As the format has progressed, B/G decks have proven themselves to be in close competition for the best deck in the format. It’s the deck that most pros have been leaning on and believe to be the correct choice going forward.
The truth is that there is so much to master about a complicated deck like this. If it’s going to be the best deck in Standard for many months, you should understand how to build it, how to play it, and how to play against it. The mirror match is also going to be critically important, but lucky for all of us, PVDDR wrote an excellent article detailing some great ways to approach that matchup.
Last weekend, I played in the MOCS monthly event on Magic Online. I knew I was going to play B/G, but was interested in trying out a different version. Luckily, Ben Stark had just made the Top 8 of GP Warsaw playing the following list:
Ben Stark, Top 8 at GP Warsaw
This deck looked awesome to me. I texted Ben, and asked if there were any changes he would consider. His response was that this version of B/G was maxed out to be optimal against U/W in game 1 while still being a real deck. There are many changes you can make to increase your win percentage against other decks in the field. I’m going to break that all down here so you can try to figure out the optimal build for your metagame.
I expected the MTGO metagame to be heavily populated by U/W, so I made very few changes. In fact, all I did was replace a Mindwrack Demon in the main deck with a Tireless Tracker and I was ready to shuffle up and deal.
In the MOCS monthly, I ended up playing against zero U/W decks—a pretty terrible spot to be in for a deck maximized to beat that specific matchup. The power of B/G was on full display, however, as I managed to go 7-1, win the event, and qualify for the playoff.
Now, for the individual card choices:
Traverse the Ulvenwald is a large part of what makes this strategy work. It’s an Evolving Wilds and Demonic Tutor split card more often than not—a single mana to help fix your mana and eventually get an Ishkanah or Emrakul, the Promised End.
This also slants the way you build your deck. There is no universe where this deck wants to play so many green sources except for Traverse. I end up fetching a Swamp in the early game about 95% of the time. You have Grasp of Darkness, Liliana, the Last Hope, and Mindwrack Demons all in the early game that want double-black. This makes playing a bunch of Forests a real liability, but the reward is so large that you make due.
Grasp of Darkness is such an efficient removal spell. It takes out most of the powerful creatures in the format—a grown Grim Flayer, Tireless Tracker, Archangel Avacyn, Spell Queller, and Smuggler’s Copter, and does it all at instant speed. It also makes sure you win any combat.
Grapple with the Past is a big graveyard payoff. Firing it off early often feels bad, but your draw should dictate when that’s right or wrong. Sometimes you’re just looking to hit your curve or find that extra land, but the most common reason for playing a Grapple with the Past early is that you care about delirium.
By turning on delirium, you’re activating your Traverses, which is a nice bonus. The real benefit, however, is having your Ishkanah, Grafwidow enabled as early as possible. This is your bridge to the late game and the most important part of the deck.
Ishkanah, Grafwidow is really what made B/G into a deck. It can’t be hit by Spell Queller, you don’t want to target it with Reflector Mage, and really nothing can attack through it besides Emrakul, the Promised End herself. Ishkanah can come down in games that look like completes routs and completely swing everything.
While 6 power isn’t necessarily the most in the world, that 11 toughness is nearly impossible to break through. Ishkanah doesn’t get attacked through easily, as Smuggler’s Copters and Archangel Avacyns alike can’t get past her. With a bunch of 3/2s and 3/3s in the format, attacking with a pair of those creatures into an Ishkanah results in you losing both of your creatures in exchange for a single baby Spider.
Ishkanah also offers you even more reach in being able to “burn” an opponent out. I’ve found a lot of games in the mirror actually come down to Ishkanah activations when somebody gets ahead early. Ishkanah is the reason that Ben Stark’s build is slanted the way that it is. He wanted to maximize Spiders and ways to turn on delirium early enough to matter.
Emrakul, the Promised End is the way you end a large number of games. It’s also the first card you sideboard out against aggressive decks. Having this form of inevitability is important against slower midrange decks. While an Emrakul, the Promised End alone doesn’t necessarily win from any board position, if you can deploy an Ishkanah beforehand, though, she should. Ishkanah plus Emrakul, the Promised End will wipe an opponent’s board out as they’re forced to chump attack with at least 3 creatures in this situation. Keep in mind that when you order blockers, you can assign damage in such a way that your Ishkanah plus a baby Spider can take out a 4/4 creature without you losing anything.
Liliana, the Last Hope can kill small creatures and save you lots of damage against midsize creatures, but those aren’t even the most important facets in this deck. Yes, there are a number of games that come down to making sure their creatures are small enough that they can’t touch Liliana, the Last Hope until she goes ultimate, which almost always wins any game. The real reason Liliana, the Last Hope is such a powerful card in B/G Delirium is because of the minus ability.
