Deck Guide: Grixis Midrange

Introduction


Hello there, AmplexusFatum here and I’m back with another deck guide for Grixis Midrange! Dimir Midrange splashing Bolas or straight up Grixis lists have quickly become some of the top meta decks in the format, thanks to Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. Unsurprisingly, this card has taken the Magic world by storm due to its unique lore, strong flying body, and an immediate 2-for-1 disruption value all for a reasonable mana cost. The hype around this card is not simply reflected in its surge in price, but also in its popularity, especially in Standard. At first glance, Nicol Bolas seems like a good card, perhaps great at best. However, I’d argue that this card is insane in the right deck and will straight up win you games if left unanswered. Having said that, it can be premature to conclude its power level especially early in the current amazing and diverse Standard meta.

Regardless, let us dive deeper into the world of Grixis Midrange to see why this card, especially in this Grixis shell, is slamming win after win in MTGO and paper alike. In fact, myself and a few friends have also found success by achieving multiple 5-xs in Competitive Constructed in MTG:Arena. Grixis Midrange is a liberal variant of the Dimir Midrange list that was performing well in the last PTQ and US Nationals. By definition, it’s not simply a splash of Red for Bolas, but a full-fledged Grixis deck that takes advantage of Red’s best removal and permanents. Without further ado, let us examine my version of an optimized Grixis Midrange deck list.

The Decklist



Sideboard (15)
2 Magma Spray
2 Arguel's Blood Fast
1 The Eldest Reborn
3 Abrade
2 Hour of Devastation
2 Jace's Defeat
3 Duress

: 11     : 32     : 23     : 5    







Firstly, it’s a really powerful deck that is well suited for the current meta game. It has access to the best removal spells in both Black and Red, as well as some of the best threats especially with Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and The Scarab God. It plays similar to that of Dimir Midrange, except with better answers and disruption at the cost of mana consistency. However, my variant of the list is strictly a tap out one, meaning I don’t play any mainboard counterspells. This is quite a drastic change from the other Dimir and even Grixis lists, which generally run some combination of Essence Scatter, Commit /// Memory, or Supreme Will main board. The reasoning here is that graveyard interaction is extremely prevalent right now, with the likes of Scrapheap Scroungers and God-Pharaoh’s Gift. That being said, counterspells are efficient at answering certain threats such as The Scarab God, Torrential Gearhulk, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, 1-for-1.

The other logic is that our game plan will require tapping out for value threats, while using our removal at instant speed. After initially testing versions with counterspells, I find opposing threats either slipping through our ‘counterspell net’ more often than not, or losing tempo when your opponent plays around your open mana. Nevertheless, the way the deck operates is through attrition by grinding out your opponent with efficient removal spells and value permanents. Although games are often grindy, do not mistake it for a slow deck as it can turn up things up a notch once we hit 4-5 mana. Most importantly, the deck is sufficiently consistent and is a blast to play as it plays most of the best individual cards in the format!


Strengths

Weaknesses

  • - Possibilities of getting run under by aggro, especially with slow starts
  • - Although the mana base is fairly consistent, the color costing can screw us over especially in a 3 color deck with double mana requirements
  • - Rather clunky curve in the 4 and 5 CMC range
  • - Vine Mare and Carnage Tyrant are a nightmare (but not impossible) to handle



Cards


Core Creatures


The best 2 drop in the format, competing only with Scrapheap Scrounger. Not only that, the synergy with our other energy cards make his upkeep ability extremely consistent. However, her inclusion is meta-game dependent as she is still very vulnerable to Goblin Chainwhirler. Gifted Aetherborn is a good alternative for this. A staple 4-of.


Whirler Virtuoso is an interesting one, as the most recent deck that ran it successfully are the Jeskai lists. It has decent stats stapled onto two bodies. The energy synergy is very relevant in this deck. Most importantly, it is there to slow down aggro decks and chip away at planeswalkers. Sometimes, it can run away with games if left unchecked with extra energy. We run 3 copies as 4 is too many.


