The 10 Best Grixis Decks I Ever Played

In this week’s article, Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Patrick Chapin reveals the ten best Grixis decks he ever played. Sound off with your own opinion in the comments!

“Know thy self.”

. . .

Yes, I have actually played Grixis at enough big events to have a Top 10 list.

No, this is not all of them. You should see the lists that didn’t make the cut.

A lot of people look back on their year, reviewing their various tournament successes and failures. After all, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Critical self-evaluation is a crucial element of improving at Magic.

Somewhere along the line people began attributing a penchant for Grixis decks to me. I’m not sure that’s completely fair. To begin with, this is certainly a recent phenomenon. In the old days, I was primarily a Type 1 and Draft specialist, believe it or not. My reputation was based on Mono-Red Aggro and a laundry list of combo decks. For reference, these are the first ten Constructed decks I played in Pro Tours:

Mono-Red Aggro
R/B Aggro
U/W Control
Mono-Green Aggro
Academy Combo
Snap-Cradle Combo
Living Death
High Tide Combo

I was a little busy from 2002 to 2006, but when I grabbed a vine and swung from the trees back into the tournament scene in 2007, I happened to show up with a Grixis deck (Korlash). Sure, I’ll give you that one. But my first PT back I played Mono-Red Dragonstorm. That has to count for something, right?

The thing is that I didn’t actually play a whole lot of Grixis. I played Four- and Five-Color Control. This is a list of the next ten Constructed decks I played in Pro Tours after Mono-Red Dragonstorm:

Four-Color Counterbalance
Five-Color Reveillark
Five-Color Gifts
Five-Color Control
Four-Color Gifts
Five-Color Control
Five-Color Control
Five-Color Gifts
Four-Color Control
Five-Color Gifts

How the hell am I a Grixis player?

Look, I’m not saying it wasn’t loose as hell to play 47 colors during that stretch. I’m just saying that isn’t exactly a lot of Grixis decks. When I finally came to my senses, it was U/W Control, not Grixis that I used to run less than four colors for the first time in years.

Grixis, huh?

That said, I have played Grixis more than my fair share. I was playing Grixis when our current World Champion was literally in diapers:

Grixis has always been there for me. It was the weapon I used to win most of my first Power Nine, starting here:

This list was inspired by Corey Segal’s Disk-Void deck as detailed by Deep Magic author George Baxter.

Winning tournament after tournament, I added Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Timetwister, Black Lotus, and each Mox as I acquired them, eventually arriving here:

Once I was fully powered, I switched primarily to Fastbond combo decks and The Deck variants, but I will never forget who got me there.

This is the twentieth year of my Magic career and an opportune moment to take a look back on the Top 10 Grixis decks of my Magic career. I am nothing if not a man of principle, so today’s list will only feature lists that feature absolutely zero white or green cards. This actually discounts a lot of decks that would generally be labeled Grixis. For instance:


  • This was a good time for Titans.
  • Pristine Talisman was never fully appreciated in its lifetime.

Low Points:

This is the list that Reid Duke and I played in Hawaii early last year. It wasn’t our finest work, but it was passable. Unfortunately, it is not pure enough for today’s list.

Ancient Grudge isn’t even the problem. That card is red. However, Ray of Revelation takes this list squarely out of the running.

Honestly, though, it wouldn’t have cracked the Top 10 anyway . . .

More tragically, the “purity” standard we are adhering to today disqualifies a number of extremely good Type 1 and Vintage decks. I had so many awesome Fast Combo and The Decks to share, but every single one featured Regrowth and/or Balance. Good beats.

I am also only counting Grixis decks that I both played in tournaments and had a hand in the creation of. This rules out decks like Wafo-Tapa’s Grixis deck that I used briefly after Worlds 2009 no matter how much I admire the ingenuity needed to make Grixis work during that particularly barren stretch of Standard:


  • The full package of Sign in Bloods and Divinations? Ok, I guess you are serious.
  • Making a list work with such a paltry selection of control tools is extremely impressive.

