The Road to Grixis is Paved with Questionable Decisions

Next week is going to be pretty sweet! It’s rare that we get to play two Grands Prix in the same weekend and GP Vegas is going to give us that luxury. Some people will even play in 3 events which is crazy. 

Nonetheless, I’m a constructed guy and today I want to discuss one of the decks I’m strongly considering for the weekend. To the surprise of no one, my two front-runners for the event are both Grixis decks: Legacy Grixis Delver and Modern Grixis Death’s Shadow.

Brad Nelson is kinda my friend. I say kinda because I’m like a small child that follows him around at events. I was doing my thing at GP Montreal, following Brad and BBD all around the smoking area and the event hall on day one. Brad and I got to talking about my questionable skill level and I said I thought I might be in the top 10% of players at the GP since it was pretty small comparatively. Then we got to talking about the Pro Tour and he explained that he felt very confident across all competitive Magic formats now that he was doing well in limited. This weekend he proved that he is, in fact, great! Back-to-back victories in large events across two weekends is insane. He even played two decks that I can play, proving that Grixis isn’t unplayable and that Marvel is still great.

This makes me happy because I hate to play the best deck simply because “it’s the best.” I tend to do well when the deck I feel comfortable with happens to be the best or well positioned.

Along similar lines, I saw a quote from a friend on my Facebook feed whose opinion I respect quite a bit. Sadly, the name escapes me. I just know they’re good at Magic. Their quote was as follows, “If you care at all about winning you better be playing Marvel in Standard, Dredge or Shadow in Modern, and Grixis Delver in Legacy.” I thought, “Well this is sweet! I’ve been playing for over 15 years and now I’ve got people on the internet who approve of my deck choices!” (Side note, if this quote was from you and you’re a reader of my fine articles please say something. I would love to give you credit for your hot take!) This is kinda misleading as there’s certainly other viable decks in all three formats. However, these are the decks I would play if I had an event in each format this weekend. Except Dredge. I hate Dredge so much I might play 6 sideboard cards in Vegas. It’s nice to see that strategies I favor are considered well positioned by people other than, well, me.

That said, Vegas is Legacy and Modern, so today we will hit Modern hard and next week we can talk Legacy.

Death’s Shadow is a much better Delver of Secrets than Delver of Secrets. It pains me to say it, but Innistrad’s homage to a mediocre totally awesome Jeff Goldblum movie and the card that helped me rep team USA last year are one in the same and totally unplayable right now. An informed opponent at the lower levels of competitive Magic could even tell you why. “Fatal Push, man!”

Yeah sure, Push was the catalyst, but its not that simple. What Push actually did was collapse fair decks in on themselves. It made unfair things so much better because Push could never go upstairs like Bolt could, so fair decks had actual mulligans against decks like Tron or Ad Nauseam. As black decks loaded up on Fatal Pushes it became a liability to play cheap creatures while expensive creatures actually became very good. Todd Stevens figured this out and started destroying people with Eldrazi Tron, which is basically an unfair creature deck that’s very good against the one-mana Aether Revolt instant. Grixis Delver died because Fatal Push killed a lot of its best matchups and replaced them with nonsense like Eldrazi Tron and WR Prison. It also killed some Delvers and eclipsed Bolt making the default midrange deck Abzan which crushes Delver whereas Jund loses to Delver pretty consistently.

All that said I had to find a different deck for Modern and these months have been rough for me as I try to do that. My friend Gabe kept telling me Grixis Shadow was great and I dismissed his ramblings as those of someone relatively uninvested in competitive Magic and with a startling affinity for jam bands because, well, that’s who he is. But he kept top 8ing these IQs and 2ks with Grixis Shadow while I played Delver and got whacked around to the tune of 0-2, 0-3 and so forth. I had one last dance with desperation before I headed over to the dark side and tried to make “fetch shock fetch” happen.

