Legacy can be a tough format to get into. A pool of over 20,000 cards, a deeply-entrenched metagame, and the price tags of some staples means that the format isn’t Magic’s most accessible. Nonetheless, Legacy is a rich and rewarding format to play, and Level One Legacy is all about helping you make a start and find your feet in the format. This week, I’m looking at Grixis Control.
What Grixis Control Does
Grixis Control is an obscenely powerful deck, playing a collection of many of the best cards ever printed in Magic’s history. It’s a popular deck due not only to its power level but also its flexibility and resilience. “Control” is a slightly misleading name for this deck, as it’s a little more midrange-focused than most control decks (especially with its creatures and planeswalker suite), and plays a little more proactively than typical control strategies.
Perhaps the most important—and certainly the most emblematic—card in this deck is Baleful Strix. It does it all—gains card advantage, blocks almost everything, and represents a (very slow) clock once things are under control. It even pitches to Force! While seemingly innocuous, Baleful Strix is a critical component of Grixis Control.
This deck seeks to grind out incremental edges through sources of card advantage such as Baleful Strix and Hymn to Tourach while gaining value with cards such as Kolaghan’s Command and Liliana, the Last Hope. The usual core of blue cards—Brainstorm, Force, Ponder—pull the whole thing together, and the cantrips in particular allow you to sculpt a game plan as required. Either grind them out and win with whatever is lying around, or go bigger with proactive planeswalker deployment.
Grixis Control is a happy marriage of all the classic blue spells that make Legacy what it is, and the very best black and red interaction in the format. This means Grixis Control is both consistent and resilient, without many clear weaknesses. It can beat more or less any other deck. In some ways, it’s a more “grown-up” version of Grixis Delver, with less tempo play and more absolute answers.
This deck is versatile and flexible, adapting to whatever challenges a particular situation throws up. Cantrips like Ponder and Brainstorm help to find the cards that do the most work in a given matchup, whether it’s removal against creatures, discard against combo, or threats when it’s time to shift gears. It’s rare to find Grixis Control spinning its wheels or playing poorly-matched answers.
Despite being a 3-color deck, four basic lands give Grixis Control a fair bit of game against Blood Moon, Back to Basics, and of course Wasteland. Red is mostly a splash in this deck, although it becomes more important post-board (hence the fifth basic in the sideboard, a Mountain), and consequently this deck can fight through strategies that go after greedy mana bases. Given the popularity of cards such as Wasteland, playing a 3-color mana base that doesn’t fold to hate is huge.
Finally, the sideboard for Grixis Control is absolutely terrific, widening its scope of both threats and answers. Bringing in silver-bullet type cards to upgrade the already exceptional disruption in the main deck makes contesting post-board games that much easier, especially against control and combo, where stack interaction becomes so important with Blasts and extra counterspells.
Unfortunately for those looking to beat Grixis Control, the deck has no clear weaknesses outside of a horrific matchup against Lands (which does an excellent job of rendering most of Grixis Control’s game plan entirely irrelevant). This deck is powerful, resilient, and consistent, making it a difficult target to bring down.
But attempting to be 50% against the field means that it also has very few slam-dunk matchups, and you’re generally in with a decent shot if you can either out-maneuver their answers or apply more pressure than they can handle. Grixis Control plays a lot of highly specialized answers (Diabolic Edict, Toxic Deluge, Fatal Push), so if they draw the wrong half of their deck, you can capitalize on that.
And despite the deck’s consistency, this does happen. Sometimes Grixis Control pilots don’t find the answers they need among all their 1- and 2-ofs and in that situation, they’re playing from a clear disadvantage. They rely very heavily on card selection spells to find the tools they need to win, and if that selection is disabled or interfered with, Grixis Control just can’t play very effective Magic.
How to Beat Grixis Control
So what’s the best way to contest Grixis Control? There are two answers to this, and one of them is very simple—play Lands. Lands is more or less immune to discard and card disadvantage, playing a resilient graveyard-based strategy, and has extremely effective answers to Grixis Control’s threats. Lands is a truly nightmarish matchup for Grixis Control.
The second way is to go bigger or go faster. This will test their disruption and force them to have the correct answers right now, rather than burn through cantrips searching. This doesn’t always work. Sometimes they just have it, but snatching wins by getting under them or overwhelming their answers is still a real possibility.
Fast combo can capitalize on this by taking advantage of the fact that Grixis Control plays a somewhat sorcery-speed game plan, opening up the early turns to a quick deployment of the combo. Aggressive decks can capitalize on the fact that Grixis Control has essentially no way to gain life, and is therefore weak to racing or to burn.
Finally, remember that Grixis Control is a very difficult deck to pilot, and this offers you a real chance to leverage any skill differential between you and your opponent. It’s a decision-heavy deck to play, and unskilled or unpracticed pilots won’t get too far without making a misstep. Punish this wherever possible, and take advantage of unprepared or inexperienced pilots.