One of the first things I did when I arrived home from the Season Two Invitational was fire up Magic Online and enter a Modern Daily. After easily dispatching an opponent through a misclick by using a Snapcaster Mage three times with both Kolaghan's and Cryptic Command, I could only feel stupid for my deck selection this previous weekend.
I ended up playing Jund, and although it was by no means a poor choice, there were a few specific issues with my decision to play it: Jund is not nearly as accessible as I initially would have thought. In particular, the sideboard games involve dramatically changing your deck to often be threat-light, and require incorporating fringe sideboard cards that often aren't “hard hate.” I realized after round one when I asked Gerry Thompson for sideboarding advice about a match I'd just lost that perhaps I was in over my head. I just didn't feel comfortable making my decisions.
On the other hand, flashing back Cryptic Command with my Snapcaster Mage to utilize a mode and then bounce my Snapcaster Mage and other fringe “blue plays” in Modern are intuitive to me because I have the reps through their countless iterations over the years. For this reason, and the raw power and versatility that the Grixis shard has available to it currently, I will be playing some variation of it this coming weekend.
The way I see it, it is incredibly difficult to build anything reminiscent of a true control deck. It would be foolish to ignore the success of the “big mana” decks this weekend. Even though the Invitationals are split-format events, it was clear that the breakout top performers of the event were G/R Tron and Amulet Bloom, who met in the finals, with the former also winning the Modern Open Event. These strategies are difficult to grind out, especially G/R Tron, as they can easily overload their blue opponent's mana and overwhelm them with their powerful threats.
In some sense, the Grixis decks are destined to be the aggressors of the format, whether by quickly locking their opponent with Blood Moon or by threatening a combo kill with Splinter Twin. Others are interested in using Delver of Secrets to race their opponents to the finish line, but I find that task daunting without mana denial or a free Counterspell not named Disrupting Shoal. My impression of Delver is that in the majority of matchups, it is little more than a premium target for Lightning Bolt. Besides, I have enough trouble flipping the card in formats that get to play with Brainstorm and Ponder.
My baseline impressions for building Grixis decks are as follows:
It is important to not overload on expensive (CMC 3+) cards. Games threaten to be over rather quickly, and despite there being a plethora of legitimately-powerful options available, they tend to be directly competing with cards like Kolaghan's Command and Cryptic Command, neither of which you typically have the luxury of playing the full four copies of anyways. That being said, they still represent your late game and ability to grind as they are your two-for-ones that can snowball in conjunction with Snapcaster Mage.
Inquisition of Kozilek is the best Grixis card people aren't talking about. I can't imagine playing a list that doesn't have at least two. Dylan Donegan's Grixis Twin maindeck from the Modern Open this weekend looks just a few cards short of flawless, and those cards are Inquisitions. Splinter Twin in the past has often used cards like Dispel as a means to defend their combo; Inquisition is a far more proactive tool that also serves as a training wheels for when to pick your spot.
In a similar vein, Spell Snare's stock has also improved dramatically. Interacting on the first turn is particularly important against openers involving Summer Bloom, and Snapcaster Mage has never been as potent as it is now. Spell Snare is also incredibly important when trying to defend your Blood Moon.
Between these two cheap interactive spells, I want all my Grixis decks to have 5-7 copies.
The minimum eight removal spells are a sacred cow. I will never go below four Lightning Bolts and a 2/2 split of Terminate and Kolaghan's Command. Oftentimes I've even desired a third Terminate, particularly as I expect an influx in Delve threats and Tarmogoyf.
Another thing - don't get cute with the mana. It's tough to build a three-color deck that supports Terminate, Cryptic Command, and is interested in Blood Moon somewhere in the 75. I've tried utility lands and generally been unimpressed because they color-screw me or I just never having the time to activate them. Finding basic Swamp is also of utmost importance for Grixis and it is far more likely to be inconvenient in a hand that also contains a colorless land.
Here's where I'm starting with Grixis Twin:
Like I said, I was very impressed with Dylan's list and don't feel many changes were necessary. Perhaps skimping on a copy of Pestermite is ultimately a mistake, but including Inquisition of Kozilek is important to me and Kolaghan's Command potentially giving you virtual copies of your combo creatures gives me the impression that I can go lighter on threats. I'm probably more prone to targeting Serum Visions with Snapcaster Mage than most, and this aggressive line of play on the third turn with Inquisition gives the deck an even more proactive angle.
