Me: Island, Delver of Secrets.
Him: Some kind of Island, Sleight of Hand.
Hmmm... Pretty sure I know where this is going.
Me: Brick Delver [Vedalken Shackles]. (GD... Em Effin Delver always bricks in this deck!) Island, another Delver.
Him: Some kind of Mountain, Pyromancer Ascension.
Me: Spell Snare that.
Me: Reveal Spell Snare, flip both Delvers. Miss my land drop, in for six.
Me: Spell Snare it.
Me: Miss my land drop // in for six.
Him: Something. Something else.
Me: Remand that.
Me: Miss my land drop again. In for six, obviously.
And that's just how it goes.
If Modern PTQs started tomorrow, I would gladly play this:
I originally started with the same deck, but with only two copies of Repeal and no Lauren Lees, but four copies of Think Twice. Over and over I found myself with insufficient time to flashback Think Twice until I had completely taken over with something like Teferi + six Islands + Snapcaster Mage in hand and Cryptics both up and down; over and over I found myself siding in the other copies of Repeal.
I realized that I just didn't want to play Think Twice but needed something more to move through my deck; why just "build a Mulldrifter" with Snapcaster Mage when I could just play with the card Mulldrifter?
This of course further discourages Delver of Secrets. At this point there are only sixteen instants and sorceries in the maindeck. That said, first-turn Delver is so randomly devastating that I would not consider it remotely cut-able; you are a Draw-Go in the style of Cuneo 1997 but can also gun a CounterSliver with the first-turn Delver. So mise.
So this is kind of a weird deck... Where did it come from?
I spent the first part of this week exploring various Martyr of Sands decks. In fact, the original incarnation of this article was something like 60% different ways of me saying "Don't play Martyr of Sands // I don't care how many 1v1 queues you won // it can't possibly win a PTQ," but that was ultimately medium pointless, as by the middle of the week the 4-0 and 3-1 decks went from all Martyr decks to mostly combo decks. One of the reasons I was on this train of thought was Martyr seemed so hopeless and helpless against cascade combo—and not just my Restore Balance. How can this deck compete with, say, a Living End?
So I thought to myself, Self... People seem to like these combo decks. What did you like the least when you were playing one? The simplest answer was this card Remand. Man! What a beatdown is a remand against a suspend card? The other one (that no one actually played against me but I remembered on account of playing against Steve Sadin ~4 years ago) was Teferi. So my initial idea was to play cards that were very good against suspend cards.
Then I thought back to a pretty good PT deck I made a few years ago for Andre Coimbra. Our day-before-the-PT conversation went like this:
Andre: Definitely playing your Mono-Blue deck.
Me: Great! I sure am great at everything, for example making blue decks (but also pretty much everything else, as you know).
Me: Elves? IS THAT EVEN A DECK? Come on. Everyone knows that the popular deck of this PT is going to be Zoo, and we are probably the best overall deck against All-in Red. LOL Elves.
Well you probably know how that ended up.
Andre went X-1 against Zoo decks on Day One, with his only loss an improbable flip of Spire Golem (look up the CMC on that one) with a stolen Dark Confidant... when he had something like two counters on Umezawa's Jitte.
Then he finished out the day playing his first Elves opponent, somebody Scott-Vargas, which was a blowout loss despite the fact Luis never played a second land or something. Day Two, instead of all Zoo decks, Andre played against all Elves decks... probably wanted that one Engineered Explosives and one Chalice.
So the reason Andre's deck was so good against Zoo (Zoo that actually had quite the tool set, mind you) was that he didn't take any damage from his lands. Hence, the deck in this article started with the full 25 Islands (and only moved to 24 Islands and one Academy Ruins based on a last night suggestion from my friend Luis Neiman). As advertised, this Blue is super-duper against Zoo. Why?
- You don't kill yourself with your lands.
- Spell Snare is awesome against their best cards and only costs one.
- Repeal is unbelievable against every threat in their deck (except maybe Gaddock Teeg).
- No one beats a Vedalken Shackles in Game One.
- Everything that is awesome comes back over and over again due to Snapcaster Mage.
Yes, they probably get awesome Grudge after sideboarding, but you get Threads of Disloyalty (which is approximately as awesome), and Ratchet Bomb (which puts tons of pressure on their removal and mops up 1s as a 2-for-1 consistently).
