A few weeks ago, we talked about the potential viability of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in Modern. To summarize, we were intrigued by Jace’s low opportunity cost and high value ceiling in a format full of graveyard enablers (fetchlands and Thought Scour) and cheap, powerful spells (Lightning Bolt and Serum Visions). The unique capability of Thought Scour to simultaneously cycle while providing three cards in the graveyard for the quartet that is Snapcaster Mage, Gurmag Angler, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Kolaghan’s Command enables a strong synergistic core that is difficult to fight against on a singular axis. The power of Jace in Grixis Control specifically comes from the fact that the best answers to him (Lightning Bolt/Abrupt Decay) are poor against the rest of the deck, and only a temporary answer at that due to the presence of Kolaghan’s Command.
While most of the discussion, both on my Twitch stream and in the comments of the previous article, were positive, there were still some nay-sayers and skeptics that were not quite convinced by my claims. In an attempt to silence these naysayers and prove Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy’s worth to the world, I stepped up to the plate with my buddy Jace, putting my life and reputation on the line as I waged honorable war at a local Modern PPTQ with my ever-present companion, Grixis Control. Success would mean riches, fame, and glory beyond measure. Defeat would entail certain death. This is my tournament report.
Since my preparation for Grand Prix Charlotte a few months ago, I’ve grown close to Grixis Control in ways my family and friends will never understand. I don’t know; she just gets me. My unique position as a streamer, as well as a content writer for this site, puts some pressure on me to remain free, experience everything the sea has to offer, try out new decks and strategies, make and break hearts…but I just can’t cut Grixis Control loose. The deck’s unique ability to turn the corner, its adaptability, options for customization, and inherent VALUE goodness all combine into what has truly become an unhealthy obsession. But the fact remains; I will probably play Grixis until the day I die.
Grixis Control, PPTQ Top 8 List, by Trevor Holmes
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Gurmag Angler
2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
2 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
4 Thought Scour
3 Kolaghan’s Command
1 Spell Snare
2 Cryptic Command
1 Spell Snare
2 Mana Leak
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Serum Visions
2 Creeping Tar Pit
3 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
2 Watery Grave
1 Bloodstained Mire
4 Polluted Delta
1 Sulfur Falls
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Izzet Staticaster
4 Fulminator Mage
1 Anger of the Gods
1 Leyline of the Void
1 Engineered Explosives
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Before we get into the matches, here are a few things I’ve learned from playing the deck:
- Gurmag Angler is the biggest boy on the block. Lingering Souls and friends are at an all-time low, which means Gurmag Angler is a problem for every non-Vault Skirge creature looking to attack. Even decks not looking to fight fair have to worry about the (usually) three turn clock that Gurmag Angler represents. Normally, the onus is on control decks to worry about opposing threats, but Grixis Control is blessed with this incredible gift of a 5/5 for B that every deck has to worry about and prepare for. This unique position lets Grixis Control turn the corner like no other; we are often able to force opposing strategies off their gameplan as early as turn three or four, for only one mana.
- Capability to craft gameflow. To elaborate on our first point, Grixis Control can force opponents into undesirable positions, making them play our game. Dropping a quick clock, otherwise known as “turning the corner”, can bump
opponent’s out of their lane, forcing them to interact with us when they would much rather be doing other things. Twin opponents have to worry about assembling their combo and protecting it with permission while at the same time trying to solve the problem of a 5/5 beating them for three turns until they die. Scapeshift has to take turns off of ramping and sculpting to keep Gurmag off the table with Remand, slowing them down and leaving valuable mana wasted along the way. Jund decks have to find some way to Terminate our Angler while also deploying threats against our counterspells and beating us in a timely fashion before they die to Kolaghan’s and Cryptic Command value. As the counterspell deck, this provides us with innumerable opportunities and decisions involving if/when/how many resources we should use to “fight the Angler fight”. We could Spell Snare their Terminate to continue clocking them, or we could save the Spell Snare for a future Tarmogoyf and let our Angler die, as we could always draw another one or a Kolaghan’s Command later in the game. The flexibility granted to us by the most powerful lategame in the format lets us pick a goal, then position ourselves in line with said goal, forcing our opponents to follow along.
