(Modern) Sideboarding – Grixis Control

by MrShy


I-I, I’m not living life
I’m not living right
I’m not living if you’re not by my side

Welcome back weary magicians, to my second article for CKL and the conclusion to the discussion we started previously, regarding Grixis Control in Modern. Now before anyone leaps overboard, terrified at the hellish nature of discussing Modern sideboarding, stop. I’m going to do my best to make this simple and easy for you and I’m going to qualify everything I say as best I can, so that you can assess its merit with your own mind. This will not be a swamp of information overload. Lets Begin!

Firstly, we’ll need a bit of context, so to start you off I’ll give you my main deck 60.

1 Blood Crypt
1 Mountain
2 Steam Vents
1 Swamp
2 Watery Grave
2 Creeping Tar Pit
3 Island
2 Sulfur Falls
4 Polluted Delta
4 Scalding Tarn

2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
2 Gurmag Angler
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

1 Dispel
2 Spell Snare
3 Mana Leak
3 Kolaghan’s Command
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Terminate
3 Thought Scour
1 Cryptic Command
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Serum Visions

As I mentioned last time we spoke, this list (which I deliberately neglected to give last time) is the product of lots of trial and error, going way back to when Fate Reforged was first released. I have paid attention to countless MTGO Daily Event results, as well as major tournaments and the SCG circuit to work out my list, but also I have played to my main strength and that is the knowledge of the predilections of my national player-base here in England. My 60 is not just built to be well positioned wherever, it’s tweaked for my home turf and as such there may be immediate and obvious things that you would do differently, prepare to be open minded as you evaluate this information.

So, let’s have a bit on the side.

Okay, now before I discuss my own sideboard plan I want to go over a few from other players –enter my internet trawling skills!

Danish WMCQ – 5th place
NAME : Grixis Control
CREATOR : Hands Jacob Goddik

SB: 3 Dispel
SB: 1 Spell Snare
SB: 2 Anger of the Gods
SB: 1 Damnation
SB: 3 Thoughtseize
SB: 4 Fulminator Mage
SB: 1 Spellskite


So what do we like about this sideboard? Dispel is a must have – it’s your best chance in the burn matchup (yes I even believe it’s better than Dragon’s Claw, but more on that later), but also serves incredible utility against the other blue decks.

Spell Snare feels incredibly loose, since you’re already full of one-mana interaction and in the matchups where you’re bringing in additional permission you’re likely to get much better mileage out of a less narrow counter.

Anger is a wonderful sweeper, but your manabase can be a bit iffy on double red at times (since only 4 of your fetches fetch red) so whilst I agree with its inclusion because people will insist on playing Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence, I think you can do better.

Going on from this, having Damnation on top seems pretty heavy-handed. A trick has been missed here.

Next, we have good old Fulmy – I wholeheartedly agree with his inclusion, since our Kolaghan’s Commands recur him, but 4 seems silly. We don’t need to draw multiples and to be honest it’s not actually as good in the Tron matchup as it looks, since they still get to cast a Karn and start wrecking you before you can actually interact with their lands. Fulminator Mage shines much more against UWR and Amulet Bloom for me, although against UWR I’d probably only be bringing in 2 Spellskite? I don’t think we have to cover why it’s good. If you’re going into battle against infect or Twin without a Spellskite, you’re probably a silly bear.

Lets have a couple more to compare to.

Czech WMCQ – 1st Place
NAME : Grixis Control
CREATOR : Dominik Mikolas

SB: 3 Dispel
SB: 2 Dragon’s Claw
SB: 2 Spellskite
SB: 3 Fulminator Mage
SB: 1 Dismember
SB: 1 Flashfreeze
SB: 1 Magma Spray
SB: 2 Vandalblast

MTGO Daily Event – 2nd place
NAME : Grixis Control
CREATOR : YYsapporo

SB: 2 Spellskite
SB: 2 Pyroclasm
SB: 1 Keranos, God of Storms
SB: 4 Fulminator Mage
SB: 2 Countersquall
SB: 2 Anger of the Gods
SB: 2 Dispel

SCG Open – Charlotte – 5th Place
NAME : Grixis Control
CREATOR : Michael Majors

SB: 1 Thoughtseize
SB: 3 Molten Rain
SB: 2 Pyroclasm
SB: 3 Dispel
SB: 2 Spellskite
SB: 2 Nihil Spellbomb
SB: 2 Dragon’s Claw

So we see a few more cards here not discussed. Dismember is a great Tarmogoyf killer, but I feel the Snapcaster, Terminate, Gurmag Angler deck isn’t really in the market for a Tarmogoyf killer and the 2-4 life really punishes you with your painful manabase and generally light board position.

