Artisan Brewery: What We Cast in the Shadows

Hello everyone, and welcome to another edition of Artisan Brewery! The last couple of times we've brewed together, we've focused on combo with Jodah, Archmage Eternal, and pure synergy with Riku of Two Reflections. This time, we're going to shift focus to a creature-based deck relying on a rarely seen, highly unique mechanic known as Shadow. Shadow works in a way similar to Flying and Horsemanship, where only creatures with that ability can block it during combat; however, there's an additional caveat with Shadow that these others don't have: creatures with Shadow can only block creatures that also have Shadow, which means we'll be open to any attacks our opponents are able to send at us. We'll need a good way to protect ourselves, and maybe even leave our opponents in a, shall we say, foggy state of mind?

One of the first things we notice when building a deck based on this ability is that all of the creatures containing the ability are all Esper colored: white, blue, and black. This color combination has no shortage of possible commanders, but no one choice is exactly right for this theme; so instead, we'll go with two. That's right: partner commanders! The two that may best match with our plans for this deck are Ravos, Soultender, and Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker. Ravos acts as an anthem, as well as allowing us to regain usage of any other creatures our opponents may destroy, and Ishai acts as a way to hasten our opponents' defeat by attacking for larger and larger amounts of damage, right alongside our nearly unblockable creatures.

Casting Shadows

Even with an uncommon ability like Shadow, we have more than a few options for creatures to place in our deck, which means we'll need to weed through them and find the ones that best suit our purpose. Of these, we'll have some fairly unremarkable creatures, such as Soltari Priest, Soltari Foot Soldier, and Dauthi Slayer, but we'll also have plenty of creatures that multi-task, which is just our style.

One of the more impactful creatures we see is Dauthi Warlord, which grows stronger due to the rest of our creatures, and as a result works similarly to Ishai, hitting for larger amounts of damage each of our combats. This is the only one of our creatures that grows as quickly as this, but it's not the only one that either strengthens itself, or the rest of our creatures. For example, Soltari Champion is able to increase all of our creatures' power and toughness on each attack to which we put it, including itself.

In a similar fashion to Soltari Champion, we have Stronghold Overseer, which not only strengthens our own creatures on every activation of its ability, but weakens our opponents creatures as well; almost like those creatures are in some sort of fog… Anyway, use of this card can be tactical on both offense, and defense, as we can use it on our attacks or on our opponents' combats in order to mitigate the amount of damage we take. This may be the most versatile creature in our deck, but not necessarily the most overall useful or powerful.

In addition to combat boosting, we also have creatures that can keep coming back, despite what our opponents do to keep them away. Cards like Nether Traitor, which can be returned to our battlefield if another of our creatures is destroyed, or Nether Shadow, which only needs three creatures to be in our graveyard above it, are both strong, recurrable cards for a minimal mana investment. And with a unique condition like that of Nether Shadow, we can even use our opponents' removal to our advantage (when in the form of board wipes) by stacking our removed creatures in an order that lets us bring it back.

Not only do our creatures have the ability to strengthen each other, or sometimes bring themselves back from the graveyard, but they can also serve as a source of card draw. One such creature is Thalakos Seer, which draws us a card when it leaves the battlefield for any reason, such as being exiled with Faceless Devourer, and of course still helps in each of our combat steps. We can also use Looter il-Kor, which is an extra card in our hand on each combat for the cost of a land we don't need, or a less efficient creature.

So far we've seen creatures that serve as draw spells, combat boosters, and recursion, but we still have another good way to use them: as answers to our opponents' creatures and spells. For example, we have Thalakos Dreamsower, which allows us to keep troublesome attackers out of combats, or stops creatures with activated abilities that require the creature to tap as a cost. This will help keep our creatures somewhat better protected, and if a worse threat comes along, we can do the same thing all over again. An interesting thing to note about this ability is that it doesn't matter which opponent we damage with Dreamsower; as long as it causes the damage, it can tap any creature without hexproof, shroud, or protection.

