Let's be serious.
Was there ever any doubt?
Grixis is a top tier deck in Legacy and Modern...
...And Vintage, for that matter, but that's been true literally every single year Magic has existed.
This past weekend, Noah Walker took his build of Grixis Delver to first place in the Legacy Open in Worcester.
Deathrite Shaman is an absurdly powerful Magic card in any format with fetchlands and cheap cantrips, ensuring you're always getting mana or damage. It's also a great form of maindeckable disruption. The single Tropical Island means it's also a source of lifegain, and more importantly, a way to exile creatures from our opponent's graveyard.
Deathrite Shaman is awesome, no question, but why are we black instead of green? Gurmag Angler. One of the most underrated cards in all of Magic, this card is literally in a class with creatures like Tarmogoyf in formats with cheap cantrips. Noah actually uses Gurmag Angler over Tarmogoyf, partially because it typically costs one instead of two, but also because it's usually bigger. Tarmogoyf often comes down as a 2/3, and is often a 3/4 or a 4/5. Gurmag Angler is usually the biggest kid on the block.
While Gurmag Angler requires some eating of your graveyard, it has the added advantage of not being slave to you keeping one. This means Deathrite Shaman, Scavenging Ooze, Nihil Spellbomb, and other popular graveyard hate cards don't turn it off once it hits the table. Sometimes it can be more vulnerable to bounce, but one of the most popular bounce spells against creature decks is Submerge, a spell that is ruthlessly effective against Tarmogoyf while usually not even playable against Grixis.
Legacy decks full of hyper-efficient creatures, cantrips, and interaction have been popular for years, but Treasure Cruise recently brought things to a head. Its banning was a big hit to these archetypes, but at least we still have this little number:
In Standard, Dig Through Time is better than Treasure Cruise more often than not since expensive cards with powerful effects are great to be able to find when you want them, plus you're usually spending the same amount of real mana on either. In Legacy and Modern, Treasure Cruise was typically cast for a single mana, as opposed to Dig Through Time's two-cost, which is huge. Additionally, in Legacy and Modern, it is easy to fill a deck with all amazing cards, frequently without much variety of effect.
Of course, Treasure Cruise is banned now, so Dig Through Time it is. We may only get two cards, but at least they're going to be sweet! One nice side effect of Dig Through Time is that it lets us find one-ofs much easier.
You can certainly play more than one True-Name Nemesis, but the first copy is particularly valuable. Going long, it gives us a way to close out the game that is much more durable than Delver of Secrets and Gurmag Angler.
The maindeck Pyroblast can be a worthy Dig Through Time target when you absolutely must get Jace, the Mind Sculptor off the table before it ultimates. Mainly, though, it is just a pre-sideboard against a format consisting of 75% Brainstorm/Force of Will decks.
I know we usually wait until summer, but does anybody want to have the annual restrict Brainstorm conversation?
Defense: True, but it's been this way for many years and people still love the format, which happens to be pretty diverse and fun. Restricting the card would be unfun and probably kill the format. See you again next year.
One of the challenges of Grixis Delver is figuring out which interactive cards to play maindeck. For instance, should there be discard in the maindeck? This style of deck typically doesn't want cards like Thoughtseize because of the tempo loss (they spend zero and you spend one), but Cabal Therapy is a special case.
Cabal Therapy is pretty amazing with Young Pyromancer, actually turning a profit on tokens while destroying their hand. Pro tip: If you have no info about an opponent and want to Therapy them turn 1, Brainstorm is usually the best default option.
Gitaxian Probe is also a great combo with Cabal Therapy, ensuring you get their two best cards (or their best one now, if you don't want to sacrifice a creature, with an option for later). Walker's Cabal Therapies were only in the sideboard, but I still can't get behind less than four Gitaxian Probes. It's just too good with Pyromancer, Delver, and Dig.
Yeah Tropical Island!