- Is it even a control deck? Grixis Control exists in this weird spot where it has the best inevitability engine in the format (even against Jeskai Control) in Snapcaster Mage/Kolaghan’s Command, yet it can also drop a delve fattie on turn two or three and start beating down. Where Jeskai Control is literally forced into doing nothing proactive until the very lategame, Grixis Control can be the beatdown in almost any matchup, while at the same time going over the top of the slowest control deck in the format. Indeed, matchups like Affinity and Burn depend almost entirely on our ability to drop a quick Angler or Tasigur and stay alive long enough to race our opponent. More often than not, Snapcaster Mage functions as an Ambush Viper in almost every matchup, getting in quick damage to make it easier to kill with Lightning Bolt/Creeping Tar Pit later in the game. A Snapcaster that deals four damage usually speeds up our already fast Gurmag Angler clock by a turn. We are often hoping our opponent spends resources killing our Snapcaster anyway so we can Kolaghan’s for full value (Raise Dead + Raven’s Crime)
- Currently the deck has room for one value land and two flex spots in the maindeck. Ghost Quarter has been excellent against manlands and the Tron and Amulet matchups, but Desolate Lighthouse could easily replace it, should the format become even more grindy. In the maindeck, I’ve experimented with many spicy fun-of’s, including Rise // Fall, Desperate Ravings, Mulldrifter, more Electrolyze, more counterspells, a fifth delve creature, discard effects, Young Pyromancer, and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. While the core of the deck remains primarily the same (eight cantrips, five-six cheap counterspells, four-five value three drops, four-five delve creatures, seven-eight removal spells, two-three Cryptic Commands) little differences in specific numbers and card choices can make a huge difference in certain matchups. The exact counterspell suite is often in flux depending on what the rest of the metagame is up to, and small decisions like Dispel vs. Mana Leak vs. Remand vs. an extra Cryptic Command can make a big difference in deck performance.
The PPTQ Overview
Round 1: Connor Winters, Grixis Twin
This matchup is relatively simple in approach, yet complex in its execution. I find myself heavily favored against Grixis Twin, though I know many people feel that the matchup is either even or in Twin’s favor. While the Twin player can sometimes steal Game 1 with a quick turn four combo attempt, often they either don’t have it in their first few cards or want to wait a little while to attempt the combo with protection, which gives us time to draw into Terminate and put them in the squeeze with Gurmag Angler. After board, they can choose to either board out the combo and try and kill us with haymakers like Keranos, God of Storms or Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, or they can attempt to keep in the combo and power through with access to more counterspells.
Unfortunately for Grixis Twin, I feel like they are disadvantaged whether they keep in the combo or not. Keeping it in means that they have awkward, expensive combo pieces clogging up their hand while we are pressuring their life total with delve creatures and protecting them with Spell Snare and Dispel. Boarding out the combo means that they still have inefficient beaters and weird pieces designed to protect their combo rather than playing a long game, while we have our powerful lategame of Kolaghan’s Command and Creeping Tar Pit. Interestingly, keeping in the combo is probably better for them, but the games are over quicker and “feel” worse, whereas if they board out the combo, the games are long and grindy, but barring a huge error on our side they seem hard-pressed to win.
Sideboarding against Twin is complicated, as it can vary depending on what we showed them and whether we put them on taking out the combo. If they’re full control, we want to max out on Dispels and keep the Cryptics in. If they plan on tempo’ing us out or going for the combo, Cryptic can be a little slow, or we might want to cut some Jace (as it lets them drop a threat and they can easily kill it). Jace can be great in the lategame, but can be a liability early on. Bitterblossom is normally lights out, just be careful to protect your life total once it’s in play.
Round 2: Daniel Leake, Grixis Control
The mirror is an interesting matchup that I find very fun to navigate. Factors such as hand composition, land drops, number of Snapcaster Mages, keeping Thought Scour in, and specific deck choices can all affect the match in significant ways. I’ve played the matchup what feels like a hundred times, and every game seems to play out differently. Decisions such as playing out a quick Snapcaster Mage, spending resources protecting our own delve creature, trimming Cryptic Command or trying to fight the counterspell fight with lots of Dispels are all interesting, complicated lines that are worth exploring.
Recently, Grixis Control has experienced a surge in popularity both in paper events and online, due to many factors, but primarily because it’s just plain awesome and a blast to play (in my unbiased opinion). My sideboard plan of Bitterblossom and Leyline of the Void do great work in multiple matchups, but both are lights-out bombs in the mirror. While I didn’t find the Leyline during this match, dropping a quick Bitterblossom on turn three with Spell Snare/Dispel protection is relatively easy to do, and everything after turn three is just cleanup.
Sideboarding in the mirror is very complex, as it depends entirely on what our opponent saw/what we put them on. Leyline of the Void and Bitterblossom are absolute bombs, but Duress is lackluster as they can just re-buy most spells with Snapcaster. Fulminator Mage can be very strong in the matchup, and I normally trim some Mana Leaks and Jace (as they have multiple ways to kill him) and then bring some Jace back in on the play (if they have trimmed their Lightning Bolts).
