Building Blocks: Comprehensive Griselbrand

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(In advance, I’m sorry for the lack of videos today, but the reasons are twofold. One, I was pretty constrained on time this week looking for a new apartment; and two, I wasn’t sure anyone would want to see more videos with a deck I’ve already covered.)

My friends sometimes ask me, “So, what’s Block like?” because they know that I play a bunch of Magic, but they can’t talk to me about Standard because I’m not a huge fan of the format.

Sample Standard Conversation:
Friend: “So, what do you think about card blah blah or deck blah?”
Me: “Eh, I don’t know. Why wouldn’t I just play Delver instead?”*

(*Yes, my view of Standard is horribly stilted and bitter.)

But, anyway, my answer to “how’s Block going” recently has been “I dunno’ man, Boros and Jund, Jund and Boros. Kind of boring, but I grind it anyway because I have the cards.”

The “Boros and Jund” metagame has pushed out any of the control decks I would like to play in the format. So I had kind of given up, playing less and less because the decks I had been playing – Boros, Jund – were, while effective, boring. But, sometime last week, I just said to myself “Screw it, I’m reanimating Griselbrand and NOBODY is going to stop me,” and ran through a bunch of 2-mans with an old favorite:

Now, this is the very first deck I wrote about in AVR block, here, which I stopped playing for no real reason other than there were so many other decks to explore in the format. Now that the format is much smaller than it was, it’s easier to tailor this kind of deck to excel in the metagame. The main change I made to the deck was to cut all of the Barter in Bloods from the maindeck and fiddle with the number of early removal spells. While Barter in Blood was great in the era of tons of UGw decks and basically no Boros, it’s not as great now, so I put them into the sideboard. The Dead Weights were completely cut for the now-superior and Falkenrath Aristocrat-killing Tragic Slips. The last slot was given to a Pillar of Flame in order to give me an extra chance to kill Champion of the Parish or Avacyns Pilgrim, but I am starting more and more to see the case for a fourth maindeck Rolling Temblor. That is the card that has most impressed me while I’ve been playing the deck. It has single-handedly won games, and is the main reason for playing red, along with Faithless Looting.

The sideboard is mostly the same, though I think I need to remove the Zealous Conscripts. I have yet to board them in (they were meant for Reanimator), and an extra Rolling Temblor or some other option like another Pillar of Flame for Zombies would both be welcome. Those two slots are highly variable at the moment, and I haven’t decided what is best. Feel free to fiddle around with them, putting in whatever you think is best.

Why no Bonfires? Mainly because I haven’t felt like I needed them. The drawing-them-in-your-opening-hand problem isn’t an issue, because you have all these discards outlets in Faithless Looting and Liliana of the Veil. However, Bonfire is at its absolute best when you need to topdeck it, and those times are few and far between with as much removal and board control as is already packed into this deck. Rolling Temblor usually solves the same problems this deck faces that Bonfire would as well, but at a more reasonable and consistent cost (and flashback!).

I’ll go through the matchups one by one.


Though technically both less popular and less good than Jund, I listed it first because it’s the one I’m most familiar with. Also, it’s been around forever. Basically, this matchup is you playing a quintessential control role, removing each of their important creatures (the 1-drops and Silverblade Paladin) with your removal spells. As you might expect, Rolling Temblor is an absolute house against them. But don’t get greedy and not use it on just one creature trying to get “max value”. There are some occasions when this is correct, but generally the threat of extra Silverblade or Hellrider damage from letting that creature live outweighs the projected value. Boros can’t in any way, shape, or form deal with a Griselbrand. Once you land one, you win, almost regardless of the current board state (if you’re in burn range, you’re at risk for one turn before you win). You don’t usually even need to draw cards with Griselbrand; the 7 life will win you the game more often than the cards.

For the sideboard, Boros often brings in two copies of Grafdigger’s Cage. I usually keep in most of my Rites and Griselbrands in Game 2 and wait and see if they are actually playing the Cage before eventually boarding all the Rites** and a couple of Faithless Lootings out in Game 3 for Barter in Bloods, Olivia Voldarens, and Victim of Night.

(**Although they have a chance of simply not drawing Grafdiggers Cage, I don’t like putting myself into the position that if they do draw it, I have 4 completely blank cards in my deck. I’d rather turn the tides on them and have them draw dead cards*** when they board in Cages.)

(***Okay, so the Cage isn’t still completely dead against me even if the Unburial Rites are gone – the flashback spells all lose half of their effectiveness. But, when was the last time you brought in a couple non-attacking cards in your aggro deck in order to make your opponent’s removal spells somewhat less effective? Hopefully never.)


I am a fan of this matchup due to Tragic Slip. With Tragic Slip in your deck, you don’t have to kill every single mana dork they have and can instead just hold onto your Slips for their Falkenrath Aristocrats. And, because your deck is so full of removal, you can afford to hold your Slips while you Temblor and Pillar all of their other relevant creatures. Granted, the only way to kill Wolfir Silverheart is to either get lucky with Liliana of the Veil or Sever the Bloodline it. And I don’t mean to imply the matchup is all sunshine and rainbows; if you run out of removal after killing their board, but don’t draw a Griselbrand or Rites to assemble a giant 7/7 in play, they can topdeck an Aristocraft, Garruk Relentless, or Silverheart and kill you with it before you draw the requisite removal. Also, Garruk himself is a bit of an issue to deal with – you can’t attack it unless you have Griselbrand up, can’t kill it unless you have Devils Play, and only have Temblor and Sever as reliable methods to clear the board against him. Garruk *will* grind you out if you let him.

