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Deck Spotlight - Modern Grixis Control

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Hello everybody, welcome to my first article of the series called "Deck Spotlight", where I'm going to analyze particular decks, offer my opinion on how they're positioned in the metagame and provide some insight on how to play and sideboard with these decks. I'm going to go back and forth between Standard and Modern, but since I've spent more time with Modern recently, I'm going to start there, with a Grixis Control deck that I played at my RPTQ a few weeks ago. Here's the list I used:

It's not easy to be reactive in Modern, but this deck tries and I think it can do pretty well in the format. Although I went 4-3 in the RPTQ, a friend of mine managed to win the qualification slot with an almost identical version of Grixis at that very same tournament. The deck is really hard to play and you have a lot of decisions that might not seem important at the time when you have to make them, but can turn out to win or lose the game several turns later - even fetching on tuns one and two is crucial and Kolaghan's Command with Cryptic Command give you so many options that it's almost impossible to play perfectly all the time. There are some decks in the format that either smash their opponent or lose horribly - Grixis Control is not one of them and most wins will be very close, while most losses will leave you with a feeling that somehow, you could have won that game had you played differently five turns before the game ended.

The most common gameplan of this deck is pretty simple: kill everything that's on the other side of the board and then, once you stabilized, presumably after an Ancestral Vision has resolved, finish the opponent off with a Tasigur. However, this doesn't always work: some decks don't win with creatures, so there will be nothing to kill. Fortunately, we have countermagic to stop whatever else the opponent might be doing (like trying to resolve a Scapeshift or Ad Nauseam). Still, against decks like Burn or Dredge (pre-board), countermagic isn't the best approach and we need a fast clock. Against these types of decks, an early Tasigur is the key (you can play him as early as turn two, thanks to Thought Scour), although you could theoretically also win by throwing a lot of burn at the opponent and finishing them off with Snapcasters and Creeping Tar Pits.

One nice thing about Grixis Control is that it's very customizable. Based on what the expected metagame looks like, it's completely reasonable to cut Ancestral Visions (mostly good against G/B-based decks with Goyfs), increase or decrease the amount of countermagic and adjust the removal suite - the only fixed slots are 4 Lightning Bolts and 2-3 Teminates, but feel free to move Electrolyze, Angers and Explosives between main deck and sideboard. Slaughter Pact is also pretty common in these slots, as is Damnation, and all these cards are extremely metagame-dependent. As for the creatures, Tasigurs are amazing and I would never play fewer than three. Snapcasters are not really finishers (unless you play some weird game under Blood Moon or something of that sort), but more the card advantage engine of this deck - Snapcaster recursion with Kolaghan's Command can out-grind most attrition-based decks. Most Grixis Control versions run the full playset and I think it might be correct, but I decided to only play three. Drawing multiples can sometimes make your draw slower and post-board, many opponents are going to bring in more graveyard hate like Rest in Peace or Relic of Progenitus. Instead of boarding Snapcaster Mage out when there's the risk of facing graveyard hate, I went with only having three in the main deck. The next most popular creature for this deck is probably Kalitas, but even though Dredge is pretty popular, I don't like the card at all. By turn four, Dredge will often already have played their creatures and besides, Kalitas is too easy target for Conflagrate, a card that most Dredge decks have three or four of in their main deck and they're bound to mill one by turn four or five.

Contraband Kingpin from the sideboard was met with a lot of raised eyebrows, but I really think the card deserves the slot. A 1/4 lifelinker for two blocks any small creature red decks can play and on a stable board can start attacking back and gaining you precious life. It's basically another Sun Droplet, except for the fact that you can board him in even in some matchups other than Burn, where the opponents have small creatures. A big upside of the Kingpin is that he survives your Anger of the Gods.

