Grixis Energy, Part 1 – Understanding the Archetype

Written by Zach Cramer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Grixis Energy, Part 1 – Understanding the Archetype

Zach Cramer

Zach is a Northeastern Magic grinder who specializes in eternal formats. When building decks, he has a strong preference to Blue cards, toolboxes and combo decks. With a recent RPTQ finish just short of an invitation, Zach hopes to take his skills to the next level and play on the Pro Tour.

Hello everyone! With the coming of Rivals of Ixalan and the recent Standard bans, the format has been in a state of flux, even more so than with previous new sets. As the new format emerges, people are looking for what to play. Today, I’m going begin a two part article talking about the Grixis lists I played last weekend and some of the ideas emerging from it over the last week. My hope for this article is to break down the rough outline of the developing format that is still forming its identity, establish the core cards in Grixis lists, expand on the goals of various versions. Next week, with a little bit more testing, I’ll offer some helpful tips on card selection and how I approach the different matchups in the emerging format.


The Shake-Up

By now, we’re all familiar with the bans, but, I would like to touch briefly on how these bans shape the new Standard environment. Wizards’ rationale for these bans were to address the problems that emerged from the win rates for Temur’s excellent mana base enabling an incredible post-board win rate and Mono-Red’s Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon’s ability to be pre-boarded for many matchups and have a staggeringly strong late game. Wizards banned these cards produce a broader field and spread Standard’s answers out so that no single archetype has a monopoly on them. In a sense, I believe these bans may have given us aggro strategies that don’t have the same free late game inevitability; control strategies that go over the top of midrange strategies; and a diverse series of midrange decks clamoring for who would be on top. The format is still young, so we can’t perfectly define the metagame, but, Logan Nettles posted some of his testing data, which gives us a reasonable idea of what’s floating around:

Nettles’s data, which is based on about 100 matches, suggests that Grixis is the most played deck with solid patches of aggro and control not too far behind. With that in mind, I’m going to dive deep on the Grixis archetype so that we can see how it’s attacking the new metagame.

For the purposes of this article, let’s distinguish three different flavors of Grixis:

4 Rekindling Phoenix
4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
1 Torrential Gearhulk
4 Whirler Virtuoso
2 The Scarab God
3 Glorybringer
2 Fatal Push
2 Magma Spray
2 Abrade
3 Harnessed Lightning
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
1 Essence Scatter
1 Chart a Course
3 Vraska’s Contempt
1 Supreme Will
3 Fetid Pools
3 Canyon Slough
3 Spirebluff Canal
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Aether Hub
1 Swamp
2 Mountain
1 Island
Sideboard
1 Dire Fleet Daredevil
1 River’s Rebuke
1 Vraska’s Contempt
1 Jace’s Defeat
3 Dreamstealer
1 Abrade
1 Fatal Push
1 Glimmer of Genius
1 Magma Spray
2 Negate
2 Duress
4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
4 Whirler Virtuoso
2 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
2 Torrential Gearhulk
2 The Scarab God
2 Glimmer of Genius
2 Essence Scatter
4 Harnessed Lightning
1 Disallow
3 Fatal Push
2 Vraska’s Contempt
2 Search for Azcanta
2 Abrade
2 Supreme Will
4 Fetid Pools
3 Canyon Slough
4 Spirebluff Canal
2 Dragonskull Summit
2 Drowned Catacomb
4 Aether Hub
3 Swamp
2 Mountain
2 Island
Sideboard
2 Vraska’s Contempt
1 Chandra’s Defeat
2 Abrade
1 Disallow
2 Essence Scatter
1 Magma Spray
4 Negate
2 Duress
4 Glint Sleeve Siphoner
4 Whirler Virtuoso
2 Ravenous Chupacabra
3 Glorybringer
2 The Scarab God
2 Torrential Gearhulk
3 Fatal Push
3 Harnessed Lightning
3 Abrade
1 Essence Scatter
2 Supreme Will
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
3 Vraska’s Contempt
3 Fetid Pools
3 Canyon Slough
4 Spirebluff Canal
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Aether Hub
1 Swamp
2 Mountain
1 Island
Sideboard
3 Negate
2 Duress
1 Dispossess
1 Fatal Push
1 Glimmer of Genius
2 Search for Azcanta
2 Hour of Devastation
1 Chandra’s Defeat
1 Magma Spray
1 Abrade

 

The Core

Despite there being a significant amount of variation between successful Grixis lists, a core suite of cards is common among them. This core establishes Grixis as a midrange to controlling strategy that leverages card advantage and removal with sticky threats that win when unanswered.

