Keeping Control, Part 2

by Sebastien Owens

Control isn’t dead!

Yes, yes, I assure you. Although it pretty much is on the brink of dying. The reason we think control is dead in Standard is because the the aggro decks are just way too dominant. It’s a big task to analyze the whole thing in order to come up with an answer for all the threats, but as I said in Part 1 of my article,I think one deck can make it. And make it big!

Grixis has all the right colors and the right cards to fight the current aggro decks. It has acces to so many good sweepers and spot removal that can deal with both fatties and Undying threats.

In Part 1 I presented to you what I think would constitute a good list. I still stand by that affirmation and as I said, in this article I will be going over the game plan. (Aka: how to play Grixis) and explaining why I chose each card as well as the sideboard plan.

So lets get started!
The Game Plan

Not to long ago when I was talking about playing Grixis at my LGS (Local Gaming Store) once M13 came out. The usual responses would be stuff like: “oh my you better be really motivated to play the deck” or “God! I wouldn’t play the deck. It’s just way to stressful.” Everything they said was true.

Grixis control isn’t the kind of deck you can just pick up and know how to play. It is a complicated and stress-testing deck. It’s complicated because every card in it is very versatile and can be good/bad in tons of different situations. It’s never obvious when you should play what card. It’s a stressful deck because stabilizing at 3 Life or slightly lower isn’t strange for Grixis Control.

You also can’t just slam your victory conditions whenever you have them. With Grixis, one must wait to have the board totally under control and have answers to possible upcoming threats in order to play your win condition. Trust me, this deck often gets there and once you play your win condition you usually win while your opponent is curled up in a little ball crying because he can’t improve his situation. Like I stated: Grixis isn’t an easy deck but once you get the hang of it, it will reward you greatly for making the right plays.

The Win Conditions

Nicol bolas, Planeswalker

This guy on a board you control is an auto win. He enters the battlefield and destroys a noncreature permanent, thus putting pressure on their mana base, blowing up another planeswalker,enchantment or artifact. As soon as they play a creature, guess what? It’s yours!

In the end, activate his “Ultimate ability” and you pretty much win that game. I cannot think any deck can bounce back from sacrificing 7 permanents when you have been destroying one every turn.

Hellion Crucible

This land can really get you out of a lot of trouble. It’s 4/4 body that is able to profitably block a lot of creatures in the format. It takes care of Strangleroot Geists, Blade Splicer tokens, Huntmaster of the Fells (even trades with its other half). It can even shut down a Geist of Saint Traft. Also, it’s a win condition that can be of used ‘early’ in the game. Utilize your unused mana keep it at 2 counters and spawn the token safely once you control the board. It also provides you with mana in the meantime!

Inferno Titan

I only put one of these guys in the deck. The reason being that unlike Grave Titan, once he leaves the board there isn’t much left of him. He can also actually work against you in a worse way than Grave Titan against decks with maindeck Zealous Conscripts.

Grave Titan

Grave Titan in my opinion, is the best of the the Titans. He enters the battlefield accompanied by 2 other dudes and grows your army every time he swings. Even if he gets zealous conscripted it’s ok since you can chump block with a zombie, and even though they get 2 zombies also… Hell man you’re playing Grixis! You can get rid of two 2/2’s any day without much effort (blocking them with your zombies is a possible play too)

The Sweepers

Bonfire of the Damned, Slagstorm, Whipflare

No I did not forget to include black sun’s zenith, the reason I use these sweepers is because none of them actually hurt your win conditions. Bonfire doesn’t even touch them and wipes your opponent’s whole board away.It can also deal with planeswalkers.

Slagstorm is similar: your Titans can just shrug it off. I t usually takes care of most of the creatures in the format, there aren’t many creatures with more than three toughness that are played in the most dominant decks (Restoration Angel is another story but she isn’t that much of a problem). Whipflare is just a quick sweeper that takes care of small creatures or finishes off what Slagstorm didn’t kill.

Spot Removal

Doom Blade, Go for the Throat

I like to split these two and two because while both of them take care of a lot of creatures, it’s always good to know that you have doom blade for that Wurmcoil Engine ( so that you can sweep the tokens after of just Pillar of Flame it so you can exile it, mouahahaha) or Go For the Throat for what ever pesky black creature you need taken care of.

Pillar of Flame

This card is amazing.It might not look like much, mostly since it’s sorcery speed removal.It does however, take care of so much. You don’t have to kill it to exile it! This is something most people forget! Pillar of Flame then Doom Blade kills a Wurmcoil and doesn’t let it spawn any tokens. Playing against Frites or Grites? Same thing for their reanimation targets! And then, it’s obvious use, it easily deals with undying creatures.

Mana Leak

Yes yes, I know it’s a counterspell or whatever, but when you think about it: it’s a bit like a catch all removal spell only that it does it’s job on the stack.

Mana Leak is getting worse and worse if the format. It can still be a useful card for dealing with stuff we may have problems dealing with once they’re on the battlefield. Mana Leaking a planeswalker is always a good thing. Do not waste this card on creatures or artifacts post sideboard, unless they are a huge threat to you or could potentially be game ending.

