The Summer of Fringe: Reactions to Shadow

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Modern is going through something of a shake-up right now. Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen the status quo turned on its head with the rise, and subsequent fall, of Grixis Death’s Shadow. For months before Grixis’ ascension, weekly results were the same bland mini-variation of Affinity, Dredge, and Eldrazi Tron. Death’s Shadow Jund would rise up here and there, Storm would rear its head, and Burn would make everyone question their life choices.

Now, anything is possible. Just ask Mirran Crusader. No, this isn’t tech against Infect in New Phyrexia Standard. This is Lightning Bolt Modern, except everyone left their Lightning Bolts at home. Hold on to your seat kids, because we’re currently in that crazy period where anybody can play anything, because much of the meta is playing bad lists. Scared? You should be. Today, I’m going to try and talk you through it. Welcome to Fringe Modern.

What the Hell Happened?

See, it starts simple enough. Some well-meaning mages get together, discover a strategy that employs all the best cards, and do well on one weekend. That pushes the envelope just a little bit, and before you know it everyone loses their minds. People don’t like losing matchups where they draw their sideboard cards, and the people have spoken. Forget John Tucker, Grixis Death’s Shadow must die. See, Grixis Death’s Shadow is powerful, and hits hard, and has disruption and card advantage and checks all the boxes. We could be here all day talking about what it does right, but what really matters is what it doesn’t do, which is not fold to a couple sideboard spells. Eldrazi Tron can play some Relic of Progenitus and Chalice of the Void, but that doesn’t matter when Grixis’ creatures are bigger, their removal is better, and they play a card that counters Eldrazi’s whole deck. Neat Relic of Progenitus, buddy. Take 10?

The tools to beat Grixis have been right in front of us, so the story here isn’t as simple as, “oh, it just took a while to find the right tech.” Thanks to Eldrazi Tron, most of the decks that could beat Grixis couldn’t make it through the format gatekeeper, so they rarely got to face their mark after the fifth round. Then, Mono-White Hatebears happened.

The New Baseline?

You heard that right. Mono. White. Hatebears. Craig Wescoe even made an appearance, but he was packing green cards too. Grixis Death’s Shadow cut their Lightning Bolts, and Eldrazi Tron pushed out Jund Midrange. And here we are.

I spotlighted this deck last week, but if I’m a betting man (and I am) I’d say you skimmed over it—because I did too, and I wrote about it! It’s 2017 and Thraben Inspector is still being played in a format with Tarmogoyf, Goblin Guide, and 4/5s for one. Silence is in the sideboard. I remember casting Silence against my dad at the kitchen table in 2011. What have we become?

If you’re scoffing along with me, you’ve already lost. Jund Midrange could come back and beat this deck to a pulp (and I imagine it will soon), but until then you have to deal with it. If you’re not playing Lightning Bolts, you’re part of the problem. This deck exists, in July of 2017, because everyone is looking at everyone else, expecting each other to the dirty work. It’s the bystander effect, and Hatebears is the enabled bully.

Welcome to Your Tape

It’s on you now. If you’re not playing Hatebears, Eldrazi Tron, Affinity, Dredge, Burn, or Death’s Shadow, you’re on the outside looking in. Choose your weapon wisely, because you are the one responsible for fixing this mess—or busting it wide open, depending on where you let your allegiances lie. Here come the players.

Obzedat, Ghost Council? Why not? Having Thragtusk flashbacks yet? Jace, Vryn's Prodigy to dump all our sweet flashback spells and enable Goryo's Vengeance and Unburial Rites only works when our opponent is playing a 1/2 that cantrips, and their endgame is, “how many Golems can I make this game?”

You might wonder about a graveyard combo deck in a field where everyone is packing Relic of Progenitus like it’s the Wild Wild West, but that’s not what we’re looking at here. Solar Flare is a midrange deck, (made possible by Fatal Push, by the way) that happens to use its graveyard for value. Trust me, finalnub is happy everytime you drop Relic of Progenitus against him. What are you going to do, use it in response to Unburial Rites? No problem! Relic activation resolves, activate Jace, discard another fatty to bring back, resolve Unburial Rites. They play five. Five gigantic creatures in a turn-four format.

Except this isn’t a turn-four format anymore, is it? Sure, Dredge still wins games quickly, as does Affinity, but everyone is prepared for those matchups. The rest of the field is wide open, because everyone is finally back to dedicating five-plus slots to interacting with their opponent. We haven’t been able to say that since Splinter Twin, now have we?

Here, a wild Mono-Blue Tron appears, like it's 2015. I wonder what Amulet Bloom is doing these days? While a ton of counterspells don’t look that great against an Aether Vial, Mono-Blue Tron has ways of making Hatebears talk. Against everyone else, all those interactive spells don’t do much against an Expedition Map, because the Tron everyone has been taught to fear comes in Eldrazi colors (get it?!). If anything can whip this format into a shape, it’s a nice healthy dose of Condescend, but Mono-Blue Tron’s sideboard options have always left something to be desired. You know, like options.

This week was almost a Mardu article, but the deck never made it out of my sketchbook and into Magic Online. I was playing Nahiri, the Harbinger, but I can understand the hesitation to play a four-drop in an open field where some of our opponents are going wide. Regardless, removal, Young Pyromancer, and Blood Moon were all in the mix, and I’m glad to see them here.

Sometimes we can get in our own way as deckbuilders/players, and ignore the facts in front of us in the search for some hidden answer. Sometimes, the solution is as simple as, “Not playing Lightning Bolt got us into this mess? Guess I’ll play Lightning Bolt…” Remember that hero we were searching for earlier? Selfeisek’s got the team on his back.

Grixis Death’s Shadow showed us the power of just emptying your hand as fast as possible. Burn, removal, discard—we’ll take it all if it costs one mana, and then we’ll play Bedlam Reveler, and another one, and another one. He’s got Hatebears covered for sure, and Eldrazi Tron should have a hard time fighting through removal, Blood Moon, discard, Lingering Souls, and Young Pyromancer. Against the field? I’ll take one mana spells.dek for 1000, Alex.


If you’re a meticulous tuner who likes solving puzzles with neat, orderly rules and everything in its place, this format is probably driving you nuts right now. If you like to live dangerously, flirt with disaster, or put extra bacon on that cheeseburger, live it up buddy. Regardless of which side you’re on, this format is wide open right now; that much is for certain. Whether you’re looking to close the door, or bust it off the hinges, this is what your peers have been up to.

What about you? Let me know in the comments below what you think about the format right now and what steps you’ve taken to adjust to it. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week.

Trevor Holmes

2 thoughts on “The Summer of Fringe: Reactions to Shadow

  1. Arent there always kooky decks pulling off 5-0s? And unexpected decks managing top 8s? I wouldnt think this is indicative of much in the broader picture. Yes there are fewer bolts but those were replaced by fatal pushes. The net removal isnt down nor is the prevalence of 1cmc instant speed removal down. Mirran crusader is a winner tho bc bad vs bolt good vs push – but what other cards can boast that? And I mean its a single crusader maindecked, not a playset in that 2nd place list.

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