Mythic Championship Qualifier: A Guide to Gruuling
After a pretty disappointing showing at Mythic Championship London, I found myself off the Pro Tour/MC train (or whatever we are supposed to call it these days!) just in time to play in the newly reinstated Mythic Championship Qualifier (MCQ) system. I played a Gruul Warriors deck at MCQs two weekends in a row and was lucky enough to win the MCQ at Mr. Nice Guy Games in Pittsburg, PA last weekend going undefeated in the process! But more importantly, I won myself a coveted MNGG Champion cookie cake!!!
Several players have reached out to me in regard to the deck and sideboarding so I’d like to go over what I’ve had success with. Please note that I have played less than 40 total matches with the deck, so the sample size from which I’m basing my experience is rather small. However, I did play a very similar Gruul deck for the duration of last Standard season, and many of the same concepts and strategies have held over since then.
2 Dire Fleet Daredevil
2 Thorn Lieutenant
2 Kraul Harpooner
4 Growth-Chamber Guardian
4 Lightning Strike
4 Goblin Chainwhirler
4 Gruul Spellbreaker
2 Domri, Anarch of Bolas
4 Rekindling Phoenix
2 Skarrgan Hellkite
1 Sarkhan the Masterless
3 Status // Statue
1 Overgrown Tomb
3 Blood Crypt
2 Gruul Guildgate
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
4 Unclaimed Territory
1 Sorcerous Spyglass
1 Collision // Colossus
1 Shivan Fire
2 Vivien Reid
3 Legion Warboss
4 Lava Coil
Mono Redw Experimental Frenzy
+1 Shivan Fire +4 Lava Coil, +3 Cindervines
-2 Domri, Anarch of Bolas, -1 Sarkhan the Masterless, -3 Status // Statue, -2 Kraul Harpooner
w Chandra, Fire Artisan
+1 Shivan Fire +4 Lava Coil
-2 Domri, Anarch of Bolas, -1 Sarkhan the Masterless, -2 Status // Statue
Versus Mono Red, you’ll want to spend the early turns playing your two drops or removal spells, getting one-for-one exchanges until you can drop Goblin Chainwhirler or Gruul Spellbreaker (you should almost always make this a 4/4 here) on turn 3. Make sure to pick off Runaway Steam-Kin ASAP. As with last Standard season, the most important card in this matchup for Mono Red is Experimental Frenzy. The printing of Chandra, Fire Artisan has greatly improved this already favorable matchup simply because Chandra is replacing Frenzy in the 4 slot for many red mages. Follow the above sideboarding strategy depending on what you see game 1. You can hedge a bit on the Cindervines if you aren’t sure whether your opponent is packing Frenzy. Also remember that Statue is an effective way to deal with Frenzy if needed.
Weird War of the Spark planeswalker static ability rules interaction bonus section:
Note that when your opponent controls Chandra, Fire Artisan and you have Gruul Spellbreaker in play with no other planeswalker on the battlefield, damage that is dealt to Chandra on your turn triggers her static ability and since there are no other legal targets (Spellbreaker gives you hexproof) she must deal damage to herself. This creates a damage loop that will end up destroying her even if it’s just one point of damage.
+2 Vivien Reid, +3 Legion Warboss, +1 Sorcerous Spyglass, +1 Collision // Colossus
-3 Status // Statue, -2 Shock, -1 Lightning Strike, -1 Goblin Chainwhirler
The plan here is the same as it always was - play a few threats and make your opponent answer them. Don’t over commit to the board. The printing of Teferi, Time Raveler has given Esper a great tool that buys them at least a turn against aggro decks. However, thanks to playing 4 copies each of Goblin Chainwhirler and Gruul Spellbreaker as well as 2 Thorn Lieutenants (not to mention the direct damage package) means their common play pattern of turn 3 Teferi, bounce the only threat, and then tick up Teferi safely on the next turn is voided. Sideboarding is fairly straightforward. Viviens and Warbosses are quite good here. You may want to adjust the number of Sorcerous Spyglass, Collision // Colossus, and Status // Statue you include or remove depending on how planeswalkery they seem and/or if you believe Lyra is in their sideboard. I would lean towards siding in Collision // Colossus not only as insurance against Lyra, but the Colossus side can do a lot of work as well.
