Fix This With Grixis

Posted in Building on a Budget on October 23, 2008

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published
Cruel Ultimatum

Hello and welcome back to Grixis Week here on It seems that everyone is talking about five-color "Quick 'n Toast" control decks nowadays. The Grixis-stamped Cruel Ultimatum is as unbelievable as everyone thinks and says. I went and played at my local shop this week, and everyone was playing some concoction with tons of Vivid lands and card advantage. But five-color control decks don't break the format to pieces. The situation is definitely remediable. I was there two hours early, so I decided to brew up a budget deck and see how I fared. Being that it's Grixis Week, I decided to make a Grixis deck focused on beating the five-color control decks that are dominating Standard right now.

The first card that I thought of when deciding the best way to beat the five-color toast variants was Glen Elendra Archmage. I wasn't 100%, but I figured this card had to be unbelievably powerful in the current Standard metagame. After a little thought I decided a Makeshift Mannequin deck would probably be the best home for our flying anti-Toast friend.

I decided to get brewing and thought about how the curve for a deck like this might look. I fiddled around with a few builds and eventually decided to take a look at the River Kelpie deck I wrote about a few weeks ago.

For reference, here's the list.

Kelpie, Obi-Wan

Download Arena Decklist

There are a lot of cards I couldn't play with anymore here. I wanted to be playing more Raven's Crime to strip the hands of my Toast-wielding opponents. I think River Kelpie needs to be in a deck like this. I need to accrue a lot of card advantage to beat the five-color decks. Sedraxis Specter seems very strong, and the unearth mechanic works really well with River Kelpie. I decided to draw up a new list. I figured I wouldn't be playing many creatures, so I decided to take a page from the Randy Buehler playbook and design my curve based on what my opponent's plays on any given turn might be.

The Early Game

Raven's Crime: Raven's Crime trades one-for-one early on and gives us a way to dump the extra lands we draw late in the game. Once I get my River Kelpie into play I can turn all my lands into cantrip discard spells. If I have two River Kelpie in play, it becomes absurd.

Remove Soul
River Kelpie

Remove Soul: Remove Soul is okay against the five-color decks, but really shines against Reveillark. Remove Soul is quite good against most decks that people bring to battle in today's standard. It may or may not fit in the maindeck, but it's definitely worth looking at

Negate: Cruel Ultimatum is really good. Negate counters Cruel Ultimatum for two mana. It also counters all the Charms and planeswalkers people have started to sling.

Shriekmaw: An excellent removal spell and threat. You pretty much have to play Shriekmaw in decks with Makeshift Mannequin; the synergy is huge.

The Midgame

Cancel: Cancel works very well in a deck like this. We can afford to leave three mana open once we empty our opponent's hands and counter anything interesting they draw off the top. It's also just a very elegant answer to anything our opponent's play that poses a problem. If there aren't many Faeries players in your area you could run Faerie Trickery; it removes your opponent's spell from the game, which can be relevant if they're packing Demigod of Revenge or Makeshift Mannequin targets.

Sedraxis Specter

Sedraxis Specter: When this card first got previewed people were really hyped. Somewhere along the line people weren't as excited anymore. I'm not sure why, though. Sedraxis Specter is an excellent threat for its cost before you even look at its unearth ability. Even if your opponent has a removal spell, you'll still probably get to dome them for 3 and pluck a card.

Mulldrifter: Everyone already knows how good Mulldrifter is. The card advantage produced by this creature is really absurd. You can evoke it on your third turn and play Makeshift Mannequin on your fourth turn and just put some opponent's in really tough spots. I knew I was playing four Mulldrifter in this deck before I knew what shirt I was wearing to the tournament.

Glen Elendra Archmage: I think this card is really underplayed right now. Standard is dominated by five-color control decks right now, and this really seems to be the best answer available. Sticking a Glen Elendra Archmage with a blue mana open makes it almost impossible for a five-color player to win.

