Hello! Thanksgiving meant a break for the SCG Open Series, but Baltimore and Las Vegas are coming up to qualify the last bunch of players to the SCG Invitational in Los Angeles! Bant Control has been on the rise with the three most powerful cards in the format: Thragtusk, Sphinx's Revelation, and Supreme Verdict. To improve its chances against creature-based decks, (especially Zombies) U/W Flash has been playing Supreme Verdict maindeck and even splashing for Lingering Souls or red removal. But this comes at the cost of playing sorcery speed spells, making the deck a little bit more vulnerable to those who can provide enough pressure, forcing control to tap out and then capitalizing on disrupting its game plan.
You can't counter Supreme Verdict, but if you can force opponent to use it as a pinpoint removal, you're in a good position. Mono-Red Aggro and B/R Zombies are very viable choices right now since they're capable of being faster than Sphinx's Revelation decks. Falkenrath Aristocrat is very good these days, as is any hasty red creatures. But my article today isn't about them even though the shift to sorcery speed spells and the potential increase of removal are the most relevant topics in Standard.
I'm an opportunist. I dislike universally adopted favorites and can argue about their weaknesses infinitely, not only about Magic decks but about nearly anything in the world.
- X is a great place to visit.
- Yes, but
"Yes, but" is my typical answer to everything. You can probably easily imagine the course of a conversation if it concerns any kind of sport, including Magic. That's the reason why you shouldn't expect me to write about Jund, Caw-Blade, or Delver of Secrets—I'd rather try pulling the rug from under their feet. Sometimes this part of me is a bit strange, like constantly rooting for Gerry Thompson at Pro Tours and rooting against him at SCG Open Series. Gerry is a nice person so it's not really "rooting against." I just want to see more diversity. Speaking of diversity, I never really like old favorites being forgotten by the competitive scene. So today I want to share two decks with the neglected Delver of Secrets.
Why is no one playing Delver of Secrets? Yes, that's just it—because he's more often Delver of Secrets than Insectile Aberration these days and his sunny side isn't very impressive. The lack of cheap Phyrexian mana spells and any kind of one-mana topdeck manipulation hit Delver hard. Nevertheless, this card could still be viable threat for blue-based tempo decks if environment is weak to Delver-supporting cards. Another vital condition is additional one-mana creature since the deck must provide early pressure every single game regardless of the presence of Delver of Secrets in your starting hand. Remember when U/W/R Delver became extremely popular in Modern? Yes, when Insectile Aberration was paired with Steppe Lynx.
Today's most appealing one-mana creature is Champion of the Parish, but the first Human to include after Champion is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, who is too arrogant to accompany and support common creatures poor enough to avoid expensive spells. Other possibilities include Stromkirk Noble, Rakdos Cackler, andNivmagus Elemental.
Petr Brozek (known for the insane Barely Boros deck in Extended) made Day 2 of Grand Prix Bochum with an insane U/W Delver list. The goal is simple: attack fast until the opponent is dead, saving your threats from removal and clearing the way from blockers.
Note Petr's choice for colorless land. It's not the slow and reliable Moorland Haunt; he has Cathedral of War instead, which allows Insectile Aberration to trade with Restoration Angel and Nivmagus Elemental to overpower Loxodon Smiter (assuming that Elemental is 3/4 most of the time). The 22 spells to flip Delver of Secrets and to feed Nivmagus Elemental are all cheap, versatile, and bad enough to be exiled without sorrow.
Faith's Shield has already proven its place in competitive Standard, while Divine Deflection is honestly one of the biggest disappointments from Avacyn Restored. However, there's no second playset of Faith's Shield that allows your creatures to dodge blockers, but Divine Deflection is still able to change combat dramatically at one, two, or three mana. Divine Deflection isn't very good against Detention Sphere and Ultimate Price though, which have increased in popularity these days, so I decided to try another interesting card for Nivmagus Elemental: Mizzium Skin.
