Grixis in All Formats

Feature Article from Brian Braun-Duin
Brian Braun-Duin
6/8/2017 11:01:00 AM
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Early on in my Magic playing days I was single-minded in how I played the game. For many years, I played nothing but control decks. I was like a young Shaheen Soorani, only I was smarter, more handsome, and, most importantly, not a haggard old man like he was and still is. For every Standard format, I would brew up my own control decks and play them until rotations happened or new sets or metagame shifts would cause me to brew up a different control deck instead. My control decks rarely had many counters, but instead relied on a more tap-out style game plan, usually based around board sweepers and planeswalkers. My personal favorite was White-Blue Control, which I have played in many variations in many different formats.

While I certainly played more of it than any other variation, White-Blue Control wasn't the only version of control I played. Over the years, I've played all kinds of control strategies in Standard, Modern and Legacy. I've played Blue-Black Control, Esper Control, Four-Color Control, Black-Red Control, White-Black Control, Mono-Red Control, Sultai Control, Jeskai Control, and so on and so forth.

Oh, and also Grixis Control. But not very much. Grixis has been an archetype that I have mostly avoided over my career. Generally speaking, red isn't a great control color, and I've always preferred playing removal spells with no restrictions, which white has in abundance compared to black or red.

There was a period of time where I gave myself over to the Grixis gods, though. That was back in an era where a card existed called Cruel Ultimatum. There is always a greater power. In this case, that power was Nicol Bolas, but even Nicol Bolas knows that powers exist that even surpass what he can command, such as the combined friendship and teamwork of the Gatewatch! And also Emrakul, probably.

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I played Grixis Control in one of the first ever SCG Opens back in some ancient year like 2010. This was way back. Back when they were called $5Ks. Back before it was anything resembling an Open Series. Back before the phrase SCG Tour was ever uttered. This tournament predated the invention of the printing press. Everything I'm saying here is fully accurate. This was a “keeping your life total on papyrus reeds using hieroglyphics while rolling six-sided etched cave-stones to see who goes first” kind of Magic tournament.

I remember that tournament vividly. I rode up to Philadelphia by myself on horseback, ready to play this Grixis Cruel Ultimatum Control deck that I had been playing at FNM for a while after Benjamin Franklin brewed it on the back of the Declaration of Independence while he waited for Thomas Jefferson to stop droning on about personal freedoms or some boring crap like that. Nick Cage later stole this decklist in National Treasure 6.

So, I didn't actually ride a horse. I drove there in a car. It was my 1994 Geo Prism, a vehicle that to this day remains the pinnacle of what human engineering can produce. This was the first time I had ever gone on a Magic trip by myself. This trip was the first time I had ever booked a hotel room in my life. This was before I owned a smartphone, and not many people I knew had GPS navigation systems. I certainly did not. I had to print out directions from Mapquest and follow them. For anyone who remembers this era of travel, if you ever missed a turn or took a wrong road by accident, it was sometimes all over for you. There was no recalculating, there was finding a gas station and asking the person there to lead you out of the mess you had created, hoping that they knew what they were talking about. Sometimes they did.

Well, as it turns out, I messed up the directions and got lost in the city of Philadelphia. I drove around, scrambling to figure out where I was and how to get where I needed to go as cars swarmed around me. I was already nervous about driving around in a big city, also something I had never really done before, and being lost in heavy traffic didn't make it any better. I drove around for what felt like an eternity, growing ever more panicked and frantic as I Searched the City.

I found the convention center. Eventually. Just in the nick cage of time. It was mostly sheer luck that got me there with just barely enough time to find a place to park so I could literally run down the street to get in before they closed registration. Made it.

In the first round of the event, my opponent was on Jund. On turn four of game one, he cast a Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning. Devastating. Or it would have been if I didn't have just the perfect answer. Double Negative, son! Get rickety wrekt. I'm gonna counter your Bloodbraid Elf and pinch off that Blightning too. Never in the rest of my Magic career has a one-for-one trade felt better than that moment right there.

I lost that game, obviously. Why would I ever win that game? I did win the match, however, thanks to the power of Sphinx of Jwar Isle and Earthquake. Now that's a combination. A shrouded flying creature and a card that deals damage to non-flying creatures. Unbeatable.

Well, as it turns out, my other opponents had figured out a way to beat it. That Jund opponent in the first round of the tournament was my only win that day. I quit playing Magic shortly after this event, and my legacy of playing Grixis ended, basically before it even began.

It's time to rebuild that Legacy. Nicol Bolas is back, and just in time, because Grixis is starting to come back into style. Grand Prix Vegas is in two weeks, and it's actually three Grand Prix tournaments smushed into a single weekend. There is a Legacy, Modern and Limited GP on back to back to back days. My goal is to play the Legacy and Modern GPs and only play the Limited GP if I scrub out of the Legacy one.

Right now, my plan is to play Grixis in both formats. I simply believe that Grixis is the best deck in both formats, something that hasn't been true in a long time, if ever. Thanks, Fatal Push. You did this.

Modern Grixis

In Modern, I am fairly convinced that the best deck is Grixis Death's Shadow.

Brad Nelson won the SCG Open two weekends ago with this list. I put it together on Magic Online and I haven't lost a match with it yet. Sample size, one match.

Okay, in actuality I've played two leagues with it and 5-0'd both, and that's with me stumbling through lines of play and both playing like and acting like a buffoon, as one does.

This deck offers so many things that are hard for other decks to overcome. It plays eight creatures that cost one mana, the smallest of which is a 4/5 that can generate card advantage. This allows the deck to play a card like Stubborn Denial, which is really, really good in a number of matchups like Burn or various combo-centric decks. It pairs that with hand disruption, card advantage and good removal spells.

