Mar. 14th, 2019

Grixis Arclight Shadow: A Primer

Competitive EdgeJank Tank
Grixis Arclight Shadow: A Primer

Several weeks ago, we brought you Grixis Arclight Shadow, a fun and effective aggro/combo list centered around and . Today, we're going to be looking at an updated list that I've been working on, as well as some tips, tricks, and guidelines for running the deck against various matchups, as well as some info on the thought behind the choices made in the list.

Grixis Arclight Shadow

Note the flex slots in the list, which are intended to be slots that can be mix and matched depending on the meta you're expecting to play in. If you're expecting to play in a meta heavy with , 's, Death and Taxes lists, and any other list that has a good amount of X/1's, you should probably run . If you're thinking you're going to be facing 's and other relevant beaters, is a good choice. If you want to be a bit more fair and blue, a can help you in a pinch. Because of this, this list has 64 cards in it mainboard, but you should definitely only run 60 with choices of those flex slots.

Why Arclight Shadow?

If you've been playing Standard or Modern for the past few months, you've likely run into the GRN staple that is . It turns out that having a recursive, evasive, and "free" beater is pretty good in those formats. Since the card's release, has even been putting up some results in Legacy. While the former formats can be focused on board state and board interaction, Legacy is much more of a format based on counter wars. There's a few way's to get around through these counter wars as an aggressive strategy. The first is to just be faster than your opponent. In a format that has cards like and , this is a bit harder for an aggressive strategy that is also heavily reliant on a combo, but is still an effective strategy. The second is to have proactive disruption. If you can get rid of your opponent's answers to your threat before the moment of reckoning, you can steal a lot of games. Cards like , and preemptive use of and fit the bill for this.

If you look at a deck like UB Death's Shadow, which is a clear inspiration for this list, you'll see some of the characteristics noted above. The deck is a bit more disruptive than fast, but it can close out games quickly with and . If you look at one of the other decks that seems to be rising in popularity, Grixis Phoenix, it has it's disruption in the form of and , but is also trying to get it's combo off as quick as possible, without counterspells as a back up.

So where does Arclight Shadow fit in between these? The thinking behind the deck is to have a diverse, must-deal-with threats, as well as a solid disruption package. If you look at a deck like Modern Izzet Phoenix, it has a suite of threats like and , which both need to be dealt with and dealt with in very different ways. Arclight Shadow has a similar set of creatures. is a threat that often needs to be dealt with quickly, often needs to be dealt with early, freeing the way for future threats, and can be combo'd off with , , and any other spell to become a game winning threat as soon as Turn 1, and not uncommonly on Turn 2. There are some games you'll win with , there are some games that will be won with , and some that'll be won with . Your win conditions are often determined by your opening hand, and that makes them very hard to answer.

There also are notable synergies that work in both a shell, as well as an strategy. These are cards that are cheap/free, and cause a loss of life. The cards that fit the bill on this are , (which causes life by replaying a shock land), and . in particular appears to me to be a card that is criminally underplayed in decks that care about these same things, such as Grixis Phoenix. In meta's where it's good, it is very very good. And at worst, it can be a free spell for , or a buff for . Because of these synergies, you're often not dead in the water once a certain set of threats has been dealt with. You're obviously not in great shape if you just went ahead and slammed three spells and got your countered, but chances are that you just put a lot of delve-able cards in the graveyard, or took a bunch of damage and now can start dropping .

Synergies are not only based in the mainboard, either. One of the best cards to help out our sideboard is . If you look for cards that work well with mana acceleration, you see cards like (which if dropped early is a death sentence to some decks), (to wipe a board if you're low on mana in a pinch), and (which can often be better to get off early, and still have some mana for a threat or disruption). You also see , which works well with since it usually is guaranteed that you're going to be dropping
The last point I want to make is how explosive this deck can be. This applies to decks in general, but I think that it can be a bit more all in since it has a host of disruption to preemptively and retroactively answer, well, answers. If you haven't played against a /, you might be curious how effective can close out a game. Well, the answer is very, very effectively. Being able to do 9 damage in a single turn usually means you're threatening lethal if you are unanswered by your next combat step.

Why not run this card?

There are a lot of cards that have been brought up as contenders for this list, and I wanted to address why I've avoided including these cards. Some of them might seem obvious, but after having tested various versions of this list, I think I can point to these cards as non-optimal choices. First is . While this card has been surrounded with a buzz of rumours about if it should be banned in Modern, I don't feel that this card is good enough in Legacy to warrant a slot. It implies that you want to discard an , a single . I think that that is just not good enough to warrant a "primary" play pattern. One isn't good enough for Legacy. Three, however, is very very hard to deal with. If they hit the battlefield, it is very likely you'll be winning that game. Even if they do end up finding an answer to the birds that next turn (which there are few of in Legacy), you might have opened the way for them to die to one of your other threats.

