“Magic gods, have you forsaken me?” Myself, after some serious bad defeats.
GP Quebec and the last RPTQ in Montreal did not go as hoped. I did not get my golden ticket to the divine pro tour, and after a few days licking my wounds in a corner, I am back on the horse, ready to conquer the universe again.
For the Modern Halloween RPTQ, I was one win away from the top 8, I really liked my deck and would play it again, now that I have more experience with it. Modern is such that there is not one deck that is the strongest and at each tournament, there are at least 20 archetypes that can be considered legitimate contenders.
As I am already qualified for the next RPTQ, I am turning my eyes toward other interesting tournaments coming to Montreal, and there is one, on the 5th of December: the ManaDeprived Super Series. Some of my friends and readers are also going to Grand Prix Pittsburgh next weekend, so this primer could be for them also.
What I intend to play is a Modern powerhouse, Grixis Control.
The deck came to prominence in the hands of Magic overlord Patrick Chapin at Grand Prix Charlotte 2015, where he finished 9th. Have a look at this beauty.
Grixis Control, Patrick Chapin, 6/13/2015
The plan is to slowly take control of the game using a lot of two-for-one spells like Cryptic Command, Electrolyze, Kolaghan’s Command, Shadow of Doubt and Snapcaster Mage while filling out your graveyard. You then play a very cheap Gurmag Angler or Tasigur with counter mana up. Gurmag Angler is surprisingly good in the format, as it blocks other powerful threats like Tasigur, Loxodon Smiter, Obstinate Baloth, Siege Rhino or even Tarmogoyf, which usually grows to be a 4/5.
The deck is difficult to play at first, as you have to take a lot of decisions. For example, you have to learn how to sequence your fetch lands and your draw spells and decide when you should take damage from a shock land or get a basic land. Serum Visions is skill testing, as you have to judge what you should keep on top according to what is in your hand, the board state, the current match-up and how the opponent played since the beginning of the match. Doing it wrong without planning ahead could mean the difference between being a noble winner, or an incompetent loser.
Since Chapin’s success with Grixis control, two new sets came out and players tried plenty of different cards in it, and as you can guess, the deck has evolved. Origins has been particularly generous for that deck, giving it two new weapons.
Here is the version I am currently playing with and it would be the one I would play if there was an event tomorrow. I got some inspiration from lists I saw online, but the actual numbers are mine and its new name, is my contribution to the community.
Grixis Control Evolution, Vincent Thibeault, 01/12/2015
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, the defining card of standard right now, is also strong enough to see play in Modern. Left unchecked, it can provide a great source of card advantage, and all the cantrips and the self-mill effects on this deck make it even stronger. You can bring it back with Kolaghan’s Command and you have plenty of useful one mana spells that you can cast with its planeswalker -3 ability. You have some discard to pre-emptively protect him, and it is very common and at times backbreaking for the opponent to flip it on the third turn and get extra value with it. I included a Dreadbore in my list as a way to fight opposing Jace, as well as Liliana, which can also be a problem.
Pia and Kiran Nalaar can seem out of place, but they were surprisingly efficient. They give you three potential chump blockers and you get some value as soon as it hits the board. Even if Pia and Kiran get bolted, you are left with two thopter tokens and they can serve as a win condition. If Pia and Kiran survive, you can then shoot an opposing Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, a Noble Hierach, a Delver of Secret,s or even someone’s face. In conjunction with a Lightning Bolt, you can kill a Siege Rhino or another dangerous threat.
Snapcaster Mage is a great magic card, everyone knows that, but it is especially strong in that deck, generously providing you with tons of options. I love decks where you have plenty of decisions to take as I feel that I get rewarded for finding out the right line to follow. Grixis Control supports Snapcaster Mage really well, as you get plenty of useful one mana spells like Inquisition of Kozilek, Thought Scour, Dispel, Spell Snare, Lightning Bolt and Serum Visions. The more your graveyard fills itself, the stronger it becomes.
Tasigur and Gurmag Angler are your “one-mana creature” that can take over the game, especially if you can protect them with counterspells. Playing delve spells can be tricky, as you have to decide what to exile. You may want to keep spells that are relevant in the current match for Snapcaster Mage and Jace, but also creatures for your Kolaghan’s Command. The fact that you can activate Tasigur may incentivize you to remove everything except what you want your opponent to give you, hoping that you do not mill a useless card with Tasigur’s activation. That play may be too risky if your opponent has a spot removal for your Tasigur because it would weaken a top decked Snapcaster Mage. As you can see, it is a delicate balancing act between your delve creatures and your graveyard-dependant cards and you may need to evaluate critically the situation before taking a decision.
