(Modern) Grixis Azcanta Control: Sideboarding Guide and Results

I’ve logged nearly 90 matches now with my version of Grixis Azcanta and am still quite pleased with the results.  Since my match-up results reflect ALL of the matches that I’ve played with the deck, some of the earlier results show results with the deck’s earlier iterations.  Today, I’ll go over the most common match-ups, what to expect with them, and how to sideboard against them.

Before I do, let me just address some responses to previous posts about this deck…

Why don’t you just play Corey Burkhart’s deck?

There. Is. No. Default.

Let’s stop assuming that Burkhart’s list is the one and only ‘correct’ version of Grixis Control.  Doing so will effectively weaken our deck by making them predictable. Keranos is not a particularly good fit for my list but, based on the fact that it is totally unexpected, may completely hose your opponent if you chose to run it in your build and they are not prepared to deal with it.

Corey is a great player but I’m getting a bit tired of hearing that his deck is the stock list.  He has designed a deck that is specific to his play style and is great at playing it.  The results prove that.  Whereas lists like Burn and Death’s Shadow tend to resemble each other more similarly, control decks provide the pilot an opportunity to diversify their options to suite their play styles.  The deck that I’m covering in this post is more similar to Grixis Delver decks of formats past-one in which I personally, have quite a bit of experience with.  Before the printing of Fatal Push, which did quite a bit of work in suppressing the deck’s namesake, Delver of Secrets, I took a Delver list to a top 16 finish at an RPTQ (after winning a preliminary event with it).  Similar to Delver, this Grixis Azcanta list runs a more proactive spells and more creatures than Burkhart’s deck.  I find that this provides an opportunity to pivot into a more aggressive strategy when it is appropriate.  This suits my play style.  I am happy to continue to provide these updates to those who have similar priorities in deck and card selection but encourage you to make changes to reflect your own play style.  The bottom line is, there is no “stock” when it comes to control.

Isn’t that too many Delve spells?

Nope.

I have never thought that I had too many delve spells in my testing with this deck.  I can see why it may appear that way.  I run five.  That’s a lot.  Remember though, that you can always pay the mana cost and ignore Delve entirely.  This is especially important for Logic Knot, which I would only consider a pseudo Delve spell anyways.  When I am casting it, I typically use a combination of leftover mana and cards in my graveyard, and frequently, only for X=1, 2, or 3.  The beauty though, is that this spell provides an opportunity to scale much better than alternatives like Mana Leak.  I will not run Leak in this deck because it does not provide anything that the deck doesn’t do well already.  It is most effective in the early turns of the game vs. aggressive decks that I can catch without excess mana to pay the tax.  Those decks tend to run Cavern of Souls and Aether Vial anyways.  I would prefer to use my counterspells against big mana decks (which have…big mana at their disposal) and combo decks and Leak won’t help here.  Logic Knot is too good a fit to pass up on.

I recognize the disadvantage of using Delve spells alongside Search for Azcanta.  This is relevant, but fortunately for Search, its incredibly effective in providing card selection even on the front side and does its own work to refill the graveyard.  In many match-ups, I won’t think of flipping it because I know that this will make it much more vulnerable with Field of Ruin and Ghost Quarters lingering.

We can fill our graveyard up very quickly with 4 Thought Scour, 4 Opt, and 9 fetch lands.  This is plenty of gas for our Delve spells.

Is it worth running Dreadbore?  Why not Hero’s Downfall?

If I want to destroy a planeswalker, I will be doing it on my turn so my opponent does not have a chance to activate another loyalty ability.  If I want to destroy a creature with a Dreabore, I want it ASAP.  If I want to flash this spell back because, surprise, my opponent has played a planeswalker and now I need it for this problem, I’d prefer that it cost me four mana (with Snap) rather than five.

To me, yes.  Dreadbore is a much better fit here than Hero’s Downfall.  Again, modify and adapt what you consume to fit your play style.

Thanks

I appreciate all the feedback everyone has provided through this whole process.  Grixis Control is a very exciting place to be in Modern right now and I am happy that we are all able to enjoy it while it is still a ‘dark horse’ in Modern.  Please continue to share your thoughts and lists and lets keep this ball rolling.


