Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Grixis For #SCGCHAR

You go undefeated on the first day of competition, then don’t win a match on the second. How do you reconcile that? GerryT explains why he’s playing Grixis, but not Grixis, at #SCGCHAR this weekend.

“Urza’s Mine and Karn, Liberated?”

Ali laughed.

Then he played the two cards that he didn’t have two turns ago. I was already on five cards and it wasn’t looking great, but at that point I was basically drawing dead.

And so began my Day 2 at #SCGCIN. After my unblemished 9-0 start, I didn’t win a match on Day 2. It’s time to rethink my stance on Grixis Control.

Here’s what I played:

Overall, I liked my list for what it was. The main issue was that, even on Day 1 when I seemingly couldn’t be defeated, I basically only played against bad matchups. Where were all the Splinter Twins, Junds, and Infects? I did play against two Grixis Twin decks in thirteen rounds, splitting those matches, but I maintain that it’s a great matchup. Andrew Tenjum got his revenge on me from #SCGINVI, although this time it was with his own Pia and Kiran Nalaars. It probably shouldn’t even count.

Instead, decks like Burn, Zoo, Amulet, and Tron were all I played against. While those decks are certainly beatable (as is evident by my 3-0 record against Burn in sanctioned play), they are not decks I’m happy to be paired against. It seems the format has shifted and I failed to notice. If that’s the case, Grixis Control isn’t the deck I should have registered.

While the Players’ Championship seems attainable at this point, the ultimately more important goal for me is attaining success on the Pro Tour. With Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch coming up, getting in Modern practice is more important, regardless of win or lose. Make no mistake, #SCGCIN was quite the learning experience.

The biggest thing I learned was probably that Grixis Control might be a great deck for Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch even if it wasn’t the right choice for #SCGCIN. If the Pro Tour has more of a normalized metagame, then Grixis is likely great. However, if people are shying away from what are generally considered to be the top decks of the format, then Grixis either needs an overhaul or needs to be shelved.

I’ve been thinking about just such an overhaul, and it probably means being Jeskai Control or something completely different, such as the Daily Digest I featured on Monday. The ideas of more anti-aggression cards like Lightning Helix and/or additional win conditions is appealing to me, especially if the metagame remains very similar to what was being played at #SCGCIN.

As far as the deck itself, it was definitely good for what it was. Were the metagame the same as it was at #SCGINVI, I think I would have done well. Since the metagame shifting is a thing and we’ve established that Grixis can’t exist in its current form in this metagame, I’ll talk about Grixis Control as if the metagame wouldn’t have shifted. This might seem silly, but again, I kind of expect the Pro Tour resemble a more normalized metagame with a lot of Splinter Twin, Jund, and Infect.

The Maindeck

I think we got the maindeck mostly correct. As always, I felt like the fourth Kolaghan’s Command should have been in the maindeck. The issue is that nearly the entire maindeck is set in stone. I want four removal spells (one of which is black to kill things like Kor Firewalker, Master of Waves, and now Phyrexian Crusader), three Mana Leaks, five discard, and so on.

With three spot removal spells, I always felt a little light when playing against things like Tarmogoyf. The deck is also naturally weak to big spells, plus it kills very slowly, so Remand didn’t exactly deal with things like Karn Liberated. Mana Leak is the correct answer and two copies did not feel like enough. There are certainly matchups where Mana Leak is not great, but then you have some easy sideboarding decisions. Thoughtseize fills a similar role to Mana Leak.

Additionally, since Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is an important part of the deck, additional discard is more than welcome. Either you can use discard to slow them down or clear away a piece of removal to protect your Jace.

The only real thing I would consider changing about the maindeck is the manabase. Last weekend, my mana was rough on me at times. I had several hands that had only black or red sources of mana, several of which I kept, but it wasn’t pretty. Blackcleave Cliffs was kind of medium for me also. Experimenting with different configurations of the manabase is probably something I’ll do in the future.

Cardboard Advantage

The games I lose with this deck generally involve having things like Kolaghan’s Command and/or Snapcaster Mage with a light graveyard. Either my draw didn’t include enough spells, enough relevant spells for the matchup, or too many graveyard reliant cards. There’s a reason this deck only plays three Snapcaster Mage.

Enter Thought Scour.

On the surface, Thought Scour is simply a tool to enable Tasigur, the Golden Fang, but that isn’t it. Grixis Control is very graveyard-reliant deck, but mostly it performs better the more access to different resources it has. Snapcaster Mage, Kolaghan’s Command, and Jace, Telepath Unbound effectively have multiple modes, but those modes are limited to the amount of cardboard in your graveyard.

Having a bigger graveyard isn’t exactly card advantage, but cardboard advantage is a real thing. It’s important, but again, you can’t afford to play a bunch of air. You also can’t afford to be spending the early turns cycling cards and trying to set up for a long game that may never come.

You need some of that action because abusing Kolaghan’s Command is how you’re going to defeat the grindy mirrors. It’s a delicate balance though.

The Sideboard

The correct version of the sideboard likely features the full four Fulminator Mages. Crumble to Dust is like Fulminator Mage plus Surgical Extraction all in one, but is so much worse against Amulet Bloom that it should just be another Fulminator Mage. However, Surgical Extraction could be worth playing.

