I've had these guys sitting in my folder a little while, as well as the remnants of a previous Grixis build under Thraximundar that conveniently happened to have a few bits of planeswalker tech I thought I could use. I've played a few superfriends builds before, but haven't seen a lot under a Grixis shell, which is a colour combination I've always been fond of; Grixis is always a fun time, tends to be pretty splashy and explosive, and generally doesn't get overly griefy. Which is important for a superfriends build - I want to win, but I want people to enjoy playing the deck too. I've run superfriends before under Narset, Enlightened Master and it just wasn't fun, for the pilot or the opponent.
Nonetheless, I've always wanted to build partners, and since my wife has an Atraxa, Praetors' Voice superfriends build, I wanted to build something in a similar vein. So I dreamed up this concept. And here's why it works:
- Planeswalkers are often expensive. Vial Smasher rewards casting that sort of spell, and provides a body to protect your investment too, for a reasonable initial casting cost.
- Planeswalkers, while strong, need some protection. Kraum covers this well while cantripping from our opponents' responses, and being able to swing in when opportune.
- The colours these two are in give us access to some of the cooler walkers about - Liliana, Bolas, Tezzeret, the Kenrith Twins, Saheeli (as well as some of the colourless options in Karn and Ugin too)
- Focusing on walkers mean we don't need to worry as much about creature protection - you'll note the lack of Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots in the deck; that's something I don't intend to change any time soon.
- Grixis gives us plenty of options for sweepers, control, tokens, draw and recursion.
- Grixis gives us access to some of the stronger 'walker tech with things like Deepglow Skate, Flux Channeler, Inexorable Tide, Spark Double, Yawgmoth's Vile Offering and Command the Dreadhorde
Part of the reason she works is that Walkers are generally a little pricier to cast, which plays nicely with Vial Smasher the Fierce and his ability. There's plenty of ways to drop that CMC, and I'm running a few of them here, which has made this quite an artifact oriented build, too - there's easy ways to generate a bit more mana with proliferate, affinity, and delve, all of which have a presence here to some degree. None of the walkers here are enormous to cast, but I don't feel like leaning into Vial Smasher's ability totally is entirely necessary. Once resolved, they put enough pressure on the board that Vial Smasher becomes an auxiliary threat anyway, so I'm happy to consider her a cherry on top. She's cheap to cast initially too, and gives us a facade to hide our walkers behind as well as chump blocking. Essentially, Vial Smasher the Fierce makes for an early tempo advantage, and makes sure the walkers and the rest of the deck have less distance to go.
Ideally because the direct damage trigger is random you won't necessarily become archenemy, but ultimately people don't like getting pinged, so she's likely to see hate at some point. It's not the worst thing in the world, as it takes some of the heat from our walkers.
Kraum, Ludevic's Opus is an inclusion in the command zone I deliberated over; there aren't really any other stunningly good partners in Grixis, but Kraum works fairly well. He can swing in for immediate damage, he cantrips when opponents play spells, and he can chump block with evasion. He's decent to see in the command zone, he gives me the colours I want, and bare minimum he's decent chump blocking for my walkers and a 5 mana burn to the face from Vial Smasher's ability. I've noticed, too, that once we land some walkers, people will start slinging control spells to control the damage, which will help us draw into more advantage.
Perhaps the best asset Kraum has is haste. We don't need greaves or boots, we just cast him and swing, if that's what we want to do. He is really good at that; he's a mid game punch to the face that draws us cards for any reactive plays an opponent might drop.
Ultimately, Kraum has been really great keeping card advantage going. We can drop him at the sort of time where people are playing expansively to either push their plans forward, or playing removal as needed, and whether this all resolves or not we draw, which is perfect. Passive draw triggers are gravy. It's worth noting, too that his trigger counts for each opponent, each turn. So if it's Dave's turn, and he plays Rampant Growth then Kodama's Reach, and in response to each Jessica casts a Rewind then a Counterspell, we get two triggers (Jessica is being a jerk, but it's just an example, we'll look the other way ).
