This past weekend we traveled to sunny Charlotte, North Carolina in search of gold (or tin, whatever those trophies are made of). We packed up the car with some of the usuals. This now includes Mr. Benjamin Isgur (WoW TCG pro extraordinaire), alongside David "Jace" McDarby, and the always hilarious Brian Braun-Duin (whose comedic styling can be found more regularly in articles on StarCityGames.com). We spent a good amount of time packing our things before heading out, making sure we didn't leave anyone behind or forget any essentials (though I somehow managed to forget my phone charger yet again). The trip was fairly unexciting, but we had a lot time to work on decks and chat about what we wanted to play (and why).
After piling into Ben's van, we headed towards Blacksburg to pick up Brian since it was on the way to Charlotte. We'd been discussing what to play all week, and we all came to the conclusion that Mono-Green Aggro just doesn't have what it takes to combat a field full of Drogskol Captain and Primeval Titan. These were the two biggest decks to come out of the Pro Tour, and neither is a very good matchup for Dungrove Elder, though I tried very hard to make them workable (we went very deep on Gatherer).
We all agreed that Drogskol Captain and Lingering Souls was probably where we wanted to be at, since the interactions involving Phantasmal Image and Dungeon Geists are just absurd. David had been testing with the French Reanimator deck (dubbed Frites) and was comfortable with that, opting to go that route rather than play Team Delver (though he would later regret his decision). We all settled on a similar 72/75 and left the last few cards to be figured out in the morning. Here is what I ended up playing:
For whatever it's worth, I was pretty happy with the deck. I felt like there were a few slots that were flexible, and I just wanted cards that were good in specific matchups. I don't like Disenchant effects in the maindeck unless they're versatile, so I cut the Divine Offering and Revoke Existence for more consistency with Mana Leak. We also felt like Gut Shot was very poorly positioned, and Dismember would have a much greater effect on our opponents. With Drogskol Captain and Huntmaster of the Fells everywhere, it was definitely the correct decision. Since we have the option to just pay the black mana cost on Dismember, the life loss wasn't really an issue either.
As I traversed the hostile landscape, I found myself battling against sweeper after sweeper, much to my chagrin. Awkwardly for me, I rarely assembled the 2-Lord combo that was supposed to be so devastating, but I was able to grind through it nonetheless. I played against a slew of Ramp, Control, and a little old school Delver here and there, which meant my creatures didn't survive very long. Brian had quite the opposite experience, playing against multiple Human and Delver opponents where he regularly assembled multiple Hexproof Lords and a slew of large, flying creatures. Most of my matchups were attrition battles and involved me having to duck a few topdecks from my opponents or me topdecking out of sticky situations. I don't think that was really an accurate depiction of the metagame, since Humans has been the most popular deck in just about every tournament for the last few months. I didn't play against Humans a single time in the ten rounds of Swiss, but easily dispatched my Top 8 opponent playing the popular tribe.
As the tournament progressed, I found myself wanting more and more Geist of Saint Traft thanks to all the removal I was facing. While he isn't great against the Drogskol Captain versions of the deck, due largely to the presence of Phantasmal Image (and blockers), he dodges all the removal people are starting to bring back into the picture. Mutagenic Growth is also much more effective when your opponents actually block your creatures. Since all of your creatures fly (except Snapcaster Mage), Mutagenic Growth is a very specific counterspell for a very specific matchup. With the singleton main deck, as well as the one in the sideboard, I don't feel like it gives you very much protection. Drogskol Captain isn't good if the tokens from Lingering Souls die, so saving it with Mutagenic Growth is not entirely relevant.
While Mutagenic Growth can save a Delver of Secrets from Galvanic Blast, Gut Shot, and Whipflare, it just doesn't do enough to justify a main deck inclusion. When it doubles as a combat trick when combined with Porcelain Legionnaire and Geist of Saint Traft, Mutagenic Growth ends up being very good. You can use it alongside Snapcaster Mage as a virtual Flame Rift when necessary, but that is much stronger when your deck is more aggressive. Without playing the absurdly aggressive tempo game featuring Porcelain Legionnaire and Geist of Saint Traft, cards like Mutagenic Growth lose a lot of their value, which is something it has taken me quite some time to figure out and understand.