+1 Collision // Colossus, +3 Legion Warboss, +2 Vivien Reid, +2 Lava Coil
-2 Domri, Anarch of Bolas, -1 Sarkhan the Masterless, -2 Lightning Strike, -2 Status // Statue
I have not gotten the opportunity to play much against Esper Hero, and the matchup seems challenging. They attack on so many different axes and Gruul has to draw the right answers that line up with all their specific threats whether it’s Hero of Precinct One, Thief of Sanity, or planeswalkers. This is another deck against which Chainwhirler shines. The sideboard plan that I listed above is what I did at my MCQ and I’m sure it could be improved. I replaced a few of the Lightning Strikes with Lava Coils because my opponent had Basilica Bell-Haunts in his deck.
+1 Shivan Fire, +4 Lava Coil, +3 Cindervines, +1 Collision // Colossus, +2 Vivien Reid
-2 Thorn Lieutenant, -1 Domri, Anarch of Bolas, -1 Growth-Chamber Guardian, -1 Status // Statue, -4 Lightning Strike, -2 Goblin Chainwhirler
Leading up to last week’s MCQ, I played a bunch with and against UR Phoenix. Given how well it had been doing this season, it was my other deck of choice for the tournament. Game 1 feels very much dependent on how their deck functions. There isn’t a whole lot of interaction in the matchup outside of making sure to kill their Goblin Electromancers and killing them quickly before they get their Arclight Phoenix engine going. The recent inclusion of Saheeli, Sublime Artificer can be quite good against us and it is generally correct to aim your creatures and burn at her to get her off the battlefield. Post sideboard we get to trade in our nearly useless Lightning Strikes for Lava Coils, and most importantly we get to bring in Cindervines which is very difficult for their deck to function under.
+1 Shivan Fire, +4 Lava Coil
-1 Sarkhan the Masterless, -2 Kraul Harpooner, -1 Skarrgan Hellkite, -1 Domri, Anarch of Bolas
Game 1 will depend a lot on who wins the die roll. WWx Aggro can snowball as soon as turn 3, drop a Venerated Loxodon, and make Goblin Chainwhirler look pretty dumb, so use your early removal to pick off their creatures if you don’t think Chainwhirler will be able to come down before Loxodon. WWx can also just play turn 1 creature, turn 2 creature, turn 3 Gideon Blackblade, so really important to practice winning die rolls! If you have the luxury to do so, try to save the Lightning Strikes and Coils for Benalish Marshall. Gruul’s creatures outsize WWx’s creatures without anthems, so many games end up in creature stalls. This is where the main deck Status // Statue + Goblin Chainwhirler package shines. Gruul tends to win these games in the air once establishing a foothold on the ground.
+3 Cindervines, +3 Legion Warboss, +2 Vivien Reid
-2 Shock, -4 Growth-Chamber Guardian, -1 Status // Statue, -1 Sarkhan the Masterless
This remains a good matchup for Gruul, but one of the reasons I went from 4 Cindervines down to 3 is that Nexus doesn’t seem as popular anymore. All your Riot creatures should be on Haste mode and don’t be afraid to deploy your threats ASAP since they have no sweepers. The addition of Tamiyo, Collector of Tales and Bond of Flourishing might give them a bit more time to set up, but Gruul should still be able to kill them quick enough. Post board, Cindervines is the best card to have against them. If possible, leave up one mana for Cindervines activation if they can cast Wilderness Reclamation. The general rule is to destroy Reclamation on sight, and destroy Search for Azcanta right before they can flip it. Don’t forget that Statue can destroy enchantments here!
+3 Legion Warboss, +2 Vivien Reid, +1 Collision // Colossus, +1 Sorcerous Spyglass
-2 Shock, -3 Status // Statue, -2 Dire Fleet Daredevil
I have not played this matchup much at all, but the games I’ve played are quite swingy. If Gruul is able to quickly get Jeskai’s planeswalkers off the board without losing too many creatures to Deafening Clarion, the games are pretty easy. Otherwise, Jeskai’s Sarkhan ends the game swiftly. After sideboarding we get rid of dead weight cards like Status // Statue and Daredevils, which have nearly no targets in the matchup. I like to bring in the Collision // Colossus as both sides of the cards have applications vs Jeskai Superfriends.