Bitterblossom is a powerful card in the grindy mirrors because they often find it difficult to deal with a stream of 1/1 fliers, plus it’s not easy to remove. Even overloading Jund on Abrupt Decay targets is valuable because it means that a Jace might stick at some point. Over the last few tournaments, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the number of matchups I find myself bringing in Bitterblossom against.

For example, against something like G/W Hate Bears, bigger Zoo decks, and other control decks, having a win condition that isn’t vulnerable to Path to Exile is very nice. Path to Exile is a card you don’t normally mind being cast against you because you’re actively happy to have the extra resource, but Path to Exile does make your Kolaghan’s Commands much worse. Bitterblossom is a card that not every deck is set up to beat, especially when your deck is full of removal. There are definitely some games where you kill all their stuff and stabilize, but they draw better than you in the midgame and end up beating you. With some additional threats, that’s far less likely to actually happen.

Against combo decks or decks that go over the top of you such as G/R Tron and Amulet Bloom, having a Turn 2 play like Bitterblossom is especially potent. Since your threat is already online, you don’t have to tap out to establish a clock like you might have to with something like Pia and Kiran Nalaar. After a Turn 2 Bitterblossom, you can sit back on your Mana Leaks and slowly chip away at their life total.

While this is a control deck, it can be nearly impossible to take complete control against something like G/R Tron, so shifting the axis on which the matchup is fought is often a good idea.

Did I Lose A Bet?

Nope, Jorubai Murk Lurker and Peace Strider were conscious decisions and they were both great. Not only am I now 3-0 lifetime against Burn, but Peace Strider is another card against Etched Champion that is only mildly embarrassing to cast. It’s one of those spots where I got to consolidate a sideboard slot, in this case the second Vandalblast, into a card that is useful in multiple matchups.

Going Forward

Having additional threats might be nice, as would being better suited to fight decks that are trying to go over the top of me. Given all that, I’m interested in this Daily Digest:

I’m likely playing something very similar this weekend at #SCGCHAR, and here’s why:

-If Grixis Control had a way to close the game quickly that didn’t also clog up your hand in the earlygame, that’d be great. With the decks in Modern being so fast and unforgiving, being a control deck isn’t easy. In order to successfully stop what your opponents are trying to do consistently, you need a certain amount of interaction in your opening hand. Because of that, you’d prefer if your win conditions didn’t take up space devoted toward interaction. Things like Snapcaster Mage, Creeping Tar Pit, and Lightning Bolt are excellent win conditions that don’t take up slots.

Grixis Control already takes some liberties in that regard by playing stuff like Thought Scour. Against many strategies, you can’t afford to spend the early turns cantripping. You do need to ensure you have enough stuff to work with out of the graveyard, at least if you want to take maximum advantage out of your cards.

-With the metagame being hostile toward Grixis Control, another approach is necessary if you’re trying to use a similar strategy.

There’s another option though, and that one is killing your opponents. Bitterblossom certainly turned me onto that approach, but I couldn’t think of another good way to actually accomplish that. While Goryo’s Vengeance and the uncastable Obzedat, Ghost Council give you some dead draws, this deck has a bunch of filtering. Even if it is an issue that comes up a lot, having the quick, hard to deal with clock might be worth it.

Twop’s decklist looks nice, but I would likely change a couple things. The random Thought Scour can probably go. There’s already Jace, Faithless Looting, and Izzet Charm for that type of effect, and I wouldn’t mind playing an additional Mana Leak. Then again, I could see this deck making good use of the Flashback on Faithless Looting, so holding up mana for countermagic doesn’t seem realistic. In that sense, Thoughtseize might be a better card in this deck than Mana Leak, especially since your Jaces are even more important.

I’m skeptical of the low land count and abundance of fast lands. Creeping Tar Pit would be a great win condition alongside Lightning Bolt, Snapcaster Mage, and Obzedat, Ghost Council since you’ll end up dealing them a bunch of chip damage. A single Mystic Gate is likely pretty good because you’ll likely want the option of hard-casting Obzedat, Ghost Council. I’m also intrigued by the thought of rebuilding the deck as an Esper deck also.

Modeling the sideboard after Grixis Control doesn’t make much sense to me, even though they’re trying to accomplish similar things. Grixis Control wants access to things like Tribute to Hunger and Countersquall post-board because it wants to slightly improve various matchups. However, this Grixis Reanimator deck doesn’t necessarily care about small increases — It’s already going over the top in so many different matchups.

Instead, I would want some haymakers, especially for decks like G/R Tron and Amulet Bloom. A quick Gatherer search for legendary creatures didn’t turn up anything too spicy, but I feel like sideboarding some Emrakul, the Aeons Torn could potentially be very powerful. You’re going to want an effect that destroys multiple lands, and Emrakul appears to be the best legendary creature for the job.

Remember that Goryo’s Vengeance on Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is very powerful!

Again, if the metagame remains as strange as it is now, I’m doubtful that traditional Grixis Control is a good choice. However, I do believe there are different options out there. This weekend, I’m going to try one of them.