Shoulda Played Grixis

Find out why Mark should have played Grixis Devotion this past weekend and is recommending giving it a try this weekend at SCG Standard Open: Dallas.


Did he just say . . . ?

I think my initial goal is to have Patrick Chapin see the headline, click the link, read it, and then comment because I used the G word.

It’s really simpler than that, but we can talk about that in a minute.

A few nights ago my friend Jake showed me a Grixis Devotion deck that looked ridiculous. I can’t say I was impressed when he started rattling off the ingredients in it, and I was surely just going to battle with the Esper Control deck that Harry Corvese had written about in an article and on his Facebook. Harry is a friend that I trust, so I figured what the hell and decided to sleeve it up.

Spoiler Alert: I played Esper Control this past weekend, but let me tell you why it was a mistake . . . for me at least.

I asked Jake to battle me with his Grixis list, figuring I’d completely stomp him, he’d move on and pick up a different deck, and then we’d continue testing as normal.

No fuss. No muss.

Whelp, that’s not really what happened.

The first game was a thrashing.

The second game wasn’t even close.

Whatever. Let’s go to sideboarding.

Hey! I won a match!

Then I lost another one.

Then another one.

It was like a Social Distortion song—it was the story of my life.

Background, I guess.

The last year hasn’t been very good for me. With only a few SCG Open Top 16s and a couple GP day 2s, this has been the worst season of my Magic life. I don’t know if it’s the format, the decks, or me just lacking in self-confidence, but something is very wrong with my results.

I’m not a very results-oriented person; I mostly try to focus on playing my best and having fun, but lately I haven’t been doing either. My play is sloppy, and I can’t seem to hit a breakthrough.

However, in the words of Jimmy Dean, I’m not trying to "tug those heartstrings." I’m just trying to get my $#&^ together. My favorite troll has a point. I’m not winning much of anything except hopefully helping out some players along the way. That means the world to me, but for once the criticisms make sense. He’s right. I need to do something. It’s like Blake portrayed by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross said:

ABC. Always be closing.

I’m not closing.

That means it’s time to either ^&#$ or walk.

We switched decks because I wanted to see how Grixis Devotion felt, and surprisingly it felt amazing. At first look it was a Mono-Black Devotion deck with decidedly worse mana, but the cards it splashed for did absurd things for upping the deck’s power level. Psychic Strike and Rakdos’s Return were ridiculous. In mirror matches Psychic Strike makes things very awkward for your opponent because if they Thoughtseize and see it, it’s almost like they have to take it, leaving your other cards. If they don’t take it, something important is going to get countered.

Rakdos’s Return is a huge reason that B/R Devotion is doing so well and rightfully so. Return makes playing against the mirror, Esper Control, and Jund Monsters a breeze if it resolves, and with your supplemental hand disruption package, it usually does.

What else does going Grixis do? It gives you more scry lands, which not only smooths out the "bad mana," but also gives you more chances to put dead cards or extra lands on the bottom of your library, which makes for a surprising amount of consistency.

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver out of the sideboard was a very interesting addition, and it turned a lot of matches around. Ever play it on turn 3 against Mono-Blue Devotion and hit a Master of Waves? Feels good, man.

Allow me to share this list with you, which aside from the board is the creation of my buddy Jake.

I played the deck online and felt like I was in total control for the first time in months. It piloted well, had a multitude of strengths, and seemed to agree with me regardless of the matchup. No matter what I played against, I felt like I was doing the best things. The deck was off the radar, so when I’d hold up mana with a Nightveil Specter in play and they went to kill it, Psychic Strike would blow them out. I’d follow it up with a Rakdos’s Return off of a land that came off the top of their library, and their hand would be empty. I received my fair share of "nice deck lol" and "what a pile," but I was winning so I was feeling pretty good.

I took the deck to my local Thursday night tournament. A quick Top 8 later, I took a crazy loss that involved me Rakdos’s Returning the opponent’s hand away twice in a row in games 2 and 3, only to watch them topdeck Aetherling or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion afterward. No matter how powerful my spells were, I still couldn’t stop them from drawing good cards.

That’s Magic, right?

My views on the deck started to twist and I began to return to my shell of "I’ll just play Esper." I knew the deck. I was practiced with it. Whatever. Just do what comes natural.

Not playing this Grixis deck was the microcosm of my lack of confidence in my Magic-playing abilities. This comes down to that problem I was talking about earlier where I feel like if I lose I am letting you all down because when I get a Facebook message or a tweet where someone asks for help, why in the hell would you listen to a guy who hasn’t closed a tournament in a year? I suppose everyone goes through this at one time or another, and this is my time to feel self-doubt.