Flashfreeze is an absolute beauty of a card and counters far more relevant spells than you might initially think: Blood Moon (even on the draw, when you’re softest to a timely moon), Terminate, Kolaghan’s Command, Atarka’s Command (or the entire burn deck), Izzet Charm, Splinter Twin, Huntmaster of the Fells. Need I go on?

Magma Spray – this is a cute addition to add a cheap spell that interacts well with Finks and Voice, but you are NOT beating those decks in a one-for-one attrition war, they gain velocity WAY faster than you do and the very idea that this might perform suitably feels somewhat ignorant to me.

Vandalblast – this is a card I put off trying for way too long. At first glance the 5-mana overload feels steeply overcosted, making it appear to be a strictly worse Ancient Grudge…however! You’re bringing this in (presumably) for Affinity – who are fairly well equipped to deal with your early one-mana removal, if they stick a Ravager quickly. What makes Ravager terrible? Spellskite! When you bring in Vandalblast and Spellskite, you basically get extra ways to trade early while you make a Skite and then if you find the Vandalblast in the late game you get to Wrath them whilst keeping your Spellskite to stop them clawing back. Admittedly a fair few things have to go right for exactly this to happen, but you draw a LOT of cards with this deck and if you’re any good at sequencing your plays you can generally get a plan something like this to take shape.

Pyroclasm – I can imagine this decision was made for the various swarm decks as a cheap catch-all.  The downside to this plan is that it doesn’t catch all. Pyroclasm is bad against Zoo and medium at best against the Collected Company decks. Stick with Anger of the Gods.

Keranos – I love this guy! But I also don’t play him. He’s hard to interact with, he’s very good at closing games, he has built in card advantage – these are all great points. He even recurs with Kolaghan’s Command! He’s also a 5-mana card that casts at Sorcery speed and takes 2-3 turns before he starts to have an effect on the game. I think he’s great in the Twin sideboards, where they need a way to keep the fire fueled, but here in Camp Control, where we are pure gasoline, I don’t think Keranos is our boy.

Countersquall – I think this is another example of where a good card has been identified but for the wrong deck. I like Countersquall in Lightning Bolt/Vapor Snag decks where your plan is all about chaining incremental damage with a fast clock, like Delver of Secrets. I think Grixis Control aims to achieve other things – the wins only tend to come once you’ve completely dominated your opponent’s position. Whilst incremental damage is by no means irrelevant, it has a lower impact in these situations, since scoring those tiny hits usually means taking a turn off of doing something that was more important. This is the card I’m most willing to be wrong on, since I do actually get a gut feeling it does more than I’m seeing.

Thoughtsieze – I like disruption in this deck, I have no solid arguments for or against having a little extra in the board. The one thing I will say is that Thoughtsieze IS very good against Tron, which is a terrible, terrible matchup for us.

Molten Rain – Strictly worse than Fulminator Mage in every way. The only time I see this being a viable alternative is if we stop playing Kolaghan’s Command and since that’s the reason we play the deck, it seems unlikely to happen.

Nihil Spellbomb – I love Nihil Spellbomb and when selecting graveyard hate, this is my card of choice – however recently, I haven’t seen a great deal of need for it. It’s not as good as it looks in the mirror (it turns on the opponent’s Kolaghan’s Commands and only tends to gain slightly more tempo than it costs) and the World Championships notwithstanding, Living End hasn’t been about much, that I’ve seen. If you’re worried about your opponent’s graveyards in any way though, this is definitely the card to go for. IT DRAWS A CARD! DUH!

Dragon’s Claw – I always end up describing this card as “fine.” It’s adequate, does its job in the one matchup you bring it in for. My problem with it really is that, that specific matchup (burn) shouldn’t require multiple sideboard slots to win. Your permission suite feels much better at actually keeping the game going in your favor, leading me to have gone from playing 3, to 2, to 1, to zero.

So what about YOU, Mr. Know-It-All?

