Some tournament reports are written to commemorate a victory, or to represent the conclusion of a long testing period. Others are part of a larger narrative of a season, or series of tournaments.
This report is none of those things. This is a warning—against committing to a deck someone else built you because you lost a bet.
This is the Grixis Napkin Report.
For those who aren't in the know, or didn't read my article last week, here's a quick summary:
I lost a bet to Ryan Overturf, predicting that Mycosynth Lattice would be banned in 2019. Wizards decided to wait until 2020. Because I lost, I had to play Ryan's favorite color combination: Grixis. He registers Grixis every chance he can, has a Grixis Cube, and even lives in the Grixis of America (Minnesota).
And like a true Grixis mage, he's cruel. Just look at this decklist!
Going into Phoenix, I assumed I would play the deck in the Grand Prix, but I had one out to this whole mess: qualify for the Players Tour via a Last Chance Qualifier. Fortunately we had specified a couple things beforehand: I had to play a Grixis deck in the first major tournament I registered in, but there was an exception for Team events (no need to punish my teammates) or Players Tours. Qualifying for the Players Tour might not get me out of ever playing the deck, but it might give me more time for something in Grixis to become playable in one of the major formats.
Then I lit $80 on fire, lost in round one of two LCQs, and decided Grixis might be preferable to another one.
With the Grand Prix on Saturday, I had Friday to enjoy playing Mono-White Life Gain in Standard, followed up by dinner with an absolutely phenomenal squad of people: Felix Sloo, Liam Cahalan, Baker "VTCLA" Neenan, Drake Sasser, Ally Warfield and Emma Handy. Buffalo chicken fries have jumped to the top of the list of my favorite foods, and watching Emma obliterate people at Mental Magic might be even better.
It was around the third or fourth round of people losing to combinations of cards they'd never thought to use together that Baker and I mentioned that we needed to register for the Grand Prix. But as many people at the table pointed out, while decklist submissions can be put in pretty late into the night, registration closes at 9pm. It was 9:15. I DM'd the ChannelFireball account to see if there was any way I could still get in, and they responded that on-site when the hall opens they should be able to get us in since we only missed it by a few minutes.
In the morning, I had the bright idea to just send Baker to register both of us, since I have two byes. Unfortunately, they wouldn't let him sign both of us up, and so I inadvertently slept through my ability to register for the Grand Prix.
That left one option for when to play this deck: the Sunday PTQ. And because I was very uninterested in letting this specter hang over for me, I was up bright and early Sunday morning to make sure I could play in the tournament. When I couldn't find Bedevil, they became Hero's Downfalls. Weirdly that probably was an improvement, since very few artifacts see play in Pioneer, so Downfall is the same card but easier on the mana. As I write this, I realize I also accidentally changed the Aether Gusts to Mystical Disputes. I'm not actually sure how, but I assume I glanced at it at some point and confused the two broken 2019 sideboard hate cards and just wrote down the wrong one and it perpetuated from Wednesday until Sunday.
I scribbled out my decklist after grabbing the last few cards, and sat down for the tournament.
Opening Hand: Spirebluff Canal, Drowned Catacomb, Fatal Push, Opt, Bonecrusher Giant, Thoughtseize, Dig Through Time
Looking at this opening hand, I concluded that there was no way I could mulligan it, despite the horrifying combination of Drowned Catacomb and Spirebluff Canal, because I had access to one of the only good cards in the deck: Dig Through Time. This hand could, if there were targets, cast one fairly quickly. Sure, there were a lot of decks that this hand did nothing against, like Underworld Breach or most of Sultai Delirium, but I didn't register four Storybook versions of Shock to not keep this kind of hand.
When my opponent played a Mausoleum Wanderer, I had the terrifying realization that I probably couldn't lose. On turn two a Fatal Push removed a Selfless Spirit, on turn three a Stomp killed a Rattlechains and a Thoughtseize took a Collected Company, and eventually a 4/4 flying Nicol Bolas, the Ravager entered play.
Honestly I felt bad, because my opponent clearly entered the tournament expecting to play against a metagame that made sense. Instead I sideboarded like this:
-4 Thought Erasure, -2 Thoughtseize, -2 Thief of Sanity
+2 Grasp of Darkness, +2 Mystical Dispute, +2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, +2 Ultimate Price
The pile of discard seemed like a bad idea against Spirits, especially because all of the Thoughtseizes add up when your opponent is attacking you for 2 at a time.
Game two wasn't particularly interesting, as there's just no reasonable way for the Spell Queller deck to keep that card in play, so the house of cards crumbled quickly from there. I had accidentally stumbled into my unloseable matchup.
I realized around this point that it was possible I could put up a positive record with this deck. What if I got paired against Mono-Black, or Mono-Red? Sure, game one could be full of discard, but post-board I bring in a half dozen removal spells and a lifelink threat! What if I only play against small creature aggro, or the discard is actually enough against Underworld Breach and Inverter of Truth?
Opening Hand: Watery Grave, Blood Crypt, Drowned Catacomb, Opt, Thoughtseize, Bonecrusher Giant, Thief of Sanity
"Alright," I thought. "Time to see if Thief of Sanity can carry a game."
My opponent led off with this:
Before I had even taken a turn, I had my answer.
Turn-two Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and turn-three Cavalier of Thorns was all I needed to see, and I quickly scooped.
I chose to sideboard like this:
-4 Fatal Push, -3 Thief of Sanity
+2 Agonizing Remorse, +1 Ashiok, Dream Render, +2 Mystical Dispute, +2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Game two, after a mulligan, I kept a hand that had three lands, two discard spells and Ashiok, Dream Render. I had multiple decisions over the course of the game. I took an Uro so that I could then exile it with Ashiok later. I took a World Breaker a couple times so that he would have to sacrifice lands to bring it back from his graveyard.
