Grishoalbrand Primer Part 2 – Tips, Matchup and Sideboard Guide

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Hello again!

I’m back to write more about my favourite deck in Modern Grishoalbrand. In part one (found here: http://manadeprived.com/grishoalbrand-primer-part-1-guide-turn-2-wins-ignoring-opponents) I outlined the basics of the deck as well as its matchups vs. broader archetypes.  In this article, I will discuss Grishoalbrand’s place in this new world inhabited by BBEs and Jaces, highlight some playing tips that may or may not be intuitive at first sight and outline the strategies and sideboard plans against the top tier strategies.

Grishoalbrand in the New Metagame

A lot of people have asked me how I think the new meta will affect Grishoalbrand.  While the metagame is still settling and people are clearly trying to brew up the best Jace decks and optimize the homes for BBEs, I believe Grishoalbrand is in a prime spot to strike.  I believe the level 1 decks for the next few months will be the BBE/Jace-style midrange/control decks.  In my experience so far online, these include Jund, BBE Ponza, BBE big zoo (it’s surprising to me that this is picking up in popularity – I’m not quite sure who this is trying beat), UWx and URx decks (with and without Jace).  Level 2 will be the ol’ faithful decks of the format serving as the fun police for those greedy decks daring to experiment, such as Burn, Affinity, and Gx Tron.

I think Grishoalbrand is in a unique position to punish both levels.  Grishoalbrand has traditionally had a decent time against BGx decks (clock is slow, and we’ll eventually get there) as well as UWx and UR control decks (clock is very slow, and any turn they tap out could be their last).  Whether the addition of BBE (and the corresponding deck composition change that comes with that, such as less discard and more Lightning Bolt and Kolaghan’s Command, both irrelevant cards vs. us) swings the Jund matchup towards them remains to be seen. Grishoalbrand is also very favored against Gx Tron and has a good matchup vs. Burn.

Moreover, I think the unbans will help in an indirect way by crowding out the previous format fun polices such as Grixis Shadows (deck is likely going to need to evolve into 4c Traverse Shadows and add Manamorphose to up the proactivity level), Storm (I think Storm is actually in a good place as well, but empirically less people are playing Storm) and Lantern (Jace decks and BBE decks theoretically are good vs. Lantern, but I’m not sure if Lantern will be permanently pushed out.  Less people are playing the deck for sure for now though).

That being said, I will be tinkering with the 75 in the next few months. I’m eager to test out Grave Titans in the sideboard (as a non-GY dependent win condition that can be ramped up to or Breached).  If I were playing in a tournament tomorrow, I’d probably add 1-2 Grave Titans, remove some Chalice of the Voids (less Chalice-dependent matchups now), streamline the maindeck by moving the Lightning Axe and/or Collective Brutality to increase the number of Desperate Rituals in the maindeck, and perhaps increasing the Blood Moon count to 4.

Tips & Tricks with Grishoalbrand

There’s been some good literature on Grishoalbrand and the basics to playing the deck over the years (I heavily relied on Bob Huang’s work when I was first getting started).  So rather than to parrot some of that, I’d like to cover some of the more intricate concepts that new players picking up the deck may miss when starting out.