At the RPTQ, this was my sideboard plan against various matchups:

Jund

in: 1 Vendilion Clique, 1 Keranos, God of Storms

out: 2 Anger of the Gods

Jund is a slightly favourable matchup: Ancestral Vision is your best card, but even without it, you're able to grind them to dust with Snapcasters and Kolaghan's Commands. Vendilion Clique comes out of the sideboard mostly to pressure their planeswalkers and is much better post-board, because they usually take out some of their removal.

Abzan

in: 1 Keranos, God of Storms

out: 1 Anger of the Gods

This matchup is very similar to Jund, except for Lingering Souls which can be problematic. I've seen people board in Izzet Staticaster, but personally don't like that idea, since you need to cut quality spells and the Staticasters might be dead if the opponent doesn't draw their Souls.

Infect

in: 3 Thoughtseize, 2 Izzet Staticaster, 2 Dispel, 1 Vendilion Clique

out: 3 Ancestral Vision, 3 Cryptic Command, 2 Anger of the Gods

It might seem counterintuitive to board out Angers against a deck with Noble Hierarchs, Glistener Elves and Blighted Agents, but in the games against Infect, you really can't afford to tap out on your turn, even just for three mana, because if you do so, you can very easily die. Instead, we want as much instant-speed interaction as possible. It's very often correct to take damage from an attacking infect creature and then try to kill it at the end of turn, not risking tapping out when they can dump their spells that give hexproof. All in all, this is a decent matchup that gets even better post-board. As long as you don't keep hands that can't interact before turn three, you should be fine.

Contraband Kingpin
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

Naya Burn

in: 2 Dispel, 2 Contraband Kingpin, 1 Sun Droplet, 1 Vendilion Clique

out: 3 Ancestral Vision, 2 Kolaghan's Command, 1 Anger of the Gods

The matchup between Grixis Control and Burn wildly differs based on which version of Grixis you play. With this particular list, the matchup is pretty bad pre-board and gets a lot better post-board. Because it's basically all about racing their burn spells (Goblin Guide counts as a burn spell too) with your finishers, it's often a good idea to make them discard a card with Kolaghan's Command - if you hit a relevant spell, it's like gaining life. Sideboarding also depends on the version the opponent runs: if they play the creature-heavy version with Experiment One and Bushwhackers, it might be correct to keep both Angers and even board in Izzet Staticasters.

Dredge

in: 2 Surgical Extraction, 1 Nihil Spellbomb, 2 Izzet Staticaster, 2 Contraband Kingpin

out (on the play): 1 Engineered Explosives, 3 Kolaghan's Command, 3 Terminate

out (on the draw): 1 Engineered Explosives, 2 Mana Leak, 3 Kolaghan's Command, 1 Terminate

The matchup is pretty bad pre-board: you can win if they over-extend into Anger of the Gods and even then, you usually need a Snapcaster for a backup Anger. Bloodghasts are your worst enemies, because they can hop into play at the end of your turn, thanks to a spare fetchland. After sideboarding, your chances go up by a lot - Staticasters are great against Bloodghasts and Narcomoebas, Contraband Kingpins do a solid job at blocking Prized Amalgams and surviving Angers. You want the opponent to overextend into Anger and Kingpins help you with that. Also, the matchup slows down by a lot, so a turn 1 Ancestral Vision has a decent chance of resolving and helping you find graveyard hate or Anger. Countermagic is very mediocre in this matchup, but so is spot removal. At least Mana Leaks can stop Cathartic Reunion on the play, but on the draw, it's much tougher to use them for something - basically the only spells you can catch are Life from the Loam, Conflagrate or a hard-cast Golgari Grave-Troll.

Affinity

in: 2 Izzet Staticaster, 1 Vendilion Clique

out: 3 Ancestral Vision

Kolaghan's Commands are the easiest 2 for 1 in the world and Snapcaster Mages give you another go at that. A pretty good matchup overall.

There are around 150 possible decks you could face in Modern, but the above mentioned are possibly the most common ones. Let me know in the comments if you would like to know the sideboard guide in some other matchup and I can post it.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam

Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 14th at Pro Tour Portland 2014
  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 64 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8
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