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MTG Meta Breakers: How to Beat Grixis Midrange in Standard

Everything you need to beat the deck that won the World Championship


How to beat Grixis Midrange in Standard
Card: Corpse Appraiser (Showcase) | Art: Justin & Alexis Hernandez

Welcome to MTG Meta Breakers! This series is devoted to helping you take on some of the most common decks in your favorite formats (aka “the meta”).


Whether you’re looking to climb the competitive ladder on Arena, want to win your local Friday Night Magic (FNM), or are just sick of getting beat, you’re in the right place.


For the purposes of this series, we’ll assume that all games are in best-of-three format. This allows you to sideboard against your opponent. When hoping to take down the metagame, sideboarding is your best friend.


Without further delay, let’s dive in!


In a World Championship meta dominated by Esper, Nathan Steuer took a unique road with Grixis Midrange to win it all. Since then, the deck's popularity has skyrocketed. It's left many players wondering how to beat Grixis Midrange in Standard.


Many Standard players would argue it is the best-positioned deck in the format. With a wide range of threats, flexible answers, and value for days, Grixis Midrange is a house.



While this deck is one of the strongest at every selection in the 75 we've seen in a while, it isn't invincible. In fact, there are quite a few ways to attack Grixis Midrange to come out on top.


But first, you need to understand what's happening on the other side of the table.


Understanding Grixis Midrange Standard Decks

If you're looking for bad cards, you won't find them here. Almost every card in Grixis Midrange is strong on its own, while also working synergistically within the deck. Although not everything is a Sheoldred or a Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, the main deck and sideboard consist of good Magic cards. Let's take a closer look at some of them.



Finishers

There are a few different versions of Grixis running around. Some favor the Invoke Despair plan. Others utilize powerful creatures like Evelyn, the Covetous or Sol'Kanar the Tainted.


Invoke Despair is a punishing five-mana spell that can win games out of nowhere. Not only does it clear the way for your early creatures to get through, it also cleans up problematic non-creature permanents, draws cards, and chips away their life total.


Speaking of, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse puts serious pressure on the opponent. She demands a quick answer if the game is to continue. Left unchecked, and combined with the other aggressive elements of this deck, Sheoldred can win games in a turn or two.



Good Stuff

While Invoke and Sheoldred are powerful finishers, they aren't the only things making Grixis Midrange so hard to beat. This deck also gets to play some of the best two- and three-mana cards in the format.


Bloodtithe Harvester is removal, hand filtering, and an aggressive creature all in one. You can play it out on turn two, swing for damage, hold it back as a blocker, or use it as a removal spell the next turn. You're hard-pressed to find a better way to spend two mana.



Corpse Appraiser is one of the big payoffs for playing Grixis. The 3/3 body is not to be underestimated. It is a strong blocker and dangerous attacker on-curve. There is also plenty of creature fodder right now, so it rarely misses its exile ability. A free Strategic Planning on a good body? Sign us up. Even if Corpse Appraiser dies, you're still up a card on your opponent in almost every situation.


We all know how good Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is. All three modes are potent. In Grixis, the third is even more busted. The ability to copy your Bloodtithe Harvesters and Corpse Appraisers means you have immediate access to a powerful removal spell or card draw and graveyard hate. With so many threats to answer, your opponent will have trouble managing to keep Reflection of Kiki-Jiki and one of these creatures off the field together.



Answers

Pick your poison. Grixis Midrange has access to some of the format's best removal spells in both black and red alongside strong countermagic.


If you want to be more reactive, you can load up on answers in this shell. Infernal Grasp, Go for the Throat, Cut Down, Abrade, and Obliterating Bolt are all strong removal choices.


You also get access to sweepers like Brotherhoods' End and Burn Down the House to shore up your aggro matchups.


Meanwhile, Make Disappear can be a nightmare for opponents when you're on the draw. Countering their three-drop, then following it up with a Fable or Corpse Appraiser on your turn is back-breaking and often enough to seriously shift the game in your favor.


Manabase

We'd be remiss to not mention Grixis' clean manabase. With access to Xander's Lounge, slow lands, pain lands, and Kamigawa's channel lands, this deck has it all.


It's laughably easy to run spells like Invoke that need four black pips alongside three-pip creatures like Corpse Appraiser. You rarely (if ever) have to worry about your mana situation here.



