Throughout The Banned Series, whatever ridiculous decks we came up with inevitably lost to Sneak and Show. Show and Tell into Emrakul is incredibly powerful, though vulnerable to random permanent-based answers from throughout Magic’s history. Griselbrand, on the other hand, needs a Pithing Needle just to turn it into a reasonable card.
Some argue that what’s keeping Griselbrand in check is the downside to cheating it into play. Show and Tell gives the opponent a free permanent, and Reanimate costs 8 life, limiting the immediate draw to 7 cards and becoming dead after taking some damage. If you use a more expensive spell like Exhume, that’s more time for your opponent to disrupt you.
There is one deck that pushes Griselbrand to its absolute max, that goes off turn one and draws even more cards than usual.
Tin Fins is one of the most over-the-top powerful decks of all time, and it frequently draws the whole deck while combo’ing. The name comes from a Sealab 2021 episode featuring a restaurant called Grizzlebees. Grizzlebees, Griselbrand—get it?
Tin Fins wins by reanimating Griselbrand with either Goryo’s Vengeance or Shallow Grave, both of which give haste and translate into an additional 7 cards. At that point, it’s child’s play to find a Children of Korlis and sacrifice it to keep drawing cards (by casting it from a Lotus Petal or reanimating it). Since it remembers all the life you lost over the course of the turn, getting it back a second time will actually gain life, combining with Griselbrand to draw the entire deck. The beauty is that the cards that bin and reanimate Griselbrand also work on the Children, and the combo takes up very few slots.
4x Griselbrand is a controversial number for Tin Fins players, but once you accept that reanimating a Griselbrand is the point of the deck it makes sense to run the full amount. With 2 Griselbrand your odds of naturally drawing one in your opening 7 is 22%, and with 4 that goes up to 40%. Between naturally drawing and discarding Griselbrand and pointing discard at yourself, that’s a lot of winning hands that wouldn’t have been keepable otherwise.
Naturally drawing and discarding doesn’t sound exciting, but the deck has a large amount of fast mana available to compensate for a missed land drop. Usually, a turn-two kill is fast enough.
Speaking of fast mana, the Dark Rituals and Lotus Petals are a large part of why Liliana of the Veil fits into this deck’s game plan. A turn-one Liliana immediately ticks out of Lightning Bolt range, and a lot of decks (Miracles, RUG, Sneak and Show) have difficulty dealing with it. The matchups where I want to board it out it’s either too slow (Belcher) or too clunky (Elves).
The big upside to Liliana is that there are a lot of games where you draw the wrong half of your deck, and being able to trade your bad cards for the opponent’s good ones is a strong effect. Many combo decks don’t operate well while hellbent, and it’s hard for the opponent to both apply pressure and hold up countermagic when they have to discard every turn. Binning Griselbrand or edicting Delvers is pure bonus.
One of the potential traps of Liliana is when the opponent’s cards are bad and yours are good. Sometimes, not upticking your sweet planeswalker is one of the more counterintuitive plays you’ll ever have to make.
Zero maindeck Tendrils of Agony is another controversial number, but I’m certain it’s correct. Both Tendrils and Emrakul are win conditions, and when you’re drawing your whole deck you don’t need both. Between the two, Emrakul is better because sometimes annihilator 6 wins games that Griselbrand can’t.
While the intuitive win with Emrakul is to Entomb + Goryo’s Vengeance it with its trigger on the stack, that only works precombat, and you’re way more likely to draw your deck with the extra 7 from the Griselbrand attack. Fortunately, Emrakul can still kill from your second main phase. The deck doesn’t have enough mana to hardcast Emrakul, but you can always draw the deck, cast all the rituals, and then bin the Eldrazi to shuffle the rituals back in and keep drawing until you’re up to 15 mana. Remember that Children of Korlis gains life, and you can draw the deck as many times as you need to (though usually one shuffle is enough). Don’t forget to leave a card to draw for your extra turn!
Some players run Gitaxian Probe as a way to see if the coast is clear and help set up Cabal Therapy, but the value of a random card isn’t that good and the life loss could mean a difference of 7 cards when combo’ing off. Often, you only care about one card (Force of Will) or you’re targeting yourself to bin Griselbrand, so the training wheels aren’t necessary.
2x Ponder is a hard number for anyone to swallow, but once you realize the deck is all-in on winning within the first few turns it makes a lot more sense—you really don’t have time to screw around with cantrips, and the mana investment is real.
Other decks have way more reason to Ponder. You don’t have enough blue cards for Force of Will, and you’re not chaining together cantrips to build up Storm. You’re not setting up miracles, flipping Delver, or racing to hit threshold. That said, even though it doesn’t contribute to the turn-one win, I don’t mind drawing the first Ponder in some situations, and I’ve been happy with the 2-of.
Be careful about overboarding! A lot of opponents skimp on hate, and even when they run it they need to draw it and cast it. Often, you have the discard spell, or you simply win faster than they can deploy their hate spell. I rarely board in more than four cards, and sometimes I don’t sideboard at all. This is not a deck to play if you have the fear.
Against Deathrite Shaman decks, I like bringing in 2 Pithing Needle, 2 Deathmark. The Needles have overlap against various artifact hosers, and the Deathmarks are good at relieving pressure and contribute to the “reanimate the opponent’s Tarmogoyf and kill them with it” plan.
Tormod’s Crypt is a great mirror-breaker that doesn’t eat any tempo. A free hoser you can draw into fits your plan.
Dark Confidant is kind of an experiment, but I’ve liked them so far. Especially good against decks like Miracles where you can force it through early with fast mana and discard. When I bring them in, I generally shave a Griselbrand and swap out the Emrakul for Tendrils to lower the average flip.
In the dark, a good rule of thumb is to mulligan every hand that doesn’t do anything. A Thoughtseize + Entomb hand isn’t going to get very far, and there are plenty of 4- or 5-card hands of approximately equal strength. Every fresh 6 is another chance at the nuts.
The best hands have a way of binning Griselbrand and a reanimation spell, and I won’t mulligan them without a very good reason (no mana is a good reason).
The close hands look something like:
- A pile of discard but no action on the play in the combo mirror. Usually I’ll send this back since most combo opponents have more redundant parts than you and will live better off the top, the exception being another all-in deck like Belcher.
- One half of the combo and a Brainstorm, or discard spells and a Brainstorm. Brainstorm fixes everything, and often speeds up the kill by multiple turns. If you’re willing to get aggressive with your Brainstorms, say casting it off of a Lotus Petal on turn one, your number of early kills will increase dramatically.
- A combo hand without a Needle or Deathmark on the draw against a Deathrite Shaman deck. Remember, Shallow Grave doesn’t target and can beat an active DRS if you can get two Griselbrands into the ‘yard, and sometimes you can generate enough mana to cast a second Goryo’s Vengeance in response to a Deathrite activation.
One of the benefits to adding Liliana is that she gives you another reason to keep hands, making the deck more consistent and reducing your odds of mulling to oblivion, which was one of the deck’s weak points. I will keep any hand that turn-ones a Liliana.