Grixis Control is here to stay and here's why
Not too long ago, a successful Grixis control deck in Modern was a dream. If you were like me, you always felt it was missing… something. Keranos, Batterskull, or even more optimistically, Cruel Ultimatum, all seemed to fall short as finishers, and staying alive long enough to cast them was a challenge. Most matchups were uphill battles where win percentages usually started off in your opponent’s favour as you desperately tried to grind out two wins in a best of three.
Now, we’re seeing it at about 5-7% of the Modern metagame (sample deck), but why?
Why is it so good?
The card synergy between Snapcaster Mage, Kolaghan's Command, Thought Scour and Delve (Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler) synergy is bananas. Though no card is especially powerful on its own, all the cards seem to work together as a cohesive package.
Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan’s Command put you on a one-way train to value town, whether you’re giving Kolaghan’s flashback or gravedigging a Snapcaster. Thought Scour provides you more options for Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan’s Command targets. The interaction between Thought Scour and Delve is pretty obvious. (The exception is Delving away targets for Snapcaster Mage, but that can be played around.)
Unlike its control predecessors, Grixis Control can threaten the opponent early with Tasigur and Angler hitting the board as early as Turn 2. In most cases, it’ll be the biggest creature on the field, competing with enemy Tarmogoyfs. If it isn’t pressuring your combo or control opponent, it’s usually stonewalling aggro decks.
In this case, I don’t mean evasive as the typical flying, intimidate or unblockable. In addition to the benefits of actually just being a large creature (dodging bolt, damage-based board wipes) your threats are dodging Abrupt Decays, aren’t getting hit by Spell Snares and are forcing Twin decks to upgrade from Flame Slash to Roast, Dismember and/or Terminate. Even better, you can cast your threats with enough mana to protect them.
Lack of white in the top tier:
White has some of the best hate for the deck: Path to Exile, Celestial Purge, Rest in Peace and Supreme Verdict (sort of). Fortunately for Grixis players, white is under-represented at the top of the meta, leaving Grixis Control to run amok for now.
Tough to sideboard against:
It will likely take Grixis Control a better metagame share to see a change in opponent sideboards, but for now, it’s enjoying the sideboards that are usually filled with answers to the top tier linear (or somewhat linear) decks. With graveyard hate usually coming in Relic of Progenitus form, you’re well-equipped to threaten it with 2-3 copies of Kolaghan’s Command (mainboard!) and repopulate your graveyard with Thought Scour, if needed.
As an added bonus, your deck may even sometimes leave the opponent guessing whether you simply played Game 1 without finding a Splinter Twin combo piece.
Why are so many people playing it?
It is the best control deck of the format (for now). There will always be players who play control, no matter how well positioned it is in the meta, and Grixis Control is simply the best version right now. (I refuse to acknowledge RG Tron as a control deck)
Easy transition from UR Delver
UR Delver players left saddened by the Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time bans easily rolled into Grixis Delver as the Delve-Thought Scour-Snapcaster Mage-Kolaghan’s Command synergy gained popularity. Dropping Delvers and Young Pyromancer and amping the control suite was the next logical step.
It plays like a midrange deck
Grixis Control has the added bonus of playing like a Jund or Abzan deck in addition to a control deck. In most cases, you aren’t grinding out several turns, filling your hand with answers to eventually beat down with a Celestial Colonnade. You’re doing it much, much earlier with your Anglers and Tasigurs.
What can you do about it?
Permanently affecting graveyards is the best strategy in this case. I’m surprised we don’t see Leyline of the Void more often, especially since there are several black decks in the top tier. It cripples the deck’s creatures (its main threats) and has the added bonuses of preventing Tarmogoyfs and Scavenging Oozes from getting bigger; dodging most mainboard removal; and neutering a number of combo decks. The deck’s enchantment removal is limited to Cryptic Command so it’s a tough position to climb out of. While Relic of Progenitus and Nihil Spellbomb make short work of the graveyard, it’s only a matter of time before it’s filled up again.
To say the burn matchup is abysmal is being generous. Sometimes, your answers as Grixis can be too little, too late. It’s not uncommon for aggro decks to kill you before you’ve had a chance to find something useful with Serum Visions or cycle Thought Scour. It really doesn’t help that lifegain options in Grixis colours are also quite poor. (Vampiric Link?)
In addition, though Kolaghan’s Command is seeing maindecks (not just in Grixis Control), Affinity is still going strong in the meta. While certainly a nod to Affinity, it does illustrate how tough those types of matchups are.
The deck has a tough time dealing with non-creature spells that hit the board, leaving the ~3 copies of Cryptic Command to clean up the mess. Though the deck has a few outs, it will be set back by Leylines of the Void (mentioned above), Chokes or Blood Moons.
Persist, graveyard recursion:
Without drawing Anger of the Gods or graveyard hate, the deck struggles to keep up value against recursion such as Kitchen Finks, Voice of Resurgence and Vengevine. (The latter demonstrated by the strong showing of VV at the MTGO Modern Festival Finals.)
While some argue that Ancestral Visions needs an unban to make control viable in Modern, I think Delve and Kolaghan’s Command were much better additions. After having spent time in Tier 2 (or 3), Grixis and control players can finally rejoice and play a top tier deck suitable to their playstyle and colour choices. This author thinks it’s here to stay (at least for a while) so prepare to play it or prepare to play against it.
What say you? Have you played it? Have you had success with it?