  • 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner: Siphoner is really at the core of each of these Grixis decks. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is Standard’s new powerhouse. If you establish a reasonable supporting cast, Siphoner is card advantage engine will likely win you the game. Grixis does this much better than any other deck, because it can provide you with additional energy reserves.

  • 4 Whirler Virtuoso: Virtuoso is the glue that makes Siphoner busted. Outside of the strong removal Grixis offers, the ability to provide defense and energy reserves for such a low cost carries an incredible benefit and is one of the major benefits to choosing to add a third color.

  • 3 Vraska’s Contempt: Contempt is a standby in each of these decks and is very likely Standard’s best removal spell. Without Attune with Aether, Harnessed Lightning does a worse Terminate impression, and the continued dominance of Chandra and indestructible Gods, as well as recursive “must-exile” threats like The Scarab God, cement Vraska’s Contempt as a one-stop-shop for a universal answer to any problem and an awesome addition to midrange decks, preventing them from losing to the first haymaker in a mid-game battle.

  • 2 The Scarab God: Scarab God is busted and is almost universally held by the community as the champion of new Standard. This card is an easy inclusion because of how difficult it is to permanently deal with and its ability to singlehandedly take over games when the Grixis removal gives the necessary time.

  • 2-4 Copies of Supreme Will and Essence Scatter: These cards are excellent additions to a broad format defined by a variety of threats that often use creatures as win conditions. Supreme Will is incredibly flexible and helps the developing turns. Essence Scatter provides mana advantage by having to only commit two mana to answer large threats and addresses indestructible creature threats like The Scarab God or Hazoret. These cards compliment holding up mana for removal well by allowing you to not just attack the board that already exists, but keep troublesome ETB creatures from ever entering play.

  • 7-10 Other Removal Spells: Harnessed Lightning, Abrade, Magma Spray and Fatal Push combine in various numbers to feature an incredibly robust removal suite. While Contempt is a catch-all, these cheaper removal spells help you stay alive in the early game before you get to your 4th land drop. These cards all have unique roles within the deck and, when combined with the draw power of Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, can be readily available to provide a steady stream of answers. In a broad metagame, having cards that can remain flexible is important—for example, Abrade combats both aggressive creature strategies and over-the-top artifacts, like God-Pharaoh’s Gift or Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. The new metagame features aggressive creatures, a resurgence in artifacts both big and small, and tribal strategies that really showcase the range of these removal spells.

  • 2-3 Card Advantage Mechanisms: Whether it’s Chandra, Search for Azcanta, or Glimmer of Genius, successful Grixis lists supplement Siphoner’s card advantage in different ways, allowing Grixis to emerge from a one-for-one attrition fight against aggro and to keep their head above water when going long against control. Each of these cards provides an avenue to contribute to the game’s in their own way—Chandra offers a clock while digging deeper into your deck; Search keeps your hand filled while offering some selection, provided you build your deck in a specific way; and Glimmer provides a one-time injection of curated cards.

The Flex

After establishing the core, most Grixis lists have somewhere between 5 and 7 additional slots to play with, and what you do with these slots largely depends on the expected metagame. Do you perhaps want to start a Torrential Gearhulk, because you’re expecting more midrange decks this weekend, or do you perhaps want to play more Magma Sprays because you’re expecting more Scrapheap Scroungers? Perhaps the biggest difference between each version of Grixis, though, is the four-drop creature slot—while each list features a unique card in the four-drop slot, they all address the midgame in a different way, which really helps to provide a distinct idea of their role in the matchup.

