Untapped: The Faceless Butcher

Matt talks about his experience at Grand Prix Louisville this past weekend and recommends giving his Grixis deck a shot at your next event.

A momentous occasion occurred for my peeps in the Ville this past weekend. We got our very own Grand Prix! Here in my humble home of Louisville, Kentucky, we got to host one of Wizards’ premier events! Between hosting the biggest StarCityGames.com Classic Series event in the series’ history and being home to the reigning NCAA men’s basketball champs, we’re doing just fine. The GP finished just an hour before I wrote this, and our very own Brian Braun-Duin took the cake with his Mono-Black Devotion list.

Here in the most southern city in the North (or the most northern city in the South for some), autumn revolved around this event. The first thing out of any shop attendee’s mouth when conversing with you was, "Are you going to the GP?" We were so excited to have this event here, and from where I’m sitting, we had a great time!

I myself was busy tweaking, testing, and twisting my list into its final Saturday-ready form. The deck I used was a refined version of I list I posted two weeks ago.

The Deck

I moved away from the original mono-black package and stuck with this, putting our favorite gender-neutral planeswalker front and center.


Ten maindeck creatures, with Ashiok providing a couple more throughout the game, serve as my primary win condition. Frostburn Weird was awesome at stopping Mono-Red Aggro in Return to Ravnica Block, and it didn’t lose that talent in the shift to Standard. With Shock I can two-for-one myself to eat an X/6 (Desecration Demon) or an Obzedat, and it does a fine job at standing against Anger of the Gods. An easy-to-cast, multifaceted threat, this Flowstone Shambler has the right numbers in the right places to make it viable.

Desecration Demon is still a house, especially post-Anger. You’re just three attacks and a Shock away from death with this bruiser, and his skyrocketing price tag mirrors the utility he currently enjoys in this format. Stormbreath Dragon comes screaming in for a lot of damage after a quiet board stall. Its protection from white proves to provide critical evasion against Detention Sphere, Azorius Charm, Selesnya Charm, and Warleader’s Helix. Becoming monstrous is often just icing. I still think it’s worse than both Falkenrath Aristocrat and Thundermaw Hellkite by a large margin, but we use what we have.


Four Ashioks. Four. It might seem excessive—and to be perfectly honest was in most games—but I just wanted to live the dream of turn 2 removal into turn 3 Ashiok on a manageable board. This happened frequently thanks to its prevalence. As nearly every deck runs creatures these days, its plus ability will hit fairly often, and it is a slow but steady win condition. Elixir of Immortality, eat your rose out.

Pfft, now you’re just an expensive Whitesun’s Passage.

Ashiok can grab some really essential four-mana creatures and stick around: Desecration Demon; Polukranos, World Eater; Master of Waves with two pals; and even a God. This made four copies attractive; I felt fine bleeding one to a low loyalty and resolving another one to mill and steal more.

Chandra, Pyromaster was a new and relatively late edition. In a tapout deck like this one, I just want to draw as many cards as possible. With so little life gain, though, Erebos, God of the Dead and Underworld Connections were not really options. Chandra provided a nice zero-mana alternative that could also clear the way for massive beats from either Ashiok’s Nightmares or my own squad of airborne assailants. Using her ultimate even has appeal; Anger of the Gods becomes Final Judgment in most cases, Shock takes a third of their life total, and any removal spell cleans off their side of the board. Sounds like victory to me!


As is the case with control decks, most of my maindeck spell base deals with undoing creature spells my opponents cast. Anger of the Gods is a very real sweeper; in many ways, Anger is better than Slagstorm was in its time. Voice of Resurgence, Chandra’s Phoenix, and Xathrid Necromancer are all wiped away without their pesky side effects. Three Shocks reside here for devotion one-drops and Mutavaults, and if none of those are present, they can always swat a -2ed Jace, Architect of Thought away or can just be aimed between the eyes.

Dreadbore over Hero’s Downfall? Really? Yes, really. It’s a whole mana cheaper, and it doesn’t cost as much black. Playing it alongside Anger of the Gods in a three-color deck is a recipe for disaster. I’m a tapout deck, so I’m not worried about keeping counter mana up, and I’ve got to answer your threat on time if you’re bearing down. Double black is much harder to hit with this mana base, especially without Shocking myself. Trust me, in this list in this particular instance, Dreadbore is better.

