Midrange Shadow Isles decks have been favorites of mine since I started playing Legends of Runeterra in the Closed Beta. I love the idea of using your followers as a resource – in addition to the usual resources like mana and health. This deck takes that concept to the extreme. I have gone through many iterations with this deck, over time trying a ton of different cards in varying slots. This is normally my go-to archetype to pilot once a new patch lands, because it is solid in every meta. I have hit Diamond with The Undying lists just like this in 2 seasons, before switching to something else to finish the Masters push. Now let’s get to the deck!
The goal of this deck is to get to a very strong board state within the first 4-5 turns, then to build upon that wave and finish the game by turn 8-9 with a Rally effect or Atrocity. The heart of this deck is The Undying and Shadow Isles’s sacrifice synergies. This approach works very well with Demacia, allowing you to have a massive midrange presence that a lot of decks just can’t keep up with. The synergy of this deck doesn’t require running any champions. Let’s take a look at some of the core cards that make this engine go.
3x The Undying: Like I previously stated, The Undying is the heart of this deck. Not only does it grow in power as you continuously kill it, but the mere fact that it comes back as another free body to trigger your other effects is huge. Most decks also can’t afford to block Undying, and they don’t have an incentive to, which leads to this card pushing through a lot of Nexus damage.
3x Cursed Keeper: This card has been a Shadow Isles’s midrange staple since the game released. Even with the nerf to the Escaped Abomination, this card still provides a ton of value early game. This is especially true when you are running as many enablers as this deck. The value you can get with a Ravenous Butcher on turn 2, or a Blighted Caretaker on turn 3, is pretty insane and starts your curve on a very strong path.
3x Grizzled Ranger: This is another card that has seen a nerf, and so vanished from many decks. The fact is this card was very overpowered, but for 4 mana these 2 bodies are still very strong. This perfectly fits into the theme of reanimation and provides a secondary beefy body. Pair it with some of the awesome reanimation synergy this deck already has and the value increases from there.
3x Warden’s Prey: This card allows you to feed your engine more consistently. There are times where you will run out of bodies to trigger some strong effects. This card’s Last Breath provides you with another unit that will fit perfectly into the reanimation synergy of the deck. And if you take a look at all the ‘3-cost or less’ followers with Last Breath, you will see your chance to get another Cursed Keeper or Undying is actually pretty decent – around 18%. And all of the options are solid as well. This card fits so well into this deck and has provided me with so much stabilization early.
3x Ravenous Butcher: This is the first of many cards able to trigger your Last Breath followers. The Butcher really helps your tempo by providing a free 3/2 body with the benefit of killing another unit of yours. You typically only want to play this on to a Cursed Keeper or an Undying to maximize value.
3x Blighted Caretaker: Hitting a Cursed Keeper on a turn 3 when you have the attack token with a Blighted Caretaker is one of the most powerful plays in the game. Even if you missed your 1 drop, your board state is now a 4/3, 2/1, and 2x 2/1 with challengers who are ideally trading into your opponent’s board as you hit the Nexus for 6 simultaneously. This leaves you in an amazing place going forward. Obviously that doesn’t happen always, but dropping this on turn 4 is also fine. The biggest problem with this follower is board space. Targeting an Undying with Blighted Caretaker can sometimes get you the space you need.
3x Chronicler of Ruin: I have always loved the Chronicler of Ruin. The value you get from this card can be absolutely insane. There are endless targets in this deck for the Chronicler. Obviously using this on Warden’s Prey, Cursed Keeper, and Grizzled Ranger are the best ways to abuse the card. Using this on the The Undying actually creates an additional copy of it on the board, because the first one you killed will reanimate at the beginning of the next turn. This allows you to build an Undying board even if you only drew 1 copy from your deck. Chronicler also can trigger Radiant Guardian or even reset her health while also triggering her Lifesteal/Tough status. Lastly, on a more rare occasion you can even use the Chronicler of Ruin on Tianna Crownguard to get an additional Rally.
3x Ethereal Remitter: The Undying is the main target for this card, because you get a 5 cost body and grow your The Undying as well. That is a huge value swing. Obviously you can use this on any of your other Last Breath cards as well. This typically isn’t as good, but can still provide a strong board state. My normal go-to play with this when I don’t have The Undying out is to use this on the Chronicler of Ruin or Blighted Caretaker. Since they have low stats for their cost the Remitter usually trades them off for a huge upgrade stat-wise.
3x Single Combat, 3x Glimpse Beyond: These two spells are extremely important in triggering Last Breath abilities of units as well. Single Combat is great with a lot of targets, but especially The Undying trading into an important opposing unit since you end up getting your unit back anyway. Glimpse Beyond is great because most of your followers are replaceable. This allows you to keep your hand fresh while turning your sacrifice fodder into card advantage. The other main goal of Glimpse Beyond is to deny Lifesteal or being targeted by a Drain spell.
2x Atrocity, 2x Tianna Crownguard: I am grouping these two together because they go hand in hand as finishing cards. Either setting up Rally with a full board on turn 8 to get the final damage through, or using Atrocity on one of your bigger units to finish off the opposing Nexus is how a majority of these games will end. These finishers are both of equal importance.
3x Barkbeast: If you are a more aggressive player, Barkbeast is probably a great fit. It can really help you overwhelm your opponent with an insanely strong early curve. He takes a little set up, and his position in attacking/blocking order really matters – make sure something else dies before he strikes. When you trigger Barkbeast on turn 2 or 3 you will see his value. Obviously later in the game, he will fall off like most 1 drops.
2x Radiant Guardian: Since you have so many cards triggering deaths, why not run the best 5-cost synergy follower in the game? Radiant Guardian can completely swing a game against an aggro deck, but also can just provide a really beefy unit in the middle of the game for your midrange/control opponent to deal with. If you’re running into a ton of aggro, I’d suggest going up to 3x Radiant Guardian.