So this is sort of a weird flavour point that I've leaned into because it sort of works. Legendary permanents tend to be a little more expensive on account of splashy effects, so Vial Smasher the Fierce likes them. There's also the fact that quite a few of them play pretty well into walker protection, draw triggers and mana production.
Add to this the historic theme, brought in during the Dominaria set, and we've got some layers of synergy. Historic is a mechanic that affects permanents that are artifacts, legendary or planeswalkers in various ways. Well, that's like....most of the deck! Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain cantrips from most of our deck, and it's, once again, a cast trigger. Being in a lot of our ramp is artifact based, which plays nicely into the historic theme, as well as our Tezzeret walkers, Emry, Lurker of the Loch and Storm the Vault.
Torbran, Thane of Red Fell makes a lot of our walker abilities, creature damage and Vial Smasher the Fierce triggers hit a little harder, and Sakashima the Impostor can double up as any high impact legendary we might want a second of to drive salt into the wounds. Then there's The Locust God, which gives us some board persistence and easy protection on draws, and Sheoldred, Whispering One helps manage threats across the table and keep our board presence up. So ultimately, adding the legendaries I have added has layered some synergy into the deck for measures of acceleration and control - not every legend gets a place, the shoe definitely has to fit, but nonetheless, this is a fairly cohesive team.
1 Baleful Strix
1 Heart of Kiran
1 Emry, Lurker of the Loch
1 Flux Channeler
1 Irencrag Pyromancer
1 Crystalline Crawler
1 Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain
1 Sakashima the Impostor
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Spark Double
1 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
1 Deepglow Skate
1 Neheb, the Eternal
1 Noxious Gearhulk
1 The Locust God
1 Myr Battlesphere
1 Sheoldred, Whispering One
1 Sol Ring
1 Dimir Signet
1 Izzet Signet
1 Rakdos Signet
1 Chromatic Lantern
1 Coalition Relic
1 Honor-Worn Shaku
1 Rings of Brighthearth
1 Vedalken Orrery
1 Mind's Eye
1 Bolas's Citadel
1 Phyrexian Arena
1 Storm the Vault
1 Inexorable Tide
1 Possibility Storm
1 Deliver Unto Evil
1 Last One Standing
1 Reforge the Soul
1 Yawgmoth's Vile Offering
1 Command the Dreadhorde
1 Decree of Pain
1 Blasphemous Act
1 Ashiok, Dream Render
1 Dack Fayden
1 Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God
1 Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
1 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
1 Karn, the Great Creator
1 The Royal Scions
1 Rowan Kenrith
1 Will Kenrith
1 Liliana Vess
1 Narset, Parter of Veils
1 Saheeli Rai
1 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
1 Saheeli, the Gifted
1 Tezzeret the Seeker
1 Tezzeret, Artifice Master
1 Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge
1 Ugin, the Ineffable
1 Darksteel Citadel
1 Great Furnace
1 Seat of the Synod
1 Vault of Whispers
1 Dragonskull Summit
1 Sulfur Falls
1 Blood Crypt
1 Graven Cairns
1 Cascade Bluffs
1 Temple of Epiphany
1 Temple of Deceit
1 Temple of Malice
1 Crypt of the Eternals
1 Command Tower
1 Karn's Bastion
1 Interplanar Beacon
1 Spinerock Knoll
1 Academy Ruins
The deck is designed to be able to play out fairly quickly and fairly cheaply - or, at least, with a speed that isn't evident in the average CMC anyway. Ultimately what we're looking to achieve is pretty simple:
Our early game is all about establishing board presence. We want some rocks in hand to build up a mana cache and colour fix, and if we have some mid to high level bombs in hand we want to drop Vial Smasher the Fierce early if we can to push through some damage. In terms of early drops, you can either look for pieces that hold your opponents back á la Ashiok, Dream Render or Narset, Parter of Veils or drop some pieces that keep your grip full, like The Royal Scions, Mind's Eye, Phyrexian Arena or Dack Fayden. So long as you're seeing plenty of cards and chipping away at board presence, don't worry overly about losing pieces - ultimately, it's going to happen regardless. Vial Smasher is a common target and there's nothing we can do about it.
