I wish the Modern Pro Tour were tomorrow so I could play this deck. Obviously the tournament is not tomorrow, and if it was tomorrow, presumably people would have prepared. But a man can dream of a situation in which everyone is unhappy but himself.
The tournament is not for a few months still, and I expect changes to the banned list and ridiculous new cards from Born of the Gods to shake things up, so I see no problem in doing my job this week and talking about the Magic that’s been played. If there is secrecy I’ll save it for the very end. Creating the best possible deck is way more important right now.
Ninja Bear Delver
If you’ve got questions you want to ask already, hold off for now. I’m going to do my best in this article to explain everything—my thoughts on the deck and every single major Modern matchup.
Gonna be a good one for those of you looking for an edge in the format!
4xDelver of Secrets
4xNinja of the Deep Hours
Get This Deck
Trav, all 4-ofs? Isn’t card diversity useful in a deck like this? You haven’t changed a single card in the main since your initial sketch! Did you nail it perfect or are you resistant to change?
Good questions. I’ve got to pull a personal story out of the bag to answer this one.
I like round numbers. Like, I REALLY like round numbers. When I was growing up I always thought 6 foot 0 inches would be a good height. It’s tall, but not too tall. It’s definitely a sufficient height for the things I want to do in life. Most importantly, it’s a round number.
Now, I’ve always been told that “height is genetic.” Sure. But growing up, I still did things that I thought would contribute to getting me to 6’0". Basically, I tried to eat a lot of food and run around a lot. Did it work? Maybe not, but it happened anyway, and it took a while. It wasn’t until after I was 20 that I was finally measured by a doctor at 6 foot even.
Funny thing is, people often peg me at 6’1 or 6’2 simply on account of standing at my full height all the time. And, with shoes, I guess I am at least 6’1. But 6’0… it’s round!
Similarly, 160 lbs seems like a good weight to weigh for a 6’0 man. It’s definitely a lean weight, but it allows for some strength and is not an unusual build for professional athletes.
Again, I’m told there is a genetic component to weight, and I believe that. But I will tell you that I work hard so that after I eat my last meal of the day and fuel up on water before sleep, if I step on the scale I will see 160.
So, 6’0, 160. Makes me feel good to have coherent measurements by the American scale I was brought up in, although admittedly I’m somewhat uncomfortable that 160 is not divisible by 6, so 180 would be the next best choice.
Now, I haven’t told ANYONE this before, so why share this now? Well, this is my way of saying that we are all influenced by our own irrational neuroses. Preference.
I prefer 4-ofs in a deck like this. It makes sense to me in a fundamental way. Is it right? I feel it is. But, more than anything, seeing stacks of 19 lands, 21 one-drops, 6 two-drops, 1 three-drop, and 9 four-drops makes me physically ill.
Basically, if you build a version of this deck, feel free to experiment and tweak numbers around. You might improve your winning with the deck by doing so, but I don’t think that I would.
The Case for Mono-Blue
The case for mono-blue starts with Gitaxian Probe
This is an extremely powerful Magic card that sees plays in a variety of decks. It’s a zero-mana draw spell! It lets you play more cards to flip Delver of Secrets while giving Snapcaster more flexibility! It plays well with Pyromancer Ascension and Past in Flames.
Sure. But there are decks that play Gitaxian Probe JUST to look at the opponent’s hand, and this is the most powerful effect of them all.
Looking at the opponent’s hand is incredibly powerful and underrated. If you start the game with perfect knowledge it becomes easy to craft a game plan around tangible information. “Judgement calls” don’t happen, because you just know.
In this deck, Gitaxian Probe gives you information on what threats to commit to the board and when, which spell to save Gitaxian Probe for, when to hold up countermagic, and more. It does all of this for ZERO MANA. The card is the glue that holds everything together.
But the card has a cost. Life! When we play with Gitaxian Probe, we expect to free-cast it between 1-2 times a game. We can’t afford to spend mana on the card most of the time. With the card in our deck we can expect to start the game with virtually 17 life.
If we are going to splash another color, we are going to have to do it through the fetch/shock combo. That’s the only way to do it with 0 comes-into-play-tapped lands. Assuming we are going to play just the minimum 8 fetches and 1 shock, we can expect to fetch twice and shock once every single game unless we slow down.
With Probes AND one additional color, we’re looking at a starting life total of like 13.
That is NOT much life when most of the decks play these cards:
A lot of decks in Modern are very good at switching gears and attacking the life total—starting the game with 13 life just makes you low hanging fruit. I don’t think it’s worth it.
