I have to admit it.
I've sold out.
No—I haven't joined a boy band. Worse than that.
(Besides I don't have the cheekbones.)
I'm playing Delver.
From the dominance of Faeries through the era of Caw-Blade right through to the new favorite duo of Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage I was always the stalwart crank declaiming the "best deck" prevailing wisdom. I didn't believe in bans. I believed in the metagame evolving an answer. I ran Reveillark or Exarch-Twin or Ramp or Zombies. I wanted to be the guy prepared for the field not the guy the field was prepared for.
This is the Mono-Blue Wizards list Shaheen Soorani played to the Top 8 of the SCG Standard Open in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago. It's tight and it's effective. The lists I've been playing around with have this as their starting point.
Firstly and most importantly there's a fundamental difference between Delver lists today and Delver lists a month ago. That difference costs 2UU and is a legendary Merfolk Wizard.
One month ago the Delver mirror was about Runechanter's Pike and Sword of War and Peace. If you had a Moorland Haunt in play and one of the powerful equipment on the table there was only so long they could delay you with Vapor Snags and Gut Shots—eventually a creature would stick and go the distance. This fueled the rise of cards like Divine Offering and Revoke Existence which would typically be far too narrow to sideboard in against three cards in your opponent's deck. Invisible Stalker + Spectral Flight was technology to get a creature in under the blitzing of Snapcastered instants from both sides. Lingering Souls was great because they could never trade a single card for your swarm of Spirits.
Talrand makes all that metagaming and meta-metagaming seem rather quaint.
The color blue has a natural weakness: it can't permanently deal with creatures that have resolved. It can bounce them and otherwise inconvenience them and deal in Phyrexian mana to kill guys with one toughness. But this is the reason cards like Huntmaster of the Fells Geralf's Messenger and Thragtusk are quite good against Delver. If you don't counter them outright bouncing them won't help you much. They turn Vapor Snag from a great tempo play into an awkward concession.
That's basically the role Talrand fills. Often you'll play Talrand turn 4 off a Cavern of Souls and immediately Gitaxian Probe. You'll see a Snapcaster Mage maybe a Vapor Snag whatever. You get a free Drake which is already a big game in a match that revolves around card advantage far more than tempo.
Let's say they Snag Talrand immediately. One mana for four keeps the pressure on. You're not running away with the game just yet. With Snapcaster + Snag next turn they've got an outside shot at killing you before you can set up the Drake factory.
The point is that Delver has very little to stop Talrand running away with the game. Bounce isn't good enough because it creates Drakes immediately to stop Delvers and Geists. Counters aren't good enough because it's very easy to run Cavern of Souls—every creature you play is a Wizard. Sure Phantasmal Image and Dismember might get it. But if you don't have a Probe you don't have to run out Talrand blind turn 4. You can wait till you have mana up to Vapor Snag it in response to Phantasmal Image or cast multiple cantrips straight off the bat.
I just want to emphasize how important the cantrips are in this deck. U draw a card has never looked so good:
- They trigger Delver.
- They let Augur hit more often.
- They give Snapcaster Mage targets.
- They make Runechanter's Pike huge.
- They make free Drakes with Talrand.
That's uh just about every win condition in your deck. Twisted Image or two anyone?
Never trim these or side them out. They're the oil that keeps the deck running smoothly. You really struggle if you can't find one by turn 4.
I love Phantasmal Image. It's cheap versatile and rewards tight play. It lets you do crazy things like let Wurmcoil Engine resolve when you have Mana Leak and 1U up the whole time. It kills Thrun and Geist of Saint Traft copies Blade Splicer and Thragtusk even (on a really good day) a Restoration Angel Blinking your Snapcaster for all the value.
It's not as cut and dried as that. As long as the top two decks are Naya Pod and the mirror Phantasmal Image is great. It's only once you play against a control Trading Post list that you want to throw him out with the Gut Shot and Dismember garbage.
I think that unless you're playing in a very defined metagame it's better to relegate these guys to the sideboard. They're fantastic against Thragtusk certainly but poor when the only target is your Snapcaster Mage and it eats a Go for the Throat in response.
The land base is to me the part of this deck most up for debate.
Inkmoth Nexus isn't really that great a card. Yes you can pull off unlikely wins with it + Runechanter's Pike. But more often than not that requires tapping out for multiple turns in a row and leaving yourself horribly vulnerable to Dismember or Plummet. I've won only two or three games with poison over the course of quite a few matches.
