Esper Shadow in Modern


Death’s Shadow is back! It's got a real shot at beating opponents by beating itself up. Only this time, we are getting rid of the red color and embracing white alongside some Modern Horizons additions. Join Rone as he digs into this new archetype and and its potential for Mythic Championship IV in Barcelona.

Howdy folks! Summer is officially heating up the scene, at least where I am, and the only places where I can chill out are either at the movies or Magic tournaments. In order to do so, I am staying away from red since I've promised not to play any deck portraying Lighting Bolt until the temperature goes down.

That being said, I am pretty excited to talk again about one of my favorite cards in Modern: Death's Shadow. It was the most successful deck back in 2017 but fell off a bit later. However, the release of Modern Horizons gave it some love and now that the shadow of Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis has lifted due to the R&D Banning a couple of weeks ago, Death's Shadow is ready to take a shot at the crown once again.

Death's Shadow

The Shadow Behind Eos

Even if Esper Death's Shadow sounds new to you, the deck has been floating around for some years as a rogue deck but it couldn't compete against its bigger Grixis brother:

Esper Death's Shadow by Trevor Harris, SCG Modern IQ Falls Church, 5th Place

Let's take a look at this version from 2018. Compared with the newest one, they both share the same structure: blue and black cheap creatures, the discard outlet, permission spells, removal, and some card selection. White is only there for Lingering Souls, one of the best midrange cards of all times, and Orzhov Charm, a modal spell that has never seen much Modern play, although it's great in some spots specially to rebuy a Shadow from the graveyard.

Having white also grants some powerful sideboard choices such as Stony Silence to face artifact based matchups, while Blessed Alliance or Celestial Purge were relevant at that time. Why this version never took off you might ask? Well, for me the answer is simple: Temur Battle Rage; this card wins so many games by itself alongside a big shadow or Gurmag Angler and what's more important, opponents have to play around it or else they lose. Obviously, red has other upsides like Lightning Bolt, Kolaghan's Command, and even Faithless Looting. Things look different these days. War of the Spark and Modern Horizons have signaled that it might be time to switch to Esper.

Orzhov Charm Lingering Souls Stony Silence

The Ranger-Captains are Coming

The first big reason to try out this new color combination is Ranger-Captain of Eos as the new brother of the good old Ranger of Eos. Ranger is an all-star in the Soul Sister archetype but its high CMC of four is too much for Shadow decks. Only Four Color Shadow or Shadow Zoo played it in the sideboard for grindy matchups.

This new captain, however, has an affordable cost with a reasonable 3/3 body; he searches for your deadly Shadows, giving you card advantage plus his sacrifice ability protects you against removal or any shenanigans on the critical turn before the alpha strike. Most lists run three copies of them since it smoothly fits the strategy while also he can be brought back thanks to Modern Horizons reprint we will discuss later: Unearth.

This card has been appreciating in value, albeit slowly, as the Shadow deck increases in popularity. It hasn't exploded yet though, so you are still on time to purchase them at a reasonable price.Aside from the captain, we run the usual suspects: Death's Shadow, Snapcaster Mage, Gurmag Angler and Street Wraith. The delve creature and the cycling one are trimmed down to two copies to make room for the captains and also because this version doesn't send as many cards to the graveyard as the Grixis variant. Two copies of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound are simply amazing in this shell to loot for some card selection, discarding your creatures, and then reanimating them with Unearth. Once he's transformed, he can flashback some cheap spells and even his ultimate wins you the game if it goes long enough.

A few lists are trying a singleton copy of Hex Parasite to tutor up with the Ranger since it works well combined with the Shadow. I've been interested in trying one Pteramander to see if it works and finally some recent lists have swapped Gurmag for Monastery Mentor while adding Mishra's Bauble as some extra mentor fodder.

Esper Shadow by Redgy819, Modern League 28.06.2019

Rest of the Spells and Newest Additions

Moving on to noncreature spells. We have the same UB shell mentioned before: six discard spells, three copies of Stubborn Denial, which might be less effective when you are missing two copies of the zombie fish but it's still strong enough to run it in the main board. Then comes the cantrips, with Thought Scour taking the lions share as it can fill up your graveyard for Anglers, Jaces, Snapcasters, and what's more, it makes your Unearths better. Personally, I have tried a couple of Serum Visions for some card selection, especially during early stages of the game to ensure your make your land-drops.