In Game One, Zoo sometimes has play due to Qasali Pridemage, but you can usually work that guy with some combination of Spell Snare and Repeal and Cryptic Command or can catch the opponent tapped out, immediately sticking and stealing. Or you can—wait for it—just block the little guy.
I was pretty surprised how good the deck is against Merfolk with Aether Vial, but you can just race them with fliers and use your early Snapcaster Mages as Sinkholes when they attack with Mutavault. If you ever stick a Shackles (which isn't that hard, as their mana is often committed main phase), they basically lose on the spot.
Speaking of Shackles, it is possible that Vedalken Shackles is the actual bestworst card in this deck, as it is semi-auto-win against a large chunk of the field, but it is generally weak against combo and not great early against Tarmogoyf and Knight of the Reliquary (though if you stall the game a little with your instants, it becomes very good, of course).
So everything is sunshine and roses, right? Good against Zoo, good against combo, good against aggro-control... What else?
I don't have a huge amount of experience in these matchups, but a lifetime of playing from the other side leads me to believe that this Blue can be out-midranged by more midrange control decks. For example, I am having problems imagining a situation against a competent MartyrProc opponent who has two Mistveil Plains in his deck where I don't eventually run out of gas; at some point, I lock myself into eight cards in hand and keep putting a Shackles on top... and then what? I also assume I can lose to some kind of multicolored control deck. Most of my stuff is faster and has more immediacy, but at some point you are just done Remanding Cruel Ultimatum, ya grok? That said, I have creamed every non-blue multicolor midrange / discard deck I have played against (Doran colors with Knight of the Reliquary, Jund, &c.). Bloodbraid Elf is decidedly not scary against Teferi.
That stuff is mostly in my imagination, maybe, but I have had more actual problems with RDW / one-drop beatdown. The deck is very good against two-mana threats because of Spell Snare and Threads of Disloyalty, but you can't Spell Snare a Goblin Guide, and a Threads—or even a Shackles—applied to a Steppe Lynx when the opponent has a hand full of Lightning Bolts is the apex / pinnacle / one-over-negative-nadir of throwing your hands up and shrugging helplessly. That said, the fast beatdown matchup has improved dramatically since the addition of Ratchet Bomb. I can even see adding Engineered Explosives for even more fast defense.
Last Part: The Lands
When you are an actual brewer / technology producer, you end up on the hook for something most other players don't necessarily ever think about, which is what it is you were thinking about. At what point is the deck a slave to its original idea versus embracing the actual tools and opportunities in the metagame?
I speak in this case, of course, about the lands.
In my first version (25 Islands, 2 Repeals, 4 Think Twice // way inferior anti-beatdown sideboard), I found myself frustrated by 1/1s and rushes. I was still very comfortable against Zoo, but I mean little Red guys and artifacts.
(I was pondering this in order to potentially incorporate Skred, and we would have a virtual 21 snow permanents [13 actual] to power it up.)
Adding red—and in particular red-green—gives us a wildly different set of tools, especially after sideboarding. I don't know that I would bother playing Tarmogoyf, but I might cut a Mulldrifter from the main for a Firespout or two or even a pair of Gaea's Blessings.
I haven't tested the three-color version at all yet, but let's assume I don't change any of the wonderful spells... I think my sideboard would end up looking more like this:
In this case we just replace Annul and Ratchet Bomb with Firespout and Ancient Grudge and then get the insane infinity game of Gaea's Blessing + Flashfires and Detritivore against midrange control decks.
Or Gaea's Blessing can go main (obviating the possibility of being decked by MartyrProc, ever), and we can play:
Though I must admit it is kind of weird for us to side out Vedalken Shackles for Firespout against Storm. I mean you do what you gotta do (better with Delver, not irrelevant against Empty), but that matchup seems good already. Weird, not "bad" or "wrong." But still weird, certainly.
The addition of some fetchlands without any crazy color additions might also be beneficial, just to make the titular bestworst card in the deck lean a little more towards the "best" bit (lots of different ways we can improve our draws with these, including everything from other people's Goblin Guides to just thinning in the mid-game).
... But it all comes back to that first idea.
For now, I really want to make sure I am good against Zoo; a little more testing might show some possibility for improvement here, but I really like not taking any damage from my lands.
Happy New Year, everyone! May you mise in 2012!