For sideboarding, I usually board in a couple of Olivias and the Barter in Bloods in exchange for… honestly, it changes every time. Sometimes I board out a couple Lilianas, sometimes a few Unburial Rites (easy mode Game 3 boarding if you see Cages in Game 2), and sometimes I take out a Sorin. It’s not real concrete and I never feel like I have 100% made the correct sideboarding decision in any one match, because a lot of Jund decks are built differently.


You crush this deck, which is why I’m pretty glad that it’s making a resurgence. This deck’s gimmick is that it is very hard to interact with, and can just go over the top of all the aggressive decks in the formats. After all, even Bonfire of the Damned has a hard time killing anything attached to a Wolfir Silverheart. However, you know what this deck can’t beat? A Griselbrand. You can stall for a very long time, making sure they can’t connect with any of their creatures with your copious amounts of non-targetted removal like Rolling Temblor and Liliana. Then you’ll eventually power out the large demon and easily be in control of the game. Geist of Saint Traft? Meet Griselbrand.

For boarding, I just board out the Tragic Slips (can’t really get anything) for the Barter in Bloods, Victim of Night, and one more Sever the Bloodline.

There are other decks in the format?

Zombies: Actually fairly difficult. You’re a removal-based deck with only 3 Pillar of Flame, and they have creatures that are difficult to kill (Gravecrawler, Geralfs Messenger) and cards that punish you when you kill those creatures (Blood Artist, Falkenrath Noble), as well as making your efficient, exiling removal less effective with their Bloodflow Conniseurs. This matchup doesn’t get much better after boarding, but it’s manageable if you can land an early Griselbrand and they can’t deal with it – this deck, at least, can only afford to bring in Crypt Creepers as graveyard hate. I usually take out the Victim of Nights, Devils Play, and a Liliana for two Sever the Bloodline and two Purify the Grave.

Angel of Glorys Rise Reanimator: A matchup I don’t get to play often, but it isn’t bad. It mostly plays like Jund, except you also have to board in Purifies for their Angels and any other reanimation targets they may have. Game 1 is a little tough, because you can just Temblor away everything they have, then they’ll have an Angel to bring it all back. Luckily, this deck never brings in Grafdigger’s Cage. Unfortunately, you do have to play around Pufify the Grave, so you may want to board out a copy of Rites and Griselbrand each. I usually board in the Purifies (all three if they have multiple reanimation targets or Mulch in their deck, two if just on the Angel plan), and some Tragic Slips for Victim of Night and Sever the Bloodline. I don’t board out Tragic Slip if they also play Falkenrath Aristocrat, opting instead to take out Pillars.

Monogreen: I have yet to play this matchup, but traditionally Monogreen is very weak against Black, since their main strength comes from their very difficult-to-kill creatures like Predator Ooze and Vorapede-Wolfir Silverheart. Well, you have Tragic Slips, Severs, and all sorts of removal in between. I doubt it should be that hard. As for boarding, I’d probably take out the Victim of Nights, depending on what I see, all of the Unburial Rites (the green decks ALWAYS play 4 Grafdiggers Cage) and a Griselbrand, then boarding in Barters, Bloodline Keepers, Olivia Voldarens, Severs, and whatever card you decide to put in your Zealout Conscripts slot.

Flavors of Miracle: Not a very popular matchup; not many people play this anymore. However, the matchup is actually pretty difficult, the UW Version moreso than the URW, because the red cards in the URW Miracle deck (Bonfire, Pillar, Gisella) are all pretty bad against you. Luckily, the UW deck fell largely out of favor since it has a hard time beating Boros without those red additions. So, you’ll be up against the URW Miracle deck a majority of the time you’d be facing Miracle. The matchup is about even, depending on how lucky they get. It’s a numbers game, I know, but it really does depend on what kind of cards they draw and at what point of the game. They could draw all Bonfires against your empty board, or they could slam Entreat the Angels after Entreat the Angels and you just can’t have a Sever the Bloodline for all of them. Against Miracle, I board out a LOT of removal and board in Sever the Bloodline, Heretics Punishment, Zealous Conscripts (if you still have this), and both copies of the 4-drop vampires because I need more win conditions to replace the removal I’ve taken out.

So that’s the deck I’m enjoying right now in Block, in a nutshell (a cracked, opened, extracted, and dissected nutshell). I can’t promise it’s the best deck to play at the moment ? that’s probably still Jund – but it’s more likely the most fun deck I could find in Block. Who doesn’t love killing people with Griselbrand, after all? Way more fun than efficient 4/1 fliers with haste that can’t die.

After all, you get to draw seven!

Gard on MTGO
@leemcleo on Twitter

-Lee McLeod

  1. re: reason 1 is totally legitimate reason for not posting vids. But no. 2 is not we *always* want more videos. You could play a deck three weeks in a row – go through the tweaking process and post vids on it if you want. Though, this is more true of decks that have actual decision trees (aka. anything but boros). If you enjoy playing a deck then we probably aren’t sick of watching one – so don’t grind through jund/boros vids if you don’t like playing the decks. But definitely DO record any off the radar decks.

  2. I agree with Robin. We always want to see videos! Even if your only testing in the two man queues. A deck like this isn’t easy to play, so watching and hearing what your do against certain deck types is very helpful. Especially if you play a few rounds, make adjustment and explain why, then play a few more rounds.

    So what I’m saying is, if your time permits….we want to see Griselbrand in action next week!!!

  3. It seems you haven’t even considered running Terminus in this deck. I run 4 of them in my version. You have plenty of white sources to even hard cast it on turn 6. It also seems to answer all the difficult to deal with threats in the format.

    I would love to hear your opinion on the card in this kind of deck :)

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