It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Spoiler season is back and while only a few cards have been revealed as I’m writing, the set looks promising and exciting. Convoke is back, undergrowth and mentor seem like they could have potential, and we got a twist on scry and flashback with surveil and jump-start.
As a lot of people had predicted, the shocklands are back as well and given the color combinations represented in Guilds of Ravnica (Izzet, Golgari, Boros, Dimir, Selesnya), the 3-color combo winners are Grixis, Jeskai, Sultai, Naya, and Abzan as far as mana fixing goes. If you decide to play these Shards/wedges, you’ll have access to two shocklands in your combination, as well as all three checklands (Glacial Fortress, Sunpetal Grove, etc.).
This spoiler season is especially exciting as with the Guilds of Ravnica release comes the huge Standard rotation that pretty much everyone has been waiting for (except maybe Owen Turtenwald and Logan Nettles).
Farewell to the One and Only, and His Servants
While some decks like Reservoir Combo and U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift will not survive the rotation and others like Turbo Fog and U/W Control will remain mostly unscathed, Grixis falls somewhere in the middle. There is no shortage of good cards left to chose from and with the Izzet and Dimir guilds both being a part of the new set, we will probably get a bunch of new tools to build from, but some of the most important cards are rotating out.
With Fatal Push, and Magma Spray gone, Grixis’s early game is going to take a big hit, and with the loss of Abrade, the deck might not have the flexibility to deal with artifact threats as well. It’s possible that with Scrapheap Scrounger and eternalize cards gone, Shock could end up being a better option than Magma Spray anyway, but it might not be if undergrowth ends up being a Constructed playable. Magma Spray was also useful at dealing with Rekindling Phoenix part of the time.
You also lose two of your most potent end-game cards, The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk. The blue-black God, and especially Gearhulk’s ability to help you turn the corner, were second to none and it remains to be seen if Grixis, an archetype that was probably not quite tier 1 pre-Guilds of Ravnica, can thrive and survive without them.
With Gearhulk out of the picture along with Whirler Virtuoso, Vizier of Many Faces, Hour of Devastation, and Sweltering Suns, Grixis is left without great answers to Vine Mare, a card that was already fairly hard to deal with when you had access to all of these cards. It should still see play in the new Standard. I’ve taken a look at ways to deal with the green Horse if it hits play, and so far the best I could come up with is Verix Bladewing.
Finally, say goodbye to Liliana, Death’s Majesty, Champion of Wits, Commit // Memory, Supreme Will, Harnessed Lightning, and especially Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, which was probably your best tool against control decks.
Ral, a New Best Friend?
All right, I think that’s it for the bad news. The good news is that you will have access to what should be two of the most powerful cards in the new Standard: Ral, Izzet Viceroy and Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. Nicol Bolas quickly became a staple in Grixis, and there’s no reason that will change, especially with Glorybringer and Chandra, Torch of Defiance out of the picture.
While it seems obvious that the new Izzet planeswalker isn’t as strong as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, it will be interesting to see how it compares to Liliana, Death’s Majesty, which was usually a 2-of in Grixis and Blue-Black Midrange. Its +1 ability, which allows you to look at the top two cards of your library and put one of them onto your hand and the other into your graveyard is way better than Liliana’s +1, but the -3 ability, which deals damage to a target creature equal to the total number of instant and sorcery cards you own in exile and in your graveyard, might be underwhelming and force you to play with more cards like Opt or Chart a Course than you would want.
Ral’s ultimate, which reads “-8: You get an emblem with ‘Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell, this emblem deals 4 damage to any target and you draw two cards'” seems just about as game winning as Teferi’s and much better than Liliana’s.
We already know that Grixis will have access to at least Sinister Sabotage and Thought Erasure, two all around solid spells, even though potentially a tiny bit clunky at times. Cancel and a bad Castigate is nothing to get excited about, but I think that surveil 1 should push them over the top, especially in combination with the -3 ability of Ral, Izzet Viceroy and Search for Azcanta. Sinister Sabotage is, for the most part, a better Dissolve, and if I recall properly, that card saw a ton of play in Standard.
With that said, here is my first shot at a Grixis build post-rotation:
I think that 27 lands is right without cards like Siphoner or Champion of Wits, but that might lead to some floods now that the cycling duals are gone. Playing 8 spells with surveil 1 might mean that you can get away with 26, especially if you cut a land for the third Opt or the third Search for Azcanta.
I decided to include a copy of Shock and Duress for curve purposes, even though you have very few ways to cast them on turn 1 in the hopes of being able to play two spells in one turn down the line and power up Ral’s -3 ability, but Shock might end up being a bit gimmicky.
Speaking of gimmicky, Spit Flame has the benefit of being able to get rid of an opposing Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and other legendary creatures, as well as Steel Leaf Champion. I’ve been increasingly impressed with Nezahal, Primal Tide, and if U/W Control and Turbo Fog are a big part of the metagame, you could maindeck it to get some free wins as Root Snare, Settle the Wreckage, and Seal Away aren’t particularly effective against it. If you untap with the Dino, you should usually take over the game in rapid fashion. It also has the added benefit of being an extra blocker for Vine Mare if it gets to that point.
It’s still too early to know what the right configuration for Grixis will be, and you might have to wait for the metagame to establish itself to see it rise to the top, but having access to a third color might prove valuable since rotation means access to fewer cards, and straight 2-color midrange or control decks might struggle to assemble a powerful and versatile enough 75. At any rate, Grixis should have more weapons in its arsenal and be able to adapt more easily to the metagame week after week.
And with tons of cards still left to reveal and two guilds to pick from, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope for a good cheap removal spell, whether it’s creature only or something a bit more like Abrade. We can only wait and see!