A full quarter of the top 16 of SCG Worcester played Grixis, though there is no consensus best list by any means. Some players tried to steamline their decks as much as possible, such as Ed Demicco:
Literally all fours, besides the two Dig Through Times, Demicco's list is built for consistency. While Demicco's list has no miser's one-ofs main, he's got tons in the sideboard, including one that is sure to prompt more than a few opponents to pick it up and read it.
Fire Covenant isn't the most efficient card in Legacy, but it does have a few sweet applications. First of all, against Elves, it is well worth paying six life to kill their entire team at instant speed. Against the semi-mirror, it is a pretty efficient way to catch up against Young Pyromancer. Finally, it can be a very potent weapon against W/X creature decks since they can't Mother of Runes everything at once.
Demicco's list is set up to really press potential tempo advantages. He supports the maindeck Wastelands (and Dazes) with a playset of Stifles for added land destruction. Stifle is so much better on the play than the draw, but the combination of Pyroblasts and Cabal Therapies ensure that Demicco is never short on interaction even when he sideboards the Stifles out.
While Demicco has a full playset of Gitaxian Probes, I just think it's needlessly reckless to play so few blue lands. Yes, we only need one blue land to keep a hand, but with just fourteen blue lands in the deck, we're literally going to draw openers with zero blue lands over 14% of the time, and it's not like those are the only mulligans we're going to have to take. While you might keep a hand with two Wastelands and a Gitaxian Probe, Probe isn't usually going to be enough to make you keep a zero blue hand.
Yes, this deck mulligans extremely well, but we don't have to take such big risks. Adding two blue lands cuts out nearly a third of the zero blue openers, and we can usually shuffle away extra land with Brainstorm eventually anyway.
Of course, I generally prefer to play 17-18 blue lands in decks like this, which is usually only found in non-Wasteland builds (or decks that want to ramp into super expensive fatties, like Jace, the Mind Sculptor). For instance:
If the difference between Abzan Aggro and Abzan Control is whether you have Rakshasa Deathdealer or planeswalkers, the difference between Grixis Aggro and Grixis Control in Legacy, is whether you have Delver of Secrets or planeswalkers.
This is another list with a True-Name Nemesis to help seal the deal, but there's also a nice mix of other victory conditions to round things out. Jace is powerful, of course, but this format is so Daze and Wasteland-heavy, getting enough mana to successfully cast it can be a challenge. Dack Fayden isn't just a potent anti-artifact card (although that is a sweet option). Its primary purpose is actually the incredible card selection he offers. It's also not trivial that his ultimate turns your Lightning Bolts and Fire//Ice into instant speed Control Magics.
Tasigur over Gurmag Angler is totally reasonable here, since Lynch is actually set up to go long and activate Tasigur's ability from time to time (which is cute with Brainstorm and Jace, the Mind Sculptor but good anyway just as a source of extra cards). When we're talking about decks that don't actually use the ability often, Gurmag Angler is typically better.
Lynch's build is clearly on the other side of the spectrum from Demicco's, all the way down to the permission:
While Daze is built for speed and pressing tempo advantages, Counterspell is built for power and reliably establishing control. It can be easy to forget just how effective Counterspell can be, but it's still a bit expensive in this format.
Planeswalkers aren't the only possible lategame Legacy Grixis decks can use in place of Delver of Secrets, however. Nicholas Spagnolo cashed with a very card advantage-oriented build, with Snapcaster Mage instead of walkers.
Snapcaster Mage (and Baleful Strix) means we've got more expendable bodies than the above lists. They also play into the serious Dig Through Time theme in Nick's list. It requires delving a lot of cards, but you can Snapcaster a Dig Through Time for just four mana, which means in the middle game, we're typically going to be able to keep chaining Digs into each other.
Having already maxed out on Dig Through Times, Spagnolo actually goes a step further and has a copy of Fact or Fiction, a card that hasn't seen much play since the printing of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Personally, I'm a Jace guy, myself, but Fact or Fiction is great at fueling Dig Through Time and is a mondo-combo with Snapcaster Mage.
