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For as long as Modern has been a format, players have been captivated by Midrange decks. The jostling for position in an endless battle of resources is a uniquely intriguing style of game play that bridges the gap between Standard and nonrotating formats. Still, seldom have fair decks dominated the Modern scene, as synergy-driven aggro decks can leverage what is colloquially referred to as the “Jund Tax”. Quips aside, the Jund Tax is the theory that Midrange and Control decks have cards that often do wildly different things — resulting in drawing the wrong portion some percentage of the time (removal against control decks, threats against Aggro).

Death’s Shadow is an archetype that has proven capable of fighting through the Jund Tax by leveraging a suite of cantrips and redundant threats. By restricting the options of an opponent and fully utilizing an information advantage, as well as incorporating Faithless Looting, you can completely diminish the drawbacks of Midrange strategies. In this article, I’ll be discussing the role of each card, as well as bringing up alternatives and recommendations, before going through the sideboard.

The Threats

Death’s Shadow | A formerlry dominant threat, Death’s Shadow is on a bit of a decline in recent weeks. With Aria of Flame out of Izzet Phoenix and a substantial amount of graveyard decks, this one drop midrange menace has seen better days, but Mardu and Esper shells have just enough support to fight through difficult matchups. While lacking any redundant beater like Gurmag Angler, or a giant payoff like Temur Battle Rage, Death’s Shadow is played in a similar role as Tarmogoyf. The idea is to run the opponent out of resources, and end the game with a one mana 6/6.

Dreadhorde Arcanist | A recent pick up from War of the Spark, Dreadhorde Arcanist is the Red “snapcaster” for shadow decks. Doubling up on removal spells, Surgical Extraction, or hand disruption is big game against most creature decks, though it can run out of impactful targets quite quickly. This is where Unearth comes in, letting you bring back Ranger-Captain or Death’s Shadow turn after turn, until eventually one of them sticks.

Ranger-Captain of Eos | Ranger-Captain of Eos is no stranger to success in the Modern metagame, but here we see it used to maximum effectiveness. It’s a tutor for Death’s Shadow, but can also grab toolbox one ofs like Giver of Runes or Grim Lavamancer. Additionally, Ranger-Captain can combine with Unearth to prevent decks like Scapeshift from ending the game — though it is noticeably less effective against traditional control decks.

The Removal

Fatal Push | An iconic removal spell, Fatal Push is easy to cast an even easier to use. Simply point it at a sufficiently sized creature and watch the board control ensue. As efficient at removing Thalia as it is Thing in the Ice, Fatal Push is one of the best removal spells in Modern.

Path to Exile | We’ve talked about Path to Exile before, and a couple copies make the list due to sizing restrictions on Fatal Push. When you absolutely, positively need to get something dead, turn to Path to Exile. It also exiles — a relevant line of text against both Hogaak and Arclight Phoenix.

Inquisition of Kozilek | Hand disruption is critical to the success of most Death’s Shadow decks, as you want to be able to slow the opponent down and pick away the few cards that matter. When your game plan involves sticking an 8/8 down in a low resource game, you want as much information as possible to make your decisions.

Thoughtseize | As with most decks, redudnancy is important. Thougtseize serves as additional hand disruption while enabling Death’s Shadow, but contributes to generally poor topdecks. I would consider playing the full amount in slower metagames, but fewer hand disruption spells is the spot to be in with Hogaak in the format. A general rule of thumb with Shadow decks is to board out Thoughtseize instead of Inquisition unless the format involves a lot of four mana spells, as enabling Death’s Shadow is less important in postboard games.

Support Cards

Giver of Runes | We’ve talked about the impact of Giver of Runes before, and it has everything you want in a one drop. Immediate, game-warping impact, scalability, and a reasonable body make it an attractive option for most Ranger-Captain of Eos decks. I imagine we’ll be seeing this combination for years to come, though the impact of slow, white creatures waxes and wanes quite often in Modern.

Street Wraith | The Death’s Shadow equivalent of Serum Visions, Street Wraith is an uncounterable cantrip that enables Death’s Shadow. Four copies is a must, but don’t be afraid to board it out in some matchups.