  1. If you are playing against a Terminate/Path deck and you have a Griselbrand in playing, lean towards attacking first rather than drawing first.  Drawing first may be met with a Path to Exile or a Terminate, which effectively “strands” your first draw 7.
  2. As previously stated, moving to the Clean Up Step to bin Griselbrand or Borborygmos Enraged is a real option.  The following sequence is something I do way more often than people think: On the draw turn 1 land->turn 2 land+Night’s Whisper, move to discard.
  3. Always note what you scry with your Temple of Malice and when you’ve shuffled away your scries with a fetchland!  This can literally be the difference between winning and losing!  For example, you may scry a Manamorphose to the bottom on turn 2 because you are digging for that pesky Goryo’s Vengeance.  Once you are starting to combo on turn 5, you realize that you have no open lands and need to convert your Simian Spirit Guides into black mana to Goryo’s Vengeance that winning Borborygmos Enraged.  In this case, you’ve already bottomed your win condition and need to use a fetchland to shuffle before drawing with Griselbrand.  There’s always going to be a constraint when comboing (life, mana, Manamorphose, Borborygmos Enraged).  Always be cognizant of your constraint and think ahead about how to resolve that constraint.  This could be as simple as not playing a land until the very end, which I’ve seen many people do right after reanimating Griselbrand.
  4. Fun with Numbers Part #1 – Deck Size: 7 is a number that I’m always cognizant of.  If the deck size is divisible by 7, then you can theoretically draw the entire deck.  If the deck size is divisible by 7 plus one, you can see the entire deck by using Manamorphose.  This is another reminder to always be cognizant of the constraint during the combo turn.  You are a huge favourite if you can get a Griselbrand into play, so always think about the ways you can lose.
  5. Fun with Numbers Part #2 – Life Total: 7 is, again, a number that I’m always cognizant, this time with life totals.  There’s a world of difference between having a life total of 18 and 17.  If you are at 17 and draw 14 cards, you will be at 3 life.  If you Nourishing Shoal pitching Worldspine Wurm, 3+11=14, so you won’t be actually able to draw 14 cards, but if you started at 18 you would be able to.  This is as simple as not using a fetchland in the first two turns to cast that Night’s Whisper.  Same logic with 11 vs. 10.  By the same logic, if you are playing against Grishoalbrand and can knock your opponent down to 10 rather than 11 (say, with Affinity and you have the choice to sacrifice that useless Springleaf Drum to get that extra damage in, for example), do so!
  6. You definitely are going to be a huge favourite when you have Griselbrand in play, but one of the biggest skills you’ll need to learn is to know when to stop.  In general, I’ll be thinking about the ways that I can lose from a particular spot and what the risk factors are (going too low and into Lightning Bolt range if you whiff on Nourishing Shoal, for example).  Generally speaking, if you can visualize the very best turn that your opponent can have, and you can sculpt a hand that beats that worst-case scenario, you are OK to stop there. 

    Consider the following situation that I faced during a Modern Challenge run:

First, I cannot stress enough how important it is to always be aware of your resources and the constraints, and you can see that I do so online by writing it down in chat like I did in that screenshot.  Given that you have a draw 14 and already have a Worldspine Wurm in hand, should you keep going in this spot?

To answer this, I would evaluate this problem by first looking at all of the different constraints.  There are already two Nourishing Shoals in the graveyard, so there’s only going to be two remaining in the 41 card deck.  If you look at a hypergeometric calculator, you are actually only a 57% favourite to find at least 1 Nourishing Shoal in the next 14 cards.  Next, note that I’ve used all of my lands and I only have 4 Simian Spirit Guides and 1 Desperate Ritual left, so getting to a Through the Breach will require very specific mana cards.

From this spot, what’s the worst that our opponent can do against us if we stand pat?  It would either be a Boros Charm+Lightning Bolt+attack turn (which would do 4+3+2+3=12 damage total) or Lightning Bolt+Deflecting Palm.  I think we can beat them even in the worst case scenarios because we can clean up the board, gain some life, and take any Path to Exiles or Deflecting Palms away with the Collective Brutality.  After you’ve removed both their threats, you are a huge favourite to draw into the fifth land or fast mana to Breach for the win.  Therefore, even though it looks tempting to keep going, I believe slowing down here is the correct choice.

This is one of the more clear-cut decision points that you’ll face when playing the deck, but as long as you can think ahead and be aware of the ways you can lose, you will be gaining significant percentage points (not to mention fizzling with Griselbrand in play is very embarrassing/demoralizing…)

