Today, we look at how to effectively play decks built around the card Grimgaunt Devourer. Periodically, I spend a column discussing gameplay considerations for specific archetypes of decks. (Module #12 covers general considerations for playing slow decks, and Module #13 provides some insight on fast decks.) The purpose of this column isn’t to explore the merits of particular decklists. I recommend you check out Forging the Deck #5 for one particular approach to building a Grimgaunt deck.
As anyone who played the Nekrium Starter Deck knows, when Grimgaunt Devourer gets huge it can take over a game. Decks whose primary goal is to maximize the effectiveness of Grimgaunt Devourer must produce a lot of deaths (e.g., using one card to produce multiple bodies) and/or carefully control the timing of deaths (e.g., creature removal spells, or sacrifice cards to produce pre-combat deaths). Obviously, such decks require an alternate path to victory for those games where you aren’t able to level-up your Grimgaunt Devourers. However, that’s an issue for someone else to discuss. Today, we are going to look at how to play effectively in those games where you are able to level-up your Grimgaunt Devourers.
Before we get to the dilemmas, there are several points to keep in mind when you play a Grimgaunt deck.The first point is that Level 2 Grimgaunt Devourer is incredibly strong. With only three creature deaths, Grimgaunt 2 becomes 13/11 and trades favorably with the vast majority of Level 2 creatures. After four or five creature deaths, there are very few answers* to Grimgaunt 2 and even double-blocking** Grimgaunt will often fail to kill it. By contrast, Level 1 Grimgaunt Devourer grows quite slowly. After three creature deaths Grimgaunt 1 is still easily killed by a wide variety of Level 1 creatures. Even after five or six creature deaths Grimgaunt 1 is not deadly enough to get your opponent to low life before it dies to a Level 2 creature.
The take-away point is that Level 2 and 3 Grimgaunt Devourers win you the game. Growing a Level 1 Grimgaunt can get you an early lead, and you should take advantage of Grimgaunt 1 when you can. However, growing a Grimgaunt 1 is much less important than putting yourself in a position to win with Grimgaunt Devourer 2 (or 3). In particular, it is vital to level up the cards that will allow you to win during Player Levels 2 and 3. For instance, if you have a choice between using Windcaller Shaman 1 to save your low-health Grimgaunt 1 or leveling a Scourgeflame Sorcerer, you should generally level the Sorcerer. Even at Level 1 Windcaller Shaman is sufficient to pull a Grimgaunt 2 out of a tough fight, but Scourgeflame Sorcerer needs to be leveled in order to kill dangerous creatures and grow your higher-level Grimgaunts later in the game.
The second point is that you want to play Grimgaunt 2 (or 3) with lots of creatures on the board. Ideally, you want there be lots of creatures on the board who are about to die. You don’t know when you will draw your Level 2 (or 3) Grimgaunt, but it is very important that you maximize the chances that when you do draw it, it is devastating. Therefore, you should play each turn as though you are going to draw your Grimgaunt 2 (or 3) on your next turn. When considering your possible moves, think about what the board is likely to look like on your next turn. Are you likely to have a good (safe) lane in which to play your Devourer? How many deaths are you likely to create on your next turn? You should avoid blocking when you don’t need to, since Defensive creatures in empty lanes are likely to be alive when you draw Grimgaunt next turn. (This allows you to generate deaths if your opponent blocks or perhaps to sacrifice to Grave Pact or Corpse Crawler if needed.) When you need to block (to avoid getting too far behind in life), you should prefer blocking with high-health creatures that will take multiple turns to trade.
When you are waiting to draw your Level 2 (or 3) Grimgaunt, you should be happy to play cards that generate multiple bodies (e.g., Echowisp) into empty lanes to maximize the number of creatures you have on the board next turn. Creatures with the Move ability also make excellent plays, since they give you the option of forcing trades (and generating deaths) even if your opponent doesn’t block. Additionally, you should avoid playing creatures with Swiftness. A Defensive creature in an empty lane is likely to be around on your next turn when you draw Grimgaunt, whereas an Offensive creature (e.g., one with Swiftness) creature can easily be killed by your opponent before you draw Grimgaunt.
The final point to consider is that once you have a Level 2 (or 3) Grimgaunt on the board, everything changes. Your highest priorities are keeping your Grimgaunt alive and generating deaths to maximize the amount of havoc your Grimgaunt can wreck upon your opponent and her creatures. Cards like Grave Pact and Corpse Crawler become important because they can generate deaths before combat (and thus cause your Grimgaunt to trade more favorably with whatever blocks it). Additionally, removal spells (e.g., Cull the Weak) to take out blockers or Windcaller Shaman (to avoid blockers) are useful tools for keeping Grimgaunt alive. Finally, Offensive creatures in other lanes can force your opponent to make difficult choices. If she ignores your Offensive creatures to deal with Grimgaunt then you get free damage on your opponent, whereas if she chooses to destroy your offensive creatures then your Grimgaunt gets bigger.
