Although the grain-refinement practice is well established for wrought Al alloys, in the case of foundry alloys such as near eutectic Al-Si alloys, the underlying mechanisms and the use of grain refiners need better understanding. Conventional grain refiners such as Al-5Ti-1B are not effective in grain refining the Al-Si alloys due to the poisoning effect of Si. In this work, we report the results of a newly developed grain refiner, which can effectively grain refine as well as modify eutectic and primary Si in near eutectic Al-Si alloys. Among the material choices, the grain refining response with Al-1Ti-3B master alloy is found to be superior compared to the conventional Al-5Ti-1B master alloy. It was also found that magnesium additions of 0.2 wt pct along with the Al-1Ti-3B master alloy further enhance the near eutectic Al-Si alloy's grain refining efficiency, thus leading to improved bulk mechanical properties. We have found that magnesium essentially scavenges the oxygen present on the surface of nucleant particles, improves wettability, and reduces the agglomeration tendency of boride particles, thereby enhancing grain refining efficiency. It allows the nucleant particles to act as potent and active nucleation sites even at levels as low as 0.2 pct in the Al-1Ti-3B master alloy. © 2011 The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society and ASM International.