After playing the deck in the Standard portion of the StarCityGames.com Open: Charlotte, I decided that there were a few things about the deck that I did and didn't like. For one, Corrosive Gale is going to make a large impact on the format. When Drogskol Captain creates a world where everything flies and has Hexproof, any deck can pay two mana and two life to wipe their entire board off the map. While Corrosive Gale is pretty specific at what it's answering, it does the job well and at a very low cost. When aggressive decks are racing a Drogskol Captain and Lingering Souls, they'll usually lose the fight without some sort of brutal trump card, and Corrosive Gale is it.
With that said if everyone goes back to the removal-heavy decks, Geist of Saint Traft and Invisible Stalker actually become good again. I wouldn't be surprised if Runechanter's Pike made its way back into the spotlight. Ben Isgur knocked me out of Top 8 a few weeks ago with a Delver deck packing lots of Thought Scour and Runechanter's Pike, and that could be the direction we need to turn to stay competitive. When everyone adapts to your plan, you need to figure out a way around it. It's actually just beautiful to watch the metagame evolve every week, and it's a lot of fun trying to stay one step ahead of the curve.
Overall, I think the Drogskol Captain deck is very good but mostly because of Lingering Souls. That card is just bonkers, and I'd probably still play it even if I ended up cutting Drogskol Captain from the deck entirely. Runechanter's Pike needs a friend, and Lingering Souls is probably the card to do it. Alongside Thought Scour, you can get some pretty good value out of both Lingering Souls and Runechanter's Pike. While not powerful by itself, Invisible Stalker might just end up being what the deck needs: a threat that works well in conjunction with Runechanter's Pike and can't be blocked by a plethora of 1/1 fliers.
A potential decklist might look something like this:
While not perfect, this is a pretty sweet starting point that I'm excited to try out. Geist of Saint Traft looks better when paired up with Sword of War and Peace, but that build is just too slow to deal with Titans and Drogskol Captains. You just can't afford to tap out turn after turn unless you're getting bigger than your opponent, but that just isn't what this deck is trying to do. While you're still a little vulnerable to Corrosive Gale, it's nothing like the Drogskol Captain version.
Unfortunately, this version is much worse in the Delver mirror because your best card (Geist) gets blanked by their Phantasmal Images. Corrosive Gale will probably end up being the card that keeps the match fair, but they're doing bigger and better things than you, so you have to up the ante and become the control deck. If you try to become the aggressive deck, you'll likely fail. Delver of Secrets just looks awkward against Lingering Souls, but you have a few tricks to even up the board should it begin to get out of control.
My biggest fear is that, while you're less vulnerable to certain cards, you have a much weaker plan overall. Consistency was always what I looked for when trying to beat mirrors, but we're living in a day and age where you don't have that luxury. Cards are getting more powerful, and mirrors are won by backbreaking haymakers that need to be answered immediately. Your biggest threat is Geist of Saint Traft, but nearly every deck has an answer ready: Slagstorm, Phantasmal Image, Black Sun's Zenith, Whipflare, etc. The fact that everyone is playing Corrosive Gale pushes me towards Geist of Saint Traft, but he's not as good as he was a month ago. It might not seem like it, but Dark Ascension has changed the format entirely. The decks, while similar to older iterations, focus on entirely different things, and certain cards that were once bombs are actually just alright.
Kibler openly stated at the Pro Tour that Huntmaster of the Fells was the best card in their Wolf Run deck. He singlehandedly beat many opponents due to sheer card advantage and allowed the deck to operate at a cost that was lower than the traditional six mana. Delver decks, which focused on lower-cost cards to help tempo out the field, are now relying on a higher curve to add a bit of power to their mid-game. It was almost as if the deck evolved from Merfolk into Fairies, but needed a Scion of Oona and Bitterblossom/Squadron Hawk to push it over the top. Since every deck can play a cheap, colorless answer, this version might fall out of favor rather quickly. One-sided Wrath effects are no fun to play against and especially so when your Zombie opponent uses Corrosive Gale before he alpha-strikes for the win.
If you're looking to play Drogskol Captain this weekend at GP Baltimore or SCG: Memphis, then look no further. Here is the rundown of each matchup, how to sideboard, and what to expect. For starters, expect everyone to have some number of Corrosive Gale, even in the mirror. It's pretty easy to sculpt a board where Gale wrecks the opponent and not you, thanks to playing Captains and Images before the backbreaking Phyrexian spell. Even if you begin to fall behind, you can always use it to just reset the board.
As far as the matchups are concerned, here is how I would board and mentally prepare for each one:
This matchup becomes very weird after sideboarding. You don't have the luxury to rely on a Lord to get things done, since they will have plenty of sweepers. Without Force of Will, you will be running headlong into Whipflare and Slagstorm all day, putting you into a position where you constantly overextend. Dungeon Geists is a great way to lock down pesky blockers or Titans that are about to get out of control. Usually they will be just about out of gas by the time you can land a Dungeon Geists, giving you the ability to counter their spells for the remainder of the game if they brick on even a single draw step.
