I took down the MCQ at Tabletop Gaming Center in Newington, Connecticut this last weekend with Mardu Death’s Shadow. I generally don’t like the “tournament report” style articles following these events as I don’t feel they provide a ton of substance. Instead what I am going to do today is briefly cover my matches and then talk more in depth about the deck and the choices I made while building it.

Check out my in-depth deck guide for Mardu Death’s Shadow!

The Tournament

Truth be told, I was not at all convinced that I was going to play Mardu Shadow in this event. In fact, I didn’t decide to play it until roughly 30 minutes before the event started.

I’m really bad at picking a deck to play in most tournaments—I’ll test a number of decks leading up to the tournament and then either audible last minute or just generally struggle to choose one. On the drive down I was talking to some friends about the merits of Jund, UW Control, Izzet Phoenix, and Hogaak Dredge. I crossed off Hogaak Dredge because I was inexperienced and not confident in my ability to win the event with it. This left me with a pile of fair decks, none of which seemed to have what it took to separate themselves from the pack.

I checked Twitter for some up-to-date UR Phoenix content and couldn’t really find any—it seems as though most of the regular pilots have moved on, which isn’t a good sign for the deck. This left me with Jund, UW Control, and Mardu Death’s Shadow. UW Control posted the lowest win percentage among the Top 10 decks in Barcelona, so I wasn’t feeling great about that one. I then tried to reason out whether I should play Jund or Mardu, asking myself and my car mates, “Is Mardu Death’s Shadow just bad Jund?” My friend Zac Turgeon fired back with, “Well, we know Jund is bad Jund, so at worst Mardu Death’s Shadow can only be that, but it might actually have good matchups.”

Well, that was good enough for me. After some more deliberation I decided to play Mardu.

My matches in order were:

Round 1: Mono Green Tron WLW 1-0

Round 2: Mystic Forge Affinity WW 2-0

Round 3: Mono Green Tron WW 3-0

Round 4: Cheerios WW 4-0

Round 5: UW Control WW 5-0

Round 6: Hardened Scales LWW 6-0

Round 7: Intentional Draw 6-0-1

Round 8: 4C Urza LL 6-1-1

Quarterfinals: Twiddle Storm LWW

Semifinals: 4C Urza (same opponent) WLW

Finals: Hogaak WW

A note about Round 8: I didn’t choose to play that match. I actually walked up to my opponent and said, “I assume we’re just shaking hands?” He said he wanted to play. I was really confused, so I told him that because he’s 7-0 if we draw he locks the #1 seed for Top 8, but if he loses the match he’ll be either the #2 or #3 seed, but he still wanted to play.

Zac and I both qualified for MC London within a relatively short period of time, so when I was walking to my finals match against that same opponent who had wanted to play in Round 8, he said, “You’re going to win this stupid thing, and make me win another one, aren’t you?” Naturally after winning the finals, I turned to him and said, “Your turn.”

That is enough about the tournament itself, let’s get into the deck!

The Mardu Death’s Shadow Decklist

Here is the list I played, and I think the only change I would make going forward is cutting one Wear // Tear for a copy of Shenanigans.

Modern Mardu Death's Shadow

Creatures (18)
Ranger-Captain of Eos
Death’s Shadow
Gurmag Angler
Street Wraith
Tidehollow Sculler
Hex Parasite

Spells (17)
Inquisition of Kozilek
Path to Exile
Fatal Push
Temur Battle Rage

Artifacts (6)
Mishra’s Bauble
Nihil Spellbomb
Lands (19)
Arid Mesa
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Godless Shrine
Marsh Flats
Snow-Covered Plains
Sacred Foundry
Silent Clearing
Snow-Covered Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Celestial Purge
Collective Brutality
Liliana of the Veil
Kolaghan’s Command
Leyline of the Void
Liliana, the Last Hope
Plague Engineer
Wear // Tear

I had only played a few matches with this deck in the week leading up to the tournament and kind of wrote it off largely in part to its performance on MTGO. However, I was playing against a disproportionately high amount of basic Mountains so that skewed my perception of how good the deck was. This deck certainly has a more midrange play style to it than Grixis Death’s Shadow does and functions less like a tempo deck. Once I started playing the deck more like a Jund deck everything seemed to click a little better and play out a little smoother.

The Individual Card Choices

All I can say is wow…it has been a long time since I have underestimated a card like this so much. I had previously played a few matches with Ranger-Captain of Eos in Esper Shadow builds and I wasn’t a fan. I thought it was clunky, the body wasn’t big enough for the cost, and the abilities were kind of whatever.

I am quite happy to say that I was wrong. This card is incredible. I referred to this card as a three-mana 3/3 Demonic Tutor with Silence stapled on for good measure. During the tournament, Zac described it as, “Channel + Fireball + Time Walk.”