+2 Vivien Reid, +1 Collision // Colossus, +2 Legion Warboss, +3 Lava Coil
-2 Dire Fleet Daredevil, -2 Shock, -4 Lightning Strike
Given that Bant Midrange is a fairly new archetype I haven’t gotten many reps against it, but it feels like a difficult matchup. God-Eternal Oketra is very difficult to deal with and the clogged boards she creates is one of the reasons for the main deck Status // Statue + Goblin Chainwhirler package. Since many of the Bant Midrange decks are ramp decks, it’s important to point any removal at their mana dorks (also Chainwhirler can help out a lot here). The sideboard plan I posted here is what I did versus my MCQ semifinals opponent, who did not have the Explore creature package. In general, you want to bring in Vivien Reid and Collision // Colossus as insurance against Lyra Dawnbringer and Shalai, Voice of Plenty, and take out Dire Fleet Daredevil who has no good targets in this matchup. Otherwise you need to be a bit flexible in how you configure your game 2 and 3 deck depending on what you see from them. This matchup is quite grindy, and I think in the long-run they will be able to out grind Gruul so it’s important to keep pressure on them and end the game as soon as you can.
+2 Vivien Reid, +1 Collision // Colossus, +4 Lava Coil
-2 Shock, -1 Sarkhan the Masterless, -2 Thorn Lieutenant, -2 Domri, Anarch of Bolas
Sultai is another tough matchup where your opponent’s creatures keep up with yours early in the game, and then they just bury you with superior card draw in the late game with Hydroid Krasis. Be sure to save your early removal for Wildgrowth Walker. The ground usually gets gummed up and the flyers are the primary way to beat Sultai. As with all creature stall matchups, Status // Statue + Goblin Chainwhirler is usually game over. After sideboarding the Gruul deck becomes a bit more controlling, but it is still important to keep the pressure on and end the game before they can stabilise the battlefield.
+2 Vivien Reid, +4 Lava Coil
-1 Kraul Harpooner, -1 Sarkhan the Masterless, -2 Domri, Anarch of Bolas, -2 Shock
Having never played the mirror, here is my best guess at a sideboard strategy! A lot of folks have asked me about the deck and are interested in playing it in their upcoming MCQs and IQs, so this is just in case you find yourself sitting across from a similar 75!
Since winning the MCQ, I have been busy testing War of the Spark team sealed for Magic Fest Providence so I have not done any further testing with the deck. However, if I were to pick it back up I would likely swap out the main deck Sarkhan the Masterless for the third Skarrgan Hellkite. Sarkhan is certainly a very dynamic and powerful card, but with two Domri as the only other planeswalkers we are not really optimizing Sarkhan’s +1 loyalty ability. Meanwhile Skarrgan Hellkite continues to shine for me against every deck. Speaking of Domri, Anarch of Bolas, you may have noticed I side that card out a lot. It’s another card I’m not 100% sure on, but I’m never really unhappy with it game 1. It does many jobs, but isn’t super outstanding at doing any one thing. Status // Statue is also a very meta-dependent choice and like Domri, it’s flexible, but not outstanding by itself. If I were to test this deck more, Domri and Status // Statue are likely the cards I would shave on. I would try out a few main deck Legion Warboss or additional copies of the two drops (Thorn Lieutenant, Dire Fleet Daredevil, or Kraul Harpooner) that best fit your expected field. I’d also consider a change in the sideboard - I was not that happy with the Sorcerous Spyglass and would likely replace it with a fourth Cindervines. I know that Simic Nexus’s popularity is waning, but Cindervines has been so good for me against UR Phoenix that I think I want access to the full set. If Phoenix and Nexus aren’t popular in your local meta, then I’d consider a second Collision // Colossus.
Thanks as always for reading and good luck smashing your MCQs!