Stormbreath Dragon
How to Succeed in Modern Without Really Trying (Part 2)
Waking up to 100 degree weather at 6:30am, I wiped the sweat from my brow, took a shower, and headed down to a free breakfast with Ben Coursey. While not quite as nice as the free breakfast buffet Mike comped us the day before, anytime you can get a free meal is a really good feeling, especially in a city where $20 barely gets you one!

We headed over to the site a little early, which was lucky because the Uber driver dropped us off pretty far away from the venue after he missed a turn. Soon enough, the round clock dinged 50 minutes, and the sound of cards shuffling permeated the hall.

Round 10 – Abzan Geist / Bant Rhino

Somehow the table for this round was split into two halves, with my opponent’s half significantly taller than mine. He was on the play and had the high ground, totally unfair!

Game one was a lesson in the strength of Thoughtseize giving you protection from random brews. It let me sculpt a plan around all of the weird cards he had, like the Bant Tamiyo, Gideon, and Siege Rhino. A Gurmag Angler went the distance as I ripped his hand apart and killed everything he had that moved.

Thinking maybe he was playing Gifts, I almost brought in the Leylines, but decided against it because of how many Planeswalkers I saw. The idea was that he can’t possibly be a Gifts deck because the curve would be so obscenely high with so many 4+ drops, so I just boarded for fighting Lingering Souls and hoped that would go the distance.

In game two, he drew and played a Geist of Saint Traft after my early disruption, which totally caught me off guard. Shadow got Pathed and I didn’t quite have the graveyard stock for Gurmag, so the Geist damage just barely was able to kill me after his Restoration Angel saved it from an Ambush Viper ala Snapcaster.

With no idea what to expect next, I kept my board the same and figured that being on the play would be a huge help, and it definitely was. Disruption left him with nothing except for a Noble that led to a Siege Rhino, which was rendered ineffective thanks to Izzet Staticaster meaning that he could never block Tasigur profitably, and an attack would only grow my Shadow. He didn’t really do anything this game and just kind of died anticlimactically.

9-1

Round 11 – Bant Eldrazi

My opponent this round was Martin Juza, and I thought that he would be on Shadow, so I kept a hand that was decent for that match-up. We played a very tight game one until I punted on the last turn by misreading my life total, leading me to not cast a Thoughtseize for the Reality Smasher in his hand that he revealed to a Matter Reshaper trigger. That let to his Drowner, Smasher, and one remaining Eldrazi Scion being able to get me for exactly lethal through a Snapcaster + Terminate, where I thought I’d be going down to one life and figured holding up Stubborn Denial instead of Thoughtseizeing would pay off if he drew a removal spell or Explosives and chose to use that instead of playing the Smasher.

In game two, his Drowner and Displacers managed to hold off the last bit of my aggression, and I just couldn’t push through for the last hit I needed.

Bant Eldrazi is actually a difficult matchup because they have so many ways to hate on our cards and their creatures come down so big so quickly, buying them time to get to Drowner. If they can get in one or two productive attack steps, that likely wins them the game.

I boarded in Liliana, thinking that on the play it would pick off a mana creature, preventing a turn three Thought-Knot Seer, but now feel that it was incorrect, especially because they board out a number of Birds. In the future, however counter-intuitive it may seem, I’ll be bringing in Anger of the Gods. It’s easy to fixate on how all of their real threats survive the red sweeper, but being able to kill a Displacer without working too hard or exile the Matter Reshapers seems strong enough, and there’s always the possibility of getting a free Noble with it too, though that isn’t the goal.

-2 Stubborn Denial
-1 Lightning Bolt
-2 Fatal Push
+1 Engineered Explosives
+2 Liliana (don’t do this)
+2 Ceremonious Rejection

9-2

The lack of sleep was really getting to me, and unfortunately Michael wasn’t able to get a Red Bull to me at the venue from the hotel before Round 12 started.

Round 12 – Bant Spirits

I don’t really remember much about this match because I was basically nodding off at the table. What I do remember is that on the last turn of game three, the board was my Shadow and Snapcaster with three life against his no cards in hand, Mausoleum Wanderer. Literally all I had to do was cast the Anger of the Gods in my hand to put him on one draw step to chump my Shadow, since the Stubborn Denial in my hand would make his removal a blank. After combat, he untapped with the Wanderer that I thought I killed and upon looking down, the Anger was still in my hand. His draw step was the Spirit Lord which, along with the Wanderer trigger, was exactly enough for lethal damage. Sorry Mike, this event wasn’t my ticket to Albuquerque.

9-3

Mike showed up with a Red Bull almost right after this match and was way more bummed about the loss than I was, since his plan was to rent a house for us and the rest of the Australians for testing leading up to the PT. It’d be nice to blame my roommates, but they weren’t the ones playing my match for me. Newly energized, I decided that I would stop losing games for the rest of the event.

Round 13 – Blue Moon

I heard that there was a pro American Footballer playing Blue Moon at this event, but my opponent definitely was no pro athlete. Our games were relatively quick, where my turn one Inquisition let me know to play around Blood Moon, and Delve creatures went the distance.

In game two, he was on the Snapcaster beatdown plan, and rather than let one of them pump my Shadow further, I decided to play my own Ambush Viper to trade with one of his. He had a Bolt in hand and declined to use it for removal, so the block halved his clock and made him unable to race. His Stormbreath Dragon met a Terminate, and Countersquall in the grip made sure that he would lose if he drew a counterable spell for it. He blanked, and Shadow finished him off with me at one life.

-1 Lightning Bolt
-2 Fatal Push
+2 Collective Brutality
+1 Countersquall

10-3

Round 14 – Affinity

As explained above in round seven, Affinity is a very easy match-up. This one was no different, with me in control the entire time from turn one of game one. In game two, I destroyed literally every nonland permanent he played.

11-3

Round 15 – Jeskai Control

Playing at table 30 for the final seeded pairing, I thought that a win would lock me for Top 32. These games were relatively quick and painless, and luckily I learned from my Jeskai match on Day One that fooling around with Liliana is a bad way to get ahead in the match-up. The lesson paid off, and my opponent quickly folded to four turns of Tasigur beats in game two.

12-3

I updated Facebook with my “Top 32” finish before going to congratulate my friend Ben Coursey on his first, well-deserved Top 8. The guy is a great father and I was so happy for him to have the chance to win a trophy on Father’s Day with his wife and young daughter at home watching on Twitch. Standings went up, and literally all of my opponents lost their last round, which put me just outside of Top 32 on breaks, even though 12-3 records finished as high as Top 16 due to the size of the event.

Final Thoughts

Grixis Death’s Shadow, despite being known as one of the hardest decks in the format to play well, is the most natural feeling deck I’ve ever played in my life. It looks like a weird pile of cards, but everything fits together perfectly and you have game against any kind of archetype you could possibly imagine. With the state of the meta right now, I would cut the Lightning Bolt from my deck and replace it with a Vendilion Clique.

Bolt is as poorly positioned as it’s ever been, evidenced by Craig Wescoe’s 4x Mirran Crusader maindeck and all of the Affinity players making Top 8, preying on people who chose not to play Bolt. Clique is solid in the mirror and the extra disruption, flying threat, and ability to cycle away your own dead Thoughtseizes make it feel much stronger to me than Bolt ever was throughout the entire tournament.

If you have any kind of upcoming Modern events, this deck is head and shoulders above every other deck in the format. The cards are pound-for-pound better than the ones that everyone else is playing, and you have so many decision-making opportunities that almost every game feels winnable when you think about your plays.

Thanks so much for reading and I’d love to hear your questions or comments in the section below!