Grixis Guide Part 2: Sideboarding

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

Grixis Guide Part 2: Sideboarding

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.

Greetings all, a short while ago I wrote an article about various Grixis strategies and how to build the main deck. However, while appropriately building a deck is an important step, it’s only about half the battle. Today, I’m talking about how to sideboard and play your role in Standard’s most popular matchups. Now, because I’ve talked about the several different ways to build Grixis, some of the matchup plans really differ even if you’ve only altered your deck by 3-4 slots. The timeless Michael Flores “Who’s the Beatdown” is very prevalent here. Because Grixis is a midrange deck, its very nature is to meld two approaches and hybridize them into a flexible gameplan that is dictated less by how you build your deck before the tournament, but, more by the texture of your hand when deciding how to react. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be honing in on the Grixis deck I think is best positioned given the rising metagame trends and the version I’ll be taking to several PPTQs in the coming weeks.

The Sideboard

Grixis is a midrange deck that utilizes an abundance of removal to stabilize the board; generate card advantage; provide must-answer threats; and packs tools specific to each version. Each version offers a unique approach to matchups and therefore will fare differently in each match-up. Now, I’m not a Standard expert, nor have I had extensive preparation within this format, but, I can say that Grixis’s closing speed is the major key when you’re building your sideboard. At a rough glance, you want more spot removal against aggro; threats that more quickly apply pressure against control; and a specific plan for the mirror. Below, I’ve added a couple of ideas.

Chandra’s Defeat: I like making room for Defeat in my sideboard because it answers aggressive red creatures efficiently while also hedging against the “go-big” plan of Chandra and Glorybringer. This specificity is usually something I shy away from in an open metagame, but, this card feels like a great way to stop my opponent’s sideboard from getting the better of me.

Moment of Craving: Moment offers the inverse effect of Chandra’s Defeat by addressing a broad swath of aggressive matchups in a specific way. With the presence of UW Auras, headlined by the Adanto Vanguard, Moment offers a solution in a way that Magma Spray and the like can’t quite deliver, because of the indestructible ability. Moment is not particularly great if RW Mettle decks with Relentless Raptor pick up in popularity, but it certainly helps stabilize you against decks that hope to win with many small threats.

Negate and Duress: These are must haves that aid your Siphoner plan versus control. Being able to back up card advantage and pressure with the two-pronged approach of counters and discard helps keep your opponent off-balance, while providing critical information to figure out when to make your move.

Arguel’s Blood Fast: This is my favorite tech for the mirror, where you’re going to win with creatures rather than Negate and Duress and where Vraska’s Contempt will play a key role. Having a powerful enchantment like Arguel’s Blood Fast or Search for Azcanta offers a card advantage engine that can’t be easily removed, unlike Chandra. This gives you the ability to dig for more answers to their win conditions. Blood Fast offers another powerful dimension as well—once flipped, Temple of Aclazotz gives you a way to keep your Scarab Gods safe from exile-based removal while also allowing you to sacrifice your powerful four mana creatures for additional recursion from The Scarab God. All weekend, this card overperformed for me, and I’d highly recommend it.

Angrath, the Flame-Chained: Angrath attacks the enemy’s hand, and offers the ability to steal opponent’s threats and use them against them but is weaker to Contempt. Angrath is well-suited to the aggro or greedy versions that already pressure their opponent’s Contempts.

