One of my first articles on this website was about Death’s Shadow. It’s an archetype I really enjoy and overall appeals to a wide audience. Unlike a lot of Legacy decks over the past few years, it hasn’t really received many new printings and the core of the deck remained largely the same for a long time. However, recently we have begun to see some awesome innovation on the archetype and I figured it’d be a good chance to revisit it. Magic Online player MM_17 just won a weekend Challenge with a version of the deck that I love and this seemed like as good of an opportunity as we’d get to re-explore the archetype. Let’s take a look at why to build your deck like this.
Legacy Dimir Death's Shadow by MM_17
In many ways, this is a traditional Legacy tempo deck that’s trying to take advantage of cheap spells and powerful threats. With Death’s Shadow as the marquis threat, you want to make sure you can pay as much life as possible. This allows you to take advantage of some very efficient, powerful cards, such as Snuff Out, where paying life becomes a benefit rather than a cost. A lot of Shadow decks in the past have leaned into Delver as an additional threat, but this version relies entirely on huge threats and cards like Stubborn Denial to protect them. This gives the deck a lot of resiliency and power and really makes it a force to be reckoned with.
Death’s Shadow is now, and always will be, the reason to build your deck like this. It’s not hard to make it fairly large early on and once you get it down, it will threaten to grow throughout the game. It makes your opponent’s choices very odd and, being a one-mana threat, it’s really easy to play it and impact the game in some other way. The cost of building your deck to maximize it is high, so we can’t just ignore that, but in a lot of cases it is worth it, since there are no other decks that get to play the game like Shadow does.
Huge creatures have always been the name of the game with Death’s Shadow, and this particular way of building the deck is maximizing their efficacy. Murktide Regent has time and time again proven its worth and as a complement to Death’s Shadow. It’s the best creature in Legacy and there’s essentially no end to its power and impact. Gurmag Angler is a different story and it has completely fallen off since Regent hit the scene. It’s included here as a large threat that can be cast for one-mana and dodges Pyroblast. Those are really meaningful upsides and while Murktide Regent is still largely better, Gurmag has its place.
This is as good a place as any to discuss the lack of Delver of Secrets, a card that has historically been a core part of this strategy. The problem with Delver in Shadow decks is that it doesn’t really fit what the deck is trying to do. Applying pressure early is nice, but a 3/2 without Lightning Bolt isn’t likely to end the game quickly. Shadow decks are far better at dominating the board with big creatures and with Murktide Regent around, Delver isn’t nearly as necessary. This deck is a bit light on threats, but the ones it has are impactful enough to make up for that.
I could have fit this in with the other cantrips, but I think its uniqueness stands alone. This deck needs a certain number of enablers beyond the shocklands in the mana base. Street Wraith allows this deck to have really fast starts with both Death’s Shadow (paying life) and Murktide Regent (getting cards in the graveyard). It’s not a very powerful cantrip in its own right, and it can be awkward if you don’t have a Shadow online, but it’s still a fairly important part of the deck.
A fairly standard suite of cantrips, the addition of Preordain is a nod towards this deck playing fewer threats, thus having a ninth cantrip helps ensure you can consistently find one.
This is a rare deck where Thoughtseize is both an excellent disruptive card and an enabler. This is one of the most important cards to have in your opening hand since it enables this deck’s strongest starts. While some combo decks lean into Veil of Summer as a protective spell, it’s not that common these days, and combining discard, counter magic and a fast clock is a great recipe for ending games against combo decks.
Hymn to Tourach used to be a Legacy staple but has greatly fallen off over the years. There are a couple of reasons for this, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath being top among them. Hymn used to be a backbreaking card in slower matchups, but with Uro hanging around in most of those decks, it doesn’t really have the chance to shine. In general, card advantage spells have gotten better over the past few years, as well, which makes Hymn a bit worse. However, Hymn is a great way to fight back against those cards (namely, Expressive Iteration) and leaning into a disruptive approach is a great strategy here.
Force of Will and Daze don’t need too much introduction here. While Stubborn Denial has been a staple of Modern Shadow decks for a while, a lot of Legacy versions don’t play it, but I love the inclusion here. Instead of playing Delver and trying to apply pressure early, this deck is trying to maximize on the few threats it does play, rather than always trying to deploy a threat early. The combination of a large creature and Stubborn Denial is good enough to close the door on opponents very quickly. In addition, it’s better at shoring up this deck’s weaknesses, most notably Swords to Plowshares.
