Reasons Not to Choose Grixis Delver

Rich Cali
February 21, 2018

In this article series, I frequently mention that it is difficult for me to choose a deck for an event that isn’t Grixis Delver. Not only do I think it’s the best deck in the format, it has so many positive qualities that it just begs to be played. The combination of powerful cards, a proactive gameplan, the ability to answer just about anything, and reasonable matchups across the field make it a strong contender for an event of any size. However, while I find it difficult to shy away from the deck, that doesn’t mean that factors don’t exist that would lead me to play something else. Like most decks, Grixis Delver has its flaws, and on occasion, the deck can seem like a poor choice. In this article, I want to review some of the issues I have with the deck, and its position in the metagame, that might lead me astray from Grixis for an event.

The Mirror Match

I have talked about this matchup in my articles before, and boy is it a doozy. It is a combination of so many facets of Magic, some of which could be seen as the best parts and others, the worst. On the good side, it is incredibly skill intensive, where there are 5-10 valid plays on every turn of the game (including your opponents’) and making the correct decision on every turn can be really challenging. This can lead to some awesome games of Magic. On the bad side, though, it can also be incredibly one-sided. Wasteland can lead to a large number of non-games, where one player can’t play anything at all. In addition, if the hands don’t line up correctly, one player could pull so far ahead on board very early, which can end the game relatively quickly. Moving past that stage of the game, however, it can often come down to old-school topdeck wars. Resources trade readily and easily, so both players can run out of relevant steam somewhat quickly.

Despite being a relatively high-skill matchup, it is also a relatively high-variance matchup based on how the games actually play out. With Grixis being the most popular deck, this matchup will come up more than a few times, so hinging a few matchups per event on such a swingy matchup might not be preferable. In addition, it can be exhausting, because so many situations can occur and need to be planned for appropriately, which could influence how the future rounds go. I don’t hate playing this matchup, but if I had to pick a match to play 3-4 times in an event, it wouldn’t be this mirror match.

Everyone Has a Plan

This is always an issue when playing the best/most popular deck in a format, and Grixis is no different. At this point, everyone knows everything Grixis brings to the table and has tried to come up with a strategy that will skew that matchup in their favor. People tend to fill their sideboard with “Grixis hate,” adjust their main decks to support a stable basic-based manabase, or choose a deck that is overall well positioned against Grixis. Despite this, Grixis is resilient and powerful, and can win through just about any weird situation or hate that comes up. However, playing through these situations every round and going up against opponents that are completely ready for your deck certainly isn’t beneficial for the Grixis player. I usually opt to be on the side of the most popular deck, so I experience this a lot, and it does make events much more difficult. While I don’t think this alone is deterrent enough from playing Grixis, it is definitely something to consider when testing and choosing a deck.

Grixis Doesn’t Have Many Good Matchups

Grixis tends to fall into the camp of a classic “50% against the field” deck. None of its matchups are incredible, but it has very few bad matchups and, with tight play and a bit of luck, it can win any matchup. However, in playing this deck a ton, I found that it was closer to a “49%” deck against just about everything. By this I mean that it actually seems slightly unfavored against a large swath of the format. So many decks either have really strong, proactive game plans (Storm), or access to a good combination of threats/disruption (Czech Pile). Grixis does trade some amount of power for efficiency, and can’t actually have access to too many effective answers. This makes both ends of the spectrum look strong against Grixis.  Even in the post-board games, so many decks get to improve the quality of their answers and get rid of the fluff that didn’t do too much in the pre-board games.

Because of this, just about every matchup seems bad on paper, and in practice, it feels difficult to win every matchup, assuming both players can play their spells. Part of the reason Grixis works and performs so well is that it can break the symmetry or “both players play their spells” while applying a substantial amount of pressure to the board and their life total. If that doesn’t happen perfectly, though, decks can play their spells and stabilize the board, and that can be a really tough spot to win through. Again, Grixis can win through anything. Aggressive creatures + Lightning Bolt can be enough to take down any opponent. However, it can feel like fighting an uphill battle in taking this deck to an event where most matchups are slightly unfavored and everyone is ready for Grixis.

Grixis Might Not be the Right Choice for You

Even when decks seem so dominant in a format, and I don’t think Grixis is even at the level of Top Miracles in terms of representation, there are always some reasons not to choose it. I tend to be a bit hyperbolic when I say “I can’t find a good reason not to play Grixis,” because as you can see, I think there are a few good reasons to choose something else. On top of all of these reasons, every player is different, and maybe a player just prefers to not play Grixis based on completely unrelated reasons to any of these. Legacy is a huge format, and people can basically play whatever they want, so in reality, every deck is a valid choice to someone.

All of this being said, I think I would still choose to play Grixis in my next event. To me, the positive qualities outweigh the negatives and it still performs well. I hope I could provide some insight into my usual hyperbole and break down this topic a little bit more than I have in the past. Let me know what deck you would play in Legacy if you have an event coming up!

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