Perfecting Grixis Control

This past year was great for Michael Majors, and he’s got his eye on 2016 being even better! He’s very strongly in favor of Grixis Control for the upcoming Pro Tour, and today, he explains his maindeck and sideboarding choices!

#PTOGW is on the horizon, and leading up to it are a variety of opportunities for me to play Modern on the SCG Tour®. I’m almost assuredly going to be attending at least one of #SCGCIN or #SCGCHAR, and that means it’s time to stop messing around. Modern Pro Tours are much less about getting fancy and more about putting in the reps and fine-tuning the minute details of a strategy. Until there is a possibility of a huge format shake-up due to a banned and restricted announcement, I’ll be working on Grixis Control.

While the deck has certainly come a long way since the general consensus of Jace being unplayable, this list isn’t too different from some minor alterations post Corey Burkhart’s top 8 at #GPPITT. If both he and Gerry are convinced that four copies of Kolaghan’s Command is the right place to be, then I have no reason to dispute that.

At heart, Grixis Control really is a Kolaghan’s Command deck. The ability to set up long-winded value chains involving multiple castings of the same Jace or Snapcaster Mage while slowly eradicating your opponent’s hand and battlefield is the name of the game.

By this point, Pia and Kiran Nalaar has gone from an experiment carried out at #GPOKC to a staple of the archetype. Generating three bodies goes a long way towards stabilizing the battlefield against aggressive strategies, and going so wide makes it difficult for opposing control and midrange strategies to answer Mom and Pop’s overwhelming presence without bleeding several cards. Multiple fliers help to shore up problems to Lingering Souls and various Nexi lands, while the fact that the Thopters are artifacts make cards like Etched Champion incredibly manageable. All of this is topped off by the fact that the second and third Pia and Kiran are only harder to answer once the Raise Dead Command engine is fully online.

Let me revisit that word: “experiment.” If you’ve been reading articles or watching videos from myself or Gerry over the last several months, you’ve probably seen a bunch of strange cards pop up in our Grixis Control iterations. While the waters have been tested on the various ways that Grixis can kill creatures and interact with opponents, the reality is that all the nonsense has basically been cut out.

We’ve more or less determined that Terminate and Mana Leak are the way to go as far as interacting across the majority of the spectrum. Remand is typically the format’s counterspell of choice, but Splinter Twin in particular is interested in buying time and getting further into their deck. Grixis Control is almost always going to be forced to eventually deal with that Primeval Titan, Through the Breach, or Karn Liberated, and Mana Leak is the right card for the job of stopping all of the high-powered chaos that Modern is capable of throwing at it.

Terminate is just the pinnacle of efficient removal. While it doesn’t hit absolutely everything, it’s certainly the best at covering the most bases. The fact that I registered less than three copies at specific points is really more of a joke at this point than anything else. That being said, Murderous Cut is still a great tool for double-spelling, and it does kill creatures like Master of Waves.

Why did we decide to play a Dismember in #GPOKC? We’re pretty dumb.

I hesitate to use the word perfect, but at this point I feel that this Grixis Control maindeck is certainly worthy of registration at a Pro Tour. My only real issue is my desire to find a spot in the starting 60 for a Thoughtseize. As of now the only two cards I could see to cut are a Mana Leak or a Thought Scour.

Moving towards Thoughtseize accomplishes two main goals. The first and more obvious application is that Thoughtseize is simply a great disruptive spell that fills a role similarly to Mana Leak in that it can interact with more of the heavy hitters out of combo decks. The second is that Thoughtseize is a powerful tool in conjunction with Surgical Extraction.

Surgical Extraction is my largest new inclusion for Grixis Control’s sideboard. While I may have stated that I am incredibly comfortable with my maindeck, the sideboard is a completely different story and will be put through the gauntlet over the following month leading up to #PTOGW.

Surgical Extraction is capable of fulfilling a large number of roles, perhaps to the point where it is not even clear to me how many matchups I’m interested in bringing it in. I’m far past my record being broken in terms of harping on how light on closing power Grixis Control is. At this point, I’ve come to accept this as simply a part of the archetype, as every deck, particularly in Modern, is going to be flawed. For the most part this is acceptable, as in the majority of matchups you can simply “value-lock” your opponent out of the game before picking them apart a few points at a time.