You should be reasonably aggressive with minus’ing Liliana, the Last Hope. Not only will you often get value by returning a valuable creature, but you’re loading up your graveyard with cards to help turn on delirium. Even when you miss, especially in games where you’re looking to both find and turn on Ishkanah and Emrakul, the Promised End as early as possible, you’re hitting even when you miss. By putting more cards into your ‘yard while also digging 2 cards deeper to your game-winners, you’re progressing your game plan.
Grim Flayer wins games single-handedly. I have never really seen this from a Sylvan Advocate. Yes, they can deal similar amounts of damage, but Flayer can also enable itself. Flayer can attack for 4 on turn 3 with a number of different draws while Advocate never could.
There are a number of games where Flayer will look a little silly. If you don’t have delirium, a single Gideon, Ally of Zendikar token can shut down a Grim Flayer from even attacking. By that same token, Grim Flayer being a 4/4 after Gideon, Ally of Zendikar comes down might give you a great attack there.
Hitting with Grim Flayer can completely change the game. A 4/4 trampler is no easy task to handle in combat, but once you get in a hit, things start to spiral out of control. Not only are you more likely to find more types to make Emrakul, the Promised End cheaper, but you’re more likely to find your Emrakul, the Promised Ends or Ishkanahs, or removal spells or whatever it happens to be you’re looking for. I wouldn’t touch this card.
Pilgrim’s Eye will chip away at planeswalkers in the rare game, but is often on chump-block duty. Pilgrim’s Eye is a valuable artifact that doesn’t impede your overall game plan and helps turn on delirium and Emrakul, the Promised End.
Vessel of Nascency is a reasonable enabler, but not much else. It’s an enchantment for delirium, and being able to dig deeper is beneficial, but it’s not extremely quick and doesn’t provide any real value besides helping to turn on delirium. In this deck, that happens to be exactly what you want, so there are 3 copies here.
I’d always play this card, but the numbers can be altered. If your game plan is to get Ishkanah on early and often because of the U/W matchup, then you’ll want more.
Slots that Can Change
Mindwrack Demon is the card that gets the most questions, and with good reason. Mindwrack has always been considered a liability against U/W. The reasoning behind this is that it can just get bounced by a Reflector Mage for a huge loss of tempo, or snagged by a Spell Queller.
Getting hit by a Queller is a real downside, but you’re still going to have to play cards in your deck that cost less than 5 if you want to be competitive. That card is a beating, which is unfortunate, but you do have a reasonable number of removal spells. Having a Demon under a Queller can actually be beneficial in some games as it may be hard to attack with other creatures when you’re representing a Grasp of Darkness that could free the Demon at instant speed.
Getting hit by Reflector Mage actually isn’t a downside. You’re very happy milling 4 cards and then having your opponent just add a 2/3 to the board. Your entire game plan against U/W decks is to get an Ishkanah in play with the Spider friends by turn 5 or 6. Demon, in addition to something like Vessel of Nascency, makes sure that you are maximized for digging.
Noxious Gearhulk also goes toward this principle. Gearhulk is a solid card in that it can kill any midrange creature, including Grim Flayer, Tireless Tracker, or even Emrakul, the Promised End while giving you a little life boost. Taking out a Spell Queller or Archangel Avacyn while being immune to other Quellers is also quite nice, as we saw with versions of G/B playing Gilt-Leaf Winnower before Kaladesh rotated in.
The biggest benefit outside of being a powerful creature that’s hard to block is that the Gearhulk is yet another artifact. By playing a pair of Gearhulks alongside Pilgrim’s Eyes, you now have a solid number of artifact creatures to mill, which make you a massive favorite to have delirium active before your Ishkanah turn.
Figuring out the final removal options isn’t easy. You’ve got 8 instants with 4 Grapple with the Past, 4 Grasp of Darkness, and 4 sorceries with your Traverses. The split between 1 Murder and 1 Ruinous Path gives a little more versatility. Ruinous Path is a little slow and definitely a card I’ll look to board out in slower matchups, but it’s also nice to have a card that can deal with Liliana, the Last Hope, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, or an Emrakul, the Promised End (if you get lucky and topdeck it). Having more cards that can kill Emrakul, the Promised End with Ruinous Path, Gearhulks, and Traverses gives you slightly more equity to get out from a bad situation.
Your Starting Point
There are 52 cards here, but a really solid 52. The Noxious Gearhulk really isn’t a necessity, but I think it’s a mistake to not have access to one.
As I detailed earlier, the version that I played came from Ben Stark as a way to maximize the matchup against U/W. So how would you go about things if you wanted to maximize your game 1 win percentage against G/B (while still presenting a solid deck across the board)?
The best cards you can bring in, or choose to start, against G/B are cards that can gain you that small incremental advantage in the early game that are still effective in the late game, as well as discard spells. This means that you’re looking at Tireless Tracker as your creature of choice against G/B.
