Deconstructing Griffin Canyon

Posted in Feature on June 19, 2002

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

I sat down to work on this article with my mind on the recent announcements about the Extended format. A new policy of set rotation means that come November 1st, when Onslaught enters sanctioned Constructed play, the Extended format will wave goodbye to Fifth Edition, Ice Age, Homelands, Alliances, Mirage, Visions and Weatherlight.

I pored over old tournament reports via looking for a classic Extended deck to deconstruct and possibly update, preferably a deck that would no longer be viable after the set rotation. It quickly became apparent that they are legion; whether it is Pox and Stasis losing their eponymous cards or more subtle changes to decks like Oath of Druids that loses the vital Gaea's Blessing with no replacement for it in sight.

In the end I decided not to feel bad for these decks. They have had their moment in the sun. Better to burn up and all that jazz. Instead I thought about all the decks that would get their moment of glory. I thought of one deck in particular and petitioned Aaron for an opportunity to share it with you. Maybe one or two of you will take it into your hearts as I have and give it some quality time in its last days. Think of it as “Decks That Weren’t”.

Anyone that knows me knows that I love to attack with my land. I’m not talking about Mishra's Factory, Treetop Villages, or Stalking Stones. I’m talking about forests and islands and everything in between. It goes all the way back to the Thelonite Druid and continues all the way up to my recent attempts with Natural Affinity and Life/Death. I’m not so dead set on basic lands either. I’m perfectly happy to kill you with a Griffin Canyon.

The Grand Canyon

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This is a combo deck capable of killing on turn three. What? You don’t see the third turn kill? Let me walk you through an ideal hand.

Turn 1: Lay a Tundra and pass the turn. At the end of your opponent’s turn, cast Enlightened Tutor and put an Unnatural Selection on the top of your deck.

Turn 2: Lay a Griffin Canyon, play Unnatural Selection and pass the turn.

Turn 3: Play any green source of mana (say a Savannah) and cast Animate Land targeting your Griffin Canyon. This will make your Griffin Canyon into a 3/3 creature with no creature type. Tap your Tundra for a mana and target your Griffin Canyon with Unnatural Selection, turning it into a Griffin. Tap your Griffin Canyon to use its ability -- : untap target Griffin and give it +1/+1 -- targeting itself. After it untaps, do it again and again and again. Pick some arbitrarily large number to make your Griffin and attack for the kill. If your opponent tries to do something mean, cast Force of Will.

See? Third turn kill.

The Ingredients

Let’s discuss some of lesser-known card in the deck and you can see how it all comes together. Cards like Enlightened Tutor, Force of Will, Impulse, Tithe, and Counterspell are all commonly seen in Extended decks. A fair number of cards in this deck rarely see tournament play and warrant more discussion. We’ll start with the Griffin Canyon itself.

Mirage, Visions and Weatherlight had more than their fair share of Griffins. They also had Griffin Canyon to support the theme. A rare land that taps for colorless mana, the Canyon also allows you to tap it to untap target Griffin, and give that Griffin +1/+1. The idea behind this deck is to make your Griffin Canyon a creature, give it the creature type Griffin and create an infinite loop where your Griffin Canyon can become as big as you want. It is important to remember that when you animate a land it will have summoning sickness if it was just played that turn. You must play your Griffin Canyon the turn before you are ready to go off if you plan on attacking. Also important, the Griffin Canyon will not have flying or evasion of any type so blockers are a problem. A little further down I’ll show you two ways to deal with creatures that stand in the way of your victory.

Already vulnerable to Wasteland and Dust Bowl, your Griffin Canyon is susceptible to a whole new arsenal once you animate it. From Swords to Plowshares to Violent Eruption, anything that can target a creature can now target your land as well. After you activate your Griffin Canyon the first time, your opponent only needs to do 3 damage to kill it before the ability of the Canyon resolves, creating some funny looking stacks if you have multiple Griffin Canyons on the table. Having a second Canyon in play is often a good answer to a deck with damage based removal, but a better answer comes form Teferi. Teferi's Response counters target spell or ability that targets a land you control for , and draws you two card in the process. As if that wasn’t a strong enough response, Teferi goes on to destroy the source of said ability. Normally relegated to the sideboard in anticipation of Opposition decks, the Response is definitely main-deck-worthy in this case. Once you destroy your opponent’s Tradewind Rider and draw Force of Will and Impulse, you too will be compelled to agree with Teferi.

Animate Land is pretty much self-explanatory. Few, if any, other cards in Magic have names that succinctly spell out exactly what they do. For , Animate Land turns target land into a 3/3 creature until the end of the turn. If you play around with the deck you may find that you want to add one or two copies of Verdant Touch, which turns target land into an 2/2 creature permanently and has buyback. The land animation component of this deck is the only part of the combo that you can't really tutor for, so you may want to up that component to six parts instead of four.

Unnatural Selection is a card I have liked since I drafted one at the prerelease tournament for Apocalypse. This sneaky little enchantment costs and allows you to pay 1 to give target creature any creature type until the end of the turn. Unnatural Selection has seen sideboard use for mirror matches (including in the deck that won US Nationals). If there are two creatures in play with the same name you can make them both Legends, destroying one of them.

One way to deal with blocking creatures is to ‘hide’ your combo behind a Crop Rotation. At a cost of and the sacrifice of a land, this instant lets you search your library for any land and put it directly into play. An opponent with creatures will often attack you, confident that you cannot combo them out until you play a Griffin Canyon and a whole turn passes before it can be a threat to them. Given that window of opportunity, you can Crop Rotate for the Canyon at the end of his turn, untap and kill him with an impossibly large pseudo-Griffin. Crop Rotation also serves as a "counterspell" to Wasteland or Dust Bowl. Once your land has been targeted for destruction, you can sacrifice it in response to rotate your crops, effectively countering that ability while either replacing that land or getting the land you need to go off.

Maindeck Swords to Plowshares is probably your most effective method of dealing with blockers. But what about an opponent wise to your tricks, such as an opponent that always leaves a protection from white creature back to block no matter what? I say deck ‘em! Altar of Dementia gives you another path to victory besides damage. This 2 mana cost artifact allows you to sacrifice a creature to force target player to put the top X cards of his library into the graveyard, where X is the power of the sacrificed creature. With your Griffin Canyons getting as big as you want them to be, you should be able to put all of his cards in the graveyard, causing him to lose the game on his next draw step.

Of course, if he is playing Gaea's Blessing, this is going to be an exercise in futility; the Blessing will trigger when put in the graveyard and he will essentially just plop his graveyard back down on top of where his deck used to be. I’m not saying winning with this deck will be easy.

I don’t know how many tournament victories it has in it but the days to find out are dwindling. You will certainly have fun as your opponent tries to figure out what the heck you are doing with a Griffin Canyon in play with no Griffins in sight, or when you Teferi's Response his Dust Bowl after he's figured it out and its just too late.

I guess it is just my perverse nature to try and play with overlooked cards. Maybe next time I’ll let you in on the Chain Stasis deck!

Brian may be reached at

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