Don’t Play A Hate Deck At A Grand Prix

Six-time SCG Legacy Open Top 8 competitor Drew Levin tells you why playing a hate deck in Legacy is a losing proposition. Find out what you should consider playing instead at GP Atlanta or the SCG Legacy Open in Seattle this weekend!

I know what a lot of you are thinking right now.

It’s a few days before Grand Prix Atlanta, and you really don’t want to play Griselbrand.

Maybe you’re afraid of the hate. Maybe you find drawing seven cards a bit tedious. Regardless, you still understand the power of the Skull Bargain legendary Demon. You understand how much hate it will take to beat the Griselbrand decks.

Don’t do it.

There are a lot of reasons why. If you don’t care about why and just want to see what I think you should play in Atlanta, ctrl+f for "decklists."

Let me tell you a story from the SCG Invitational in Indianapolis as one way of addressing the issue.

It was one of the last four rounds of the SCG Invitational. I was playing GerryT Reanimator, and I was paired against Esper Delver/Stoneforge with a zillion discard spells, counters, and Snapcaster Mage / Surgical Extraction. I was on the play game 3 and had Underground Sea into Thoughtseize on turn 1 to see:

My hand was:

I took his Surgical Extraction.

He had Sea into Ponder and kept his three.

I drew Careful Study.

I couldn’t afford to get Wastelanded here, since I didn’t have a good cantrip to find a new second land. He kept his Ponder and would want to interact with me on his second turn. My Underground Sea couldn’t stay in play.

I considered Entombing, Dazing it, cracking Verdant Catacombs for a Swamp, and paying for it, but I’d still lose to his Pierce on my Animate Dead + Wasteland on my replayed Underground Sea. I was also telegraphing a mana light hand with that line, so he’d have to be a lunatic not to Waste my Sea when I replay it.

I decided to pass the turn and Entomb in his upkeep. He Pierced, and I Dazed. Success! I got Griselbrand and let him go. He had a land and passed back.

I untapped and slammed Animate Dead, but he hit Daze in his two-turn window. He Wasted me on his turn, but I peeled a land on mine and he didn’t have another counter for my second Animate Dead. I peeled seven, found a Force of Will for his Plow, and the game more-or-less ended from there.

So what’s the point of telling this story? Well, think about close your ideal deck is to that Esper deck. Are you planning on maxing out on Ponders, Pierces, Dazes, Plows, Wastelands, and Surgicals? Because even if you do, it still just might not be enough.

Now for the other half of that story.

After a spirited night of celebration at the Ale Emporium for the Top 8s of Brian Braun-Duin and Gerry Thompson, I decided to let the Internet determine what I would play in the SCG Legacy Open the next day. Unfortunately for everyone involved, I couldn’t find several irreplaceable cards for the deck, so I was forced to audible ten minutes before the start of the event.

All-around good man Todd Anderson encouraged me to play G/W Maverick, a deck that I’ve written about quite a bit but never shuffled up for a sanctioned event. I acquiesced, he loaned me nearly the entire deck from my previous article, and I prepared to do battle with Mother of Runes.

Early on, I faced the same player from the above story. He was playing the same deck.

Charitably speaking, I destroyed him, and it wasn’t close.

He was mono-stack hate; I was mono-beat-’em-ups. You don’t need Adrian Sullivan to tell you who’s going to win that one. His Spell Pierces and Dazes did not do a lot of stellar work against 25-creature deck with eight one-mana accelerators.

Goblins won that tournament. Two Maverick decks made Top 8, and I finished 10th on breakers at 6-1-1. The clear narrative of that tournament was, "Griselbrand lost to hate decks and hate decks lost to real decks."

Let’s fast-forward a week and look at Detroit.

There were more Elvish Visionary than Brainstorm in the entire Top 8.

I’m going to repeat that fact a couple of times because it’s mind-blowing. I have no research to back this up, but I have a vague feeling that Brainstorm has very likely been either #1 or #2 (behind Force of Will, back in the Merfolk days) in almost every single Legacy Open Top 8 since the beginning of time.

There were more Elvish Visionary than Brainstorm in the entire Top 8.

There were more Elvish Visionary than Brainstorm in the entire Top 8.

There were more Elvish Visionary than Brainstorm in the entire Top 8.

There were more Elvish Visionary than Brainstorm in the entire Top 8.

