Grixis Control at GP Las Vegas

Pierre Dagen

Pierre Dagen


For the longest time, I have not been a huge fan of Legacy.

I started playing it in 2013 for GP Paris, when I first got on the train and realized I could not really afford, and I farmed Storm and Show&Tell with little love and little results. This routine went on for a while, until I met with French player Nicolas Tholance, a legacy aficionado who had been posting good results with various Grixis control lists (he even scored a GP finals with Miracles last year).

Young PyromancerCabal TherapyGitaxian Probe

We decided to prepare together for GP Lille, and put together the sweetest Grixis list with 4 《Young Pyromancer》, 4 《Cabal Therapy》 and 4 《Gitaxian Probe》. That core basically had it all: it is extremely fast, disruptive, puts pressure on the opponent, and occasionally nets you free wins when you hit multiple cards on turn 1.

Pyromancer Ascension

We even found a way to beat miracles through three(!) main deck 《Pyromancer Ascension》 fuelled by a bunch of 《Dig Through Time》. That deck was one of the sweetest I ever played, and I instantly knew I had found my weapon of choice.

Dig Through Time

Sadly, 《Dig Through Time》 got banned (for good reasons) and Miracle reached a level of dominance that, quite frankly, made it feel bad to play anything else. I was left with a choice of either playing Miracles, which I did not enjoy, or play anything else and knowingly put myself at a disadvantage.

Sensei's Divining Top

I opted for the third option, and simply did not play Legacy for a year…until Wizards finally got rid of the infamous 《Sensei's Divining Top》, leaving room for players to actually play whatever they liked while having a real chance of winning.

The deck and its ideas

As soon as the ban announcement was made, I was contacted by Nicolas (who knew how much I wanted to play the Grixis package again) and Jean Mary Accart, more famous as a legacy mastermind under his MTGO name of Lejay. They wanted to work on the deck, and since I was going to play GP Vegas, they offered to tune it with me so that I could play it there and showcase our good work.

We all knew that the list would start with 4 《Gitaxian Probe》, 4 《Cabal Therapy》 and 4 《Young Pyromancer》, but we started taking two very different directions. Nicolas and I fell in love with 《Bedlam Reveler》, while Jean Mary favoured a full playset of 《Gurmag Angler》‘s.

Bedlam Reveler

This choice has the biggest implications on how you build the deck: 《Bedlam Reveler》 double red cost makes it very hard to fetch for a basic island (not even considering a basic swamp), and means that you can hardly play any countermagic. Also, if you opt for it, you need to keep black to a minimum, meaning that your sideboard will mostly depend on 《Meekstone》 as a way to handle big creatures (against Eldrazi, for example).

Gurmag Angler

On the other hand, 《Gurmag Angler》 requires even more cantrips so that you can cast them reliably, and almost forces you to have a basic swamp so that you can play against multiple 《Wasteland》 or 《Blood Moon》. It also has tons of implications on your sideboard, making countermagic much better since you apply a lot more pressure and making sure you usually have the biggest creature on board, especially in legacy where 《Tarmogoyf》 rarely gets bigger than 4/5

As it turns out, Jean Mary was right, and we were wrong. As appealing as 《Bedlam Reveler》 is, it forces you into an awkward position where you aim for longer games (leaving your opponent more time to topdeck after you depleted their hand with 《Cabal Therapy》) while having to shave countermagic for your deck since it works so poorly with the Reveler.

In other words, it forces you into a position where you lose a lot of games to top decks and lack the ability to lock up a win even after you took control of the board and the hand, which is not where a control deck should be.

Do not get me wrong: the Reveller version was very decent, and was doing absolutely great in match-ups where you do not need the countermagic (it was especially satisfying against Eldrazi since you locked them not with counterspell, but with 《Meekstone》‘s and 《Blood Moon》 that do not need to sit in your hand). But it just lacked the flexibility that you want when trying to control a format as diverse as Modern.

Deathrite Shaman

The second huge decision we made regarding the list was to walk away from 《Deathrite Shaman》, which came as a shock to most proplayers I discussed with. There seems to be a widespread consensus that 《Deathrite Shaman》 is the best card in Legacy, which is straight-up false when 《Brainstorm》 is legal, but I still admit that the card is fantastic.

Still, it does not do enough for a deck like this: you do not need the reach it provides, and the mana acceleration is only valuable if you have the dream start of turn 1 Shaman, turn 2 Pyromancer, Probe, Therapy. I actually heard that argument a lot over the week-end, but I remain unconvinced.

The reason is that, on top of that sequence being optimistic, it is not actually that much better than turn 1 Probe into Therapy, turn 2 Pyromancer. Actually, there are a number of match-ups where I would rather just be on the safe side and play Therapy on turn 1 instead of just risking my opponent punishing me for greedily running out a do-nothing creature.

