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Decknology: Grixis Control and GW Aggro

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, FNM, Standard

Editor’s Note: Decknology is a weekly series with two Standard decks you can sleeve up tonight for Friday Night Magic. We hope to feature some Tier 1 decks and some spicy brews, but need your help! For a chance to be featured, submit your decklist with accompanying article (about 750 words) to editor@legitmtg.com. For best results, focus on what makes your 75 stand out from the crowd.

Previously on Decknology: Restoration Angel and Trading Post; Tezzeret Superfriends and BUG DelverUB Vampires and Monoblack Artifacts; Hellrider and Quirion Dryad; Naya Beats and RG Aggro

Grixis Control by Mike Keknee

Mike Keknee (pronounced Kenny) is a teacher and grinder who has been playing Magic off and on since 1999. He plays in the Columbus, Ohio, area.

I recently wrote about how to improve your brewing capacity, providing a framework how to successfully navigate building a deck from scratch. Shortly after, I scored a nice return (second place at the TCG 5k Open in Columbus) on one of my own builds.

The Deck

Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker is just a fun and insane card. I missed it the first time around, but the allure was too great to resist. The colors and cost lend themselves to a serious control deck, and from the beginning there were two real options. Survive to the point where Bolas can be cast, or ramp as quickly as possible into the baddest of the Elder Dragons (sorry Chromium).

Realistically, the various Wolf Run decks are going to ramp better and Karn, Liberated is probably the better/easier choice for such a deck. Additionally, there have been a number of “all in” builds running around with all the Gilded Lotus (Loti?) and Griselbrand. While this may be fun, the grips where you have tons of mana with no removal are going to be frustrating.

There were a lot options for how to go about building a shell. As Grixis master Patrick Chapin has stated, most builds end up feeling too much like UB control. I wanted to go a little further down the rabbit hole and dust off this beauty …

Hot right?

Chandra, the Firebrand has been extremely underused. Her power level is deceptive. The deck was built to drop her onto an empty board after using Whipflares and Slagstorms, and from there, she does a number of things very well.

  • She picks off the mana guys. The major pod variants (especially Naya) count on their mana dorks to get there late with Gavony Township or to start the chain. Chandra does a great job keeping them off these guys. In many cases she will reach her ultimate before these players have a chance to regain their steam. Then they die …with fire.
  • She creates a tidal wave of value. Getting to your Titans generally means game over. Doubling a Ponder or Forbidden Alchemy is amazing. Doubling Doom Blades feels unfair most of the time. And she makes every Bonfire of the Damned a miracle.
  • She plays the role of wall very well. In the games where your removal isn’t enough, most opponents fear what you might copy enough to point everything at her. The games where she saves you four to eight life over a few turns can be the real difference.

The Cards

I recognized quickly that black was not where I wanted to be. Doom Blades are necessary in the meta now, but Black Sun’s Zenith just doesn’t cut it anymore. Mutilate is powerful, but the mana requirement is too heavy. Red features some of the best removal currently available. Between Whipflare, Slagstorm and Villain No. 1, Bonfire of the Damned, the red mass removal gallery is incredible. Having access to Pillar of Flames shored up the Game 1 Zombies matchup.

Blue mainly smooths out the draws, but it is also the color of the deck’s two true powerhouses:

It does not take a genius to know Snapcaster Mage is good. However, he really shines here. The deck can play such a diverse amount of removal because this guy does so much work. He essentially acts as another copy of anything in the deck, and attacks and blocks. Frost Titan may seem less obvious, and there was an Inferno Titan in the deck for a while, but the rise of ramp led to the return of Zealous Conscripts. On a similar board, a Zealous Conscripts is far less dangerous to you if you have Mr. Frosty. Many of the pod decks will not be able to pay the two mana for a number of turns. When you try to stabilize with Inferno Titan, a Zealous Conscripts says take 12 and die.

There are a number of one-ofs in the deck, and this is where testing was truly helpful. The great group that I play with in Columbus allowed me test against a number of decks and from that, things like the singleton Ghost Quarter (for the Inkmonth Nexuses running around) or Incinerate (respect for Rancor and Wolfir Avenger) appeared. I desperately wanted to play Flames of the Firebrand (The synergy almost writes itself!), among other cards, but it was the perfect example of being honest about the card selection. They underperformed, so they got the Lava Axe.

It may not be perfect numbers wise, but Ponder does a lot of work to smooth the draws. The lack of Scars lands is purposeful. You need to hit your landdrops untapped for Titans to arrive on time, and this manabase has only one land that you can draw late that will come into play tapped.

Reading through the sideboard probably feels pretty generic except the line that reads … 2 Fettergeist. These were a late addition in an attempt to shore up the creature matches. These may have been too cute, but they were responsible for a few wins. The main idea is that most opponents will board out lots of removal. These guys block almost everything relevant in the format, and when they eat a removal spell, they make your Titans that much more devastating.

