I'm on a quest. Nothing too noble. Nothing particularly mind-blowing. I just want Kuldotha Grixis (A.K.A. Grixis Metalcraft) to be a solid deck in Classic Pauper. Is that too much to ask? Maybe it is. Who's to say? Surely someone must know. Do you? I don't. Perhaps today we can figure some things out.
At certain points in time the archetype has run considerably well for me. It's during these points that I start to get excited. Because I want Kuldotha Grixis to be a solid deck. I want Kuldotha Grixis to be a solid deck so badly. I like Kuldotha Grixis. I'm a fan.
And then the inevitable happens. The deck fizzles. It loses, and keeps losing. And I start to frown. And I realize that I got all excited about the deck for nothing. And I go back to the drawing board.
We should probably begin by looking at the deck itself. Figuring out what the deck does well. Figuring out where it's falling short.
So what exactly is Kuldotha Grixis? Firstly it belongs to a family of attrition-heavy midrange strategies that had their heyday just before Pauper's dreaded Peregrine Drake era (which I wrote about here) took over.
These decks (decks like Kuldotha Boros, Kuldotha Jeskai, etc.) are all interested in getting the most value possible out of their permanents by way of relevant “enters the battlefield” triggers. They're equally interested in playing artifact lands and achieving metalcraft to turn on powerful cards like Galvanic Blast.
Since artifacts tend to matter in these decks, they all typically utilize Prophetic Prism as a color-fixer and potentially reusable card-drawer alongside Ichor Wellspring. What's more, the synergistic pairing of Ichor Wellspring and Kuldotha Rebirth tends to be showcased in these decks often.
While Boros and Jeskai heavily feature the fliers Glint Hawk and Kor Skyfisher as bounce enablers for Prism and Wellspring, Kuldotha Grixis is interested in something a bit different: Bleak Coven Vampires.
When Gerry Thompson played Grixis in Pauper he referred to Vampires as “The Pauper Siege Rhino.” They're also fairly comparable to Gray Merchant of Asphodel, which should indicate that they tend to have a swingy impact on games after just one or two of them hits the table. I don't think anyone would (when given the option) turn down an eight point life swing in their favor, and the creature itself can attack for as much as it drains (a whopping 20% of the opponent's starting total).
Here is the most recent 5-0 Grixis list I could find (sadly it dates all the way back to June of last year), courtesy of MTGGoldfish:
In case I didn't make this clear enough earlier, Kuldotha Grixis wants to fix colors and trade resources in the early game. This usually equates to our removal spells for their creatures. As the game progresses the deck intends to generate resource superiority with card draw and value creatures. The heavy hitters (and what separates Grixis from the Boros and Jeskai variants) come in the mid and later stages of the game by way of Bleak Coven Vampires, Mulldrifter and the most cruel of trumps in Reaping the Graves.
Graves is one of Pauper's only remaining cards with storm, and more or less proclaims to the opponent “all of the effort you put forth to keep my creatures off the board was for nothing. Kick rocks bro.”
So before we get into any more specific details and/or card descriptions, let's try to pick out some of the things that this style of deck does particularly well.
One of the most obvious items we can identify is the mana efficiency of cards like Galvanic Blast and Thoughtcast, at least when three or more artifacts happen to be in play. Getting “better than Bolt” numbers and far greater efficiency than Divination is the kind of value that will outright beat other decks in battles of attrition.
Another bonus involves the quality and variety of removal that black and red have to offer. Between Chainer's Edict, Firebolt, Galvanic Blast, Terminate and all the rest, there is not much of a way for creatures to slip in through the cracks. No creature is really too quick, too big or too hexproof to get around our spells.
There are the undying creatures like Stormbound Geist and Young Wolf (plus all of their related cousins), but simply being in black or red gives us numerous answers to those cards if necessary (Complete Disregard, Magma Spray and Pillar of Flame come most immediately to mind)).
What I'm trying to say is that black removal and red removal are the best ways to deal with creatures in Pauper by far, so Kuldotha Grixis ends up with an embarrassment of riches in that department.
So hopefully this speaks to the appeal of playing Kuldotha Grixis. Efficient “cares about artifact” cards, top-tier removal and high-impact top end. That is of course when everything is going right.
Let's now look at some of the downsides to playing this deck, and what might be preventing things from playing out ideally.
The first item for us to consider has been identified by the pilot of the above decklist. You'll notice that Ichor Wellspring and Kuldotha Rebirth have both hit the cutting room floor. Let's think about this for a bit. Grixis does not play out as a superb “Wellspring deck” because it has very few ways to bounce Wellsprings (there are two copies of Ghostly Flicker and, well, that's it). Rebirth also creates tension with other cards in the deck like Thoughtcast, because the former cuts down our artifact total while the latter wants us to hit an artifact critical mass.
This might not seem like a big deal, but it does cause problems. Note that there are only 19 artifacts in the above list total. 19 artifacts is not a lot, in my opinion. I don't have any statistical data to back up this claim, but I have played with a number of metalcraft decks in Pauper and I wouldn't feel at all comfortable relying on this total.
Thoughtcast itself ends up being pretty clunky in this deck during early turns. Multiple Thoughtcasts in hand with a low artifact count on the board can be terminally troublesome. I actually believe that moving away from Thoughtcast in general could prove to be correct.
Looking at the big picture here, and by that I mean the objectives that cards like Thoughtcast and combinations like Wellspring-Rebirth help us accomplish, we're basically talking about beating the opponent with card advantage and attritive plays. This can be done in a variety of ways without going down these specific aforementioned avenues, particularly in the colors blue and black!
What I'm trying to get at here is that a deck like Kuldotha Grixis can sometimes lead us to falesly assume that many of its components are 100% essential.
For me the basis of the deck stems from artifact lands and fixing, top-tier black and red removal, “artifacts matter” cards like Bleak Coven Vampires and Galvanic Blast, and card advantage like Mulldrifter and Reaping the Graves. The cool interactions in between, in my opinion, are not as wholly defined. Rebirths Thoughtcasts, Wellsprings, they do not a Kuldotha Grixis deck make...
Another issue I've noticed in the past with Grixis stems from color-fixing. Awkward opening hands, lack of hitting all three colors soon enough, it can be quite a drag. This is likely a significant upside to playing four copies of Trinket Mage. They get in the way of blockers or pressure early, help enable metalcraft and fix colors in a very Borderland Ranger sort of way...all at the same time!
In fact, the more I look at it, the more things I like about fredmcfred's list. I admittedly haven't give it much testing time, and I do believe that the quest to boost Kuldotha Grixis will have to start by changing that.
I'm glad we had this talk. I think it presents a decent starting point for this quest of mine.
Kuldotha Grixis will need to be redefined, streamlined and a bit powered up overall in order for it to survive the current Classic Pauper landscape.
If you have any input regarding how to better achieve my goals, feel free to let me know!
This is a quest that probably won't be easy, and it might not even end up being fruitful, but I guess there's only one way to find out.
You can also follow me on Twitter (@DimeCollectorSC) for MTG-related updates and info!
Bye for now!