Deck Spotlight: (Modern) Grixis Azcanta Control

I’ve been to Azcanta and my god, it’s a wonderful place.

 

When I first saw this card spoiled, I thought of Modern Grixis Control immediately.

Not only does Search For Azcanta // Azcanta, The Sunken Ruin provide an insane amount of card advantage and card selection for a control deck hungry for resources, it also does a fantastic job of loading up your graveyard to power up the many delve spells that this type of deck plays.

EDIT: I’ve since updated this deck and highlighted those changes in my follow-up article

Not to mention, activating Search For Azcanta each upkeep allows decisions that set up for later plays via Snapcaster Mage, Rise // Fall, and Kolaghan’s Command targeting the cards that you’ve placed into your graveyard.

  

“Do I want this now?  Or later?”

I’ve had my eye on Grixis Control for quite a while but was never quite sold on Ancestral Vision as a reliable card advantage engine.  This is an example of a card that, when resolved, is fantastically powerful.  However, forecasting the resolution for four turns often leads to a blow out at the hands of Remand or similar counterspells.  The tradeoff of Search For Azcanta providing virtual card advantage in the next turn, followed by repeatable card advantage AND an additional mana source seems quite a bit more appealing to me for this particular style of deck.  While both pieces find specific weakness to either counterspells or, in the case of Search, enchantment removal or land destruction, the number of cards that are played that can promptly deal with Search For Azcanta in the modern format are quite small and effect very few of the remaining 73 cards in the deck.  Beyond that, this deck, which often uses one of 3 Creeping Tar Pit as a long-game win condition, overwhelms opposing Ghost Quarter, Tectonic Edge, and Field of Ruin with the number of must-answer threats in this category.  I’ve considered adding sideboard stifle effects (Disallow or Trickbind) to stay one step ahead of such threats.

Without further ado, take a look at the list I’ve assembled and have been testing for the previous two weeks.


Corey’s Grixis Azcanta Control

Creatures (8)
Snapcaster Mage
Vendilion Clique
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Gurmag Angler

Spells (28)
Fatal Push
Serum Visions
Lightning Bolt
Thought Scour
Mana Leak
Logic Knot
Terminate
Dreadbore
Kolaghan’s Command
Cryptic Command
Rise/Fall

Enchantments (2)
Search for Azcanta
Lands (22)
Blood Crypt
Creeping Tar Pit
Flooded Strand
Island
Mountain
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents
Swamp
Watery Grave

Sideboard (15)
Countersquall
Collective Brutality
Engineered Explosives
Ceremonious Rejection
Surgical Extraction
Disdainful Stroke
Ratchet Bomb
Anger of the Gods
Fulminator Mage
Damnation
Spell Snare


I began testing with 3 Search For Azcanta in the main deck with the understanding that this number was likely too high.  The plan was to cast Search and flip it as often as possible to assess whether or not this was the right route to go with this deck.  In the first 10 or so matches of testing, I won every game in which I flipped Search.  While I’ve limited that number to 2, it’s still possible that I may add the third copy back into the deck.  This is a legendary enchantment BUT the first one you cast does a great job of preventing a second copy from being drawn.  There are times, however, where you’d like to see a second copy as you can have one flipped copy and one unflipped copy in play at once without being forced to transform the enchantment into a land.  Remember, it’s a “may” ability.

My opponent was drown in value.  

My favorite example of this value advantage comes at the hands of Fulminator Mage out of the board.  Flipping Search For Azcanta compounds this resource advantage created by the Fulminator Mage and Kolaghan’s Command (or Rise // Fall) package by providing an additional land to use in the engine AND a way use untapped mana to generate a greater advantage when your opponent passes the turn because he or she does not have the proper amount of mana or mana types needed to cast a spell.  Once you’ve found Azcanta, things quickly get out of hand.

How Does Grixis Azcanta Fare vs. The Modern Meta?

