Testing for this Grand Prix started fairly late for me. I got back from the Pro Tour disheartened with my overall performance. This kept me watching streams, wanting to get better, but the act of playing Magic was a drain for me.
Around Monday evening the week of the Grand Prix I booked a combo red-eye: midnight from Denver to Atlanta, and then Atlanta to Orlando. This was mostly to not miss work, but partially also because the flight was cheaper given how late I was booking.
I knew that I wanted to attack public enemy #1 Fog, which had a breakout performance at the Pro Tour. Every round I watched my teammate, Ben Rubin, play, it seemed like his opponents just had no cards for the matchup. I knew because the deck was novel and difficult to beat without adapting, that many of the top players would be interested in it as well.
I’m not the kind of player/person to buy into the hype that often. I need to see data. If I see something consistently doing well, I can get on board. Fog, however, seemed exploitable to me. I figured a deck with disruption and a clock was the best thing I could do, but in the testing I did with Ben Rubin for that Pro Tour, I found that R/B with Duress was not nearly enough to tackle Turbo Fog alone. Therefore, I turned to the only thing that could stop it: Grixis!
I understand that I have an undeniable love for the invasive, interactive cards for Grixis, but I really just like the powerful cards. I moved toward this because the Fog matchup was good, and the best decks against Fog, in theory, looked like control decks to me. Not wanting to play a ton of mirrors, I turned to trusty Grixis. U/B offered most of the shell I wanted, but when I added Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and a couple of Abrades, I was sold. I played two Leagues and went 9-1, only losing to the 5th mono-red deck I played against with my initial list.
It was the first night of my preparation, and I felt pretty good about y deck. I started asking some of my coworkers for advice on Standard, but between Matt Nass, Sam Pardee, LSV, and Andrew Baeckstrom, none of them had played Standard because they all played Eternal formats at the PT. Thankfully, former U.S. National Champion and best Sealed player on Twitch, Michael Jacob, had some opinions. We talked a little bit about the first list here:
Overall, I think Grixis is a strong choice in current Standard and looking forward. The card options available are top notch. The issue I had with it was the mana. I started losing Wednesday night, and MJ was streaming and lamenting the deck’s pretty awful hands of Catacombs, Summit, and Sulfur Falls, where all of your lands entered the battlefield tapped and you ended up losing due to your inability to play your spells on time.
That wasn’t going to fly with me. We both started looking at different U/B shells. MJ sung the praises of the 4-mana creatures (Chupacabra and Hostage Taker) when he played in the RPTQ and was also surprised at my lack of 1-mana interaction. At his suggestion I tried out at least one of both of the creatures, Fungal Infection, and Spell Pierce. Needless to say, MJ was right again. The deck played much more smoothly, and I tinkered with the numbers to get to my final list:
The most important cards in the deck all weekend were the cheap interaction. When you curved removal into threats against R/B or Green, the deck just felt unbeatable. Certainly, that’s not the case against decks like control or Turbo Fog. In those matchups you want to curve creatures into disruption, into some big threat as effectively as possible.
Round 4: 2-0 R/B Aggro
Round 5: 2-1 Green splash black
Round 6: 0-2 R/B midrange
Round 7: 2-1 Turbo Fog
Round 8: 2-0 Esper Control
Round 9: 1-2 W/U control
Round 10: 2-0 W/U Control
Round 11: 2-0 R/B Aggro
Round 12: 2-0 U/R Storm
Round 13: 2-0 R/B Aggro
Round 14: 2-1 Esper Control
Round 15: ID
Top 8: 0-2 Grixis Midrange
This matchup is close but favorable. The goal here is to disrupt the early game, then defeat them soundly with your 5-6 mana cards.
Another close matchup. I think whomever is on the play is the favorite in game 1, and I think I’m slightly ahead games 2 and 3. The goal here is to kill their creatures and land a Scarab God. Liliana is less effective because of cards like Steel Leaf Champion attacking through the Zombies and Rhonas granting trample.
This matchup is all about playing like a Faeries/Fish deck. Stick a threat or two, counter the enemy spells, attack their hand, and finish them off. Overall, I would choose to play against Turbo Fog every round if I could.
I think the matchup is close. You are likely to be slightly unfavored here because of how poor game 1 is, but games 2 and 3 you’re ahead.
Generally, I assume that if I show my opponent Doomfall in game 1 or they show me Gearhulk and I play Essence Scatter that they won’t bring in Siphoner. This isn’t exactly how people always respond. People have Siphoner or they don’t. Additionally, there are many different Esper builds. Some are U/B Teferi, others are straight three colors, some are U/W splash The Scarab God. Identifying what range of cards your opponent is likely to have is key, and you’ll want to adjust sideboarding slightly based off of what cards you see. In general, however, doing this in the dark is fine:
Same thing here as Esper. Be flexible in your sideboarding! Adapt if they show you Lyra/Baral!
Storm is the worst matchup. Game 1 is really hard because of the sheer number of cards they get to see and you don’t have ways to fight them. After sideboard, you get some help, but not nearly enough. Focus on not letting Sai resolve. You can never defeat her. Only fight over Paradoxical Outcome, Karn, Scion of Urza, and Sai, if given the option. Just let the enemy draw cards if they aren’t finding one of these big spells.
This matchup is tough, but certainly not on the same level as Storm. The issue here is that you’re not fast enough like red-black to punish their potential bad mana. As such, the late game is what really matters and they have Nicol Bolas. The goal here is to draw a ton of cards with Bloodfast and eventually win via The Scarab God. I’m not sure on sideboarding yet. The matchup has a ton of play to it, and I haven’t quite figured it all out.
Overall, my 8th GP Top 8 and second in Standard in a spot where I desperately needed the points was really satisfying. I thought I would hit Platinum off of this GP for one PT, but it turns out that the way I thought the system works means I’m still Gold for both PTs currently and will need a few more points to get there. I’ll be working on U/B more this week and analyzing all of the results from Brussels and Orlando to aid my decision-making process. But I would argue that you can’t go wrong with either Grixis or U/B—both decks are fun to play and really powerful!