This deck is a blast to play. Your draws are always exciting, and the deck allows for many lines of play. Take it for a spin!

— Mike Keknee

Terran Rush by TJ Drake

When he isn’t studying for graduate school or working multiple jobs, TJ enjoys brewing new and unique decks. While not all decks are successful, he enjoys going to FNM and taking people by surprise. TJ also enjoys reading, martial arts, and the great outdoors.

When I started playing Magic, one of my first decks was the green Urza’s Saga intro deck with some tweaks. I loved the feeling of getting out cheap creatures and smashing my opponents. The deck was not very competitive and lacked consistency, but in middle school it seemed pretty dang sweet. It used a combination of Rancor and big echo creatures (such as Cradle Guard and Pouncing Jaguar). I wanted to recreate that feeling and awaken the Timmy in me, but I also wanted to have a chance of winning when I do it.

One underrated card offered me this opportunity. Descendants’ Path has the potential to be game breaking. It’s not just card advantage, it’s also mana advantage. For three mana, you could get a free creature every other turn for the rest of the game. There are some downsides. It is in a crowded slot for the color, it requires a deck to be built around it entirely, and it has super creepy art.

But with three criteria in mind — tribal, 50 percent creatures, and functional without Descendants’ Path — I decided a GW human aggro deck would be the best fit.

Card choices

Champion of the Parish and Champion of Lambholt are the main engines. With so many creatures, these cards will be powerhouses with or without Descendants’ Path. Avacyn’s Pilgrim can power out a Turn 2 Path. Mayor of Avabruck serves as our human lord, since Hamlet Captain is far too limited with its pumping.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben punishes the tempo and control decks and Fiend Hunter offers the only maindeck removal. It will be reserved to handle some of the bomb creatures that midrange decks such as WRR or Pod tend to spit out early mid game. Knight of Glory seems like an odd choice, but this deck struggles to keep creatures on the board against black decks, and we need at least one for Path to work. It also isn’t terrible if a Silverblade Paladin pairs with either of our Champions. A solo Mentor of Meek works really well with Descendants’ Path, but the three-mana spot is awfully crowded to consider more than one. A solo Captain of the Watch also gives us some lategame viability.

I considered Doomed Traveler as the one-drop, but Champion is so much better unless you have a tight budget. Nearheath Pilgrim performed admirably as the two-drop, but it isn’t so good against control. Borderland Ranger is excellent in almost any deck, but we don’t really need the mana acceleration. Wolfir Silverheart is good in any green deck, but Captain of the Watch can flip off Descendants’ Path.

Descendants’ Path is obviously a four-of as the inspiration for the deck, and Increasing Devotion is a very strong finisher. It has strong synergy with the Champions, and Thalia is surely dead by the time you need to cast it. Faith’s Reward can stop blowouts from Bonfire of the Damned and allows you to overextend on creatures as long as you have the mana available. Gavony Township is a must, although more than two stretches the manabase. It can win games by pushing Champion of Lambholt over the top or turning your Increasing Devotion army into a legitimate force.


The deck plays very aggressively, and it’s important to know what order creatures should come out and when to hold creatures back.

On Turn 1, play Avacyn’s Pilgrim over Champion of the Parish if you have an important three-drop like Descendants’ Path. It is important to get that card advantage as soon as possible. On Turn 2, get out a quick Descendants’ Path against all decks, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben against control decks, or a Nearheath Pilgrim against other aggro decks.

By Turn 3, the world is your oyster! You can drop Mentor of the Meek if you can get some cards out of it, Mayor of Avabruck to start pumping those humans, Champion of Lambholt to put a clock on the game, or Fiend Hunter to clear a threat. Turn 4 is where it can get tricky. If playing against decks that run sweepers, make sure not to overextend, although it’s not too big of a deal if you have Descendants’ Path. By Turn 5. you can activate Gavony Township to help regain some lost power.

Our best matchup tends to be midrange decks such as Birthing Pod because they can rarely deal with the aggressive large threats. Fast aggro decks such as RW humans and Zombies often turn into a race, and in-game decisions often determine the game more than the cards. Delver can be a bit tricky if they keep snagging Champions, but being able to stick a Thalia or Nearheath Pilgrim can break their tempo enough to grind out a win. Black and Bonfire decks offer the biggest challenge because of all the removal.


Almost every creature in this deck is a threat that can’t go unchecked. Even with lots of removal, your opponents must decide who to kill, when to wipe the board, or even how to block. From Turn 4 onward, this deck applies immense pressure to all the current popular decks. Sleeve it up for FNM. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

— TJ Drake

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