Dreamsower isn't the only Thalakos creature we can use as an answer, either; we also have Thalakos Deceiver, which can be considered removal simply because it removes a creature of our choice from our opponents' control. The caveat that it has to be attacking and unblocked is likely to be irrelevant most of the time, due to our chosen theme for the deck. In addition, much like Dreamsower, as long as the attack happens, we can use Deceiver's ability on any creature under our opponents' control that isn't protected somehow. And here's the kicker: the control isn't until the end of the turn, but for as long as we would control any other creature.

One of the best things about creatures with Shadow is that in addition to using it for combat, they also are able to use their colors' key features in additional ways. For example, Dauthi Ghoul is an excellent usage of a classic black ability, where a creature's death is used to our advantage. There's also Soltari Visionary, which allows us to used our combat to also remove troublesome enchantments under control of the opponent of our choice, and Stronghold Rats, which is a good way to restrict the amount of available interference from our opponents.

Aside from being largely unable to block our opponents' creatures should they choose to attack us back, a downside of this mechanic is that there's not necessarily a large quantity of creatures that are worth the mana investment, or that don't have a drawback like Drifter il-Dal. Thankfully, there are some loose variants we can work with that at the very least have the word "shadow" somewhere in their name or ability. A good example of that is Jodah's Avenger, which is coincidentally the most versatile individual creature in the deck. Each of its four possible additions have their uses, and if we were to choose Shadow and Double Strike, we basically have a 4/4 with Shadow to attack.

Another great example is Shadowmage Infiltrator, which functions similarly to Looter il-Kor but doesn't require us to discard as well. Admittedly, Fear is easier to block than Shadow, but we could use either Dauthi Embrace, or Dauthi Trapper to give it Shadow if need be. As a result, we have functional Shadow on every creature in our library, including our commanders.

If You're Feeling Foggy, Then Play Instants

As mentioned above, using Shadow as a main theme has one glaring weakness: we're going to be wide open to attacks from our opponents. However, our deck colors provide us with a perfect countermeasure, commonly known as Fog spells. Named for the green spell Fog, these are instants that allow us to prevent damage to ourselves, and often, rebooting an opponent's entire attack phase. Blue and white each have their fair share of this type of ability, and even black has its fingers in this slice of the color pie. As always, we'll try to use as many cards that serve multiple purposes, and we'll begin with a couple of spells that can slow our opponents down pretty heavily.

Pollen Lullaby is a bit of a gamble, considering that the Clash mechanic relies on the mana cost of our cards, and this deck has a lower mana curve than our past builds. Despite that risk, paying two mana to ensure our life total doesn't change or that we don't get hit with commander damage is pretty fair, and if we win the clash, we can keep that particular opponent off our backs for at least one more turn. Another great way to keep our opponents from attacking again easily is with Settle the Wreckage, and while our opponents get to exchange their creatures for lands, when it's a matter of life or death, we definitely stand to benefit more.

In addition to slowing our opponents down, we have the option of turning them against one another. By using something like Illusionist's Gambit, we're able to redirect an opponent's entire combat step towards another player, sparing ourselves the damage as well as weakening another. This can be used as a political tool as well, because while we force our opponent to attack someone aside from ourselves, we don't make the choice of whom they attack.

One of the more flexible options we can access comes in the form of Dwn Charm. Not only can it stop an attack directed at us, but in the event we need to save one of our creatures from a targeted removal spell, we can use it to regenerate that creature, and in a rare twist we can also use it to protect ourselves from troublesome spells like Cruel Ultimatum, or Aggravate.

Spells like this have a lot of interesting abilities added into their text beside "prevent all damage," and one of the arguably most powerful spells in this vein is Batwing Brume. For only two mana, we can not only make sure we lose no life from a large attack, but also force our opponents creatures to work against them, causing a potentially significant life loss. Batwing Brume shines especially brightly against token decks, where our opponents have the potential for upwards of fifty creatures, or just highly aggressive decks in general, but it's not the only card of this nature which does so. Comeuppance is a very similar card that has the potential to deal even higher amounts of damage back to our opponents through the power of their own creatures, as well as stopping mass damage spells such as Comet Storm, Chain Reaction, or Disaster Radius.

