Congrats to all the Sacramento players that made top eight of the Grand Prix and especially Shahar for taking one down! I’m unsurprised to see so many top Bay Area players finishing well in GP’s and online PTQ’s this season, and I’m thrilled it’s happening on a consistent basis now. In the wake of Salt Lake City and the first Modern season coming to a close, there’s one main topic to discuss until Avacyn Restored hits.
I almost feel a bit bad about this section since the last two weeks of Standard articles have largely been about Delver, Naya Pod or RG Aggro. With the results of Salt Lake City there isn’t much to talk about. When you look at the top-end of the tournament, Delver was still the talk of the weekend and RG decks had some success while few other decks had any major impact at either the GP or the accompanying Open. More and more I see chatter about how Delver of Secrets is just a joke of a card when Wild Nacatl got banned in Modern for being too efficient; meanwhile Delver wins two GP’s in two different formats on the same weekend.
The scary part is that is that these kinds of discussions don’t sound nearly as implausible as they did six months ago. The DCI has shown that they’ll take out cards that warp the metagame to an unhealthy degree even if they don’t fit the traditional criteria for banning. Of course bans just happened and I very much doubt that Delver of Secrets or any other card in Delver will get the axe from the domination of this archetype. In the end Standard was eventually going to reach a point where one deck would be dominant over the rest and the metagame would warp around that point. To R&D’s credit this took much longer than anticipated and honestly the target has moved multiple times over the course of the last four months. This was one of the best Standard seasons in terms of variety, power and deck dominance that we’ve seen in years.
To reiterate, we have now reached the point where every single person playing Standard at a high level event should have Delver decks as the number one priority. There is no point in showing up with any expectation to win the tournament if you don’t have a valid match against the various Delver decks floating around unless you just plan on outplaying your opposition every round. So Andrew Cueno has a valid strategy for every future Standard Grand Prix he decides to enter, but for the majority of us we’ll have to settle for lots of metagaming and tweaking versus Delver or playing Delver.
TomM found success with the Lingering Souls variation on Delver, mocking antiquated notions of fairness coming from aggro-control by merely throwing a bunch of Squadron Hawks onto the board when the going got rough.
Esper Delver, Tom Martell
Esper Delver, Tom Ma
Indeed there was some double TomM action this weekend, though only one spawns the online chant of SO ADORABLE when they make an appearance on camera. Both played similar decks though and Martell continued his dominance with Lingering Souls from the Legacy Grand Prix. Outside of a few tweaks the deck was incredibly similar to the one Finkel played back at Pro Tour: Honolulu, with the main standout being the Vault of the Archangel in the maindeck. I love the Vault in any deck featuring Lingering Souls and it just has a more powerful effect than Moorland Haunt if you have the mana. I honestly think it’s just better than Haunt by a fair margin in the majority of match-ups.
On the other side of the coin, Honor of the Pure in Ma’s deck is one of the more interesting inclusions that I’ve only seen in the occasional MODO list. I talked to Tom about it afterward and he said that the enchantments served him well throughout the day and made Geist of Saint Traft that much better. “It was awesome. I beat an Elesh Norn because of it with my Geist of Saint Traft. Bounce it, take 8, SOOOO PROOOO.” GerryT had a similar plan with Intangible Virtue when he played Delver at the SCG Invitational. Anthems are one of the best weapons in creature mirrors and being invulnerable to traditional removal or bounce can be a huge bonus over Drogskol Captain.
Right now Esper Delver is one of the most powerful strategies available since you already have a great base to work with from Delver and Lingering Souls is one of the best cards available in the format. Souls provides yet another powerful took against the mirror and grinding decks at the cost of a slightly worse mana base. The traditional Delver decks still have a host of advantages but casting Lingering Souls in Standard feels like your getting miles ahead of your opponent.
Moving onto the non-Delver side of things… Let’s take a look at the other major archetype running around – GR Aggro.
No-frills or surprises here, just pure aggression and playing the best creatures red and green have to offer right now. Mono Red beat Delver by getting an early clock and picking off threats that could potentially race and this deck accomplishes the same goal. This is just a superior Mono Red deck for what you want to do to beat Delver. I talked with Hetrick after Salt Lake and asked him if he would play the deck again and if any cards underperformed for him on the day.
