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Deck Spotlight - Esper Death's Shadow

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Amonkhet is just around the corner and I know that all eyes are focused on the coming of the God-Pharaoh, but it is time for a Deck Spotlight! I am well aware that it makes little or no sense to do any Standard deck spotlights at this time, so after deciding against a Commander deck spotlight (for now at least :p) I was left with only Modern as an option. Sorry Legacy players, not my cup of tea.

The good news is that Modern is amazing right now, The format is more diverse than ever maybe, and there is no clear 'best deck'. There are certainly decks that are tier 1, but none of them really separate from the pack, and every one of them can be easily beaten if you prepare for it specifically.  It was very hard to pick a deck to put a spotlight on in this metagame, since there are tons of interesting and innovative decks currently in Modern. In the end, I narrowed it down to the 'new' UR Storm, Elves and the deck that I decided on in the end - Esper Control. I almost decided against it since I tend to cover plenty of control-ish decks lately, but this one is definitely something else, and I am a sucker for an unusual deck. Let's take a look:

This is the decklist that Magic Online user FOZEFY ran to a top 8 finish in a 93 player online Modern PTQ. What is going on here? I am not sure, but let's try and figure it out.

If you follow or play Modern at all, you probably noticed how Death's Shadow evolved from suicide aggro to somewhat of a midrange deck that relies on hand disruption and cheap big guys to finish the game, reminding us of an old B/G the Rack deck that was played in Standard when Tarmogoyf was legal there. Right? Now, this is the next level for the deck. Ditch green and Tarmogoyfs, add more control elements and voila - Esper hand disruption Death's Shadow control is born! (yeah, it will need a better name)

The deck itself doesn't really work too differently from the new versions of the Death's Shadow deck, but it replaces some of the hand disruption with some more control elements. The game plan is pretty similar, use the first couple of turns setting up your and your opponent's hand, then proceed to land a threat (either Death's Shadow or one of the Delve creatures) and protect it. If it gets removed regardless, play another threat and protect it. You can protect your life total with the removal suite in combination with Lingering Souls. The deck has a reasonably fast clock combined with a very strong disruption suite, which is usually a very good recipe for success in Modern, somewhat similar to what Delver decks did in the past.

The mana base is a very straightforward affair of twelve fetchlands in combination with dual lands and basics, literally nothing of note is going on there other than the fact that the deck isn't running any basic Plains, which is logical, since you only have a few white cards, but it might be somewhat weak to Blood Moon. A Modern deck that is weak to Blood Moon is certainly a surprise, eh?

The creature suite is a bit more interesting, for sure - the main actor here is Death's Shadow, which is essentially a non-green Tarmogoyf, a super cheap creature that gets bigger as the game goes on. There aren't many cards that let you control how big the Death's Shadow will be, you have to manage it with lands mostly, but since people will often try to kill you by getting your life total to zero, having a big Death's Shadow will be less of a problem than you might think.

The other creatures in the deck are three Delvers - two Gurmag Angler and a Tasigur, the Golden Fang which are more or less the extra Tarmogoyfs. This deck isn't running Traverse the Ulvenwald so you can't really rely on Death's Shadows only, so these guys come in as extra win conditions. As for the utility creatures, there are three Snapcaster Mages and two Street Wraiths. Snapcaster is just a great card all-around that fits the deck very well, while Street Wraith has great synergy with Death's Shadow and Delve cards. I am unsure if Street Wraith is really needed, but I guess it is fine at making the deck smaller, and you want to maximize your chances of drawing the Shadows.

The instants and Sorceries are pretty diverse, but the core is definitely the one mana card draw, or the glue of the deck - Thought Scour and Serum Visions. Both of these come as a four-of, and it is much needed, since they not only dig to your important spells, they are also filling up the graveyard with either Snapcaster food, Delve fodder or Lingering Souls, which is all really nice. Equally as important, there are four Thoughtseize and one Inquisition of Kozilek, which is essentially a fifth Thoughtseize. Those are your main tools for protecting your creatures and yourself, and probably your best turn one play. The other control elements consist of removal and counterspells, both of which are present in the deck - removal is represented with a full playset of the newest Modern favorite - Fatal Push and two Path to Exile, one of the most important cards in the current metagame. Counterspells are a bit more all over the place with two Mana Leak, two Stubborn Denial and one Spell Snare, but I like it that way - having diverse counterspells in your deck makes your opponent play around all of them. This leaves us with only two cards in the main deck - two Liliana of the Veil and three Lingering Souls - both of these work both offensively and defensively, serving mainly as a shield for your life total, but can also turn the corner and present a real threat for your opponent. The two cards works nicely together, with Liliana discarding Lingering Souls on her way to the ultimate, which you then flashback to keep her safe.

The sideboard is really dependant on the your metagame, but just by looking at this particular one, you get the idea - there are additional removal spells, additional permission, graveyard hate and additional card advantage. As straightforward as a sideboard gets, I'd say, but I would also say it lacks some more permission and/or anti combo cards, possibly Surgical Extraction. The only question marks might be Geist of Saint Traft and Liliana, the Last Hope, but I guess those slots are flexible, just designated for additional win conditions that can be pretty much anything.

Conclusion

If you enjoyed playing delver back in the day when it was one of the Modern powerhouses, you might get nostalgic playing this beauty - a real disruptive tempo deck for people who like to be in control, but also like to finish games quickly enough to chill a bit between rounds. This deck looks amazing on paper, and while Modern is too diverse to be dominated by one deck, this one has a game plan that is proactive enough in its disruptiveness that it just doesn't care what your opponent is trying to do a lot of the time. Asking questions rather than answering them is usually a better plan in current Modern, but why not do both when you can?

Good luck and have fun!

Stjepan Sučić
Stjepan Sucic

About Stjepan Sučić

Stjepan started his Magic career in 2003, and had some decent finishes over the years, including a World Magic Cup top 8, Pro Tour and Worlds top 32 finishes, and a GP top 8, with 61 pro points total.

During the summer months he is also a Magic Online grinder who you can easily find in the draft queues. Stjepan boasts a 74% win rate in his real life Magic career. When he is not playing Magic, Stjepan enjoys watching Starcraft and playing MOBA games.

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