Two weeks ago I made plans to attend SCG Baltimore with Harlan Firer. He advocated this terrible Jeskai deck he’s been playing. Basically, counters, burn, Snapcaster Mage and Geist of Saint Traft. He somehow managed to 11-4 the Open with this deck but that’s entirely besides the point. I wasn’t listening to this nonsense though. I wanted to play the deck I thought was a step ahead of everyone. Two days before the tournament Gerry Thompson messaged me and said, “For God’s sake just play Death’s Shadow.” What does this guy know? It’s not like he just won the Pro Tour or anything.

I’ve got the strategy that nobody will expect, Jund Scapeshift. Michael Segal went 8-1 with the deck on Magic Online and my friend Andrew had all the cards for RG Scapeshift so I borrowed the deck and hit the road for Baltimore. Of course I ignored Harlan and Gerry’s requests that I play something good but I managed to get Rudy and Gabe to play this pile of Wood Elves, Valakuts, and Fatal Pushes. This deck is probably not that bad as Fatal Push can keep you alive and sideboard Slaughter Games is really good against combo decks. It’s certainly not my style though and there was one large thing holding me back that weekend.

With only one bye due to my recent lackluster SCG performances, I would be forced to play round two. Unfortunately I didn’t have the last ten or so cards for my deck and was planning on scouring the room for the ones I wasn’t gonna buy in the the morning. In standard Daddy fashion, I arrived predictably as pairings for round two were being posted. I went to the dealer booth but nobody had Wood Elves and the three Verdant Catacombs I was missing were being held for me by someone somewhere in the room, according to fellow CardMarket writer Rudy Briksza. Thanks!

It was at this time that I was announced for a feature match at the Jace table. For those of you unfamiliar with an SCG Open, the Jace table is better known as an “on camera feature match.” Well this is gonna be awkward. I can do one of two things. I can replace the missing cards with basic lands, ending up with roughly 30 lands in my deck. Or, I can concede to my opponent who is likely going to be both elated and confused. “Oh man, my opponent is a pro who won a Grand Prix 6 days ago, shucks!” “My opponent has a 54 card deck and doesn’t want to play on camera with over 30 lands in his deck?! Sweet!” I walked up to the feature match table and conceded to my opponent, Jack, a Maryland player who I’ve seen at some events and is by all accounts a good guy. He was playing Burn and likely would’ve crushed me anyway so it wasn’t that bad.

It was pretty bad actually. I used that time to find the cards for my deck including a 7 dollar Wood Elves that I paid for while I choked back tears at the price.

I then beat some decks but wound up getting absolutely destroyed by Eric Hymel, a good friend of Brad Nelson, playing Brad’s Grixis Shadow deck. He made a really great play where he used a slow-rolled Street Wraith to get a Tasigur in under my Relic of Progenitus. I figured he could only get 4 cards in the yard so I tapped out for a ramp spell and he was able to use the Street Wraith, a Thought Scour and a fetchland to exactly cast Tasigur. Backed up by a couple of Stubborn Denials and Snapcasters, it killed me in short order. I beat another Tron deck and then Collins Mullen beat me with a silly BW Eldrazi Taxes deck and left me to bird the last few rounds.

I watched a lot of that tournament and was very impressed by Grixis Shadow and Brad’s play in general. That was the long road that led to me resigning myself to learning Grixis Shadow and now we’ve arrived at the point where I’m preparing for GP Vegas and can talk about changes to Brad’s list that I might make. Before we can do that let’s hit on some interesting choices in the deck and why they’re included. 

Grixis Death’s Shadow

The backbone of any Death’s Shadow deck is 4 Shadow, 4 Street Wraith, 4 Thoughtseize, 3-4 Fatal Push and 12 Fetchlands. After that, there’s the additional skeleton for any UBx version of at least 2 Stubborn Denial, 4 Thought Scour, 4 Snapcaster, 2 Tasigur and 2 Gurmag Angler. A couple Kolaghan’s Command is a natural inclusion for Grixis.