Tireless Tracker won’t do much in games that end up coming down to Emrakul, the Promised End, but it will attack for good damage early and make sure that you’re favored as the game goes long .There are a number of games where there simply isn’t going to be time to crack all of your Clues, but Tireless Tracker will shine in the rest.
Transgress the Mind isn’t necessarily the best discard spell against G/B Delirium, but it is the best discard spell against the field.
Pick the Brain and Lost Legacy are both excellent at making sure there are no Emrakul, the Promised Ends in your future, but they have serious downsides and are extremely weak against the aggressive decks. If you want a main-deck discard spell, start with Transgress the Mind.
If you’re more worried about aggressive decks, or decks that use the graveyard, then Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is where you want to be. It’s common for people to make the mistake of hearing that Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is great against graveyard decks and thinking that means it’s going to be great against G/B Delirium. This makes perfect sense as the “delirium” mechanic certainly involves the graveyard, but this is definitely not where you want Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.
While being able to remove a creature and have it exiled to not be brought back with Grapple with the Past or Liliana, the Last Hope is nice, it’s also sort of a pipe dream. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is pretty easy to kill as it happens to be perfectly sized for any removal spell in B/G. It’s also rather undersized in combat, so it really doesn’t have a strong application here.
The graveyard decks you want it for include cards like Scrapheap Scrounger and Prized Amalgam. These cards get outclassed by Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet’s size and also get turned off with the legend in play. Because these decks tend to be pretty aggressive, the lifelink can be really impactful, as well.
You should look to sideboard Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet out against both G/B Delirium and U/W Flash, so it doesn’t seem like the most appealing main deck option. That said, it’s an excellent sideboard card that you shouldn’t leave home without. It’s also not actively bad against G/B or U/W, so it’s not like you’re losing too much in those matchups by having it, and there will be games where it can completely take over. When compared to Dead Weights, Ishkanah, Archangel Avacyn, Reflector Mage, or Spell Queller, it looks a little anemic, but still has potential.
I played the exact 15 that Ben S. used to Top 8 GP Warsaw, and I was very happy with it:
I ended up playing against multiple copies of R/B Aggro, a Mono-Red Aggro, and against Mardu Vehicles. This sideboard was well prepared.
I could take out a number of the slower cards, such as Emrakul, the Promised End, Demons, Ruinous Path, sometimes a single Liliana, the Last Hope (especially when on the draw), a Gearhulk, and Tireless Tracker to make my curve lower. Against aggressive decks where you’re boarding in Dead Weights, your reliance on Vessel of Nascency is also lower, so I looked to shave those depending on the matchup and also depending on what I saw game 2. For example, if you see Chandras, Ruinous Path looks a lot more appealing, while it may look far too slow for game 1.
3 Dead Weight and 3 Natural State give you options in the early game to keep Inventor’s Apprentice and Smuggler’s Copter under control. With 3 Natural State, Appetite for the Unnatural, and 4 Grasp of Darkness, I don’t believe a single Smuggler’s Copter was able to hit me more than once post-sideboard.
With a plethora of early-game interaction, setting up to get Ishkanah online was extremely easy. From there, Ishkanah would take over. Sometimes it would get hit by Unlicensed Disintegration or things would be slightly harder due to Declaration in Stone, but there are 3 Ishkanahs, 4 Traverse, as well as Grapple with the Pasts and Liliana, the Last Hopes. With so much early interaction, I believe I only lost 1 sideboarded game to aggressive matchups.
I did kill a Clue token once to slow down a Toolcraft Exemplar and cut my opponent off of a future card.
Many of the rest of the cards are for slower matchups. We’ve discussed why Tireless Tracker and discard are so good against the slower decks, such as the mirror and versus control. Emrakul, the Promised End also comes in for those matchups. It’s the card you most want to see on time, but more importantly you want to have access to a backup in case the first gets hit by Transgress the Mind.
I played against zero copies of U/W Control, but you’re looking to board in the artifact/enchantment removal. If they happen to have cards like Stasis Snare in against you after sideboard, you’ve got 4 ways to deal with them and Smuggler’s Copters, which is really valuable. You’re already very well set up for the matchup before sideboarding, so you’re not really looking to make changes.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Tireless Tracker aren’t good against them. While you’re not boarding in the 2nd Emrakul, the Promised End, you also aren’t boarding out the 1st copy. It’s good to have access to—you can completely wreck their Archangel Avacyn plans and they aren’t fast enough to punish you for having Emrakul, the Promised End in your deck like the decks with 2- and 3-power 1-drops are.
Your decision is how much artifact removal to bring in, and that’s mostly going to rely on how many Stasis Snares they play.
I strongly believe G/B Delirium is the best deck in Standard and what I’m most likely to play at GP Denver next month. That said, I’m hoping there’s some new and exciting stuff being built to write about in the coming weeks!
Which deck do you think will be the best to aim for in game 1 moving forward: U/W or the G/B Mirror? Do you have any sideboard tech that you’ve loved in G/B Delirium? Sound off in the comments!