Fatal PushLightning BoltAbrupt Decay

But the true reason why I do not like 《Deathrite Shaman》 here is because it contradicts everything you try to accomplish. First, running him means that you provide your opponent with a good target for 《Lightning Bolt》, 《Abrupt Decay》 and 《Fatal Push》, cards that should not be too great against you since they are weak to useless against 《Young Pyromancer》 and 《Gurmag Angler》.

Second, the Shaman is very bad at filling your grave for delve (it empties it more often than not) and does not let you chain spells with 《Young Pyromancer》: all in all, I feel like 《Preordain》 is a more flexible card that fits our strategy better, and playing 《Deathrite Shaman》 in a delverless Grixis deck feels too much like splashing a 《Noble Hierarch》 in your blue-white control deck. Finally, you need a 《Tropical Island》 in your deck to activate the last ability, a sacrifice that I am definitely not willing to make

After tons of testing and online debates, I ended playing the following list, that very closely resembled Jean Mary’s.

Pierre Dagen – Grixis Control

2 《Island》
1 《Swamp》
4 《Volcanic Island》
2 《Underground Sea》
4 《Polluted Delta》
4 《Scalding Tarn》
1 《Bloodstained Mire》

-Lands (18)-

4 《Young Pyromancer》
1 《Jace, Vryn's Prodigy》
4 《Gurmag Angler》

-Creatures (9)-
4 《Brainstorm》
4 《Cabal Therapy》
4 《Gitaxian Probe》
4 《Lightning Bolt》
4 《Ponder》
4 《Preordain》
1 《Inquisition of Kozilek》
1 《Thoughtseize》
1 《Kolaghan's Command》
4 《Force of Will》
1 《Engineered Explosives》
1 《Jace, the Mind Sculptor》

-Spells (33)-
2 《Baleful Strix》
2 《Surgical Extraction》
2 《Counterspell》
2 《Diabolic Edict》
2 《Pyroblast》
2 《Blood Moon》
1 《Kolaghan's Command》
1 《Painful Truths》
1 《Toxic Deluge》

-Sideboard (15)-

Force of WillLightning Bolt

As you can see, the main deck is extremely dedicated towards assembling the discard “combo” plan, with minimum ways to beat whatever they might be left with since we only play 4 《Force of Will》 and 4 《Lightning Bolt》 when most control decks would run about 6 counterspells and 6 spot removal.

We decided to prioritize cantrips instead, because of how versatile the metagame is. In some match-ups, drawing an extra 《Lightning Bolt》 will be horrible, in other you really do not want that 《Force of Will》so we would rather draw only the first one, and then decide for ourselves whether we want to dig for the second one. Discard, on the other hand, is good in almost every match-up with Lands and Dredge being notable exceptions.

Engineered ExplosivesKolaghan's Command

We even ran 《Engineered Explosives》 and 《Kolaghan's Command》 to have more catch-all answers, and ended up with a main deck that basically has no dead cards in any match-up, which I love. This also means that we are not too likely to lose to a turn 1 《Chalice of the Void》, which is nice since the cards tends to see a lot of play. To round things up, I decided to split between both Jaces.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

This is partly due to 《Jace, the Mind Sculptor》 being a little mana-heavy for the deck, but the main reason was that this deck performs at its best when it can go turn 1 discard your removal, turn two 《Young Pyromancer》 and start capitalizing: 《Jace, Vryn's Prodigy》 does a fine job as Pyromancer number 5 in that regard, while being a backbreaking target to return with Kolaghan’s Command in slower match-ups.

It won me quite a few games than Pyromancer would have lost (especially against UW control), and I would not hesitate to run it again.

Sideboarding with the deck can be a little tricky, since it is much more linear than your typical control deck and it can be tough to know what to sideout. A general idea to keep in mind is that, is fast match-ups, you usually want to side out a little bit of generic discard for specific hate cards.

Blood MoonBaleful Strix

The only tough choices where whether or not to run 《Blood Moon》 and 《Baleful Strix》. 《Blood Moon》 has a real cost since it forces you to play the second Island and to fetch the one Swamp earlier than you would usually like to, but without you are simply a bye for Lands decks and a fairly easy prey for Eldrazi.

I also like to side in one against the 4 colours versions of Delver and BUG decks even though they run 《Deathrite Shaman》: do not expect to catch them early through all their discard and 《Daze》, but I found out it is a great way to lock up the game once you stabilized, which is needed since their late game is not that bad with 《True-Name Nemesis》 and cards Like 《Leovold, Emissary of Trest》.

