There have been plenty of iconic MTG cards printed over the years. From Black Lotus to Lightning Bolt, Magic cards can be incredibly nostalgic. Perhaps no creature in Magic fits this bill more than Tarmogoyf. Some of my earliest MTG memories involve watching Reid Duke crushing Modern tournaments with his crafty Jund Midrange deck. Efficient removal and discard spells paired with this massive two-drop remained an effective strategy for many years. Power creep alongside the printing of Modern-specific sets in Modern Horizons One and Two have unfortunately put players in a bind. While not completely outdated, cards like Tarmogoyf slowly became less effective over time. Players continuing to play with iconic cards like Tarmogoyf could easily see their winrates plummet.
Sometimes, though, all it takes is the rise of a new powerful combo to put old cards and archetypes back in the spotlight. This past weekend, Sultai Death’s Shadow won the Modern Challenge on Magic Online. At first glance, this may not seem super exciting. However, looking closer, this is no ordinary Death’s Shadow deck. The centerpiece of the deck is based around a powerful two card MTG combo. This two card interaction is, in fact, so powerful that important supporting pieces like Tarmogoyf may be here to stay!
Invasion of Ikoria allows you to search for any non-human creature with mana value X or less and put it on the battlefield. By paying 4 mana, you can specifically tutor Vampire Hexmage, then sacrifice Vampire Hexmage targeting the Invasion and remove all its defense counters. This will flip the Invasion into a massive eight-power dinosaur ready to end the game! As if that wasn’t enough, your non-human creatures can assign combat damage as though they weren’t blocked!
What makes this mtg combo so powerful is its flexibility. You only need one copy of Vampire Hexmage in your deck to be able to use the combo. Even if the one copy ends up in your graveyard, there is no need to worry. Invasion of Ikoria can search graveyards too! This allows for the rest of your deck to be filled with efficient threats and interaction that advance your gameplan, meaning that your deck is not diluted by situational cards that are ineffective if the combo does not come together. This makes your average draw a lot stronger since most of your cards can function on your own.
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The Supporting Cast
Part of the flexibility of Invasion of Ikoria is that it does not have to tutor Vampire Hexmage all the time. If you don’t have access to four mana, even searching for a Death’s Shadow can be quite effective. Sometimes you will be super light on mana, hence why the deck plays one Dryad Arbor to search for in these situations. Further, if you are in need of removal, perhaps to answer a large opposing Murktide Regent, you can even search for Grist.
Tarmogoyf and Death’s Shadow are both big enough creatures that they are fully capable of taking down the Invasion on their own, even in one attack! Additionally, once Invasion is transformed, it gives its best Temur Battle Rage impression by letting your creatures assign combat damage to the opponent, even through a bunch of blockers. Unlike Temur Battle Rage though, which is a dead card without a big threat on board, almost every individual card in the Sultai Death’s Shadow deck is good on its own. Being good cards individually while also having major synergistic upside is a big deal for the deck, and a big part of why the deck is so powerful.
Even powerful strategies can come with their share of weaknesses. This deck’s biggest weakness is centered around the manabase. You reliably want black mana on turn one to have access to Fatal Push and Thoughtseize. You need double green ideally by turn 3 to cast Invasion. Once you land a threat, you also want blue mana to be able to hold up Stubborn Denial. As a result, two notable problems may arise.
The first problem is that these heavy mana requirements restrict the number of Basic Lands the deck can play. While the deck plays one Basic Swamp, a resolved Blood Moon makes your Invasions, Tarmogoyfs, and Traverses uncastable. If Blood Moon is put on an empty board, it becomes nearly impossible to win. The second problem is that these color requirements force the deck to play a high density of Fetch Lands and Shock Lands. Even unimpeded by your opponent, you likely will have to take a great chunk of damage off your lands. This can be a real liability against decks like Burn. The good news is that taking lots of damage off lands does synergize well with Death’s Shadow. With regards to Blood Moon, a well-timed Thoughtseize or Stubborn Denial can make sure it never hits the table. The deck even has access to Force of Vigor in the sideboard in case Blood Moon is a major concern. As a result, this deck has a real shot against whatever your opponent throws your way!
Elements of Consistency
The rest of the deck is made up of cards that help maximize the power and consistency of Death’s Shadow and Tarmogoyf. Mishra’s Bauble helps grow Tarmogoyf as well as enable Delirium for Traverse the Ulvenwald, which acts similar to additional copies of these massive threats. Dress Down is an excellent card on its own in many matchups, but it also can instantly make your Death’s Shadows have 13 power when your opponent least expects it. All of the cards in the deck work extremely well together. This is a big reason why Tarmogoyf is making a major resurgence.
The entire deck is built around having big, efficient creatures to maximize all aspects of Invasion of Ikoria. The card is great as a combo piece combined with Vampire Hexmage. It’s also great as an efficient tutor for Death’s Shadow and Tarmogoyf. Simultaneously, Death’s Shadow and Tarmogoyf are great at attacking down the Invasion, and together can finish off an opponent in short order. If you are looking to dust off some iconic cards you haven’t used in a while, now is your chance! This deck is the real deal, and I believe it will be around for a long time.