In the past, Twin has often used a few creatures in their sideboard to perpetuate a more fair game, and with Kolaghan's Command in the mix these “bullets” become a lot more relevant and reliable. Olivia Voldara and Anger of the Gods are an excellent hedge against various creature decks, including all of the Collected Company shells, while Vendilion Clique and Keranos are excellent trumps in the blue mirrors. Keranos in particular is a common war that is fought amongst Grixis decks, which makes me think that perhaps we should look for an answer to it besides Cryptic Command.
Dylan himself made me take a hard look at Monastery Siege, and after playing with it I could see the inclusion of another copy. It does a bad Chill impression against Burn, which is sometimes all the room that you need to close out games, but it also has the versatility of insulating your combo and being one of the best partners with Blood Moon. Often in scenarios involving Blood Moon, you haven't actually hard locked your opponent out of the game, you are merely leveraging a small resource advantage or just limiting their abilities to deploy more than one spell a turn. As a result, the games go quite long and the selection granted by Monastery Siege makes it difficult for an opponent to compete on pure card quality. As you will see in a moment, it has more of a leading role in Grixis Moon:
The most challenging part to hammer down so far has been the mana. As I said, I've gone from two to one and then finally to zero colorless lands. The second basic Swamp is shamelessly stolen from a Magic Online Daily list but it still feels awkward alongside Cryptic Command. However, Blood Crypt was underperforming. A single Keranos is the solution to my concern of not actually having enough ways to kill my opponent. Assuming you never exile it to Tasigur, between Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan's Command, it won't be difficult to grab it when you finally have complete control and are just looking to close things out. It only requires a single slot and is still objectively one of the best cards in blue mirrors. I've looked towards trying to include a single Grim Lavamancer in the maindeck as a hybrid threat/interactive card that also makes Tasigur potent, but the latter is usually powerful enough even when just picking up your graveyard's chaff while Anger of the Gods typically makes a more high-impact sideboard slot. You're likely to notice that these decks look quite similar, with Grixis Moon often looking like a sideboarded Twin deck. This is clearly a nod to the power of Blood Moon in the format right now, and although I prefer playing this type of strategy that is light on threats and plays a ton of answers and its own version of a “free win,” Blood Moon is often not just game over. Tron, in particular, can still play Magic under Blood Moon.
The former often comes down to just becoming a control deck with Anger of the Gods against creatures as thankfully Blood Moon is quite good against nearly all the midrange decks. These matchups have historically been favorable for Snapcaster Mage + Lightning Bolt decks, and when combined with Kolaghan's Command and Cryptic Command you have a lot of room to kill opposing creatures and grind.
When your Blood Moons remain strong, you simply want to be the best interactive Blood Moon deck you can be. Duress allows you to take a proactive stance with Snapcaster Mage a lot more frequently, helping to clear a path for Blood Moon. Once step one is complete, assuming that's not lights out, cards like Monastery Siege and your high basic Island count with Cryptic Command should ensure that your late-game cannot be matched as long as you establish any kind of clock before something outrageous like a hardcast Karn or Emrakul threatens you.
Although I think it is necessary to be doing something degenerate, if this becomes the norm in response to big mana decks, a Grixis deck tuned to beat other blue decks could prove effective. As I mentioned, I'm not a huge fan of Delver, so what might this approach look like?
Again, although this looks rather similar, there are some key differences. The list will have a great deal of difficulty closing the game in a timely manner against combo without having the potential to lock things up by the fourth turn. What it does gain for this sacrifice is having a higher density of hard-hitting threats and a ton of ways to protect them with cheap interaction, plus more removal for opposing Delve threats. This should, in theory, give us a distinct advantage over other Blue decks, but taking this approach may, ironically, be more inbred than maindeck Blood Moon as the format stands.
Here's a far more classic “Blue Moon” approach if you happen to have a serious vendetta from last weekend.
Although Inquisition of Kozilek and Kolaghan's Command give these Grixis shells a great deal of versatility and utility, there is a draw to taking a more old-school approach to Blue Moon. If you want to do the same thing every game, namely beat nonbasic lands, then there are worse things you can do than this. That being said, I put so much stock in having access to discard and the strength of Snapcaster Mage paired with Kolaghan's Command that I suspect this strategy is subpar in a huge tournament. I would only really be interested in going here if folks respond even more dramatically than I expect them to from this past weekend's results, polarizing what is typically a diverse format.
Regardless of how one ultimately chooses to build their Grixis deck, the raw power of Snapcaster Mage alongside premium interactive elements and cheap high impact threats will create a winning strategy no matter how influential the Season Two Invitational's results prove to be.