In this dilemma, you are playing an Uterra/Nekrium Grimgaunt deck against an Uterra/Tempys Growth deck. (You can find the decklist for your deck on the supplemental information page.) You are player 1 and on Turn 4 you are faced with the following board position:
In order to keep the Grimgaunt Devourer alive and to clear your opponent’s side of the board, it might be tempting to play Vengeful Spirit into Lane 4 and then Grave Pact to kill both the Vengeful Spirit and the Spring Dryad. This gives you three creature deaths (i.e., the Vengeful Spirit’s special ability will kill the Magma Hound, and allows you to hit your opponent with a 10/6 Grimgaunt.
The problem with this approach is that your opponent is quite likely to block and kill your Grimgaunt (e.g., with something like Echowisp, Deepbranch Prowler, or Wind Primordial). You would then begin your next turn with an empty board, which is a disaster if you were to draw Grimgaunt 2 on Turn 5. (Indeed, drawing a Grimgaunt 2 with an empty board is particularly bad since passing up the opportunity to level an additional Grimgaunt on Turn 4 gives you fewer chances to see Grimgaunt 2 during Player Level 2.) In my opinion, the risk of drawing Grimgaunt 2 on an empty board is not worth doing 10 damage to your opponent with Grimgaunt 1.
Therefore, I prefer to pass up the chance to do damage with my Grimgaunt 1 and instead work to maximize the chances that to crush my opponent with Grimgaunt 2. To do this, your first priority is to level-up the Grimgaunt Devourer in your hand.
By playing the Grimgaunt Devourer, you have at least a 31% chance of drawing a Grimgaunt 2 on Turn 5 (possibly more if you managed to level your third Grimgaunt on an earlier turn). I therefore recommend making the board as favorable as possible for a Turn 5 Grimgaunt 2 draw. This means not blocking the Magma Hound. If you block the Magma Hound, you save yourself 5 damage, but you also generate two deaths on your opponent’s turn – before you have a chance to draw Grimgaunt 2! Given that you still have plenty of life, I strongly recommend leaving the Hound unblocked.
Therefore, I recommend that you play Grimgaunt Devourer into Lane 1***, running combat and then playing Echowisp into Lanes 2 and 3. This leaves you with three creatures on the board: a 7/5 Grimgaunt 1 and two Echowisps. In the best case, your opponent sets up a trade with the Grimgaunt 1 and blocks an Echowisp with something like Hydra 1. If you draw Grimgaunt 2 on Turn 5 (and block Hound), this would give you five deaths, a 17/15 Grimgaunt 2 and an Offensive Echowisp! Even in the worst case where your opponent kills Grimgaunt 1 with Uranti Bolt, blocks one Echowisp with Magma Hound and uses Hound’s ability to kill the second wisp, you still get 4 deaths on your turn 5 and a 15/13 Grimgaunt 2. (Not bad for a worst case scenario.)
The other play that you might consider is to level-up your Corpse Crawler. Level 2/3 Corpse Crawlers can be quite difficult for certain decks to deal with and as such Corpse Crawler serves as an excellent alternative win condition in a Grimgaunt deck (for those games when you have bad luck drawing your Grimgaunts). However, in this match, you have the opportunity to level (at least) two Grimgaunt Devourers, therefore you have (at least) a 90% chance of drawing Grimgaunt 2 during Player Level 2. This means that if you can set up good board positions to maximize the impact of your Grimgaunt draws, then you are unlikely to need Corpse Crawlers to win this game. Additionally, Corpse Crawler is a low-depreciation card in a Grimgaunt deck. In many situations, drawing Corpse Crawler 1 with a Grimgaunt 2/3 on the board will not only put a decent-sized body into play, but also allow you to grow your Grimgaunt before combat. All else being equal, I might prefer having Corpse Crawler leveled over Echowisp, but it is close and the board position from the Echowisp play is much better.
In this dilemma, you are playing a Tempys/Nekrium Grimgaunt deck against an Alloyin/Tempys stall deck. (You can find the decklist for your deck on the supplemental information page.) You are player 1 and on Turn 7 you are faced with the following board position:
Your opponent looks to have a strong deck going into the Turn 9 reshuffle (at the very least it includes Scorchmane Dragon 3 and Forgeplate Sentry 3). Fortunately, you have a Grimgaunt Devourer 2 in play. You will definitely need to get good use out of this Grimgaunt because if you don’t, things have the potential to go downhill quite quickly during Player Level 3.
