After finally taking down a SCG Open Series trophy in Buffalo the previous week it was time to wrap up my month-long road trip with one more tournament last weekend. The SCG Open Series was finally coming back to my hometown of Washington DC. There is something very comforting about being able to stay at your own house. The costs of travel are reduced by staying in your own bed and eating your own food but more importantly I was able to spend a weekend with my fiancee Crystal and our new puppy Bruce.
Bruce is without a doubt the coolest puppy ever. If you remember we got Bruce because I promised Crystal that we'd get a puppy if I made Top 8 of Pro Tour Avacyn Restored. Of course my mouth got me into trouble as I never imagined that I'd be lucky enough to Top 8 there. But once the check came in Crystal and I took a trip and brought home the cutest puppy ever. I bring this up because once again my bold predictions would get the best of me.
In Buffalo I was talking with Gerry and Pat Chapin right before the SCG Legacy Open began. I felt pretty good about my chances so I decided to utter the following statement.
"Yeah if I take down a trophy this weekend I guess it's time to bring back the Cho-Hawk."
Well one trophy later and it was time to bring out the clippers again.
With a 'new' haircut in place it was time for what is turning out to be a tradition for when the SCG Open Series comes back to DC; a trip to The Melting Pot. The last time that we went there Gerry and I were both on U/W Delver and added a bit of spice with Mikaeus the Lunarch and the Nathan Holt Invitational card Hovermyr! Throughout the course of the meal we tried to recreate this bit of magic going so far as to pencil in a Temporal Mastery in Gerry's notebook. However we ended up taking a more traditional approach and settled on the following 75.
The biggest thing to note about this build of U/W Delver is the shift away from Restoration Angel and towards Hero of Bladehold. Now this is not to say that Restoration Angel is a bad card. The Angel does many things that you want. It lets you keep mana open on your opponent's turn lets you do some sweet things with Snapcaster Mage and lets you turn your Geist of Saint Trafts into Hell's Thunders. In my mind there are two reasons that now is not the time for Angel in U/W Delver.
At its best you are abusing Angel with creatures with enters the battlefield effects. Whether it is rebuying you Snapcasters reloading your Blade Splicers or simply resetting an undying creature like Strangleroot Geist or Geralf's Messenger Restoration Angel provides a powerful effect in addition to the 3/4 body it leaves behind. If you look at current iterations of U/W Delver you'll notice that Geist of Saint Traft is currently trumping Blade Splicer for more three-drop slots. The best way to get ahead in the ubiquitous Delver mirror is to be more aggressive than your opponent. Geist gives you those nut draws that you need to consistently gain an edge in this matchup.
The problem with this slant towards aggressiveness is that your Restoration Angels are not getting as much value in this current build. This lack of value leads to the second issue with Angel. It is not a game winner on its own.
A 3/4 flyer for four mana is nothing to scoff at but in all honesty it won't win you the game by itself. Enter Hero of Bladehold. Both of these four-drops are not the best in a Vapor Snag infested battle but an unanswered Hero of Bladehold will win you the game. If you are able to get a single attack in with a Hero it should push you far enough ahead in the damage race while maintaining a board state that will only get worse with each subsequent turn. Both Hero and Angel have a great toughness of four which makes them more likely to survive against most damage based removal as well as an early miracled Bonfire of the Damned.
Hero also makes your Cavern of Souls better. No longer do you have to choose between Human Spirit and Angel for your Caverns. Human and Spirit (or Cleric if you want to get sneaky) are the only two creature types that you have to decide between now.
Also keep in mind that people are prepared for Restoration Angel. You'll find many a sideboard littered with cards like Plummet and Crushing Vines. Crushing Vines is a very fine card but if you build your deck to turn Vines into a three-mana removal spell for a Delver of Secrets you've effectively blanked a card that your opponent was counting on to turn the tides in their favor.