Mizzium Skin has already been seen in Modern U/R Splinter Twin decks, and it's good for our purposes. There's not a real way to predict when Mizzium Skin is better than Divine Deflection; both cards are situational, so I decided to play two copies of each and hope that I'd be lucky. The best improvisation is a carefully planned one, so a third Divine Deflection is for red decks and a pair of Rootborn Defenses is for that nasty Supreme Verdict. Yes, Defenses isn't supposed to produce any tokens.
A very small aside: if you have only one threat and your opponent casts Detention Sphere, it's better to respond with Mizzium Skin / Faith's Shield to the spell rather than to its trigger. It seems obvious, but I encountered multiple situations when my opponents didn't consider casualties caused by hitting their own permanents with Detention Sphere or Oblivion Ring; there were some games that I wouldn't have won if they'd just held their cards in hand. So be careful!
Petr stated that he may need maindeck Sleep to connect though Thragtusk, but I suppose that Blustersquall is better for this deck while being generally weaker. The card allows you some end of turn action (as you mostly care about offense, not defense) and more importantly can be played without overloading either to deal with for lone creature or to feed Nivmagus Elemental. I didn't have a chance to compare Sleep and Blustersquall in extensive testing, but the latter seems like a better maindeck card.
In closing about U/W Delver, I'd say that the deck is nowhere near its predecessor's power but is still fun to play and is able to fight against the powerhouses of Standard—except for G/W Aggro, for which I don't know a good recipe. G/W Aggro is very popular right now and for a good reason, but people are going to be prepared and clear your way, so leaving your helmet at home and going to a tournament without fear is a good idea. Any deck has bad matchups, and this one is no exception. Yes, Delver of Secrets is probably not good enough to crush the competitive scene now. But if you don't try anything new, you'll be stuck with the previous week's deck forever.
A red splash for some removal could help, but that probably means cutting Cathedral of War, which is important for our game plan. Another possibility is accepting an increased amount of pain with three Cathedrals, but I'm unsure it's a good idea with the current presence of red decks. Flames of the Firebrand could easily be worth it though.
Flames of the Firebrand is better positioned in current Standard than ever. Flames deals with Craterhoof Behemoth decks singlehandedly, is very good against G/W decks even with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and isn't useless against Thragtusk. While Mizzium Mortars is insane at both two and six mana, Flames of the Firebrand fills the slot in between. Bonfire of the Damned could hit more creatures for three mana, but Flames is able to deal with Deathrite Shaman and other problematic two- and three-toughness creatures.
Splashing Flames of the Firebrand into U/W Delver is not the only way to abuse it with Insectile Aberration; red has enough good cards to try Izzet Delver, namely Goblin Electromancer Izzet Staticaster. This attempt is not the first or even the second, but this is one of two best possibilities with Delver of Secrets and the most promising Izzet deck (I hope to add some Simic and Dimir cards after Gatecrash is released).
This list contains the absolute minimum of 21 spells to flip Delver of Secrets, and that's why there's only two Stromkirk Nobles. I need one-mana threats, but Guttersnipe is an essential part of the late-game plan so something had to go. No threat is as dangerous and unpredictable as a growing Nivmagus Elemental, but these creatures could still require a Supreme Verdict for each one, especially as you could name Wizard for your first Cavern of Souls and Goblin for the second one.
Goblin Electromancer and Guttersnipe are not very aggressive by themselves, but they're able to put the opponent in a completely awkward situation. Your goal is to determine which situation would be awkward for the opponent and to provide everything needed. Surprisingly, the good old "Who's the beatdown?" concept is not really understood by everyone, and I recently encountered some wrong opinions about a popular deck's matchups based on wrong assumptions about roles.
For each game, you need to determine what you need to do—be offensive and clear the way for your threat or dispatch opposing creatures and then sneak through the air with Thundermaw Hellkite. This deck has more card advantage than its U/W counterpart, but even Desperate Raving with Goblin Electromancer and Guttersnipe on the table is not as effective as Sphinx's Revelation. So you're generally trying to pressure your opponent and force one-for-one exchanges.
That's all for today; may your Insectile Aberrations appear on turn 2!