Big Daddy Bolas. A 4/4 flyer for 4 is decent, but not amazing to begin with. In fact, his innate 2 for 1 discard ability may not even be very impressive at times. However, the key to success with this card is the timing in which you cast him. His activated ability isn’t laughable either, as we can hit 7 mana pretty consistently. Overall, a really solid 4 drop slot that the earlier Dimir lists were sorely lacking and a big reason why we play Grixis. We run 3 copies but 4 can be considered because although he is Legendary, we have access to Champion of Wits to ditch extra ones.


Our primary win condition. I think we are all aware why this card is just insane, as untapping with him generally wins you the game. His ability is very synergistic with our other high value creatures as well. An easy 3-of.

Utility Creatures


The main purpose of this card is filtering. Its stats are extremely weak and it dies to Goblin Chainwhirler, but the ability to dig 2 cards deeper and to toss the dead removal spells against control, high CMC cards against aggro, or search for lands is very valuable. It has synergy with The Scarab God and Liliana, Death's Majesty, and is generally what you want to see against control as counterspells aren’t effective against him. We run 3 copies as it really is the definition of a midgame value creature that smoothens the deck.


A great removal on a flying, hasty stick. The evasion and haste can sometimes make the card a 3-for-1 if it can mow down a planeswalker and a creature. Else, it is still an amazing 2-for-1 creature that is amazing against midrange decks and isn’t necessarily dead against control. Curving Glorybringer after Nicol Bolas can quickly change the tempo in your favour. 2 copies to top the curve.
Planeswalkers


An insanely powerful planeswalker as she has 3 abilities that are extremely good. Her -3 ability is her primary usage as yet another removal on a stick that complements Glorybringer. Otherwise, you can ramp up to go ahead in tempo or exile the top card of your library to start pinging and exerting pressure, or is a pseudo-draw spell that generates insane value once you stabilize. Her ultimate basically spells game over for your opponent if it ever goes off. We run 2 copies to complement Glorybringer as their primary usage is to hit 4 toughness critters.


Liliana is a good value planeswalker that has really good synergy with the rest of our deck, notably Champion of Wits. She shines primarily in the midrange and control matchup. A singleton copy as she can be viewed as a 4th Scarab God.

Spells


Probably the best 1 mana removal in Standard. Other Grixis lists run Magma Spray over Fatal Push due to the prevalence of Scrapheap Scrounger. However, I find that this card is less narrow and generally a better mainboard card than Magma Spray. There isn’t any reliable way to trigger Revolt on your turn, but you can chump block Servo tokens from Whirler Virtuoso to kill off a Steel Leaf Champion. A staple 4-of.


Harnessed Lightning is arguably the best 2 mana removal spell after Abrade because of its ability to hit 4 mana dorks, contingent on other energy cards. Specifically in this energy-centric deck, you can reliably pay 4 energy to kill off a Steel Leaf Champion and the like. Also, it’s not entirely dead against Control as you can target your own creatures and pay 0, effectively cycling it for energy that can be used for Whirler Virtuoso and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. I also prefer this over mainboard Abrades because of its versatility. We run 3 as we do not want too many dead removal cards against Control in game 1.


Doomfall is here to fill the ‘tech’ slots. Given the inability of this deck to beat Vine Mare, it is probably the most versatile card to deal with it mainboard as it can be useful against most matchups. I also wanted to diversify the removal slots as to not be all-in against creature decks, and its exile ability is very relevant against The Scarab God, Scrapheap Scrounger, Rekindling Phoenix, Hazoret, Rhonas, and even God-Pharaoh's Gift. The two copies are mainly here to deal with Vine Mare while being flexible enough against other decks.


Literally the best removal spell in Standard that deals with any threat, for good. The lifegain is extremely relevant. Enough said. Easy 4-of.

Lands


I play 4 Aether Hubs to support our tri-color mana base and for obvious energy synergy. In addition, there are 6 Cyclelands with 4 Canyon Sloughs and 2 Fetid Pools. This helps us prevent flood as we are running 26 lands for consistency, in addition to activating our Checklands, which are the 4 Dragonskull Summits and Drowned Catacomb, and 3 Sulfur Falls. Next, 2 Swamps, a Mountain, and an Island to fetch with ours and opposing Field of Ruin all while activating our Checklands. The single Field of Ruin may seem greedy, but the fact that it can fix your mana and deal with enemy lands such as a flipped Search for Azcanta is worth the inclusion.