Low Points:

  • Countersquall and Flashfreeze main? What could possibly go wrong?
  • When the first Cruel you cast each game just catches you up because of how behind you are on card quality and it takes two in order to actually get an advantage, you might be trying a little too hard.

Honorable Mention: Godo-Braids Grixis

At the last “big” Magic World Championship, I squandered a commanding Standard performance by playing an erratic Godo / Braid of Fire / Gifts Ungiven deck. I played the wrong deck.

Oh, Grixis Gifts didn’t work out for you?

That wasn’t even the problem.

I played the wrong Grixis Gifts deck. This was that deck:


Low Points:

This list is a perfect example of what can happen when you tune a deck too much too fast. I had a solid well-rounded Grixis deck that I had been working on for a month. It was giving me good results, and I was in a good spot. So what happened?

Someone showed up to our testing during the two weeks before the Pro Tour armed with a Braids of Fire Gifts deck. They had just changed the rules on mana burn, and Braids of Fire was the new underground hotness. I got caught up in the excitement of the tech and agreed to experiment with adding it to my Gifts deck. In a monumental lapse of judgment, I got blinded by the small sample size results I was getting against the very people that had been advocating the Braids of Fire “tech.”

It is an easy trap to fall into to tune a control list with a lot of library manipulation until it beats the best deck. Then work with it and tune it until it beats the next best deck. Then repeat a few more times without going back and checking your work each step of the way.

10. Cruel Control Grixis In Modern

Sometimes you play Grixis because you think it’s the best. Other times you play it for the times. There is a reason I play Grixis in GPs at a greater clip than in PTs.

Late last year I decided to bring Grixis to GP Detroit. I knew it was a tier 2 choice at best, but it was late in the season, I wasn’t chasing anything, and the stakes weren’t particularly high. I had played U/W/R Control in the previous Modern GP, which at this point had caught up, so I didn’t mind the idea of mixing it up a little. A little testing revealed the deck was at least passable, so I decided to take it for a spin.


Low Points:

  • Not getting to use Tectonic Edge is basically a deal breaker.
  • Did not realize until after the tournament that I should have been using Serum Visions. Suffering both screw and flood problems, this list absolutely needs something to smooth out its draws.

9. Ral Zarek Grixis

GP Miami was another one of those GPs where I decided to have a little fun with it and played a speculative Grixis list. This one was devised by a late-night brew session with one of my favorite deckbuilders, Brian Kowal.


Low Points:

Kowal’s theory was that Grixis wanted to move away from Flashback cards like Think Twice, Desperate Ravings, and Forbidden Alchemy, instead focusing on mana efficiency and using its extra mana with cards like Mizzium Mortars, Far // Away, and Olivia Voldaren.

This was the good part of the deck and contributed to a strong performance to start day 1. Sadly, the Gilded Lotus + Blasted of Genius element of the deck started rearing its ugly head a little more as the tournament progressed.

Gilded Lotus + Ral Zarek is pretty cool, but it’s not like we have Sphinx’s Revelation or anything to really take advantage of making eleven mana. Blast of Genius was cute, but if you targeted a creature and they sacrificed it in response, you got nothing.

Ok, so Gilded Lotus and Blast of Genius weren’t so good, but what about Ral Zarek? He was actually pretty decent. Untapping Izzet Staticaster was great, and just getting a fifth mana is a big deal. That said, Jace, Architect of Thought is just too good to share the limelight with Ral Zarek. If I were to do that one again, both Ral Zareks would turn into Jaces.

Shocker, I know.

8. Invasion Block Grixis Control

It wasn’t until my sixth year on the Pro Tour that I finally played Grixis in one. Pro Tour Tokyo 2001 was dominated by Team ABU and their R/G Aggro deck but is perhaps best remembered as the event where Zvi Mowshowitz coined the term “solving the metagame” with his U/W Solution deck. It wasn’t broken, but it was the solution to that weekend.


Eric “Danger” Taylor and I played Grixis Control:


Low Points:

This list was actually pretty sweet, though R/G was a little fast to be playing Undermines and Lobotomys and Yawgmoth’s Agendas. Pro-red creatures were also a little annoying, and the format really did reward people for using them. EDT was the top-finishing pilot, ending up 22nd.

