Shards of Alara: Grixis Undead Review (Part 2 of 2)
If Sam immediately identifies with Naya, with its emphasis on Green and love of huge creatures, Jimi is likewise a devotee of Bant. The White-natured setting, the bounty of Soldiers, Knights, and other typically weenie creatures, the early aggression, all these are consistent with Jimi’s preferred mode of play. It took no prodding whatsoever to get her to rally the forces of the adoptive home of Elspeth Tirel in defense against the shambling hordes of Grixis. Here are the notes from the clash.
It’s a builder opening as Jimi (on the play) lands a Bant Panorama while I field a Crumbling Necropolis. Next turn Jimi lands a Forest, then activates the Panorama to fetch an Island. I drop a Panorama of my own, and crack it for a Swamp. Jimi drops a second Panorama on turn 3 (trading it for a Plains), but I’m happy where I am. I play a Mountain from my hand and follow up with a Blood Cultist, a strong card against Bant’s weenie beaters.
Things begin in earnest on turn 4. Her manabase solid, she deploys a Knight of the Skyward Eye, while I trot out a Fire-Field Ogre. The Ogre draws a turn-5 Pacifism as Jimi swings in for 2 with the Knight. I ping her with the Cultist at the end of her turn, then keep the pressure on with a Dreg Reaver. A turn-6 Guardians of Akrasa does little to help Jimi stabilise the board, and when my turn arrives I swing in with the Reaver for 4. Adding in the second end-of-her-turn ping courtesty of the Blood Cultist and Jimi is at 14 life. I’m still at 18. I play a Kederekt Creeper and pass.
Now turn 7, Jimi bolsters her troops with a Steward of Valeron, then gets pinged at the end of her turn. I untap, then swing in with the Creeper and Reaver. Looking to kill the hard-to-block Creeper, Jimi offers up the Knight and Guardians to it in a lopsided trade- the Reaver gets in for 4. I ping her Guardians with the Blood Cultist so that when it dies she’ll get a +1/+1 counter, then after combat’s done I demoralise Jimi with a replacement Creeper.
Next turn Jimi reestablishes her board with a Rhox War Monk and replacement Knight of the Skyward Eye. I attack as before with the Creeper and Reaver duo, and Jimi opts this time to block the Reaver with the War Monk, looking for a stabilising trade. Instead, I hit the War Monk with an Agony Warp to blunt its power, then declare my other target as her Knight, killing it outright. The powerless War Monk falls before the Reaver (with a bonus ping from the Cultist to help her grow), and once again Jimi’s board is clear.
Jimi starts strong with a turn-1 Seaside Citadel into a turn-2 Knight of the Skyward Eye. I lay land. Jimi dumps much of her hand on turn 3, with a pair of Akrasan Squires touching down. She then swings with the double-exalted Knight, drawing an early Terror. Passing to me, I pounce on her three-card hand with a Blightning, taking her down to 17 life in the process. Her lone remaining card is a Rhox War Monk, which she plays on turn 4 after drawing a Plains and swinging for 3 with a Squire. I play a Vithian Stinger– bad news for the Squire brothers- and pass.
Now turn 5, Jimi sends in the Rhox War Monk for 5, with its lifelink providing a massive swing (it’s now 22-12). I’m in fine shape, though, with a Fire-Field Ogre touching down. Passing to her, I use the Stinger to kill off one of the Squires during her upkeep, and having one less exalted trigger means her War Monk is only a 4/5 when he attacks this time. Still too big to block, but its time is coming. It’s now a 26-8 game, and Jimi passes. I then ping off her other Squire during my main phase before playing the fearsome Fleshbag Marauder. I sac the Marauder to himself while Jimi has no choice but to offer up the War Monk, though it’s more that served its purpose and can die with honour. I attack for 4 with the Ogre and end turn.
Jimi again lands the Battlegrace Angel, this time on turn 7, but it’s immediately snuffed out with my second Terror. Jimi never recovers- over the next few turns despite a huge lead in life, my Ogre and Stinger grind her down, and I finish her off on turn 10 with an Essence Drain.
Determined to claim one for the greater glory of Bant, Jimi again starts strong in the last game of the match. A turn-1 Akrasan Squire is joined by a pair of Suntail Hawks on turn 2. The beats begin almost immediately, and a turn-3 and turn-4 Guardians of Akrasa throw in more exalted triggers. It’s turn 4 before I have a play- a Blightning- and I’m down to 11 life.
I buy a scrap of time on turn 6 when I Terror the lone Suntail Hawk she’s attacking with, but she replaces it with a Steward of Valeron and I realise I’ve been brutally outraced. I play a Hidden Horror (discarding a Kederekt Creeper), but with her other Hawk active it’s all but useless. She drops me to 2 life on turn 7 and lays a second Steward. I draw and scoop.
Thoughts & Analysis
In a recent Magic Beyond the Box column on Quiet Speculation, I mentioned how preconstructed play has similarities both to both Constructed and Limited. Like Limited, creature combat tends to be the overwhelming win condition of choice, and removal commands a very high premium in such an environment. Grixis Undead optimises both ends of this principle.
First, it’s loaded with removal of its own. Agony Warps, Terrors, Bone Splinter and Essence Drain, added on top of the Fleshbag Marauder and pair of pingers make for a very lethal cocktail in a 41-card deck. I seldom had much trouble removing Jimi’s most offensive creatures, even if game three was poorly executed (hey, can’t win ’em all).
Not only can Grixis Undead dish out loads of kill, but it’s remarkably resilient against it as well. The unearth mechanic gives its creatures one last go from the grave (assuming they’re not exiled, of course), and mitigates some of the impact of losing the creature. Generally these are just extra attackers in a pinch (Dregscape Zombie, Fire-Field Ogre), but the Vithian Stinger can come back for a ping when needed. You may find as well that the threat of extra beaters from the grave may have a slight suppressive effect on your opponent as well, causing them to hold bodies back for defense rather than go in on the offensive with them.
If there’s a downside to the deck, its in the selection of Cruel Ultimatum as one of its two rares, which for reasons discussed in the deck analysis, but that’s not a dealbreaker by any stretch. And who knows, once in awhile you’ll get to live the dream of actually casting it!
Hits: Outstanding removal package; good graveyard synergy (with unearth, Gravedigger, and Hidden Horror giving it some moving pieces); strong creature selection
Misses: Cruel Ultimatum is like taking a mulligan whenever its in your opening hand, and will be difficult to cast even later in the game with the deck’s minor mana fixing; mana curve a touch heavy in the backend
FINAL SCORE: 4.50/5.00