Sideboard

While the main deck is already potent, Grixis can get into its bag of tricks with a flexible sideboard. You have access to pretty much any effect you need here and can tune the deck to run well in any matchup.


Many people run extra counterspells, including Negate and Disdainful Stroke. Extra removal is also common.


You can also shore up grindy matchups with cards like Reckoner Bankbuster and Siphon Insight.



High Priority Targets

When playing against Grixis Midrange, you won't be able to answer everything they throw at you. With this in mind, prioritizing what matters most in any given game is key. You'll need to rely on your game sense and good decision-making to figure out how to limit the impact of the cards that affect your deck the most.


Generically, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is always a threat. If you have countermagic or hand disruption, targeting Fable is usually wise. There isn't a clean answer in the format (other than the 'meh' Unleash the Inferno in Jund), so answering it before it resolves is key.



You also need to be ready to play around Invoke Despair. It's generally a better idea to have sacrifice fodder on the battlefield than letting them draw cards and drain your life total. Rebuilding is much easier than going down two or three cards and four to six life. Cards like Wedding Announcement and Fable take the edge off Invoke Despair even though losing your stuff feels bad.


Try to sniff out when your opponent is lining up an Invoke. As soon as they hit five mana (with four black sources) be wary. If you've only got one creature out and it's one you care about, try to get some sac fodder out immediately. If your life total is looking precarious, consider holding back an extra blocker in case they force you to sacrifice. There isn't a perfect answer to Invoke (other than a counter or hand disruption), but working to mitigate its effect is huge.


Most players are getting wise to Sheoldred and packing plenty of removal. You simply can't afford to let her sit around for more than a turn or two. If you think a Sheoldred might be coming, don't waste your removal on something like a Bloodtithe Harvester or Corpse Appraiser. These threats are almost always less important than a Sheoldred. The one card you can consider using removal for is a flipped Fable. Hitting it before it loses summoning sickness is key to avoiding the blowout.


Finally, get used to playing around Make Disappear. It can be especially problematic when they are on the draw. Grixis is quite strong in the two-drop slot, so it can run out a creature or hold back with removal or a counter. It usually wants to take the proactive role, however.


So, if you see two mana left up consistently, it's probably a sign they have a counterspell in hand. Sometimes, it's worth playing something to bait out the counterspell so they don't have it to back up their Invoke or protect a Sheoldred.



Cards that Beat Grixis Midrange in Standard

While Grixis Midrange is strong in many ways, it can be attacked with a few specific strategies. We'll cover some of the best cards against Grixis Midrange in Standard in this section.


Going Wide & Generating Value

Grixis struggles against decks that can go wide. While traditional aggro decks will struggle to get through a Bloodtithe Harvester or Sheoldred, go-wide strategies can nullify these problems.


Wedding Announcement is a fantastic card in this matchup. It gives you up to three bodies on board and eventually buffs your whole team. This is a lot for Grixis to deal with, especially considering their almost non-existent enchantment removal. If you can stick an Announcement on turn three, especially on the play, you're usually in good shape.


Cards that generate extra value are also strong. This includes cards that make tokens while also doing something else, such as Fable, The Wandering Emperor, and Sorin, the Mirthless. It also includes creatures with ETB effects like Archangel of Wrath, Inspiring Overseer, Corpse Appraiser, Ertai Resurrected, and Wandering Mind.


Finally, death trigger effects are also strong. For instance, Ao, the Dawn Sky offers great value when it dies. Since Grixis doesn't run much exile-based removal, you can usually count on these effects.


Hand Disruption

The next best way to deal with Grixis Midrange is to stop its threats from ever being cast. Hand disruption is key here.


Duress has a lot of juicy targets in this matchup. This might sound odd, given the powerful creatures at play. However, stopping a Fable from hitting the field or snatching a key Make Disappear or Invoke Despair can flip the game in your favor. The information you gain is also huge. Knowing how to sequence your next few turns based on their hand can stop you from getting blown out by removal or a counterspell. It also helps you plan your removal accordingly.



If you are concerned about the creatures or are a deck that doesn't deal with them well, Dreams of Steel and Oil is a sleeper card that is very strong. It also serves double duty, removing a creature from the yard to minimize Corpse Appraiser targets or get rid of a Tenacious Underdog.


Pilfer is another flexible choice for decks looking to play a longer game that don't need to jam a two-drop creature.