How was Crosis? He was actually pretty good. You don’t have to hit your opponent very many times before they are devastated, and he blocks really well in the format.

7. Full-Block Invasion Grixis

While the Invasion + Planeshift build of Grixis was at best the third- or fourth-best deck of the format, the Apocalypse update was genuinely great. This was never a Pro Tour format, but both EDT and I won PTQs with it:


Low Points:

  • Dodecapod was not “unpopular.”
  • Playing fewer than four Gainsays in that format was embarrassing.

While our Tokyo deck moved all the way away from creatures that die to Flametongue Kavu, this version swung back the other way. Even if Blazing Specter only hits once, at least we aren’t down cards. On the other hand, the format was populated by so many curve decks that just relied on “good stuff” that playing an attrition game was the exact way to best attack the format.

Did we roll the dice on Dodecapod? Definitely, but they didn’t have them game one. We could board Ravenous Rats, and sometimes even Blazing Specter if we were scared. However, even if we keep the discard and they have Dodecapod and they draw it, we are often just taxed a Terminate. It’s a bad situation, but not the end of the world.

Besides, more often we boarded out a lot of discard, and our opponents drew Hill Giants.

6. My Dearest Olivia Grixis

While my Worlds 2011 Modern Grixis deck left something to be desired, I couldn’t be happier with my Standard list. Alex West and I had tuned the list after discovering just how good Olivia Voldaren was.

Keep in mind that before this tournament Olivia was a $5 card that was nearly universally decreed to be a Commander/casual card. Let’s just say that not a lot of set reviews advocated this particularly bad girl. There are few joys in Magic quite like discovering a sleeper hit, and after this tournament Olivia tripled in value and became a mainstream adoption in every deck that could support her.


  • My dearest Olivia.
  • More than half the decks in the format had no way to punish Precursor Golem.

Low Points:

  • Nephalia Drownyard was completely unbeatable.
  • If you don’t draw one of the eight basics or the Shimmering Grotto, your fourth land is coming into play tapped, and when Shimmering Grotto is the high point of your mana base, you might want to take a moment to ask yourself where it all went wrong in your life.

In all seriousness, this list was great for that format, punishing the surge of Delver and Tempered Steel we correctly anticipated. A lot of people didn’t have much in the way of removal, and while that bodes well for Precursor Golem, it is downright unfair when you have an Olivia.

I still remember when I played Olivia turn four in a feature match against Brad Nelson and his Tempered Steel deck. He read the card, untapped, read the card again, passed the turn, and then read the card again. We went almost two full turns before he had to read it again . . .

5. GP Orlando Finalist Grixis

While the above list was great for that weekend, it quickly fell out of favor as the format evolved in a very different direction. The World Championship had been won by Valakut, a bad matchup. Delver decks turned into Invisible Stalker + Geist of Saint Traft decks. Tempered Steel and G/W Tokens fell off the map.

Fast forward a month later and I found myself en route to GP Orlando. I spent the plane ride down brewing. I was confident I could build a Grixis deck that would crush Delver, but sketching out lists revealed that there was little hope of beating W/U Humans and Delver so I would just have to take that as a loss. Additionally, I could try to beat Valakut or Control but not both.

Why go this route at all then? I suspected the field would be 40% Delver (and in fact it was even more Delver than that). Having a crushing Delver matchup is worth a lot. I ended up abandoning the Control matchup and running with the following:


Low Points:

This was right at the cutting edge of the Ponder in control movement. Preordain had started under the radar, eventually climbing to the highest of tiers before rotating out and being replaced by Ponder. Ponder was widely respected in powered formats but had never dominated Standard.

Honestly, we all messed up and should have played more Ponders.

Yes, Ponder is completely awesome when you can reset the top of your library (with Forbidden Alchemy for instance or fetch lands in older formats), but it is also just good for its own merits. It makes Snapcaster Mage so much better, but more importantly it helps us hit our land drops early while also providing a surge of gas if drawn later.