Makeshift Mannequin: I'm absolutely in love with Makeshift Mannequin right now. It's one of the best ways to get back in a game that's being dominated by a control player. They have to tap out at some point, and you can use that opportunity to put a threat into play.

The Endgame

River Kelpie: The card advantage you get off a single River Kelpie is absolutely absurd. It's pretty tough for anybody to beat a single resolved River Kelpie. It's also one of the best Makeshift Mannequin targets in Standard. By far the most insane interaction in the deck is River Kelpie with Raven's Crime.

I shaved some numbers and decided to run these cards.

3 Negate
4 Shriekmaw
3 Glen Elendra Archmage
4 River Kelpie
3 Raven's Crime
4 Mulldrifter
4 Cancel
4 Makeshift Mannequin
4 Sedraxis Specter

I wanted a pretty diverse mana base. I can afford to play ten lands that come into play tapped when I'm running a deck like this. I like Vivid Marsh more than the other Vivid lands because I can dump Raven's Crimes into it without removing counters. I ended up settling on this mana base.

4 Crumbling Necropolis
4 Vivid Marsh
2 Vivid Creek
3 Mountain
8 Island
6 Swamp

I wanted to focus my sideboard on beating creature based strategies. I've been looking at Infest a lot, it seems all the aggro decks are siding in Burrenton Forge-Tender and I thought I could probably Jedi mind trick people into giving me a lot of card/tempo advantage on my Infest. I also like Cruel Edict a lot, I think cards like this are necessary in a format with Shield of the Oversoul and Chameleon Colossus. I want to side in Remove Soul because it's good against the aggressive decks and very good against Reveillark. I decided to round out my sideboard with some Agony Warp, the unbelievably powerful removal spell from Shards of Alara.

The final list I ran looked like this:

River Kelpie

Download Arena Decklist

I borrowed the last few cards I needed, and the first round started almost immediately.

Round 1 vs. Roy playing Five-Color Control

Glen Elendra Archmage

Game 1: The first game started slow. I won the play and we both kept our opening hands and I played a Raven's Crime twice before anything else really got going. I evoked my Mulldrifter on turn three, and he did the same on his turn. On my fourth turn I just passed. My opponent passed back to me. I had two Makeshift Mannequin in my hand, so I ran out a River Kelpie on the next turn. Roy had the Cryptic Command and countered my creature. On his turn he just passed. The game kind of became a boring draw-go for about fifteen minutes after this. Eventually Roy made a Cloudthresher on my end step. I played Makeshift Mannequin to bring back my River Kelpie. Roy attacked with his Cloudthresher and put me at 11. Then he tried to play Cruel Ultimatum. I had the Negate, and he had to pass the turn. On my turn I used the Raven's Crime in my graveyard to make him discard his last three cards and draw three in the process. I drew a Shriekmaw in the process and evoked it to kill his Cloudthresher. I attacked for three and passed with Negate mana open. The next turn I drew Glen Elendra Archmage and played it. I also made Roy discard the land he drew. The light at the end of the tunnel didn't really exist anymore for Roy and he scooped up his cards.

Game 2: Roy chose to play first, and he mulliganed to five. My hand was Raven's Crime and six lands. I kept. By my third turn Roy had no cards in hand, and I was ready to evoke my Mulldrifter the next turn. I kept Roy locked with Raven's Crime for the rest of the game and was able to swing for 2 at a time with a Mulldrifter I played on turn five until Roy died.


Round 2 vs. Ashok playing Five-Color Control

Game 1: I knew Ashok was playing the same deck as Roy, so I kept Sedraxis Specter, Raven's Crime, and five lands on the play. After a first-turn Crumbling Necropolis, on my second turn I played Raven's Crime twice. Ashok discarded a pair of Firespouts. On my third turn I played Sedraxis Specter. Ashok looked pretty flustered, as he had just discarded the only two ways he had to deal with it in hand. On his third turn he evoked a Mulldrifter and passed. I drew Negate and played a land. I attacked with my Sedraxis Specter, and he discarded a Cruel Ultimatum. I decided to pass the turn and wait to play my Glen Elendra Archmage until I had five mana so I could activate it the same turn. Ashok tried a Wrath of God on his turn but I had the Negate. I drew another land and decided to make him discard his hand. The Sedraxis Specter ended up going all the way, and Ashok picked up his sideboard looking for answers.

