The tales of Grixis Shadow's demise following the banning of Lurrus of the Dream-Den have been greatly exaggerated. In recent weeks, Shadow has reemerged as a key player in the Modern metagame thanks to the Streets of New Capenna multi-format all-star, Ledger Shredder.
Not only did @kanister_mtg take down a Magic Online Modern Challenge with the deck earlier this month, Soichiro Kohara and Tom White both chose the deck for the Modern portion of the Magic Online Championship Showcase this weekend (with Tom making it to the finals of the event). I also took the deck a second place finish of a local $1k this weekend, losing to the higher seed mirror in the finals.
It's clear that Shadow is back, and in a big way.
What Does It Do?
The Grixis Shadow deck pairs low-cost threats like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Dragon's Rage Channeler with disruption such as Unholy Heat and Thoughtseize to snowball card and mana advantage as early as turn one.
These low-cost spells naturally pair well with Shredder, often creating opportunities to play the Bird and connive in the same turn. Doing so creates a 2/4 evasive, Bolt-resistant, quasi-Rule of Law creature that needs to be removed quickly lest it grow even bigger.
Between Seize and a fetchland mana base, life totals can drop quickly. This is where the titular Death's Shadow comes in. Shadow is a cheap beater that will outsize just about every creature in the format, often threatening lethal in a mere one or two attacks.
Other notable spells utilized by this archetype are Expressive Iteration, which is simply the most efficient draw spell in the format, and Drown in the Loch, a versatile removal spell or counterspell.
What I Like
Grixis Shadow is a deck that "just plays the good cards." It has some of the best creatures, the best draw spells, and the best interaction. Everything is efficient, powerful, and purposeful. Even without Lurrus providing late-game card advantage and inevitability, the resources this deck already has access to are strong enough to dismantle most opposing game plans.
I'm a big advocate for Ragavan (and Channeler) in the current metagame. These creatures are one-mana must-answer threats. Even if they trade immediately with a one-mana removal spell, it's done at card and mana parity. If an opponent uses Counterspell or March of Otherwordly Light as their answer, they've spent twice as much mana to answer the threat as it costs. That opens up the opportunities to cast multiple spells in the same turn while the opponent's shields are down.
Notably, the four-color Omnath, Locus of Creation decks which sit at the top of the metagame predominantly rely on sorcery-speed answers like Wrenn and Six and Prismatic Ending to deal with cheap creatures. A dashed Ragavan is exceptionally hard to answer and can ultimately accumulate multiple cards and treasure tokens before being dealt with.
As a cheap haste threat, Ragavan also offers the ability to "revenge kill" a down-ticked Wrenn or Teferi, Time Raveler without going down on cards. Commonly, these decks often need to two-for-one themselves with Solitude just to answer the monkey nuisance. Post-sideboard, this matchup improves considerably thanks to Tourach, Dread Cantor. Protection from white might as well be hexproof given that it dodges Teferi, Solitude, Ending, and March.
Another element I like about the new builds of Shadow are the different axes its creatures fight on. Dragon's Rage Channeler and Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger are graveyard-reliant threats, which can be mostly neutralized by hate pieces like Endurance and Rest in Peace. However, those answers prove ineffective against Shredder and Shadow. Chalice of the Void can deal with one-drops, but not with Shredder or Kroxa. There's no singular silver bullet that beats this deck's suite of threats.
While something of an afterthought, if given the opportunity to play a companion without heavily hindering your strategy, players should do so. This deck gets to play Jegantha, the Wellspring because the best set of 74 other cards are incidentally compliant. It's hard to complain about a free 5/5 that both hedges against mana flood and incidentally outs Blood Moon.
What I Don't Like
One of the major reasons Grixis Shadow fell off the map once Lurrus was banned was the presence of Solitude. Since Shadow's power and toughness are equal to the amount of life you are at below 13, Solitude exiling a Shadow will always set your life total back to 13. With multiple Shadows out, the first will be exiled and the rest will die to state-based actions from having zero toughness.
A potentially free and instant-speed Plague Wind from the opponent is enough to steer anyone in the opposite direction. This is partially why Shadow itself has dropped down to three copies instead of the full four, and why Shredder is such an important pivot.
Fortunately, with Omnath so prevalent, aggressive decks like Burn have dropped in popularity. That development grants much more agency over your life total by playing untapped shocks and Seize without fear of getting Lightning Bolted out of the game. However, Shadow's return opens the doors for Burn to make a resurgence. That matchup is highly skill-intensive, and preferably avoided by most Shadow players. Eidolon of the Great Revels and Deflecting Palm are especially concerning, and I personally do not want to see them near the top tables.
What's in the Box?
Reflecting on the deck, I think Grixis Shadow an incredibly potent player in the current metagame. The removal suite is phenomenal against creature decks like Hammer, Yawgmoth, and Amulet Titan. Much of the spell suite is identical to UR Murktide's, but with the added benefits of Thoughtseize, unconditional removal, and sideboard Tourach. There is plenty of room to innovate and adjust in this archetype, and I look forward to seeing how it performs going forward.
If you have any questions about the deck or want to keep up with me, drop a follow and reach out on Twitter at @AdamECohen. Catch you all next time!