Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar – A Magic the Gathering Card Review

Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar flew under the radar for many Magic the Gathering players, being from the seemingly underwhelming Adventures of the Forgotten Realms set. Of course, whenever a new set that seems to take advantage of an underappreciated card’s abilities, speculation is due to run rampant. Being a Horror creature already seeing play in the popular Umbris, Fear Manifest decks in Commander, a new Legendary Creature was revealed in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty that seemed perfect for the Scholar’s talents. This led to some interesting market manipulation, with lots of near-mint nonfoil copies between January 13-15, 2022 suddenly selling on TCGPlayer for between $5.90 to $5.93. The majority of copies were still selling for under $2.00 both in nonfoil and foil. What sort of #ShadyDealings went on with Grazilaxx?

Let’s take a look at the Illithid Scholar’s abilities, which will explain the speculation. First off, we already mentioned that this is a Horror creature, which synergizes perfectly with Umbris, Fear Manifest’s plan of exiling cards from the top of opponent libraries. It also has two very good abilities. The first is: “Whenever a creature you control becomes blocked, you may return it to its owner’s hand.” This is useful for multiple reasons, one of which is allowing you to save a creature that’s blocked by a surprise combat trick or creature that was cast at instant speed. More importantly, you can attack more freely, with your opponent knowing that blocking isn’t necessarily going to be that helpful, because you’ll have the option just get that creature back to your hand. It’s especially useful if said creature has a strong enter-the-battlefield ability you’ll be able to reuse, or in the case of Umbris, Fear Mantle, any Horror or Nightmare you get back to your hand becomes yet another trigger for Umbris.

The second ability is perhaps just as important as the first in regular gameplay, but perhaps more important in terms of speculation. Whenever one or more creatures you control deal combat damage to a player with Grazilaxx in play, you draw a card. It’s not as good as, say, Toski, Bearer of Secrets, that lets you draw a card for each creature you control that deals combat damage, but it’s certainly a plus. What’s more important is how this ability, as well as the first, synergizes with the Ninjitsu ability returning with Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. In particular, what has speculators chomping at the bit is the Legendary Creature, Satoru Umezawa.

Fortunately, we’ve already reviewed Satoru Umezawa in some depth, but for reference, he’s literally the best Ninjitsu enabler the game has ever seen. One quick look at Satoru’s abilities shows how useful Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar becomes alongside this Human Ninja. First of all, whenever you activate a ninjitsu ability, you look at the top three cards of your library, put one of them into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in any order. This ability isn’t so relevant for Grazilaxx directly, but when that Ninja is able to deal combat damage, you’ll draw an additional card with the Horror in play. Essentially, you’ll get to draw two cards for the first ninjitsu ability you activate each turn, which is fine since Satoru’s first ability only works once per turn anyway.

But, more importantly, Satoru gives each creature card in your hand ninjutsu for four mana: two generic, one Blue, and one Black mana in total. This, of course, means you can ninjitsu copies of Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar, too. Despite being a Legendary creature, nothing stops you from trading one copy that’s attacked unblocked back to your hand for a second copy in your hand. This also means you can trade one of your smaller creatures, say a Yuan-Ti Malison, for a Grazilaxx, get the card selection ability of Satoru and get to draw a card with Grazilaxx’s second ability.

Even before knowing any of the other Ninja creatures in Neon Dynasty, it’s not hard to love Grazilaxx, who’s already seeing himself included in about two out of every five preliminary Satoru Umezawa decks throughout the Commander community. In fact, for full disclosure, we purchased four foil copies of Grazilaxx for an average of about two dollars each including shipping and sales tax on January 15th, 2022. It seems odd that someone would purchase nonfoil copies for nearly $6 a pop, leading to some apparent #ShadyDealings taking place in an attempt to pump the card’s market price. Fortunately, as you can see in this case, there are ways to spot these strange spikes, then evaluate if the card is actually a good buy, as is the case with this card.

Even if Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar doesn’t pan out in Standard Ninjas, without a doubt he’ll be included within Satoru Umezawa decks in EDH / Commander. Again, the Scholar already has a permanent home in the vast majority of Umbris, Fear Manifest decks. But, there are other opportunities, as well. There’s another three Legendary Creatures, also from Adventures from the Forgotten Realms, who also have use for the Illithid Scholar. Two of these are more fringe Commanders with very narrow strategies: Hama Pashar, Ruin Seeker and Farideh, Devil’s Chosen, who will play Grazilaxx on occasion just for his overall useful abilities. The third creature is a Human Elf Rogue who is likely to play a role not only in Commander, but also in the upcoming Satoru Umezawa fueled Ninjitsu decks to come. This Rogue’s name is Krydle of Baldur’s Gate.

To be fair, Krydle is probably underrated to begin with, thanks to there being multiple Commanders who lead Rogues and Ninja decks already in the EDH format. But, Krydle of Baldur’s Gate costs just two mana to cast with some very solid abilities for a mere uncommon card. Whenever he deals combat damage to a player, that player loses one life, mills a card, then gains you 1 life and you get to scry 1. That’s a lot of stuff going on there just being able to connect. Even better, his second ability allows you to pay two generic mana whenever you declare attacks. If you do, one target creature can’t be blocked that turn.

It seems blatantly obvious how good Krydle of Baldur’s Gate looks in a Ninjitsu themed deck. While he’s obviously not a Ninja himself, it seems bizarre he’s being overlooked by so many deck brewers building preemptively around Satoru Umezawa. Yes, paying four mana to Ninjitsu him into play from your hand seems overcosted, which it is, but you have to consider that second ability. There’s also the promise of a Commander Legends set in 2022 based around Baldur’s Gate, meaning it’s quite likely that Krydle will gain more than a bit of support. It seems ridiculous to think that Grazilaxx doesn’t belong alongside Krydle in Commander and perhaps even in Standard, too.

Also, what about the existing Rogue Commanders in Anowon, the Ruin Thief and Zareth San, the Trickster, plus the best Ninja Commander available previously in Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow? According to EDHREC, Grazilaxx sees play in just about 16 percent of Yuriko decks and 9 percent of Zareth San decks. These percentages seem extremely low, despite the Scholar not being a Rogue itself, since it benefits the strategies of both decks. True, Grazilaxx doesn’t synergize with Anowon himself, but has high synergy with many of the top cards in his decks. Being able to make opponents second-guess their blocking decisions even more so with the looming threat of Ninjitsu gaining you additional value seems worth the inclusion.

Overall, Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar has been quite underappreciated outside of Umbris, Fear Manifest, so it’s good to see some healthy speculation around his obvious synergy with Satoru Umezawa. What’s not healthy is the clear fact that some sales are being intentionally inflated to drive up the market price. While this has been the case for quite some time, it’s particularly bizarre in the face of TCGPlayer allowing for transparency with its Latest Sales feature. This is far from the first #ShadyDealings made obvious by this feature, and extremely far from the last we’ll be sure to point out. Still, strangely orchestrated overpriced sales surges aside, Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar is a card to watch, as with all of the Ninjas to come, he’s likely to become a much more important role player in quite a few more decks.

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