Another seemingly obvious choice is , which is a staple of red decks in every format. However, in a deck that's as mana hungry as this one, a red mana is actually pretty hard to come by. is effectively free (often better than free since you want to lose life), if you ping your opponent, you're often taking away a single turn just like if you had bolted their face. There's also , a notoriously "free" card in Modern Izzet Phoenix. However, I've felt that the issue for this deck is usually not getting a third spell, but just having enough resources to dig for and . In this regard, is kind of just an "expensive" (by which I mean it requires two lands, and a red one at that) cycle. There are better options like which are good at any point in the game, including turn 1.

Lastly, there appears to be a 4th copy missing. This is a conscious choice. This deck has a heavy desire to play 3 cards in a turn, and a card that takes away a third or half of your playable spells isn't something you want to see too often. Now, is obviously insane, which is why we run 3 of them, but I don't think it can do well enough in this deck to warrant the fourth slot. Many other decks are doing similar things with their Forces.

Matchup Specific Guidelines

Below is a list of relevant tier-1 (and maybe a bit beyond that) decks that you'd likely face in a Legacy tournament. I've added some notes about the matchup, including how to sideboard for each of them.

Miracles

This is probably the scariest matchup for this deck. It has counters to disrupt your combo, it has to handle . It has to deal with Arclight Phoenix. And it has to deal with our greedy manabase. Often you can win simply by chaining more threats than they have answers, or getting lucky and removing disruption before comboing off. However, it's an uphill battle game one. In games two and three, you have some fight in your sideboard. It's not a particularly challenging matchup in that the dynamic is fairly simple: try and have threats when they don't have removal. Post board, these threats might switch out significantly.

On the play:

-4 Death's Shadow
-3 Gut Shot
+2 Liliana, the Last Hope
+2 Pyroblast
+2 Young Pyromancer
+1 Flusterstorm

On the draw:

-4 Death's Shadow
-2 Gut Shot
-2 Daze
+2 Liliana, the Last Hope
+2 Pyroblast
+2 Young Pyromancer
+2 Flusterstorm

Storm

I think this is one of the easier matchups for Arclight Shadow. You can often invalidate their by hitting them for 9 and thus taking them off of their ability to dig deep. You have a lot of disruption, and ways to win the game quickly. It's not an assured victory, but I definitely feel comfortable when I see an opponent on it. I also want to point out that you may want to switch up if you take out almost entirely on if you see that they have green. If they're running green, they're likely running . They might be running even, so having ready can be warranted against Storm sometimes.

On the play and draw:

+2 Pyroblast
+2 Flusterstorm
+2 Surgical Extraction
-4 //Flex Slots, Either Gut Shot, or Dismember, or Preordain
-1 Arclight Phoenix
-1 Delver of Secrets

Grixis Control

Grixis Control is a deck that can play out very differently depending on the draws you both have. There are times where you can just get under them and feel very safe, and other times where you are getting ground out with their two for ones. You have for their annoying and , which can swing the tide. Post board, you should be careful for , as it turns of a lot of our deck. You should also keep in mind how hard it is for to be dealt with for them. If you can a Liliana out early, it can often be a death sentence.

On the play:

+2 Pyroblast
+2 Liliana, the Last Hope
+2 Young Pyromancer
-1 Arclight Phoenix
-3 Force of Will
-2 //Flex Slot or potentially Wasteland

On the draw:

+2 Pyroblast
+2 Liliana, the Last Hope
+2 Young Pyromancer
+2 Flusterstorm
-2 Daze
-1 Arclight Phoenix
-3 Force of Will
-2 //Flex Slots
-2 //Wasteland

Mono-Red Prison

Prison decks are pretty annoying with our strategy, mainly because of , but they're not a total disaster. Because of how is worded, you technically can still play 2 1 cmc spells that'll get countered, and then resolve a to still combo off. So you're not just drawing dead in game one if Chalice resolves. is another worry but you might be able to get under it order have a counter ready. It's a hard matchup, but not unwinnable. Post board, a way that they can win is with , so you're going to want to keep that in mind as you crank your . Hitting is the main point of that card, but there are other utility uses. Getting 3 charge counters means you can deal with a lot of things your opponent has, , , , .

On the play:

+2 Liliana, the Last Hope
+2 Ratchet Bomb
+2 Young Pyromancer
-4 //Flex Slots, usually things like Gut Shot
-2 Delver of Secrets

On the Draw

+2 Liliana, the Last Hope
+2 Ratchet Bomb
-2 Daze
-4 //Flex Slots

Grixis Delver

Grixis Delver feels very much like a fair matchup against this deck. There's games you straight up win with combo, there's games you straight up win with threats, and there's games you win with disruption sometimes. They're deck has many of the same weapons against you, so they can disrupt your combo, or neutralize your threats.

