Last weekend featured three major Standard tournaments: the SCG Open Series featuring the Invitational in Indianapolis and Grand Prix Manila. All three events were very spectacular and showcased many successful attempts at beating Delver decks. To be honest the fact that there are only two topics in Standard right now ("Delver" and "How To Beat Delver") should inevitably lead to some bans on Wednesday but I prefer to avoid speculation and to talk about the actual format.
Fun fact: if any bans in Standard take place I'll have to play in PTQ on Saturday and WMCQ on Sunday in two different formats. I'm not sure if it's harder than preparing for both Standard and Legacy for an SCG Invitational but it will be at the very least an interesting weekend.
Returning to my anti-Delver topic I just want to say that Wizards should just pay Gerry for every tournament he plays with non-U/W deck… Oh I meant let's compare the top Standard decks from the SCG Invitational and SCG Open in Indy. In my opinion one of key problems with the Standard metagame of last two year is that there has always been a bunch of great players relentlessly updating one given deck and thus taking all other strategies out of real contention. There were only two decks playing red and green in the Top 16 of the SCG Invitational. In contrast there are "only" five U/W Snapcaster Mage decks in the Top 16 of the SCG Open. I don't want to hurt Open participants but let's face the truth: in a weaker field more strategies are viable.
Now let's move to the other side of the world. The capital of the Philippines Manila gathered a record-breaking 1108 players. In the end none of them were able to stop Delver of Secrets—or should I say "None of them was able to prevent Yuuya Watanabe from gathering his sixth GP title?" 130 players advanced to Day 2 of the GP and 43 of them played Delver. The second and the third most popular decks were Solar Flare and Naya which are assumed to have very good Delver matchups. The Top 8 of GP Manila consisted of four Delver decks B/R Zombies and three Naya decks (Pod-less two Pods and four Pods). Wizards' coverage hasn't posted any other decks but we luckily have two others from deck techs—and they are very interesting ones.
Jesse Smith wrote about Tempered Steel recently. He suggested two updated builds featuring Blood Artist and Restoration Angel. But…do you know what Blood Artist is painting? Curse of Oblivion! So everything is simpler than Jesse supposed: Andreas Ganz has just made Top 16 at GP Manila with a conventional W/G Tempered Steel very similar to the build used by Josh Utter-Leyton at GP Orlando in January.
Tempered Steel may look very bad in a world where everybody wants to have an answer to Swords but almost nobody has artifact hate maindeck and people rarely have more than two Ancient Grudges. Tempered Steel is a rare deck that has a faster and more devastating goldfish than Delver. So pack your Spellskites instead of fear and go crush!
Speed is why Gavony Township is superior to Moorland Haunt in this deck: you will probably lose to Lingering Souls or Day of Judgment anyway but the deck is fast enough to beat Delver. If some bans take place Tempered Steel will easily be the best choice for the first week after that (warning: happy Wolf Run Ramp players may create trouble).
The second deck is RUG Delver—or RUG Humans. I covered the deck two weeks ago—then I just picked the list from a Magic Online Daily Event without any knowledge about its creators. Now it's been revealed that the force behind this unusual strategy in Tzu Ching Kuo. Yes Chinese names are problematic for me too but I suggest remembering this entire name. Tzu Ching Kuo is the least known player with 150 lifetime Pro points and a Players Championship participant (he outperformed SCG's own Jeremy Neeman for the APAC slot). At GP Manila Tzu Ching and his team of four compatriots got 9th 16th and 18th place. Impressive right?
Known problems are:
- You should have some practice before the actual event; the deck is a little bit low on threats so you want to play fast (and check your opponent's speed) to avoid unintentional draws.
- The deck is unable to beat Dungrove Elder. There is nothing you can do; just keep it in mind.
- You must be good at mulliganing. The mana base is tricky; once I even traded my Phantasmal copy of Stragleroot Geist just because I wanted to copy Llanowar Elves to be able to cast my Huntmaster of the Fells.
Possible changes include a second Ancient Grudge (instead of Negate) and Act of Aggression instead of Zealous Conscripts. While Conscripts is very good I'd prefer a cheaper instant spell. Tzu Ching also stated that he would change Bonfire of the Damned for Invisible Stalker because of the mana curve but Bonfire was perfect for me.
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Blade Splicer
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 3 Elite Inquisitor
- 3 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Grand Abolisher
- 3 Hero of Bladehold
- 2 Lightning Mauler
- 2 Mirran Crusader
- 3 Restoration Angel
- 2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
The deck has a worse mana base than the W/R version and virtually nothing instead but in fact Avacyn's Pilgrim is worth splashing. Yes I'm talking about splashing an entire color for a playset of one-mana creatures! Pilgrim makes the mana curve drastically better allowing you to play more four-mana creatures and mitigating the problem of overloading on three-drops.
I've tested many other creatures including Mayor of Avabruck but finally came to conclusion that the ultimate requirement for two-mana creatures is two toughness: GerryT finally has three Gut Shots in his Delver deck. Having our Champion of the Parish and then Mayor of Avabruck killed by a pair of Gut Shots (probably involving Snapcaster Mage) is such a tempo loss that we can't afford. So Mayor of Avabruck and Nearheath Pilgrim fell in the favor of Elite Inquisitor (who is also good against all sorts of R/G/x decks Zombies and Geist of Saint Traft).
