Grixis In Modern: Play What You Want!

Gerard switched decks in the week before the Season Two Invitational and he’s here to tell you why – and the changes he’s making for this weekend’s Grand Prix Charlotte!

Two weeks ago, Grand Prix Las Vegas kicked off a celebration of the Modern format. The next three weeks come with three Modern Grand Prixs: Charlotte, Copenhagen and Singapore. So what happened in between? The Season Two Invitational with Modern as its main format. At that tournament, I finished in eleventh place with Grixis Control:

Last week, I talked about the Jund deck that I had played in a Premier IQ. I went 6-3 at that tournament, but I wasn’t very happy about a few things with the decklist. First up, I didn’t like that cards like Dark Confidant and Thoughseize contributed to making your matchup against Burn even worse than it already was. I also didn’t like how Jund made use of Liliana of the Veil and I wasn’t even sure whether or not Liliana was well-positioned in the metagame in the first place. While I now think she is very well-positioned, that wasn’t clear before the Invitational. Lastly, I wasn’t very happy about playing a deck without blue mana. Even though my past Modern decks didn’t play that many hard counters, I still felt more comfortable having some number in the maindeck of my control deck to be able to fight against some of the powerful combo decks out there.

Even though my brief foray with Jund didn’t end poorly, I knew that it wasn’t what I was going to feel most comfortable playing with at a tournament as important as the Season Two Invitational. As such, I was debating on whether to play Esper, Sultai or even Mardu in the Modern portion of the tournament. The Mardu deck was a tokens list that I had been brewing without any real tournament experience, while the Esper and Sultai lists were more similar to the styles of decks that I’ve been competing with this past year. As it turns out, I ended up playing a Grixis brew, but the deck wasn’t that dissimilar from the other control decks. My goal in choosing a deck was to find a control shell that could have a solid game-plan against a variety of different decks. Formats like Modern and Legacy are very wide open, with tons of different viable decks. It’s impossible to find a deck that beats everything for these large formats, so instead I wanted to craft a shell that wouldn’t leave me in any hopeless positions.

There’s an old poker phrase that says all you need to have a chance to win is a chip and a chair, but in this case, it’s more like a Snapcaster Mage and a Lightning Bolt.

I went 7-1 across the eight rounds of Modern during the Season Two Invitational, with my only loss coming from a close match against Abzan. I was very happy with how the deck performed, and I don’t think that the loss illustrates a glaring error in the deck’s construction. Grixis Control takes some of the best elements from the other control decks and puts them together while getting rid of the elements that I didn’t feel were well-positioned. The Jund deck I played only had one copy of Tasigur, the Golden Fang, but that was largely due to the presence of four copies of Dark Confidant. Having Bob in the list both removed the need for additional card advantage as well as incentivized the deck to have a lower curve. Grixis Control isn’t playing any Dark Confidants, as it doesn’t fit the style of the deck; that leaves me with more deckbuilding freedom which I find very important.

The core of the deck is built around Snapcaster Mage, which we are playing the full set of. Snapcaster Mage is definitely the best card in the deck, and possibly the format, since the ability to replay any of your various spells later in the game is such a potent one. The card has been amazing for long enough that I shouldn’t have to explain why it’s good, but it’s especially good in the style of deck that I like to play. The majority of my control lists are sprinkled with a few copies of similar cards with different abilities, and usually a couple of silver bullets. My Grixis list was no different, and this sheer variety of cards allowed me to get the maximum amount of value and flexibility out of my Snapcaster Mages. Snapcaster also combos especially well with the two copies of Thought Scour, a combination popularized in the Delver strategies of the past few years. Snapcaster Mage also allows us to keep our mana open longer for our countless instant-speed spells. With Snapcaster Mage, you don’t want to play four copies of Mana Leak because you desire flexibility; instead a couple of Spell Snares, Remands, and Mana Leaks would normally work out better.

Thought Scour is especially good in a deck like this since it helps the deck go in so many different directions. As a one-mana instant, it allows us to cantrip at the end of our opponent’s turn while still generally keeping our mana untapped to respond to threats played on their turn. Putting two cards into our graveyard is actually a huge bonus in this style of deck, since we are running six maindeck delve spells between Tasigur and Murderous Cut. The random two cards milled from our library also have the potential to be targets for our four copies of Snapcaster Mage. Lastly, in certain spots you should consider using Thought Scour on your opponent’s library if they cast a Serum Visions and scry something on top.

I decided to run seven total counterspells in the maindeck, split between Remand, Mana Leak, Spell Snare and Cryptic Command. Cryptic Command is an insanely powerful and versatile card, but it also has three blue mana in its cost and this is a three-color deck. By running two copies, we’re likely to have seen a copy late in the game, and we always have the option of using Snapcaster Mage to get a second pass with it. It may seem like it takes a lot of blue mana to flash Cryptic Command back, but the sheer power of the options it offers make the mana requirements worth it.

I wanted to have a few two-mana counters, and Mana Leak and Remand are each best in different situations. I think that Mana Leak is better in a deck like this in general, but there are times when Remand is the card you want. Having a copy of Remand in the deck can also prove to be advantageous since our opponent may then play around it for the rest of the match as if we had three or four.

