, 1 Winter Orb, 1 Liliana
- Out: 4 Force of Will, 2 Reanimate, 2 Fatal Push, 1 Snuff Out, 1 Dismember
This is probably the matchup I want to see the least. Swords to Plowshares is such an annoying card for us, able to kill a Shadow for free by giving us life. We need to play around that plus the fact that Snapcaster Mage can replay it from the graveyard.
I side out all the creature removal since their main threat is Monastery Mentor; Tyrant's Scorn can kill it and can bounce our guys to save them, so it's a very flexible card. Engineer comes in to kill the prowess tokens, so by naming Monk you are nerfing their whole plan with just one card. Finally, Narset shuts off their cantrip suite and Winter Orb might steal some games, if you protect it from Teferi, Time Raveler and Abrade.
Black-Green Depths (five cards)
- In: 2 Tyrant's Scorn, 2 Surgical Extraction, 1 Winter Orb
- Out: 2 Reanimate, 2 Force of Negation, 1 Gurmag Angler
Against this combo deck you are not as favored as with graveyard-based ones or Storm, since they can go for the kill over and over. Thus, it's all about disrupting and pressuring them as much as you can. Tyrant's Scorn is key here to get rid of Marit Lage; I have run Karakas in the sideboard to bounce tokens repeatedly, but once opponents see it, they can play around it, and Scorn is overall on color and way more flexible.
Another route to victory is to waste one combo piece and then to hit with Surgical Extraction. A skilled player won't put himself in the position to offer you that route, nevertheless it is still worth it to add the Extractions when sideboarding.
Ad Nauseam Tendrils (six cards)
- In: 1 Nihil Spellbomb, 2 Surgical Extraction, 2 Narset, 1 Engineer
- Out: 2 Reanimate, 2 Fatal Push, 1 Dismember, 1 Snuff Out
This is a real nightmare—for them! Basically, we have the perfect mix between countermagic and discard plus cheap threats. After sideboarding we can interact with the graveyard and Narset makes their cantrips worse. Finally, a single copy of Plague Engineer can deal with the Empty the Warrens plan. My experience showed Blue Blast is not necessary, as it has few targets to hit.
Black-Red Reanimator (five cards)
- In: 1 Nihil Spellbomb, 2 Surgical Extraction, 2 Scorn
- Out: 2 Fatal Push, 1 Dismember, 1 Snuff Out, 1 Angler
Yet another good deck to be paired against. The idea is similar to the Storm matchup: board out the spot removal and bring some graveyard hate. This time, tough, we keep Reanimate in to try to catch their fatties and make them join our side of the table, something that makes you feel filthy if you succeed doing that.
Sneak and Show (six cards)
- In: 2 Blue Elemental Blast, 2 Narset, 2 Tyrant's Scorn
- Out: 2 Reanimate, 2 Push, 1 Dismember, 1 Snuff Out
This feels like a mix between Reanimator and Ad Nauseam, albeit without the graveyard angle. Apply the same recipe of hand disruption followed by pressure and countermagic. Tyrant's Scorn is less exciting here than elsewhere, but at least you can bounce Griselbrand.
Mirror (seven cards)
- In: 2 Scorn, 2 Engineer, 2 Narset, 1 Liliana
- Out: 6 Force, 1 Daze
For the mirror match I want as many grindy cards as possible. Engineer defends the ground, Narset is card advantage and difficult to deal with, and Liliana brings back creatures from the graveyard. I take out all the Forces, since I don't want to lose extra cards.
This has been my personal Shadow sideboard guide. As usual, those are my own thoughts and ideas, which differ from the norm in some respects. I know that more commonly this deck plays either Ratchet Bomb or proliferate cards like Throne of Geth to deal with Chalice of the Void. However, I am a big fan of Explosives and play them over any other choice.
Please feel free to tell me what you like or dislike about my sideboarding. Legacy has a wide range of decks and I haven't covered all of them, but I will continue to work on my list. As usual, thank you so much for reading and please leave your comments or questions below or hit me up on my shared Twitter account.
Until next time,
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.