I’m back from a Top 64 finish in GP Charlotte with the breakout deck of the tournament, Grishoalbrand. I can say with confidence that it was the best deck in the room, as Zach’s record on the weekend was 14-2, and my sanctioned Magic record with the deck is 27-4. Although I didn’t make Top 8, I can’t say I’m too upset with my haul:

Grishoalbrand Deck Tech1

Development

I have always been fascinated by Goryo's Vengeance in Modern, and I once played the Fury of the Horde version of the deck to decent success at some local tournaments. Still, that deck had a bad Twin matchup, so I eventually gave up on it. Fast forward to two weeks ago. My initial plan for GP Charlotte was to skip it. I have never had any real success in Modern, so my plan was to just take the weekend off, or perhaps show up with a fun deck and see some friends. More out of curiosity than anything, I went to MTGSalvation’s Griselbrand thread to see what was going on.

It turns out that a remarkable fellow named Kurata Shintarou from Japan came up with the idea of abusing Nourishing Shoal alongside Griselbrand. Here is the earliest deck list I can find that abuses that engine:

The deck was further developed by several members of the forum, so I decided to try it out. I immediately came to several conclusions:

  1. I hated Leyline of Sanctity. Leyline is an awful Magic card, so I replaced it with Blood Moon, which I think of as a Leyline you can topdeck and still be good.
  2. I hated the green splash for Abrupt Decay that people had been trying. I found Abrupt Decay to be unnecessary as there really weren’t that many permanents that couldn’t be answered via removal or Through the Breach. Cutting green meant that I could add Temples as well as smooth out the mana base for Blood Moon.

With further testing, I came up with the following list for Charlotte:

Game Plan

Here’s the quick summary of how the deck works.

  1. Cheat a Griselbrand into play.
  2. Draw cards and chain Nourishing Shoals until you are able to cast Through the Breach or Goryo’s Vengeance on Borborygmos Enraged.
  3. Throw lands at your opponent’s face.

That is the plan A for the deck, with plan B being Through the Breach + Worldspine Wurm and plan C being random shenanigans with Borborygmos.

There are a few reasons why I think this deck is great, whereas previous iterations of Goryo’s Vengeance fell short.

  1. You can win at instant speed. I routinely beat end-step Exarch by putting a Griselbrand into play and killing them either on the spot or when they untapped with Twin.
  2.  The deck is still blisteringly fast, with a 10-20% turn-2 kill rate. This puts a floor on how “bad” a matchup can be as you get a certain number of free wins.
  3. The deck is also surprisingly consistent. 4 scrylands + 12 cantrips (Faithless Looting, Night’s Whisper, and Manamorphose/Tormenting Voice). Overpowering discard is easy when you topdeck lots of cantrips.
  4. You can beat countermagic by end-of-turn splicing a Goryo’s Vengeance or Through the Breach to draw out a counterspell, and then untap and recast the spell to get a fatty into play.
  5. Post-sideboard games get BETTER. Against decks like Tron, Amulet, and BG/x you gain the chance to turn 1 or 2 Blood Moon them. Against blue decks, you have Pact of Negation and Boseiju to fight through their countermagic. Graveyard hate is surprisingly ineffective as you can simply loot away your Goryo’s Vengeances and go for Through the Breach.

Zach couldn’t find the last few cards for his list, so he made a few substitutions. He decided to play 2 Tormenting Voice as extra discard outlets, which I like except for the fact that Tormenting Voice is bad against Spell Snare and Remand. Playing Tormenting Voice versus Manamorphose is a metagame call.

He also added a Pithing Needle, Torpor Orb, 1 Pyroclasm, 2 Thoughtseizes, and Defense Grid in lieu of Boseiju, 2 Shatterstorm, 2 Inquisition of Kozilek, and Lightning Axe in the sideboard.

I like Pithing Needle as a way to fight hate, and Torpor Orb does actually seem decent as a 1-of to stop infinite creature combos. That way, if you fizzle on your turn, you are still able to land a Torpor Orb via Simian Spirit Guides. I’m not a big fan of Defense Grid as I think Boseiju does most of the same things without costing any mana. I also prefer Inquisition of Kozilek to Thoughtseize because I bring them in against Burn to fight Skullcrack/Deflecting Palm. Shatterstorms were there to beat Affinity which can be a difficult matchup post-sideboard if they bring enough disruption.

Sideboarding

Everybody loves a sideboard guide, and luckily sideboarding with this deck is fairly straightforward.

I typically go down to 1 Manamorphose, and potentially 1 Ritual against the blue decks. I also cut the Noxious Revival fairly often, as it is there to buy back Nourishing Shoals when comboing off, but gets worse as people bring in graveyard hate. Other potential cuts: 1-2 Night’s Whisper against very fast decks, 1 Faithless Looting when the matches are grindy and you expect graveyard hate, 1-2 Through the Breach when it might be too slow, and potentially 1 Temple of Malice.

I will simply go through each card in the sideboard and why it is there.

Blood Moon

As previously mentioned, I found this card to be far better than Leyline of Sanctity. BG/x decks are often forced to strip it from your hand and you only really need one Swamp to operate. It also doubles up as incidental hate against Amulet. Against GR Tron though, I would probably leave them out as it doesn’t actually do very much when they bring in their Nature’s Claims. I also like it on the play against Infect, as they need to fetch their Forest or land a Noble Hierarch to function, if you can Moon them turn 2.