Doom Blade and Far // Away went back in forth in quantity and position (main or side), and they eventually fought to a stalemate. Far // Away, as a pal pointed out, is effectively an instant Supreme Verdict in the midgame, and I’ve used both modes independently all the time. Doom Blade seemed to have plenty of targets out in the field to me. Even against Mono-Black Devotion I can still hit a Mutavault. Rakdos’s Return is control removal, and hitting it on time with board threats feels like eating a whole pizza by yourself—you feel so greedy and full, but you don’t care (not that I’d know or anything).

My two maindeck singletons remain from the original list. Thoughtseize is pinpoint control removal, plucking countermagic, a nasty unbeatable threat, or that key piece of removal from your opponent’s hand. You don’t need me to tell you how good this card is. If you’re not getting smashed down, this card is paper gold.


The land base was very unsteady for a long time, and I still don’t think it’s right. All of my Swamps and Islands turned into Mountains over the course of the deckbuilding process, and I still think it’s absolutely right. I do have very heavy color requirements, though, so I had to add two Guildgates to smooth out those demands. I opted naturally for no Mutavaults or utility lands. Although I would have loved an Encroaching Wastes or a 2/2, I just couldn’t afford it.

The sideboard spread itself out a lot. Lifebane Zombie, one of the original staples in the maindeck, has proven itself to be exceptionally horrid as of late. Its best targets, G/W Aggro and G/X Nykthos, both play around this card without even meaning to. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but G/W Aggro only stocks about twenty creature spells, pulling twelve or so creatures from instants and Call of the Conclave. G/X Nykthos empties its hand as fast as possible, and trample eats through the Zombie’s wimpy toughness.

What lives here now is a bit of removal in the form of more Doom Blades and an anti-control package that covers as many outs as possible. Slaughter Games is still the most fun version of Cranial Extraction to date; safely tapping four mana and knowing you will remove their biggest threat is just about enough reason in itself to play the Cult’s colors. Thoughtseize often comes in for the same matchups, ones where my life total is not as great a concern. Ratchet Bomb as always provides a colorless way to deal with permanents for which your color’s removal cannot account. The Trading Post is here alongside them to buy back the Bombs and provide steady life gain against a persistent aggro player.

My four counterspells were very carefully chosen over their competition. Counterflux is an excellent way to stop an unbeatable threat from a deck that can protect its spells. It is the only sure way to stop Aetherling or Sphinx’s Revelation from resolving, and the red is a negligible cost given its levels in the deck, making it a more failsafe way to stop your opponent’s plan. On the other hand, Swan Song was included to stop two things: cards that grant indestructibility and enchantments. When I cast Anger of the Gods, I am so pleased to keep a blue mana up for the Song. Even if you get a Bird, it’s getting swept away with the rest of the team! Its cheap cost lets me play a hefty Rakdos’s Return with counterspell protection or swat away a Thoughtseize with ease.

Second, Grixis is the only shard that cannot readily deal with resolved enchantments. This lets me stop the terrifying Burning Earth or any God my opponent might cast. I can’t deal with those even when they’re creatures, so I need to stop them on the stack. A third copy of Rakdos’s Return comes in any time I find myself boarding out a significant amount of removal. Finally, a Pithing Needle slid in for Thassa, God of the Sea, Aetherling, or any number of otherwise irritating activations. I can even call Swamp to turn off their Underworld Connections.

The GP

Bright and early on Saturday morning, I drove a grand total of four minutes to the GP. I could’ve just walked really. It was the coolest morning we’d had yet, so the warm convention center hall was a welcome refreshment. Even at 8 AM it was jam packed, and after finding and playtesting with some friends, it was time to fire.

Round 1: Randy (R/W Aggro)

With over 1,000 players, this was the largest event I’ve ever attended solely for Magic. The field was intimidating. I was already metagaming a little bit though; the first round was filled with people who also did not have byes, so I wasn’t sure what I’d be up against, but I hoped I could get the upper hand.

Randy, my first opponent, was a kind twenty-something that gladly got in there with Legion Loyalist and Ash Zealots. After a precarious descent to three life, I stabilized with some classy Ashiok Nightmares (Purphoros, God of the Forge and an Ash Zealot), giving my enough red devotion to bring a hefty team across the line. The second game involved some Anger cleanup and a steadier finish with me at about twelve life.