The biggest threat to this deck is graveyard hate.  While it can still function after a Rest in Peace is resolved, it’s quite crippled by the lack of a graveyard and very few ways to interact with an enchantment.  For that reason, at least one Spell Snare is necessary (and probably more though space is quite limited) to react to an opponent attempting to cast Rest in Peace on their second turn while they are on the play.  I would imagine decks like Hatebears or Eldrazi and Taxes to be some of our most difficult match-ups for this reason.  When things get dire, we turn to Ratchet Bomb or Engineered Explosives to deal with a resolved Rest in Peace.

Where we shine is in creature-based match-ups like Affinity, Fish, or Humans, which is great since these types of decks represent a sizable portion of the field.  Beyond that, Search For Azcanta is a powerhouse against attrition decks like Jund or Junk as long as you can manage to flip it before it meets an Abrupt Decay.

Since the Grixis decks in the meta are more commonly Death’s Shadow or Delver builds, we find some advantage to the anonymity of playing a control/tempo alternative.  I’ve encountered many opponents who have played around a Death’s Shadow that I was never packing to begin with.  Once, an opponent resolved a Kolaghan’s Command targeting me to discard and, fearing that he would reduce my life total to allow for Death’s Shadow to be cast, dealt 2 damage to my Tasigur, the Golden Fang to no effect.  Tasi soaked up the damage and we moved on to the next turn.  When I began casting Cryptic Commands and catching my opponent off guard, he conceded the game.

The conversation surrounding modern lately has been all about diversity.  Some players love the variety in decks that they may face in a modern event while others fear that the wide range of strategies demands too much on a sideboard of just 15 cards.  The field is difficult to prepare for.

Grixis Control packs counterspells as a near catch-all answer to the slew of combo decks in the format and some of the most efficiently costed removal to stand up to the aggressive creature decks. Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler are ideal threats for this type of deck as they can be cast late game as a finisher or as early as turn two if you so chose to assume a tempo position instead.  Typically, control decks can blank most of your opponent’s removal spells (rendering them “dead cards”) by running little to no creature spells but these two particular threats, Angler and Tasigur are resilient to the most common removal spells in the format in Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt.  While no one deck is the clear choice these days, Grixis Control seems to provide a versatile strategy that has access to control pieces that are quite live against a large majority of what is expected at a competitive modern event.

But What About This?

Without testing the deck, a few questions immediately come to mind regarding the legitimacy of Search For Azcanta in this type of modern control deck.  In fact, I began this conversation on Reddit nearly a month ago by asking what users thought of Search in a Grixis Control shell.  You can view that post here.

Let me address some of these concerns based on my experiences in testing…

Uh huh.  As a control player, you’ve got to be aware of when you can and can’t tap out on turn two.  I wouldn’t try this against Storm, for example.  Beyond that, I’d very rarely tap out to cast Search on turn two at all.  I see this as more of a turn four play (or later) when you can keep up at least two additional mana for a Logic Knot or Mana Leak.  In some cases, using this spell as a Rampant Growth of sorts is exactly what is needed.  In other cases, this might be what is needed to ensure a Tasigur can be cast on the following turn.  Understand the needs of a particular match-up and begin the game with a plan for when this play is ideal.  Sometimes its just a bad card in the match-up at hand.  Board it out.

Agreed.  UW or Esper Control has planeswalkers which are finishers that can be found with an Azcanta activation.  What these decks lack is Lightning Bolt and Kolaghan’s Command.  Sometimes you just need to get the job done now.  Kolaghan’s Command as well as Rise // Fall have the ability to find a creature that was conveniently placed in your graveyard with Search for Azcanta or Thought Scour if a finisher IS what you need.

For now, I’ll continue testing and refining this build.  I truly feel like we’re on to something with this one.  Beyond Grixis, I fully expect to see more Search For Azcanta in modern.  As always, share your thoughts, experiences, and lists below.

Corey Murphy is one of two hosts of the Card Knock Life Podcast. He started playing magic in 1999, lives in Wisconsin, can touch his tongue to his nose, plays the trombone, and focuses his MTG content efforts on Modern. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You’re here for the magic content right? Ok, I’ll shut up now…

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