There were more Elvish Visionary than Brainstorm in the entire Top 8.

Okay, got it. How many Brainstorms were there?


Four Brainstorms in the entire Top 8.

The archetypes, for those of you too lazy to click:

Elves x2
Maverick x2
RUG Delver

I’m not saying, "Don’t care about Griselbrand," but I am saying that Legacy is a diverse format. How many times are you going to go up against Sneak and Show or Reanimator in a sixteen-round tournament? Three? Four? If you’ve ever been to a Legacy Grand Prix, try to think of the archetype you played against most in the tournament.

How many times did you encounter it? Two, maybe three times, right?

So why would you play a deck that can never beat Elves or G/W creatures or Robots or Dredge just to gain a 10% edge against a deck that will account for 15% of your tournament?

Don’t play this, for instance:

This is a classically inbred deck. It has all the structural hate you could ever want against Griselbrand decks. Now then, how does it beat Maverick? Affinity? Dredge?


Grand Prix are diverse fields. Legacy is a diverse format. This is not a Magic Online Daily Event where you’re going to play against Delver, Delver, Delver, and Esper. You’ll have to beat a wide range of opponents. Your opponents are not all going to be good, and their decks are not all going to be good. Play a reasonable deck that can beat a wide range of opponents and you should be fine.


If you want to be the bad guy, play this:

It’s very surprising to me that Reanimator didn’t show up at the top of the final standings in the SCG Legacy Opens in Indianapolis or Detroit. For all this talk of Griselbranding people, the last two weeks have shown us a very different narrative. What are we to make of this? A few possible explanations:

  • People are terrible at deck selection, and there’s a monster out there that they’re laying down in favor of gems like Affinity and Maverick.
  • The people picking up Reanimator are not familiar enough with the deck’s lines to pilot it competently. This doesn’t mean they’re bad; it just means they don’t know what to play around.

An example of this second point is very easy. Let’s say you’re in a sideboarded game against a deck playing Surgical Extraction. You have three lands, one of which is a City of Traitors. You have Show and Tell and Griselbrand along with Entomb and Reanimate.

Don’t Entomb for Griselbrand.

Before you get all high-and-mighty with your, "I would NEVER do that!" people you respect as players and writers have done that. You have to consciously think about Surgical Extraction to deviate from your traditional line of Entombing for your best creature. In this case, I would get Iona, Shield of Emeria and, if it sticks, name blue to protect my Show and Tell.

To get back to some possible explanations for Reanimator’s poor showing:

  • Card availability. Show and Tell is sold out on this here site at fifty bucks a pop. Two hundred for a playset of sideboard cards isn’t what people want to invest in, especially given that there’s not much upside to owning the card (more on that in a sec) and it’s a very limiting card in terms of deckbuilding anyway. If you have Show and Tells, you’re about as locked into a deck as owning Gaea’s Cradles.

An aside on owning Show and Tells:

Show and Tell will never be a $70 card or a $100 card. The reason why is very simple: if it ever gets to that level of expense, it will be because Show and Tell decks are incredibly dominant forces in Legacy and that Legacy is a tournament-worthy format that a lot of people enjoy playing.

Which, you know, means that it’ll get banned very quickly for that same set of factors.

Which means that buying into Show and Tells at fifty dollars per is a sure loser in the long run.

Which means people probably aren’t going to do it if they have any other choices.

Fortunately for them, Legacy is nothing but other choices.

So it’s possible that some people aren’t Reanimatoring because Show and Tell isn’t worth owning, sure. What else?

  • People are afraid of the hate.

If you’re afraid of the hate, you don’t approach Magic correctly. You just don’t. Do you think all those Faeries players had a single nervous thought about Volcanic Fallout and Great Sable Stag?

No, they understood that they were doing something incredibly powerful and that sometimes their opponents would randomly draw a random card off of the top of their deck and it would be good against them.

A much larger number of times, though, they would cast Bitterblossom and murder their opponents with it.

Do you think that Patrick Sullivan has ever been afraid of hate cards for red decks? Get real. He’s faced down turn 2 Phyrexian Crusader into turn 3 Umezawa’s Jitte + equip without complaint.

He also won that game, by the way.

Just because someone plays Tormod’s Crypt against you doesn’t mean that you can’t win. It means you’re going to have to work for your win. Reanimator is still the most objectively powerful thing you can be doing in this format, hate or no.

