Deck Tech: Grixis Control

Posted in Event Coverage on November 10, 2018

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Jeskai Control is the current frontrunner for "best control deck in Standard," and it's obvious why. White provides access to ways to clear the battlefield and answer most threats. Combining it with red gets the benefit of powerful Boros cards from Guilds of Ravnica like Deafening Clarion, which is an early way to control the board in Jeskai decks.

So if everyone's zigging to add white to their blue-red control shells, why is Corey Burkhart zagging to black?

"Black is where it's at!"

While it's not uncommon to see Burkhart carrying the Grixis torch in Modern, it's a far less popular choice in Standard. How did Burkhart get to playing Grixis at another Pro Tour?

"I played a lot of blue-red style decks," Burkhart said. "Izzet Drakes, Blue-Red Niv-Mizzet, and the like. But being a known quantity, especially as a control deck, makes it much easier for players to use proactive cards against those strategies. For example, Golgari decks all have Duress now. Trying to play a cheap one-for-one game against them isn't reasonable anymore."

"In the Magic Online Championship, we saw cards attacking Jeskai's threats and answers. You look at Jeskai's red cards and its removal can't kill Adanto Vanguard. You have to play enough copies of Settle the Wreckage that you end up weaker in the mirror match. You always give something up to deal with targeted cards like that."

But that doesn't explain Burkhart's leap to leaning on black instead of white in a control deck.

"Standard is really good right now," Burkhart said. "You can't plan to beat just one deck or two decks; you have to plan to beat ten decks. I played Jeskai Control in the MOCS, went 3-3 and lost to Vanguard. I didn't see a way to fix it."

"I went back to a Dimir deck heavy with Dream Eater, Disinformation Campaign, and similar cards—basically a surveil theme deck. The big red spells I felt like I was giving up were Lava Coil, which deals with things like Arclight Phoenix, and Star of Extinction. Star of Extinction especially since it's the only card that kills all their creatures, a planeswalker, and whatever value land they might have transformed."

"With black, there's only so many Vraska's Contempts you can put into your deck. Star of Extinction is a really big stop light."

"Looking at the threats I have to answer, it's the creatures that outsize my removal like Carnage Tyrant, Doom Whisperer, and Niv-Mizzet, Parun. It was rough but once you picked up black cards they answered all these things," Burkhart said. "What are the early removal spells opponents will play? What are the creatures they'll play? The Eldest Reborn answered it all."

"How do I build the best The Eldest Reborn deck? You play a The Eldest Reborn deck with Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. Once you play The Eldest Reborn, get Nicol Bolas back, and flip him into a planeswalker, anything is possible."

"Now, instead of just surveil I have a Nicol Bolas theme deck. You play him, he dies, then you The Eldest Reborn him and take over," Burkhart said. "I like him more than Niv-Mizzet, Parun and grindy planeswalker threats like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. I found if you curve the surveil package into Nicol Bolas, you run your opponents out of resources quickly. The Eldest Reborn becomes the key: your big finish is something that kills their big finish."

The beauty of Burkhart's plan wasn't reinventing what Jeskai Control does, but pivoting it to a plan that counts on opponents planning against Jeskai Control. And with Nicol Bolas being available as early as the fourth turn, it gave Burkhart a lot of room to play.

"I don't put Nicol Bolas in my deck where the plan is wait until turn ten to play it," he said. "I play it early and if it dies I get it back later anyway. That's what The Eldest Reborn does anyway!"

Corey Burkhart's Grixis Control

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