  1. This may feel unintuitive, but sometimes it’s better to save a Breach or a Vengeance to block their creature.  Reasons can range from eliminating mana as a constraint (if you have to expend 3 Simian Spirit Guides to Breach in a Griselbrand on your turn, you are unlikely to win on the same turn), blocking problematic hatebears (Linvala, Meddling Mage, Thalia), or a problematic creature in general (how about that gigantic Vigilance Lifelinking 12/12 Slippery Bogle?  You can beat that by blocking with the Worldspine Wurm, but if you attacked with the Worldspine Wurm you are likely not going to beat that).
  1. As previously stated, control matchups are great because we can overtax their mana by casting business spells on their end step and then again on our turn, as well as abuse the Splice onto Arcane spells.  If you haven’t played with Arcane spells before, you aren’t alone. Basically, Splicing something onto an Arcane spell means you add the text of the Spliced spell onto the original spell without expending the Spliced spell.  For example, one of the most common use of this is to cast Nourishing Shoal and Splicing Through the Breach, which for some reason also reduces the Through the Breach cost by one mana!  If your opponent counters the Nourishing Shoal, you only lose the Nourishing Shoal but still get to keep the Through the Breach that you can use at the next opportune moment. You can even cast a Desperate Ritual and Splice a Goryo’s Vengeance or a Through the Breach, meaning your opponent is forced to counter an otherwise harmless Desperate Ritual!
  1. On a related note, you can and will win a fair bit of games at instant speed with an opponent’s spell still on the stack.  Note that all of your business spells are instants. This is another reason why, like our combo brethren Ad Nauseam, control is a great matchup.  The control player must always respect our ability to combo at instant speed, so they can’t carelessly tap out for an Electrolyze or a Geist of Saint Traft (not to mention these decks have Pact of Negation).  Conversely, one of the most fearsome move that a UWx player can make from my perspective is a turn 2 End Step Snapcaster Mage!
  1. I’ll end off the tips section with a pretty obscure but relevant interaction.  The Clean Up Step is normally a step where neither player gets priority because all we’ve ever done is discard to 7.  Not in this deck! If you discard a Worldspine Wurm, its shuffle trigger results in you getting back priority. This has a few practical applications:
  1. Consider the scenario where you only have an untapped Swamp and a Simian Spirit Guide for mana.  You have the Goryo’s Vengeance, Borborgymos Enraged, and 3 lands but no discard outlet, and your blue mage opponent at 9 life is eager to untap and Cryptic Command whatever you play next.  In this case, if you have a Worldspine Wurm, you can discard some cards including a Worldspine Wurm and a Borborygmos Enraged, let the Wurm trigger happen. Now that Borborygmos Enraged is in the graveyard due to the Clean Up Step, you can then reanimate Borborygmos Enraged and kill him/her on the spot before s/he even gets a chance to untap!
  2. This is even more corner case, but it’s come up for me a few times against Ad Nauseam.  Consider the following passage from the MTG rule book section 514.2:

“514.2. Second, the following actions happen simultaneously: all damage marked on permanents (including phased-out permanents) is removed and all “until end of turn” and “this turn” effects end. This turn-based action doesn’t use the stack.”.

This means that you can actually beat two Angel’s Grace with Borborygmos.  To do so, first combo with Griselbrand and draw a bunch of cards.  Go to your End Step (very important as not to lose your Borborygmos until your opponent’s End Step), reanimate Borborygmos Enraged, and throw enough lands to force your opponent to use Angel’s Grace #1.  Then discard some cards including Worldspine Wurm, which causes a trigger on your Clean Up Step.  Per 514.2, Angel’s Grace #1’s effect will have worn out by then, so throw another land and force the opponent to have Angel’s Grace #2 to survive.  What, s/he ended up having it? (hint: they always have it) Fret not and go to the opponent’s Upkeep and throw another land at him/her.  The end result is that the opponent will need 3 Angel’s Graces to survive our combo turn.

General Sideboarding Concept

  1. One of the first cuts I look to make is all but one Desperate Ritual, especially in slower matchups.  Manamorphose is also expendable in slower matchups.  Its primary purpose is to enable instant speed combo kills in conjunction with Lightning Axe and Goryo’s Vengeance as well as enable you to kill when mana is the constraint by allowing you to convert Simian Spirit Guides into black mana for Goryo’s Vengeance.
  2. You generally want at least 6 discard outlets, but you can go lower depending on how much graveyard hate you expect
  3. Remove Cathartic Reunions vs. decks with permission
  4. Remove a Through the Breach/Worldspine Wurm/Temple of Malice if the matchup is so fast you won’t be able to get to these spells sometimes
  5. Remove some Night’s Whispers for fast decks like Affinity and Burn
  6. Remove a Lightning Axe/Collective Brutality when it’s obvious those effects are no good
  7. Remove some Faithless Lootings against discard decks like BGx, as they are card disadvantage and you expect more graveyard hate postboard
  8. It’s OK to remove some Nourishing Shoals when it’s unlikely you’ll combo off that way, or it’s unlikely you’ll need to (for example, against Grixis Shadows one fatty is often enough)

Strategies and Sideboard Guide Against the Popular Decks

Grishoalbrand by Jonathan Zhang

Vs. Grixis Shadows (Very unfavorable matchup)

The best deck for the better part of 2017.  I’m not sure what the future is for Grixis Shadows, but as they are now this is a very bad matchup. Everything but Fatal Push is good against us in their maindeck, and things only get better for them in the sideboard.  In game 1 I would simply jam a combo ASAP rather than try to play around Stubborn Denial, as things are not going to get better the longer the game is. In postboard games, we recognize that their plan A is vastly better than us, so we side into a bad Rakdos prison deck with a combo finish and bring in must-answer cards.

I have a ~30% win rate vs. blue Shadows variants, and I feel lucky to even have this.

