Developing Your Griselbrand

Posted in Top Decks on July 11, 2014

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

A few weeks ago, I wrote an introductory piece to Vintage to coincide with the release of Vintage Masters online. I'm happy to report that I've done a lot of "research" since then, and now I know a lot more about the format, the online metagame, and a couple pretty awesome decks.

I really can't overstate how fun Vintage is, and how much I like it being readily available to play at all times. I've been playing in the 6:30 p.m. (Pacific Time) Daily Event multiple times a week, as it perfectly lines up with when I get off work, and, because it is online, switching decks is pretty easy. Today, I want to talk about a couple of the decks I've liked best, why they are sweet, and what the idea is behind each of them. Also, because I've heard there's a new set coming out at some point, I do want to see what Magic 2015 has in store for Melira Pod, given that Modern is also a pretty sweet format and Pod is the deck I know by far the best.

First, let me talk about how I approached Vintage when I first starting playing it again. As I've mentioned many times, I used to play a ton of Vintage, but besides a scattered event here and there, hadn't really devoted any time to it in the past couple years. Once the floodgates opened and it became available online, I basically got to relearn the format, although Vintage being the most Eternal of the Eternal formats, I had a pretty good head start.

Here are the cards I knew I was going to play:

While there are plenty of great nonblue decks in Vintage (both Stax and Dredge are very good), I don't play Vintage to not cast Ancestral Recall, and all the decks I considered playing had all of the above cards, plus a bunch more sweet blue cards. One common misconception about Vintage is that all the decks are the same, just because many of them play the same selection of restricted cards—a list I'd say looks something like this:

I will admit, many Vintage decks play some or all of that list (with Tinker/Time Vault being the most commonly left off), but that is just a starting point, and the different blue decks play very differently from each other. In fact, let me look at some of the reasons people give to not play Vintage:

1) All the games end on turn one and are just people doing broken things

I have to admit, some games do end on turn one, and broken things do happen (I had a nice match in one of my videos where I turn-one Time Vault/Voltaic Keyed my opponent in Game 1, followed by a turn-one Oath of Druids with Forbidden Orchard in Game 2). Still, that isn't all the games, or even a majority, and you are allowed to play cards that stop your opponent from winning on turn one. In the example I just talked about, I was playing against Stax, and one of the downsides of Stax is that it doesn't play Force of Will or Mental Misstep, both of which are cards that can put the brakes on many of the busted openings. The games where neither player has a broken draw or both players have broken draws that are capable of cancelling out are awesome, and Vintage generally packs more gameplay into the first three turns of the game than most formats do the whole game. Just because there aren't very many actual turns does not mean there aren't a lot of interesting decisions, and many matchups routinely go to the long game.

2) All the decks are the same, especially the blue ones

As I said before, many of the blue decks do share a common base, with a big pile of restricted cards being too good to pass on. That does not mean they play the same, and once you've piloted Oath, Tezzeret, Deathrite/Dark Confidant BUG, Gush, and Tendrils, I think you will agree. Much like the "turn-one kill" misconception, the fact that many of these decks are capable of the same openings leads people to believe that they must play the same, when they do play very differently. Vintage, more than most formats, rewards having a focused game plan, and all of these decks have specific things they are trying to accomplish. There is some overlap, but trying to assemble Gush + Fastbond and go off is very different from locking out the opponent with cards from Dark Confidant and Trygon Predator or Oathing out Griselbrand. This point is further confused by hybrid versions of these decks, like Tezzeret with Oath or Gush Tendrils vs. normal Tendrils vs. Dark Confidant Tendrils vs. Dark Confidant without Tendrils.

3) The format is dead/nobody plays it

That wasn't true before Vintage went online, although, depending on your region, it may have been hard to find games. Now there is really no excuse, and if you want to play Vintage, you very much can. I know that it being accessible to me has rekindled my desire to play the format, and I'm seriously considering dusting off my Vintage cards and going to Vintage Champs this year. Plus, the barrier to entry is vastly lower online than it is offline, which also explains why Vintage Daily Events rarely have a problem firing (at least the ones that I've tried to play in have always gone off). My strategy has been to draft Vintage Masters, which is doing a fun thing in order to open Power, which lets me play another fun thing.

Now that I've irrefutably demonstrated why Vintage is great and you must play it, let me dive into some decks.

