Today I present you with a Modern brew that I have been tinkering with for over two years. I finally bring this brew forward because in Modern Death’s Shadow Zoo has been very hyped and is making a huge splash here in the Colonies.

I began with this brew when Deathrite Shaman was still legal in Modern. For those of you who have been around for a while and got to play Deathrite Shaman in Jund and Birthing Pod, you are no stranger to the difference in power level when you do or do not have access to this one mana “Planeswalker.” The original idea was a combo approach using Dying Wish and Fling. You could potentially get your Shadow up to ten power, then Fling it to drain ten life and deal ten damage. This worked out a lot better when we had access to the extra mana from Deathrite Shaman.

Unfortunately for the deck it really needed the acceleration and once Shaman got the ban hammer I stopped doing well at my LGS and had to move onto the next version. Which would eventually present itself thanks to another player showing at the top of a few tournaments featuring Phyrexian Unlife, Angel’s Grace, and Spoils of the Vault. I tried that version out but it really wasn’t my style. After some initial testing, a new set and a more mid-range approach I came to something like this:

Shadow Midrange Combo

Lands (19)
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Godless Shrine
Marsh Flats
Overgrown Tomb
Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Verdant Catacombs

Creatures (17)
Dark Confidant
Death’s Shadow
Varolz, the Scar-Striped
Vexing Devil

Spells (24)
Abrupt Decay
Dying Wish
Flesh // Blood
Liliana of the Veil
Sideboard (15)
Abrupt Decay
Apostle’s Blessing
Feed the Clan
Golgari Charm
Leyline of Sanctity
Rakdos Charm
Slaughter Games

Wizards gave us Abrupt Decay and Deathrite Shaman when we Returned to Ravnica. They proved to be a great for BGx midrange and control decks. Later on we would get Dragon’s Maze. Remember that crap? What the hell was the point of printing all that bulk garbage? Varolz, the Scar-Striped came as a part of that bulk garbage and it both piqued my interest and provided some long-game resiliency.

Decay was already a great new option for removal and Varolz enabled me to scavenge lost Death’s Shadows and Vexing Devils onto any creature I controlled to build a large beater out of weenies. I have had several games where I was able to fling a 10/10 Death’s Shadow at my opponent, then suit up a Dark Confidant with thirteen +1/+1 counters for one black then swing for the kill. I had finally built something that I was very happy with plus it had proved with tight play that it could be competitive as well as fun!


Fairly simple and similar to the Zoo version that has a lot of recent success, we have all the shock lands that we could ever need to fix our mana and tax our life total as well as the fetchlands to find them. For this version I have included a basic Swamp and Forest. Since we are looking for a somewhat longer game we want the ability to at some point find basic lands in order to continue develop out mana and be able to manage our life total in a safer way. Against Burn having access to basics that we can fetch is ideal since it allows us to more safely build our board and get control over their creatures, before we can combo kill them.


Dark Confidant gives us two things that we want: extra cards and life loss. Since we are still very low to the ground, aside from Flesh // Blood, we are usually only taking a point or two of damage, but since we can consistently lose that extra point or two. With the extra of cards, we are likely to have all the tools and mana necessary to close a game quickly.

Death’s Shadow in this version plays a role similar to Tarmogoyf in Jund and other similar Midrange decks. The main difference is that Death’s Shadow gets much larger, much more quickly than Goyf. In addition Shadow is a threat that only gets better and better as the game goes on. Tarmogoyf doesn’t quite pack the same punch when it is later in the game and you are at four life.

There are a few things people might not realize when playing this deck that you should understand:

  1. Death’s Shadow being sacrificed will use last known information. Fling and Dying Wish will note how large Death’s Shadow was before it died, not after.
  2. While in the graveyard Death’s Shadow is a 13/13 and for one black will scavenge for thirteen +1/+1 counters.

Spellskite is here to help protect against Abrupt Decay, Path to Exile and other removal spells that can really throw a wrench into our game plan. Interestingly enough, Spellskite being bolt-proof at four toughness also makes a great scavenge target. The fact that it can also redirect a scavenge activation from another target that might get killed in response is just gravy, over smashed potatoes, kind of like how we want to smash our opponent.

