Feature Article – Grixis Control for Standard

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Friday, April 17th – In his first article for StarCityGames.com, Level 5 Italian Pro William Cavaglieri brings us a fresh deck for Standard battle: Grixis Control. William, the creator of the innovative Red/Black Torrent of Souls deck for the last Nationals season, is having great success with his new creation. He shares the list and sideboard plans, and adds a few helpful tips for those of us who are looking to reach the next level…

My name is William Cavaglieri, and I’m a Level 5 mage from Italy. Today I’d like to talk about a Standard deck I recently developed. I’m doing very well with it on Magic Online, and a friend of mine qualified for German Nationals with it. This might not sound like much, but considering he had no testing and a random sideboard, I was impressed nevertheless.

After Grand Prix: Hanover, I started to play some Standard. Once I’d got a little testing under my belt, these were my thoughts:

Volcanic Fallout is so good against Faeries; it makes expensive strategies like Reveillark good again.
– It would be nice to make good use of extra mana from Path to Exile.
– Eleven comes-into-play-tapped lands in Five-Color Control is depressing, but some of their cards are so broken…

After some failed experiments and some tuning, I came up with the following deck:


– Even though it only plays six comes-into-play tapped lands, the average card quality is still very high. I especially like the sideboard.
– Surprise value helps. It’s often mistaken for Swan Control or Five-Color Control, and it’s hard to sideboard against it, as it can interact in so many ways. Even if they know your list, it still gives your opponent a lot of chances to mess up.
– It’s easy to adapt to beat different decks, as it has many powerful options; therefore, it should stay competitive through the whole Pro Tour: Austin qualifier season. It should also get some cards from Alara Reborn (such as Terminate…).


– It’s very hard to play, and you often have to adapt your plan to the cards you drew. For example, you’re usually the control deck, but sometimes you just steal games with a combination of Siege-Gang and Cryptic Command. Sideboarding can vary a lot based on a lot of factors. Sometimes your cards are a blowout, but sometimes they are poor, which makes things harder (I’m thinking especially of Sower of Temptation here). Strangely enough, having Volcanic Fallout in a deck full of two-toughness guys isn’t as bad as it seems.
– It would love a reset button like Damnation, as sometimes it’s hard to catch up when you fall behind on tempo, and Volcanic Fallout is not always the best answer. You can fix this by overloading on cheap answers, like Pyroclasm and Deathmark. Caldera Hellion was nice most of the time, but if I’m honest, I don’t know yet if it’s worth it.
– It’s a little soft against planeswalkers (not the deck, the type). The situation is not as bad as it is for Five-Color Control, but you still wouldn’t mind a couple of Pithing Needles somewhere; they’re also pretty good against Boat Brew, and not as dead main deck as they might seem.

Now I’ll talk about my sideboarding plans. They are rough, as they always should be: first, your deck should be a work in progress all the time. Second, as Manuel Bucher pointed out, sideboard plans should adapt to the situation. For example, you never know if Boat Brew is going to keep the cheap guys for early pressure, or overload on expensive threats; matches against Faeries can vary a lot, as their plan can range from Thoughtseize to Jace to Infest. I take this idea to the extreme… so, if I see 2 Guttural Response, I don’t mind taking out my Cryptic Command, as long as I know I still have inevitability and the right answers (I understand this sounds questionable). And, of course, going first or second matters a lot. Third, I don’t bluff and act like I know all the answers, like some writers out there… hehehe!

As a general rule, I consider taking out Broken Ambitions while going second, except against Five-Color Control. And it probably sounds like blasphemy, but I do the same with Cruel Ultimatum, as long as I feel I still have inevitability in the matchup.

Here’s my quick and dirty sideboard plans:

Versus Faeries
+3 Thoughtseize, +4 Scepter of Fugue
-2 Broken Ambition, -1 Caldera Hellion, -2 Cruel Ultimatum, -2 Shriekmaw

I’m not too sold on this plan, as you’re a bit low on answers for Mistbind Clique. Still, Faeries is not a hard matchup, so I wouldn’t worry too much.

Versus Five-Color Control
+4 Scepter of Fugue, +3 Thoughtseize, +3 Flashfreeze
-4 Volcanic Fallout, -2 Shriekmaw, -1 Caldera Hellion, -2 Agony Warp, -1 Sower of Temptation

You want to take the aggressive role game 1, but you’re the control deck after sideboard. You tend to win all the games post sideboard, so consider conceding early game 1 to save some time. Against Planeswalker Control, just keep a couple of Fallout and leave the Sower out.

Versus B/W Tokens
+2 Pyroclasm, +3 Deathmark
-2 Shriekmaw, -3 Makeshift Mannequin

Sower is nothing special here, but it’s an answer to Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender.

Versus Dark Bant
+3 Deathmark, +3 Flashfreeze, +2 Pyroclasm
-1 Caldera Hellion -2 Broken Ambition -4 Volcanic Fallout -1 Makeshift Mannequin

You don’t really need all these cards to beat it, but you have them nonetheless, making a good matchup very easy indeed.