I suppose it’s time for the great unveiling now, right? I’ve harped on about what I think is right and wrong with everyone else’s sideboard, but I haven’t yet shown you mine… so here it is:

1 Vendilion Clique
1 Mulldrifter
1 Grave Titan
1 Izzet Staticaster
1 Spellskite
3 Fulminator Mage
2 Dispel
1 Flashfreeze
2 Vandalblast
1 Languish
1 Anger of the Gods

I mentioned before that I really like the creature one-ofs in Grixis Control. I’ve found them to be insanely powerful and because you only need one copy, you get to be super-diverse, which is something you rarely have the comfort of saying when you’re talking about Modern.

You’ll notice with the exception of the creatures, every card in my board is one we’ve already spoken about…so THANK YE GODS I DON’T HAVE TO EXPLAIN MUCH MORE! I will briefly go over the creatures, just to firm up the points I made last time.


Vendilion Clique – I said earlier that I like additional disruption in the sideboard, by trading off a little CMC we get to have some recurrable disruption that also presents a tasty, evasive clock.

Mulldrifter – Since some decks really want to win by grinding you out, 2/2 fliers are not irrelevant in Modern. Mulldrifter gives you a solid (once more recurrable) way to not get ground out and to present another flying body in matchups where you want one.  Not to mention, the card advantage helps especially in match-ups like Jund.

Grave Titan – This is literally here to dick on Jund. They spend the whole game trading one-for-one with you, then you hit 6 mana and give them 3 relevant targets to deal with. They kill it and you get it back at instant speed and spin the wheel again. It really is quite a bad day for them when you resolve a Grave Titan. It’s also not irrelevant against Tron, those games go long and this trades with a Wurmcoil Engine or forces an Ugin down to 1 loyalty.

Izzet Staticaster – A recurrable sweeper for Lingering Souls and the like, but also excellent against affinity who play multiple copies of many 1-toughness creatures. As an added aside (against both affinity and infect) this card also pairs up beautifully against Inkmoth Nexus.

So What’s The Plan, Sam?

Before I leave you – since I’ve given you all this knowledge, it seems silly not to offer you my thoughts on how best to apply it too. I’m going to provide a short sideboarding guide for the main archetypes, based on my 75. Obviously I could go deeper by giving play/draw alternatives, but I think you need to get a bit of a feel for the sideboard itself and form your own opinions when it comes to the finest points. You will probably find some of my decisions a little controversial, but all I can say is that they come from my experience of the deck and I always love new ideas for what I could do differently.

Here we go:

IN: Mulldrifter, Grave Titan, Flashfreeze
OUT: Spell Snare x2 Mana Leak x1

IN: Dispel x2, Flashfreeze, Spellskite, Vendilion Clique
OUT: Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy x2, Cryptic Command, Spell Snare x 1

IN: Grave Titan, Vendilion Clique, Fulminator Mage x3, Vandalblast x2
OUT: Spell Snare x2, Dispel, Inquisition of Kozilek x4

IN: Vandalblast x2, Spellskite, Mulldrifter, Izzet Staticaster
OUT: Dispel, Crypic Comand, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy x2, Mana Leak x1

IN: Mulldrifter, Fulminator Mage x2, Flashfreeze
OUT: Inquisition of Kozilek x4

IN: Spellskite, Languish, Anger of the Gods, Izzet Staticaster
OUT: Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy x2, Spell Snare x 2

Collected Company
IN: Flashfreeze, Anger of the Gods, Languish
OUT: 3 x Inquisition of Kozilek

Wrap it up!

So there is it, when added to my previous article this should form a fairly complete run-down of how to (from my perspective) play and brew around this wonderful archetype. I’m sure there are tons of alternative ways to do things and I’d love to hear about them, so please hit me up on Twitter @mrshy85 if you see something you think I’ve missed or would find interesting.

The great thing about this crazy game we play is that you can always evolve and adapt as a player through assimilation of the experiences of others. I hope mine at least raises some interesting points for you and gives you a little food for thought, if like me, you consider Grixis Control to be one of your go-to decks. I certainly don’t predict a future in which I don’t have the cards for this deck close to hand when I’m considering what to take to a tournament.

I think I will bow out now, hoping that we can talk again soon about more excellent Modern strategies.

Happy puntin’