There are a lot of ways to build aggressively-slanted blue decks in Legacy. There is a time and place for each option, and they come along with their own costs and benefits. Dimir Shadow is one of the most explosive versions of these decks in the format, and recently Magic Online player Diem4x came in 2nd place in the Legacy Showcase with a list popularized by another Magic Online player, Ark4n:
Legacy Dimir Shadow Deck List - Ark4n
Core Game Plan
In many ways, this is a traditional Legacy tempo deck. The primary plan is to deploy an early form of pressure and trade spells with the opponent, often at a mana advantage to the Shadow player, until the opponent has run out of time to answer the board.
In order to maximize the power of Death’s Shadow, this deck has a number of ways to pay life so it can precisely control its life total. While the cost of building your deck in this way is high, this allows the Shadow player to have access to some massive creatures early in the game. As a result, Dimir Shadow is one of the most aggressive decks Legacy has to offer and this makes the opponents’ window of interaction very narrow.
Let’s go over some of the specific card choices here and discuss how they fit into this deck’s game plan.
Death’s Shadow is the card the whole deck is built around. It can easily become the largest creature on board as early as turn 2, and it threatens to become more potent with every passing turn. As a result of its ever-scaling power, it can close out games faster than any other threat in Legacy. This really puts the onus on opponents to have the right answers on time.
Gurmag Angler is a proxy for Death’s Shadows 5 and 6. It doesn’t scale quite as well as the game progresses but with high density of cheap spells in the deck it can come down on turn 2 and start clocking in for 5. The high CMC and size of Gurmag Angler allows it to conveniently dodge a lot of commonly played removal, like Abrupt Decay and Lightning Bolt, which can make it difficult to remove.
Delver of Secrets isn’t the most potent threat in this deck since Dimir Shadow doesn’t play Lightning Bolt. 3 damage a turn isn’t likely to finish the game by itself, especially when compared to Death’s Shadow and Gurmag Angler. However, Delver forces opponents to play defensively as early as the first turn of the game. It is a lot more fragile than the other threats, but requires the least amount of work. This makes it a premier threat in many combo matchups because it represents a consistent clock.
This is the suite of cheap counter magic that makes aggressively-slanted blue decks so effective in Legacy. All of the spells in this deck are extremely cheap and being able to play a cantrip and a removal spell in the same turn and back it up with a Force effect or a Daze allows Dimir Shadow to pull ahead very early on. Daze in particular is very effective in this deck for two reasons:
- Dimir Shadow not giving opponents enough time to perfectly set up their answers, thus forcing opponents to play into Daze more often.
- Returning a Watery Grave can allow Death’s Shadows to become larger when you lack other ways of paying life.
In other Delver decks, Stubborn Denial would normally be replaced with cards like Spell Pierce and Spell Snare, but because this deck has 6 1-mana threats that enable ferocious, Denial is extremely potent. You won’t always have a creature in play, which makes this card a bit less consistent than other options, but when it is functioning at full capacity Stubborn Denial will feel like the best card in your deck.
Brazen Borrower is a very versatile answer to just about any permanent that shows up. This card has become a very popular option in these aggressive blue decks since Throne of Eldraine came out. When your deck’s game plan is this aggressive, your opponents won’t have enough time to re-deploy the permanent in a meaningful way. Furthermore, it provides insurance against Marit Lage tokens, which makes those match ups a lot easier. After both decks have traded cards back and forth the fact that Borrower is a meaningful threat in the mid-to-late game is a big deal, as well.
Snuff Out used to be a premier removal spell in Legacy ~10 years ago. It has fallen off a lot over the years as black’s removal options have gotten better and the cost of paying 4 life has become more meaningful. In Dimir Shadow, the cost is more of a benefit and as a result, this deck can afford to play one of the most efficient removal spells offered in Legacy. This provides the deck with even more spells that can be cast for 0 mana and really drives home the aggressive angle of the deck.
There’s no doubt that Fatal Push is one of black’s best removal spells, but in Legacy it can be somewhat common for it to not have any meaningful targets. That’s why this deck only plays 2, and it isn’t uncommon to trim those numbers down to 1 or even 0. However, it is still very effective and usually warrants being included to some extent.
