The concept of personal preference heavily influences how I see the world, and subsequently, Magic. So I'm no stranger to writing about playing what you love. Nonetheless, I have felt a bit lost in Modern for the last few months: my colored pet decks lost a key card in Faithless Looting, and the second coming of Eldrazi Tron threatens my colorless one. I've wanted to brew with powerful new engines such as Oko, but for a time, everything I landed on struck me as worse than Urza decks.
After creating multiple lists from scratch, running them into the ground online, and starting over once I'd realized they weren't doing what I felt like doing in the first place, I finally figured out a 75 that ticks my boxes.
#1: Bolt and Goyf
In "Eat My Dust: Blowing Smoke With BUG Faeries," I posited that interactive Modern decks simply couldn't compete if they lacked Lightning Bolt or Tarmogoyf. That article is now four years old, and I'm not entirely sure how true the argument even was at the time. What's for certain is that my love for those two cards knows no bounds. When deciding what to run in a deck of favorites, they were no-brainers.
With cheap planeswalkers running amok, Bolt is particularly versatile, and this metagame is relatively light on copies. That's why decks that normally struggle against the red instant are cropping up in spades, making it all the better to have on-hand.
As for Goyf, it's certainly fallen far from its previous position at Modern's helm. But it still packs a punch, and punches enough of my preference buttons that I won't leave home packing less than four myself.
#2: Wrenn and Oko
Experimenting with Wrenn and Six in TURBOGOYF and Counter-Cat has drastically altered the way I play Modern. Most of the changes take place at the very start of the game: during mulligans. Later builds of TURBOGOYF had me trimming the land count to as low as 16 and riding on finding Wrenn and a mana source; once the walker's in play, I'd rather not draw another land for the rest of the game. Faithless Looting helped that plan a lot, and without the sorcery, the land count will need to climb above 16. But still, I was married to Wrenn before deciding what else I wanted to play.
The "what else" ended up being Oko, Thief of Crowns. I'd been hearing about this card endlessly from other players, on discussion boards, and in my newsfeed by the time it was finally banned from Standard. As the allure of playing freshly-made-Modern-exclusives once spurred me to build around Smuggler's Copter for a couple weeks, so too I couldn't wait to wield Oko in the format.
On its surface, the card solves some problems I've run into with Temur over the years: its lack of hard removal and lack of effective go-wide strategies. But getting the most out of Oko put additional pressures on the deck. For one, I'd require access to creatures large enough to invalidate 3/3s; Tarmogoyf was a good start, but I wanted a second fatty. Additionally, the presence of cheap, self-replacing artifacts like Arcum's Astrolabe is part of what makes Oko such a competent plan out of the Urza decks, so I sought to run some Astrolabes myself. As a bonus, the artifact feeds Goyf once opponents answer it.
Rounding Out the Core
I tried the above cards in a multitude of shells, spending the most time with Blood Moon and Delver of Secrets // Delver of Secrets variants. The former proved too clunky without acceleration, which I was committed to not running; otherwise, I'd just be building TURBOGOYF again, and I wanted more of a spell-based aggro-control deck this time around. As for Delver, it was simply never flipping with all the noncreature permanents in the deck.
While Temur colors support themselves well enough to frequently house Blood Moon, adding a fourth color to the mix can make a Modern deck's manabase especially squishy. Not so with Astrolabe in the picture. The natural choice for a fourth color was black, which offered some very juicy possibilities:
- Thoughtseize/Inquisition of Kozilek: Some of Modern's best interaction, and a swell pairing with Tarmogoyf. Wrenn and Six, as well as other planeswalkers, benefit from early hand stripping for a similar reason.
- Fatal Push: The gold standard for early-to-mid-game battlefield cleanup.
- Collective Brutality; Plague Engineer: High-impact sideboard cards.
Best of all, though, was the black card that named the deck: Death's Shadow. Shadow, too, shines alongside targeted discard, giving my threat suite cohesion; it also attacks players from a non-nongraveyard angle. Shadow helps provide the density of ferocious bodies necessary for Stubborn Denial, and it also opens up room for another planeswalker: The Royal Scions.