The Strixes were a last-minute inclusion, mostly out of fear of Eldrazi where the package of 2 《Blood Moon》, 2 《Diabolic Edict》, 2 《Baleful Strix》 and 2 《Kolaghan's Command》 basically cover every angle of attack they can present you with. They are absolutely great here, but too low impact in other match-ups where you side them in such as Delver decks, which means that I would only run them again if I expected at least 10% Eldrazi deck in the room, which should not be the case after the deck performed quite poorly in Vegas.

The GP itself and sideboarding

As you probably know if you follow my articles, I am not a big fan of round-by-round reports. But in this instance, I decided to swallow my pride and go this route since it looked like the best way to give you some insight about various match-ups.

Having three byes, I started at 3-0 which allowed me to ignore a few match-ups like Dredge or Burn that I felt would not be played by the more competent pilots, nor would do well. It was a little impressive entering a 2500+ players GP, but the whole thing ran smoothly, and I was astonished by how friendly my opponents were all through the week-end. Not only is Legacy the most fun format right now, I think it might also have the nicest community.

Round 4: Storm (Won 2-1)

Past in FlamesTendrils of Agonyむかつき

This match is relatively good, in the sense that what you do is efficient against what they do, but Storm is still a very potent deck that will never get smashed in any given match-up. You side in 《Counterspell》, 《Pyroblast》 and 《Surgical Extraction》 while leaving in your 《Engineered Explosives》 since they want to 《Empty the Warrens》 post-board.

Surgical Extraction

《Lightning Bolt》 is obviously out, as are two 《Gurmag Angler》‘s since you really only need one threat here and Pyromancer is the better one, even kind of shielding you against small 《Empty the Warrens》. 《Surgical Extraction》 is here to prevent 《Past in Flames》 shenanigans or play out as an additional discard spell once you know their hand, but do not try to be goofy and play to exile Tendrils of Agony: this is not a reliable use of your cards, and spending one discard spell plus on extraction on such a speculative plan is not a good idea.

A very important trick to have in mind here is that since you play 《Cabal Therapy》, they usually leave the good stuff on top with 《Brainstorm》 and 《Ponder》: Extraction is amazing at punishing that by making them shuffle.

You can even cast Therapy, let them resolve with 《Brainstorm》, use Extraction to see which two cards they tried to save and deduce their hand to name a card with perfect information when your Therapy resolves. On top of winning the game instantly, that kind of play makes you look real smart, so, value.

Round 5: Lands (Won 2-1)

Life from the LoamDark DepthsExploration

This match is close to unwinnable main deck, but you can sometimes make it work with double 《Gurmag Angler》 (so that you can afford to pay to Tabernacle while getting through 《Maze of Ith》).

Post-board, you actually are in decent shape since you have 《Diabolic Edict》 to beat their kill, 《Surgical Extraction》 to beat 《Life from the Loam》 or 《Punishing Fire》, and 《Blood Moon》 to beat, well, their deck. Pyromancer is pretty bad here, and so is your discard: your whole game plan should be focused on resolving a Blood Moon and riding it to victory.

Round 6: Show & Tell (Won 2-0)

OmniscienceShow and TellEmrakul, the Aeons Torn

One of the best match-ups. Our main deck plan just trumps theirs, and they do not have anything to turn it around post-board: 《Blood Moon》 is easy to just ignore, their 《Young Pyromancer》‘s are significantly weaker than ours, and 《Diabolic Edict》 is a nice bonus that just happens to be in our sideboard.

I also like to sideboard Painful Truth here, simply because the match-up is so good that I want to reduce variance by drawing more cards and making sure that my game follows the script.

Round 7: Grixis Delver (Won 2-1)

Delver of SecretsGurmag AnglerDaze

This delver deck was on the slower side, with 《True-Name Nemesis》 is and a bunch of 《Gurmag Angler》‘s. Against most version of Delver, you just need to make sure you fetch your basics and do not die early since they end up losing the late game by virtue of playing goofy things like 《Stifle》 or 《Daze》, but in this instance, it was still important to make sure I did not sacrifice my late game entirely.

You want to go easy on the discard spells here, since most games will end up in a topdeck war, so just engineer your deck to be only cantrips, threats and removals. You also need to avoid anything that has a big set-up cost like both Jaces or 《Force of Will》, since Delver never lets you set-up anything.

Round 8: UW control (Lost 1-2)


Just like Delver, this match-up is extremely skill-intensive and I feel like the better player should win a vast majority of the time, which is great. I lost, by the way, and my opponent (Sam Roukas) impressed me by his quick, yet brilliant mindgame over Terminus in game 3.

The tricky part is that there is no clear attribution of a role in this match-up: depending of which mix of threats and solutions the Grixis player draws, he will decide to be aggressive or not, while the UW player can either base his strategy on 《Predict》 (if he wants to be the control player) or 《Monastery Mentor》 (if he thinks it will be unchecked). 《Jace, the Mind Sculptor》 is game-winning on both sides but almost impossible to resolve in the face of 《Pyroblast》 until the game is already won.