These are the spells that allow this deck to pay life early in the game. While Veil of Summer has made Thoughtseize a bit less reliable, it is still a potent disruptive card. The fact that the life loss is a benefit to this deck is a nice feature, and it really allows Dimir Shadow to progress its game plan while disrupting the opponents’.
Street Wraith is a major part of why the threats in this deck work so well. It’s a free card in the graveyard for Gurmag Angler, and it often means that this deck starts the game at 18 life, which makes Death Shadow a lot easier to cast.
This mana base gives you a lot of power in how much damage you take from your lands. In the blind, you will often fetch + shock even if you don’t have a Death’s Shadow in order to make future Shadows better. If you have Gurmag Angler as your threat and you think your life total might be under too much pressure, you can always search up an Underground Sea to buy as much time as possible for Gurmag to close the game.
Be mindful about what lands you return when you have Daze in hand. Sometimes you want the extra damage, but other times it’s better to have a higher life total.
Narset really pulls a lot of weight in a lot of slower matchups in Legacy. It disrupts just about all of the commonly played cantrips while also being a more difficult card type to interact with. Narset is primarily brought in against decks like Miracles or other Snow Control decks, but it’s also pretty effective against most of the blue combo decks, like Storm or Sneak and Show, as a way of hindering their development.
When it comes to stopping your opponents from swarming the board, it doesn’t get much better than Plague Engineer. Being a creature might look like a downside because it dies to removal, but dodging cards like Spell Pierce and being a threat by itself really makes this card the real deal and a major reason to be playing black in Legacy.
1 Ratchet Bomb:
While this card does have some utility against decks that are trying to swarm the board, its primary function is to cleanly answer Chalice of the Void. With the printing of Brazen Borrower, Chalice isn’t quite as game-ending as it used to be, but it can definitely still be a huge pain for this deck. Being able to cleanly answer Chalice is a big game, and Ratchet Bomb often warrants at least one spot in the board.
Graveyard decks in Legacy are extremely potent and it’s really important to prevent them from having free reign over the game. Surgical Extraction is one of the best cards out there when it comes to stopping a Griselbrand from hitting the battlefield on turn 1, but it’s a bit more nuanced and less powerful than Grafdigger’s Cage. Cage is much more of a haymaker, and because this deck doesn’t cast spells from the graveyard in any capacity, it can afford to play some copies of the card. Despite being 1 mana, it can be a bit slow for Legacy, and it does give the opponent the ability to answer it on board, but it can be a game plan by itself.
This is a new inclusion that does a great job at killing Oko, Thief of Crowns while still being serviceable against creatures like Tarmogoyf and Delver of Secrets. At 2 mana, it is a bit clunky, but it serves a valuable role in Dimir Shadow.
With the printing of Veil of Summer, Hymn to Tourach has gotten a lot worse over the past year. However, it’s still a powerful effect against any deck relying on spells in hand or trying to get ahead through card advantage. It pairs very nicely with Daze as a means of pushing it through a Veil and it really provides Dimir Shadow a powerful disruptive angle.
2 Winter Orb:
This card is pretty common in aggressively-slanted blue decks in Legacy as a means of disrupting the slower control decks of the format. Decks like Miracles are often relatively immune to cards like Wasteland, so Winter Orb can be brought in against those decks and really stifle their ability to freely develop. It has additional utility against a deck like Lands and any deck playing Uro.
Karakas is a pretty narrow card to play, but it really helps against 2 of the most annoying legendary creatures in Legacy: Marit Lage and Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis. Drawing Karakas against those decks can completely shut down elements of those deck’s game plan, which can really make those match ups a lot more manageable. In addition, drawing it against Uro can really mitigate its ability to take over the game.
Tips and Tricks:
- You can Daze your own spells to return Watery Graves in order to deal more damage to yourself (if you have excess mana, you can even Daze your own Fatal Push to enable revolt and then pay for the Daze).
- You can Snuff Out your own Delver of Secrets to get in extra damage with Death’s Shadow (combine this with the previous trick for a lot of extra damage).