  • Ravenous Chupacabra: Chupacabra answers Enrage threats well and fights longer with small advantages. Chupacabra doesn’t dominate the board, but, it always kills something and sticks around to attack or block. A solid 2 for 1 effect.

  • Rekindling Phoenix: Phoenix leverages early removal to help pull ahead, and is difficult to profitably remove at all points in the game. Having this threat helps clear the way for The Scarab God or even a Glorybringer when your opponent has to answer it with premium removal. This helps further tax cards like Vraska’s Contempt.

  • Gonti, Lord of Luxury: Gonti provides card and board advantage utilizing some of the opponent’s best tools against them. Gonti offers you selection and card advantage in a body that loves to block. Gonti is much more suited for a later game as your mana often gets tied up early, and is really good at helping you turn the corner in topdeck wars

  • Hostage Taker: Hostage Taker provides card and board advantage utilizing your opponent’s creatures against them and provides the added utility of being able to take artifacts like Heart of Kiran or God Pharaoh’s Gift. It can even take your own creatures, hiding them from a sweeper or allowing you to reuse their ETB abilities post-sweeper again!

The major consideration when you’re building your Grixis deck is how you’d like to approach various matchups. Depending on the extra creatures and spells you select, your deck will play out in a different way. Obviously a stark difference like Disallow versus Rekindling Phoenix draws a specific line on how reactive you’re looking to be, but, some of the choices the sample lists have made provide really interesting differences. DeCandio’s aggro list offers proactive threats against control, but needs to make sure they can curtail aggro. Using cards like Chart a Course and going lower on reactive spells like Scatter and Will show he’s looking to tap out and use removal to clear the way more often than letting his opponent set the pace. Fountain’s control list on the other hand, offers excellent holding power, but lacks closing speed opting to add Disallows and trim on removal to remove creatures on the stack, utilizing more late game advantages like Search for Azcanta over Chandra to keep cards in hand to be used later, which further synergizes with his counterspells. Finally, Steur’s list aims to seek a quasi-middle ground without sacrificing early removal for midgame threats by choosing creatures that can attack and serve as removal spells like Glorybringer and Chupacabra and having his closing power in the form of Torrential Gearhulk, which can flashback powerful spells, but, also serve as a win condition. Steur’s list is certainly playing lots of powerful cards, but, these powerful cards often put a strain on the manabase.

The Mana

The banning of Attune with Aether pulled back the curtain on Standard’s mana base situation. Simply put, it’s terrible. Ally colors get buddy lands and cycle lands, while enemy colors get taplands and fast lands. They all sort of converge on one problem, though—developing your mana in preparation of your powerful four-drop is a real chore. If your deck has fast mana and taplands, you need to save your basic for the fourth turn, since eight of your lands will always enter tapped after turn four. If your deck has cycle lands and buddy lands, you’ll need to have the correct basics or cycle lands in play early for your buddies to do the right work. This is compounded when you’re looking to add sources to your three-color decks with buddies that interact unfavorably with fast lands and cycle lands that assist buddies but slow your mana down. As such, hitting your mana requirements on time forces you to choose between speed and consistency.

Each of these Grixis lists are chocked full of lands–a whopping 26 of them!—largely due to the tension between finding the correct number of colored sources and finding consistency in the mana base, which often requires adding basics to a full eight buddy lands. These buddy lands are really the key resource you’re hoping to maximize, as the lands will offer two untapped sources on every turn if properly set up. In my experience, Grixis has solid mana with most seven-card hands, but the virtue of picking two main colors will improve the mana situation after mulligans, which is important when thinking about the multiple one and two mana threats aggro decks throw at you in the first few turns of the current format.

Conclusion

That’s all I have for this week! Special thanks to Steven Wu helping me work through these ideas and offering excellent feedback. Feel free to send questions to mtgzach@gmail.com or post comment down below—this includes any mailbag questions you have. Talk to you all next week!

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