Overall, these lists run 26 lands as our crucial cards are in the 4 and 5 CMC range. This means that we want to hit our 4th land drop on curve (77.9% on the play 1) relatively often. As I mentioned earlier, the 6 Cycle lands help mitigate the possible mana flood, which is more tolerable than mana screwing. These lands are our only Taplands that turn on the rest of our main dual Checklands, which is a decent number but it can be sluggish and clunky at times.

Lastly, in terms of colour distribution, our deck is mainly Black and Red, with a heavy splash of Blue. Our main deck cards have 24 B, 17 R, and 9 U symbols in them. Therefore, our land base supports 20 B, 16 R, and 14 U sources respectively. Statistically, this enables us to cast our single and double colored cards on curve, with the exception of Red which is only very slightly insufficient. 2 In practice however, we do get the occasional color screw with a mismatch of land color and cards in hand. All in all, the mana base may feel clunky and greedy at times, but is consistent enough for me to warrant playing this over Dimir.
Alternatives and Exclusions
The notable exceptions are the mainboard counterspells, such as Essence Scatterand Supreme Will. Essence Scatter is actually well positioned in the format right now, with the ability to deal with problematic threats such as Vine Mare, The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk. There is an argument to be made for running 2 Essence Scatters over Doomfall but I generally prefer the disruption and information Doomfall provides, in addition to its flexibility.

Other than that, the exclusion of Torrential Gearhulk was simple, as I did not run any main board counterspells and only had 11 Instants, with the only 4 clear targets being Vraska’s Contempt. Further, other alternatives that can be explored depending on the meta include Gifted Aetherborn, Commit /// Memory, Cut /// Ribbons, Never /// Return, Hostage Taker, Angrath, the Flame-Chained and even Karn, Scion of Urza. Feel free to explore the various other Grixis Midrange lists for ideas.

Gameplay


First and foremost, this is a Midrange deck. This generally means we want to be defensive against Aggro decks, while taking initiative and posing threats against Midrange and Control. We want to develop a board presence with our high value permanents, and answer opposing threats with our efficient removals. Once we stabilize our life totals and card count, we want to seize back tempo and start the clock against our opponent. Although it may seem linear, the lines of play are complex as the possibilities can vary significantly.

Mulligan
Mulligan is fairly easy in Bo1. You want to see a nice curve with spells to cast on at least turns 2 and three. In Bo3 it really depends on your matchup. You want an aggressive curve against control, and you really want to see early blockers against aggro and midrange.:

  • - In terms of land sources, Aether Hub and Cycle lands are what you look for. Although we preferably would like to see all 3 colors, our primary sources are Black and Red.
  • - Do not be greedy with your mulligans. A good mix of land, early game cards that are castable, and removal should often suffice. Try to have a balance of reactive and proactive cards.
  • - Always assume you are against an Aggro or Creature based deck, as it is difficult to play from behind and lose tempo because your curve can get rather clunky.
  • - A 2-lander is marginally safe if you are on the draw and have Glint-Sleeve Siphoners and early game removal.



Tips

  • - Plan your turns and mana ahead. This matters a lot as we have Cyclelands that comes into play tapped, Checklands that require basic land types, and double colored cards that needs to be played on curve.
  • - Always consider other possible lines of play, as often times the obvious play may not be the most optimal one.
  • - Learn to bait out removals and answers for your less important threats by casting them first, especially against Control.
  • - Know the matchup well and plan which answers you need for their respective threats after sideboard. Experience is key here.


I will only touch upon a few of the most popular meta decks right now in terms of how to approach fighting each general archetype individualy and the sideboard plan.


Rakdos Midrange


We want to board out our grindy, value permanents that are slow against the matchup. Instead, we will board in Magma Sprays which hit their 1 drops and most importantly Scrapheap Scrounger, as well as Abrade for additional removal that deals with Heart of Kiran as well. Your game 1 should be pretty even in this matchup, and your post board is much better with more removals coming in. Although, they will bring in some disruption and Chandra’s Defeat, their gameplan is rather slow as well and I find the overall matchup slightly favourable as we play the Midrange game better. Also, boarding in the Hour of Devastation can be considered as it gives you a comeback mechanic that deals with Hazoret, the Fervent at the same time.