Card drawing/ Recycling

Think twice/Forbidden Alchemy:

Forbidden Alchemy here is used for obvious reasons it lets you choose from the most relevant card from the top four cards of your deck qnd gets rid of the useless ones or just keeps them for later with flashback and Snapcaster Mage. Think Twice though has more reasoning to it, it’s one card for two. It filters you deck immensly and the upside of potentially casting a Bonfire of the Damned during your opponents turn is just huge!

Augur of bolas

This little guy does a whole lot for us, hes fetches us an instant or sorcerie card, gets rid ofthe less relevant stuff and is an amazing blocker. Three toughness is huge in the format. It blocks strangleroot geists’ first half, can keep a Huntmaster in check or basically any two power creature. This guy provides early game defense for the deck and survives a Whipflare.

Snapcaster Mage

I think the inclusion of this guy is quite obvious, but for those who aren’t sure let me resume what this guy does. Every single instant and sorcery card in your graveyard is in your hand and ready to use at anytime the spell is castable for only two more mana.

Pretty sweet huh?


Gilded Lotus

The deck can exploit this artifact to its full extent all the time. Tap five to cast the artifact then use it to cast a Slagstorm then untap and cast Nicol Bolas or even just a huge Bonfire of the Damned even if it’s in your hand. The deck gets so much value theturn it’s cast and then uses it even more every turn after, once this little gem is in play, you wont ever have any mana problems.

The sideboard

Before I go over the sideboard I have made a slight change to it:
– 2xKarn liberated
+ 2x despise

I made these changes because if nicol bolas can’t deal with that permanent or steal the troublesome creature, what can karn do that bolas can’t? Plus I found that despise is crucial in some matchups, especially the delver matchup.

Pod decks

In: 2x ancient grudge, 1x devil’s play
Out: 2x mana leak, 1x inferno titan

The reason behind this plan, well for the grudges it can be quite obvious, but here is my reasoning. We don’t want mana leak in this matchup because once pod is online, it won’t do us any good, and they have a low enough curve to go right under mana leak. Why do I remove Inferno titan here? Because most of the pod decks play zealous conscripts there is nothing more frustrating that stabilizing with an inferno titan only for it to get stolen and smash us for 12 damage (which is usually a killing blow). And I think the reach devil’s play gives us can be useful. Going over his lines of defense for massive damage is always a good thing.

GR aggro and mono green

In: 2x ancient grudge (not for mono green if they don’t play swords), 2x despise,
Bring in curse of death’s hold versus mono green.
Out: 2x Nicol bolas, 2x mana leak (only one for mono green)

The reason I brought in despise for this matchup is that both decks have a brand new toy we must get rid of: Rancor. You want to get rid of this ASAP because it will ruin your day when a birds of paradise kills you. And I brought ou Bolas because the guy doesn’t do much versus the decks, he can’t really steal a creature that is worth it and they don’t have any non creature permanents that matter when destroyed (not even their lands) and withthe huge presence of.haste creatures or big hexproof guys I doubt he will ever get to ult level.


In: 1x Curse of Death’s Hold, 2x nihil spellbomb, 1x surgical extraction
Out: 2x mana leak, 2x doom blade

I have found, by playtesting many hours with my girlfriend who plays BR zombies, that curse of death’s hold can cripple zombies beyond the point of no return. Mostly if they’re playing the black and red version, which is in my opinion the best one (falkenrath aristocrat swings so hard and can win games with a blood artist). The nihil spell bombs and the surgical extractions are an obvious inclusion. Surgical on geralf takes out pretty much the only creature that causes you a problem in this deck.


In: pike delver: 2x Nihil Spellbomb, 2x Tribute to Hunger.

In: Sword delver: 2x ancient grudge, 2x tribute to hunger

Out: 2x Mana leak, 2x Pillar of flame

Against pike delver in my opinion ancient grudge isn’t of much more use than nihil spell bomb since the pike is worth nothing if they don’t have a graveyard and that it doesn’t give a toughness boost so their cards still die to our sweepers. And I brought in tribute to hunger for both match ups because I want more ways to deal with geist and restoration angel. I bring in ancient grudge versus sword delver because a sword of war and peace can ruin your day. The creature equipped with it gains protection from on of the most relevant colors in our deck: red. Meaning that it doesn’t die to any of our sweepers, so we have to heavily rely on our spot removal and artifact destruction. The tribute to hunger is probablement more relevant in this matchup than anything else.

Wolf Run

In: 1x curse of death’s hold, 2x memoricide, 2x zealous conscripts
Out: 2x whipflare, 2x pillar of flame, 1x slagstorm

I take away some of of our smaller sweepers, whipflare mostly because it doesn’t kill solemn, because they don’t deal with titans and aren’t instant speed so you can’t deal with an inkmoth. I brought in curse of death’s hold for the obvious reason of not letting them activate inkmoth. Memoricide deals with titan permanently and zealous conscripts lets you use their titans to ramp yourself and hurt them or just swing in for 12 damage if they play inferno titan.

So there you have it my guide to bringing back control to standard (or at least to your LGS) now remember everyone, this isn’t the kind of deck you can just pick up and play. Play test a bit with it learn how it works and how much damage you can take before you sweep the board. And also for the creative ones, the list is very versatile and many good changes can be made to make it fit your play style. So until next time!

Keep on controling, control freaks!

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