Faeries and its centerpiece Bitterblossom are known for trading life for tempo advantage, and lately there is a lot of brewing going on with combining Death’s Shadow and Faeries. I dove into it myself to see the whys and hows.
Lets start off with enabling Death’s Shadow, which is how to lose life but not the game.
I’ve thought about Dark Confidant but you really don’t wish to lose life uncontrollably, so it didn’t make the cut (don’t let me get started on flipping Wraith with Bob, auch). Polluted Delta is there to trigger Revolt for Fatal Push as well, so it pulls double duty. Dismember was already played in UB Faeries before printing of the Push, but in this deck it makes sense despite missing opponents Shadows. Street Wraith is our cantrip of the choice.
Rest of the spells
Faeries are known for playing a heavy land count, ranging from 24 and up to 26, so we can cut a few more if we include Serum Visions on top of the Wraiths. However, it depends on if we wish to play Cryptic Command or not, so around 23 or even 22 sounds just about right in case we want Cryptics. Our main goal is still to play aggro-control, but Shadow offers us a faster clock when needed. However, our Zoo match-up remains bad but not worse than with regular Faeries.
Cryptic could be too expensive for the following landbase, and Fatal Push might be too good to not play a full set. Scion of Oona is a clock and breaks the stall against Lingering Souls.
For starters, lets go with 22 lands. It might be a stretch to play Cryptics with only 22 lands, but Serum Visions and Wraiths could be enough to get those land drops. This is where I’m at.
Three Mutavaults and two Tar Pits might pose a problem; they are a powerhouse against grindy decks and do their heavy lifting when facing planeswalkers, but they don’t enable that turn 1 discard or Serum Vision, making the deck slower. Mixing Death’s Shadow and Bitterblossom forces the pilot to come up with a gameplan on the fly after drawing the starting hand, and those manlands don’t help the clause. What if you have a hand favorable to Death’s Shadow plan but with only manlands? Delaying your Thoughtseize and consequently your Death’s Shadow might not sound like a big deal, especially against slower decks, but in a format as tight as Modern, that might be enough to lose the game.
Death’s Shadow Faeries
After putting it together, we get the following list. Snapcaster Mage is not at it’s best here and could be changed for something else (more lands, removal, counters or cantrips), and sadly Stubborn Denial is also out of place without many enables. Playing Thought Scour and Delve creature package is not that good as well, you are better off just playing Grixis Shadow.
Death's Shadow Faeries by treach, first iteration
4 Death’s Shadow
4 Spellstutter Sprite
3 Snapcaster Mage
2 Vendilion Clique
4 Street Wraith
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Fatal Push
2 Go for the Throat
3 Serum Vision
2 Cryptic Command
4 Polluted Delta
2 Watery Grave
2 Creeping Tar Pit
3 River of Tears
4 Darkslick Shores
Ideally, you start with Turn 1 discard into Turn 2 Bitterblossom, followed by Sprite, Clique or removal. When below 10 life, you stick a Death’s Shadow and finish what Faeries have started. However, Shadow gives you the ability to race when needed, like against combo or big mana decks, and that’s where fetch into shock and Thoughtseize, followed by Bitterblossom and/or Street Wraiths enable turn 3 or faster Death’s Shadow that wins on the back of disruption by turn 5. Burn becomes a special match-up that you race, but don’t do all the work for them.
Sideboard is not defined but I would play a few counters to combat combo, control and big mana decks (Negate, Countersquall, Dispel). One card I would look into is Liliana, the Last Hope, which is great against opposing Lingering Souls and Elves while enabling you to grind. Spreading Sea is also an option against the likes of Tron.
The questions are Snapcaster Mage and Cryptic Commands, how many and if at all. I feel like some kind of a counter spell is needed in the mainboard to either protect your board or to stop combo, but Cryptic itself is a bit slow against certain combo decks, especially with only 22 lands (and 18 blue sources). Discard is also a way to combat combo so it’s not like the deck has no game against unfair decks without packing any counters. Looking at the decklist now, I would probably remove Cryptics from the deck altogether.
Snapcaster doesn’t have a lot of targets and a 2/1 beater is not where this deck wants to be. While regular Faeries decks usually play a few Snapcasters, I feel like Death’s Shadow variant doesn’t need them. We have no Kolaghan’s Command shenanigans and other than Cryptic (if we choose to play any) there is only spot removal that feels like a true 2-for-1 when flashing back. Discard can be a target in some match-ups but 6 spells should be enough to cover it.
We covered the land base in the previous section so I won’t repeat myself. Testing is needed to determine how troublesome manlands really are, but I have a feeling they are indeed worse in a deck like this.
However, the biggest question is why play Death’s Shadow in a deck (UB Faeries) that has a decent Death’s Shadow, midrange, combo and control match-ups at all while we don’t really improve against the decks like Zoo and Dredge? Do we make Faeries worse? Could be, only testing will tell us the truth, but I look at it from the other side: we play Faeries in a Death’s Shadow shell to improve control match-ups while not losing much percentage against rest of the field. Combo is still good with all the discard and counters (either main or sideboard), “mirror” against Shadow is decent just as well. Midrange might become a bit harder to beat without Ancestral Vision but Bitterblossom can still be a beating. Aggro becomes a race that we can win if we stick an early Shadow.
Only time will tell if we are combining better or worse halfs of two decks. One of its cons is that without drawing a Death’s Shadow, this deck is just suicide Faeries that looks to play more of an controlling role while needlessly killing itself and that is not where Faeries want to be. Another problem is that regular Faeries tend to side out discard in some grindy match-ups against BGx and alike while Shadow decks keep it in. Do we really want to meet in the middle ground? Shadow might be impactful enough to improve Faeries against a specific decks like Valakut, Tron and Eldrazi, but is that enough to warrant Death’s Shadow? Does it really improve the match-ups? Dredge is still a bad match, and so is Zoo. Without drawing Shadow and without any counters it loses to Tron and, to a lesser extent, Valakut decks, and Eldrazi are still a pain in the ass to handle. I’m not sure that we improve Death’s Shadows match-up against Elves.
Theorycrafting is fun and all but without any data to back it up, I’m just making a thesis (baseless speculation) about a brew, and on top of that I might be wrong about it altogether. One thing might be true though, Death’s Shadow Faeries looks to have a game against Death’s Shadow mirrors, and if Shadow decks become Tier 0, then I could see Faeries and Shadow merging to make a metagame deck. Otherwise I would probably stick with just one of them.
I will report back after I give the deck a spin, but until then keep brewing!