After those slots we see some more flexible choices. A pair of Inquisition of Kozilek is fairly common as supplementary discard spells. Six is a good number to eliminate threats and removal as you risking too many poor topdecks by playing more. The life loss is a bonus here too, so Thoughtseize gets the clear nod as the better card. One Lightning Bolt is interesting and Brad mused about maybe wanting a second one during the event. Two Terminate makes sense as most creatures that you can’t Push also can’t be ignored. They kill things like delve creatures, Primeval Titan, and Reality Smasher. Just having another removal spell is nice against the Counters Company and Bant Company decks as well.

As for the mana base, having 5 shocks and 2 basics feels correct. You often want double black early but also want double blue for Snapcaster later and might need more red mana post board. The second Blood Crypt comes in handy when your life is being pressured and your hand dictates that you must fetch the island. I imagine that Watery Grave, Blood Crypt, Watery Grave/Swamp/Island is how most games go when fetching.

One main reason for the spike in success for this deck lies with the blue instants. Not Thought Scour, though that card is criminally underrated. The copies of Stubborn Denial can be maxed out post board which makes life really hard for combo decks. Affinity benefits from this Grixis deck eschewing Spell Snare, but Ceremonious Rejection does a great job in its place while also giving Eldrazi and Tron decks a ton of trouble. It’s also invaluable against something weird like Lantern or Eggs.

I think Rejection is the single reason Grixis Shadow stopped doing just merely well and started crushing events. The Eldrazi decks don’t really have time to look for their Cavern of Souls (most Eldrazi Tron lists only play one) so they’ve gotta run their threats into your terrifyingly small mana investment of one blue. One blue that can be easily spent on a Thought Scour if they don’t play anything worth nabbing. A backbreaking card like All is Dust is elementary to deal with now. Same with most Etched Champions, Platings, and Ensnaring Bridges. Cards like Fulminator Mage and Molten Rain might appear proactive but they’re so clunky and expensive. Being able to react on the cheap while furthering your own board development is a preferable play pattern for the deck.

Liliana, the Last Hope and Izzet Staticaster are both great sideboard cards for different reasons although they do hit some of the same things. Liliana represents repetitive interaction against Affinity and Company decks while it represents inevitability or raw card advantage in the mirror match. Staticaster and Liliana both punish people for playing the hated Lingering Souls. I really hate that card from my Grixis Delver days and I’m the first to advocate some sideboard cards against it. However, the dedicated sweeper should get an upgrade, I think. I also really hate Dredge and would love to cut the K Return for an Anger of the Gods. I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing a second one either although I’m not sure what to cut. Maybe one counterspell or graveyard hate piece.

As for the rest of the sideboard, I would make the other 3-4 slots currently housing Spellbomb and Surgical Extraction into Leyline of the Void. Dredge has been playing 4 maindeck Brutality since Ben Friedman tore up the tournament in Baltimore. I think this change is poised to catch folks running that as a sideboard answer a little off guard. Ben’s sideboard has Maelstrom Pulses as a catch all but those should be plenty beatable with discard and Denial. A more spell-heavy dredge deck makes Stubborn Denial a more justifiable inclusion post board. A notable absence of something like Nature’s Claim means targeted discard can hit their answer before they can cast it on your Leyline. Most Dredge players will hesitate to bring in Claim completely blind even if they did have it. Leyline will steal some games and there’s even a case for it in the mirror or against dedicated Snapcaster decks.

Combo and big mana decks appear to be very easy postboard and there’s a dedicated plan in place for mirrors, that plan being basically K Command and Liliana and grinding them out. I could see Abzan Company and Dredge being tough which is why I would go with 3-4 Leyline and 2 Anger.

Next week I’ll break down my thoughts on legacy Grixis Delver. Until then, thanks for reading and hope to see you in Vegas!

Kevin Jones
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Kevin Jones

Kevin has been playing Magic on and off since Urza's Saga. A fixture on the SCG Tour, he has played in all 3 Player's Championships, has amassed 9 SCG Open top 8s with 2 wins, appeared in 2 Pro Tours and is the 2014 Eternal Weekend Legacy Champion. Also, he's The Daddy. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or playing a mediocre blue deck at a Magic tournament near you!
Kevin Jones
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Published:June 8, 2017


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