Round 2: Levi (B/R Aggro)

Levi was probably my most surprising opponent of the day. I’d say he was . . . eight? Maybe nine? Either way, this little guy got to work on me, resolving Desecration Demon after Desecration Demon after I kept a loose six. In game 2, he resolved three Demons, and my Far // Away could hold them off for so long.


Losing to a kid is not embarrassing. Remember that they wouldn’t be at a tournament like this if they hadn’t planned and prepared for it like you, and if they have a good matchup against you, they’re just as viable an opponent as any.

Round 3: Juan (B/R/W Midrange)

Juan was from the next county over and was excited to try again at one of many large events he’d attended. Game 1 proved to be a challenge as Rakdos’s Return slimmed my hand to a Chandra, Pyromaster. While it gave me value for a minute, I couldn’t sustain for long, and he overwhelmed me with powerful Orzhov creatures. Game 2 saw a strong start for me out of the gate, turning a Return on him and pounding down with Desecration Demons. In the last round, he got Return first, and I scooped ’em up.


For all you folks who play GPs regularly, you know that only X-2s make it to day 2 and prizes, so I couldn’t lose again. I’m sure you all have been in this position, and it’s pretty nerve-wracking.

Round 4: Ricky (Mono-Black Devotion)

Ricky, who also went by Matt, was an enthusiastic, chatty player, which is the type I generally prefer. Give me a conversation and a close game any day over a stale, silent win. It was clear that Ricky was on Mono-Black Devotion early on, but aside from a Pack Rat I smote, I didn’t see much else as he flooded out. In game 2, I plucked away each Gray Merchant of Asphodel in his deck with Slaughter Games. Without life gain, every threat I resolved was trouble, and before long we had wrapped up the match.


Still alive.

Round 5: Ben (U/W/R Assemble the Legion)

Ben was a slender, quiet, and thoughtful player who reminded me very much of an old friend of mine. In game 1, he resolved Assemble the Legion on time, and I was stuck. Although I tried to make some creatures, he smashed them with Supreme Verdict, made more Soldiers, and slashed away. Even at a considerably high life total, I scooped, knowing full well I had no answer to the Legion maindeck. With a near complete infusion of the sideboard, we went into game 2, and I hit my stride against him, though I can’t remember much except excising his Sphinx’s Revelation (snagging two Sphinx’s Revelations in hand and one from the deck) with Slaughter Games.

In game 3, I continued smashing up his hand with Slaughter Games, first calling Assemble the Legion and then removing his Jace, Memory Adept from the board, and a Thoughtseize removed his Aetherling the turn before he could cast it. I knew he had one Aetherling and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion in his deck along with various burn spells. I just had to counter or remove these threats to stay alive. In a long drawn-out game, I played sixteen of my 26 lands while he recycled Ratchet Bomb and Trading Post each turn, drawing cards and destroying threats interchangeably. Finally, he found his final Elspeth in his single-digit library, and I was finished.


I was disappointed with my result on paper but was pleased that the deck performed as well as it did in a competitive environment. Grixis is my control combination of choice, and I’m glad I could utilize the shard on a big stage.

In retrospect, I just wanted another Dreadbore over Doom Blade. Along with Hero’s Downfall, this spell will nearly always be relevant in any matchup, while Doom Blade is particularly narrow. Chandra and Ashiok were excellent, though I probably could have stuck with just three of the dream stalker. Whip of Erebos was good but not great, and Thoughtseize was painful with so little life gain. Counterflux pulled its weight, and Ratchet Bomb did a great job too. Pithing Needle and Swan Song never surfaced, so I can’t say how they might have impacted the games I played.

With a few tweaks, this deck could handle a broader range of threats. I think the metagame is a little too sturdy for Grixis at the moment, but Ashiok is a great card that provides fun and value for any deck that can cast it. As I did a fortnight ago, I’ll recommend that you give it a shot.

When all was said and done, it was a great event, one I can be happy our city hosted. Congrats again to BBD for his great showing, and I hope this list has given you something to chew on.

May all your Ashiok flips be creatures!

– Matt

CaptainShapiro on Magic Online

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