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Primers

Archetype

Name: 5-Color Shadow
Tier: Tier 2

Contributing Authors: Rob San Juan, Jason Schousboe

5-Color Shadow

Introduction

5-Color Death’s Shadow is a midrange-control deck that focuses on its namesake card to grind out wins. It tries to dictate the pace of the game with discard spells and creature removal, while filling the graveyard at the same time to activate the delirium mechanic of Traverse the Ulvenwald. With 27 cards that cause life loss directly, 5-Color Shadow has no difficultly making Death’s Shadow enormous. Once it has established control of the board, Death’s Shadow or Tarmogoyf will end the game in short order over the following turns. Like any midrange deck, it will slant more controlling or more aggressive depending on matchup and draw.

This current version (along with Grixis Death’s Shadow) represent the latest in a long line of different Shadow builds over Modern’s history. The progenitor of them all, Death’s Shadow Zoo or Suicide Zoo, was more heavily geared towards explosive starts and combo kills than the newer batch of midrange variants. With the printing of Fatal Push and the banning of Gitaxian Probe, these aggro-combo versions largely receded into the background, to be replaced with more midrange builds like Death’s Shadow Jund.

Slightly less popular than its Grixis cousin, 5-Color Shadow has nonetheless enjoyed considerable success over the last year, showing its fangs in MTGO Competitive Leagues and paper events alike. Most recently, Chris Anderson steered his version of 5-Color Death’s Shadow to 13th place in the SCG Cincinnati Modern Open.

Sample Decklist

5-Color Shadow, by Chris Anderson (13th, SCG Cincinnati Modern Open)

Creatures (12)
Death's Shadow
Street Wraith
Tarmogoyf

Artifacts (4)
Mishra's Bauble

Instants (11)
Abrupt Decay
Dismember
Fatal Push
Stubborn Denial
Terminate

Planeswalkers (3)
Liliana of the Veil

Sorceries (12)
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Traverse the Ulvenwald

Lands (18)
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Breeding Pool
Marsh Flats
Overgrown Tomb
Polluted Delta
Swamp
Verdant Catacombs
Watery Grave
Sideboard (15)
Ancient Grudge
Disdainful Stroke
Ghor-Clan Rampager
Godless Shrine
Izzet Staticaster
Kozilek's Return
Liliana, the Last Hope
Lingering Souls
Ranger of Eos
Stubborn Denial
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General Philosophy & Variants

5-Color Shadow is an advanced deck with access to really powerful draws that require complex decision-making. With eight discard spells, and three more discard effects courtesy of Liliana of the Veil, it is able to pressure opponents by crippling their hand and limiting their movement on their turns. It can kill most of the best creatures in the format with cards such as Fatal Push and Abrupt Decay. It also has countermagic in the form of Stubborn Denial that can be used to protect Tarmogoyf and Death’s Shadow once they enter the battlefield.

There have been different variations of Death’s Shadow that have produced positive results the entire year. These include Grixis Death’s Shadow, which is powered by Snapcaster Mage and cost-efficient cantrips, and the Jund version, which tries to go over the top with combat shenanigans via Ghor-Clan Rampager and Temur Battle Rage. The five-color variant is in a middle ground between these two strategies, trying to obtain a slightly steadier late-game like Grixis while maintaining the element of unpredictability that comes from Jund’s combat tricks.

The deck’s biggest strengths are its cost-efficient threats and interaction. Eight copies of Tarmogoyf and Death’s Shadow alongside Traverse the Ulvenwald means you’re running only the most hard-hitting creatures available, which will end the game quickly if they stick. Meanwhile, your answers are cheap and flexible which means you’re unlikely to get overrun by one of Modern’s many linear strategies. Having access to all colors also means your sideboard can consist of the best cards in the format against a given matchup. Finally, this deck uses the turbo-xerox principle to skimp on lands in favor of cantrips and card-smoothing effects like Mishra’s Bauble and Traverse the Ulvenwald.

This weakness of this archetype is its low threat density that could pose a problem when facing aggressive decks or other Death’s Shadow variants. Gone in this build is the lethal Snapcaster MageKolaghan’s Command combo, which allows dead creatures to be recovered later on in the game. Burn will almost always be a bad matchup when you’re playing this deck, so it might not be the best option if the meta tends to shift to that.