1x The Ruination: There aren’t many things that feel better than dropping The Ruination and having your opponent’s board vanish while your board just simply comes back. The Ruination in this deck is pretty wild, but too many copies of it could be a liability. If you are facing a ton of control or midrange decks, I would suggest going to 2x Ruination.
Vile Feast: There aren’t many better spells in this game than Vile Feast. Early removal, that heals you slightly, and provides a chump 1/1 blocker. That unit in this deck is simply another body to allow your triggers to go off. Vile Feast is a very solid addition to this deck in most metas, especially against aggro.
Thorny Toad: This is another flex card if you are facing a ton of Aggro. The Toss here is irrelevant, but the healing for 2 as a Last Breath helps and will keep you afloat as you build your board.
En Garde: Personally, this is too cute for my liking. The dream here is playing this and attacking with a board full of The Undyings or other Last Breath units. When that does happen, you can really run away with a game as you essentially wipe out their entire board and yours grows stronger. The problem is this card is dead most of the time unless you are in a perfect situation. To me, this is a “win more” card. I’m putting it here because I have had a lot of friends find success running this as 1x.
Vanguard Redeemer: Like Radiant Guardian, since you are going to have a lot of your units dying, you can easily trigger the Vanguard Redeemer. If you feel like this deck is running out of gas, the Redeemer might be what you’re looking for. It will help refresh your hand with some units which will feed the synergy engine.
Hapless Aristocrat: You can easily replace the Barkbeast with the Hapless Aristocrat. He provides two bodies and gives you more room to play with your death-triggering cards. To me this is a personal preference choice.
Champions: I have been playing variations of this deck since I started playing Runeterra, and I have tried a lot of champions in this deck. Lucian and Kalista look like they will fit with the death synergy, but in face they actually just slow you down. The main perk of this deck is that your board is full of the stuff that your opponent doesn’t even want to kill. Adding champions gives them great targets for their removal spells, as well as slows down how quickly your board grows. Champions are generally better cards than followers, but in this deck, synergy is more important than inherent value of a card. A lot of people disagree with me on this, and I encourage you to try your hand at some champions in this deck: Garen, Quinn, Thresh, or anyone else you want. Just be ready to make changes to the build to better enable those champions.
This deck can generate some very weird game states where your hand has all of the triggers but you don’t have anything on board to kill. The key here is a good mulligan – if will you do so efficiently, you should be able to limit the amount of times these awkward situations happen.
The three cards you are looking for in your starting hands mainly are Warden’s Prey, Cursed Keeper, and The Undying. Keeping any of your ‘killing’ cards is very dangerous without some of these fodder enablers. Keeping Ravenous Butcher or Blighted Caretaker without something to target is very risky and not the right play. You can decide to keep those cards only if you have something to kill with them. Barkbeast you can keep but it’s not ideal unless you have one of the first three mentioned.
Attacking on evens or odds can also influence your decisions. Chronicler can be kept if you are on evens and have a Cursed Keeper. If you’re on odds, then keeping a Blighted Caretaker as long as you have a target can be acceptable.
Ashe/Sejuani Midrange: Frostbite and good trading patterns that they have can present a problem. You are going to lose some units to Brittle Steel and Harsh Winds, but you can still keep up in value against these opponents. You can also purposely sacrifice followers that they have Frostbitten to Glimpse Beyond. This gets around some of the annoyance. You do need to worry about leveled Ashe, since she will render your board unable to block, and you already enough of units that can’t block as is. Your biggest comeback play is a well-timed The Ruination, so if you are running into a lot of Freljord matchups or other midrange decks, I would slot in a 2nd The Ruination.
Discard Aggro: This matchup can go wrong very quickly if your opponent’s board builds fast while you are playing units that cannot block. The Undying loses value in this matchup, and you really need to just find blockers. Radiant Guardians are huge and I would even consider keeping one in your opening hand depending on what else you have. If you survive the storm, you can win pretty easily. There are a lot of tech options to add to your deck if you are playing in a meta that is overfilled with Discard aggro (check out the Tech Cards section above).
Demacia Scouts: This is a very favorable matchup. Typically you can just out-value Demacia Scouts easily, and once they run out of cards you can just continue that push until you win. Single Combat on Miss Fortune is a pretty big play that needs to happen, and again, there will be turns where you need to favor blockers over getting the zombie horde going. In games where they out-tempo you you with an ideal curve, you can rely on The Ruination to get a fresh start.
Deep/Control: I am grouping a lot of various decks here, as the strategy and lines of play are all the same going into pretty much any control matchup. That can be Deep, Anivia, Karma, etc. Your goal here is to get the zombie horde of The Undyings onto the board and just overwhelm your opponent. You can render a lot of their removal useless with that board state. This constant pressure is a massive counter to almost every control deck, and in general you should feel very good into these matchups. Use Single Combat and Glimpse Beyond to deny healing effects and keep the pressure on your opponent.
There are many reasons I love this deck. Its play style suits me perfectly, as I like to end games before they get to turn 10. You also get to play around with so much synergy. I am not sure there’s any other deck that relies this much on synergy, to the point that even no champion really fits into the deck.
Another huge reason it is a favorite, is because it is such a great budget deck. In total it will cost you 13200 shards (usually meta decks end up being in range of 28000 shards) if you’d have none of the cards, which you actually have plenty of because quite a few of them come with the starter decks. And if you are really struggling for shards, you can easily cut out some of the epics here and there and replace them with some of the flex options. You can build this deck in the first week of playing Legends of Runeterra, and you will be able to compete in almost any meta. That is how flexible this deck truly is, and all of these reasons are why I really hope you’ll give it a shot.