Swearing an Oath

The first deck I started with I already mentioned a few weeks ago, and that was Tezzeret Oath:


Download Arena Decklist

I liked the deck but found that the Oath part of the deck was a lot stronger than the Tezzeret part of the deck. In fact, I think Oath is the best thing you can be doing in Vintage right now, although that is starting to shift a little bit. Oath is just an insane threat for such a low cost, and it doesn't even have that big of deck-building implications. Look at the entire Oath package:

Four of those cards are lands, and lands that make your mana base better, so you are talking about just seven spells, or six if you are daring. That's a trivial amount of room, and rivals even something like Vault-Key for how little room it takes. It does have the additional cost of disallowing any other creatures, but losing out on Snapcaster Mage is not that big a deal, with missing out on Tinker into Blightsteel Colossus being a bigger cost (I do not recommend playing Colossus, even if it seems like a legitimate Oath target; I want to win the game the turn I trigger Oath).

Switching out the Tezzeret package and making a few other adjustments leaves us with the following Blue Oath list:

Blue Oath

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I kept the Vault-Key combo, but because there is no Colossus I removed the Tinker. The reasons I like this deck are that it's got the best win condition (Oath); a ton of disruption; and a very good backup plan in Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

The deck is very focused, with resolving Oath + Orchard the main path to victory. You don't even always need the Orchard, although it is a feature of all your truly busted hands. Once you Oath up Griselbrand, you almost always immediately win, because drawing seven or fourteen cards should find some combination of Time Walk + Yawgmoth's Will, after which you attack and draw more cards, ultimately finishing with Time Vault + Voltaic Key. Even if you don't Vault-Key your opponent, you should find enough disruption that he or she is unable to win even with the extra turns your opponent gets.

I like how lean this deck is. Because it's fully Oath-based (with the Show and Tell and Jaces as plans in case that goes wrong), this deck rarely needs more than a couple land to function and gets to play a ton of ways to stop the opponent from doing his or her thing. If I knew I was playing against combo, this would be a solid choice, especially given my anti-Workshop stance (Mishra's Workshop decks are the real way to beat Storm combo, if that's what you are looking for). Swan Songing into an Oath is also pretty cute, as it does a good job of making up for Orchard when you are lacking one.

The biggest drawback with this deck also has to do with how single-minded it is. When too many opponents come packing Abrupt Decays and Grafdigger's Cages, this deck can run into problems. Jace is good, as is Show and Tell, but if you've given your opponent a couple Orchard tokens and he or she kills your Oath, you can be in trouble. In fact, too many mirrors also weaken this deck, as the Oath mirror mainly comes down to who draws more Forbidden Orchards. I've won the game off my opponent's Oaths before, and the Orchard mirror is not one that is particularly enthralling.

If you want to take a look at me battling with the deck, I recorded a Daily Event here.

I can't help but gush over the next deck I tried—a deck that gets to play both Tendrils of Agony and Talrand, Sky Summoner (he's like a Tendrils you have to cast first).


Gush Tendrils

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This deck is utterly and completely built around a different kind of combo, as it's trying to assemble Fastbond + Gush, after which it usually just goes off. Once you have Fastbond out, Gush reads: "0 mana, pay 2 life: Draw two cards and add two mana to your mana pool." It isn't hard to figure out what that leads to, as any Vintage deck worth its salt can win the game once it draws a bunch of cards and gets a bunch of free mana. The lands you draw off Gushes also contribute, and you usually end the game on the spot with a Yawgmoth's Will–fueled Tendrils. Even games where you don't win right away you can often play Talrand, make a bunch of Drakes, and pass with multiple counterspells in your hand.

I love playing this deck, and I like that it is relatively hard to disrupt. Fastbond is the most vulnerable point, and Abrupt Decay can be annoying, but Repeal helps mitigate that (while being awesome to cast on your own Moxes for storm count and Drake summoning). This deck also goes off out of nowhere while still getting to play the full suite of blue disruption cards. Most Tendrils decks have to dedicate more deck space to the combo kill, while this deck just plays a bunch of Gushes, which means that unsuspecting opponents will see your Missteps, Forces, and Drains and think you are a much-less-explosive deck than you really are. I also like the backup plan of Talrand, as there are plenty of matchups where Talrand + two or three Drakes is enough to win the game.

