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Griselbranding Modern

I’ve caught the Griselbug. For a while, that meant Goryo’s Vengeancing some people on turn one in Legacy, but recently I’ve started playing it in Modern as well.

Before, I never gave the Modern version much credit since it looks so bad on paper, but it is playable. While it never picked up much steam, a few solid players have played it in major events, and it’s not unheard of to face it on MTGO.

There are a few competing camps on how to build it. Some favor straight RB, others splash blue for Izzet Charm, and others still work in Necrotic Ooze for more Griselbrand combos.

The Ooze itself is nice against counterspell decks because it combines with Cavern of Souls in the main deck. You could do something similar with Boseiju, but it’s a much worse land, and coming into play tapped leaves it vulnerable to cards like Tectonic Edge and Ghost Quarter.

That said, I prefer Through the Breach over Ooze because it doesn’t use the graveyard, making hosers like Rest in Peace more hit-or-miss than against the Ooze version.

Breach Reanimator, by Tatsushi Tsukamoto 

Tatsushi Top 32’d GP Kobe with this list back in 2014. Naturally, this was before Bloodstained Mire was legal in Modern, and I’m sure he’d add an on-color fetch.

There’s a lot to like about this list, with all the discard working to help force through the combo. It means that we don’t have enough room for Soul Spike or Fury of the Horde to convert Griselbrand into a win, but hopefully the high level of disruption slows down the opponent long enough to buy time for multiple reanimations.

Like the other hideaway lands, Howltooth Hollow casts the card, and you will get your extra turn off of Emrakul. While it isn’t the best with Through the Breach, it does make finding Goryo’s Vengeance a bit easier.

In the sideboard, the Delirium Skeins make a lot of sense to me because of the Hollow interaction and because getting a combo opponent (particularly Twin) hellbent makes it much easier to win. I don’t understand the Engineered Explosives, and I’m guessing it’s a way to kill graveyard hosers like Rest in Peace. Darkblast is great against both Infect and Affinity, but I’m not sure the full four are necessary.

While this Howltooth Hollow build is exciting, I’ve been playing straight RB with Blood Moons in the board since I like free wins and they do a good job of hosing some of the rougher matchups.

Griselbranding Modern1

Breach Reanimator

I’ve gotten a few turn-one and turn-two kills, which is rare in Modern. Between Faithless Looting, Tormenting Voice, and a redundancy of combo pieces the deck is more consistent than it looks on paper.

It’s better positioned than usual because there isn’t much graveyard hate. Scavenging Ooze is a beating, but it’s often too slow and doesn’t impact the Through the Breach win.

I recommend aggressively mulliganing—treat middling hands as a sort of freeroll shot at hitting the nuts.

For example, I’m likely to mulligan a hand like:

It’s hard to mull a hand like this because any Through the Breach or discard outlet turns into a win, but on its own the hand doesn’t do anything. If one of the Prisms was a Simian Spirit Guide, I’d keep it because naturally discarding Griselbrand sets up a turn-two kill.

I keep a lot of hands that looks like:

This hand is scary because it only has one land, but between the two filter effects we’re going to see a lot of cards fast, and because of that we have a low rate of fizzling.

Weaknesses

While this deck is fun and powerful, it’s limited by its weakness to countermagic. Remand is the most absurd counterspell of all time because if we’re Through the Breaching, odds are we spent some fast mana to do so, and that’s a resource we don’t get back. If we’re Goryo’s Vengeance-ing, there’s a decent chance we’re doing it with Emrakul, and even if Remand puts the reanimation spell back the Eldrazi trigger still shuffles the graveyard back in. Dispel is another great one since both Vengeance and Through the Breach are instants.

On the plus side, Simian Spirit Guide can throw off the opponent’s math for soft counters like Spell Pierce and Mana Leak.

One trick is to run out Through the Breach on the end of the opponent’s turn. Because of how it’s worded, you get to keep the creature until your end step, forcing the opponent to tap his mana on his turn if he wants to avoid getting annihilated.

Because we combo off with Through the Breach as late as turn four or five, there are some board states that we straight-up lose to because we’re too low on life for Griselbrand or because the opponent has too many permanents in play for annihilator. Sometimes, you need to make a choice on which threat to go with as early as turn two, and if you choose the wrong one you get brutally punished. On the plus side, Fury of the Horde gives us a chance to beat some otherwise unbeatable board states, and I’ll never board down to fewer than three copies because of that.

Novelties and Numbers

Pentad Prism is better than other mana accelerators because it singlehandedly ramps into the turn-three Through the Breach. Some lists run the full four, but I was shaving one in almost all of my sideboarding plans and I was looking for a mana-neutral way to filter red into black while combo’ing off. Currently, that slot is a Wild Cantor, which is worse than Prism at ramping but much better at filtering. I could also see playing a miser’s Manamorphose in that slot.

Thoughtseize isn’t in every list, and it’s kind of an awkward card even though it can be a self-discard outlet for Goryo’s Vengeance. The thing is, we have a ton of other discard outlets, and we also use life as a resource when we’re comboing off. If the opponent is attacking us and we burned a few Thoughtseizes, it’s not hard to see how we might end up drawing 7 cards instead of 14. That said, you can always loot them away in the more aggressive matchups, and they do help navigate through countermagic.

I’m not sure what to make of the miser’s Lightning Axe, I just know that sometimes I kill a blocker with it and it’s relevant. I have yet to use it as a discard outlet, but I have been grateful that it costs a single red mana. I could see cutting it and I could also see playing more depending on the meta.

Sideboard

I’ve seen all sorts of crazy sideboard configurations for this deck.

I usually cut some of the following:

-1 Fury of the Horde, -3 Thoughtseize, -1 Lightning Axe

If I need more slots, I shave a few numbers down to 3s rather than cut a card completely.

Thoughtseize is a great maindeck card because it covers a wide swath of different situations and can even self-target to bin a creature for Goryo’s Vengeance. That said, life total is a resource in this deck, and I’d rather board it out for more specific answers once we know what’s up.

Leyline of Sanctity is a great anti-Burn card, but it also has uses against discard (which is otherwise good against this deck). None of our lands tap for white, but a fully charged Pentad Prism can help get it into play if we draw it naturally, and the deck has a lot of loot effects to bin it. It’s a great sideboard card for this deck because we can loot them away when they’re dead and they reward us for mulling those middling hands, which we want to be doing anyway.

Anger of the Gods is just there to buy time against decks that pressure our life total, decks like Zoo or Merfolk or Delver.

Defense Grid is a great set-up card, and we can even turn-one it off of a Simian Spirit Guide to keep the opponent from Remanding our early plays. Countermagic is good against us, especially Dispel or Remand combined with Snapcaster Mage, and Defense Grid is great against all of that.

Boseiju is another option, but I don’t like running it alongside Blood Moon, which is amazing against the various control decks floating around. Against UWR in particular the manlands are part of the inevitable win condition, so shutting off Colonnades as well as color-intensive cards like Cryptic Command or even Snapcaster is a great effect. One nice thing about Blood Moon here is that we can drop it early off of Simian Spirit Guides, and if the opponent leaves in answers for it (Abrupt Decay), then those cards aren’t hitting much else.

Pack Rat is one of the more interesting sideboard cards, and it’s not good against everyone. The trick is, you can’t board it in when it’s too slow or if the opponent has too much removal to board out (like a critical mass of burn). That said, it’s a great alternate win condition that punishes the opponent for keeping hands full of cards like Dispel and Relic of Progenitus.

Caleb Durward

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