Lightning Bolt is that ultimate gear-shifting removal spell/go-to-the-face-type card that works well in aggressive blue decks. It can kill pesky small creatures like Deathrite Shaman and Grim Lavamancer that Vapor Snag couldn’t, and can team up with Snapcaster Mage to take a third of the opponent’s starting life out of nowhere. The card is strong.
Vapor Snag is also a card though. Sure, Snag, can’t kill the small creatures, but it can remove creatures Lightning Bolt never could, like Tarmogoyf and Wurmcoil Engine, all while dealing a point of damage. Now, a point of damage might not seem like a lot, but it is 5% of a starting 20—not negligible.
Playing with the deck for two weeks now, it is not obvious to me that Lightning Bolt is better than Vapor Snag heads-up, and when you factor in the cost of a fetch/shock mana base, I think the case for mono-blue is clear.
Now you could try it out. You’d probably want to cut Disrupting Shoal. You’d probably want to switch Phantasmal Bear for Goblin Guide. You might want to switch in Young Pyromancer. You might end up just cutting everything for burn and either play a burn deck or a counter-burn deck.
You could do that if you wanted. Go ahead. I’m gonna stick with mono-blue myself.
Ninja Bear Delver Turn One Sequencing
Before we get into specific matches I wanted to cover turn 1 sequencing a bit, as there has been some contention over how to play Gitaxian Probe, Serum Visions, Phantasmal Bear, and Delver of Secrets.
Delver of Secrets[/draft]
Gitaxian Probe should always lead the way for 2 life, whenever there is a decision on how to spend our first mana. It guides the plan, and even if we don’t have a 1-drop in hand we have a 1/3rd chance of drawing one and wasting a mana on turn 1 is pretty bad. If we know our first play already, we can wait to see 1 more card from the opponent’s hand.
Then we have the case of whether to lead with Phantasmal Bear or Delver of Secrets. I will generally lead with Bear. Bear attacks through Deathrite Shaman. If we have neither Ninja of the Deep Hours nor Serum Visions, leading with Delver becomes better.
We also have hands like this:
Delver of Secrets
Ninja of the Deep Hours
I know a lot of people want to lead with a creature here and rip a land to hit with Ninja turn 2. I, on the other hand, will always Serum Visions here. This deck really likes to hit its land drops, and Serum visions is good at setting that up—but only a turn in advance.
By making this play we can never be rewarded with a turn 2 Ninja, but we also minimize chances of stumbling on land and falling further behind.
Ninja Bear Delver Matchups
I like all my matchups. Every single one. Now, I’m not saying that every matchup is “good,” but I have a coherent and executable plan in every matchup. Sometimes it will work, sometimes it won’t, but just having it gives me confidence.
These matchup plans are likely to change somewhat—I might tweak more, or maybe bannings will shake everything up. Until then, feel free to absorb what you can from this and copy these plans, and I think you will get a major edge in competitive Modern.
Before we get started, here is the full deck and sideboard. Instead of going through and explaining the sideboard I am going to go through the matchups, which will make everything about the sideboard clear.
Ninja Bear Delver vs. Melira Pod
Melira Pod is the most common tier 1 deck I’m paired against online. It’s a must-beat if you want to take down Grand Prix.
The main thing about the matchup is not letting Birthing Pod resolve. This means saving Disrupting Shoal if you see a Birds of Paradise or Temple Garden. Some games they will stick one turn 2 and the game just ends, sometimes we can get them with Disrupting Shoal and we have a huge advantage.
If we can keep Birthing Pod off the table we are in good shape, but they still might be able to gum the ground up with cards like Kitchen Finks. If our ground assault is halted, we'll want to set up for a Cryptic Command tap draw, Snapcaster Cryptic Command tap draw end game. If we have time to hard-cast Ninja of the Deep Hours before doing this it’s worth it, as it provides us a lot of extra cards to keep chaining off.
Viscera Seer can be annoying against Cryptic Command because it can be used to untap persist creatures like Kitchen Finks and Murderous Redcap, so keeping Viscera Seer off the table in a late game is also a high priority. Similarly, Deathrite Shaman can nerf our Snapcaster Mage, which is something we can beat but must be aware of.
Hibernation is an absurd card against them. Birds of Paradise, Deathrite Shaman, Voice of Resurgence, Melira, Sylvok Outcast, Wall of Roots, Kitchen Finks, and even Birthing Pod all get scooped up for just 3 mana. This is backbreaking in a lot of games in a way that Vapor Snag couldn’t be.
