You drew Griselbrand, check this guy out!
Trapped in the Helvault until Liliana’s relentless hunt for his power led to the events that set him free, he now runs the show in your awesome deck and is hungry for souls.
It’s a shame you only have 4 Swamps in play right now. At least your opponent isn’t doing anything, he’s just sat there with his own lands. He keeps putting the top 3 cards of your deck into your graveyard with Nephalia Drownyard which really sucks because you wanted to draw some of those.
Several turns later you finally draw that 8th Swamp you needed.
Your opponent peers across the table, a smile forms across his face. “Awesome!” he says, you’re pretty happy yourself. He apologises and aims a Go for the Throat at your new boss. Since you still have all your life points, you draw seven cards in response but nothing fruitful comes of it for this turn. Your opponent casually mills away the last few cards of your deck and, unable to draw a card, you lose the game.
He looked awesome in play, but it took so long to get to that point. Maybe you can do better than that? Those lands your opponent had which produced two colours, they seemed pretty cool. And Liliana of the Veil, I think I have a cool plan to make her +1 ability a bit more one-sided.
You untap your cards, things look a little ropey but you have things largely under control. That Moorland Haunt still has a bit of fuel but the Lingering Souls really put you under pressure. Liliana helped to empty his hand a little bit and you had to ditch your 8 mana creature because you were too far off actually casting him. Slightly hoping for a miracle, you draw the top card of your library.
Sweet it was there!
All you need to do now is untap and attack with him and the game will be practically over as such easy access to life and cards will stop your opponent from having any control over the future of this game.
“Yeah sure, Vapor Snag it?”
You pick up the legendary demon. Apparently this opponent has no respect for his superiors and is happy to throw away cards just to keep it off the table. What’s worse is that you can’t afford to draw 7 cards to really show this punk who’s boss because it’ll spell your own death. Absent of the 8 mana to replay him next turn you soon lose the game, wondering what could have been.
Well, you got him down at the right time and had tried emptying your opponent’s hand but it just wasn’t enough. He must have discarded like 5 cards to Liliana before she died, but the last one remaining was the one that mattered in the end. If you’d only had a bit more time to set it up. That Lingering Souls card was pretty powerful though, hmmm I wonder…
Paired with this guy, not again! You never beat this guy, it all goes okay until you make some silly error and then a few more and it all gets out of control from there.
You draw your opening hand, it has those cards you recently put in so you keep it to give it a go. Isolated Chapel, you pass the turn. He makes a Rootbound Crag, not something you’ve seen before but let’s see what happens. Another card in hand, it’s a Swamp. Ah well, you do need some lands and you have a plan for when you draw too many at least. Placing it on the table, you get two mana from your lands and add a Ratchet Bomb to the table. You don’t know if that Delver of Secrets or Lingering Souls will rear their heads, but at least you have an answer for them set up in advance.
Your opponent doesn’t seem too interested and lays a Copperline Gorge before making his own two-mana artifact, a Sphere of the Suns. You don’t quite understand why he would play that since it runs out of counters pretty quickly, but he usually does well at these local events so maybe it’s not too bad.
Ah-ha, here we go. Placing a Mountain for your land drop draws a strange look from your opponent but you remind him that at least your mana will keep going indefinitely. Drawing three mana, you summon Liliana of the Veil to your side. Adding a fourth counter, you quickly discard Griselbrand. You know by now that casting him the hard way is only really something that might happen as the game goes on and the best way to begin is by putting one in the graveyard and reanimating him. Your opponent pauses for a moment before discarding an Inferno Titan. Maybe he has the same plan as you?
After drawing his card for the turn, your opponent looks to be in a bit of a conundrum. He makes a Kessig Wolf Run and you begin to suspect that he might just have an aggressive Red-Green deck. You certainly enjoy giving your Acidic Slimes a massive power after killing your friends’ lands in your games back in the pub. Tapping his four mana sources (he he, down to 2 counters on that Sphere) he makes his own bomb – Huntmaster of the Fells. You could kill the wolf using Liliana, but then he can just attack Liliana to death and that doesn’t sound fun. Try untapping and drawing your card, see what options you have.
You think about moving your Ratchet Bomb up to 4 counters but that could take a while. Wait… what converted mana cost does a transformed Huntmaster have? Your opponent looks up to the ceiling and informs you that it would be zero. Proud of yourself for noticing this, you add a fifth counter to Liliana, discarding a Lingering Souls before passing the turn back. Your opponent sighs in his upkeep as he announces his Huntmaster transforming, “redirect the 2 damage to Liliana” he says so you put her back down to three counters. “Attacks?” not this time, you activate the Ratchet Bomb to deal with that thing. Your opponent makes a Solemn Simulacrum which you have to read, it seems kind of nice but a little slow unless you really really need to find more lands. He makes another Rootbound Crag before passing the turn back to you.