For previous content on this deck, follow one of these links:


Corey Murphy’s Grixis Azcanta Control (12/2017)

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

Spells (28)
Fatal Push
Opt
Lightning Bolt
Thought Scour
Countersquall
Spell Snare
Logic Knot
Terminate
Dreadbore
Kolaghan’s Command
Cryptic Command

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
Nihil Spellbomb
Disdainful Stroke
Ratchet Bomb
Anger of the Gods
Fulminator Mage
Damnation
Spell Snare
By Force


Sideboarding

Here is my generalized plan against the most common match-ups you’re likely to encounter in a Modern event.  I’ve also shared my match wins and losses in the first 85 or so series that I’ve played with this deck.  I’m currently very satisfied with the versatility that this sideboard provides.  Keep in mind that I’ve included 1 Countersquall and 1 Spell Snare in the main deck as a functional 16th and 17th “sideboard” piece.

Affinity (3W-2L)
Consensus: Favored

+2 Fulminator Mage
+1 Engineered Explosives
+1 Ceremonious Rejection
+1 Ratchet Bomb
+1 Anger of the Gods
+1 Damnation
+1 Spell Snare
+1 By Force

-2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
-1 Gurmag Angler
-2 Cryptic Command
-1 Search for Azcanta
-1 Logic Knot
-1 Countersquall
-1 Vendilion Clique

Since Affinity is a creature-based deck, we tend to have the advantage based on the amount of affordable one-for-one removal and four unique options for mass removal.  Unlike Humans or Merfolk, this deck has the ability to apply a majority of its pressure in the first two turns.  For that reason, playing catch-up with Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, and Terminate can be a little bit dicey, especially when you are required to fetch and shock yourself to find the proper colors to cast these spells.  Obviously, Kolaghan’s Command is good here and By Force helps out of the sideboard as well.  I like Spell Snare vs. Cranial Plating, Steel Overseer, and Archbound Ravager.  The match-up is typically determined by one of two factors:

  1. Did your opponent apply too much pressure before you can catch up with removal?
  2. Did your opponent resolve an Etched Champion?  Or…god forbid…two?

The second point is related to both of my two losses.  Yes, the mass removal helps here but you’ve got to find it and save it for these types of problems as it is our only out.  In other words, do not waste a Damnation, Anger of the Gods, Engineered Explosives, or Ratchet Bomb on a pair of Ornithopters and a Signal Pest if you expect their hand to contain Etched Champion.

Burn (2W-3L)
Consensus: Slightly Unfavored

+1 Spell Snare
+2 Collective Brutality
+1 Countersquall
+1 Engineered Explosives

-1 Vendilion Clique
-1 Dreadbore
-1 Cryptic Command
-2 Kolaghan’s Command

The difficult part of the burn match-up is that there are just so many different versions of the deck floating around these days.  I’ve seen a lot of mono red burn (with Hellspark Elemental, Spark Elemental) in which case, you may consider including a Nihil Spellbomb or Surgical Extraction after boarding.  Regardless of the type of burn deck, the plan is always the same-run them out of cards in hand and blank their top decks with counterspells and removal.  Collective Brutality is crucial but watch-out for Skullcrack which is a staple of burn no matter what the style of deck.  I also like Engineered Explosives here as it can destroy the slew of one-mana creatures that Burn plays AND take care of a Relic of Progenitus which many of them will try and sideboard against you.  Search for Azcanta seems a little slow and tapping out on turn two is often not recommended, however once this spell is flipped, it is difficult to lose the game given that you have enough mana to dig with Azcanta for answers to any of your opponent’s plays.

The Burn match-up is quite winnable, but certainly challenging.  You’ll have to be very careful with your lands (don’t fetch and shock too often) and may need to pass up opportunities to play Opt or Thought Scour off of a shock land to save on some life points.  Most games against Burn are won with four or less life.

Gx Tron (2W-0L)
Consensus: Slightly Favored

+1 Ceremonious Rejection
+1 Spell Snare
+1 Countersquall
+2 Fulminator Mage
+1 Disdainful Stroke

-3 Fatal Push
-2 Terminate
-1 Lightning Bolt

This ‘favorable’ match-up is one of the main reasons I chose to stick with this list.  It seems that every deck I’ve played previously had terrible Tron match-ups.  With Grixis Azcanta, we’ve got plenty of counterspells that are not Mana Leak (which is historically terrible against decks that have 150 mana on turn four) and a Fulminator Mage/Kolaghan’s Command package to deal with the their lands.  Additionally, Spell Snare does quite a bit of work slowing down the assembly of Tron lands as it can stop a Sylvan Scrying (even on the draw) and can also be useful in preventing a Collective Brutality from picking apart our hand.  Watch out for Wurmcoil Engine, however, as once it is resolved, can be very difficult to deal with given that we aren’t packing any exile removal.