"Doubt is useful for a while. We all must pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we . . . But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as means of transportation." –Yann Martel

Battling with the small change that Harry recommended, which was cutting a sideboard Dispel for a Negate, I figured this was my best chance to do well. That wasn’t the case.

I played in the tournament this past weekend about as poorly as I ever have. It was embarrassing. The veil is down, kids. I don’t mind letting you know that I dropped the ball.

Sitting at X-1 and feeling pretty good, I sat down against an opponent playing G/R Monsters. I dealt with all of his threats and had just Detention Sphered his latest Domri Rade. I incorrectly tapped my lands, though, so his followup Stormbreath Dragon did not meet the Dissolve sitting in my hand. I died shortly after, and game 2 I was unable to shake how badly I was playing, so at X-2 with a shot at Top 16 at least still in the cards, I dropped. I walked back to my room and took a nap. My friends tried to make me feel better with stories of their own punts and screw-ups because yes, folks, they happen. I smiled and laughed. Inside I felt like hot garbage. Contrary to popular belief, these kinds of things have negative consequences.

Confidence? Shaken.

Drive? Diminishing.

Fears? All-time high.

Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.

I turned away from a deck that while being a somewhat known quantity due to the recent success of the B/U and B/R counterparts was amalgamated and showing some real promise. Sometimes you have to work outside of your comfort zone.

So why should you play Grixis going forward? Let’s talk about that instead of my moderate unraveling.

To be completely honest, when this deck runs on all cylinders, it is very difficult to stop. Mono-Black Devotion has the problem of not being able to answer everything, but where this deck goes over the top of that issue is by playing splashed spells that make sure those powerful spells never happen.

Let’s break some of these things down:

4 Temple of Deceit & 4 Temple of Malice

These are the most important lands in your deck. Like we talked about earlier, these allow you to scry more than the typical black devotion deck, maximizing the strength of your potential draw steps. It also lets you cast those splashed spells with more ease.

2 Mutavault

This land might be the greediest part of the deck since hands that feature both copies are virtually unkeepable. Mutavault might be the most powerful format-defining card out there, and having it to pressure planeswalkers or just eek through the last points of damage is too good to pass up.

4 Nightveil Specter

A lot of people have been taking this card out for Lifebane Zombie, but in this deck the Specter is absurd. You can make three different types of mana, so when it connects in this format you’re almost certainly going to be casting whatever it hits.

1 Erebos, God of the Dead

Aside from turning off the life gain of your opponent, Erebos is a threat in a few different ways. Drawing cards is powerful, but turning into a 5/7 is a card that must be dealt with or will win you the game.

4 Thoughtseize

Obviously one of the most incredible cards ever printed and one of the defining reasons that black decks have become prominent players today. This card handles everything from top to bottom and without question is an automatic four-of.

3 Underworld Connections

It’s amazing how this card went from sometimes role player all the way up to standard powerhouse, but this enchantment lets you stay ahead of cards and makes sure that the fuel keeps pumping.

2 Psychic Strike

Kasun Wong splashed for this card in Charlotte, and we were privileged to watch him counter spells in hilarious fashion. It’s played in this deck for the same reason—it’s another out to Blood Baron of Vizkopa; Elspeth, Sun’s Champion; Aetherling; and a host of other hard cards you need to beat.

2 Rakdos’s Return

In B/R Midrange, this card is a game breaker. Whether it’s coming out of the sideboard or in the maindeck, a Return that resolves is mostly a game winner (unless you’re me). This huge influx of damage also pairs very well with Gray Merchant of Asphodel, which lets you close out games much faster.

The sideboard is meant to act in a transitional sense. For matches where your removal is bad, you bring in more disruption, and on the other side of the fence when your control cards are not good, you can add removal spells in their place for creature-based decks.

2 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

This card made waves early in the week by being a part of the 4-0 MOC’s black deck splashing for the powerful planeswalker. There are a lot of matchups where Ashiok shines, and in a deck with big creatures and lots of removal to protect it, often you can "go off" with it. This is my favorite addition to the sideboard, and I wouldn’t fault people for cutting Psychic Strike from the main and replacing it with Ashiok because to be frank it vastly over performed.

1 Slaughter Games

Against Spinx’s Revelation decks this weapon is key for keeping their best spell from ever resolving. In a pinch it can also name Aetherling, which severely stunts their ways of beating you.

So there you have it: Grixis Devotion! The deck I should have played this weekend but didn’t because I’m having a crisis of confidence.

This weekend I have a Pro Tour Qualifier coming up, and it’s time to either put up or shut up.

No theme parks this week, kiddies. All business.

Stay tuned. The next few weeks should be interesting.