Versus G/B Elves
+3 Deathmark, +3 Flashfreeze, +2 Pyroclasm
-3 Sower of Temptation, -2 Volcanic Fallout, -2 Broken Ambition, -1 Makeshift Mannequin

I usually take out Sower because they have too many answers. Be careful to not get blown out by a Cloudthresher.

Versus R/W Kithkin
+2 Pyroclasm, +3 Deathmark
-2 Broken Ambition, -1 Volcanic Fallout, -1 Mulldrifter, -1 Makeshift Mannequin

I also tried Flashfreeze, as it is also nice to protect a Sower, but I don’t think it’s worth it even if they have lot of burn (which rarely happens, by the way). Don’t forget, when they try to kill your Sower, to shrink a stolen Figure of Destiny back to 2/2.

Versus Boat Brew
+2 Pyroclasm, +2 Flashfreeze
-2 Broken Ambition, -2 Agony Warp

You tend to be favored as the games go long, and then you draw Cruel Ultimatum and that’s it. That’s also why I take out Broken Ambitions, even though it’s an answer to Reveillark — it often ends up being dead in your hand.

Versus Blightning Aggro
+2 Pyroclasm, +3 Flashfreeze
-1 Broken Ambition, -4 Volcanic Fallout

Your sideboard plan depends a lot on how many two-toughness guys and how much burn they play, so adapt accordingly. Mannequin is another possible cut.

I didn’t talk about matchup percentage on purpose. I believe there are too many factors to be accurate, such as skill, surprise value, and the exact decklists. Another reason is that Standard is full of broken cards, broken synergies, and broken starts. Therefore it’s easily possible, for example, to win five in a row, and then lose as many against the same deck. Let’s say you have time to play ten games against a certain matchup. Should you really count that game where you had three Cryptic Command? Or when you start five games in a row with turn 2 Bitterblossom? Or when your opponent has twelve removal spells in his deck, and your Sower of Temptation still survives? You should actually play hundreds of games, but nobody has this kind of time, not even the pros.

Right now, I feel favored against everything except Five-Color Control (game 1) and R/B Blightning. Of course, this can’t be (completely) true. Still, I consider this deck a serious contender, and I’m quite sure I’ll play it at Grand Prix: Barcelona. If anything, I guess it proves you can still play something different even in a well-developed format.

Before saying goodbye, I would like to share a few thoughts and tips for the people out there who love Magic but feel they don’t have enough time for it, or that they miss something to get to the next level.

I don’t have that much talent. I’ve a full time job. I live in a foreign country. I’ve a busy life. For eight years I struggled at the PTQ level. I hated Constructed Magic. Now I’ve a reputation for deck building, and I was able to collect 29 Pro Tour points while skipping a PT and 2 European GPs… and all this without a team.

How did that happen? Here is what I’ve learned:

– Believe in yourself. Even if you didn’t test, it doesn’t mean you can’t win that PTQ. It just means you have lower odds. And we all see all kind of random winners, so why not you?
– Question everything, try everything. Too many times I skipped on an idea because a friend/pro said something bad about it, or I couldn’t be bothered trying, or because I was losing against the deck to beat. For Pro Tour: Hollywood I was able to build a good R/B Token decklist, but I was too locked into some ideas, such as that Grave Pact was a cornerstone of the deck, and couldn’t be touched. I abandoned it without really trying.
– Don’t give up too early. As I said earlier, ten games is nothing, so don’t switch to another deck just because you lost a few in a row. A friend of mine did that and didn’t play my U/G Merfolk at GP: Copenhagen because “it loses to Faeries.” He regretted that when he found out it was actually the easiest matchup, and I made Top 8 after beating five Faeries decks in the Swiss rounds.
– Use shortcuts to save time. Magic Online is by far the best tool you can have, of course, but it’s not the only way. If you have a spare minute, think of what cards you would like in a matchup, what you would take out, and write it down. Try post-sideboard games with the sideboarded cards already in your hand. Keep changing your decklist, even if it’s winning, just to try as many cards as possible. Try all the decks a little, just to have a feeling on how they play, but then choose your deck for a tournament early, and concentrate on it. Memorize popular decklists, so that you know what to expect from them. Read articles. I actually don’t play that much, yet I feel more prepared than people around me most of the time.
– Don’t get too attached to your pet deck or card. In my case, I check my online rating to see if I should give up on a deck or not. If you have to dismiss it, don’t feel like you wasted your time; you surely learned a lot about the format, and it’s actually fun to experiment. If anything, you might end up with precious memories like this one:

Turn 1 — Stomping Ground, Utopia Sprawl;
Turn 2 — Forest, Kitchen Finks;
Turn 3 — Garruk, untap two land, Kitchen Finks;
Turn 4 — Float mana, untap two land, Obliterate.

Let’s just say my opponent wasn’t pleased.

Thanks for reading!