The last of our clearly dual purpose damage prevention spells is Angelsong, which can be used as a fairly low cost draw source if need be. Now, that is likely not to be the use to which we put this card, but it's not completely impossible or unfeasible to do so in the right situation. Also, one card of which we should make special mention is Darkness. In green and white, we see multiple "prevent damage" spells, like Ethereal Haze, Holy Day, and Fog, but that's not typical of Black's ability usage; however, here we have one that can lull our opponents into a false security when we only have a Swamp untapped, and as a result, they waste an attack step when they normally would have expected us to simply take it.

Deepening Shadows

So we've got our main strategies planned out, but we're still a few cards short of a full deck (and not because of our plans). This is where we should take some extra time to focus on things like removal, card draw, and any synergies or generally helpful cards we may be able to access. As far as removal and card draw, we're in the three best colors connected to them, so we have no trouble there; the trouble is in choosing what suits our deck best, or what bolsters it the most.

Starting with card draw, there are two powerful options that go perfectly alongside our aggressive plans, and another that can just sneak out of the fog. Bident of Thassa is perhaps the single best card draw engine we can put in this deck, seeing as our creatures will be all but impossible for our opponents to block; and since it says, "you may draw a card," instead of, "draw a card," we're able to self-regulate in order to keep ourselves from going through our library too fast. A similar, but slower, card to help us is Curious Obsession, which we can partner with any shadow creature and use to gain an extra card every turn, as well as pushing an additional damage each combat.

Other ways to draw cards that are more basic could be Tamiyo's Epiphany, and Dictate of Kruphix, but there's one spell that gets better the more our opponents get wrapped up in our fog: Borrowing 100,000 Arrows. All it takes to make this card truly great is one conveniently timed attack, and we pay three mana to refill our hand very quickly. We don't really have a lot of space to dedicate to card draw, but we also don't need as much as we typically would since we're mostly trying to deal damage, or prevent it being dealt to us, so this batch of spells is pretty solid for our purposes.

We also have a couple of convenient synergies we can look at for removal strategy, or to help our creatures hit harder and faster. For instance, using the middle ability of Ajani Goldmane, can hasten the clock our opponents are on by two or three turns at least, and coupled with Stronghold Overseer and Soltari Champion, potentially even more so. And although we have some removal such as Vindicate, Vraska's Contempt, and Ixalan's Binding, repeatable removal is always a good idea. That's why we should partner Dauthi Embrace, and Dauthi Trapper, with Dauthi Cutthroat to be able to destroy any troublesome creatures that come our way.

There's one more large potential weakness this deck faces, and that's heavy creature removal. Thankfully, creature recursion is a speciality of black, and to a lesser extent, white as well. The low mana curve of our creatures can actually help us in this by allowing us to very handily use Immortal Servitude. Most of our creatures cost three or less mana, so it's very simple for us to get almost all of our creatures back to the battlefield. In the unlikely event that we're outcreatured, or simply need to bring back a large enough amount, Living Death comes in to serve both purposes, destroying our opponents' creatures and returning our own to us.

A minor risk we run is not having a damage prevention spell when we need one, and one way to combat that is with the card draw mentioned above, but another is to try to return cards from our graveyard to our hand. Using Pull from the Deep, we can easily get one of our more powerful spells like Batwing Brume, or Settle the Wreckage, back into our hand. In addition, we can gain back one of our useful sorceries, such as Immortal Servitude or Vindicate, and be even more ready to respond to threats we may face.

The last thing we should take a look at is responses that aren't just creature removal. We have access to a lot of low mana options here, like Counterspell, and Countersquall to handle things like mass removal or enchantment destruction, as well as the potential to stop a winning combo from our opponents. We've seen Vindicate for general permanents, but we also have Return to Dust for any troublesome artifacts or enchantments our opponents play, like Crawlspace, Ghostly Prison, or Rhystic Study.

Well, here we are at the end of another journey, filled with promise and an underused combat ability. The full deck list is below, and as always please feel free to provide feedback in the comments. Thank you for reading and sharing, and I hope you enjoy this deck as much as I enjoyed building it with you.

Ishai and Ravos: In the Shadows
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