- You can Wasteland your own land to provide more delve fodder for Gurmag Angler (Thoughtseize targeting yourself works the same way).
- If your opponent casts a spell with only a single fetch land in play, you can Wasteland their fetch land and after they fetch cast Daze on their spell.
Sideboard and Matchup Strategy Guide
You could bring in Narset or Hymn to Tourach for additional disruption, but I find those cards to be a bit slow and ineffective. There aren’t that many bad cards in the main deck, so just cutting the 4 cards without meaningful targets for cheap, powerful disruption will pair really well with the deck’s natural game plan.
Sneak and Show:
Surgical Extraction has some value here, but I find that to not be a very impactful disruptive element in the matchup. This is similar to Reanimator for the most part, as the combination of a fast clock and disruption is already a pretty solid plan against them. Sneak and Show is slower than Reanimator, though, so the slower cards in the board have a lot more value.
Empty the Warrens is always a big concern in this matchup, but having 3 good answers to it in the sideboard helps a lot. You don’t need to flood on threats, and usually having 1 in play is good enough, so you can definitely afford to trim some creatures. Wasteland can be really good in the matchup, and I wouldn’t fault anyone for leaving in all of them, but I have found that ANT can pretty easily find 1-2 basic lands in the early game, which makes them a lot less disruptive and trimming 1 is something i’m a fan of.
Be careful about paying too much life early as they can easily fire off a Tendrils of Agony for 4 or 5 very early on and kill you out of nowhere.
This is the matchup where I think you have a lot of options regarding how to board. On one hand, this matchup is a resource battle and Force of Will being a natural 1 for 2 makes it really difficult to stomach casting. On the other hand, this matchup can be really explosive and being able to push through a fast Gurmag Angler or Death’s Shadow early can allow you to apply enough pressure to kill them really quickly.
In general, I think my suggested game plan will allow you to play a longer game and attack their resources a bit more effectively, while also sidestepping their Pyroblasts pretty well.
However, I could easily see a world where you form a really aggressive gameplan and leave in Force of Will in some number to try to kill them ASAP. I think the fact that their removal doesn’t trade very cleanly with Dimir Shadow’s Creatures doesn’t make this the optimal game plan. Your creatures will often stick around, while Shadow’s removal can kill any of their threats.
If they’re playing Izzet or Grixis, Plague Engineer and Ratchet Bomb get a lot better and Stubborn Denial gets worse.
Miracles (AKA Snow Control):
This matchup can be really tricky as Swords to Plowshares is extremely effective against you. This sideboard plan brings in more meaningful permanents that don’t get answered by creature removal, which gives Dimir Shadow a bit more staying power. If possible, you should try to disrupt their hand as much as possible before you commit to a threat like Death’s Shadow.
Plague Engineer does double duty as a creature that can apply some pressure that also removes Ice Fang Coatl as a meaningful blocker. Eliminate isn’t overwhelmingly good in the matchup but it answers Oko, and that can be really important.
I tend to suggest bringing out Wastelands in a lot more matchups than the average player, but Wasteland is at its best when it is more of a spell than a land. In this matchup, it will be a colorless land most of the time, and that doesn’t really help cast enough meaningful spells to make it worth it in my opinion. Daze is certainly better on the play, and I could see leaving in all of them, but I find it to be pretty easy for opponents to play around as the game goes on. It pairs well with Winter Orb and it keeps opponents honest, so I think it’s still worth including.
This can be a tough matchup, but the sideboard cards help a lot. Plague Engineer naming zombie or vampire can make it tough for them to keep a recursive threat around. Ratchet Bomb can help clear the way of Bridge from Below zombie tokens and, since most of their other creatures can’t block, this can allow you to set up an alpha strike. Drawing Karakas mitigates how effective Hogaak is, but be wary that they can still combo with Altar of Dementia.
Chalice of the Void is the largest problem, but Bomb helps a bit here. Flooding on Thoughtseizes can be pretty bad, and you often don’t have the time to cast too many of them in a game. It can still snag a Chalice on the play, or a Thought-Knot Seer on the draw, so I think it’s still alright in some amount. Your creatures are often the larger ones, so try to find a good moment to turn the corner on them after the board has been stabilized.