Ultimately, this deck works on the concept of threat overload. Each walker present a different set of abilities we can use to put ourselves ahead each turn, and with enough of them on board that can present an insurmountable task to overcome. Not only that, they draw fire away from our life total really commonly, whether that is advisable or not - ultimately they can cause our opponents a lot of distraction and result in misplays.
So what we're going to do at this point, now that we have some degree of board presence, is expand it to become overwhelming. If you can land multiple walkers, great. If you can do it with Vial Smasher the Fierce on the board, even better. If you can draw from them, you're golden. If you can set up a board presence to protect them, you got yourself a really nice platform to overwhelm the board.
This stage of the game is where you're most likely to see some pushback. Early game, it's not quite clear what you're doing. Once people realise, they'll try to stop you. So there's a good chance you may need to play some control here. Sheoldred, Whispering One, Noxious Gearhulk. Last One Standing, Decree of Pain, Blasphemous Act, Possibility Storm, Commit // Memory, these are all options to hang on to for this time in the game. If you can stamp out any resistance at this point, you stand a really good chance of finishing strongly.
Push home the advantage. Ultimately, this is going to look different in most games. There's some surefire finishers in terms of ultimate walker abilities, but because they're literally all swiss-army knives, we have the luxury of being able to use a variety of different tools to win, so going through any degree of permutations or algorithms to victory here is going to take up a lot of space and be pretty convoluted to take in. There's games it'll be easy - cast something large with Vial Smasher the Fierce in play, pop an ultimate. There's games it'll be a lot more complex and you may need to do this:
By nature, the decks I build tend to grind advantage out of a game, and in most ways this is no exception. There's very little here in terms of an immediate win con, aside from Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God. I prefer a slugfest, and while this deck packs some serious firepower, I don't believe there's anything infinite here. So, with all of the various tools at our disposal, we will have to just wait and see what the endgame looks like in each different scenario. Suffice it to say, a lot of the victories you have here will come from overloading walker abilities and triggers, emblems and just overwhelming the board, but ultimately this will look different most games.
Grixis isn't the perfect colours to make mana quickly, so we need some ways to move around it. There's a reasonable reliance of mana rocks here, and there's some weird ones here.
- Crystalline Crawler - This guy generates his own mana, which is sweet, but he just gets stupid with proliferate options on the field. You need not be overly afraid to push all of the counters from this guy early to colour fix, it's more than worth the tempo boost. We can always get cute and Spark Double a copy of him too - if you spend it'll enter with 4 counters. Which is cool, obviously.
- Honor-worn Shaku - This rock has straight up been a revelation. With errata post Jace, Cunning Castaway changing walkers into legendary cards, they can now produce for each tap, and still perform their primary tasks. Add to that the fact that a lot of our legendary creatures we aren't taking into combat and we have a rock that can pump out some crazy mana. It's not uncommon for this to produce upwards of - a turn. It's that good here it actually draws hate above other rocks.
- Coalition Relic - Very similar to the Crawler above, but a little more bursty. Really it needs proliferate to produce swathes of mana, but it still gives us the option of being able to colour fix or save up for burst mana turn by turn,
- Vault of Catlacan - Well, we play a few rocks. Nothing disgusting like Mycosynth Lattice, but Saheeli makes artifacts in all 3 iterations, then we have our mana rocks, we have some critters, we have Vault of Whispers, Seat of the Synod, Great Furnace and Darksteel Citadel, so this is decent. It's commonly a kill on sight threat, so drop it at a point you can at least swing to grab a treasure token from it in case it blows up before it flips. As a legendary enchantment, it also cantrips from Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain, which is cool.
- Neheb, the Eternal - 'This is what glory looks like'. Bolas was right. This guy's a beast. Even casting himself with Vial Smasher in play he replaces the mana used to cast him. Given that it's second main mana, it's 'drive salt into the wound' strategies, but hey, we're in Grixis here. It's what we do. Nonetheless, he works remarkably well to keep momentum up, works well with our walkers and commanders (both of whom deal damage easily) and other picks like Irencrag Pyromancer.