The sideboard is straightforward, you remove your 《Lightning Bolt》‘s for 《Painful Truths》, 《Counterspell》 and 《Pyroblast》‘s. In this specific round, I left all my Anglers, but I think that was a mistake: the match-up is slightly in our favour I think, and the main way to lose it is to draw a hand with multiple threats that forces you to play into Terminus. Long games felt like I should win most of the time, so going forward, I would probably make it so I can aim for that by adding a third counterspell to my sideboard.

Round 9: Grixis Delver (Won 2-1)

This was pretty much a repeat of round 7, except this time my opponent’s version was more early game oriented so all I had to do was not die, dodge 《Stifle》 early and leave him with a bunch of horrible cards in hand late (I even countered his Brainstorms!). With three basic lands in the deck, it is relatively easy to achieve and I would not mind playing this specific match-up every round.

Round 10: Grixis Delver (Lost 1-2)

Just as I felt so good about my Grixis Delver match-up, I lost against what looked like the exact same version. I should very probably have won game one where I shuffled on Ponder with one Gurmag Angler and two discards on top while my opponent was empty-handed: that was greedy on my part, and that Gurmag would probably have won the game even with two dead draws to follow it, so you know, bad players do not win games.

Round 11: Elves (Won 2-1)

Wirewood SymbioteCraterhoof BehemothGreen Sun's Zenith

This is supposed to be one of the bad match-ups: discard is not phenomenal against them, at least on the draw, and 《Lightning Bolt》 does not do enough. 《Gurmag Angler》 is also not at its best against a deck that can block it for ever with 《Wirewood Symbiote》. But it does not mean that the situation is hopeless: 《Young Pyromancer》 is absolutely insane as it will beat their whole deck by itself as long as they do not resolve a 《Natural Order》, 《Glimpse of Nature》 or 《Craterhoof Behemoth》.

For this reason, you need to side as a pure Pyromancer deck and simply discard or counter the combo aspect of their deck: no one cares if they do a little bit of value with 《Elvish Visionary》 as long as all they draw are random 1/1 critters, so let them and save your countermagic for the few relevant cards they have. Oh, and make sure to cast 《Young Pyromancer》 on turn2, even if that exposes you to some unpleasant stuff on their part.

Round 12: Infect (Won 2-1)

InvigorateGlistener ElfBerserk

They cannot accumulate pump spells in their hand since you run a ton of discard, so they will have to be proactive and you can just react to what they try to do: discard whatever pump may save their creatures with high priority, then clear the board and start discarding the big pump effects as a final nail in the coffin.

Nothing too crazy here, just play your cards right. Oh, also, you do not need any late game here, you will easily win a game of attrition with them anyway since they play so many irrelevant pump effects.

Round 13: Reanimator (Won 2-0)


Just like Show&Tell, you have all the right tools to beat them. The match-up is tougher though since they are much more explosive, so you cannot afford to start with a speculative hand and will have to mulligan into either 《Force of Will》 or 《Surgical Extraction》 on the draw (I actually mulliganed into both, so you know, #theprostheygetalltheluck). Once again, 《Diabolic Edict》 is a very nice incidental hate to have.

Round 14: UW control (Won 2-0)

A repeat of round 8, except I sideboard a little better this time by removing a 《Gurmag Angler》 and my opponent made what I think is a mistake by sideboard in 《Blood Moon》 which is just too easy to play around and/or discard.

Round 15: Elves (Won 2-0)


Last one was against Reid Duke, we were 15th and 16th so we knew we were probably not playing for top8. I won the toss game 1, which seems crucial since I think I am under 30% to win on the draw main deck, and I got the great opener of Probe+Cabal taking out two cards in one swing before following up with a 《Young Pyromancer》.

From that point, I just had to keep my 《Force of Will》 while he was grinding through 《Elvish Visionary》 + 《Wirewood Symbiote》, which is not good enough when I generate tons of tokens. He got laughably unlucky game 2 when he drew Glimpse, Glimpse, Progenitus from his empty hand while I drew Pyromancer, Pyromancer, Lightning Bolt.

All in all, I still think the match-up is mediocre and definitely got lucky to win it twice, but not as bad as one might think when you side in the counterspells that are actually better than sweepers if you get your Pyromancers online.

Going forward

I have been extremely impressed with the deck, and feel like this is the best control shell available in Legacy right now. This is the first time in a long while that I played a brew at a non-PT event, and it felt great. I think Legacy is in a very good place today, and would love to keep working on this deck since it has enough flexibility to become a Legacy mainstay.

Until next time,

Pierre Dagen

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