While these descriptions may be somewhat hyperbolic, I found myself in a lot of situations where I would clear the way for a Turn 3 Death’s Shadow with some discard spells, then on Turn 4 I’d attack and cast Ranger-Captain of Eos and another Death’s Shadow. In my opponent’s upkeep I’d Silence them with Ranger-Captain of Eos, and then I’d get to untap and kill them.

The synergy with Unearth is also insane! I won multiple games on the back of Silenceing my opponent for two to three turns in a row with Ranger-Captains and Unearths, each time picking up an extra Death’s Shadow for my trouble!

I’m going to be straight with you: I didn’t think I’d ever register Tidehollow Sculler in an event that actually mattered and I even felt kind of dumb writing it on my deck list.

Without the number of cantrips that Grixis or Esper Death’s Shadow have, Mardu is forced to play more on curve, which means that the deck needs a density of two-mana plays. Dark Confidant is off the table because we can’t control the life loss. Dreadhorde Arcanist is close, but I just don’t think it does enough, especially if it never gets to trigger.

Enter Tidehollow Sculler. This little guy gives the deck a little more disruption in the absence of Stubborn Denial. It also does a nice job of forcing your opponent to make a move—either they cast their spell in response to the trigger or they lose it. Either way you’ve cleared the way for your more valuable creatures.

I actually almost made the mistake of cutting Hex Parasite in favor of Giver of Runes. It took a last minute conversation with my buddy Tommy Kessler to convince me to buy and register a copy, and that decision payed off in a huge way!

The first game of the tournament I played Parasite on Turn 1 then two Death’s Shadow on Turn 2, and killed my Tron opponent on Turn 3. Functioning similar to a Temur Battle Rage that you can tutor for with Ranger-Captain of Eos, with the upside of its ability blanking cards like Aether Vial, Planeswalkers, and most of Hardened Scales, this little guy did some serious work. The ability to just put in on the battlefield with a Death’s Shadow and make your opponent respect a 12-point attack for the rest of the game is huge! I think Hex Parasite won me five matches on the day. It came up big against both Tron opponents, UW Control, Hardened Scales, and Twiddle Storm.

Unearth looks unassuming on its face but it is actually quite important to Mardu Death’s Shdaow. It often functions as an additional copy of Death’s Shadow by picking Shadow itself, or a Ranger-Captain of Eos. Unearthing a Ranger is just insane value, getting the 3/3 body back AND a Death’s Shadow is a great deal for one mana, especially when it can even be a Silence against a lot of decks!

Unearth can even do a reasonable Thoughtseize impression if you pick up a Tidehollow Sculler, which I certainly did a couple times to great success.

I believe Path to Exile is one of the sleepers in the Modern format. It’s an incredible tool against Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and Arclight Phoenix, yet it sees little play. I think the answer is that Path lacks a home—how many good White decks are even in the format right now? By my count, not many. Mardu Death’s Shadow provides a solid shell for Path to exist and thrive in, and is not small part of why this deck has a favorable Hogaak matchup.

When I first looked at this deck, these spots were Fulminator Mage. Understandable given the recent success of Tron, but I don’t actually think the Tron matchup is that bad. Two copies of Fulminator Mage certainly aren’t going to reliably add much to your win rate against Tron anyway. However, the matchup against basic Mountains is much worse, and Collective Brutality is one of the best cards you can have in those matchups. Plus, it has a little bit of added utility as an okay removal spell and an okay discard spell in matchups where that matters.

Mardu Death’s Shadow Sideboard Guide

Now, I certainly haven’t played enough of this deck to give you an exact science version on how to sideboard against everything, but I’ve had a lot of requests so I’ll give you an idea how I was sideboarding in some of the popular matchups.


In: 2 Celestial Purge, 4 Leyline of the Void, 2 Plague Engineer, 1 Liliana, the Last Hope

Out: 2 Unearth, 1 Hex Parasite, 3 Fatal Push, 3 Street Wraith

Izzet Phoenix

In: 2 Celestial Purge, 1 Liliana of the Veil, 2 Wear // Tear

Out: 4 Tidehollow Sculler, 1 Hex Parasite


In: 1 Kolaghan’s Command, 2 Wear // Tear

Out: 2 Nihil Spellbomb, 1 Fatal Push


In: 2 Celestial Purge, 1 Liliana of the Veil, 1 Liliana, the Last Hope, 1 Kolaghan’s Command

Out: 2 Nihil Spellbomb, 2 Temur Battle Rage, 1 Tidehollow Sculler


In: 2 Collective Brutality, 1 Liliana of the Veil, 1 Liliana, the Last Hope, 2 Plague Engineer

Out: 2 Nihil Spellbomb, 2 Unearth, 2 Street Wraith

Mono-Red Phoenix

In: 2 Celestial Purge, 2 Collective Brutality, 1 Liliana of the Veil, 2 Plague Engineer

Out: 4 Street Wraith, 3 Thoughtseize

Hopefully this gave everyone a glimpse into an archetype that has been flying under the radar that I happen to enjoy quite a lot. As always I am more than happy to answer any questions on Twitter.

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