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The major advantage this deck has over a deck like Jund Death's Shadow is twofold. For one, the dominance of Death's Shadow, the card, in the Modern metagame has made Fatal Push one of the best cards in the format. Grixis mostly dodges Fatal Push thanks to Gurmag Angler and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Grixis has also become a huge threat because of Fatal Push. Grixis now gets access to a powerful removal spell that it didn't have before. It's now not essential to run Abrupt Decay or Path to Exile.

Gurmag Angler is the best creature in the game right now. That's not to say that it's the best creature ever or anything crazy like that, but it's in the most top tier decks in Modern and Legacy and a major part of why they are the best decks. It's like if Tarmogoyf Drowned and then an angry sea god resurrected Tarmogoyf as a zombie fish, only it costs one less mana and is yet somehow bigger.

The other major advantage this deck has over Jund Death's Shadow is that it has actual card advantage. Jund Death's Shadow wins games by having the most efficient cards and a low land count, creating a form of virtual card advantage. However, decks have adapted to beating Jund and are set up to be able to grind better than it does.

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Grixis Death's Shadow still has efficient cards and a low land count, allowing it to still cash in on the virtual card advantage that offers. However, it also has access to Kolaghan's Command, Snapcaster Mage and Tasigur which provide it with real, actual card advantage, which is a big part of beating the decks that are trying to slog through and out-grind it. Kolaghan's Command back my Snapcaster Mage. Snapcaster Mage my Kolaghan's Command to get back my other Snapcaster Mage. Snapcaster Mage my...Good luck grinding through that.

Grixis used to be to worse than Jund largely because the Jund decks splashed for Lingering Souls in the sideboard, which Grixis has a hard time beating. However, Lingering Souls has fallen out of favor recently and Stubborn Denial is becoming a very important card to have access to in Modern to beat decks that are designed to prey on Death's Shadow. Without much Lingering Souls to worry about, Grixis has easily surpassed Jund in terms of the best Death's Shadow deck.

Legacy Grixis

In Legacy, I think the best deck right now is...drumroll please…

Grixis!

I'm sure you are all shocked and didn't see that one coming.

I started out my GP Vegas testing by playing league after league with the new Miracles list that I wrote about a few weeks ago. I immediately turned my version of it into a Jeskai Mentor deck. We can't change who we are, and who I am is a dude who loves Monastery Mentor and the free wins that it provides. And sideboard Blood Moon. Can't forget that. Free wins, baby. Gotta love ‘em. That deck was pretty good. I went 4-1 in almost every single league with few exceptions. It felt like it was lacking something, though, and I wasn't sure exactly what that something was. I felt like both Portent and Terminus were really weak, but I wasn't sure what to replace them with and whether cutting them would ruin other cards in the deck, like Predict.

Eventually, I started testing a Grixis Control deck that a number of my friends had been experiencing success with on Magic Online. The deck seemed good, but there were a few things that annoyed me about it, such as the presence of basic lands that kept messing me up and the lack of Deathrite Shaman, which may need to eventually get banned in Legacy.

I cut the basic lands and added Deathrite Shaman and ended up with the above list. I'm 10-0 in matches so far with this version. It feels very powerful. It has the unbeatable start of Deathrite Shaman into Young Pyromancer + Probe + Cabal Therapy that only weird decks like Lands can beat. It also has plenty of interaction on a variety of axis and a robust late game.

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This deck is like Delver in that it has a proactive game plan and a lot of the same threats. However, I think it's better than Grixis Delver because it's far less one-dimensional. The Delver deck relies a lot on cards like Wasteland and Daze to keep the opponent off-tempo and if that doesn't pan out, then it's suck with a bunch of suboptimal cards that aren't going to be enough to get the job done.

I didn't like that aspect of the deck, and I like how all of the cards in this deck, with the exception of the aforementioned Gurmag “Stonybrook” Angler, do more than just attack or block. Baleful Strix draws a card, trades up with big creatures, and is good Cabal Therapy fodder. Young Pyromancer builds an army and plays well with Cabal Therapy. Snapcaster Mage and Deathrite Shaman do the disgusting things that are printed on their cards. You know what those are.

Kolaghan's Command is also a really good Legacy card right now. Chalice of the Void is everywhere these days and when your creatures are Deathrite Shaman, Snapcaster Mage, Young Pyromancer, and a 5/5 for B, being able to rebuy is pretty decent, as the kids say.

All I know is that i want to play a Jace, the Mind Sculptor deck for GP Vegas, and out of all the Jace decks I have tried, this one is the best.

Standard Grixis

I hear Shaheen is brewing up a new control deck once Nicol Bolas comes out in Hour of Devastation. I haven't seen it, but I've heard it looks something like this:

- 26 lands, 24 of which come into play tapped
- 8 Removal spells, all with BB in the mana cost
- 8 Counterspells, all with UU in the mana cost
- 3 Board sweepers, all with RR in the mana cost
- 2 Nicol Bolas
- 2 Other Planeswalkers
- 3 Torrential Gearhulk
- 2 Pull from Tomorrow
- 6 Draw/Filtering spells

It isn't pretty, but Grixis never is. It's not about how it looks. It's about getting the job done. And right now, Snapcaster Mage and Gurmag Angler are getting things done. Fatal Push might have created a fateful push to propel Grixis into being the best deck in multiple formats and I'm ready to capitalize on that and become what I was destined to be, a long time ago: A Disciple of Bolas.

There is always a greater power, but Grixis right now isn't the greater power. No. It's the greatest power.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. But if you give a man a Zombie Fish…”




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