The Matchups

Gruul Aggro

Brennan DeCandio is innovating the Standard scene once again with a RG Monsters-esque deck that features explore creatures to sculpt draws backed up by powerful threats like Rhonas, Rekindling Phoenix, Glorybringer and Chandra as well as Carnage Tyrant after board. The big theme here is the small threats early on being backed up by powerful finishers. You’ll be putting a lot of strain on your Vraska’s Contempts here because of must-exile threats like Rhonas, Phoenix, Chandra and even the Khenra to some extent. It’s really hard to take an aggressive role in this matchup and their explore creatures mean that it’s hard to fight them card for card. My strategy in this matchup is to hold Contempts unless I absolutely have to use them, almost saving them for Phoenixes. Cards like Torrential Gearhulks give you a chance to rebuy your Contempts and The Scarab God helps you rebuy their Phoenixes, though, their Struggle//Survive hurts this plan slightly. Hostage Taker offers a lot of utility in this matchup because of its ability to eat these haymakers and have your opponent have to interact with them and Gonti allows you to hold the ground, trading deathtouch for Carnage Tyrant while potentially casting their haymakers. Essence Scatter really shines in this matchup for me because it prevents all of these cards from having their effect on the game and Disallow grants flexibility to counter Chandra or a problem creature. I don’t like preparing for this matchup with sweepers because they can really have 1-2 creatures just win the game and so you want to pick threats off one by one, which means drawing a sweeper will often provide an incongruent answer to your general plan.

Sideboard:
-3 Abrade -2 Whirler
+Essence Scatter +Chandra’s Defeat +Vraska’s Contempt

Mardu Vehicles

If one thing has been true about the last two years of Standard, it’s that Vehicles will always be around. With the recent bannings, and the addition of Dragonskull Summit, Mardu looks none the worse for wear. Less than before, Mardu has less capabilities of being a deck that can develop a controlling plan post-board. This means that they’ve swung in the direction of aggressive but resilient. They use threats like Scrapheap Scrounger and Hazoret, the Fervent to press early advantages gained by Toolcraft Exemplar and Heart of Kiran. The obvious strengths of Abrade shine here and it is the premium removal you should be using on vehicles while Contempt’s exile clause becomes even more relevant. After board, they’ll have access to disruption in Duress as well as Planeswalkers like Chandra and larger threats like Glorybringer. Because of this, I try not to be too reactive, but, like versatile counterspells like Disallow and Supreme Will that cover all their angles of attack. The battles will be in the air, so plan accordingly.

Sideboard:
-1 Torrential Gearhulk -1 Search for Azcanta -2 Essence Scatter -1 Gonti
+1 Abrade +1 Vraska’s Contempt +1 Disallow +2 Duress

Rx Aggro Variants

The Rx variants in general have been in full force with the new format. When things are in flux, attacking is always a great idea. These decks accomplish this in multiple ways: a clean mono red aggressive deck, a white splash for mirror answers and Path of Mettle for a late game, and black for Unlicensed Disintegration and recurrable threats. The key in solving this matchup lies in tuning your sideboard to not be specified to one type of aggression. Cards like Chandra’s Defeat are preferable to loading up on Magma Spray or Moment of Craving because it can still kill a Glorybringer or a Chandra if your opponent tries to go big. Having a pile of kill spells and no win conditions might prove to be a problem if you can’t shut the door before you get burned out by a Path of Mettle or an Unlicensed Disintegration. I don’t want to include specific sideboard notes here because I’m not sure if I’ve ever sideboarded the same way twice. I’m usually trimming on Scarab Gods, Search for Azcanta, sometimes a Torrential Gearhulk, and sometimes Supreme Will, but, I really try to find a middle ground between boarding for the go-big and having answers for the go-under approach as the meta shakes itself out and pilots decide on which works best for them. The big all-star in this matchup is assuredly Whirler Virtuoso as it can provide blockers after Khenra and Crasher triggers and is no longer stymied by Rampaging Ferocidons.