Graveyard Hate

For a deck that doesn't rely on its graveyard, you might not think of graveyard hate as key to beating Grixis. However, the value provided by Corpse Appraiser makes it worth the inclusion.


Unlicensed Hearse shines here, primarily out of the sideboard. Being able to deny a target for Appraiser makes it a much, much weaker card. It also keeps you from going down on cards and adds an extra threat for the late game.


No, an Unlicensed Hearse isn't going to win the game. However, it can keep things more even. Generic grave hate isn't quite as strong since there is a narrow window that matters. If they are running Tenacious Underdog (which most lists have veered away from) it can be better.


Fliers

If there is one glaring area where Grixis is weak, it's the air. This deck struggles to deal with flying creatures without removal. By loading your deck up with fliers, you can often push through enough damage in the air to create a menacing clock.


There aren't a ton of great fliers in the format right now. However, there are enough to make a respectable list. The Mardu Angels deck that is gaining popularity (which we'll cover in a bit) is home to many of them. Sanctuary Warden, Archangel of Wrath, Inspiring Overseer, Steel Seraph, Raffine, Scheming Seer, Haughty Djinn, Shivan Devastator, and Ao are all strong picks.


Common Mistakes Against Grixis Midrange

We've already covered some of the most common mistakes when playing against Grixis Midrange in Standard. Unfortunately, generic advice for this matchup isn't super helpful. Most games are decided by sequencing and in-game decisions. You'll get better with reps against the deck and by learning to determine which threats matter most.


However, a few of the biggest mistakes you can make are:

  • Failing to hold removal for Sheoldred or a flipped Fable

  • Playing into a Make Disappear when it's avoidable, especially on the play

  • Allowing your opponent's Fable to flip and be activated when you could remove it

  • Holding back creatures (or enchantments or planeswalkers) to avoid losing them to Invoke

  • Not respecting Corpse Appraiser's value

  • Not sideboarding correctly

  • Not correctly assessing which cards are most important in each specific game

Best Matchups Against Grixis Midrange in Standard

As promised, we have some decks that match up well with Grixis Midrange. If you're finding yourself in a blue, black, and red meta, give one of them a try.



These are also strong choices for the meta in general right now given the overlap between many cards in Grixis and other lists.


Got a sleeper deck that performs well against Grixis? Let us know in the comments or tag us on social media!


Mardu Angels

Pioneered by Krowz, Mardu Angels looks incredibly strong across the board. Like Grixis, it packs powerful cards at every point of its curve and can win in multiple ways. It has a big advantage in this matchup for a few reasons.


For one, it has a ton of creatures that both fly and have a powerful ETB or death effect. Archangel of Wrath can singlehandedly win games, either by clearing the board or going face. Inspiring Overseer, Fable, and Wedding Announcement offer great value.


Meanwhile, Mardu has access to meaningful answers for Sheoldred and Fable. This deck can get punished by an aggressive start or a handful of removal, but otherwise tends to fare well against Grixis.




Azorius Soldiers

We discussed how going wide is a good strategy. Grixis can have trouble dealing with the aggressive Azorius Soldiers deck as it attacks from a few angles.

With multiple lords, it can quickly outsize Grixis' blockers and run them over with buffed tokens. Meanwhile, Thalia taxes their most important cards, including Fable, Invoke, and removal.


Harbin, Vanguard Aviator can win games out of nowhere by pumping the entire team and letting them fly over any blockers for tons of damage in the air.


Grixis can win these matchups by boarding in sweepers like Brotherhood's End and relying on Sheoldred. However, its creatures and Invoke Despair are much worse than usual.




Mono-White Midrange

Another area where Grixis has trouble is long, grindy games. Mono-White is all about making things go long. It also packs some of the cards Grixis hates to see the most in Wedding Announcement, Ao, Sanctuary Warden, and The Wandering Emperor.


Most of its creatures generate extra value with their ETB or disrupt the Grixis game plan. Anointed Peacekeeper is often a huge problem that must be answered.


When games go long, cards like Reckoner Bankbuster and Roadside Reliquary can take over. Without strong targets for spot removal, mono-white will simply do its thing and out-value the Grixis deck.


Like Angels, this deck can have trouble keeping up with fast starts since most of its meaningful cards don't show up until three or four mana. However, if the game goes much past seven or eight turns, things will look grim for the Grixis mage.


 

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