Game 2: Ashok kept his opening seven and I mulliganed this game. I kept an iffy hand and never played a third land... Awkward...

Game 3: This game went much better. I resolved an early Sedraxis Specter again, and I got to hit him once before he Wrath of Goded it away. I played Makeshift Mannequin on it the same turn and got to beat for 3 damage and another card. On my turn I played Glen Elendra Archmage with an Island untapped. Ashok struggled for a bit and tapped the top of his deck, saying, "Cloudthresher!" He didn't draw it, though, so he was forced to just pass the turn back. I beat again and drew a Raven's Crime. I made him discard what remained of his hand and passed the turn back. A turn later he drew his Cloudthresher, but he was at 2 life and it wasn't much help anymore.


Round 3 vs. A.J. playing Shorecrasher Mimic / Bant

Rafiq of the Many

Game 1: I kept my opening seven on the draw. I knew A.J. was playing Bant, and I had two Shriekmaw in my opener along with a River Kelpie, a Mulldrifter, and three lands. The game started quickly. A.J. played a Shorecrasher Mimic on his second turn. I drew a Makeshift Mannequin and evoked Shriekmaw. He played a Rhox War Monk on his third turn I evoked Mulldrifter and drew two lands. He played a Rafiq of the Many and attacked me for 6 lifelinked damage. I drew a River Kelpie, played a fourth land, and used Makeshift Mannequin on my Shriekmaw, killing Rhox War Monk. He attacked with Rafiq of the Many and brought me to 8, then played another Shorecrasher Mimic and passed. I attacked with my Shriekmaw and played my other Shriekmaw to kill his Rafiq. He drew his card and passed. I drew another Shriekmaw and attacked with both of my creatures before playing it. The game just became a bash and pass match until my opponent drew a Cryptic Command. I had the Cancel, though. He showed me a hand clogged up with land at the end of the game.

Game 2: I knew A.J. had Shield of the Oversoul in his deck, and I needed more removal anyway, so I sided in my Agony Warps and Cruel Edicts. A.J. was on the play and kept his opener. I kept Shriekmaw, Sedraxis Specter, Glen Elendra Archmage, and four lands. A.J. played a Seaside Citadel on his first turn and passed. I played a land and passed.

A.J. drew his card and said, "Go."

"You forgot to play a land."

"I don't have one."

"Ugh, sorry buddy."

A.J. made his second land drop on his fourth turn. By then it was too late. Every threat he played I had an answer for, and he couldn't interact with the board because I had a Glen Elendra Archmage online. I don't think this was a very good match, but I'm happy it ended the way it did.

I made it to the finals! True, it was a ten-person tournament and eight of the ten players were playing Five-Color Control.

Round 4 vs. Greg playing Five-Color Control

The previous two rounds had taken a long time with everyone playing Five-Color Control, and both Greg and I had to wake up early for work. We decided to draw and get some pizza.

After playing with the deck a bit more I think I'd rather have the Remove Soul in the main deck instead of Negate. I'd also like to have a few Guttural Responses in my sideboard, because it's incredible against almost every deck in the format. If I had to run the deck again, it would look like this.

River Kelpie Revised

Download Arena Decklist

If I were going to make a non-budget version of this deck, I'd probably just get some Reflecting Pools and Cryptic Commands.

I had a blast playing this deck, and I think it's a great deck choice if a lot of people in your area are playing Five-Color Control. This deck accrues a lot of card advantage and keeps slow decks out of the game once things get rolling.

I'm leaving for Pro Tour–Berlin this weekend, and I'm really excited. Wish me luck and send me any comments or suggestions you might have.

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