Combo decks are another story altogether, and Surgical Extraction enables you to play a different game. Against G/R Tron, a Fulminator Mage plus Surgical means they will never be able to assemble their mana engine, where their redundancy is usually able to shrug off losing multiple lands over the course of a game. A Thoughtseize or Terminate plus a Surgical removes Amulet Bloom’s oppressively powerful Primeval Titan + Summoner’s Pact loop, shredding their threat density and making their deck much easier to play against.

Perhaps exiling Kolaghan’s Command in mirror matches will be the new battleground in which Grixis mirrors are fought. Come time of the Pro Tour I may even be targeting my Amulet Bloom opponents with Thought Scour in sideboard games.

My point is that Surgical Extraction is exciting in its implications for how Grixis Control can handle these unfair strategies. Past iterations were often forced to take the stance of “hold on long enough to close,” which is not exactly where you want to be in a deck with four creatures that have no power.

Leaning heavily on Surgical could also change some smaller choices present in the decklist. For instance, I am typically in favor of Negate over Countersquall for mana-restrictive reasons. Not only is Squall simply harder to cast, but it can lead to limitations on being able to play multiple spells in a turn. That being said, when your strategy requires leaning on a small amount of disruption to turn the corner quickly, those two extra points of damage can be vital to winning a game. Surgical Extraction can change that mindset drastically.

Here’s how my sideboard strategy is going to start heading into the New Year:

VS U/R Twin


Lightning Bolt Lightning Bolt Lightning Bolt Inquisition of Kozilek Inquisition of Kozilek


Dispel Dispel Surgical Extraction Thoughtseize Countersquall

Playing against Twin is going to come down to being adaptable. The majority of your opponents, especially those who are splashing black as well, are likely to go lighter on the combo, perhaps leaning on Keranos, God of Storms and their own Pia and Kirans. Surgical Extraction can be a powerful tool for ensuring you have Snapcaster Mage dominance, but being down a raw card is not something I would want to embrace without having more information from your opponent. I actually like the discard a fair amount in this matchup, but you’re still only interested in drawing approximately a single copy, and Thoughtseize has more applications for hitting Twin, Cryptic Command, and the aforementioned God of Storms.

Against an opponent splashing black and relying on powerful four- and five-drops instead of the combo kill, I would consider bringing in some number of Fulminator Mages.

VS Affinity


Mana Leak Mana Leak Inquisition of Kozilek Tasigur, the Golden Fang Tasigur, the Golden Fang Thought Scour


Fulminator Mage Fulminator Mage Vandalblast Vandalblast Izzet Staticaster Engineered Explosives

Tasigur is mostly a big ground idiot that doesn’t really fight any of the threatening elements of Affinity effectively. While there are certainly battlefields where he will shine, if you are under that little pressure, you are likely to be a huge favorite on card quality alone. Having so many high impact cards after sideboard and less interest in filling your graveyard without Tasigur allows Thought Scour to be shaved.

The big wild card more or less is being whether Mana Leak is going to be effective. On the play it is capable of catching Affinity’s powerful two-mana spells and Etched Champion, while it is typically too slow on the draw. I would lean towards shaving a Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or another Inquisition on the play.

Grixis Control as I’ve presented today is probably about as good as it has ever been against Affinity. Managing their trumps like Cranial Plating and Etched Champion are of the highest importance, as is playing cautiously to not get all-in’ed by Arcbound Ravager. Fulminator Mage is a nod towards the fact that the majority of their hard to deal with threats are lands.

VS Jund


Inquisition of Kozilek Inquisition of Kozilek Inquisition of Kozilek Inquisition of Kozilek Mana Leak


Fulminator Mage Fulminator Mage Fulminator Mage Tribute to Hunger Engineered Explosives

Grixis Control is a rock deck at heart, making this feel more like a mirror match than anything else. Traditionally, these kinds of contests come down to topdeck wars and grinding each other, making discard significantly worse as it doesn’t play well off the top. Fulminator Mage is a huge difference between Grixis Control now and the Molten Rains that I played way back at #SCGCHAR. Fulminator Mage is much better against B/G decks due to its ability to pressure Liliana of the Veil and the fact that Raging Ravine is such a dangerous threat later in the game when both players are exhausted.