Varolz, the Scar-Striped gives us a great way to get value from our creatures being discarded or destroyed. Vexing Devil often eats it upon entering the battlefield and can later be four counters on another creature. Hitting our opponent for four makes the combo that much easier to close a game. A bonus of Varolz is that we are able to use him as a sacrifice outlet for a creature enchanted with Dying Wish by regenerating Varolz.

Vexing Devil is able to either exist on the battlefield as a decent threat or take a fifth of your opponent’s life. If all else fails it’s a great choice to scavenge getting four counters for one red.

Image result for death's shadow

Ever feel like someone                                 is watching you?


Liliana of the Veil, as suggested both in-story and in-game, is a powerful planeswalker. Left unchecked she will tear apart your opponent’s hand, creatures, and then their entire board. When she isn’t fighting Emrakul (the most powerful woman in all of Magic: the Gathering) she is fighting for us kindred black mages. We use the graveyard as a resource so our hand is often expendable and we don’t care much for the creatures that you think are “cute” so we enlist her help to kill those while we’re at it.


Dying Wish is one of our combo finish cards. Getting one of these onto a large Death’s Shadow then using one of our many sacrifice outlets means you are losing a lot of life. If you’re trying to beat us down, Dying Wish gains life while it drains the opponent. Kind of like a non-lethal Tendrils of Agony. Lucky us, unlucky you!

Flesh // Blood lets us take advantage of a creature that has been pumped without having to sacrifice it. This means we can answer anything you think is big enough to stop us or just punch you in the face regardless of what your battlefield looks like.

Fling is the other of our combo finish cards. While we do have to sacrifice the creature and counter magic tends to feel pretty bad, this combined with a Dying Wish is often a one-hit kill, whether it be a Death’s Shadow or just something we have scavenged counters on.

Dying Wish


Abrupt Decay is the go to removal spell for any BGx deck and this deck is no different. When you have to answer a non-land permanent and make sure it resolves, you use Abrupt Decay. No substitutes compare in the slightest.

Dismember is removal that doesn’t care about converted mana cost, can be an easy way to lose life or cast for the full three mana when we are getting late in the game and can’t afford further life loss.

Vendetta is our cheap and efficient removal, the life loss is a nice touch for what we are looking to do after the first few turns. The only real issue with Vendetta is that it can not hit black creatures which is mostly a non issue since most every threat that we are going to need or want to hit will likely not be black.

In some meta games it might be correct to take advantage of the white producing lands to run Orzhov Charm, which is something I experimented with for a while. While not only acting as a non-biased Vendetta it’s also instant speed bring a Death’s Shadow back from your graveyard or save a creature enchanted with Dying Wish from removal like Path to Exile, which is pretty good against us.


In the board we have the fourth Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm as additional forms of removal. Anger of the Gods might be worthwhile to substitute since Dredge is becoming a real player in the Modern metagame.

We also have some anti-aggro cards in the board with Feed the Clan and Leyline of Sanctity. Feed the Clan is a great reset button for when our opponent has all too willingly aided in our game plan and things have gotten tight. Leyline is there to force our Burn opponent to kill us with creatures. With all of our removal, creatures are far easier for us to answer than Lightning Bolt.

Rakdos Charm is our way to answer graveyard and swarm strategies as an added bonus it also hits artifacts if necessary. Nothing compares to letting UR Storm make sixteen goblins after a brief turn-two combo, then clocking them for sixteen on my turn two to punish a greedy start.

Initial Thoughts

Over the years I have sleeved up this deck in many different variants, with many different card choices. I have played it with Deathrite Shaman (R.I.P), Bitterblossom,  and less popular and well known options like Orzhov Charm. I have had some success in my LGS and believe that with tight play this could be something more competitive than Death’s Shadow Zoo.

Although I do not like the aggressive Zoo game plan, I am glad that Death’s Shadow has received some love lately and is making waves in Modern. Although I have not played Modern recently, I honestly believe the metagame is in a decent place for my Midrange Combo Shadow version. Soon I may have to take some time off work to make it to my LGS for some fun!

Image result for orzhov charm

Happy brewing to each and every one of you. If anyone has an idea for a brew that they would like to see, I will gladly take requests and challenges on twitter. 🙂

Aaron Gazzaniga manages a restaurant and in his off time has been an avid magic player/brewer since 2003. Having begun in Odyssey Standard Block and always favoring control and prison style decks, we come to this moment in time where Aaron finally gets to talk about and share his ideas. If you want to contact Aaron tweet @aarongazzaniga

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