Strategy and Playstyle
Strengths and Weaknesses
Major Themes and Variants
The Game Plan
Sample Gameplay Videos
Changes and Version History
Grisis Control is not a new deck by any stretch of the imagination. Despite the deck's long history, this primer will focus very little on past versions of the deck and how it performed in various periods. It will instead attempt to provide you the information you need to build yourself a competitive grixis control deck in the current environment (not specific meta).Grixis is a hellscape of decay and madness, where necromancers command swarms of undead and demons walk the earth. Humanity is nearly extinct here; the survivors cower in hermitages, defending their life essence from rampaging horrors. Rampant death magic and demonic influence make Grixis an abominable destination best avoided by most.
Grixis Control is an archetype that allows for lot of customization and has the tools available to adapt to changing metas and strategies; on top of being a lot of fun to play.
One of the key aspect of Grixis Control vis-a-vis other kinds of control decks is that the archetype is all about utilizing all the different type of resources: life total, the graveyard, the stack, board interaction, and hand disruption. It is by optimizing the use of all these resources and disrupting the opponent's game plan that you are able to bring the game to turn 5+ while building incremental advantages leading you to a state of control, where you've "turned the corner" and are now able to focus on closing the game rather than playing defensively.The strategy for control decks, [such as Grixis control], is to collect resources and defend themselves until they gain total control of the game. At this point they play a threat and continue to control the opponent until the threat kills them. The manner in which these control decks defend themselves is most often how they are defined.
Grixis Control is:
- Can push damage through (burn mode enabled)
- Very good against creature decks
- Fragile against very fast decks that don't rely on few creatures or spells (i.e.: go-wide strategies)
- Can draw the "bad half of the deck"
- Is better suited as a toolbox, therefore harder to be consistent
Draw Go Value
This variant is built in a way that most spells are instants and most creatures have flash so that the game plan is focused on playing during the opponent's turn. This variant has a game plan that is almost exclusively reactive and is heavy on permission spells with the intent of disrupting the opponent and leaving room to play one's own game plan at the opponent's end step when mana is available.
According to Brad Nelson:
Blue JundTapout control is a type of control deck that tends to be much more proactive than the more traditional variations of the archetype. Instead of trying to react to every play the opponent makes, tapout control decks often try to overpower opponents with tons of removal, planeswalkers, and creatures. Tapout control decks have the ability to attrition out aggressive decks but often are able to control the game just long enough to start slamming game-ending spells. For reference, these are the last two tapout control decks I built post-summer rotation.
Blue Jund is the 100% proactive version of Grixis Control; to the point that it is pretty much a midrange deck focused on deploying threats, dealing damage and disrupting the opponents hand and foregoing most, if not all, permission spells.
Like I mentioned briefly in the introduction, I view Grixis Control primarely as a toolbox that you build around your preferred playstyle (amongst the three main variants), the current meta, and your preference between resilience/versatility and consistency. This section of the primer will showcase what I consider to the the primary cards available by function. Obviously it does not include all the possible inclusions, but should give you a good starting point to build you 60+15 list.
Any solid deck needs a solid manabase. As a control deck you want to have between 22 and 24 lands; the exact number will depend on the variant of the deck that you play, how many utility lands that you want to play, and your personal preference. I don't claim to be an expert on building manabases, but here are my personal guidelines for the deck:
5-7 Basics, my personal rule of thumbs on the number and type of basic lands is that you should be able to cast all of your spells with only your basics. I.e.: if you play Cryptic Command, you need at least 3 basic island. There is no difference between regular and snow-covered lands unless you decide to run specific snow matter cards.
0-2 Creature lands
1-4 Utility Lands
1-2 Other lands such as check lands:
A Control deck is a spell heavy deck. Depending on the style you might want to focus on spells that play on your turn with cheap permission to protect them or play a more draw-go version that plays most of its spell during the opponent's turn.
One of the key tool at your disposal is the very strong hand disruption that black offers. Dimir (UB) and Rakdos (BR) also offers some strong hand disruption spells that can be utilize to slow down or dismantle your opponent's game plan. Key cards are:
Board control tools that Grixis has is very flexible and comprehensive. While it is not as sweeper centric as Azorius (UW) Control, it has access to great spot removal and direct damage spells. Main cards available to the deck are:
While sweepers is not the main tool in the Grixis toolbox, there are certainly great options. Default should be Damnation with others utilized for their special purpose (instant speed, exile clause, colourless damage)
One of the principal way that Grixis Control can get to the late game and be able to outpace the opponent is by generating incremental value every turn. Some of the following cards offer great sinergy with other cards in the deck or can be utilized in various situations to win the tempo game.