Two creatures with one toughness that made the cut are Blade Splicer and Lighting Mauler. The first one is here because her synergy with Restoration Angel cannot be ignored. I tried many different configurations including heavy soulbond with Silverblade Paladin Lightning Mauler and Nearheath Pilgrim but I finally stopped at the build which is good in wider environment and aims to beat Delver with a ton of cheap threats and the Thalia + Grand Abolisher package.
The sideboard is constructed keeping in mind that many of the creatures are unspectacular in certain matchups. So the strategy is to side out the worst cards and side in better ones instead. Cards to side out are Hero of Bladehold (against Delver) and all two-mana creatures. Your postboard mana curve will be higher in the most cases so keep it in mind during mulliganing (this is also why I have Act of Aggression over Zealous Conscripts).
The goal of Naya Humans is to overload the table with cheap fast threats using Grand Abolisher as insurance from blowout. Another deck which does the same things is Martin Juza's Naya from the GP Manila Top 8. General Naya Aggro has two playsets of mana dorks and thus the ability to have a significantly higher mana curve that culminates in three Geist-Honored Monks (who are definitely better against Vapor Snag than Wolfir Silverheart).
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Blade Splicer
- 4 Borderland Ranger
- 3 Geist-Honored Monk
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 3 Strangleroot Geist
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Note that Martin cut one Strangleroot Geist—this is the cost of four Cavern of Souls and the lack of Birthing Pods (say "Hi!" to your opponents' postboard Ancient Grudges). There are a lot of double color mana costing cards in this deck but there is just nothing better so you should be ready for some problems especially in cases when you're forced to do weird things like name Birds for turn 1 Cavern of Souls and then see Delver of Secrets flipped by Gut Shot. Generally Martin's mana base is too optimistic for me; I'd cut at least one Gavony Township and probably one Cavern of Souls in the favor of two basic Forests.
Another deck that relies on its mana dorks not meeting Gut Shot is the one that Brian Braun-Duin and Brad Nelson played at the SCG Invitational. Brad went 4-0 on Day 1 but didn't make Day 2 while Brian crushed everything on his way to Top 8. My deadline is unfortunately right before Top 8 coverage starts so I can just hope that Brian will win the whole event with updated Frites.
You can find Brad's video deck tech here. I'm not sure if it's the perfect way to build Frites but Phantasmal Image is definitely a step ahead; it's great in both the main game plan and the postboard beatdown (just copy your Strangleroot Geists for the win) so it saves a lot of space in the deck.
Fun fact: I've just spoken with my friend who is mostly Legacy player and when I said to him that Standard Reanimator made Top 8 of the SCG Invitational his first reaction was "Hey they broke Griselbrand there too?" Brad and Brian confirmed that Griselbrand is unfortunately bad in Standard: there are just no ways to win immediately by drawing fourteen cards and the huge Demon can realistically be outraced.
The last decks for today are of the control variety. No not conventional Esper builds. I have something special for you: a bunch of crazy ideas and a puzzle. The first piece of the puzzle is B/W Control which has repeatedly posted prize finishes in Magic Online Daily Events in hands of user AliEnWaRe_. When I first noticed it the deck was mono-black but he later added some white for Oblivion Ring Terminus and one of the best cards against Delver of Secrets: Lingering Souls.
Delver decks are weak to Control strategies right now especially to those that are able to keep a few of Delver's threats in check. This B/W Control deck has Lingering Souls and six sweepers to kill Delvers (along with some point removal and Sorin Markov's +2 ability "kill Insectile Aberration and gain two life") and noncreature win conditions. Each of them must be countered—I'm not even talking about the cute combo of Sorin and his Vengeance.
The second piece of a puzzle is U/W Control used by JB2002 to make Top 8 of a Magic Online PTQ. The deck has two playsets of sweepers along with some Ratchet Bombs. I'm not sure if I'm ready to play such a slow deck on Magic Online but it looks very interesting and reminds me Andrew Cuneo's deck which he used to 6-0 at Worlds last year.
What do these decks have in common? Artifacts! B/W Control has the Phyrexia's Core engine to use Mycosynth Wellspring and U/W Control has maindeck Grafdigger's Cage and Torpor Orb to keep Strangleroot Geist Blade Splicer Restoration Angel…(a long list of good creatures) in check. The last piece of a puzzle?
Enter Ian Farnung's U/B Control from the SCG Standard Open Indianapolis.
Yes the last piece is Tezzeret Agent of Bolas. I've always liked this planeswalker and I'm happy to see him in the Top 8. I'm not sure if Ian's deck has enough removal to survive and stabilize so I'd consider both a white splash for Lingering Souls (Sam Black showed similar deck in his Premium column recently) and red splash for Whipflare and Galvanic Blast (by the way Galvanic Blast with active metalcraft is one of a few ways to kill Restoration Angel). Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to build and test a Tezzeret deck but let's see what happens if we put Tezzeret Agent of Bolas the Phyrexia's Core engine maindeck Grafdigger's Cage and some way to survive together in 75 cards.
That's all for today. I obviously didn't check everything worth checking (namely Michael Hetrick's RUG Pod and different versions of Naya Aggro) but I hope that this article will be valuable to those who want to beat Delver and looking for new ideas. Delver is still the best deck but to overwhelm it we need not bans but just more effort and creativity.
Good luck for everyone playing next weekend at SCG Open Series: Detroit and around the world! Let's give some wins to "other" decks!