Lightning Axe

Lightning Axe kills hate bears and lets you combo off at instant speed for 3 mana. (Discard Borborygmos, Manamorphose into black mana, and then Goryo’s Vengeance it). I bring it in vs. Twin, Infect, and any decks with white creatures. Thalia, Gaddock Teeg. and Eidolon of Rhetoric are often nuisances. Being able to break the Anafenza/Melira combo is also important.

Pact of Negation

I bring all of them in against the slow blue decks, but only a couple against Delver. If they have discard, I am less likely to bring in multiple copies. If you play Thoughtseize instead of Inquisition of Kozilek, then I might recommend bringing them in against Burn to combat Skullcrack and Deflecting Palm.

Inquisition of Kozilek

Burn, Infect, Ad Nauseam, and Delver. These decks all have cards that can be great to take. I’ve found that the most common way to lose with this deck is to die before it is able to assemble the combo. Decks without a clock are easy as you can overpower their countermagic with Splice/Pact of Negation or beat their discard with topdecks as many of your cards say “I win” on them.

Pyroclasm

Abzan Company, Elves, Affinity, Infect, Burn, Delver.

Shatterstorm

Affinity and Lantern Control (which is probably a TERRIBLE match-up as they have maindeck Surgicals and Pithing Needles).

Boseiju

Slow blue decks that don’t pressure your life total. This includes Twin.

Matchups

Without dedicated hate, I’ve found most matchups to be either favorable or extremely favorable. Twin, BG/x, Affinity, Burn, GR Tron, Amulet, Bogles, Living End, and Collected Company decks all fall in the favorable bucket. Blue decks can’t afford to tap out, and if they do you can kill them. If they play a slower game, you overwhelm them with must-answers and Pact of Negations. BG/x decks are soft to Blood Moon, and any relevant spell you topdeck often just wins you the game on the spot. Aggro decks are scarier to play because even though you are faster, they force you to have it. The big land decks are soft to Blood Moon or too slow, so they are also great matchups. The other random linear decks are just a step too slow and don’t have much interaction.

Zach and I have a combined record of 41-6 with the deck, which to my mind puts it at one of the greatest decks for a tournament of all time, bar none. Three of those six losses are to Infect, and one of them is to Ad Nauseam. I would say the hardest matchups are in order: Lantern Control (haven’t tested but it looks AWFUL on paper), Infect, Ad Nauseam, and Disrupting Shoal Delver. Regular Delver you are a small favorite, but Disrupting Shoal is difficult to play around or overwhelm. Grixis Control with a lot of discard and countermagic can be close as well, but if they only attack from one angle, then beating them is similar to beating regular Delver or Jund.

Conclusion

In addition to being incredibly cool, the deck is also surprisingly complex and highly enjoyable to pilot. There are many interesting non-intuitive lines involving splice, such as exiling Simian Spirit Guides to splice Desperate Rituals onto Nourishing Shoals. In addition, cantrip sequencing is critical. You need to weigh mana efficiency, seeing more cards and the need for speed, all depending on the matchup and board state. There are no hard and fast rules for how to sequence your cantrips.

If your goal is to see the most cards for the next turn, I would typically put the order as Manamorphose -> Night's Whisper/Tormenting Voice -> Faithless Looting -> scryland. If speed is more important, I am more likely to cast Faithless Looting instead of Night’s Whisper in the midgame, but otherwise I would prefer to Whisper first and Loot away any bad draws. In addition to cantrip sequencing, there is a lot of resource management with the deck. You only have a finite amount of creatures, Shoals and free mana sources, and I’ve lost quite a few embarrassing games with my whole deck in my hand. Practice will make sure that you do this less.

One last note before I sign off. I’m only going to recount one round of the GP. Round 11, sitting at 8-2, I am paired with my friend Dave Long. As luck would have it, he was one of the friends I convinced to jump on the Grishoalbrand train. Yup, we have the mirror folks. This match lasted a grand total of ten turns. We begin with the die roll. Dave in his infinite wisdom calls out odd and it lands in his favor. I then begin schemes to mulligan to a turn2 kill. Temple of Malice, Simian Spirit Guide, Faithless Looting, Goryo's Vengeance and Griselbrand stare back at me happily. All I need to do is find a mana source off the Temple and I can kill him on turn 2. He casts Faithless Looting and bins two Griselbrands. I untap, draw a blank, exile my Spirit Guide and hit the land that I need to kill him next turn. I lay my Temple down and cross my fingers. Unfortunately, he has the land and Vengeance necessary and I sadly stare at my own turn-2 kill and scoop them up after he draws his deck.

Game two, he mulligans down to five and I manage to return the favor by killing him on turn 2 after he lays a Temple of Malice on turn 1. Yes, that’s two turn-2 kills in a row for the good guys. He tells me after the match that his hand had two Inquisitions of Kozilek that he couldn’t cast due to the tapped Temple. We shuffle up for the rubber game and I stare at my opener of Swamp, Simian Spirit Guide, Griselbrand, Goryo’s Vengeance and three blanks. He spends the first turn looting junk away while I simply move to discard and bin the Griselbrand. He untaps and Whispers into the night. I untap and reanimate a Demon who eats some very healthy fish, which allows me to draw my deck. I then proceed to reanimate a Cyclops who really likes throwing hills, swamplands, evil temples, gargantuan cliffs, and bloody mires into Dave’s face and we conclude our match.

If you like turn-2 kills, Griselbrand or drawing your deck, I could not recommend this deck more. Best of luck!