Mental Misstep is another card that you should adopt into your Delver builds. Standard is becoming a format that is based around some very powerful one-drops. Delver of Secrets Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves are early starts that can lead to powerful follow-up turns that are difficult to battle back from. Being able to attack those early drops by maxing out on Gut Shots and including Missteps is a natural progression. Misstep also lets you counter some very relevant spells like a Ponder that they were counting on to bail them out or a timely Vapor Snag that would have altered a race. I don't think that you want to max out on Missteps but two was a perfect number for me all weekend.
With that said let's take a look at some of the more popular matchups that you are likely to face at the next StarCityGames.com Open Series in Denver.
U/W Delver Mirror
As I said before you want to be as aggressive as possible. Delver mirrors usually come down to three phases. The first is the Delver battle. Being able to land an early Delver and flip it is a backbreaking early turn play. Combat your opponent's Delvers with your Gut Shots Vapor Snags and Mental Missteps. Conversely protect your own early Delvers with your Missteps and this should allow you to come ahead.
After the early turn Delver battle comes the Geist of Saint Traft phase. Cavern of Souls makes it difficult for either player to rely on Mana Leaks to keep their Geists protected. The best way to fight their Geists is to either legend rule them with your own Geists or to copy them with an Image. Don't be afraid to lose a bit of value with a Snapcaster Mage if it means that you can use it as an Ambush Viper to snipe their Geists.
If the game hasn't been decided by either Delver of Secrets or Geist of Saint Traft you come to the four-drop battle. Traditionally this meant fighting their Restoration Angels and Sword of War and Peace but you get to go over to top with Hero of Bladehold. Angel Sword and Hero are all pretty bad against Vapor Snag but like I said before Hero is more backbreaking if you can get it to stick. Post-board you will also have Talrand Sky Summoner to win this battle.
IN: +2 Talrand Sky Summoner +2 Phantasmal Image
Don't be tempted to over sideboard for this matchup. Remember stay as aggressive as possible. Leaks are pretty bad as Cavern of Souls means that you won't be able to counter their relevant threats. I take out the third Hero because you don't want to load up on too many four-drops. Stay aggressive and with a bit of luck you should come out on top in this matchup.
Wolf Run Blue
Reid Duke's SCG Standard Open: Washington DC-winning Wolf Run Blue is a very sweet list. I would be surprised if it doesn't catch on quickly as it has all the tools to effectively combat a majority of the metagame. Game 1 I would try to counter their ramp spells as much as possible. An early Delver or Geist can spell trouble for them if they can live past the sweepers that this ramp deck runs so slowing them down just enough to keep them below Titan mana can be enough to take it down. Thragtusk is another problem card one that isn't easily answered by Vapor Snag or Mana Leak if they have a Cavern out.
Hero of Bladehold is an all-star in this matchup. It should survive through all the Bonfires that will sweep up your two toughness Insectile Aberrations and Geists and can often be a quick enough to clock to kill them in two turns. Land a Hero protect it and you should be well on your way to victory.
Gut Shot and Misstep are pretty much blanks against them so they are an easy cut. Mutagenic Growth will hopefully let your Geists and Heroes survive against their board sweepers long enough to win you the game. Image isn't the best card against an active Kessig Wolf Run but copying a Titan is a pretty big game. Also Imaging a Solemn Simulacrum can allow you to hit your land drops to get to your four-drops or your Swords as the situation calls for.
Zombies can be pretty tough if they overrun your with an army of 2/2s backed with Blood Artists and removal. You basically want to stay alive deal with the Kalastria Highborn imposters and stick a threat to race them. Your Delvers are more likely to be lightning rods for their removal so don't be too disheartened if they Tragically Slip and fall to their demise. If they burn your Delvers your Heroes are more likely to stick. Zombies are really bad at blocking one of the downsides of having such cost effective beaters so your Geists will usually get there and Hero even more so.
Post-board your Knight of Glory will put in a lot of good work both as a defensive all-star and as a way to force damage through. Talrand will also allow you to create an army of flyers that can either keep you alive or push through the final points of damage.
