I like to think of some decks as having many fathers.
For me this one started off on the way back from the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Baltimore chatting with Top 8 competitor Josh Ravitz; I was impressed by some of the U/R Legacy decks—basically Delver of Secrets Snapcaster Mage and cheap burn spells... Why not in Standard?
Josh was characteristically nonplussed.
Another much more recent impetus came from Nick Spagnolo. I super respect Nick and especially his ability to explain why blue cards are so good and what laces them together. From "Building The Engine":
Short sweet to the point...and pretty much true. Thanks Nick!
On that trip back from Baltimore Josh and I debated the role of white in Delver of Secrets versus the validity—or even general attraction—of any red spells at all in the archetype. It is hard to argue with the offensive force of a Geist of Saint Traft and the late game of Moorland Haunt.
Put another way Josh asked me what red spells exactly I wanted to be playing. Incinerate? Arc Trail maybe? Is Incinerate a reason to drop Geist of Saint Traft sideboarded Timely Reinforcements or even Divine Offering?
Of course things have changed with Avacyn Restored.
Last week I proposed an essentially U/W Miracles deck that had access to red mana but didn't play Bonfire of the Damned. Believe you me I tested Bonfire of the Damned in that control deck; I jammed four copies straight in. Turns out it wasn't great in U/W for circa three reasons. For one U/W already had Terminus; if we needed another or a faster removal spell there were other options. Secondly the mana wasn't particularly accommodating. The U/W mana in terms of a straight U/W deck was pretty robust; adding red made things a mite more problematic. Finally and from a strategic sense perhaps most saliently the U/W deck didn't really have the ability to take advantage of mising with a miraculous Bonfire of the Damned and—believe it or not—didn't necessarily want to.
That deck would win with a huge Entreat the Angels or after a long game of planeswalker dominance. It didn't have the spring that allowed say Naya to get such a tempo advantage via a lucky Bonfire. But when it did win? Massive Entreat advantage is almost the definition of "over the top." Who cares about a couple of points of burn damage when you are attacking for 40 in the air?
U/R Delver is a different story entirely. The fast clock represented by a first turn Delver of Secrets allows this U/R deck to jump all over the opponent once you get a little miracle on. Bonfire doesn't "kill creatures" in a generic sense here so much as "clear blockers." And with blockers down attackers get in. In addition you can capitalize not only on the potential card advantage but the massive damage potential of a good Bonfire of the Damned in that way an Angelic U/W neither cares nor needs to.
While Lingering Souls is just one of many different kinds of threats that U/W might face—no different in a sense than a Strangleroot Geist or a Geralf's Messenger—a bunch (or even a pair) of 1/1 flying tokens actually matter a ton to the cards Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage. 1/1 flyers actually put the sweat under Insectile Aberration's pits (gross).
You know the things that make Corrosive Gale so good against Esper Spirits? Bonfire of the Damned works nicely there as long as you can support the red. You trade up from 1-2 to 3 mana (minimum) but you get the added bonus of going bigger if you like or blowing the opponent out with a lucky miracle.
This is a card that is really not as obviously great as it ends up being once you've played a bit. It is kind of like Assault / Battery in the old Fires of Yavimaya lists; not overpowered just the perfect card for the job. Pillar of Flame can take out a first turn Birds of Paradise or keep a Strangleroot Geist off your back. You know what is really spectacular about this card? Taking the oomph out of a Viridian Emissary...
Take that Birthing Pod!
So of course the other father of the strategy is Christian Calcano. Of course Calcano's GP-winning deck was an inspiration for mine!
Here is my more streamlined templated look at the archetype Calcano put on the map:
There are so many things I love about so many of these cards; it is just awesome to be able to play so many together.
Some of you probably know that right after we saw Innistrad Brian David-Marshall and I basically snap-made the Modern Delver deck on the spot. Sure we had all Twisted Images (we thought everyone was going to be on Spellskites Birds of Paradise and Trees) and lacked Todd Anderson's week 1 [Illusions] innovation of Moorland Haunt but we figured out most everything from actually playing Delver of Secrets to suiting up an Invisible Stalker.
At that stage I was a bit head scratching in the "how do I finish a game" department and decided the card I wanted to do that with was Consecrated Sphinx.
Of course Consecrated Sphinx never saw play in "my" early Delver list and the rest of the metagame—and world—progressed following Todd's lead then PV later Sam and so on. It was Caleb Durward that (at least from my perspective) had the stones to actually play Consecrated Sphinx in his U/W Delver list—which served him up to and including an SCG Invitational Top 8 appearance— and I thought that was awesome. I later tested Consecrated Sphinx in U/W Delver and loved it there.
So I guess you can chalk Caleb up as an inspirational father of this deck too.
Consecrated Sphinx is in particular effective in a deck like this because it has so many cheap instants and sorceries. The same reasons that make Snapcaster Mage such an asset turn Consecrated Sphinx not only into a spigot of card advantage but actual card access rather than overflow.
I was a bit wary about playing sixes in a deck with only 22 lands but Bonfire of the Damned notwithstanding this deck basically has a curve at 1-2; Consecrated Sphinx hasn't given me many problems and anyway I have a spare land in the sideboard.
The Comer-Xerox principle says this deck actually plays like a 28-land deck and honestly? You very often have six on six.
Now speaking of that extra land the way this deck is put together is like a fairly well thought out enigma wrapped in a mystery you know topped with bacon bits. Initially I tried a more conventional "Delver anti-control" sideboard suite of Tamiyo Jace5 etc.