The movement towards a fourth Kolaghan’s Command is especially useful here, as Jund does not have nearly as many or as powerful of Kolaghan’s Commands. They are your trump.

Abzan is incredibly similar except that Izzet Staticaster is a defensible sideboard option due to how difficult Lingering Souls is to answer.

VS G/R Tron


Lightning Bolt Lightning Bolt Lightning Bolt Lightning Bolt

Pia and Kiran Nalaar Pia and Kiran Nalaar Terminate Murderous Cut


Fulminator Mage Fulminator Mage Fulminator Mage Surgical Extraction

Surgical Extraction Thoughtseize Vandalblast Countersquall

I’m not particularly pleased to keep two Terminates in my deck after sideboard, but the threat of a Wurmcoil Engine slipping through the cracks is enough to justify it I think. As I’ve spent most of today discussing, this matchup is a huge part of the collective reasoning for Surgical Extraction. While in the past, slowing down G/R Tron with Fulminator Mage has been an okay strategy, it is not a long-term solution and must be paired with aggression. The ability to entirely remove their mana engine from the game is a huge boon.

Vandalblast is surprisingly mediocre, to be honest, but what it can do is snipe an Expedition Map or Oblivion Stone when G/R Tron is forced to play efficiently while also being an answer to Spellskite.

VS Amulet Bloom


Lightning Bolt Lightning Bolt Lightning Bolt Lightning Bolt

Pia and Kiran Nalaar Pia and Kiran Nalaar Kolaghan's Command Jace, Vryn's Prodigy


Fulminator Mage Fulminator Mage Fulminator Mage Surgical Extraction

Surgical Extraction Thoughtseize Countersquall Dispel

There are a few things I’m uncertain of here, namely adding a Dispel and shaving a Jace. My assumption would be that should the Surgical Extraction plan go off without a hitch, that fighting over Pact of Negation is the second major obstacle for winning the war against Hive Mind; hence, Dispel. All of this is predicated on surviving to that stage unless we are lucky enough to quickly snipe a Titan with a Thought Scour or Thoughtseize, hence cutting the sorcery-speed and slightly cumbersome Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy.

Working on this matchup leading to the PT is going to be a huge priority for me should Amulet make it through the last round of bans due to how many pros favor playing it.

VS Burn


Jace, Vryn's Prodigy Jace, Vryn's Prodigy Jace, Vryn's Prodigy Jace, Vryn's Prodigy Kolaghan's Command Kolaghan's Command


Dispel Dispel Tribute to Hunger Engineered Explosives Countersquall Radiant Flames

This matchup is just not good and is one of the biggest concessions made. We’ve tried Vampiric Link, Spellskite, and various other configurations. Despite dedicating multiple cards, there’s just not a shift in the win percentage that’s close to justifying including so many of those cards. As a result, you will need a disruptive hand that has a quick Tasigur or Pia and Kiran to establish a clock and get lucky.

That being said, the more your opponent is interested in playing creatures and the less they are throwing Lava Spikes at your face, the more that things become favorable and the more you are interested in reintroducing Jace to your deck.

VS Infect


Mana Leak Mana Leak Mana Leak

Tasigur, the Golden Fang Tasigur, the Golden Fang Thought Scour Jace, Vryn's Prodigy


Fulminator Mage Fulminator Mage Dispel

Dispel Engineered Explosives Izzet Staticaster Radiant Flames

Like with Affinity, one of the most difficult to deal with threats in Infect is their land. Again, Tasigur is more of an afterthought that is capable of closing the first game but is not terribly effective after sideboard. Mana Leak is just not efficient enough, and we need to be able to deploy all of our interactive spells easily. With Dispel and Kolaghan’s Command available, we need not put ourselves at risk of being choked on mana.

One of the keys to playing against Infect is always taking the opportunity to kill an infect creature on your main phase when at all possible. Whenever you can afford to take a hit from your opponent’s creature, do so and then initiate a fight on their end step to actually kill their creature. That way, the actual benefit of their pump spells goes to waste, or in the case of Vines of Vastwood, you don’t take an additional four infect on the chin.

As long as it is impossible to tell what the ban announcement will be, Grixis Control will be my Modern weapon of choice for the foreseeable future.

What do you think? What would you change?