Shaman Ain’t Easy

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I really like to brew. I’m not nearly as good at brewing as I am at tweaking existing archetypes, but that has never stopped me from staying up until 4 A.M. hashing out what would fit best in a dedicated Augury Adept pile. Legacy is far and away the format that I have had the most success with, but I have never come close to brewing a remotely viable Legacy deck. That may have changed last night.

I’ve been thinking about Deathrite Shaman a lot lately. The card has proven to be very strong in Standard and phenomenal in Modern. As of yet I haven’t seen the card take off in Legacy. I mean, I’ve seen people playing it, but in shells that I don’t think are competitive enough. There’s a local player that shoe-horned the card into Nic Fit, but at the end of the day he’s still playing Nic Fit. I’d like to play a deck that doesn’t need to mulligan into Veteran Explorer plus Cabal Therapy to even play Magic.

What Should a Deathrite Shaman Deck Look Like?

I’ve heard the comparison to Grim Lavamancer many times, but I don’t think it fits at all. Lavaman isn’t about just doming your opponent- it’s largely about killing creatures. Shaman also isn’t all that much about doming your opponent. It serves as a mana accelerant, a graveyard hoser, a clock, and in a pinch it gains life, too. The best Deathrite Shaman deck is going to take advantage of all of these things.

Most of what the card does is exploited simply by virtue of playing a game of Magic, but exploiting the mana acceleration in the best way is the key to building the best Deathrite Shaman deck. Strong three drops and one/two drops that synergize effectively on turn two seem to be the ticket.
Along this line of thought, the best turn two plays that I came up with were the following:

Liliana of the Veil

We’ll start with the most obvious of the turn two plays I came up with. Liliana is a card that has seen on and off play in Legacy and has always been on my radar. I think that the problem previously was that she didn’t have a very strong home, but I believe I found one for her. She shines in any deck that battles for attrition and that’s exactly where my list landed. Liliana plays very well with cards like Dark Confidant and Life from the Loam, and you’d best believe that this is the direction the deck is going.

Having too many threes is a good way to do nothing while your opponent kills you in Legacy, so while I am excited about Liliana I believe that the following card combinations are even more important to the deck.

Dark Confidant + Discard/Spell Pierce

The ability to play a Dark Confidant with Spell Pierce backup on turn two can be quite devastating. This will make it so that your opponent will have to have either two removal spells or one with counter backup to deal with your Bob. On turn two. Even if they do have that combination they’re still not doing anything proactive. Leaving the Spell Pierce up against combo decks while safely landing a Bob goes a very long way as well.

Being able to Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek to protect Bob or to disrupt combos is also very clearly powerful. Of course, when it comes to the discard suite I’m starting with four Cabal Therapy because of the following card:

Baleful Strix + Cabal Therapy

Baleful Strix has mostly only been showing up in Tezzeret decks, but I think that the card is absolutely playable ipso facto. It trades with literal everything and draws a card while doing so. Against combo decks it is a prime candidate for being sacrificed to Therapy. It’s not as explosive as a Veteran Explorer, but I’m not building an explosive deck, I am building a consistent deck.

And the Rest

From here we get to some obvious inclusions like Brainstorm and to a lesser extent Abrupt Decay. That leaves us with the following list:

I prefer having Intuition over a second copy of Life from the Loam, and it also has added utility of specifically tutoring for Wateland and Creeping Tar Pit. Not to mention that it can at times just search for three copies of a given spell.

Two Darkblast is probably wrong, but I haven’t yet made my mind up on what to run over it. Another discard spell, a Ghastly Demise or an Innocent Blood are all enticing options. All I know for certain is that I probably want whatever takes the space to cost one mana.

Now let’s talk about some notable omissions:

Force of Will

The two major points that I have against Force is that taking five with Bob sucks and that with a bunch of discard spells it is unnecessary in a lot of matchups. I’ll probably have somewhere between two and four in the sideboard for combo decks, but there is not a single fair deck that a BUG deck needs Force against. It’s miserable against RUG, pretty bad against Maverick and unnecessary against Miracles.


This deck is specifically trying to play a long game. Daze just doesn’t make any sense in this shell.

Delver of Secrets

All of the BUG lists that I’ve seen lately have had some sort of Delver shell, with a high density of instants and sorceries. My list, alternatively, is built around the power level of the creatures featured and of Liliana of the Veil. Additionally, I am by no means trying to race anybody, so an aggressive creature like Delver really doesn’t fit the bill.

Engineered Explosives + Academy Ruins

If I find that games are going long enough and that having more colorless lands doesn't hurt too much I could see fitting these cards into the deck. As of now I'm not convinced that they are necessary and they are probably too slow. I could very well be wrong here on all counts.

This deck is entirely the product of a late-night brewing session yesterday, so it would be extremely arrogant for me to claim that it will be a force in Legacy. I can easily see changing the numbers on many of the cards as I battle with it and learn more about how its matchups play out. That said I am optimistic about the potential that this list has, and I fully intend to battle with it at local Legacy events when I can find time to do so. I’ll be sure to write about any updates and how the deck plays when I know more, and am very open to any suggestions that anybody may have.

Until next time, good luck; high five!

-Ryan Overturf
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter

13 thoughts on “Shaman Ain’t Easy

    1. I had Jace, took Jace out and put it back in again a couple times with this list. As I said, I’ve played with the deck actual zero (which you’d think people would connect with the fact that this isn’t anywhere close to finished :P), but Jace is something that is on my list of cards I may want to add as I battle.

    1. The guy that tells everybody that his list is rough and asks for suggestions (me) is probably a stronger deck tuner than the guy commenting that can’t even add a win condition himself (you).

      It’s true that I worry a lot less about winning the game than playing the game as I approach a deck early on, but you only embarrass yourself when you criticize instead of critique.

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