One option is to play Death Seeker into Lane 5, then Grave Pact the Forgeplate Sentry in Lane 1 (and sacrifice the Death Seeker). This generates three creature deaths to give you a 17/12 Grimgaunt Devourer in Lane 1. However, if you take this route, you will also need to Move your Wind Primordial into Lane 2 to trade with his Scorchmane Dragon. If you don’t make the Lane 2 trade, she Moves Scorchmane Dragon to Lane 1 on his turn and easily dispatches your Grimgaunt with Firestorm, Magma Hound, Uranti Bolt or – if you don’t draw removal text turn – virtually any blocker. Making the Lane 2 trade generates two more deaths and gives you a 21/16 Grimgaunt, which is excellent. Your opponent will need to spend at least two Level 2 cards to dispatch your Grimgaunt, and the only way the Grimgaunt dies on your opponent’s turn is if she draws both Uranti Bolt 2 and a Level 2 creature.
Also, note that although Uranti Bolt gives creatures the Defender status—which prevents them from initiating attacks—it does not stop them from using abilities like Move. Therefore, plays that involve Uranti Bolt on the Scorchmane Dragon don’t help you protect your Grimgaunt 2. (For example, a play like Uranti Bolt on the Scorchmane then sacrificing the Magma Hound to Grave Pact the Forgeplate.)
I definitely like the Death Seeker play; however, in this situation I have a slight preference for playing Windcaller Shaman. I believe the best Windcaller Shaman play is to Grave Pact (sacrificing the Magma Hound) to make the Scorchmane Dragon 4/4. Then play Windcaller Shaman into Lane 5 to Move Grimgaunt into Lane 4. This play only generates two creature deaths, and leaves you with a 15/13 Grimgaunt 2. However, this play does do 23 damage to your opponent this turn, leaving her at 33 Life. Additionally, this puts your opponent in a very bad position on her next turn. Unless she kills your Wind Primordial, she takes at least 10 additional damage on your turn, and 23 Life is extremely dangerous when you have a Wind Primordial 3 in your deck. If she does your kill your Wind Primordial, then barring a lucky Brightsteel Sentinel 2 she takes at least 17 damage on your turn (from Grimgaunt). Even if she does draw Brightsteel 2 along with another card that can kill Wind Primordial, the Brightsteel only has 4 Health after blocking your Grimgaunt and so you have many Turn 8 draws (e.g., Magma Hound 2, or any Grave Pact or Uranti Bolt) that would allow you to dispatch the Brightsteel and get your opponent below 16 Life.
Overall, I think that both the Death Seeker play and the Windcaller play described above are quite strong. However, given that your opponent will be drawing from an extremely strong deck during Player Level 3, I would recommend playing Short and making the play that maximizes the chances that your opponent is below 20 life before she gets a chance to draw her powerful Level 3 cards.
Decks built around Grimgaunt Devourer can be quite strong, but they take some practice to play well. With online play coming to PC next week, now is a great time to hone your Grimgaunt technique. I am the wrong person to ask which faction is the best complement to Nekrium when it comes to winning with Grimgaunt. Fortunately, online play should provide a great venue for experimenting with different decklists and getting the most out of your Devourer.
As a final thought, consider if it were Turn 3 instead of Turn 4 in the first Dilemma. A key reason that I recommend the Echowisp play in the first Dilemma is because you want to set up the board to take advantage of a possible Grimgaunt 2 draw next turn. However, if it is Turn 3, then any Echowisps you play are likely to be dead before a Grimgaunt 2 appears. Similarly, there is little reason to leave Magma Hound alive if you have no chance of drawing Grimgaunt 2 next turn. In that situation, is Echowisp still a strong play? Are you better off leveling up the Corpse Crawler? Or does it make sense to level Grave Pact and save your lane 2 Grimgaunt 1?
I encourage you to discuss the Final Thought in the comments, as well as to debate my analysis of the dilemmas. Until next time, I am the Noetherian and these are the SolForge Modules.
*: After four or five deaths, Grimgaunt 2 can be killed by Nekrium creature removal (Cull the Weak 2, Blight Walker 2, or Scourgeflame Sorcerer 2) and if it is Offensive it trades evenly with Brightsteel 2. No other Level 2 card in the current card pool can eliminate a Grimgaunt 2 once it reaches 13 Health.
**: By ‘Double-Blocking’ I mean playing a creature across from the Grimgaunt before combat, then running combat, and finally playing a second creature across from the Grimgaunt after combat.
***: I have a very slight preference for Grimgaunt into Lane 1 instead of Lane 5, but that’s a subject for a future Module.