Round 3, Andrew Ngo, Grishoalbrand
Grishoalbrand is a difficult matchup, as their ability to combo at instant speed leaves us unable to tap out: ever. This really slows down our deck built on maximizing mana usage every turn, as we can’t spend unused mana cycling Thought Scours and casting Lightning Bolts out of fear of dying once the shields are down. A quick Gurmag Angler backed up by counterspells is essential for victory, yet a fine line has to be walked to craft the game to that point without losing with counterspells stuck in hand. After boarding, Leyline of the Void can stop the quick Goryo’s Vengeance plan of attack, though we still have to worry about Through the Breach. Dispel is a great tool to fight with, though after board we also have to worry about Pact of Negation. Their deck has a lot of moving parts, and while it’s a difficult matchup, some tight play can clinch it for us.
Game 1 saw Andrew killing me in response to a fetch activation, which I might have been able to play around, but I’m not sure if it would have changed anything. Game 2 saw him stumbling a bit when digging to find a fattie, which gave me time to land a Gurmag Angler and make short work of his life total. in Game 3 Leyline of the Void showed up, which again gave me time to set up my defenses and put Andrew on a clock.
Round 4, Darin Williams, Draw
With four 3-0’s in the field at our 28 person PPTQ, a double draw would guarantee Top 8. The top four all drew (including me and my opponent), putting us at 10 points with five 9’s at 2-1. At the conclusion of Round 4, my tiebreaks had me in 4th (last) among the 3-0-1’s. With a draw in Round 5, this would put me in the awkward position of being last seed in Top 8, as all the X-1’s that played would jump me and my breaks had me worst among the 3-0-2’s. With our records basically locking us for Top 8 even with a loss, I convinced my round 5 opponent to play for position, as we were risking basically nothing and one of us could bump up to the 1st seed with a win.
Round 5, Geoff Mullin, Grixis Control
Geoff is a local grinder and very skilled player. His previous Pro Tour was Khans of Tarkir in Honolulu (I believe) and I knew he would be fighting hard to get back. Game 1 saw me with a delve creature in my opener, and two more with my next two draw steps. Dumping my hand on the table let me power through the awkward draw, and Geoff eventually succumbed to my string of powerful threats. Game 2 involved Leyline of the Void, some understandable grumbling from my opponent, and a quick scoop. With that, I jumped from 8th seed to 1st, and only had to give up lunch to do so!
Top 8 Quarterfinals, Albert Ake, Naya Zoo
While Grixis Control doesn’t necessarily care whether it is on the play or draw, most other decks in Modern do, which meant being on the play throughout the Top 8 would be very good for me. It was especially useful in my quarters match against Naya Zoo, as getting out ahead of his powerful threats is necessary to save some damage and let us use our life total as a resource later on in the game. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy did work here, letting me power through some horrible flood, flip, flashback a Terminate, and then start locking down a Qasali Pridemage. Not bad for two mana! Eventually my flood caught up to me and I died to a huge Scavenging Ooze.
Game 2 saw me on the draw, cleaning up his curve of Noble Hierarch, Voice of Resurgence, Knight of the Reliquary with an Anger of the Gods, but my opponent untapped and dropped a Choke, which was pretty much game over. It was unfortunate to run up against a pretty hateful opponent (Voice of Resurgence is present in some Naya lists, but not an industry standard) and he seemed pretty prepared for Grixis, but the rest of the Top 8 was all Grixis, Jund, and Tron decks that I felt confident I could have made short work of.
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy did great work for me on the weekend. Often it comes down and eats a Lightning Bolt, and that’s ok. If the floor of my two mana spell is “make my opponent tap a mana and discard a card; gain 3 life” I’m perfectly ok with that, especially considering the ceiling is “smooth your draws, power out your delve creature, flash back your best spell, shrink an opposing threat, gain some life”. Whether discarding Terminates when I need counterspells, counterspells when I need Bolts, fighting land flood or digging for lands, the loot ability is excellent, especially when paired with Kolaghan’s Command. A stacked hand can still throw a Gurmag Angler in the yard to be brought back later, assuming we don’t have anything else we want to discard. The opportunities to get value out of Jace go on and on, and I’m excited to fight side by side with him in the future!
Thanks for reading,
Trevor started playing Magic in 2011. He plays primarily online and studies Architecture at UNCC. Recent paper Magic accomplishments include a 2015 Regional PTQ win qualifying for Pro Tour: Magic Origins and a Day Two performance at GP Charlotte. He also streams weekdays at twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming! Follow him at twitter.com/7he4rchitect and architectgaming.wordpress.com!