If you’re feeling ambitious, Surgical Extraction can be brought in to exile a Tron piece destroyed by Fulminator or to remove a binned Karn Liberated from the equation, however, I usually would usually rather that I am drawing a counterspell when I see it.  Also, you may opt to board out more of the Lightning Bolts in favor of Terminate but I prefer Bolt here based on its ability to destroy a resolved Karn after it uses its -3 to destroy a land and is equally effective against Thragtusk with the upside of dealing direct damage.

Eldrazi Tron (1W-0L)
Consensus: Slightly Unfavorable

+1 Ceremonious Rejection
+1 Disdainful Stroke
+1 Damnation
+2 Fulminator Mage

-1 Countersquall
-1 Fatal Push
-1 Spell Snare
-1 Vendilion Clique
-1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Generally, decks playing lots of removal can stand up pretty well to midrange creature decks but cards like Matter Reshaper, Thought-Knot Seer, or Reality Smasher can be a real thorn in our side as they each tend to require us to commit two cards to answer.  Damnation can be a perfect top deck at times but if we miss a land drop or fall behind, it may be too little too late.  This one is really dependent on how our opponent draws.  If we can find a Fulminator against a slow hand, we can stunt their curve enough to answer their threats on a one-for-one basis.  If they are able to curve out a turn two Matter Reshaper, turn three Though-Knot, and turn four Reality Smasher, we’re toast.  Good luck.

Humans (W6-0L)
Consensus: Heavily Favored

+2 Collective Brutality
+1 Damnation
+1 Anger of the Gods
+1 Ratchet Bomb
+1 Engineered Explosives

-1 Countersquall
-2 Cryptic Command
-2 Logic Knot
-1 Search for Azcanta

This one needs little explanation.  Cheap removal spells like Bolt and Push shine here and our variety of sweepers like Anger of the Gods, Damnation, and Engineered Explosives, make it difficult for our opponent to chose a card with Meddling Mage.  Similar to the Affinity match-up, we board out one of two Search for Azcanta.  This card can take over the game, but we can’t commit our draws to a second copy when we’ll likely be hoping to find removal instead.  Kolaghan’s Command is both our slowest and weakest removal spell against their creatures but provides a very relevant ability to destroy their Aether Vials.  We get rid of most counterspells here as tribal aggro decks tend to play 4 Cavern of Souls but, seeing as a majority of the Humans are two-mana creature, keeping one (or even boarding in a second) Spell Snare is worth the risk.

Merfolk (3W-0L)
Consensus: Heavily Favored

+2 Collective Brutality
+1 Damnation
+1 Anger of the Gods
+1 Ratchet Bomb
+1 Engineered Explosives
+2 Fulminator Mage

-1 Countersquall
-2 Cryptic Command
-2 Logic Knot
-1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
-1 Gurmag Angler
-1 Search for Azcanta

This match-up plays out similarly to Humans but the biggest difference is that Merfolk plays Mutavault so we’ll want Fulminator Mage in favor of a Tasigur and an Angler (who won’t be blocking anything anyways-all the fish have Islandwalk).  Beyond that, Master of Waves has a tendency to hose us similarly to Etched Champion in Affinity as many of our removal spells are red.  Be sure to save a Push (with an ‘un-cracked’ fetch land) or Damnation to deal with this.

Death’s Shadow (1W-1L)
Consensus: Even?

+1 Engineered Explosives
+1 Damnation
+1 Nihil Spellbomb
+1 Surgical Extraction
+2 Fulminator Mage

-1 Gurmag Angler
-2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
-3 Kolaghan’s Command

Believe it or not, in 85 matches, I’ve only encountered Death’s Shadow twice.  For that reason, I don’t know that I can say definitively if this is a good or bad match-up.  This sideboard plan is what I would do specific to Grixis Death’s Shadow but my Jund or 4C plan would be quite similar.  Redundancy with our removal will be important as Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek will be used (no matter what the build) to go after our answers to Death’s Shadow, Tasigur, and Gurmag Angler.  Liliana of the Veil can be difficult to overcome if we don’t have an active Creeping Tar Pit to attack its loyalty and, even if we do, spending a turn to tap out for this is often enough to set us back significantly.  Since they’ll do their own work to reduce their life total, we don’t need to commit too many slots to aggressive creatures.  Tasigur and Gurmag can go and we can plan on winning with Snap/Bolt or Creeping Tar Pit instead.  Fulminator Mage can be used to take advantage of a small, greedy mana base.  Make them pay!