If your reason to not play it is that you’re afraid of the hate, start asking to borrow Show and Tells.

If your reason to not play it is that you believe you wouldn’t play it optimally, that’s a valid reason, but you have to own up to that before you can start thinking about getting better at Magic. As a smart man once said, "Ego is a very effective way to dodge opportunities to learn." Don’t tell yourself you’re not playing the best deck because it’s not the best deck. Be honest with yourself, understand that your deck selection is handicapped by your format familiarity or skill, and move forward from there.

If you want to attack, play this:

…with the following changes:


-1 Thrun, the Last Troll
-1 Garruk Relentless
+1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
+1 Qasali Pridemage OR Scryb Ranger


-1 Thrun, the Last Troll
+1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant

Thrun was bad for me everywhere except against RUG Delver, also known as "the best matchup." It was bad against Terminus, bad when I drew it against degenerate decks, and bad against creature decks. I mean, really, they have Mother of Runes or a bigger creature anyway, so what’s the point? We aren’t midranging it up anymore.

Garruk was just a worse Elspeth. I actually ended up losing to Elspeth when I had a dominating board position in game 1 because I had Garruk in play and neglected to Tutor for a Scryb Ranger to play around Elspeth. Of course, had my Garruk been an Elspeth, my dominant ground position would have killed him in about two turns. As it was, his weaker ground position killed me in one. Never again, Garruk.

Scryb Ranger was completely nuts for me. Blocking Insectile Aberrations forever was a huge game, untapping creatures was key, protecting lands from Wasteland was very real, and flying (in conjunction with exalted and/or Umezawa’s Jitte) was a big deal. I would happily play a second.

Qasali Pridemage was also fine, but if people want to start playing Stoneforge Mystic again, they can start remembering what it’s like to lose to Qasali Pridemage again. The only way that Maverick loses to U/W/(x) Stoneblade is if Stoneblade gets an active Jitte. I suppose they could cast Perish for maximum value, but that’s really about it.

Qasali Pridemage solves the Stoneforge Mystic problem rather handily. If people are still playing Sneak Attack, you’ll want to be able to naturally draw a Pridemage as well.

The sideboard was good for me. I liked the redundancy on graveyard hate between Crop Rotation, Bojuka Bog, and Purify the Grave. I cut the third Scavenging Ooze from the sideboard because I feel like it’s too slow. Crop Rotation for Karakas or Bojuka Bog is far more meaningful than a turn 2 Scavenging Ooze, since there’s far less that can go wrong with "hold two lands up, cast Crop Rotation in response to Reanimate" than "tap out for Scavenging Ooze, go."

Dauntless Escort as a way to beat Perish is adorable and functional, which is really the best kind of sideboard card.

Gideon and Linvala still murder mirrors, Maze of Ith is still good against decks that attack, and Cavern of Souls (on Human, obviously) is great against decks that want to Daze your Thalia.

Harmonic Sliver is there as a fourth Qasali Pridemage so that we’re not iced by Cursed Totem. It’s narrow, but I think it’s worth it. If you expect a lot of Humility, feel free to cut it for a Krosan Grip.

This would normally be where I tell you what the right decklist for RUG Delver is, but I haven’t been playing it as much as I would like. There’s a ton of RUG Delver lists from the past few weeks on the Decklists page, so looking at those would help you more than I can. A few quick pieces of advice, though:

  • The reason I don’t much like RUG Delver anymore is that Nimble Mongoose is too anemic against the degenerate decks. If I played RUG Delver, I would have at least three Thought Scours maindeck. You need to be Nacatling up sooner rather than later.
  • Get creative with your sideboard cards. I lost to RUG Delver in the SCG Invitational when he Show and Telled in Waterfront Bouncer against my Griselbrand. Gilded Drake is also a fine card to play in the RUG sideboard.
  • Pack Ancient Grudge in some quantity. Like it or not, people will Batterskull you. You’re a heavy favorite once you Grudge their Skull, but that Grudge has to exist (and arrive on time) before you get to beat the Tundra player.
  • Four Spell Pierce, zero Stifle. No sane Griselbrand controller ever activates their Demon against RUG. Get real.

Good luck choosing your weapon, and I look forward to seeing you in Atlanta!

Drew Levin

@drewlevin on Twitter