You draw a Despise for the turn, immediately aiming it at your opponent. Revealing his remaining two cards, he sighs yet again – Primeval Titan and Inkmoth Nexus. You take the Titan and add another counter to Liliana to knock his last card in hand. You also discard your own last spell, the Unburial Rites you had in your opening hand. “Flash it back, target Griselbrand“? you declare after laying down a Plains. Your opponent nods his head in disgust and asks for the turn to be passed to him. Sure thing, do your worst, you think to yourself.
He slowly peels the top card of his library before looking at it. Thinking for a full minute, he motions to declare his attacks… “Solemn attacks Liliana” he says. You can’t really think of what cards he’d have and in any event, by blocking with Griselbrand you’ll still gain some life and draw some new cards. “Err, yeah I’ll block” you say and he bins his robot before drawing a card. He plays a seventh land and then casts a Primeval Titan fetching up two Inkmoth Nexus – that’ll take something special!
Drawing a card for your own turn, you survey your options. It’s a Tragic Slip, that doesn’t seem too bad really. You remove two counters from Liliana, informing your opponent that he has to sacrifice a creature. In response he uses his last mana to activate one of his fetched-up Inkmoth Nexuses but you’ve seen this situation before and use the Tragic Slip on it to force him to bin his Titan.
“Attack for 7?” you declare, going up to 34 life.
Then you pay 7 of it and draw 7 cards. You make a land for the turn, but this game is over…
A card like Griselbrand just screams out to be built around, but you can’t just jam him in a deck and hope for the best. You really need to imagine the game state whereby you cast him and your opponent cannot do anything about it. This style of deck building was brough to my attention during Lorwyn-Alara standard with the Five Colour Control decks which aimed to control the game to the point where a Cruel Ultimatum more-or-less immediately brought about the demise of the opposition. Patrick Chapin was at the forefront of designing this sort of deck and it had some big results in winning Gabriel Nassif a Pro Tour and putting Jamie Parke in the finals of the World Championships.
So, if you’re to imagine a game ending by untapping with Griselbrand (and I think you can agree that such a situation would be game-ending) you must imagine what sort of game state would have to exist at that point. Among other things:
- If your opponent has an answer for the creature then you should be able to get him back swiftly or somehow counteract the answer with one of your own.
- If your opponent has an answer and you cannot stop that, then you should not be about to die yourself – you really want to be in a comfortable position if you can be. One cool trick with Grislebrand is that you can draw up to more than 7 cards, then discard more legendary creatures and Unburial Rites so you’re ready to reanimate again when the one you have goes away.
- You want to fend off your opponent’s actions as well as you can, while also taking steps to negate the opponent’s ability to play a `bigger’ game than yourself.
As a very rough sketch of a decklist, you could begin after our protagonist’s musings with the following:
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Clifftop Retreat
1 Shimmering Grotto
4 Evolving Wilds
3 Tragic Slip
3 Faithless Looting
3 Ratchet Bomb
2 Doom Blade
4 Liliana of the Veil
4 Lingering Souls
3 Gideon Jura
4 Unburial Rites
2 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
With 10 cards that help you discard the reanimation package (don’t forget Despise!) but 18 cards you’re actively happy to discard you can reliably set up the combo. You have flexible ways to kill the opponent’s creatures and permanents and some strong active threats in the Planeswalkers and Lingering Souls.
By way of sideboard options you can easily shift the deck to remove the 4 Unburial Rites and 6 large creatures if you think that too often the opponent will be able to sideboard in ways of stopping the reanimation (Grafdigger’s Cage for example) by having Gather the Townsfolks, Intangible Virtues and Sorin, Lord of Innistrads to bring in for the aforementioned cards and the Ratchet Bombs. The remaining sideboard cards can be something like more cheap removal for when you play against a deck which is hellbent on killing you and you really need answers quickly.
We have ways of manipulating the game to the point where we can reliably cast Unburial Rites targeting Griselbrand and have exhausted a lot of our opponent’s resources. We also are unlikely to be in a situation where if they immediately break up the reanimation we will be dead on board as we should have clogged up the battlefield with Lingering Souls tokens and killed their creatures with removal spells, Ratchet Bomb and Liliana of the Veil.
This deck won’t yet be perfect, but it’s a lot of fun beating your opponent around the face with a 7/7 flying lifelinker (and all the while refilling our hand with more cards). Why not give it a go and suggest more awesome cards for the deck!
Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing.