The Cost of Greed

Posted in Card Preview on February 28, 2017

By Quinn Murphy

Quinn has been fascinated with Magic ever since Revised Edition. When he is not spending time with his lovely wife and amazing son, he's constantly brewing decks for, playing, and writing about Magic.

Greed is good.

Err, Greed is actually not so great. Paying four mana, then 2 life and one black mana for a card is too much investment and time for one card. How about we pay 1 life for a card? That's a pretty standard rate that we today expect to pay, usually with a converted mana cost equal to the life we are paying. So we might pay two mana and 2 life to allow Night's Whisper to get us two cards, or three mana and 3 life for Painful Truths to give us three cards. Phyrexian Arena breaks that rule, but creates an engine that turns 1 life into one card every turn. If your opponent doesn't do something about that quickly, the snowballing card advantage is often too much.

It is now accepted fact that efficient trade of life for cards is something you should be willing to do, but it wasn't always so obvious. It took Necropotence to really show us how powerful life for cards can be. The underlying lesson that Necropotence and its "fixed" successor, Yawgmoth's Bargain, taught us was even more crucial: unbounded trading of life for cards is one of the most powerful and potentially broken effects in all of Magic.

What I mean by unbounded trade is that after initial investment of mana, you can trade as much life as you want for an equal number of cards. The real reason Greed doesn't work is the one black you have to pay. This limits the actual cards per turn you can gain to the mana you have on the board. Without paying that extra cost, you could draw up to nine cards in one turn and still have mana free to cast what you draw.

Unbounded card-for-life trading is where the fun things happen. Sure, I'll go from 20 life to 1 life to draw nineteen cards, getting my combo in hand and winning that same turn! Combine that trade with life gain of any sort and you can draw all the cards.

Draw all the cards!!!!
Draw all the cards!

Unbounded life-for-card is so strong, getting anything else with it is amazing.

So, what if we gave you a Necropotence with wings?

You guessed it, he's back:

There's no new art, but just having Griselbrand in Modern Masters 2017 Edition is gift enough. Unbounded life-for-cards (with a caveat) attached to a flying, lifelink 7/7? It's eight mana? Whatever, we'll deal with that. We just want to be playing that card somehow.

The caveat on Griselbrand's ability is that you must pay in increments of 7 life, which means you can't just drop from 20 life to 1 life for nineteen cards; every use of his ability must be done in increments of seven, which won't fit your life total neatly. This drawback doesn't stop anybody from abusing the infamous Demon in the slightest.

Unfair at Any Speed

Eight mana is realistically a lot to pay for a card. In Sealed or Draft, it won't be too problematic (though BBBB might be), but in Constructed formats the Demon costs enough to only have potential to be cast fairly in very grindy control decks.

Fortunately, no one ever thinks about playing fairly with Griselbrand. Griselbrand is a staple of reanimator strategies in Modern and Legacy, where he can be truly abused by hitting the field as soon as the second turn.

Griselbrand doesn't merely threaten the opponent with a quick death like most reanimation targets—he is also a card-draw engine! You can cast Griselbrand not only to kill an opponent but as the way to assemble another combo.

Griselbrand plus life gain equals a lot of cards, as the "Grishoalbrand" deck clearly illustrates.


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The plan here is to cheat Griselbrand into play, then draw into Nourishing Shoals. From there we can use Through the Breach with Worldspine Wurm or Goryo's Vengeance with Borborygmos Enraged to finish our opponent off.

Not So Sneaky, Very Showy

Any format where you have ways to cheat our card-drawing Demon out is going to be good times, and Legacy has more ways to cheat him into play than you can count!

Sneak and Show

Download Arena Decklist

This classic deck puts Griselbrand and his Eldrazi BFF (Emrakul, the Aeons Torn) on the battlefield in many different ways, with countermagic backup to boot. When these two epic baddies are having a good time, you can be sure your opponent will be having the direct opposite of a good time.

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As you can see, Griselbrand is the gift that keeps giving. A big threat that can enable big combos, he will be easier to acquire when Modern Masters 2017 Edition releases on March 17, and that's pretty exciting. What strange ruinous things will you use him for in Modern or Legacy or when you pick him in your next draft?

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