Jeskai Control (1W-3L)
Consensus: Not Favored

-3 Kolaghan’s Command
-2 Terminate
-2 Fatal Push

+1 Spell Snare
+1 Surgical Extraction
+1 Countersquall
+2 Fulminator Mage
+1 Anger of the Gods
+1 Engineered Explosives or Damnation

This one is pretty bad.  Geist of Saint Traft is quite good against us and forces us to play clunky mass removal spells against a deck that doesn’t commit many creatures to the board and has plenty of countermagic to protect them anyways.  Search for Azcanta tends to be strong in control match-ups but this deck, which bears the name “control”, plays out more like a burn deck against us.

Storm (4W-2L)
Consensus: Favored

+1 Countersquall
+1 Spell Snare
+1 Ratchet Bomb
+1 Engineered Explosives
+1 Nihil Spellbomb
+1 Surgical Extraction
+2 Collective Brutality
+1 Disdainful Stroke

-3 Terminate
-1 Dreadbore
-2 Cryptic Command
-3 Kolaghan’s Command

On the draw, keep 1 Terminate in favor of the 3rd Cryptic Command.

My two losses against Storm were the first two matches I played against it.  Since then, I’ve won four straight.  I think the changes to my sideboard, my developing understanding of the deck, and the aforementioned sideboard plan have all contributed to that.  I recognize the importance of destroying their creatures and maintain 3 Bolt, 3 Push, and 2 Collective Brutality to do that.  We’ll need to cut Terminate, however, to make room for some of the important graveyard hate spells and counterspells.  In a pinch, Engineered Explosives and Ratchet Bomb can be used to kill cost-reducing creatures but should be used for goblin tokens as our opponent WILL board in Empty the Warrens.  Do not forecast that you have either one before it is needed.  This way, we may be able to bait our opponent to committing a large number of rituals to their storm count for Empty the Warrens and then leave them with nothing when we destroy their tokens.  Collective Brutality and Disdainful Stroke will be useful in dealing with Gifts Ungiven and, in the case of Disdainful, Past in Flames.  The information that Brutality provides is useful in and of itself.

Vizier Company (3W-0L)
Consensus: Heavily Favored

+2 Collective Brutality
+1 Spell Snare
+1 Anger of the Gods
+1 Damnation
+1 Engineered Explosives
+1 Surgical Extraction

-1 Countersquall
-1 Dreadbore
-2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
-1 Gurmag Angler
-1 Search for Azcanta
-1 Cryptic Command

As long as you prioritize answers for Devoted Druid or Kitchen Finks this match-up should be a breeze.  We are most likely not going to lose to a combo kill here as we have so many ways to pick these engines apart.  If our opponent plays a more value-oriented strategy, we may have to be a little more careful.

Tasigur and Angler come out because they have little to no chance of attacking our opponent but if you are in need of a large blocker, they should be considered.  Vendilion Clique, on the other hand, can fly over most of our opponent’s creatures and does a fine job of picking a Collected Company out of their hand as well.  Our plan is to generally run our opponent out of resources and attack with Creeping Tar Pit.

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…

2 thoughts on “(Modern) Grixis Azcanta Control: Sideboarding Guide and Results

  1. Really loved this write up. Convinced me to rebuild Grixis and take it to a few modern tournaments. I had to leave early for work, but was 2–1 and 2-0 with this build. Definitely going to continue playing this version for a while.

    One question – what about the new red snapcaster in the board as a 1 of? Seems like it would be good in certain midrange match ups?

    1. Thanks for the reply. As I near match 100 I’m preparing another follow-up. Stay tuned!

      Re: Piratecaster Mage, I’m not sure. I don’t see it providing too much that we need right now. Beyond that, it’s sorcery speed. We don’t want to be tapping out with this deck-so much so that we run Opt instead of Serum Visions. What do you want to board it in against and what’s the ideal scenario for it?

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