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Budget Magic: 12 Shadow (Modern)

Hey there, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading to Modern to go all-in on losing life as fast as possible with 12 Shadow—a deck built around the trinity of Death's Shadow, Shadow of Mortality, and Scourge of the Skyclaves (which isn't exactly a Death's Shadow because it also cares about our opponent's life total, but it's close enough for our purposes). The goal is to set our life total to seven (or maybe even one?) as early as Turn 2 and dump a handful of Death's Shadows to pick up the fast beatdown win before our opponent can find a way to punish us for losing so much life! What's the best way to lose almost all of our life in one shot? How good is a deck with 12 Shadows on just a $100 budget? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: 12 Shadow

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The Deck

12 Shadow is an aggro deck built around Death's Shadow–style creatures that are extremely undercosted and overpowered, but only if we are at a very low life total, and cards that can lose a ton of life quickly, which lets us do things like play multiple 12/12 Death's Shadows as early as Turn 2!

The 12 Shadows

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The core of our deck is our 12 Shadows: Death's Shadow, Shadow of Mortality, and Scourge of the Skyclaves, three creatures that share a lot in common. They all can cost just one or two mana, and they can all be incredibly huge. But we need to be at a very low life total for us to even be able to cast them at all (let alone have them fully powered). Take OG Death's Shadow, for example. If we cast it when we have more than 12 life, it will die immediately, but if we can get down to one life, it might be the strongest one-drop in all of Magic as a one-mana 12/12. Shadow of Mortality is basically a twist on Death's Shadow. It can only ever be a 7/7 and will always cost at least two mana, but it's a two-mana 7/7 if we can get to seven or less life, also very above the curve. Finally, we have Scourge of the Skyclaves, which isn't exactly a Death's Shadow since it cares about both players' life totals, and the amount of life our opponent has is a lot harder to control than our own life total is. But if we can get in an attack or two with our other Death's Shadows, it can be as big as a two-mana 19/19! The goal of our deck is to get as many of our 12 Shadows on the battlefield as quickly as possible, which means we have to lose a lot of life fast. But we have a problem here. If you look at tier / non-budget Death's Shadow lists, the main way they lose life is with the help of fetch lands and shock lands, which are way, way too expensive for our budget. Just take a look at our mana...

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That's right, it's all Swamps and Castle Locthwain. While Castle Locthwain can help us lose life, the earliest we can activate it is Turn 4, and even then, it takes our entire turn, so it's not actually all that helpful with our "flood the board with Shadows quickly" plan. So, how do we get our life total low enough to cast our Shadows by Turn 2 or 3?

Losing Life

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Rather than looking to lose a little bit of life here and there with things like fetch lands and shock lands, we're looking to lose (almost) all of our life at once by Turn 2 with the help of Hex Parasite, Spellskite, and Plunge into Darkness. Hex Parasite and Spellskite are interesting. Each has a Phyrexian mana–activated ability that we can activate by paying two life, with Hex Parasite being able to remove counters from permanents and Spellskite redirecting spells and abilities to itself. The trick here is that the abilities on Hex Parasite and Spellskite don't actually have to do anything for us to activate them. For example, we can play Hex Parasite on Turn 1; activate its ability nine times targeting itself, even though it doesn't have a counter; and put our life total all the way down to two. Spellskite can do the same thing. As long as there is a spell or ability on the stack, we can activate it as many times as we want, even if the ability does nothing. For instance, if our opponent cracks a fetch land, we can activate Spellskite nine times targeting it and drop our life total from 20 down to two. While the main reason these cards are in the deck is to lose a bunch of life quickly, they each have some upside, with Hex Parasite being great against planeswalkers and things like Urza's Saga and Spellskite giving us a way to protect our massive Death's Shadow creatures. 

Last but not least, we have Plunge into Darkness, which lets us pay any amount of life to exile that many cards and put one into our hand. This means that on Turn 2, we can spend 19 life, drop to one, and most likely tutor up a Death's Shadow that will be a one-mana 12/12! And this is basically the deck: use our life-loss cards to drop our life total to one or two by Turn 2 and then play as many massive Shadows as possible to win the game!

Other Stuff

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Street Wraith is a key card in tier Death's Shadow lists since it lets us lose two life for free, although it's basically just filler in our deck since we're trying to lose life in big chunks rather than a little at a time. While it is fine, it's also usually one of the first cards we sideboard out for something better in a specific matchup.