One last note on this style of control deck: it always looks funny to new deckbuilders to see so many ones and twos rather than more fours, but when you have this much library manipulation there is increased utility in having a larger variety. Additionally, when there are many versions of reactive cards and/or victory conditions that are all of similar power level, using a variety gives you more options (for those times where you draw two).

4. Extended Grixis Cruel Control

While Cruel Control has never really been a big player in Modern, it was excellent in Extended many times. Why has that success not crossed over to Modern? Looking at all the good Cruel Control decks from over the years, there is a common thread among them regardless of where on the Grixis to Five-Color Control spectrum they fall.

While Modern has never had such nice things, Extended formats had the pleasure of Mind Sculption on numerous occasions. While I was on Five-Color Control more times than Grixis, brew sessions with Brian Kowal generally increased the likelihood of sticking to three colors. This is the list we came up with for GP Houston in April of 2010:


Low Points:

Chrome Mox and Dimir Signet deserve more than a little credit for this deck’s success, as they combined to speed us up well beyond what most Cruel Control decks have ever been capable of. We’re talking some turn 1 Chrome Mox + Dimir Signet, turn 2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor type of time. Cruel Ultimatum on turn 5 is not too shabby either. The risks associated with artifact mana are at least partially offset by being able to pitch them Thirst for Knowledge.

Jace + Cryptic Command + Cruel Ultimatum?

Life doesn’t get much better than this.

3. Korlash Grixis

My first big tournament back was Regionals 2007. The week before the tournament I published an article detailing the strategy I was going to use. While revealing this information did cost me my first round, where I lost to someone that added four Threatens to their deck after reading my article, I went on to win out and walk away the Regional Champion.


Low Points:

Why the reputation for Grixis? I guess it was my first event back, and at the time not a lot of writers were publishing decklists before events.

Now if only this deck had access to Cruel Ultimatum . . .

2. Grixis Teachings In Modified Extended

While I bombed out of the Limited portion of Pro Tour Amsterdam, Michael Jacob carried the torch and ran with it, finishing third with our Grixis Teachings deck.

Although to call it a Teachings deck only tells a small part of the story.

It also got to use Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

It also got to use Cruel Ultimatum.

It also got to use Cryptic Command.

It also got to use Preordain.

It also got to use Punishing Fire.

I have been asked on a few occasions what my favorite deck I ever played is. That is such a hard question because what is fun in the moment is not necessarily what would be fun to revisit. This deck however I would revisit in a heartbeat and have trouble imagining the deck I’d want to revisit more. In fact, if anything it is this deck that is responsible for more of the mediocre Grixis-chasing than any other.


  • Jace, Cruel, Cryptic, Preordain, and Lightning Bolt are five of my ten favorite Magic cards of all time.
  • Shock lands not in the format was so much more interesting in my humble opinion than the shock land + fetch land world of Modern.

Low Points:

  • Not drafting enough due to enjoying playing this deck too much to ever stop.
  • It is all downhill from here in life.

. . .

. . .

. . .

1. Grixis Tezzeret

How could there be a list ahead of our Amsterdam deck?

Casting Jace and Preordain is sweet, but so is inventing a new archetype.

And so are Pro Tour Top 8s.


  • Tezzeret against a field of all Jace, the Mind Sculptors.
  • Being the only deck in the building with a good Caw-Blade matchup.

Low Points:

  • Outclassed in the history books on account of being revealed at the same tournament as the greatest deck of all-time (Caw-Blade).
  • No longevity once people adopted artifact kill. At least we had one weekend to dance and celebrate life.

My Top 10 Grixis Decks

10. Cruel Control Grixis In Modern
9. Ral Zarek Grixis
8. Invasion Block Grixis
7. Full-Invasion Block Grixis
6. My Dearest Olivia Grixis
5. GP Orlando Finalist Grixis
4. Extended Grixis Cruel Control
3. Grixis Korlash
2. Grixis Teachings
1. Grixis Tezzeret

Sometimes it’s nice to just take a moment to sit back and reflect on all of the good times. If you’re ever not sure what to do, just keep doing what you love and everything will work out.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and have a great week!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

Next Level Deckbuilding