Grixis Grabs, Dominaria Edition
Alex goes into great detail about the changes Grixis control went through with the last set release.
Grixis Grabs: Dominaria United
Welcome to this installment of Grixis Grabs, where I keep you posted on the developments of my favorite deck: Grixis Control! The usual structure of this article is that I highlight the “Grabs” from the new set, consult the binder for cards from older sets that have garnered my interest, and then end on a quickfire round with cards that are more under debate. With that housekeeping out of the way, let’s see what our latest visit to Bolas’ home plane means for this archetype.
Truth be told… there are no huge new changes for the deck from Dominaria United, so in that regard the set is a bit of a miss! There are, however, a few cards from the set that I want to talk about in this segment.
Liliana of the Veil
Between Maestros Charm and Sinister Sabotage, the deck has a really hard time justifying a three-mana sorcery speed play. This is the reason why the deck has not currently been running Narset, Parter of Veils except in metas where its static really hates on currently popular decks. On turn three, holding up three mana forces the opponent to play around a potential counterspell, which means Maestros Charm can set up a Dig Through Time immediately. If they instead slam a powerful card straight into your counterspell you are happy that you held up the mana anyway, so it’s a win-win! This powerful three-mana package means that tapping out for a Planeswalker is a bit of a no-go. On later turns, the potential of double spelling (either with a cheap interaction like Fatal Push or with these same three-mana instant speed cards along with a Dig Through Time) still means that there’s no time for Lili.
Funnily enough, the card is also not as much of a menace to play against as I thought she would be either. Liliana has been a great card against the UW Control decks in Pioneer, but unlike them we have a higher number of raw card advantage cards. Your goal is to one-for-one your opponent, and then pull ahead with two-for-one’s, so given the symmetrical nature of Liliana’s +1, if you deal with her before your opponent can activate her with an empty hand then you don’t actually lose on card advantage. Slowing down the game with symmetrical discard actually benefits us in matchups like Rakdos Midrange, where we have far more tools than them to come back from being empty-handed than the opponent will. When I have played against Rakdos Midrange, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Graveyard Trespasser are infinitely scarier than Lili!
With all that being said, Liliana is still a powerful card and as the format gets older and cards get lower mana values, this whole three-mana package of Maestros Charm and Sinister Sabotage might not be good anymore. At that point I will definitely give Liliana another shot.
This card may one day get its time in the sun, but it’s just not worth it yet. As the format gets older curves will go down and with it the curves of countermagic will have to go down too. Cancels with upside have generally not been playable in Modern and one day this will also be the case in Pioneer. Therefore, a counterspell that costs two mana versus aggressive decks that double spell frequently (while still being an unconditional hard counter against decks that play for a longer game) will possibly be good in the future. For now, however, I’ll take my Surveil 1 instead.
Consulting the Binder
To put it shortly: this card is a banger. When I saw this card in Streets of New Capenna, I recalled Quench being an unplayable card in Standard (at least in control decks) so I figured this wasn’t worth my time. Boy was I wrong. To see why, we look at one of my favorite cards: Censor. Censor has been a very good card for a long time, especially with Rakdos Midrange becoming better with every set. Their deck is very heavy on three-drops, but their options are diverse between creatures, enchantments, planeswalkers, and even sorceries like Go Blank. This means that interacting on turn two on the draw is extremely difficult for a control deck, because a hand with a Negate (for example) is great versus the noncreature-heavy draws, but gets crushed by a Graveyard Trespasser.
This makes hands with two-mana countermagic – like Censor and Make Disappear – a lot safer because you can interact with whatever they throw at you. I ran four copies of Censor for a long time and I found myself wanting more of that effect, but I didn’t want to play Jwari Disruption because having too many ‘unless you pay 1’ counterspells becomes fragile later on. Make Disappear perfectly bridges this gap, and it turns out two is a bigger number than one! This leads to the card staying relevant for longer into the game than I thought it would.
The casualty on Make Disappear hardly ever comes up, but with random Shark Typhoon/Den of the Bugbear tokens lying around it’s not like it NEVER happens either. The card has overperformed by so much that I now run more Make Disappears than Censors (and I sure do love Censor).
Field of Ruin
When someone suggested running Field of Ruin in this three-color deck I thought they had lost their mind. I tried it as a twenty-seventh land and was actually really impressed by it! First of all, the ability of Field to find a basic can actually do a lot to fix your manabase when you are running multiple checklands. But the biggest reason that Field of Ruin is great is manlands. The AFR manlands are incredibly powerful and you will face multiple of them in plenty of your games.
Having one Field of Ruin available can effectively stunt multiple manlands, because your opponent doesn’t want to spend the mana to activate into the face of on-board removal for it. This encourages people to cast spells, which you are better at interacting with. Eventually, your opponent will have the mana to both cast a spell and still activate the manlands, but buying yourself time is exactly what this deck wants to do. Castle Ardenvale is also a nightmare to face out of UW Control, so having Field of Ruin can really make or break that matchup. Finally, enabling revolt for Fatal Push is another upside and now that the deck is a little less red-focused (more on that in the quickfire segment) I have gone down to twenty-six lands but kept the Field of Ruin. I might even run more in the future, but at that point they would have to be my twenty-seventh/eighth land since you will start lacking colors too much otherwise!