Inquisition of Kozilek allows you to know what is going on and to plan accordingly. Removing the wrong card can make the difference between winning and losing, so make sure you are familiar with all the major archetypes in Modern. Thoughtseize in the board complements it and it is great versus other control decks or the numerous combo decks of the format.
Serum Visions and Thought Scour help you to dig towards what you need while filling up your graveyard. Crack your fetch lands before playing Serum Visions, so you do not lose what you put on top. If the opponent mulligans, scries and then keeps something on top, it is sometimes correct to mill them with Thought Scour, but it is really rare. It depends if you have delve cards in your hand, another Thought Scour or a Snapcaster Mage. If the opponent takes a little while before declaring that they keep their hands, then scry and snap keep, I would probably mill them, hoping to get rid of the land they needed. Not sure if it is the rational thing to do or more akin to gambling, fishing for a potential free win. Thought Scour is also great with Snapcaster Mage, as you may keep mana up for counterspells and if the opponent does not play anything relevant you can still use your mana while putting a threat online and drawing a card.
Kolaghan’s Command, Lightning Bolt, Terminate and Dreadbore are the removal package. Kolaghan’s Command is always a 2 for 1 and all its modes are very useful. Bringing back a Snapcaster and casting the command again is devastating, and the discard mode comes in handy, especially after the opponent misses a land drop, as you know you are going to get something good. Lightning Bolt in conjunction with Snapcaster can finish off an opponent quite quickly, but it is usually used to deal with the opponent’s early rush while you try to stabilize. Dreadbore is a concession to Liliana of the Veil and Jace, Telepath Unbound, as they are hard to deal with otherwise. Karn and Ugin can also die from it, which is relevant.
Mana Leak, Remand, Spell Snare, Dispel and Cryptic Command are the counterspell package. They allow you to slow down aggro decks, hinder considerably combo decks and they make sure you get your threats online, protecting them versus control decks. Original versions of the deck had 4 Cryptic Commands, but the metagame is more aggro than it was and Dispel is a more popular card, so I cut some to lower the curve. It counters, bounces, taps or draws a card, allowing you to deal with almost any threats. Choosing the correct mode can be tricky. Bouncing a Liliana of the Veil with the discard trigger on the stack and no cards in your opponent’s hand is one of the many great ways to use it. Post-board you can increase the number of counterspells, adding two Dispels, which are extremely useful against other control decks or decks like Twin.
You have Creeping Tar Pit as an additional win condition in the board and a small protection, with Sulfur Falls, from Choke, common in green sideboards. When you fetch, you want to make sure you can access three blue mana, two red sources and two black sources, so you can activate your Creeping Tar Pit. I used Snow-Covered basic lands as a way to mess with my opponent’s head, which I doubt it would really work, but also as a reminder of my starter pack that I bought back in the day, Ice Age. Another way to see it is that Snow-Covered lands are some kind of emotional anchor, linked in my head to the very joyful moment of discovery of my beginning on the magical path and my first successes. This feel good feeling could provide me with a needed boost of confidence needed to win a difficult match. An opponent seeing a basic Island and a Snow-Covered Island could wonder if I am playing Gift Ungiven. The edge I can get from that is minimal, but it is free so why not.
What are the other cards that did not make the cut? Rise // Fall is usually a two for one that can function like a Hymn to Tourach if the opponent misses a land drop, or it could be insane later in the game, returning two Snapcaster Mages in your hand to lock the game. A card popular in that archetype, I decided not to play it as it is not very useful early in the game and the discard effect can whiff. Liliana of the Veil is played in some version, but it is obviously better when you are lighter on counterspells. Another card that is popular is Go for the Throat. At first glance it seems a lot worse than Terminate, albeit with an easier casting cost. The only advantage I see to it besides its cost is its ability to destroy Master of Waves, in the already tough Merfolk match-up, but it could also be useful against Twin, making Spellskite protection useless. It cannot kill any “robot”, Inkmoth Nexus or Wurmcoil Engine, so I decided against it.
Tomorrow, we will look at the sideboard plans and the strategies to employ versus the main archetypes of the format. As an exercise, you could try to figure it out on your own before seeing my suggestions.