This isn't the greatest matchup, but you have a lot of control elements after boarding. Your plan A should be to focus on Delver, protecting it while keeping their bigger spells in check. It's no longer acceptable to counter Rampant Growth and whatnot since they just have to hit four mana for Huntmaster of the Fells. Save your Mana Leaks if you can. Phantasmal Image stays in the game almost primarily for Thrun, the Last Troll. You have no other answer for it, and it will eat you alive alongside a Kessig Wolf Run.
Esper Delver (Mirror)
Being on the play or the draw will have an effect on what cards you keep in. Brian Braun-Duin swears that siding out Delver of Secrets is correct, but I just don't know if I could bring myself to do it. Mana Leak seems mediocre on the draw, but still fine if everyone is planning on just getting bigger than their opponent with more Lords, Images, and Dungeon Geists. Hopefully not everyone will be ready for Corrosive Gale from the mirror, so you could get some blowout potential. If they have it, then you might get wrecked.
The mirror gets down to a lot of stalled board states where you both have multiple Drogskol Captains and Images along with Spirits from Lingering Souls. Corrosive Gale is the only card you can have to break through that insane wall, so make sure you don't run it into a counterspell!
Don't bother. Without Sword of War and Peace and Geist of Saint Traft, you're probably getting annihilated. You can't beat an aggressive draw with a Shrine of Burning Rage, since we've cut down on every answer to focus on other matchups. I know that this deck just won SCG: Charlotte, but the shift in the metagame away from Geist of Saint Traft was a huge factor.
I'm expecting a fair amount of black aggro at the Grand Prix this weekend, which is why I'm loading up on answers for Geralf's Messenger. That guy is really annoying, as is Gravecrawler, so having a really sweet answer will give you some breathing room. Gitaxian Probe is generally mediocre in aggressive matchups, so siding them out is fine. You can usually bank on them having some creatures and removal spells, and you just have to learn how to play around them without seeing their hand. Gitaxian Probe shines in other matchups, but Geralf's Messenger and insanely fast one-drops don't give you the luxury to pay life for a little bit of value.
While Mana Leak can often be good against Humans, I find that most lists can blank them by pressuring you early or landing a Grand Abolisher. You just want to tap out for Dungeon Geists and Drogskol Captains until they're dead and have a Mana Leak in certain spots to protect your board. Lingering Souls is particularly good against them, since it can win races singlehandedly thanks to the ability to block annoyances like Mirran Crusader or large Champion of the Parish.
Overall, I feel like you're favored here, but any aggro deck willing to pack Corrosive Gale can shift the tide pretty easily.
While Image and Dungeon Geists aren't great here, you can always side them in to fend off Sun Titan, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, or whatever else they throw at you. Creatureless decks like U/B are a little bit rough since you don't have much to side in against them, but you need so many cards for other matchups! Celestial Purge is ok against Curse of Death's Hold, and Dungeon Geists is still a large flier for four mana so you have the option to side out all of your removal should you need to.
There are a lot of matchups in Standard that I don't really have time to delve into, but those above are the ones you should expect the most. As for those other matchups, sideboarding is just a case-by-case basis. Keep in mind what you see in the first game and try to guess what they might be bringing in against you. Don't expect many control decks to have Corrosive Gale because they already have a ton of sweepers and answers for you anyway. Your game plan against them should be to resolve a threat and protect it. If you can't do that, then you will probably end up dead anyway. Without Geist of Saint Traft, these matchups become a lot tougher.
While I don't expect everyone to play Corrosive Gale, I just know that it will be one of the most-played sideboard cards at Grand Prix Baltimore. People will expect Drogskol Captain en-mass, and you should be prepared to face the consequences for playing a known entity. While Faeries was able to fight through Volcanic Fallout, you don't have that kind of power in your threats. Lingering Souls is no Bitterblossom, though it does try pretty hard to imitate it. After playing with the deck quite a bit, I can safely say that it is worth hating out. If you expect to play against Esper Delver a decent amount, you need to come prepared. Corrosive Gale is likely your best option, but there are a lot decent answers. Even Garruk Relentless will see more play due to the presence of Drogskol Captain. Any answer is a good answer, because no answer means certain doom.
Good luck this weekend, and thanks for reading!
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