“I would definitely play it again and a few cards in the board underperformed but only because of not playing certain matchups. Like Swords never came in, but they’re only in the board for UB.”
I also inquired if he felt like some of the discussions about Delver and potential bans were legitimate.
“I think it’s an interesting topic actually I think the card should not have been printed, so Idk if it’s out of the question to ban it and truth is I think they will if they are in the same mindset of Modern. Personally, I think it’s okay to keep it around, it’s still just a 1/1 for 1. I do think they really need to print something to handle Geist of Saint Traft, that card is just stupid.”
What more can I say about Standard? Pick a starting point of Delver, RG Aggro or Lingering Souls and build from there. I think Souls has the most room for growth as an archetype and Tom Ma said it best, “Just a small aside on Lingering Souls. Standard is literally going to start out as 4 Lingering Souls 4 Isolated Chapel… Maybe not 4 Chapel but it’s the perfect land for such. Too bad you can’t just mash 4 Chapel in Delver.”
I got a lot of excellent feedback on my ISD Block primer from last week, so thanks to everyone who offered support and criticism. In the wake of that article I’ve gotten two points / questions dwarfing what everyone else inquired into by a fair margin.
1. Isn’t WR Humans just the best deck in the format now?
2. What are some good Control strategies?
To answer number one isn’t all that difficult if you take a good look at the format. Right now the block iteration of Boros has three to five of the strongest cards in the format depending on build and it has the fastest starts in Block. Now throw in the fact that the entire deck costs about 30 dollars* to build from scratch and suddenly it comes together why it’s such a popular choice and feels like the best deck by default.
Not a whole lot in Block can stand up to Champion of the Parish into Gather the Townsfolk with a turn three removal spell or Thalia to lock the game up. There is no cheap Wrath effect and even our iteration of Pyroclasm is largely garbage to the point of where people can’t rely on just clearing the board out on turn four like in other formats. Right now the deck preys on people playing the wrong answers to the deck and once people figure out the best removal packages it won’t get so many free wins.
Part of this falls on how absurd Champion of the Parish is with Gather the Townsfolk, since jumping up to a 3/3 and then a 4/4 effectively pushes it out of the kill range of every cheap removal spell in the format. If you’re on the draw against a Champion and they have Gather then just about every single valid removal spell becomes one turn too slow. Part of the reason I’m such a fan of Silent Departure and supposed jank like Ambush Viper is because they actually can stop Champion when you end up on the draw.
Finally, while the deck is very strong, you need to remember that outside of WBG Tokens that Boros aggro was the most developed amongst other strategies. It shouldn’t come as a shock that the deck with the maximum amount of tuning behind it suddenly took up the mantle of best after the other best deck was banned. Decks like Zombies and Werewolves have a long way to go before the best builds for either are discovered, especially considering how many Block players will just go with the easy route of RW. So while I don’t expect RW to go anywhere in the grand scheme of things, I think some are overreacting to its presence when it should be perfectly logical why the deck is so prominent.
As for the second question of control and how to make it in Block, as I mentioned in my comments last week, midrange decks are really the control strategies of this format.
BUG Control by Goliat2
These decks have all 3-1′d a DE or better and outside of the Grixis deck you can find multiple variants of them cashing DE’s off and on. It’s going to take a while for proper control decks to be standardized due to how brutally fast RW Aggro is and how varied the format can be. Having to shift roles against smashing early aggression and tokens against cards like Huntmaster of the Fells, Bloodgift Demon or any Planeswalker is a jarring experience. I can only imagine how much worse this will get when someone figures out a deck in Block that mashes with Geist of Saint Traft.
Point is control is still worth pursuing, but due to the increased cost and effort involved in making these strategies work I expect we’ll see a lot less of them until one is found that absolutely dominates RW. Once that happens expect a quick metagame backlash as people flood queues with RW, anti-RW and then the anti-control decks. As of now the DE’s are majority RW Aggro so you can skew your deck against them and not incur too many negative consequences.
I’m having some fun in this fresh Block format even if I do get tired of playing against RW at times. At least I have a target I can beat where as Tokens was just hoping I outdrew them every single game. Good luck and have some fun!
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom
P.S. If you want the sweetest and most expensive brew in the format: