Heading to Denver this weekend? Not interested in U/W Flash or G/B Delirium? Trying desperately to figure out a way to get an edge without jamming 100 games with either of those options, or playing W/R/x Vehicles and winning every die roll? Well the way I see it, you’ve got two options.
Option #1: Go Big
G/R and G/B Aetherworks have both proven to be legitimate options held back by U/W Flash. Otherwise, both of them have good “random” matches and crush G/B Delirium, but with a combo endgame. G/B Aetherworks in particular can also play threats like Demon of Dark Schemes and take full advantage of what Delirium is trying to accomplish. For G/R, you can see Pascal Maynard take it through its paces here.
The big upside of G/R is that you have slightly better filtering, and you can run Chandra, Torch of Defiance, which has finally found a home that really takes advantage of her. Jaberwocki, who has single-handedly popularized the deck on Magic Online, has his own mini-video guide here. The key to playing Aetherworks is that you absolutely demolish G/B Delirium and fight U/W Flash. In a two-deck format that may not be the choice you feel comfortable with, since there’s no real way to outplay your Flash opponents. Of course, most of them aren’t familiar with the matchup and that benefits you.
Or you can go the Paul Cheon route…
Option #2: Play Snapcaster Gearhulk
Torrential Gearhulk fell from MVP of the Pro Tour to barely finishing in the Top 32 of Opens. This isn’t for power level reasons—playing Gearhulk and drawing 2 cards or killing an opposing threat is still one of the best things you can do at 6 mana. Doing so at instant speed and having that versatility available makes it the best Gearhulk by a decent margin.
So why play U/B Control? It gives you the ability to play a deck that many people aren’t familiar with. Many U/W Flash pilots play the matchup incorrectly, which makes you favored. People treat it like U/W Delver vs. U/B Draw-Go, which is just completely incorrect when none of the early game threats are scary and U/W Flash’s best card is 4 mana. Torrential Gearhulk also gives the U/B deck a better ability to turn the corner and put pressure on U/W. A friend of mine won his PPTQ, and quickly sold me on an update of the 9th place GP Santiago list.
Versus U/W Flash
You want to play this deck if you expect U/W Flash to be the most popular deck. Your answers line up well and they have almost no way to get ahead with a single card. They have no good answer to Torrential Gearhulk and unless you tap out constantly, they don’t really have much to force your hand with. You have a ton of answers to Smuggler’s Copter and Spell Queller. Meanwhile, Avacyn can be dealt with on the stack or after it resolves.
You have 10 ways to deal with Spell Queller and even more post-board. You can also engage via Thing in the Ice when they drop down on ways to interact with your creatures. Some people will suspect Kalitas, which makes this strategy a bit less viable, but you don’t have to take that angle and you can simply board into a better Draw-Go deck. Having Thing in the board also means you can take an aggressive stance against Vehicles decks since they can’t easily kill it and even if it just acts as a wall, it buys time until your Gearhulks come online. Reflector Mage sucks of course, but unless your plan hinged on flipping Thing, all they did was force you to spend another 2 mana down the line.
One of the underrated keys to this matchup is just how much trouble you have with Gideon. Think long and hard about whether a hand with no answers to Gideon really is keepable, especially on the draw. Killing early creatures can be important, but you’re never really at risk of dying unless you run removal spells into multiple Spell Quellers. Essence Extraction alone kills every non-Avacyn threat and negates an attack. Meanwhile, a resolved Gideon forces you to tap out to Ruinous Path or lean on Gearhulk.
Remember, all they need to do is keep attacking for 5 if they have any sort of follow-up. Thankfully, many people will only make an army of 2/2s and eventually overwhelm you, but at least that gives you a decent number of turns. People underrate Gideon himself as a threat, since only double-Grasp-of-Darkness can kill him when he’s animated.
While the list I presented doesn’t run her, Liliana, the Last Hope is one of the better cards in the matchup since it turns Selfless Spirit into a blank and gains you a bunch of life. Later in the game you get to play her as a 3-mana Regrowth for Torrential Gearhulk, so her value doesn’t even drop off. Otherwise, you play the deck like a classic Draw-Go answer deck until you hit 6 mana and Gearhulk becomes the name of the game.
Post-board, Sphinx of the Final Word is a great finisher, and otherwise you simply want to adapt to how aggressive you suspect your opponent will be. Transgress is an easy throw-in, but the fundamentals of the matchup won’t change for either player. There’s nothing scary in U/W Flash’s board that you need to worry about—the planeswalker and Negate count will tick up, and that’s about it.
Versus G/B Delirium
What about the deck with main-deck Emrakul and the tutors to find it? The key is that G/B Delirium no longer focuses on disrupting you or casting a fast Emrakul game 1. Of course, that’s still your biggest concern in this matchup, since they can make you throw away quite a few resources even if you can stop her. Still, compared to previous iterations, Emrakul, the Promised End is far less of a threat as they can’t chain them game 1, and most versions don’t even run the full playset.
Post-board, if they just sit back and focus their efforts on jamming through Emmy, it only takes 1 Dismissal and 1 Gearhulk and you’ve shut down two of their major threats and have a 5/6 in play. Lost Legacy or Pick the Brain give you more ways to permanently shut down that option from their deck.
This and Aetherworks Marvel are the matchups where countermagic earns its salt. Void Shatter and Revolutionary Rebuff are both excellent and can buy a ton of time. Plus, Gearhulk on Void Shatter is often a 10+ mana swing. You also have far more options for dealing with turn-2 Grim Flayer compared to your U/W Flash brethren. The only major threat they have other than Emrakul is turn-3 Liliana, which can just tick up for a bit and then guarantee +2 or +3 cards down the line. Maindecking Summary Dismissal is reasonable if you want to hedge game 1, but you’ll have to give up some points against aggro or U/W Flash (Since Negate or Essence Extraction are likely cuts) to make room.
Ishkanah, Grafwidow is surprisingly annoying if it does resolve, since it can’t be Grasped and cleaning up Spiders is difficult without Languish. Of course, if 5-mana, sorcery-speed threats are resolving, your hand probably wasn’t great to begin with. That’s why U/B Control decks almost have to run the full playset of Gearhulk—chaining them is one of the few ways to get back into the game when you do fall behind. Playing multiple spells with your limited draw power and increased cost per spell limits what you can do compared to back in the day.
As for other matchups, I haven’t gotten to play them all that much—there’s a real possibility that 10+ matchups at the GP could be G/B Delirium or U/W Flash. I don’t think this format is as polarized as it seems, but I can’t argue with the numbers. This entire format reminds me of “Information Cascades,” where people play the decks more because they feel they have to instead of basing it on pure power.
Regardless of your choice though, this format encourages you to know the U/W Flash and G/B Delirium decks inside and out. There’s a reason people can’t seem to agree whether G/B Delirium or U/W Flash is favored in what is possibly the most common matchup in Standard. So maybe that’s why everyone settles on the known quantities instead of branching out as we see on Magic Online. We’ll find out this weekend.