The aforementioned late-stage TURBOGOYF builds ended up splashing blue for Scions alone, a card that supplemented Faithless Looting while pressuring opponents significantly as of the second or third turn. The walker's at its best when working with Wrenn and Six, the latter providing ample raw materials to loot away, and large creatures like Tarmogoyf. Those not only block to protect Scions, but can turn sideways, making full use of the walker's pseudo-Temur Battle Rage +1. Shadow benefits similarly from the pairing, as we've already seen in some online finishes.
From there, I added a few copies of Snapcaster Mage for extra utility and began testing. The numbers were eventually adjusted (Snapcaster went down to two copies; some interaction was trimmed for Sleight of Hand), and I landed here:
The Sideboard, Explained
While it's a bit early to propose an optimized sideboard, I can explain my current picks.
- Damping Sphere: Among Modern's most flexible enablers, Sphere handles big mana, spell-based velocity decks, and various strands of combo all by itself (well, with the help of a clock).
- Plague Engineer: Acard I've found invaluable against small creature decks, Engineer's at its best when it comes down and immediately kills something. It's not bad in the Shadow mirror, either, where it demands an answer in a board stall.
- Dismember: Significantly buffs Shadow while interacting on the cheap. But it's a bit narrow for the main considering the removal suite we already have.
- Surgical Extraction: Grave hate (or not). Great with Snapcaster.
- Collective Brutality: Mostly here for Burn, but comes in against combo and creatures, too. Extremely versatile, but pricey in Game 1.
- Veil of Summer: Not necessarily needed for the interactive matchups, since the walkers give us lots of play there. But man is it fun to resolve.
- Stubborn Denial: In some matchups, there's no such thing as too much permission.
- Disdainful Stroke: Counters Tron payoffs, Titan payoffs, and... Urza!
- Ancient Grudge: Hard to build a deck in these colors and forget about this guy.
Of course, combining Goyf, Shadow, and discard is nothing new to Modern: the card first made waves in that very core, supported by Traverse the Ulvenwald. So how does Six Shadow measure up against similar decks?
Six drops Traverse for regular cantrips, a trick I employed in my first BURG-colored Shadow deck two years ago. Sleight of Hand is obviously less consistent than Traverse the Ulvenwald, but it resists Rest in Peace and can find instants, sorceries, or planeswalkers.
Those planeswalkers also make up for the threat density lost to abandoning Traverse. Any of our three wins the game unchecked, and are significantly tougher to remove than creatures. Grixis Shadow aims to beat removal via the Push-resisting Gurmag Angler and Stubborn Denial, but I think leaning on walkers, while less explosive, is more robust, especially considering our creature-based Plan A.
Forgot About Rock
Dipping so hungrily into the card type makes us resemble not only Traverse and Grixis Shadow, but good ol' Jund Rock, Modern's reigning Wrenn and Six pile. My problem with Jund right now is its softness to Urza and Tron. Not that it's dead in the water against either deck, but Jund lacks Shadow's reversibility, making it harder to transition to an aggressive role when it needs to. Conversely, Shadow decks can dome themselves for a bunch and then one- or two-shot their disrupted opponents, Infect-style, if enemy answers are unlikely, making them the favorite against combo.
As for Jund's benefits, it's superior at shredding small creature decks; still, Snapcaster and the one-mana removal helps on that front. It's also historically harder to disrupt than Shadow, although I think the planeswalkers go a long way on that front. With its many threats, I suspect Jund has the upper hand against us in a head-to-head, though I haven't been able to confirm this yet for lack of running into it.
After a couple months of looking around, it feels great to have a deck to settle into. With its "Goyfish" superiority as a turn-two play, Wrenn and Six has categorically become my favorite card from Modern Horizons, and I don't doubt it finds its way into my next brew. But maybe I'm counting my eggs before the Toxicitry lays them—here's hoping Six Shadow lasts me awhile! What have you been playing in this high-powered Modern?