I don’t make this claim often enough, but Grixis Control is great right now.
What? You mean a pro Magic player chose to play a deck they don’t think is the best?!
All the time. When it comes to Modern, I really find that the format rewards great sideboarding, intricate knowledge of the matchups, and above all, playing Snapcaster Mage! But now, Grixis Control is quickly becoming the best choice for your next Modern tournament. Today I’m going to discuss this, share a little bit about my experience at Grand Prix Toronto (a team GP where my lovely teammates allowed me to play Modern), and explain a little bit about the direction on the format.
The first thing you want to understand about Magic is that when things are balanced, formats are cyclical. If there are answers for the “best deck,” people will play them to beat this best deck until people stop playing it. Going into Grand Prix Toronto, the best two decks were Hollow One and Humans. Thus, the cards to pick up in popularity were Path to Exile, as it answers every threat in both decks—exiling is an important clause in potentially both matchups because of the graveyard component of Hollow One—and Xathrid Necromancer from Humans.
As deck that play Path to Exile pick up in popularity, so will their natural predators (Scapeshift, Tron, etc). This keeps the format churning, as then we see decks like Affinity and Infect crop up to best those.
Right now, we’re between the shift from Humans’ dominance to the Path to Exile decks that defeat it. Grixis fits in between these two decks flawlessly. Grixis has the tools to dismantle Humans, while also beating its predators, thanks to black discard and better removal in the form of Push and Terminate.
Jeskai is the first deck that comes to mind when I think of the deck I want to play to defeat Humans and Hollow One. The new Jeskai decks lean on Teferi, Hero of Dominaria as their top-end threat to defeat other midrange decks. Against another midrange blue deck, this is the exact card I don’t want to be playing. Don’t get me wrong—Teferi is an extremely powerful card, especially in a format where you get to untap two lands and have Logic Knot, Path to Exile, Lightning Helix, Lightning Bolt, and Negate to cast, but that’s not what is important in these control mirrors. In these control mirrors, what truly matters is not tapping out on your main phase because if you do, it allows your opponent to play their haymaker spell.
In a control mirror with counterspells, you don’t want to be the first to spend your mana. If you spend your mana on your turn and your opponent counters your spell, they now have the ability to untap and play the most expensive spell from their hand without fear that their spell will be countered. Functionally, this is like playing two spells in a turn because you get to spend most or all of your mana on back-to-back turns.
Thus, the way I like to approach my threats has changed in the past few years of Magic. I want to find the cheapest threats that answer the problems I’m looking to address, but ones that aren’t “liabilities” in control mirrors. This concept ranges in importance. Right now, when I expect Jeskai, Abzan, Mardu, and Esper to pick up in popularity, I don’t want to risk spending 4-5 mana at sorcery speed when I could spend 1-3 mana and hold up Logic Knot, Countersquall, or Mana Leak. When the format circles back around to cheap linear decks like Affinity, Infect, Bogles, and Burn, this will be less important but will still something to be aware of.
With all this in mind, what did I play at GP Toronto? And how did the deck do?
I registered the following:
This deck was great for me. I lost a close opening match to Hollow One 1-2, and after that went on a rampage.
Round 1: Hollow One 1-2
Round 2: Humans 2-0
Round 3: Tron 2-1
Round 4: Lantern Control 2-1
Round 5: Jeskai 2-1
Round 6: Storm 2-0
Round 7: Bogles 2-0
Round 8: Humans 2-1
A lot of these matches were close, but one thing remained constant for me. I was really happy with Young Pyromancer. Young Pyromancer was one of the cards on my short list to address the problem of Hollow One. It makes small chump blockers that can block the Anglers and the Hollow Ones, and casting these spells gets you closer to your game plan of turning the corner, tapping their team a few times with Cryptic Command, and closing the game out. It also really does work against Liliana of the Veil—Tasigur often gets picked off, as you want to play it on turns 4-5 and a crafty Jund player will hold their Liliana for your first creature.
Young Pyromancer also excelled in spots I didn’t expect it to against Humans and Control! Humans isn’t known for their large creatures but they can certainly make some thanks to Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant. Against these, you can reasonably chump block with some Elemental friends as you develop your mana, kill any Aether Vials and Cavern of Souls, and go back to countering all their flyers that you might lose to.
The amount of time Young Pyromancer gave me over the tournament was uncharted territory. In my final match, it allowed me to turn the corner going into turns against a Human player where I thought I was dead at 1 life against their five creatures. I managed to chain a Thought Scour into a Snapcaster to survive their first turn. Then on the next two turns I was able to cast enough spells to make tokens, remove all of their blockers, and tap their team with Cryptic to deal barely over lethal damage. No other card I’ve played at a premier level event could have won that match. Damnation would have gotten me a draw. Pia wouldn’t have been enough because of the mana cost. Keranos wouldn’t have allowed me to survive. But Young Pyromancer, it did the heavy lifting that day and allowed me to leave one of the most exciting matches I’ve played since PT RIX victorious and with jitters.
I’m going to be playing Grand Prix Vegas, and I’m likely going to be registering something similar to the deck list above. If you want to do well at one of the biggest events of the year, get practicing now with the deck. It’s highly rewarding, the games are fun to play, and above all, you’re playing some of the best spells and creatures printed in the last ten years of Magic. What’s not to love?
Here’s a list of cards I get asked about a lot on social media! Do you like this card? Why/why not?
Keranos – Good in slow, grindy metagames. When Jund/Mardu/B/G are the best decks, this card is great. Otherwise, it’s hard to cast at 5 mana and can be answered somewhat easily by things like Celestial Purge and Path to Exile.
Vendilion Clique – Metagames light on cheap removal. I don’t like turning on the enemy’s main-deck removal. As such, I think Clique is a better sideboard card. But this card can be really potent against the combo decks (Scapeshift, Storm, Tron, Lantern, etc).
Liliana, the Last Hope – Great in a field of small creatures. I was going to play this one before I jumped on board with Young Pyromancer. She’s excellent in grindy metagames where you want to have noncreature threats or don’t expect your enemy to have creatures (Scapeshift, Jeskai, Esper, Grixis, etc.).
Electrolyze – Mostly a worse Kolaghan’s Command. Every time I think about this card, I think it’s better than it plays out. If Lingering Souls were defining the metagame and there were tons of 1-toughness creatures, I could get on board because unlike Staticaster, it’s not dead against control.
Kalitas – Best against creatures with “when this dies” abilities and when your life total is relevant. You need to be sure in the matchup that you can tap out for a 4-mana spell, which is tricky when your life total also matters (Hollow One, Chord of Calling/Company decks, G/W Hate Bears, etc.).
Thanks for reading, and I hope to meet many of you next weekend at GP Las Vegas!