Mishra’s Bauble | Like Street Wraith, Bauble is an important compliment to the Shadow strategy. It smooths out hands, but also gives additional information when deciding to fetch, cycle Street Wraith, or cast a hand disruption spell.

Nihil Spellbomb | While less effective at drawing cards than the above options, Nihil Spellbomb nonetheless has a home in slower midrange strategies. Attacking an opponent’s graveyard is important with Hogaak running around, and cycling it in less impactful matchups adds to the redundancy.

Surgical Extraction | Mostly a main deck concession to Hogaak and Vengevine, Surgical Extraction also combines with discard spells to permanently remove threatening cards — though perhaps the primary means is as a Death’s Shadow enabler that has moderate upside.

Faithless Looting | As powerful and iconic as draw spells are, Faithless Looting is often regarded as the “Brainstorm of Modern”. In this sense, it enables both Midrange and Combo alike, as using the graveyard for an advantage is the default state of Modern. Opening hands with Faithless Looting are substantially better than those without, and even without Gurmag Angler or Seasoned Pyromancer the endless hand sculpting of Faithless Looting contributes to many match wins.

Unearth | One of the engine pieces in the new Shadow world, Unearth can recur any threat in the deck, while offering the opportunity to cycle when “dead”. This absurd level of cantrips produces an engine similar to that of Serum Visions decks, as Mardu Shadow has a variety of options for finding the right cards.


The Sideboard

Grim Lavamancer | A former format staple, Grim Lavamancer is a tutorable threat that can lock down many creature decks — Humans included. While rarely a dead draw, the slow, consistent nature of Grim Lavamancer leaves the deck even more vulnerable to graveyard hate, but with the tradeoff of a huge upside.

Celestial Purge | An unusual addition to Shadow sideboards, Celestial Purge functions similarly to Path to Exile against Hogaak and Jund, but can remove both Arclight Phoenix and Aria of Flame. I would recommend a few copies in the post-Mythic Championship metagame, as fighting through Hogaak and a slew of Red and Black cards is the default state of the format.

Shenanigans | Quickly becoming the de facto anti-artifact sideboard card, Shenanigans is seldom seen as more than a one of. This is due to the extreme diminishing returns — finding the first copy of Shenanigans means that nearly every turn will be played out exactly the same. I would recommend one, though a second is reasonable for some Hogaak builds (or other decks where removing a Chalice of the Void or Ensnaring Bridge is strictly necessary).

Yixlid Jailer | While worse than Leyline of the Void against graveyard strategies, being a creature provides Mardu Shadow with incredible utility. It pressures opponents, and can be brought back with Unearth to continually disrupt cards like Hogaak and Vengevine. Though less backbreaking in a world without Bridge from Below, Yixlid Jailer gets the nod over Remorseful Cleric primarily due to an ease of casting. Still, shutting off Lava Dart or Faithless Looting gives you game in matchups you would otherwise struggle in.

Lingering Souls  | Like Grim Lavamancer, Lingering Souls leaves the deck vulnerable to graveyard hate in postboard games, but having access to this effect gives the deck a transformational sideboard plan. Boarding into threats that gum up the board and are difficult to remove is especially potent against Azorius Control, but also lets the deck leverage its removal spells. Seasoned Pyromancer might be a better slot here, but Lingering Souls is far more mana efficient.

Plague Engineer | Tribal decks remain a potent part of Modern, especially with Humans serving as one of the top contenders in the format. Despite the obvious tribal implications, Plague Engineer has utility even against powerful one toughness threats. It can shut off Devoted Druid combo by removing Vizier instantly, and can mitigate the advantage generated by Young Pyromancer.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar | Like Lingering Souls, Shadow decks often want threats that can bridge between aggressive and controlling, without necessarily using the graveyard. Gideon is that threat, and he still showcases the incredible planeswalker killing ability of an endless stream of 2/2s. One copy is satisfactory, though I would recommend combining him with other threats that generate tokens — his Emblem can be quite powerful.