Unfortunately, despite removing many of the threats in his deck, the lack of card advantage eventually caught up to me. Just like Jund vs. Tron or Valakut, when both players are just top decking, the one with more powerful spells tends to win. That is usually not the fair deck against a deck like ramp. A Cavalier of Thorns flipped an Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath into his graveyard, and the match was over shortly after.
The printing of Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath seems especially brutal for this deck. Because Grixis is relying on discard and removal to handle all its problems, recursive threats will be difficult. Out of something like Mono-Black, there are constraints on how cards like Bloodsoaked Champion can return, but Uro's restriction is that they need to put cards in the graveyard… which is what you're doing for them.
Relieved, I readied myself for what would hopefully be my last round. When Ryan and I talked about the bet, we had agreed that once we weren't in contention for anything meaningful, we were allowed to drop from the tournament. Nobody would have to be miserable through every round at X-5 in an eight-round Grand Prix or something.
Opening Hand: Watery Grave, Spirebluff Canal, Fabled Passage, Thoughtseize, Thought Erasure, Dreadbore, Opt
Honestly, this hand looks kind of reasonable in the format. What could go wrong?
I first took a Satyr Wayfinder, and then an Uro, and left my opponent just with lands and Sylvan Caryatids. I figured if there was no good way to put cards into the graveyard, then Uro wouldn't be much of a threat there for now. Even once it came back, I could likely kill it. On turn four I resolved Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, and he discarded a land, leaving him with one card in hand.
Sadly, the last card was Dig Through Time. In the top eight cards of his library were both an Inverter of Truth and a Thassa's Oracle, and I lost immediately.
I sideboarded like this:
-4 Fatal Push, -2 Bonecrusher Giant
+2 Mystical Dispute, +2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, +2 Agonizing Remorse
Unfortunately I couldn't take out all of the Bonecrusher Giants, which seemed lackluster against pretty much everything in his deck. Kalitas came in to make Uro difficult to recur and terrible to cast from hand.
On turn two, I cast an Agonizing Remorse and took a Satyr Wayfinder again to keep my opponent from generating any advantage. On turn three, I cast a Thoughtseize, taking something not-too-relevant, leaving my opponent with two Mystical Disputes in hand, then cast an Opt and saw Nicol Bolas, the Ravager.
Against an opponent with two Mystical Disputes in hand.
Annoyed, I slid the card to the bottom of my library. There really is no way to describe the sheer frustration of having almost all of your win conditions be absolutely dead to one of the most-played sideboard cards in the format.
We continued to play around each other a bit, when I finally found a Dig Through Time, the one good card in my deck. I confidently tapped two of my six lands, removed my graveyard, drew seven cards, and saw something like this:
Spirebluff Canal, Swamp, Thoughtseize, Thought Erasure, Opt, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
I had no removal for Kalitas, my opponent just had Mystical Disputes in hand (still), but I couldn't take a seventh land, Bolas and discard to clear the way. Multiple discard spells were a massive waste.
It hit me about then that I had hit a reasonable mix of lands and spells off of a Dig Through Time and wanted absolutely none of them. Sure, Dig Through Time is powerful, but not when nothing else in the deck is.
The game ended a couple turns later because none of my cards did anything. Relieved, I signed the slip and dropped from the event. I think my opponent thought I was frustrated with how my tournament went, and set about commenting on what he thought of the deck, and that Grixis looked like so much fun.
"Man, I wish I had registered Nicol Bolas, it's so sweet!"
I almost offered to trade decks with him, but figured I didn't need to call him out like that. I wished him luck in the rest of the rounds, and walked about 10 feet to Ari Lax. He burst out laughing when I told him about Bolas and Mystical Dispute.
"It's messed up that that card can counter creatures."
Assuming we don't mean the trash, I do think that there is some potential here for parts of this deck. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet actually seems pretty good. The Scarab God also has its merits, even if it's completely absent from this version of the deck. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy has the ability to recur either discard spells or removal, whichever is better against the opponent. Thought Erasure was bad, but Agonizing Remorse was actually pretty effective. There are a lot of ways to use discarded cards right now.
There's a lot to cut, though. The only thing Thief of Sanity did was block a Brazen Borrower once, and I'm not counting that as a win for it. Getting hit by Mystical Dispute is a strike against both it and Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. Bolas in particular is as unimpressive now as it was all fifteen months it was in Standard. Bonecrusher Giant was only good when Stomp was good, and ironically a Shock would have been better because that would fill the graveyard for Dig Through Time.
At some point, though, we have to ask ourselves: what is the red doing here, other than making it harder to cast our spells? Having to tap both blue sources of mana for Dig Through Time was uncomfortable when I also wanted to leave up Mystical Dispute to protect it.
Speaking of which, this Dig Through Time card seems pretty good. We should probably be looking to exploit it more, maybe with more powerful cards or a two-card combo to go with the extremely potent card selection.
If I were going to register Grixis again, this is how I would build the deck:
I drew heavily on Corey Burkhart's recent Players Tour win as inspiration for this, uhh, rebuild of Grixis. The biggest change I made was replacing an Island with a Steam Vents, which I confirmed with him is a move he himself would have made for #Branding purposes if he had thought about it.
This version replaces a lot of clunky cards with ones that are situationally better. For example, Inverter of Truth does a great Nicol Bolas, the Ravager impression, except that it's a 6/6 that can't be Mystical Disputed, and instead of making them discard a card it wins the game. In the right context, that seems pretty good!
Ultimately, it's a lesson Grixis was always going to have to learn:
"There is always a greater power."
Nick Prince is a competitive Magic player and member of the L.A. Gayming Society leadership team.
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