After having played a decent amount with Cavern of Souls since it was spoiled, let me just tell you that it comes with a heavy price. The fact is that ramp decks can't plug four of them into every single version of their deck and call it a day. It's a colorless land most of the time, and an occasional Boseiju, Who Shelters All in the matchups where you need it. In the matchups where you don't need it, you will often ask yourself why you're playing your eighth colorless land while Slagstorm rots in your hand. Does this mean Whipflare is going to be the go-to sweeper for Ramp?
So Cavern of Souls is good but not that good. It isn't a freeroll. It isn't the end of Delver, Control, or even Mana Leak as a decent card. Mana Leak was never dominant in the first place; it just helped to keep cards like Primeval Titan in check. Now that can be a little harder, but that just means that the value of Mana Leak has decreased slightly. I've been contemplating exactly what that means for Delver and how to adapt moving forward.
Iterations of Delver over the last few months have changed significantly, adapting at every point to accommodate new threats. With a plethora of efficient answers at your disposal, it wasn't really all that difficult to keep up with a constantly changing metagame. Now that your best "catchall" card is a little worse, we just need to rework some of the fundamental aspects of the deck. After all, it all began with this guy:
When everyone started playing Gut Shot, Phantasmal Bear became much worse, though I originally heralded him as the MVP who often created more pressure than Delver of Secrets. As a result of an increase in cheap removal, Geist of Saint Traft became the go-to finisher for the deck. After countless adaptations, the deck evolved into something less interactive, which I don't like but was probably necessary.
I hate Invisible Stalker. I hate everything it stands for. I don't like hexproof as an evergreen mechanic, and I really wish they would stop pushing the limits on what they can do with hexproof creatures in Standard. Thrun, the Last Troll and Geist of Saint Traft push the envelope, and it really is no wonder that both see an absurd amount of play in Standard. But that is neither here nor there. The fact is that we have been put into a corner where every deck has efficient removal, and creatures are continually getting worse as a result unless they have an awesome ability attached or some way to gain a lot of value before they hit the graveyard.
As Delver has pushed itself more and more towards hexproof creatures, often playing full sets of Invisible Stalker, I see a trend. People are playing more and more sweepers (and clone effects) just to deal with your creatures that are normally really hard to deal with. But honestly, when everyone is playing sweepers, they really aren't that hard to deal with anymore. So what are we going to do?
Sweepers are good against us. Mana Leak is worse against them. Geist of Saint Traft isn't guaranteed to end the game against control decks. We also know that it's harder for Wolf Run Ramp to cast Slagstorm, so more people will be leaning on Whipflare. We need to become faster. We need to become stronger. We need to become more resilient. We need a clock.
You think fewer people are going to be playing Delver? Probably, but maybe not. This means that, at times, Porcelain Legionnaire is going to be a liability. It also means that you need to play ways to protect it. It also means you are making your deck much, much more aggressive than any version seeing play in the current Standard.
Mental Misstep is a card that I've been toying around with in Standard for the past few weeks, and it has been awesome. As the Standard season continues to shift towards Ramp and hyper-aggressive strategies, I think its value only increases. Every deck in the format plays a one-drop that is crucial to their game plan or crucial for them to interact with yours.
The list for control decks is generally pretty short, but I'm not really sure you'll need much help against them. If they continue to try over-the-top strategies, then the Mana Leaks you're still playing become much better. Additionally, your counterspells in the sideboard will be just as good as they've always been.
The fact of the matter is that most of the midrange Delver decks are going to want to shrink down to two Mana Leaks, but I honestly don't know if that's even correct. Mana Leak is at its best when you're applying enough pressure to the opponent to force them to commit to the board. If you're not playing spells, they can just continue hitting their land drops until your Mana Leaks become dead cards. If you put pressure on them early, you'll force their hand and they'll walk right into your Mana Leaks. Porcelain Legionnaire helps a lot in this regard, and you don't even need an equipment to attach to it.
I don't want to get too fancy. I just want to run people over in the most efficient way possible. To do this, we have to play a decent number of countermeasures that aren't really counterspells.
Without further ado, the list:
As you can see, this is much different than the current Delver lists we're used to. For one, I think we're really going to see just how powerful this card can be:
When attached to Porcelain Legionnaire or Geist of Saint Traft, this can be a significant clock. With Mental Misstep and Mutagenic Growth at your disposal to protect your creatures from the cheaper removal spells and Geist of Saint Traft having hexproof, Spectral Flight is going to be an all-star against any deck that isn't sporting Lingering Souls.
I don't expect the current, equipment-heavy versions of Delver to last long in a format that's going to become polarized. People will either adapt to be faster than their opponent, more resilient, or "get bigger." The current forms of Delver are decent, but I think this new iteration is definitely a step in the right direction. Playing with Spectral Flight is awesome, but playing more than two Spectral Flights in the maindeck could lead to flooding or situations where you see it on top of your deck with Delver of Secrets instead of an instant or sorcery. All of the instants and sorceries in the deck play vital roles for what you're trying to accomplish.
The only card that really stands out in my head is the three Gitaxian Probe. I've never been a fan of playing the full four copies when you're playing a ton of Phyrexian mana cards, but everyone else keeps telling me that I'm wrong. Yet now you begin to see people playing more Thought Scours and cutting Gitaxian Probes completely. I think that the answer really just lies with whatever feels right.