Some one-ofs that can really help round out this deck. Seeing as this deck is UB-based, it can’t answer everything, so having Brazen Borrower as a catch-all is fairly meaningful. It’s clunky, so you can’t really afford to play too many, but it’s still nice to have. Dress Down is, at worst, a mediocre cantrip. As we have seen in many decks in Legacy, it does have a lot of uses. Whether it’s enabling your Death’s Shadows to attack for 13 out of nowhere or answering cards like Natural Order or Urza’s Saga tokens, Dress Down can be a really useful inclusion.
Snuff Out is an amazing removal spell in this deck. Like Thoughtseize, it functions as both enabler and answer. The fact that it is free to cast allows this deck to have some absolutely brutal turns against creature decks, being able to answer the board and develop a huge creature at the same time. While you do often want to pay four life in this deck, it can be a cost, so occasionally you’ll top deck this later and won’t be able to cast it easily. The card is certainly worth the cost though, and it’s the perfect card for Shadow. Fatal Push is just rounding out the removal and, while it’s not a perfect spell, it’s still fairly effective and versatile so it’s a good inclusion.
The Mana Base
This is a fairly standard Shadow mana base. You need enough ways to pay life for Shadow and enough ways to choose not to do that, if you need to. One of the most common questions I get about this deck is whether you can fit basic lands in. It’s really costly to have a basic land in play in this deck since this deck has a high commitment to both blue and black mana, so I would avoid it if possible.
Like most “Delver” decks, Wasteland is mostly a spell in this deck, but it continues to be a necessary one in Legacy. Since you won’t often have a threat in play early, you can’t afford to Wasteland early too often, so you don’t need the full four copies, but some number of them are very effective.
Court has demonstrated that it’s an extremely effective sideboard card against slower decks. It’s especially good here since this deck really wants to find ways to sidestep Swords to Plowshares in post-board games. I love playing two copies here and I think it’s the best direction to go for this archetype.
This is another card intended for slower matchups. You can play it on turn two as a threat that most white decks can’t easily answer or you can wait a bit and try to grind down the cards in your opponent’s hand. It’s not a very common Legacy card, but I think this is the perfect place for it.
This deck already has a ton of disruption against combo decks, but sometimes you need a bit more so Force of Negation can be really important.
Artifact decks are still very powerful and fairly popular so having a dedicated card for those matchups is important. Energy Flux might be better in certain circumstances, but I like Hurkyl’s here.
Blue Blast does not have the same impact Red Blast does, but it’s well-positioned right now with Izzet Delver and Mono-Red Prison being popular.
As always, there are a lot of options to play here, but being both free and a way to pay life make Surgical one of the better inclusions.
This is mainly an answer to Chalice of the Void but it serves other functions, such as killing a lot of one-drops against decks that go wide.
Against decks where you need random answers, Borrower is still a good option, even if it’s just a random catch-all.
An extra copy removal spells for matchups where it’s necessary, I think Push is one of the better options to have.
Engineer is still one of the best answers to small creature decks and honestly, one of the better reasons to play black in general.
- Gurmag Angler can grow Murktide Regent with its delve ability, so keep an eye out of times where that is useful.
- If you’re glutted on delve spells, you can Wasteland yourself to fill up your graveyard in a pinch.
- Really be mindful about your life total early; there are a lot of matchups that get fairly precise so you want to be careful and conscious with how you use your life.
Out: 4 Force of Will
This is a really tight matchup. The way this deck is built, it’s a bit light on removal for the matchup which means you are liable to fall a bit behind early, which can be a problem. That’s the most common way to lose: they apply pressure early and end the game with a pair for Lightning Bolts or Price of Progress. That being said, you have massive threats that are difficult to answer and tons of disruption, so honestly there’s a lot of game to be had. Don’t pay too much life early unless you can stabilize the board and prepare for a close game.
Swords to Plowshares is the number one problem here, but having a heavier disruptive suite in the main deck means that you can more easily steal a game with a big creature. I recommend disrupting them before you apply pressure and then only deploy a threat when you’re able to defend it. Things get a bit easier post-board, but it will still be tricky so again, prepare for a close matchup.
Death and Taxes
In the past, Death and Taxes has been a huge problem for Shadow decks and that’s still mostly true today. You can’t really grind them down, so you need to make sure you can deploy a threat and defend it as quickly as possible. Again, it’s a bit easier post-board when you have cards that are more effective at handling the board. I could see wanting to leave in all of the Forces, but I don’t think that’s completely necessary (it does help at protecting Death’s Shadows, though).
Doomsday is still a scary deck but Shadow has the perfect combination of cards to keep them in check. Discard + counter magic + a fast clock is the recipe against them, so you don’t really need to sideboard much here.