Azorious/Esper Control


Game 1 is probably favourable for them as we have quite a few dead cards against them. However, cards like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Champion of Wits, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, and access to our disruption tools post board makes up for it. We board out our early game removal spells and a Glorybringer for Duress that supplement the mainboard Doomfall for disruption and information. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I find Jace’s Defeat to be much better than Negate versus Control because it hits both; their permanents ( Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, The Scarab God, Torrential Gearhulk) and counterspells. Arguel’s Blood Fast is pretty much a win condition on its own if you get it early or resolves later on, as enchantments are not easy for them to answer. Lastly, a singleton The Eldest Reborn is a direct swap for Glorybringer as an extra value threat/disruption package at the 5 CMC slot. You could consider Angrath, the Flame-Chained here as well.


Grixis Midrange


The mirror match can be pretty tricky as it really comes down to the pairing of our threats and answers versus theirs. Game 1 should be quite even, but we also have the added option of gaining tempo by playing around their counterspells and having a higher threat density. Although Whirler Virtuoso is decent in game 1, we will be boarding him out along with the Fatal Pushes and a Glorybringer. Fatal Push only reliably hits Glint-Sleeve Siphoners, and thus too narrow to be kept post board. We will bring in Duress and Jace’s Defeat for more disruption and protection for our permanents. Duress will provide us key information in addition to Doomfall that will hit their counterspells and removals. As for Jace’s Defeat, this card is incredible here yet again as it hits their core threats ( Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and The Scarab God) and counterspells at the same time. The reasoning for the Glorybringer swap with Eldest Reborn is the same as for the Control matchup above.


Steel Leaf Stompy


Arguably the hardest matchup for the deck. Their 2 drops ( Scrapheap Scrounger and Thorn Lieutenant ) are extremely annoying as they are resilient to our game 1 removal spells, and the combination of Ghalta, Steel Leaf Champion and Rhonas requires specific answers immediately. More importantly, the nightmare Vine Mare is the main reason why we are running 2 Doomfalls mainboard. We could also depend on our Whirler Virtuoso or Champion of Wits with a Servo token to trade up with him, so the Grixis list is generally better prepared against this card than the Dimir Midrange one. Here, we will board out our Champion of Wits and Liliana as they are too slow against them. We will board in Magma Sprays to supplement our removal spells, mainly to deal with Scrapheap Scrounger and Llanowar Elves. Having said that, it can be rather underwhelming against most of their other stompy creatures. The card that really shines here is Hour of Devastation, as it punishes Green decks and other decks that try to go wide. Vine Mares, Rhonas, and basically everything else dies to this card.


God-Pharaoh's Gift


The addition of Stitcher’s Supplier enabled a new variant of GPG after the successful Azorius Refurbish list. Game 1 can be favourable to us depending on their hand, as they generally are a midrange creature deck that utilizes Stitcher’s Supplier and Minister of Inquiries for an early activation of Gate to the Afterlife. This means that our gameplan lines up nicely against them, although the disadvantage of our removal spells filling their graveyard and the discard from Nicol Bolas, the Ravager can be counter-productive. We board out the Champion of Wits and Liliana package as it is too clunky, while the 3rd Whirler Virtuoso is cut because it isn’t amazing against them. In come the Abrades as extra removal and our only answer to GPG, while Magma Spray does an amazing job in exiling opposing Champion of Wits and the like.


Conclusion


Piloting this deck isn’t always straightforward with the multiple lines of play and advanced planning required, but it can be very challenging and rewarding. Every play you make, and when you make them matters as it has a cascading effect on the rest of the game. Knowing when to be defensive and when to seize initiative and chip in damage to start the clock is crucial. As with anything, going through the motions of playing the deck and experiencing the matchups will greatly improve your understanding of how to pilot it effectively.

Thanks for the read and feel free to leave comments on how you would further optimize the deck list or any further thoughts!

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References


1
https://www.channelfireball.com/articles/how-many-lands-do-you-need-to-consistently-hit-your-land-drops/
2 https://www.channelfireball.com/articles/frank-analysis-how-many-colored-mana-sources-do-you-need-to-consistently-cast-your-spells/


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