It's hard for me to quantify the reason why I think three Gitaxian Probe is correct other than your life is a limited resource. Phyrexian mana spells are still not completely understood in terms of cost, since most people just view them as having a "minor drawback." However, when you begin to play more than just a few of them you start to see a trend. You have so many Phyrexian mana spells fighting over such a limited resource that it becomes hard to tell when the "drawback" becomes a real liability. Gitaxian Probe is a fine card, but it's not something I want to draw more than one or two of in a game.
There are a few other version of Delver that I want to try out in the coming weeks, but most of them fold over to Whipflare and Slagstorm. If the decks playing those cards wane in popularity in the coming weeks, then they might become real contenders. The card I want to build around most in Delver is:
While Favorable Winds doesn't give your creatures the ability to attack free with vigilance like Intangible Virtue, I feel like pumping all of your creatures instead of just your Lingering Souls is very important. Sure, combat math and racing situations become much more difficult, but Anthem effects were never meant to make combat easier. They were meant to apply more pressure to the opponent and win combat, and that's exactly what Favorable Winds does.
Alongside Delver of Secrets and Drogskol Captain, the Esper Spirits deck that made its debut at Pro Tour Dark Ascension gets a significant addition. While this particular version hasn't seen much play lately, I think it might be time for a comeback (assuming Slagstorm decks don't dominate the format forever).
We all know Anthems are good when you build your deck around them. Honor of the Pure has been in Standard for quite a while, and various White Weenie builds have always found a way to make it awesome. With Lingering Souls being one of the more powerful cards in Standard already, I feel like it isn't much of a stretch for Favorable Winds to make an impact. I mean honestly, Gerry Thompson has been raving about a Delver Tokens deck for the last month and some change, and his Intangible Virtues only help out about eight cards.
As other archetypes begin to shift in order to compensate for a removal-heavy metagame, what decks become good? What cards become better? It seems natural that U/B Control will end up being awesome, but what if Cavern of Souls is too much for them to handle? All of the removal in the format becomes mostly dead against U/B Control, but if their counterspells become dead cards against the decks where they want counterspells the most, where does that leave them?
Aggressive decks will likely begin to feature some new tricks or creatures that are more resilient to removal and sweepers. Unfortunately for people who are fans of undying, Pillar of Flame is quite the addition to the removal suite of Wolf Run Ramp. Galvanic Blast has been their cheaper spot removal of choice, but I feel like being able to kill annoyances like Geralf's Messenger permanently is valuable. In response to this addition, as well as the threatening presence of sweepers focusing on damage rather than Day of Judgment (or Terminus), I feel like a certain card will be seeing much more play in more archetypes than you think.
Yes, this limited combat trick has been seeing a lot of play in Delver, mostly as a singleton or pair, but there really aren't a lot of better ways to combat Pillar of Flame and Whipflare. If you have Snapcaster Mage in your deck, then this seems like a pretty obvious no-brainer, but I think that this addition might become a household inclusion as long as people want their creatures to live through the fire. Mental Misstep only solves half the problem but is still pretty good against all forms of Delver.
If Mutagenic Growth picks up like I think it's going to, hopefully that will help suppress the dominance of Ramp strategies. After all, they have a tough time racing goldfish draws from Humans and the like. Mutagenic Growth as a free way to save their creature can really punish ramp, and it isn't really that bad in a lot of combat situations. After all, they are called "combat tricks" for a reason.
What I would really like to see in Standard is an honest-to-goodness combo deck. I don't mean Dragonstorm. I don't want something oppressive. I just want a deck that keeps ramp strategies in check, that aggro decks can usually race with a bit of disruption, and that aggro-control decks can prey upon. Unfortunately, it feels as if aggro-control has been dominating every deck in Standard over the last few months (even though G/R Aggro continues to put up wins at SCG Standard Opens), and people aren't really big fans of combo decks in Standard.
Splinter Twin combo decks were a little tedious and left a bad impression on a lot of people, but they weren't really all that dominant. Caw-Blade took the spotlight from the deck at almost every point where it was legal in Standard, and I can guarantee you that the general populace hated Caw-Blade much more than the "instant-kill" of Splinter Twin.
People understood the combo. They figured out quickly that they needed Dismember, Celestial Purge, Spellskite, or something. Every deck could play some good answer that was very difficult for most Splinter Twin decks to beat. People definitely don't like getting worked over by control decks turn after turn, and especially so when those control decks invalidate entire archetypes thanks to a few too-powerful-for-Modern cards.
Regardless, I don't think WotC is in a place where they feel comfortable giving us a real combo deck in Standard anytime soon. Splinter Twin was a little too good, but it definitely had its vulnerable spots. People could interact with it. The problem that most people have with combo decks is that they're difficult to interact with, at least in the first game. Just look at decks like Dredge, Scapeshift, or even classic examples like Trix or Storm. Sure, you could sideboard 6-10 cards and just obliterate them in the second and third games (should you draw those cards), but it's bad for business when a combo deck wins 80+% of its game 1s.
In the coming weeks, I feel like Reanimator (a very comboish but popular strategy) might be getting a little more press. It's primed to do well, as it has a lot of powerful pieces surrounding it, but it's also vulnerable to cards like Surgical Extraction and Grafdigger's Cage. Luckily, Zombie Infestation doesn't really care about either of those!
This weekend will feature SCG Open Series: Providence, showcasing Avacyn Restored and all it has to offer. Hopefully some of the new cards will make a big splash, as I'm sure no one really wants to see the same old stuff for the next three months or so. Unfortunately I won't be attending, but I'm excited to see what people brew up for the new Standard!
Thanks for reading!
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