If I was going to play five-drops why not just pay the iron price for my wins?
I have played a lot of Magic the past two weeks and probably my overall favorite thing to do in Standard with Avacyn Restored cards is show haughty control players the true meaning of inevitability.
Ooh ooh...I have an ultimate planeswalker!
You just wait!
I don't know if people are particularly going to be leaning on these "planeswalkers" over the coming weeks and months.
If you are control and your plan is to sit back on ultimate Venser or some such... Well that's no plan at all!
There are few if any good ways for a planeswalker-reliant control deck to stop the opponent from playing an inexorable Zealous Conscripts off a cantrips-driven Cavern of Souls... Kick! Wham! Stunner! You just grab their planeswalker access its ultimate and laugh your way to victory.
Remember how this deck is all cheap instants and sorceries and especially cantrips?
[Your own] ultimate Venser is an ugly opponent here.
I've worked and tinkered quite a bit with this mana base. I am a believer in Evolving Wilds at least for now but couldn't really see playing more than the one Cavern of Souls maindeck. First of all you basically always name Human but whatever (I presume it is wild to name Sphinx with a Vapor Snag in your hand facing off against control [but that stage has never come up]). You can play your first turn Delver of Secrets through a Mental Misstep and ensure your Snapcaster Mages can be doing their collective thing through a counterspell wall but the deck is—again—all cheap instants and sorceries and Cavern of Souls doesn't cast those.
I am pretty enthusiastic about this deck and plan to play it this weekend in the Edison $5K. I use the term "plan" in about the only way you can at this stage.
Rather I want to step back and think about not some innovative different looks at a many-fathered monster but the components that make it up.
It is pretty clear to me that the best card in Standard is Delver of Secrets.
The next-best card is Snapcaster Mage. Snapcaster Mage is fantastic; by definition leagues better than all the other cards but still nowhere near as good as Delver of Secrets. Huntmaster of the Fells? Primeval Titan? Every other creature in the format is almost comically worse than this Batman-and-Robin buddy flick pairing.
What is next?
I think you can actually make a case for Vapor Snag. I mean that case probably won't bear out but try to wrap your head around a very small tweak: what if we had a weirdo Planar Chaos red Vapor Snag? We had the Damnation or Piracy Charm or Blood Knight edition of Vapor Snag. They'd never do it right? "Only" one damage on one mana is actually 50% below the curve for a red burn spell in the abstract. How can it be that good? Must get its ups from the whole "I also Unsummon" portion of the card.
I think the actual bronze medal winner is Ponder.
Consider the bar...one mana one card...for one card; right?
All the "one" mana cantrips that actually see play in the Delver archetype(s) are above the curve. Gitaxian Probe is free value and sometimes costs zero while drawing a card. Thought Scour sets up Snappy and just might kill someone... Also a bit better than you might expect.
Handing the pat on the head to Ponder comes from a couple of different places none of which should take much convincing. For one consider Ponder's position in Modern...or Vintage. Spidey sense tingling yet?
The other bit of evidence is this: Thought Scour and Gitaxian Probe get cut all over the place. In Baltimore I played zero Thought Scours (default at the time was two). The Japanese played zero Gitaxian Probes around the same time; contrast with Gthe mix in erry's "perfect" Delver from last week. On balance which Standard Delver player isn't packing four Ponders? Tokens Esper Spirits Calca-Yes U/R...and of course blue-and-white-bread-regular-old Delver all play four Ponders. Obviously.
Look back at Nick's argument about what makes Delver tick what makes Delver so good. His argument takes out the Delvers (best card) and transplants the remaining no-actual-Delver "Delver" engine—successfully to the tune of an SCG Open Series and a Grand Prix pair of Top 8s—making that Ponderous argument seem a bit more sound than it might look on its face.
… Still shaking your head?
Aw shucks. You know me. I just want to play the best cards in a relatively unstable environment; plus I am interested in discovering that ephemeral difference that makes the difference.
So what is that difference?
If you have PT Top 8 competitors saying things like "You can't miracle a Bonfire of the Damned if it's not in your deck" you might want to look twice at how good this Bonfire doohickey might be. And you know what? Cho & co. didn't even have Ponder to set up their Bonfires.
I don't have the manpower to run a Sword of War and Peace; without a Sword package and / or pile of Pikes Invisible Stalker doesn't make a huge amount of sense. Sure Prime Time and Huntmaster are going to be in the mix...
… But Bonfire? I think we can Bonfire.
And speaking of which?
A lot of folks are high up on Restoration Angel as a Delver asset as a generally fantastic 187. Me? I think of Restoration Angel as a Mulldrifter maybe a low-grade Cryptic Command. But if any of you remember back to the jockeying battles of Toast at its height the heads up Reveillark-and-Toast-and-other-Toast conflicts ran what amounted to an illusory Stage Two. Really? It was about Ajani control (or answering Ajani) + who got to stick the last Cruel Ultimatum (which given the fact we are talking about Cruel Ultimatum was often the first Cruel Ultimatum).
And at that bar?
We are talking about Zealous Conscripts at 187 more than the blonde upstart upskirt.
I actually have Galvanic Blast as a Top 10 card (ask anyone from Jackie Lee to Brian Kibler and their disparate adherents how they feel about that particular Stage One Delver-murderer / Stage Three person-murderer) but this deck obviously gets longer stretches of highway out of Pillar of Flame. I think it is a testament to the strength and flexibility of some of our cheap utility that we can tune in favor and flavor towards that latter.
Anyway that's how I got to my deck.
Wish me luck tomorrow!