(Editor’s note: With Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan not far behind us and new unbannings not far in the future, Modern has been the talk of the Magic community this week. We also just happen to have a Modern 1K coming up this Saturday, and we’ll be broadcasting all the action on our Twitch channel. To help get you in the Modern spirit, Chantelle Campbell is taking over Deck of the Week this week to share a primer on one of her favorite Modern archetypes: Grishoalbrand!)
Since Grishoalbrand’s creation by Bob Huang in 2015, the unique interactions between Nourishing Shoal, Worldspine Wurm, and Griselbrand have captured the hearts and minds of combo players. Grishoalbrand is a glass cannon deck (one that has one opportunity to go off before it’s left in pieces) with the potential to combo off on turn two – though, more realistically, we’re looking for a turn four combo finish. The deck has led me to one of my best tournament finishes: losing in the semi-finals of the WMCQ in 2016, which will always hold a special place in my heart.
But what makes Grishoalbrand so powerful? Aside from an approximately 17% chance to win on turn two against an opponent with no interaction, you can also combo off at instant speed. I have quite often won with a Path to Exile on the stack, and once or twice with my own Pact of Negation “lose the game” trigger waiting to resolve. Grishoalbrand has very good matchups against blue-based decks, as splicing a spell on an opponent’s end-step only to untap and cast that spell usually proves to be too much tempo for most counterspell strategies. You also have access to Blood Moon and Chalice of the Void in the board to hedge against big mana and aggro alike.
So then why has Grishoalbrand been relegated to Tier Two? While blue-based interaction is a walk, black-based discard spells are a nightmare. Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek prey on your need for specific combo pieces, and when combined with a reasonable clock (I’m looking at you, Death’s Shadow), it can be hard to build back up to a place to combo. Graveyard hate such as Relic of Progenitus, Grafdigger’s Cage and Rest in Peace can also be challenging for aspiring Grishoalbrand pilots, and can poorly position Grishoalbrand in metagames where other graveyard-based decks such as Dredge are prevalent.
But why are we talking about the deck when we could be looking at it?
Jonathan’s Zhang’s Grishoalbrand | Top 8, GP Toronto 2018
2 Borborygmos Enraged
4 Simian Spirit Guide
4 Worldspine Wurm
2 Cathartic Reunion
1 Collective Brutality
2 Desperate Ritual
4 Faithless Looting
4 Goryo’s Vengeance
1 Lightning Axe
4 Night’s Whisper
4 Nourishing Shoal
4 Through the Breach
2 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Temple of Malice
Your Plan A is very simple: Cheat a Griselbrand into play with either Goryo’s Vengeance or Through the Breach, draw cards and exile Worldspine Wurm with Nourishing Shoal to draw more cards, cheat Borborygmos Enraged into play with Simian Spirit Guides and Desperate Rituals, and win with all the lands you’ve drawn. Plan B (Through the Breach a Worldspine Wurm and beat your opponent down with 5/5 Trample Wurm tokens) is also not so bad.
The Support Cards
Like any machine, the parts all need to be in working order. Faithless Looting and Cathartic Reunion help you dig to the combo pieces you need while getting your creatures into the bin. Additional discard outlets Collective Brutality and Lightning Axe even help pick apart any opposing answers to your game plan! Another card that has been run in Lightning Axe’s place in the past is Noxious Revival. In a pinch, you can exile Manamorphose to Nourishing Shoal to enable a splice, or to generate black mana to cast a Goryo’s Vengeance off of a couple of Simian Spirit Guides.
Five Swamps is a lot of Swamps, but when you are running three Blood Moon out of the board, it’s a necessary evil. Another such evil is Temple of Malice. In a deck where you are often constrained on mana, having only 19 lands, a tapped land can be disastrous. However, the scry effect is even more valuable, as you often simply need to hit your combo pieces.
Blood Moon punishes greedy mana decks and Pact of Negation makes your blue-based match-ups even better (I also like a one-of Boseiju, Who Shelters All in my board). Bontu’s Last Reckoning is a recent addition to help against any creature-based strategy (Humans, Affinity, etc.), and being able to ramp out a Chalice of the Void for one on turn one can help shore up your match-up against Death’s Shadow while improving your already-good Burn match-up. Shattering Spree is also great against Affinity and random graveyard hate artifacts like Relic of Progenitus and Grafdigger’s Cage, and it can also do some work against Lantern Control.
When they don’t have dedicated graveyard hate, BGx decks, Burn, Tron, Eldrazi Tron, Titan Shift, U/W and Jeskai Control, and Collected Company decks all feel quite favorable. Affinity and Storm feel slightly favored –you’re both essentially racing to see who can get there first. Your toughest match-ups are Humans, with its interruptions in Kitesail Freebooter and Meddling Mage; Ad Nauseam, which can cast Angel’s Grace in response to your attempt to combo off; Death’s Shadow decks with Inquisition and Thoughtseize accompanied by a lot of pressure; and your absolute worst match-up, Infect, which can outrace Grishoalbrand and make life gain irrelevant.
While Grishoalbrand looks simple to pick up and play, the smallest decisions, such as discarding an extra land to your Faithless Looting, can make or break your games. The amount of graveyard interaction that is still being played to combat decks like Dredge and Hollow One, or even cards like Snapcaster Mage and Gurmag Angler, can also make your turn two or turn three wins impossible. However, the recent unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Modern should mean that there will be more blue-based Control decks for Grishoalbrand to feast on, not to mention an uptick in Tron and Burn decks. Is it possible that Grishoalbrand is even better-positioned now than it was last weekend? I can’t wait to find out!
Header design: Justin Treadway
Header image: “Griselbrand” by Igor Kieryluk