Gift Variants

Gift Variants have been cropping up all over the place. They were in the recent MOCS and there have been copies scattered in the 5-0 lists. I think Gift is far more intricate than a simple Abrade check on the format and judging by the number of Grixis lists that include cards like Deadeye Tracker, the Gift matchup deserves some attention. While Grixis might be classified as a “mono removal” type of deck, it’s important when you’re building your deck to have answers that suit the tertiary problems that exist outside of simply creatures. What I mean by this is that Gift decks make cards like Harnessed Lightning and Magma Spray look mediocre, but, cards like Fatal Push can be a solid safety valve if a Gift sneaks through. Being able to plug the holes is important for this matchup. Most Gift decks, especially those including black cards, can play a reasonable fair game without the combo so it’s important to be proactive. The card they have the most trouble with is Glint-Sleeve Siphoner because they can’t proactively answer it and if you can maintain a steady stream of cards, you’ll find your Abrades.

Sideboard:
-4 Lightning -2 Contempt -2 Whirler -2 Scatter
+3 Negate +2 Duress +1 Disallow +Gonti +Argul’s Blood Fast +Glimmer +Abrade

GB Constrictor

Reid Duke, in surprising fashion, took a Green Black deck to the MOCs. It’s no secret that Winding Constrictor pairs well with Jadelight Ranger and the supporting cast offers a mixture of aggression and removal to put you on a clock. However, the tool of Fatal Push and Harnessed Lightning, and even Abrade help pace the centerpiece snek. Duke’s deck feels less aggressive than previous lists, offering, instead, a more promising late game, which seems like a strong direction to go given the prominence of faster red aggro decks and removal-laden grixis decks. The Lifecrafter’s Bestiary he’s playing is kind of awesome tech when you think about the explore triggers at play. Your plan here is to make sure your removal paces their threats and you’re keeping card quality high to match the explorers that shape their draws.

Sideboard
-1 Fatal Push -3 Whirler Virtuoso -2 Supreme Will -1 Search for Azcanta
+ Gonti +Abrade +Glimmer +Disallow + Scatter +Contempt

Mirror

I have a lot of thoughts about the Grixis mirror but I’m going to try and keep things brief. The key to the Grixis mirror is the creatures. Cards like Glint-Sleeve early and Scarab God, Glorybringer and Gearhulk late are what are going to win you the game. For this reason, please do not cripple yourself and fill your deck with cards like Duress and Negate because they are not going to be useful when your opponent just smashes your face in with creatures. For Grixis Mirrors focus on card advantage and answering threats before deploying your own. Feel free to play Glint-Sleeve early because it will win the game unanswered.

Sideboard:
-2 Fatal Push -3 Abrade -1 Whirler
+1 Gonti +Glimmer +Disallow +Scatter +Contempt +Blood Fast

Sultai:
The new kid on the block is here and ready to throw down. Sultai is mostly a 2 color deck that eliminates a lot of Grixis’ removal (Harnessed Lightning and Abrade) for Card Advantage Engines and Gifted Aetherborns. The key to this matchup is probably taking the beatdown role. Fatal Push and Vraska’s Contempt have a lot of weight on their shoulders and being able to hammer them with Must Answer threats while being able to curtail Chupacabras and Aetherborns will give you the edge here. The version I posted is not particularly well positioned to fight Sultai in all honesty. Playing Phoenix and Glorybringer is better than playing Gearhulk and counterspells here. They’re going to try and slow down so I’d like to speed up a little, not that this configuration particularly allows for that. Feel free to level them a little as our high removal sideboard might scare off their Aetherborns and Freebooters after board.

Sideboard:
+Disallow +Scatter +Gonti +Glimmer
-1 Gearhulk -2 Fatal Push -1 Abrade
Some of the grindy, less popular decks like Tokens, Approach and Profane Procession builds are around, but, as long as you’re trimming your removal for controlling cards, I like our position there a lot and you’ll have a pretty good idea about which cards are bad when you draw them practically rotting off the top of your deck game 1.

That’s all I’ve got for today! Stay tuned because they’ll be a lot of content coming out for me. I have a lot of thoughts on the unbannings, there’s a mailbag article on the way, and I’ve got some evergreen deckbuilding and deck construction theory articles in the works as well. I think the recent changes, if nothing else, give me a ton to talk about!

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