On the Play

-3 Force of Will
-3 //Flex Slots
+2 Liliana, the Last Hope
+2 Diabolic Edict
+2 Pyroblast

On the Draw

-3 Force of Will
-4 Daze
-2 //Flex Slots
+2 Diabolic Edict
+2 Liliana, the Last Hope
+2 Pyroblast
+2 Young Pyromancer
+1 Flusterstorm

Sneak and Show

Sneak and Show is one of those decks that wins and loses based entirely on its opening hand. If they have more combo than you have answers, they win. It's as simple as that. Because we have a decent amount of mainboard interaction in the form of counters and discard, we're in a pretty good spot to handle them going off, but the threat of them winning on the spot is very real. Because of this, it's best to board in as much interaction for their combo as you can.

On the Play and Draw

-4 //Flex Slots
-1 Buried Alive
-1 Arclight Phoenix
+2 Pyroblast
+2 Flusterstorm
+2 Diabolic Edict

Death and Taxes

Death and Taxes, when it has the right draws, is probably the second hardest matchup, behind Miracles. If it has a bad draw, however, the matchup can be pretty easy. The things that are tough are things like and if your hand is land light, and to prevent you from chaining spells. Luckily, Thalia can be deal with via , which is more than we can say for Thorn of Amethyst. Because they're a Swords to Plowshares deck, Death's Shadow can be pretty bad. However, it is kind of their only way to interact with the Shadow, so I don't mind leaving some in as a hedge against removal for your other threats. It's often better to leave some threats in your hand if you suspect an answer, even if it gives them an extra turn or two.

On the Play

-3 Force of Will
-2 Death's Shadow
+1 Toxic Deluge
+2 Liliana, the Last Hope
+2 Young Pyromancer

On the Draw

-3 Force of Will
-2 Daze
+1 Toxic Deluge
+2 Liliana, the Last Hope
+2 Young Pyromancer

Slow Depths

Decks with Dark Depths are very hard to interact with, but we do have some answers in the board. Because we're so in need of mana for our combo, we're only running two Wastelands unfortunately, but that can sometimes get the job done. We also have some interesting tech in that and can both block Marit Lage, and if you have both out, you can even get around . We also have for things like , (if they're running it to get around ), , and of course, . Post board, we have our that can save us from disaster, and to potentially take them off of Entirely

On the Play

-3 Force of Will
-1 Thoughtseize
+2 Diabolic Edict
+2 Surgical Extraction

On the Draw

-2 Thoughtseize
-2 Daze
+2 Diabolic Edict
+2 Surgical Extraction

Lands

Lands is another one of the hardest matchups for this deck. While we can technically get back our after they got hit by , usually the Lands player won't be doing that unless they have assuredly locked you out with s. We're also susceptible to since we run no basic lands. However, we do have the benefit of knowing our opponent has little interaction against our combo except retroactively, so we can sometimes just get under them and win quickly.

On the Play and Draw

+2 Surgical Extraction
+2 Diabolic Edict
-3 Force of Will
-1 Daze

UW Stoneblade

Stoneblade is similar to Death and Taxes in that there are some hands that will just get you, but since it's a "fair blue" deck, I think our odds are pretty good. and can often just be too slow to beat us, and we can often just remove their disruption with answers of our own. They do have Swords to Plowshares, but again it's their only answer to Death's Shadow, so I don't feel too bad about keeping some in.

On the Play

+2 Pyroblast
+2 Diabolic Edict
+2 Young Pyromancer
-3 //Flex Slots depending on what they are
-3 Force of Will

On the Draw

+2 Pyroblast
+2 Diabolic Edict
+2 Flusterstorm
+2 Death's Shadow
-4 Daze
-2 Death's Shadow
-2 Force of Will

BR Reanimator

Ah Reanimator, the dragster of Legacy. The deck has fallen a bit out of favor as of late, but I wouldn't say that that's indicative of it's power level in the slightest. The deck is almost an auto win against the entire field if it has the nuts. It's a fairly "simple" matchup, in that you just need answers before they drop .

On the Play and Draw

-3 Gut Shot
-3 //Flex Slots
+2 Flusterstorm
+2 Surgical Extraction
+2 Diabolic Edict

UB Death's Shadow

This is about as close to a mirror match that you'll find outside of other Phoenix decks. It's a fairly even match since each game is draw dependent. Sometime either deck just wins via delver. Their "combo" of sorts is and , while we have and , but overall it's a fairly mono y mono type of match

On the Play

-2 Gut Shot
-2 //Flex Slots
+2 Young Pyromancer
+2 Diabolic Edict

On the Draw

-2 Gut Shot
-2 Daze
+2 Young Pyromancer
+2 Diabolic Edict

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