Vs Grixis Control
(last updated 10/11/18)
Role: Variable, often aggro pivoting to control
Worst cards (main): Swords to Plowshares
Best Generic Sanctum Prelate Numbers: 1, 3
Deck Strategy and Key Cards
Czech Pile was a four color control deck, prior to the banning of Deathrite Shaman. Its spiritual successor is Grixis Control, a deck seeking to do essentially the same thing without the green cards. The deck seeks to generate as many 2-for-1 situations as possible, utilizing threats like Baleful Strix and Snapcaster Mage alongside powerful spells like Kolaghan’s Command and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The approach is stylistically similar to decks like Jund or Shardless BUG in that everything is value-oriented, yet different in that Grixis Control struggles to produce a threatening clock in most cases. Games against Grixis Control tend to go long, but it often has dominating control of the game long before the game actually ends.
Grixis Control will grind through most fair decks *if* it is firing on all cylinders; however, the deck can have some clunky starts. Since it has both intensive mana requirements and a bunch of basic lands, sometimes the deck has awkward openings, resulting in little interaction in the first few turns.
Of note, there’s also another slightly more aggressive version of this deck running Young Pyromancer and Cabal Therapy that blurs the lines between falling in this same archetype and being its own unique archetype. I mention this primarily because it can be difficult to tell the decks apart initially since there is so much overlap. Luckily, sideboarding and general strategy will largely be the same.
The Matchup and Important Interactions
Role evaluation is your key to winning this matchup. Sometimes you are the control deck, putting the squeeze on your opponent’s mana and limiting their ability to interact. Other times you need to be the aggro deck, pushing damage through, even if that means making anemic plays like using Swords to Plowshares on an opposing Baleful Strix. You should try to sculpt out a gameplan for a few turns at a time and imagine the worst-case scenarios, as that will give you a better idea for what lines are probably right for your situation. Many of the “free wins” you get involve a sequence like Mom into Thalia into Crusader; your best draws are often disruptive AND aggressive.
Each individual creature in your deck matters very little. Grixis Control is loaded with removal, and you should operate under the assumption that most creatures you play in the early turns of the game are just going to die. Jamming Thalia on turn two will overwhelmingly be the correct line, as disrupting the opponent’s mana is often one of your highest priorities in the early game. Since the games usually go so long, it is pretty easy to find a second Thalia to protect with Karakas, so don’t feel obligated to protect the first one at all costs. Unchecked equipment is an easy path to victory, but Kolaghan’s Command makes that difficult. You should attempt to play around K. Command when possible, but that often proves difficult. Remember that if you hold up 3 mana, your Batterskull is safe from K. Command. If you “have the read” that your opponent has K. Command, it’s often correct to not equip your equipment in order to more effectively use your mana.
Sanctum Prelate often goes on 1 towards towards the beginning of the game to stop the initial stream of cantrips and removal spells, yet usually goes on 3 later in the game to stop bombs like Kolaghan’s Command and Toxic Deluge. Given the varying costs of removal in this deck, I’m not even sure that Sanctum Prelate is even good in the matchup. Sometimes it steal games, but more often than not, it sits on the board for a couple of turns, not pushing damage through their blockers.
Generally speaking, you want to add cards that increase your ability to grind through the sea of opposing removal. Extra equipment and cards like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar are going to be quite helpful. Walking Ballista has been a great way to remove Baleful Strix from the board and clear the way for your attackers. Cataclysm is devastating if you have room for it in your sideboard. If you are looking for a creature to improve this matchup, Hallowed Spiritkeeper is legitimately insane here.
Rest in Peace is awkward. It can be backbreaking when your opponent is on a draw with multiple Snapcaster Mage, and breaking up the Kolaghan’s Command recursion chain can be great. That being said, this deck isn’t quite as graveyard reliant as Czech Pile was, so in many games, it does literally nothing. Take a careful look at your in/out numbers before deciding if it is correct for you to board in this card.
If you’re looking for things to take out, I’d start with Swords to Plowshares, as it’s not a card that has great value against your opponent. It’s probably safe to trim a land if you are on a 24 land build, and I often shave a Revoker as well. While Revoker is great at shutting off planeswalkers, it just dies and doesn’t reliably do its job more often than not.
You should expect some number of counterspells (perhaps around six) to come out of your opponent’s deck for more removal. Diabolic Edict is probably the one to be most aware of, as it’s often one of the few things that will take a Mirran Crusader off the table. You should also expect cards like Forked Bolt, Toxic Deluge, Marsh Casualties, Engineered Explosives, and Pithing Needle. In post sideboard games, you should pretty much assume your opponent is going to have removal until they are hellbent. Your opponent will probably have somewhere on the order of 14 removal spells, plus Snapcaster Mage and Baleful Strix as effectively bonus removal spells. The grind is real. You’ll occasionally see some really annoying things like Liliana, the Last Hope or Dread of Night, so keep those in mind as possibilities as well.
This matchup can be very tricky, especially if you are inexperienced. We are certainly not favored here, as our normal strategy of relying on artifacts to take over the game is not usually going to work. That being said, if you play tight, mulligan well, and have a solid board plan for the matchup, it’s not necessarily the 20:80 matchup some people make it out to be. More realistically, Grixis Control is probably favored by about 15%, but format knowledge and playskill can close that gap a bit.
If you really want to beat this deck, maxing out on Mirran Crusader is a great avenue of attack. Most decks will have very few answers to this guy, even in postboard games. If you can keep throwing Crusaders at your opponent, you will eventually exhaust their supply of answers. Your opponent is likely to have some number of answers, but considering that they’ll probably use some of these to clear out other creatures, it’s easy for a Crusader to go all the way. My win percentage with this deck tends to scale upwards as I run more copies of Crusader.
Data vs Czech Pile (the predecessor to this deck) as of 5/31/18
Win rate with WW D&T: 8-7 (53.3%)
Win rate with RW D&T: 16-6 (72.7%)