Regarding spot removal, this is where white shines again, since you can have a mix between Fatal Push and Path to Exile. Both are premium spells but having Path allows you to exile massive creatures Push doesn't hit like the aforementioned Angler, Reality Smasher, Primeval Titan, the new Hogaak and what's more important, recurring ones like Bloodghast, Gravecrawler, and Arclight Phoenix.

Last but not least, most lists pack one or two copies of Dismember as a third cheap removal that also grows your Shadows, a singleton copy of Lingering Souls here and there, and two all-stars from two recent sets:

Unearth: an awesome reprint from Urza's Legacy, with so many targets in this deck. First, it will never be a useless card due to cycling, and it hits Snapcasters, your Shadows, your Jaces, and the Ranger-Captains. One of the best starts you can perform with this deck is turn one Thought Scour dumping a Ranger and on the second turn playing Unearth on him to search for a Shadow and then casting it if your life total is low enough.

Overall, is such a great addition to the Modern format that currently is seeing a lot of play in some other archetypes like Mardu Pyromancer or some new Hollow One variants.

Teferi, Time Raveler: if you have played Standard since War of the Spark, you already know how oppressing/annoying this planeswalker can be. It has made its presence known in Modern as well, finding homes event outside W/U Control. This little Teferi shuts down all instant speed magic, from counterspells to suspended cards to Phoenix all-stars like Finale of Promise, and that's just his passive.

His plus one ability allows you to cast discard spells on your opponents' draw step and his minus is great against some early threats as well as being able to replay your Snapcasters and Rangers for value.

Stubborn Denial Unearth Teferi, Time Raveler

Land Configuration and Sideboard Choices

Speaking about the mana base, it's pretty straight forward: 19 lands divided by ten fetch-lands, five shock-lands, three basics and a Silent Clearing. This new cycle of lands are great generally in Modern, but especially good Shadow decks where each tap of the land grows the Shadow. Overall, the casting costs of the deck are quite demanding since white is not a splash like red on the Grixis shell as your Ranger-Captain of Eos costs 1WW so you need to fetch carefully in order to sequence your spells.

Looking closer at the sideboard, we encounter a wide variety of choices, since the meta-game is adjusting to so many changes, there is nothing written in stone so far. Against graveyard based decks you can go for Leyline of the Void, Rest in Peace, Nihil Spellbomb, even lately Yixilid Jailer since it shuts down the Hogaak deck for good. I'm going with Leyline and Nihil because they both leave your own graveyard intact.

For extra countermagic, we have Ceremonious Rejection against Eldrazi and Tron decks, Disdainful Stroke against big mana decks and the fourth copy of Stubborn Denial. If you are in for some more removal, try extra copies of Path to Exile and Fatal Push and finally another great flexible card from Modern Horizons, and one I'm excited to cast, is Kaya's Guile, a modal spell with 4 options that can be entwined. None of them are very powerful but combined it's quite powerful and flexibility is always great out of the sideboard. Other interesting choices are Stony Silence against the new Urza, High Lord Artificer deck, Affinity or Scales and Liliana, the Last Hope looks amazing against grindy matchups as well as Lingering Souls.

Kaya's Guile Silent Clearing Yixlid Jailer


All in all, this has been my Esper Shadow review. To sum up, I might add that even with so many new cards added to the strategy, it still needs another small push to become really successful. Nevertheless, I hope it earns a place among the wide variety of strategies in the Modern jungle.

While testing the deck, you realize it's hard to sequence your land drops and that every small decision counts. In the end, the effort learning these decision trees appears worthwhile.

As usual, please leave your comments or questions below or you might as well hit me on my shared Twitter account.

See you soon and thanks for reading.

Rodrigo Martin

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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bubu619mt(22.07.2019 22:51)

It was an amazing read. Thanks a lot !!

RonePro(20.07.2019 09:18)

Thank you so much for you commenting. Regards.

Khronos(19.07.2019 07:35)

Very good write up. Thanks for all the info!