Spell Snare is a Modern staple that has come in and out of favor, but I think it’s back to being a great counterspell at the moment. There are a few decks that don’t play any real targets for it, but a lot of the key cards in the format cost two mana. Even against Amulet Bloom, countering an early Summer Bloom could be the key to not dying on turn two, and Spell Snare costing only one mana allows you to make that play on time even when you’re on the draw. Spell Snare is likely at its best against Jund or Abzan where it can counter Dark Confidant or Tarmogoyf, or against Affinity where it can stop Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating, and Steel Overseer. There are some matchups where you might want to sideboard it out, but the payoff for cheaply countering some of Modern’s best cards is too high not to play any copies in the maindeck.

I’m not normally the type to sleeve up a card like Blood Moon, but I decided to play two copies of it in the maindeck with an additional copy in my sideboard. Based on the finals of the Invitational, I guess I am glad that I did, but truthfully I don’t think Blood Moon is even that good right now. That said, Blood Moon is absolutely devastating against one of the format’s most powerful decks, Amulet Bloom, as it’s basically game over game one upon resolution and leaves them typically drawing to only Seal of Primordium after sideboarding. Looking at the manabase of my Grixis list, a resolved Blood Moon doesn’t hurt me too much due to the eight basic lands and eight fetchlands to set things up. If Amulet Bloom and G/R Tron continue to put up great results like they did last weekend, I may have to continue to start the card even though I don’t want to.

Kolaghan’s Command is a great card that is only very recently getting the credit it deserves. I’ve sung the praises of Command-style cards in the past due to the versatility that they offer over the course of a match. Having four copies of Snapcaster Mage only makes this type of card better since it’s entirely possible that you can use it for two modes early on and then get to flash it back for two different modes later in the game. All four of the abilities are great in this deck, with the Raise Dead mode being particularly good with Snapcaster Mage itself. The maindeck Shatter mode is also something that can be very useful for a wide-open format like Modern, and not just for against Affinity – the ability to destroy Amulet of Vigor in game one is a very big deal.

Outside of one mode on Kolaghan’s Command, the only maindeck discard I ended up running were the three copies of Inquisition of Kozilek. When I talked about Jund two weeks ago, I complained for a bit about how bad the life loss was on Thoughtseize in the current metagame because Burn is a very good deck in Modern right now and deserves to be taken seriously. In the past I’ve done a split of Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize, favoring more copies of Inquisition. This time, I went all the way and only ran Inquisitions. This Grixis deck has tons of removal and counters, so the downside of Inquisition is less relevant than it might normally be. It’s unable to hit a few cards like Hive Mind and Tasigur, but it is still able to function well enough as a one-mana piece of disruption.

Moving forward, there are a few things that I’m considering changing about the decklist. As good as the Blood Moon package was for me at the Season Two Invitational, I’m considering cutting it for Lingering Souls and adding white to the deck. Jund has done this in the past and I think this is what I will be going with for this weekend in Charlotte. In addition to cutting Blood Moon, I would likely have to cut my Keranos in order to fit in three copies of the powerful white sorcery. With the addition of a fourth color and the removal of Blood Moon, a change to the mana is in order to have fewer basics in order to make room for the non-basic lands required to support this new splash.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m really at a crossroads with Blood Moon. The card is great against a few strategies, but it’s also completely dead against others. Burn, for instance, is a major contender right now and Blood Moon is completely dead against it. Amulet Bloom might be a big deck right now, but in a wide-open field like a Grand Prix I don’t think that I could recommend running a maindeck hate card that might be dead for much of the day. Lingering Souls provides a powerful resource for which to sink your mana into it. It also gives you another card that naturally combos well with Thought Scour, as it likes to be milled into your graveyard.

Adding white also gives you a lot of new options in terms of powerful sideboard cards. Modern is a format that is somewhat defined by its powerful effects. Some people have recently complained that powerful sideboard hate cards like Choke and Boil ruin games, or Amulet Bloom is too powerful, but I think that Modern rewards solid deckbuilding decisions and solid play for the most part. Excellent players like Matt Costa did well at the Season Two Invitational with different variations of Grixis Control utilizing cards like Vedalkan Shackles to handle creatures and Monastery Siege to trump Burn. I’m not here to tell you that the version of Grixis Control I played is the best because I don’t know if it is. If you are interested in playing Grixis Control, just do your research first. Look at all the decks you can and then draw your own conclusions on what you like and what you don’t. Try to be level-headed, sure, but also try and be creative to see what can be done to attack the metagame. Grixis Control is that style of deck for the most part, or at least that is how I try to go about it.

Grand Prix Charlotte is this weekend and I think that Grixis Control is a great option, especially for a wide-open field like a Grand Prix, but playing what you know well is most likely the best option. You have to remember that in this type of field, a lot of players are just going to be playing their favorite deck or their pet deck regardless of shifts in the metagame, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If you figure in the fact that you already have considerable experience with a certain style of deck, and you enjoy playing it, then playing what you know will give you a better shot to do well than picking up something new and winging it would. Remember, though, you need to be prepared for a lot of different matchups – so having a deck full of cards that give you as many options as possible is ideal, as is selecting a deck that has one key strategy and just does whatever it does really well. With only a little bit of time left before the Grand Prix, I would recommend that you play whichever Modern deck you have the most experience with. I don’t recommend switching decks at the last hour, especially to a strategy you have little experience with.

Before I go, I know many of you were asking Cedric and me on Twitter about the Esper list I played in Standard. I worked on it with Mark Herberholz, who designed the list, so let me know what you like or dislike about it.

Hopefully I’ll see you all in Charlotte!