- Signets and Talismans - A lot of our spells are sizable, but predominantly our biggest problem with mana production is color fixing. These are sort of crucial here - my lands are far from optimal, and these are really forgiving. It's worth having them in the list too, because of the deck's artifact synergy. So being able to power them out early and drop some crazy synergy with Vault of Catlacan or Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge is great value.
- Filter Lands - I've recently added Graven Cairns and Cascade Bluffs for the same reason the signets and talismans are here. Colours. Our options for ramping lands are quite minimal, so fixing colours is pretty important.
- Solemn Simulacrum - Sad Robot. Let's not pretend he hasn't aged, because he has. That being said, he drops land, he's an artifact, and a good chump blocker. Those are three layers of synergy, so it's worth having him here.
We have some of the stronger draw options in the colours in this deck, but we also have some fairly irregular options too:
- Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain - Jhoira cantrips upon casting most of the permanents in this deck, by design - I've made sure. It means that with enough cost reduction our turns can be pretty explosive.
- Dig Through Time - We don't have a ton of reanimation here, so committing to digging this deep is easy enough. Not only that, triggering Vial Smasher makes this well worth playing.
- Baleful Strix - Cantrips from Jhoira, rattlesnakes the house down, draws on its entry too. Exceptional card, never leave home without it.
- Walkers - we've got a few that keep our grip full - Dack Fayden, The Royal Scions, Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God, Will Kenrith, Narset, Parter of Veils, Tezzeret, Artifice Master, Ugin, the Ineffable (sort of).
- Necropotence, Phyrexian Arena - Black has some of the best draw in the format, and these are top of the pile. Given we don't have a lot of ways to keep life totals up it's probably important to use them sparingly, but they will get you there in no time.
- Mind's Eye - A little reactive but easy enough to use. Goes really nicely with Honor-Worn Shaku.
- Reforge the Soul, Mindmoil - Similar but not quite the same. They both let us see a lot of cards, which is great. They also help us trigger Irencrag Pyromancer as a bonus.
Essentially, this deck operates mostly like a midrange value grinder. There's a lot of removal and control on our walkers, as well as some card advantage, and we have a few ways of advancing things fairly quickly:
- Counter madness with Flux Channeler, Deepglow Skate
- 'Topdeck' mode with Bolas's Citadel
- Doubling abilities with Rowan Kenrith's emblem and/or Rings of Brighthearth
- Leaning into Vial Smasher to stall out the board
Ultimately, once you hit an ultimate, there's a pretty good chance you're going to wreck someone's day eventually. Bolas' ultimate on any iteration will likely cause the game to end, the Kenriths will give double value to more or less anything you do, and either Tezzeret, Artifice Master or Saheeli, the Gifted flick the switch on 'easy mode'.
As far as combo and proliferate goes there's obviously plenty of scope here, which is nice for some, but I prefer to avoid it - I'm not in a rush, so there's no need to combo or lock the game up entirely. I run a few pieces of proliferate tech in Flux Channeler, Inexorable Tide and Karn's Bastion, but I'm not going to add every piece. A lot of the pieces that would be required to combo have shot up enormously in price recently anyway (seriously, check the damn price on The Chain Veil these days), so it's a bit of a moot point. Regardless, I haven't found them altogether necessary, so I likely won't buy into those options anytime soon.
There are a couple of bits and pieces I eventually would look at including to really make the deck go crazy, but at present it really doesn't need much. Teferi, Temporal Archmage would be nice, but it's up there for price. Some of the more expensive rocks like Mox Opal could be good too, but again, very much not necessary as they're out of my price range. I'd like to add Nicol Bolas, the Ravager to the 99 at some point now that he's rotated out of standard, but I'm in no rush. Mycosynth Lattice would be obscene in the deck, frankly (think of what it would do with Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge, Saheeli, the Gifted, and just our colour fixing!). I'd seriously consider adding a copy if I had one (I did, and traded it like a dumbass). It won't be dropping in anytime soon though, the price of that thing has tripled in the last year.
I'd like to give credit to Dementedkirby and WizardMN for some great discussion and suggestions regarding this build. I know WizardMN has a similar build with Nicol Bolas, the Ravager at the helm, so we have bounced ideas back and forth to great effect.