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Our discard helps protect our Shadows by taking a removal spell from our opponent's hand preemptively. Thoughtseize would be great here, but it's way too expensive for the budget, so we get by with Inquisition of Kozilek and a Duress.

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For removal, we have more life loss in Dismember and Bloodchief's Thirst as our budget Fatal Push, along with more removal options in our sideboard for when we play against creature-heavy decks.

Playing the Deck

Perhaps the first and most important lesson about playing 12 Shadow is that it often plays like a combo deck, and you can't be afraid to set your life total aggressively to seven or even one on Turn 2. Sure, going to one life on purpose is risky. Our opponent could top-deck a Gut Shot, and we'll die, but this is the price we pay for being able to play one-mana 12/12s.

Lesson two is that the plan changes if you play against a burn-heavy deck. Activating a Hex Parasite a bunch of times to go to two life on Turn 2 against Burn isn't going to work. They'll almost certainly have a Lightning Bolt of some kind, and we'll die. The good news is that against decks like Burn, our opponent does a lot of the work for us. We can let them Lightning Bolt and Lava Spike us a few times, and then we can start playing our Death's Shadows.

One cool trick we ran into with the deck was having a Spellskite on the battlefield, being able to cast a Death's Shadow even though we were at 20 life, and then using Spellskite's ability to lose a bunch of life by targeting the Death's Shadow a few times before it resolved, getting our life total low enough for the Death's Shadow to survive.

It's also worth keeping in mind that Plunge into Darkness can also gain us life. We don't want to do this often because our cards are at their best when our life total is low, but if we are about to die to a burn spell, being able to sacrifice a couple of random dorks to gain six life can be a game-winning line.

Oh yeah, one last thing about life management. We have a few cards that we want to be able to cast that can cost life, like using Spellskite to redirect a removal spell or casting Dismember for less than three real mana. As such, it's often best to focus on getting to seven life rather than literally to one life. At seven life, we can cast Shadow of Mortality for two mana, our Death's Shadows are pretty big, and we still have a bit of a buffer in case we need to spend some life on a Spellskite or Dismember in the future. Plus, if our goal is to grow our Death's Shadows, we can always lose some more life in the future by activating our Phyrexian mana cards.


Record-wise, 12 Shadow killed it. We went 5-0 and had multiple Turn 3 wins along the way. The deck felt so strong that I found myself wondering why no one else was doing it. Sure, people play Death's Shadow, but not in a super-aggressive way with Plunge into Darkness and Phyrexian mana creatures. The super-all-in aggro plan seemed super strong. A lot of decks just can't deal with a Turn 2 12/12, let alone several of them over the first few turns!

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, I'm super happy with the creatures and life-loss package, although the interaction is a bit questionable. For example, Bloodchief's Thirst is a little awkward as a sorcery, and with just 20 lands in the deck, we don't always get enough mana to kick it. That said, we were right up against the $100 budget, so there isn't a lot of wiggle room. Most of the obviously better options would require adding to the budget (like Thoughtseize over Inquisition of Kozilek or Fatal Push over Bloodchief's Thirst, especially since we'd likely need some fetch lands to trigger revolt consistently).

So, should you play 12 Shadow in Modern? I think the answer is a clear yes. It was the best-performing Modern budget deck we've had in a while and felt both powerful and consistent. While it's certainly risky to lose life so aggressively, it seems like the reward is most than worth the risk in general!

Ultra-Budget 12 Shadow

Sadly, no ultra-budget build this week. The problem is that apart from Death's Shadow, at $20 a playset, our deck doesn't really have one or two expensive cards we can cut to drop the budget. Instead, we have a ton of cards worth a couple of dollars, so there just isn't really a way to get the budget down near $50. Plus, our important cards (the Shadows, the Phyrexian-mana life-loss cards, and Plunge into Darkness) don't really have replacements—they are relatively unique effects—so we can't just swap them out for slightly worse versions.

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For our non-budget list, the main changes come to our discard and removal. We get Fatal Push, along with eight fetch lands for triggering revolt and Thoughtseize joining Inquisition of Kozilek in our removal package. We also get some small updates to the sideboard, with Tourach, Dread Cantor replacing Duress and Leyline of the Void over Nihil Spellbomb. Basically, the deck is very similar to the one we played on video but with a handful of small but powerful upgrades.


Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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