Speaking of Snapcaster Mage, Kolaghan's Command is particularly great when you can get one back, which effectively keeps the whole chain going for a long time. If that was all we wanted Kolaghan's Command to do, we could find better Regrowth options. The thing is, with just one slot, we have access to artifact hate, another removal spell for Young Pyromancer, more discard, a reliable two-for-one, and more.
Like Kolaghan's Command, Recoil gives us a much wider range of options than most similar decks have access to. It's a mondo combo with Cabal Therapy whenever they discard anything else. In addition to solving hard problems like Moat or Counterbalance, it helps alleviate the lack of Wastelands in Nick's list. To this end, Nick also uses Tsabo's Web to try to shore up the weakness to non-basic lands.
With so many people playing Wasteland, right now, I kind of like attacking non-basics from a different angle.
Even if Cruel Ultimatum is about two or three mana too expensive for Legacy, it's great to see so much hot Grixis on Grixis action in the format. That said, it isn't the only format seeing Grixis shine, as mentioned above. Even without Brainstorm, Ponder, Force of Will, and Dig Through Time, these same strategies are showing up in Modern.
Notice how this list is still almost entirely one and two-cost spells like its Legacy analogue. Serum Visions and Thought Scour fill in for Brainstorm and Ponder totally reasonably. We may not have blue delve card drawers, but we still want to make our black delve creatures cheaper. Besides, they are necessary to maximize the power of Delver of Secrets and Young Pyromancer.
The split between Gurmag Angler and Tasigur is totally reasonable. Tasigur's power can be great in attrition battles, but there are diminishing returns on legends. Besides, Gurmag Angler's power is particularly appreciated in a format full of Siege Rhinos and Tarmogoyfs.
Again we see Kolaghan's Command, which Willy Edel described as "the card Blightning always wished it was." I'm not sure that's the right mix of Kolaghan's Commands and Electrolyzes, though. Both are super awesome two-for-ones that are basically always good, but if you play too much of that stuff, you end up running the risk of being too slow.
Instead, Tobias maxes out on Terminates and I love it. That card is so good in Modern right now. It's awesome against most of the creature decks, of course, but a lot of the combo decks rely on creatures, and even control decks frequently have ways you can use it before sideboarding it out.
Even with three colors, it is totally reasonable to play Blood Moon. You have control over which basics you fetch, and some of the Valakut and Tron decks can be a nightmare for Grixis without some serious land hate. When you have blue's permission, black's discard, and red's artifact hate, lands are typically going to be the biggest potential weaknesses (since there really aren't all that many threatening enchantments these days).
Just as Legacy has Delver builds and control builds, so too does Modern. Here's one more on the control side of things:
- 1 Gurmag Angler
- 4 Snapcaster Mage
- 3 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
- 1 Vendilion Clique
- 1 Keranos, God of Storms
We may not have Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but at least we have Keranos (I guess…). Vedalken Shackles is actually a pretty great way to take over the game (and a pretty great target for Kolaghan's Command).
Blood Moon maindeck gives us a legitimate way to take control of the game since we don't have nice things like Dig Through Time. We also don't have True-Name Nemesis, so we've got to make due with Vendilion Clique.
Kick it with this clique of lunatics that whips lists when you enlist its printed text. If it misses and bricks, it depicts they have nix. A sick tip is to hit us, which must not be dismissed since it can fix us. Its legit mix of quick-witted tricks is serious bliss.
Next is a Grixis Twin list:
While Legacy Grixis decks usually just fall somewhere on the aggro versus control spectrum, Modern lists frequently feature the Splinter Twin package, seeking to combo kill people instead of actually establishing control. The funny thing though, is that the lists don't actually use any different of cards besides the actual combo. You're still playing cheap cantrips, counterspells, removal, and black delve creatures. You just have Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin instead of Delver of Secrets and Young Pyromancer.
Dragons of Tarkir has already proven to be one of the most powerful sets in years, but there hasn't been a Modern Grand Prix since it has been legal. That is all about to change with Grand Prix Charlotte rapidly approaching. I'll be there and haven't looked forward to a Modern GP this much in a long time. I've got a feeling it's going to be a fun one...