Card Selection/Card Draw
Any good control decks need a way to filter cards and ensure both to make land drops and to get to the relevant cards for the current matchup. The premier card selection spells available to Grixis Control are:
Control deck equals counterspell, there's no denying it. The Grixis portion of the colour wheel offers the best tools to that effect (with the exception of Dovin's Veto...):
Yes a control deck can run creatures! The typical Grixis Control deck would usually run between 6 to 14 creatures. There are basically two types of creatures you will want to run: Value and utility creatures and accelerated threats (mainly utilizing the delve mechanic)
Now that you stabilized and got to the point where you can cast big devastating spells against an opponent that is depleted of resources, what are your options? You can usually finish the game in three ways: Bolt-Snap-Bolt-KCommand-Snap-Bolt chains or Play these spells:
Cruel Ultimatum is the classic Grixis finisher. Personally a favourite spell of mine but has fallen out of favour due to the many options that are now available with Planeswalkers. There is no denying however that resolving this spell is a devastating blow; even more so when you are able to flash it back with a Snapcaster Mage two turns later.
There are now quite a few efficient and effective Planeswalkers to use in Grixis Control. Not all of them would be considered finishers as some would fit better in the mid game gaining incremental values, but for the ease of reading of this guide, here is the list of planeswalkers seeing play in Grixis Control
Utility and Silver Bullets
These silver bullets or narrow utility cards are mostly for the sideboard, but may, meta depending, be put into the main deck. Creatures have been consolidated together but some of those listed above would fall within this category as well.
Burn Treatment Centre
No Spells Allowed
Tron / Valakut Hate
I don't want to lose to Bogles
1 Blood Crypt
4 Field of Ruin
2 Creeping Tar Pit
4 Polluted Delta
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
1 Sulfur Falls
2 Watery Grave
4 Cryptic Command
2 Fatal Push
4 Kolaghan's Command
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Logic Knot
1 Spell Snare
4 Thought Scour
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Search for Azcanta
2 Blast Zone
1 Blood Crypt
2 Bloodstained Mire
2 Creeping Tar Pit
4 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
2 Watery Grave
Now with those decks has a starting point, let's look at how to play the deck at different stages of the game.
At this point of the game, the most important is to keep a playable opening hand. Knowing what your opponent is playing will make a huge difference in influencing your decision to keep an opening hand that permits you to deploy your land drops and counter his or her early plays.
In the absence of knowledge of the opponent's deck, keeping an opening hand with a minimum of 2-3 lands, 1 card selection/draw spell and 3-4 interactive or proactive card should be your aim. The more generic/versatile the spell, the better (e.g.: lightning bolt vs fatal push). Obviously you also want to have lands that produce mana of the spells you have in hand.
For the first few turns, your aim should be about making your land drops and countering the meaningful early plays of your opponent. Anything from "bolting the bird" to countering/removing an important 2 drop spell/creature.
The mid game for Grixis Control really starts at 4 mana (or 3 mana if everything is lining up perfectly). This is where you are able to either cast cryptic command and start timewalking your opponent or making two-for-one plays (which usually include a Snapcaster mage). Here your goal is to continue making land drops, depleting your opponent resources (getting them hellbent for example) and countering their important plays. You want to transition to a point where the opponent will not be able to recover and deploy creatures and/or spells that you won't have an answer for.
At this point you are in the end game. Here you should worry about maintaining that 'lock' on your opponent and finding the opportune time to deploy the threat(s) that will close the game. Either Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God to finish it in style, or just chaining a few Snapcaster Mages slinging lightning bolts at your opponent's face.
Sideboarding for a control deck can be tricky as you will not have all the specific answers to every archetype in your 15 card sideboard. What you want is to replace cards that are ineffective or where you have a generic answer that you can replace with a more specific and effective one. For example, you might want to sideboard out your fatal pushes against Tron and board in your fulminator mages and disdainful strokes.
Here is a few linked videos of example plays (either from paper tournaments or Magic online) to demonstrate how the deck is played with its different variation.
Gods_Shadow - Modern League
Corey Burkheart - Channel Fireball
Evar0s - Grixis Bolas Control, Magic Online
I would like to thank the following people and groups that have helped me improved as a Grixis Control player
Grixis Control Subreddit (/r/moderngrixis)
Grixis Control Discord (https://discord.gg/WPNeyME)
13 July 2019 - Version 1.0 of the guide