The main card Hibernation is pretty ineffective against is Murderous Redcap. Murderous Recap is capable of trading with FOUR of our creatures, so countering it is a high priority. If it resolves, we can still go into Cryptic Command.
A card that I have never seen a Melira player board in against me is Lingering Souls, and I am surprised by this. I suspect this will change as our deck gains popularity, and after seeing a single Lingering Souls I will probably adjust by bringing in Echoing Truth.
Ninja Bear Delver vs. Affinity
My matchup against Affinity has been stellar, which surprised me at first. In theory their deck is so fast that they can just run us over a lot of the time. The reality is different.
The Affinity deck is also pretty bad at blocking in the early game, which means it is easy for Ninja of the Deep Hours to connect. Once it does, Affinity can’t interact very well with Cryptic Command tapping their team and Snapcaster Mage flashing it back with Ninja of the Deep Hours fueling everything.
Similar to Hibernation against Pod, we have Hurkyl's Recall against Affinity. Affinity can usually rebuild over the course of 1-2 turns, but getting 1-2 turns for 1 card is ridiculous. We also have Snapcaster Mage to flash it back.
I’ve also been bringing in a couple Vedalken Shackles, as Remand isn't very good. Vedalken Shackles is free wins if the opponent’s draw is slow at all, but I think it’s clunky enough that I don’t want to board in the full set.
Affinity doesn’t really have much to board in against us—or anyone. It’s definitely possible to lose, but the matchup is surprisingly breezy.
Ninja Bear Delver vs. Splinter Twin
It’s not impossible for them to win by dealing 20 though, and a lot of that has to do with Grim Lavamancer.
That card must be countered, or it’s just about impossible to win. If it sneaks through, we have Vapor Snag, Cryptic Command, and Disrupting Shoal to deal with it, but that gives the opponent so much time that Snapcaster Mages and Pestermites can get busy.
In general, their deck is clunky and full of 3s and 4s, while ours is full of 1s and 2s.
After sideboarding we can make things harder for them while dodging the things that are supposed to make it harder for us.
Vedalken Shackles is the breaker in any kind of blue mirror. Every blue deck wants to win by attacking, and Vedalken Shackles says no to that plan. Splinter Twin has a hard time countering or removing one, and if it sticks, even a Grim Lavamancer is pretty irrelevant.
As the game goes longer we can expect to grind them down to the point that a topdecked Wurmcoil is the finishing blow, or perhaps our fliers connect enough to win.
I have lost individual games but not a match against Splinter Twin.
Ninja Bear Delver vs. GR Tron
GR Tron is a pretty interesting matchup.
Since the main tension of the match plays around these sweepers, Gitaxian Probe becomes our best card as it gives us the information of when to hold back and when to dump everything. Disrupting Shoal is also important as it gives us protection to add additional threats to the board.
The card also gives vision of the hand, and if that hand has only one piece of action, Vendilion Clique can be a wrecking.
To add the Cliques, I’ve been going down on Snags and a Snapcaster. Snag is an all-star against Wurmcoil, but not every game is a Wurmcoil game. Snapcaster Mage is a great card, but since they play 4 Relic of Progenitus there are times when it’s not very useful.
Ninja Bear Delver vs. Jund (and Junk)
I actually like my Jund matchup. It’s definitely not a cakewalk like some of the other matchups, but we have some natural advantages against them too.
They can steal some free wins off of a Deathrite Shaman into a Liliana of the Veil on the play. Similarly, we might lead off with Phantasmal Bear into their Raging Ravine. Almost everything they play loses life, loses tempo, or both, so if we get an early lead we can often hold it until a victory.
Their most powerful card against us in the main is Tarmogoyf, or Kitchen Finks if they play that. Without a beefy ground blocker to stabilize the board they can be in trouble. Tarmogoyf must be bounced, countered, tapped, or worst-case scenario, attacked through. It can be tough to muster the resources to pull this off with everything else going on.
Vedalken Shackles will beat Jund if they don’t kill it. They usually rock a couple Abrupt Decay and/or Maelstrom Pulse as well as Ancient Grudge from the board (which I have never seen). Hopefully they are going to use their removal spells on our early creatures and we have one leftover Vedalken Shackles to take the game over.
We can expect a lot of these games to go long, which favors us in several ways. In a long game they do have access to beefy manlands and Deathrite drains, but they are also topdecking discard spells while we have Vedalken Shackles and Wurmcoil to rip into. Our deck is mostly draw and bombs.
