It's been a while since I last picked up Grishoalbrand, because I didn't think the metagame was good for it. Until now. I recently went on a hot streak with the deck while streaming Magic Online, winning as many as 14 straight matches and hitting a rating of 1914. Why is the deck good now?
1. The bannings were amazingly favorable for Grishoalbrand
The Gitaxian Probe decks were all unfavorable matchups, as they tended to present disruption plus a fast clock, which is the recipe for beating any combo deck. Furthermore, the ubiquity of Dredge made it so that everybody was playing a lot of graveyard hate.
2. Ramp decks and blue decks have begun to surge
Both macro archetypes are favorable for Grishoalbrand as they give you time to set up and find the combo pieces. If you don't pressure Grishoalbrand's life total, a Griselbrand at any point tends to win the game.
3. Fatal Push means we should see less Path to Exile and Terminate
Of the two, Path was the more problematic card. The two primary avenues of victory are Griselbrand and Worldspine Wurm, and Path effectively weakened the former and completely negated the latter.
See my earlier articles here for card explanations:
Since 2016, I have dropped blue and moved back to playing B/R in order to play Blood Moon.
This card is a solid upgrade to the previous cantrips. The goal of every game is to put a creature into play, and in order to do that, you play cantrips that let you see the most cards possible. Discarding 2 cards is a real drawback, but typically there will be extra creatures or combo pieces you can pitch. In general, it is okay to discard 1 Shoal, but if you discard more, it can be difficult to combo off with Griselbrand. Cathartic Reunion is vulnerable to countermagic, so I do sideboard all of them out against any blue decks.
This card is for Rest in Peace, as well as decks that have a lot of 0-1 CMC creatures/hate permanents.
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
I like this on the play against B/G/x and I like it on the play or draw against Scapeshift and Amulet. I don't think it's worth bringing in against Tron because they have Expedition Map and Oblivion Stone.
Pact of Negation
I bring all three against blue decks, and two against Burn. I can also see bringing in one against Path decks.
Boseiju, Who Shelters All
For counterspell decks.
Burn, Path decks, and combo decks.
I bring this in against artifact decks (Lantern and Affinity) but also against decks that play Relic of Progenitus (Merfolk, B/W Eldrazi Taxes, G/R Titan). It's an effective answer that is difficult to counter.
Read the Bones
Any slow decks and B/G/x. Allows for easier Through the Breaches and adds consistency.
Cards I Board Out
- 1 Borborygmos Enraged (for Emrakul)
- 1 Desperate Ritual (blue decks)
- 1 Through the Breach (fast decks like Affinity)
- 4 Goryo's Vengeance (if they have a ton of graveyard hate, though this is uncommon)
- 1 Night's Whisper (fast decks)
- 4 Cathartic Reunion (blue decks)
- 2 Faithless Looting (B/G/x)
I don't think I have sided out any other card, as they all enable the combo.
I actually think mulliganing with this deck is very bad. In order to assemble Through the Breach, you need a critical mass of cards and each mulligan makes it less likely for that to happen. I keep any hand with castable cantrips or if it's a card away from combo'ing. Furthermore, the discard phase is a very common way to pitch Griselbrand, so each mulligan makes that avenue less likely as well.
You want to have creatures in hand to discard before casting the Lootings and Reunions. Of course, these orders can all change. If you are playing against blue decks, you want to cast Reunion whenever you can dodge counterspells. If you are playing against discard decks, scrying last can be beneficial to protect from discard. But if you need the card this turn, it can be okay to scry and then loot. Everything is situational, but the cantrip sequencing I think is where the most intensive decision making comes. Remember, you are a combo deck, and any game where you do not combo you will 100% lose. So I scry and loot away any card that doesn't let me combo or see the most cards possible before I die. Very often, I loot away Nourishing Shoal + Worldspine Wurm because the 11 life is not worth 2 cards in most situations.
If you have a Griselbrand in play, congratulations! You are now most of the way to winning. But it's important to know when to activate the big Demon. If they have potential removal spells like Path or Vapor Snag, you will want to play any untapped lands and then move to attack with him. This way, you force them to act first and you can draw 7 in response to their spell and continue combo'ing or Pact their spell. But if they do not have removal, then it can be good to activate Griselbrand first in order to have the chance to put a second creature into play before attacks.
Also remember that it's perfectly acceptable to pass the turn instead of jamming draw-7s until you whiff. This deck has a very real fail rate, so I tend to draw until I am guaranteed a win this turn or until I can pass the turn and still have a decent chance at winning. For example, there are many situations where you don't have enough Simian Spirit Guides left in your deck, or they are on the bottom of your deck. In that case, it can be good to leave yourself a couple combo pieces and try again next turn when you will have more mana available.
Against blue decks, you often put Griselbrand into play on your end step when they tap low. In this case, it can be good to activate Griselbrand during their turn so that you don't have to discard to hand size.
In worst-case scenarios, you can discard until you have Borborygmos Enraged in your graveyard and attempt to win on your upkeep.
Beating Relic of Progenitus and similar hate spells
Often you can Goryo's Vengeance a target, they pop the Relic, and you can Goryo's Vengeance a second time to get your creature into play before the Relic ability resolves.
These matchups are generally favorable because they give you time to set up and don't pressure your life total. You can overwhelm their countermagic by using the splice onto arcane mechanic. For example, you can splice a Through the Breach onto a Nourishing Shoal during your opponent's end step. If they counter it, they have likely tapped two lands and you can untap and try again with the Through the Breach that is still in your hand. This gets even easier post-sideboard when you have Pact of Negations. Overall, blue decks are more constrained on mana than you are and you should exploit these opportunities.
Fast aggro decks (Burn, Affinity)
These matchups are surprisingly difficult. Goryo's Vengeance is your best bet because you want to combo quickly without taking too much damage. Prioritize safeguarding your life total because it can be quite difficult to combo off with Griselbrand when you are under 7 life.
You can plan for a longer game here. Typically, they will strip your hand in the early turns, and you need to follow that up by continually hand sculpting until you can combo off again. If they don't play Path to Exile, any creature should be able to finish the game as they deal a significant amount of damage to themselves.
Ramp decks (Tron, Amulet)
Straight race. Just remember that against Ad Nauseam you should put your Borborygmos Enraged into play on your end step. That way, they have to spend an Angel's Grace on your turn and you can kill them on their upkeep.
You're pretty favored game 1 as they don't have great means of interacting outside of Scavenging Ooze. Just be wary of that card and you should be fine. Post-sideboard, it can be a little more difficult and I like Collective Brutality as a way of clearing any Path to Exiles while slowing their game plan down.
Overall, I think Grishoalbrand is well positioned at the moment and I recommend it to anybody who enjoys complicated combo decks. Here's an updated list of achievements you should try and go for!
- Hardcast Griselbrand
- Hardcast Borborygmos Enraged
- Annihlate someone with Emrakul… twice in the same game
- Win with Pact trigger on the stack
- Win with 0 cards left in deck
- Pay for Pact of Negation
- Win on turn 1
- Blood Moon on turn 1
- Win with only Borborygmos Enraged
- Splice Through the Breach onto Goryo's Vengeance
- Attack with 30+ power
- Beat an Iona on red by splicing Through the Breach onto Nourishing Shoal
- Cast Nourishing Shoal for the XGG mana cost
- Win with monkey beatdown
- Hardcast Emrakul (okay this one is a stretch, but I've done every other one!)