But you certainly don't need to max out on Islands—you can afford the loss of consistency for the gain in power. The question becomes is this the right way to take it? You could for example play Seachrome Coast + Glacial Fortress + Moorland Haunt which allows Timely Reinforcements as a sideboard option. You could play Hinterland Harbor and Quirion Dryad. You could even play Sulfur Falls and Bonfire of the Damned although you might need an Evolving Wilds or two to pull that off.
The deck doesn't have to be mono-blue. I'm just not sure if it wants to be.
This guy looks like exactly what this deck wants. He's a body to strap a Pike on to he teams up with best buddy Snapcaster Mage to get ahead on cards he even does card selection—and instants are exactly the things you want to draw lots of. Why didn't Shaheen play four??
It turns out that Augur is fine. He's a good card and I like two to three maindeck but he's not as good as he looks. For one thing he usually doesn't give you a choice. Three cards isn't very deep and if your deck gives you a Gut Shot you take a Gut Shot even if you're playing against mono-black control. For another he sometimes misses entirely. The maths works out to be about 80% to hit with 24 instants/sorceries and you lose 2% for every one you cut down to 20.
Now granted 80% is a lot. But missing is terrible. Lumengrid Warden is not a card you're interested in. One-fifth of the time is still more often than you'd like to play a two-mana 1/3. Hitting for a point on turn 3 just doesn't get the job done.
That said a 1/3 does have one very important property...
... It doesn't die to this cast for two.
The best miracle since Miracle Gro has certainly proved popular. Most green decks have access to Bonfire of the Damned. Zombies certainly plays a couple. You can expect to have it cast against you at least three or four times over the course of a tournament.
Talrand and Bonfire of the Damned aren't friends. I emphasized how great Talrand was against Delver and it seems like if it's great there it ought to kill other midrange decks as well. And it does.
Talrand beats most things on four or five. It beats spot removal. It makes two Drakes for free and you get way ahead of any Oblivion Ring nonsense. It definitely beats a lack of spot removal. A Drake per turn is the least you'll get out of it. If both Talrand and Wolfir Silverheart stay on the table I'd back the Merfolk.
But Black Sun's Zenith Slagstorm Mutilate Day of Judgment—not so easy. Bonfire of the Damned is even harder. You need Mana Leak or you need to kill their mana dude and have them not rip land. Marsh Casualties has never looked so good.
It's really remarkable how printing a good card for Delver has led to Delver being less good. Talrand is great in Delver but it's also great against Delver. So it leads to Delver being forced to adapt and play Talrand. Meanwhile Delver with Talrand is worse than Delver with Restoration Angel against green decks with Bonfire of the Damned—but Delver is forced to play Talrand!* The net effect is to make green decks that extra bit better and Delver correspondingly worse.
*At least for now; who knows what next week will bring?
This is where I'm at with the list right now:
It's not all that different from the original build; I experimented with a lot of different cards but came back to something quite close to what Shaheen had. I cut a land for a Talrand which looks terrible but even with 20 land the deck was flooding far more often than stalling. You can operate on a very low land count thanks to your hundreds of cantrips. You also stall better than you flood thanks to cards like Runechanter's Pike that become amazing in your spell-heavy draws. It's far easier to lose a game where you draw six or seven lands than a game where you never hit land #4.
The sideboard is still shifting. The fourth Gut Shot needs to be in there for the Pod decks that play eight Elves and one or two Dismembers are good at killing Restoration Angel and various poisonous creatures you might encounter. You also need at least three Phantasmal Images and I like Tamiyo especially if Trading Post / Ichor Wellspring decks start catching on. Mental Misstep is great in the mirror and you can bring in one as the quasi-fifth Gut Shot against Elf/Bird decks.
Mutagenic Growth is a card I'm lukewarm on. It seems great because you board it in against Bonfire and save your Talrand for free! Unfortunately that's about all it does—if they cast Thragtusk instead of Bonfire you're left feeling pretty silly. The fourth Mana Leak seems overall better; you board it with Tamiyo in the slower matchups where you're cutting Gut Shot.
I don't really like Surgical Extraction at all. Against most decks it's like boarding Divine Offering for their Pristine Talisman. If they play it you've inconvenienced them slightly possibly even worth a card! If they don't you're 1/5000th closer to building a house since you now have a brick. It's good against the actual Unburial Rites decks but they've gradually faded out since Zealous Conscripts was printed.
So that adds up to fifteen:
Until next time