Leyline of the Void
I’m always a bit iffy about Leylines. They are basically mandatory 4-ofs, they are terrible spells to cast, and they encourage bad mulligan decisions. But, given the strength and prevalence of Greasefang and Phoenix, and the answers that those decks bring to stymy other powerful forms of graveyard hate like Unlicensed Hearse, Leylines do feel somewhat mandatory in the current meta as a final word against graveyard decks. Unlicensed Hearse is very easily answered by Witherbloom Command, Abrupt Decay, and Abrade (which Phoenix players might bring in already when they see your Torrential Gearhulks). This makes it an unreliable piece of graveyard hate whereas Leyline is basically only answered by their channel lands. Greasefang decks have recently picked up Fracture and Tear Asunder, but at least none of their mill spells can be used to find these faster.
Having two Leylines means that against UR Phoenix, their graveyard is offline for the whole game 99% of the time, and you are way better than them at playing a fair game. Greasefang has an easier time finding Boseiju with cards like Satyr Wayfinder and Grisly Salvage, but this does take them time and oftentimes that is all you need to find enough removal/countermagic to deal with Greasefang -especially since they still need to fill their graveyard after using those cards to find the Leyline answer!
I frankly don’t have too much to say about this card. Humans is a good deck and even red aggro decks feature tons of creatures which happen to be Humans. Even if you are not casting this on a Human, Essence Extraction is a decent card against aggro decks of any kind and can bridge the gap to your sweepers. It’s even a pretty good removal spell versus Greasefang since Greasefang only has 3 toughness and Parasitic Grasp does not rely on revolt in the way that Fatal Push does. Great card for Grixis!
The Quickfire Round
Sinister Sabotage vs Counterflux
In the previous installment of Grixis Grabs I went over what I liked/disliked about Counterflux and all these things still apply. I just think Sinister Sabotage is better right now. Being a little less color-intense also gives the manabase some breathing room, and allows for a card like Field of Ruin.
Storm’s Wrath vs Extinction Event vs Shadows’ Verdict
In the current meta, Storm’s Wrath is just not a very good sweeper. It’s bad versus mono green, it doesn’t kill Sheoldred or an Adeline with 1 counter on it, and the rougher mana cost means that it is less-reliably cast on turn four. The other two sweepers are simply better right now. Just like Counterflux, cutting Storm’s Wrath also opened up the manabase more.
Heartless Act vs Power Word Kill
Not too much to say here, but I just wanted to mention that my first FNM opponent after I decided that Power Word Kill would be better was on Dragon tribal.
Liliana, Dreadhorde General
Didn’t expect that I would be putting THIS Liliana in a deck when Dominaria United released, but life is funny like that sometimes. In older lists, I ran Enter the God-Eternals as a card that is good versus aggro and decent against Midrange. Now that I run other cards like Parasitic Grasp and more sweepers, I have good answers to aggro in my sideboard which means I don’t really need Enter the God-Eternals anymore. With the introduction of Sheoldred and Liliana to the midrange decks, Enter just doesn’t cut it. Dreadhorde General is still decent into aggro, is way better against midrange, and actually is a pretty decent card against control when the Dream Trawler and Sphinx of the Final Word come in post-board (and you just want more threats to jam in any case). I may even be keeping an eye on this Lili for the mainboard one day.
The Meathook Massacre
This card was recently banned in standard, and for good reason: the effect of this card is very powerful. It can be a good way to catch up, but the rate of the sweeper itself (for four mana this only gives -2/-2 for example) is not very good so I don’t like it as my maindeck sweeper. For the sake of deckbuilding, this is my fifth sweeper and if I feel like I have too many sweepers, this is the first one to go. One upside to this card is that it negates the cat-oven interaction in sacrifice decks which can be very clutch.
This card is currently too clunky in combination with Dig Through Time. If that card eventually gets banned, this will be a card worth revisiting, but Torrential Gearhulk’s power is tied to the power of the instants it is casting for free so for now those two will continue to go hand-in-hand.
The Elder Dragon War
In very low-to-the-ground aggro matchups, you are often interested in having lots of sweepers in your deck. But, after casting the first couple sweepers, you don’t really need them anymore and they just turn into very awkward removal spells. This card can help mitigate that and can be an interesting fifth/sixth sweeper in a meta where you might want tons of them. The manacost is a bit restrictive, but I’ll keep an eye on this card.
The Updated Decklist
Pioneer Grixis control v37
Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
Power Word Kill
Dig Through Time
Field of Ruin
Den of the Bugbear
Otawara, Soaring City
Liliana, Dreadhorde General
The Meathook Massacre
Leyline of the Void
The Wrap Up
Dominaria United has some powerful cards in it that have had an impact on Pioneer, but Grixis didn’t really get any new toys in this set and the new DMU cards have made it fairly difficult to make the archetype work in the current meta. For a while, I felt very down about the entire archetype which made it challenging to write the first draft of this article. A lot of the discussed cards like Make Disappear and Parasitic Grasp were fairly recent inclusion in my list, but have proven quite effective in tackling these new problems! This has revived my faith in the archetype somewhat, but I will still admit that the deck feels the weakest it has felt in a while. It’s important to me to let you, as readers, know that you don’t have to be as crazy about Grixis as I am, and I will always be honest with you when the deck is having struggles.
With that being said, I do hope that this article has been entertaining and informative. If the article has inspired you to give the deck a whirl out of love for the archetype, or my way of evaluating cards for the deck has made you reconsider inclusions in your own decks (even if they are not Grixis Control), then please let me know about it in the comments!
Thank you so much for reading this third installment of Grixis Grabs and I hope to see you back for my future articles. I promise I will write a non-Grixis article again at some point; I do play other decks!