Cards to watch out for: Temur Battle Rage (0-2 MD), Stubborn Denial (~3 in the main, 0-1 in the side), Disdainful Stroke (SB), 0-3 Nihil Spellbomb/Surgical Extraction (SB), 0-2 Collective Brutality (SB)

In:
+3 Chalice of the Void
+3 Blood Moon
+1 Pact of Negation

Out:
-2 Cathartic Reunion
-1 Faithless Looting
-1 Collective Brutality
-1 Through the Breach
-1 Nourishing Shoal
-1 Worldspine Wurm

Vs. Affinity (Slightly Unfavorable)

Affinity has been one of the pillars of Modern since its inception and likely will continue to be, so you will need a solid plan for Affinity.  In game 1, I believe you have a slightly faster goldfish and therefore is a slight favourite.  Watch out for really fast Inkmoth kills, where Nourishing Shoals can’t save you.  They have a lot of disruption that comes in in the postboard games, so you will need to take a slightly more reactive approach. Be mindful that a Worldspine Wurm may not be a good win condition depending on the texture of the game.

My lifetime win rate vs. Affinity is ~50%, but the true rate should be ~45%.

Cards to watch out for: Inkmoth Nexus (MD), 0-2 Rest in Peace (SB), 0-2 Thoughtseize (SB), 0-2 Stubborn Denial or Spell Pierce (SB), 0-1 Rule of Law or Ethersworn Canonist (SB but rarely seen)

In:
+3 Bontu’s Last Reckoning
+1 Engineered Explosives
+2 Shattering Spree

Out:
-1 Temple of Malice
-2 Night’s Whisper
-1 Collective Brutality
-1 Through the Breach
-1 Worldspine Wurm

Vs. Storm (Unfavorable)

A rising player in the last year since the printing of Baral, Chief of Compliance.  They have a slightly slower goldfish but supplements that with permission and ridiculous consistency.  Be extra wary about using Worldspine Wurm as a win condition.  In postboard games, I bring in the Chalice of the Voids for two as another win condition.  Yes, it does shut off part of Goryo’s Vengeance (you can still Shoal Splice Vengeance), but when it kills most of their deck, you know it’s a necessary evil.  Otherwise, try not to jam a combo on your turn into a possible Remand.  Remember that you can combo off at instant speed, so it may be better to wait for them to jam a Baral on turn 3 and cast the first Desperate Ritual, for example. One last corner-case tip for postboard games; they may have Wipe Aways, so if you get a Griselbrand or a Borborygmos Enraged into play, be cognizant of that and, depending on the game state, you may need to activate these guys, hold priority, and keep activating the abilities before passing priority.

My lifetime win rate vs. Storm is ~40%, which I believe is fairly accurate.

Cards to watch out for: 0-1 Noxious Revival (MD), 0-3 Remand (MD, more popular nowadays), 0-1 Unsubstantiate (0-1, popularized recently by Mr. Scherer) 0-3 Dispel (SB), 0-2 Echoing Truth or Wipe Away (SB, Wipe Away used to be nonexistent but people have followed Caleb’s lists and have been playing it)

In:
+3 Chalice of the Void
+1 Pact of Negation
+1 Collective Brutality

Out:
-2 Cathartic Reunion
-1 Through the Breach
-1 Nourishing Shoal
-1 Worldspine Wurm

Vs. Humans (Unfavorable)

Another rising player in the last calendar year.  They have some really hateful bears as well as raw beaters that results in a pretty fast goldfish backed by disruption, which is exactly what Grishoalbrand does not want to play against.  I don’t have much to say here; try to be as fast as possible and save your kill spells for the right hatebear.  Be mindful of a Vial on 3 into Reflector Mage nonsense.  Also, be aware that you can beat a Meddling Mage on Goryo’s Vengeance or Through the Breach by Splicing one of those spells onto a Nourishing Shoal.

My lifetime win rate vs. Humans is ~35%, which seems accurate.

Cards to watch out for: Kitesail Freebooter, Meddling Mage, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Reflector Mage (all MD), Thalia, Heretic Cathar (MD or SB but rare), 0-2 Sin Collector (SB), 0-2 Rest in Peace/Grafdigger’s Cage (SB, recent trend), 0-1 Anafenza, the Foremost (SB, rare)

In:
+3 Bontu’s Last Reckoning
+1 Engineered Explosives
+2 Blood Moon (can consider not bringing these in on the draw)

Out:
-1 Temple of Malice
-2 Night’s Whisper
-1 Desperate Ritual
-1 Manamorphose
-1 Through the Breach

Vs. Jeskai Control/Tempo (Favorable)

