It’s really tough these days for a principled Grixis player to stay true to their values. The raw power of Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and the siren’s call of good mana make midrange Magic more of a Sultai thing these days. But all of the better mana and better cards in the world couldn’t stop me from making Top 4 of the Lotus Box League Pioneer event last weekend with Lurrus Grixis Control.
It’s no secret that companions have completely taken over Constructed Magic. You can view this is a good thing or a bad thing, but either way you can’t just ignore them. Personally I love the companion mechanic and I’ve been building new decks basically every day lately.
When Ikoria first released, I was excited that Lurrus Boros Burn was seeing success in Pioneer, but after picking up the deck it seemed to me that the format was adapting very quickly around companions and many players were gearing to beat the low-to-the-ground Lurrus decks. I tried and failed to iterate the red Lurrus strategies for a couple of days before acknowledging that I would be better-served looking elsewhere.
I already had Grixis Kroxa in my arsenal. It’s a great deck for tearing apart opposing hands and destroying creatures, but I knew that I would need to add a companion to make the archetype viable in a world where most players have one card that you can’t make them discard. My first attempt at post-Ikoria Grixis was to just freeroll a Jegantha, the Wellspring. I posted a decidedly medium 5-3 on Magic Online (MTGO) with this list:
I liked what this deck was doing. Bonecrusher Giant does a great job of going over the top of Lurrus decks and Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger is honestly incredible. It might not look like much next to Uro, but there’s plenty of room to be worse than Uro while still being totally busted. This deck did a generally good job of running opponents out of resources with both targeting and incidental discard and Kroxa closes quickly when the time comes. The big issue was that Jegantha didn’t really…do anything. Sure it’s an extra card to start the game with, but it provides no synergies and little in the way of generic power.
With a strong desire to find a more powerful companion and the understanding that Kroxa was doing a lot of the heavy lifting for Grixis, Lurrus of the Dream-Den seemed like my best bet. It would mean cutting Bonecrusher Giant and finding another cheap threat to play, but that didn’t strike me as impossible. I quickly established this as the short list of potential threats:
I played some matches with each and the spell base just doesn’t support any of the non-Jace cards. Jace’s major weakness is fragility, but frankly all of these cards have that in common and Jace plays the best with Thoughtseize and Kolaghan’s Command by a wide margin.
With Jace as the only other playable threat for the Lurrus build, that meant I had to play some more spells. Strategic Planning has been effective for me at fueling Treasure Cruise in the past, so it made sense to me that it would play well with Kroxa. From there I added a Soul-Guide Lantern to the maindeck as another value card to loot with Lurrus and I am incredibly happy I did that in place of another threat. Most decks are doing something with their graveyards right now and just using Lurrus to recur Lantern and draw cards is powerful in its own right.
I suppose I also did some reworking of the manabase, though after this weekend I’m fairly confident that I made things worse. Drawing too many Spirebluff Canals can be a real problem as you really want to be able to produce RRBB off the most possible sets of four lands to escape Kroxa. And if you don’t have mana for Kroxa, that means you also don’t have mana for Lurrus.
The second Island is much worse on these lines, and should just be cut. I wanted to be able to find it off Fabled Passage in sideboard games when you go heavy on counterspells but it’s just too bad in every other scenario to justify this. Foreboding Ruins is sadly one of the better options in a world where wedges get Triomes and shards get…nothing… (but I think it’s important to complain about it).
My sideboard is a list of extremely narrow cards with just enough flexibility for each of them to come in for several matchups. I think it is much better explained by going over the individual cards than writing out a sideboard guide, because you’ll be sideboarding out either Thoughtseize or Fatal Push against everyone. It’s a bit simplistic, but Pioneer decks tend to be either creature decks or spell decks. Either Fatal Push has good targets and you sideboard out Thoughtseize for more removal, or it doesn’t and you sideboard in counterspells.
Mystical Dispute shouldn’t surprise anybody with blue being both the common control and combo color, and Jace’s Defeat is largely more of the same. These counters all play against Gyruda, Doom of Depths, which may be a more fringe archetype but also one that invalidates a lot of maindeck cards. Jace’s Defeat also ends up getting the nod over Negate for tagging both Narset, Parter of Veils and Yorion, Sky Nomad. Disdainful Stroke is the narrowest of the bunch, but it’s great against Dimir Inverter, Yorion, and enough cards out of Lotus Breach. I consider the four Disputes to be non-negotiable, but the other four slots here are subject to change.
Dead Weight is a staple in Lurrus 75s due to recurability, while Liliana’s Triumph ends up being a concession to a small number of specific decks. The Edict effect is great at trumping Karametra’s Blessing from Lurrus Orzhov Auras and also hits the Sylvan Caryatids out of Gyruda Combo (in theory some number of people could be playing Selesnya Hexproof as well). The price you pay for these advantages is that Liliana’s Triumph ends up coming in over Thoughtseize against every creature deck and it’s quite a bit worse than Legion’s End or Moment of Craving against the red decks. With how much I was struggling with the red decks before I switched to Grixis, I considered this to be a reasonable cost. It’s worth noting here that I lost to eventual winner Piper Powell on Lurrus Boros Burn in the Top 4 of the Lotus Box event and she ultimately won the tournament, though I did beat a different player on the deck earlier in the tournament.
Lastly, we come across the hardest working card in the sideboard. I won three Game 1s in the event because I drew my maindeck Lantern and I intend to add another copy to the sideboard going forward. This deck is great at emptying opponents’ hands, but Lurrus, Uro, Underworld Breach, and plenty of other commonly played cards operate from the graveyard right now. Many of the decks that play out of the graveyard are also bad at answering Lurrus, so they just get buried by the play pattern of slowly exiling their graveyard one card at a time with the enters-the-battlefield ability and sacrificing the Lantern every turn to draw a card. I wouldn’t rule out experimenting with additional copies in the maindeck, though you definitely don’t want to draw more than one in matchups where it isn’t great by itself.
As I’ve said, the two immediate steps I want to take with the deck are getting another Soul-Guide Lantern in the mix and making the mana more suitable for maximizing Kroxa. This is what I would play if I had an event tomorrow:
The mana is a bit cleaner here, though I’m not interested in messing with the maindeck otherwise at this time. My best advice for anybody interested in picking this deck up is to Kroxa early and often. You just need to stop the opponent from winning long enough to beat them into the ground with your 6/6.
My favorite thing about Pioneer right now is it feels like the format is moving quickly and nothing is giving off any sort of “best deck” vibes. I wouldn’t say Lurrus Grixis Control is going to break this pattern, but it’s very competitive and fun.
When they give me Crumbling Necropolis in Pioneer, though, it’s all over.