A poor Delver matchup is the main reason I am so hesitant to pull the trigger on running Mono-Green Infect at a tournament. The life loss from Phyrexian mana spells is irrelevant so you can Gut Shot and Misstep to your heart's content. Misstep also nabs their Glistener Elves and Rancors while Gut Shot forces them to have a pump spell to keep their creatures alive. Vapor Snag is another nightmare for them. Your Snapcaster Mages keep the pressure on them to have Apostle's Blessings to keep their creatures on the battlefield.
If you can keep a Wild Defiance off the board which will turn off half your removal spells you should be able to have an easy victory.
You are pretty much pre-boarded against Infect so I would see what type of build you are up against before boarding anything. Stony Silence can come in if you see any Livewire Lashes and also to make their Spellskites look silly. Mutagenic Growth is another free roll that can win you some games out of nowhere but I wouldn't get too cute with boarding against them.
With that out of the way let's take a look at how the event went for me.
SCG Standard Open: Washington DC
Round 1: Eric Cruz 2-1 Win
Round 2: Robin Meeker-Cummings 2-0 Win
Round 3: Navid Jannati 1-2 Loss
Round 4: Byron Gillian 2-1 Win
Round 5: Stan Portnov 2-0 Win
Round 6: Harry Corvese 2-1 Win
Round 7: Jarvis Yu 2-1 Win
Round 8: Evan Bernett 2-0 Win
Round 9: Shaheen Soorani 2-0 Win
Round 10: Xin Sui 2-0 Win
After a brutal ten round affair I was off to my second Top 8 in as many weeks. It's really difficult to navigate such a long event where a second loss will end your tournament so I celebrated in the only way I know how. PHOTOBOMB TIME!
Quarterfinals: Michael Wayne 2-1 Win
You can see this match here.
Frites was something that I wasn't expecting to see at this event. Game 1 of the quarterfinals shows you the strength of the deck. I was just dead on turn4 to an Unburial Rites returning an Elesh Norn. Lingering Souls made it difficult for my Delvers and Geists to go the distance but I was fortunate enough to have a fast enough clock with some timely counter magic for his relevant spells to take down the second game. Michael got pretty unlucky with his Tracker's Instinct in the rubber match and I was on my way to the semis on the back of an unanswered Geist of Saint Traft.
Semifinals: Charles Gindy 0-2 Loss
Unfortunately my luck ran out against Gindy early on Sunday morning. I felt that I played it pretty well but it seemed that the answer Gindy was looking for was always on top of his library. After Misstepping his only cantrip in Thought Scour he found a Ponder off the top in the first game and used that to fuel his way to an easy Delver backed by Geist victory.
I had him on the ropes in the second game expending a lot of resources to get a lethal Geist of Saint Traft late in the game against his Hero of Bladehold. Unfortunately as a Gitaxian Probe would reveal to me Gindy had drawn a savior in Vapor Snag for my Angel token so I had to hold back for a turn and only drop a Delver that would hopefully flip and allow me to swing in. Even worse news awaited me on his draw step when Gindy ripped a Geist of his own to kill mine. He then killed me over the course of his next two turns with Hero.
And with that the Cho-Hawk fell. The Top 4 was pretty loaded so I knew my chances were slim to begin with but it still stings a bit to come so close and fall short. Many congratulations to Reid Duke a very worthy champion who came super close to pulling a GerryT with back-to-back wins. All in all it was an awesome weekend. Thanks to everyone who came out; you guys made this the largest StarCityGames.com Open Series weekend!
Looking ahead I would definitely recommend giving U/W Delver with Hero of Bladehold a shot at any upcoming Standard tournaments you have. If you don't decide to sleeve up Delver keep in mind that Hero is here to stay for the foreseeable future so plan ahead for it. Best of luck to all of you in your upcoming tournaments.
As always thanks for reading.
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