I have been sideboarding out a mix of Vapor Snag, Remand, and Disrupting Shoal. On the surface Disrupting Shoal looks like an easy cut, but the hardcast mode of the card is affordable in this matchup.
The Junk deck plays out pretty similarly, with the main difference being the inclusion of Lingering Souls. Lingering Souls can be really annoying, as it can trade with several of our creatures.
If I see white with black I will always expect Lingering Souls, and I will adjust my sideboarding slightly. I will never board out Remand against Lingering Souls, as Remand is excellent against the Lingering Souls flashback. I will also board in Echoing Truth every time as it is a huge tempo play against Lingering Souls that can be played a second time with Snapcaster.
Ninja Bear Delver vs. UWR
Is it just me or is the current incarnation of UWR just a bad deck?
On the surface it looks like UWR lines up very well against us, but I still haven’t lost a match, and I’m not certain I haven’t lost a game either.
How can we ever stick a threat? It’s unclear but it happens. And a lot of it has to do with UWR’s complete inability to actually kill the opponent. The deck usually plays 4 Snapcaster Mage, 4 Celestial Colonnade, and maybe 1 spice card.
Dealing 20 with a deck configuration like that is incredibly difficult, so games will go long. In long games, every single creature MUST be killed, which presumably UWR should be able to do.
Where they have Mana Leak, we have Remand, which is one of the most powerful cards in a counter war as it can rescue our own spell back to our hand, creating a clean 2-for-1 against even Cryptic Command.
Eventually these small plays add up and the UWR player slowly succumbs—but usually in a landslide. It usually starts with a Ninja hit, and it’s a gradual drag to 20 from there. At least that’s been my experience.
Again, Vedalken Shackles is so hard for them to beat. Their burn is occupied by our creatures, so how do they expect to ever actually kill us? In my experience, it just hasn’t happened, but who knows. Maybe those guys will get it together, and figure out a new plan. Maybe they’ll board in Stony Silence or something. I don’t know.
I’ve chosen to board out Vapor Snag and Phantasmal Bear. Vapor Snag is a flexible card that can pick up our own creature or bounce their Celestial Colonnade, but Vedalken Shackles is that card plus more.
Ninja Bear Delver vs. Living End
Living End placed two in the Top 8 of the last Grand Prix, so it’s something to be aware of. On the surface it looks like we just beat them, as we can put pressure into play on the first turn and keep up countermagic for the rest of the game until they lose.
That’s almost true, but Living End is a bit crafty.
Now, if we are on the play we can sneak in a Ninja of the Deep Hours before they get 3 mana up, but if we don’t, we might be trying to ride 1 Phantasmal Bear all the way to 20. Demonic Dread becomes a problem. Hardcast Deadshot Minotaur becomes a problem. Hardcast Pale Recluse becomes a problem.
Living End also has some opportunities to slip a Living End in. They can end of turn Violent Outburst or Beast Within and untap into another which has the potential to overload our mana. If we are light on pressure they can suspend Living End and wait for it to come off. These are things to be aware of.
Ninja Bear Delver vs. Pyromancer Storm
The Pyromancer Storm matchup is pretty straightforward, but I figured it would be worth discussing to bring up Spell Snare.
I used to have Spell Snare in the board and bring it in here, but I ended up cutting the card. That card has the unfortunate combination of being both inflexible and situational. It’s just not a good card in Modern. Best case scenario you gain 1 mana from an interaction. Worst case scenario it rots in your hand forever (common).
Now, Spell Snare is awesome in this matchup as they actually can’t win without resolving a 2-drop, but whatever. The matchup is pretty good anyways.
Here we swap out Snags for Vendilion Clique and Echoing Truth. Echoing Truth is a nice effect for making them pick up their Goblin Electromancer or Pyromancer Ascension as well as being a nice out for if they boarded into the Empty the Warrens plan.
Ninja Bear Delver vs. the World
There you have it. That covers just about every major matchup you would expect to see in a major tournament. For everything else, hopefully you can use this information as a base to figure it out. The tools are in the main and the sideboard.
I think the deck is a great choice for winning at Modern right now. I like my 75. I have invested two solid weeks of work into this deck now, and feel like the list is just about perfect until the shakeup. If you believe me, I bet you will get the wins you want, and if you don’t go ahead and tweak. I encourage you.
Questions!! Comments!! Think there’s something I forgot?!