MTG: Building Grismold

It must suck to be the kind of commander content creator who has to think in terms of focusing on the next most immediate thing. Commander’s really interesting, as a format, and there are cards all over the place that you can wander over and explore in your own time at your own pace. Like me, where I found myself looking at another commander I never bothered to really consider in the past, with a theme of sweeping the board, controlling small creatures, and also reacting to death triggers.

Because I’m definitely branching out.

Grismold, the Dreadsower is a neat little self-contained package of a commander that gives a great mix of things all at once:

  • He’s got an ability that encourages him to attack (trample)
  • He does something meaningfully unique in his colours (making tokens for everyone)
  • A family of triggers to care about (specifically token death triggers)
  • He has some way to advance the end of the game (getting +1/+1 counters)
  • Some truly unsettling art detail you won’t be able to forget (the saggy nipple)

This makes for a very nice, tight package for a commander, as a way to shape the deck you’re trying to build. For example, he cares about creature tokens dying, and he cares about anyone’s tokens dying. Your tokens dying is fine, you can trigger deaths off that just fine, your opponent’s tokens dying is even better, but where do you even get other people making tokens?

There are some cards that make every player create tokens; Plague of Vermin from Shadowmoor, or weirdo Weatherlight rare, [[liege of the hollows]], a rare instance of Ron Spencer art trying to look non-bulgey and horrifying. Two absolute bangers that I’ve had for a while and love are Tombstone Stairwell and Elephant Resurgence, the latter of is just a great big dumper of a creature that checks your yard. Tombstone Stairwell is extremely well known and probably just the most powerful card in its ilk, so odds are good I’m going to run it, and you might not because even on MTGO it’s a buck fifty, or twenty dollars in Eagle Dollars for a paper copy.

How Much Kaboom

I don’t want to make something super competitive and aggressive with fast mana designed to have a critical plan for winning the game around turn two or three. That’s not to say the game ends on turn two or three, that’s a misunderstanding of CEDH, but it’s definitely ‘you need to be in this game at this point because someone might try to win the game around that point.’ I don’t want to make something like that, simply because I don’t think I’d be good at it. What I’d like to do instead is make a sort of middle-ground deck that wants to try and win the game by attacking with the commander and other creatures. I don’t mind having ways to stop people doing things, which may pull me towards some stax pieces.

There’s no two-card combo where Grismold just wins the game. Not one I’ve been able to find. There are some combos available to Grismold, but it might not surprise you that they feature Phyrexian Altar or Ashnod's Altar, two all-star unbound combo engines. I don’t mind the idea of a deck having a haymaker, a vorpal kill lurking in it if the game goes long and you need to be able to hit the gas pedal. The game is meant to end after all, but I do think that those two altars create a dreadfully boring play pattern.

My Piles And Priorities

Alright, going by the 8×8 model, to try and make sure things are reasonably redundant, let’s give a list of what things I want:

  • I want things that generate token death triggers. That is, they make tokens, or they sacrifice tokens. Tokens that sacrifice themselves are useful, tokens that don’t care if they live or die are also useful — the entire web of Eldrazi Scion and Eldrazi Spawn tokens are great in this space, and green and black have a few good cards here.
  • I want things that trigger when tokens die. Fortunately, a lot of creature death can work here, but there are death triggers that ignore non-token deaths. Can’t use those. A search for useful things here looks like this.
  • Creature removal. Green and black have a lot of options here, black obviously best of all. I like flexible removal and I like removal that comes with creatures or tokens, because, again, I want those.
  • Reset. Things that can clear the board or tidy up complicated board states by just saying ‘everyone out of the pool.’ White leads here, but green-black has some. Again, creatures that can do this are prime.
  • Draw. Lots of options here for black and green. While I want creatures, I do also want to make sure I have some options that aren’t blown out by my board wipes and resets.
  • Ramp. Lands are prime here, lots of different options. Something that’s important to the ramp is it can’t be creature if I’m planning on killing lots of creatures, but also, there are cards that may present problems going forward. Like, the Eldrazi Scions may not be useful to advance mana if I’m running cards like Night of Soul's Betrayal that wipe out all x/1s, and that card doesn’t work with old classic sakura tribe elder.
  • Board control. Creatures that hold the board, can attack and block, and put pressure on people. This is useful bodies that present questions, and maybe even pose problems for opponents, like stax pieces.

That’s seven piles. Whatever, the point is having matching versions of effects.

Okay But What’s In it

I like building decks like this because the mana curve presents a really interesting challenge. It’d be easy to jam as many cards with particular trigger words on them and then just wait around until you hit enough land drops to start putting out any given number of them and that’ll be… y’know, fine, right? But what I want is to make sure that I have a reasonably open early mana space, things to do in the late game, and a way to win once the game is all stagged up, without necessarily involving Combo Yawn Stars of the Altars.

A little mechanical cuteness I had to go look up rules for is Grismold and Mutate? I mean, it’s a maybe? See, Grismold does still generate +1/+1 counters and tokens, and still has trample, and its base body is only a 3/3. Plus, if Grismold is part of a mutate stack, the whole mutate stack is ‘your commander, Grismold,’ which means its damage counts for commander damage (if you’re trying to win that way). There are some mutate cards that are worth jamming on that body for utility effects, but I don’t like having too many in my deck that aren’t worth keeping around on their own merits. Like Insatiable hemophage isn’t going to be a meaningful addition to the deck. Sawtusk Demolisher on the other hand, can mutate onto Grismold the turn after he’s out, and then Gris is probably a 7/7 trampler, which is pretty beefy.

On the other hand, you will have some other dork-ass bodies you don’t mind mutating onto if you run the eldrazi stuff, so the mutate cards aren’t stranded.

Going over Grismold, another thing that stands out to me is the way the card is being pulled in directions. The thing that got me to look at Grismold was Boxing Ring, because it let you generate treasure and made your plant automatically fight another plant, and that’s cute, and fun. And I wouldn’t run it in the version I’m building.

Also, there are odd things about price. If you have a Grist, it’s probably really good in a Grismold deck, as a cheap removal spell that can generate a few insects when it’s not killing things, even if you never intend to ultimate it. It certainly beats Putrefy. On the other hand, I can’t say ‘oh yeah, I’d go get a Grist to run in Grismold,’ because it’s, what, seven dollars on MTGO? In a world where rares are worth a penny, that’s a hard pull.

I didn’t wind up with a ‘list’ for Grismold, not per se. What I instead wound up with was a sort of Whole General Mish Mosh. I want sacrifice outlets, I want general utility, I want creatures that die easily and create more bodies… and really…

You pick the ones you like the best and you’ll probably get there. Tenacious Brawler doesn’t seem to have any direct relationship to Grismold, and yet I’m excited to play it alongside it and get more reps in.

It’s a weird card. It’s weirder too because the Eldrazi spawn are valuable to Grismold, and trigger a lot of things… but then you have this sort of ‘huh’ moment when you drop say, a Fiend Artisan after you threw seven creatures into the bin… and realise there’s no creatures in the bin.

It’s an interesting creature. Give him a spin and see what you like about him and his unsettling droopy nipple.