The downsides to this deck are that it doesn't do much without Fastbond and doesn't go off quite as reliably as something like Oath. Even games where you Fastbond into Gush you are capable of fizzling, and when your deck does its thing and still loses, it's very disheartening. I do think this deck is a solid choice, and I especially like how it plays tons of actual lands, which makes the Workshop matchup much better than if you are on one of the decks with all artifact mana. Chalice of the Void can't stop lands, but it sure can stop Moxes.

I took this deck for a spin in a Daily Event here.

After playing Oath, then Storm combo, I realized that I could mix chocolate and peanut butter, and that it would be deliciously broken.

Oath of Storms


Griseloath by lsv

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This deck has it all. It's full-on Storm combo, complete with all rainbow lands, Dark Rituals, and draw-sevens, plus both Necropotence and Yawgmoth's Bargain, but it also has the Oath-into-Griselbrand plan as a backup. That's a whole lot of brokenness in one deck, and when people think about busted Vintage games, this is the deck they are thinking of. It is very capable of winning turn one, even through Force of Will, and winning on turn two or three is trivial. Undisrupted, this will rarely let the opponent live until turn three, and it's surprisingly resilient against blue-based disruption (Stax disruption like Sphere of Resistance is another story).

One of the main reasons I started playing this deck is because of how many blue decks there are online. Based on the matchups I've played, blue decks, especially Oath decks, are overrepresented, and Griseloath is one of the best ways to fight those decks. I even have a main-deck Defense Grid as the fifth Duress! The reason I like this deck so much against Blue Oath is that it's got a faster clock, a good amount of ways to fight cards like Force of Will, and having the Oath package makes you so much better against opposing Oaths. Even if your opponent stops you from going off and triumphantly drops Oath, sometimes you just have more Forbidden Orchards, at which point you can just win the game. If the opponent's solution is to not drop Oath, that will usually buy you enough time to find more Duresses and threats than he or she has counters, as the threat density of this deck is quite high.

I also like that this deck has more Yawgmoth's Wills than any deck in the format, thanks to Burning Wish. By playing four Burning Wishes and Will in your sideboard, you Will cast it more often than anyone else. Besides Yawg Will, Tendrils of Agony is your most common target, as that's how you win 90% of your games. The other sideboard sorceries are a combination of utility, removal, and last-ditch ways to draw cards, often with somewhat diminishing returns.

Another big reason this deck has a good game against blue decks is Mind's Desire. If you suspect you are facing a grip of counterspells, tutoring for the combo of Mind's Desire + Rituals and Moxes is awesome. It is admittedly less awesome than it was before Flusterstorm was printed, but it's still a very good plan against blue decks. Ideally, you can Duress or bait out Flusterstorm, as Mind's Desire can easily crush any number of Mana Drains and Forces of Will, especially if you've had the time to really build up your hand. Using Tolarian Academy lets you generate enough mana to play a threat like Necro, have the opponent counter it, then play a Desire for 8, which will just end the game unless your opponent has Flusterstorm. I also really like the Tinker-into-Defense Grid play, which I've run to great effect.

This is a more all-in deck than the others, and it's definitely possible to get hands where you just scoop to a single counterspell or cast a draw-seven and fizzle. It's also completely vulnerable on the draw, as Force of Will is nowhere to be found. I don't like the deck against Stax, but there is so much more blue than Stax online that I've been happy playing it.

I can't recommend Vintage strongly enough, and there are awesome decks (blue or otherwise) to fit any playstyle. I know I'm going to keep playing it, and if you play the Daily Events, there's a pretty decent chance you will run into me at some point.

Return of the Pod People

Before I go, I want to provide a (brief) update on Modern, specifically Melira Pod. Not only is this the deck I would play right now if I were playing in Modern tournaments, it even got a powerful new card from M15.

Melira Pod

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I'm back on the Melira Combo, although I do think Angel Pod is still good. The format is diverse enough that I'm happy with Melira in my deck, although that can rapidly change. I also really like the addition of Reclamation Sage, as it does exactly what this deck wants without the awkwardness of needing white mana (compared to Harmonic Sliver). Being a 2/1 instead of a 1/1 is also very relevant, and for the time being I'd rather have Sage in the main deck and Pridemage in the sideboard. I also advocate playing Restoration Angel, as that card is just awesome and gives the deck more combo potential and more power in grindy matchups.

This weekend is the Magic 2015 Prerelease, and I'd encourage everyone to go and bust some packs! I'll be at the ChannelFireball Prerelease in Santa Clara and am looking forward to playing a ton of games with the new set.


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