Finally, a favorable matchup!  As previously mentioned, your matchups against control decks are good because counterspells in Modern are very expensive and they don’t present much of a clock. In game 1, you want to sculpt your hand as long as you are not under pressure and then try to combo off on their End Step, untap and combo again on your turn to choke them on mana. Just be patient and they’ll eventually have to make a move.  Keep in mind that you can combo them out on their turn as well, which they need to respect.   Postboard, you get to bring in even more powerful cards against them (Pact of Negation, Chalice of the Void, Blood Moon).  Normally I would start by sideboarding in Chalices in game 2 observe how the Jeskai player is fetching.  If they are careless about not fetching basics, feel free to switch it up and bring in Blood Moons in game 3 if there is one.  Nice to keep them on their toes.

I am around 75% vs. Jeskai lifetime, but expect Jeskai to be a ~60/40 matchup in the long run

Cards to watch out for: Spell Queller (MD in tempo shells), 3-4 Cryptic Command (MD), 2-3 Logic Knot (MD), 0-2 Spell Snare (MD), 0-2 Runed Halo (SB), 2-3 Dispel (SB), 0-1 Negate (SB), 0-2 Vendillion Clique (SB)

In:
+2 Pact of Negation
+1 Collective Brutality
+2 Chalice of the Void or Blood Moon

Out:
-2 Cathartic Reunion
-1 Lightning Axe
-1 Desperate Ritual
-1 Manamorphose

Vs. Burn (Favorable)

Obviously, having a zero mana gain 11 life spell is great against Burn.  This is a race against time with the sub-game of “when should I cast my Nourishing Shoal”? Burn lists are playing ~3 Skullcracks in the mainboard nowadays and rarely any Atarka’s Command in the sideboard. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to just fire off that turn 1 Nourishing Shoal, while in other instances it’s worth risking it and hold it until turn 3 so you can use the Shoal to accelerate into a Through the Breach.  In the postboard games, be mindful of the variety of hate pieces that they bring in.  As you may have seen, I got locked out by Jon Stern in the semifinals of GP Toronto by the Leyline of Sanctity+Ensnaring Bridge combination, but you don’t need to bring the Shattering Sprees in… Watch out for Deflecting Palm in the postboard games!

My win-rate versus Burn is ~60%, which seems about right.

Cards to watch out for: Skullcrack (~3 MD, ~1 SB), 0-2 Rest in Peace/Grafdigger’s Cage/Relic of Progenitus (SB), 2-3 Path to Exile (SB), 0-2 Deflecting Palm (SB)

In:
+2 Pact of Negation
+1 Collective Brutality
+2 Chalice of the Void or Blood Moon

Out:
-2 Cathartic Reunion
-1 Lightning Axe
-1 Desperate Ritual
-1 Manamorphose

Vs. Gx Tron (Very Favorable)

Nothing they do really matter against us unless they are on time and are in the perfect sequence.  I’ve routinely beat a single Relic of Progenitus or a turn 3 Karn.  Just goldfish as fast as you can, and you’ll get there in game 1.  Post-board they get access to some more hate pieces, but your plan A is so good that I wouldn’t bother sideboarding much at all (Blood Moon is deceptively mediocre vs. Tron anyway)

My win-rate to date vs. Gx Tron is 85%.  While that’s an exaggeration, 75% is probably the right neighborhood

Cards to watch out for: Relic of Progenitus (some MD, some as high as 4 SB), 0-1 Pithing Needle (SB), ~3 Thought-Knot Seer (SB, mono-green only), ~6 total discard spells in Collective Brutality + Thoughtseize (some MD, some SB)

In:
+2 Shattering Spree

Out:
-1 Lightning Axe
-1 Collective Brutality

Vs. RG Valakut (Very Favorable)

They are consistent but consistently slower than us by a few turns.  Just do your thing in game 1 and you’ll get there more likely than not.  Post-board they will bring some hate pieces, but you will bring in haymakers in Blood Moon, so you should just sideboard minimally

My win-rate to date vs. RG Valakut is 80%.  Likely another 75% matchup in the long run.

Cards to watch out for: 0-2 Relic of Progenitus (SB), 0-2 Grafdigger’s Cage (SB), 1-2 Reclamation Sage (SB)

In:
+3 Blood Moon

Out:
-1 Lightning Axe
-1 Collective Brutality
-1 Desperate Ritual

That’s all I have for today.  I believe that a good Grishoalbrand player should be able to make hay for the next few months for sure.  If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll try to get them.  Until next time, keep on Griselbranding!

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