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G/B Marvel Deck and Sideboard Guide

GP Denver was a total blast. It was close enough to my home state of California that a bunch of local friends decided to make the trip out, which made my usual GP experience that much better. There were the usual good eats, and I even got to partake in Mini-Master Friday. Better yet, I opened a Prophetic Prism in my first pack which was a pretty huge mise, though admittedly less impressive than the Sword of Fire and Ice I saw a neighboring player open. All these things were great, but it was playing a fun and engaging deck, G/B Marvel, that made the trip even better:

G/B Marvel

Gooroom originated this G/B version on Magic Online, and was championed by Mark Nestico and Brad Carpenter a few weeks ago. EFro did a good job covering many aspects of the deck here. What I want to do is discuss the evolution of the deck today and how to maximize playing it, with a focus on sideboarding, which proved particularly difficult.

Testing, Testing, Testing: Changing a Little to Change a Lot

Most of my testing was done through Magic Online in collaboration with JC Tao, Mark Jacobson, Rob Pisano, Eric Severson, and Alex Majlaton. We were all excited for R/G Marvel early on, but came to the conclusion that its all-in nature just made the deck too weak in an open GP field. We then saw the potential in G/B, as a deck that could adapt based on the opponent’s game plan, and were happy with our initial test Leagues.

What immediately jumped out in testing was the awkwardness of Grasp of Darkness. On turn 1 you’ll usually play a Forest and one of your ten 1-mana green spells, and this clearly can’t curve into Grasp when you need it to (like killing Copter on the draw). Sometimes you do draw Blooming Marsh, though, and then everything is easy. On top of that, Grasp is shaky in various matchups. The card is instrumental in winning against fast decks like Mardu Vehicles or U/W where killing Spell Queller and Avacyn is of utmost importance, but it is heinous versus control decks, and isn’t particularly good in Marvel mirrors except in games revolving around Tireless Tracker and both players have poor draws.

I tested cutting Grasp entirely and just running a couple Grapple with the Past, but I ended up dying in too many game 1s where Grasp would have been great, and realized that it was simply a necessary evil. On top of that, I discovered that Grapple isn’t effective in this build. It is nice that it quickly enables delirium, which can be difficult, but you simply never have time to cast the card. You have an abundance of 2-drops, and by the time you get up to 3 or 4 mana you just want to keep tapping out for answers or setting up Marvel.

Liliana was another contentious card  in testing, mostly because her role was polarizing depending on the matchup. Most the time she would just buy some time, but occasionally she would -2 for value. The main reason why she is so much worse here than in G/B Delirium is that you end up self-milling so much less without Grim Flayer, Mindwrack Demon, and Grapples. That might not seem like a huge deal since you can just rebuy a threat after it dies, but there are so many exile effects in the format ranging from Void Shatter to Kalitas + removal that this happens far less in practice than in theory. Still, Liliana is an annoying card for the opponent, which lets you set up your late game and sometimes kill an X/1 or two, at which point she’s amazing. You also want some number of planeswalkers for your Emrakul count, and that’s why we ended up shaving down to 2 copies.

While we were disappointed with the black removal, we were continually impressed with Tireless Tracker. This was mainly a card we liked from R/G, which we had made room for in the main deck as a way to play a better midrange game when we didn’t have fast Marvel draws. It was even more impressive in G/B since the deck was more often looking to play a fair game and cast Emrakul the hard way. The added bonus energy production from the Clues when you have a Marvel in play also pushes the card even more.

The last main-deck decision was a second copy of Traverse the Ulvenwald. I ended up cutting a Swamp for it simply because the deck was so successful at getting to the long game that you can easily flood with 27 mana sources. By replacing a land with what is essentially a tap-land/creature tutor split card, I found that I flooded less and won more games the tried and true delirium way via Ishkanah. I have even tutored for Ulamog and hard cast it!

The sideboard went through quite a few changes, but was also one of the big draws to the deck. R/G Marvel has limited options in what it can sideboard, and really has to just hope its spells resolve. G/B doesn’t have that problem because Transgress the Mind and Pick the Brain can clear the way for your key spells. Flaying Tendrils does a nice Kozilek’s Return impersonation that also has the upside of clearing away Scrapheap Scrounger for good. As more players gravitate to lower-to-the-ground curves and try to duck underneath Marvel decks, Tendrils simply gets better and better. There are fewer Depalas these days and more Thalias, and this simple switch gives the card much more power from the board.

Ob Nixilis is a nice go-big threat versus slower decks as is the fourth Tracker. World Breaker comes in similar spots, though it is sometimes a nice bridge card that can take the place of Ulamog when you want a card you might actually be able to cast yet still has a huge impact on the game. Finally, Ruinous Path rounded out our sideboard due to Gideon’s strength. If you don’t have a delirium Ishkanah out Gideon will quickly overrun you, and it’s nice to have a catch-all answer. I’m tempted to run a second, but at the end of the day you’re still a Marvel deck and you don’t have enough room to board in a ton of reactive cards without hurting your strategy.

One omission that I tested early on is Grim Flayer. My thinking was that you could board the card in versus U/W to turn on delirium for your Ishkanahs and essentially become more of a straightforward G/B Delirium deck. Against control you could board it in when they board out removal to catch them off-guard and win the game easily thanks to an unanswered Flayer.

Unfortunately, there were two problems with this strategy. The first was my idea of Grim Flayer’s effectiveness was overstated. It was a good card, but it only helped improve the U/W matchup and didn’t give me free wins all that often. Against control, they’d often leave in removal for Trackers and that splash damage made my Flayer plan way worse. The second problem was sideboard space. 4 slots was simply too many for an effect that didn’t drastically change my matchups.

Sideboard Guide

One thing you have to remember with this deck is that sideboarding can really hurt your Marvel game plan. If you cut too many energy sources, you won’t be spinning Marvel very often, yet you also want to improve how much your deck interacts with your opponent or your ability to play many more threats against delirium and control decks. This makes sideboarding with this deck much harder than it would be for more typical midrange decks, and is what led me to shaving numbers in some matchups.

U/W Flash

On the Play

Out

In

On the Draw

Out

In

This matchup is all about Ishkanah. If you can trigger a delirium copy you’ll have a very hard time dying and then you can figure out a way to win from there. To set that up, your main goal is to stay alive. On the draw you’ll see a bunch more removal come in and you even shave a Marvel. For one, you have much less energy for it, but it’s also less likely to resolve post-board. I’d rather ensure that I can stabilize than fight over Marvels while under pressure from my opponent. On the play, that changes slightly especially since you can turn-3 a Marvel off a Servant, which gets under their 3-mana counters. Negate can still get you, but if your opponent has an abundance of counters you probably won’t be under much pressure and can win later anyways.

I ended up going 4-1 at the GP versus U/W decks with this plan, and the one loss was my own fault, so I was very happy with how the sideboard plan played out.

G/B Delirium

On the Play

Out

In

This matchup is favorable, though less so than for the R/G builds. G/B Marvel plays more fairly than R/G, which G/B Delirium can take advantage of. Still, you have a bunch of ways to go over the top and a resolved Marvel is often game over. Tireless Tracker helps grind out your opponent, and Liliana gives you more copies of them if they get killed off. I like leaving in a pair of Grasps to help with your delirium and to stop Grim Flayers and opposing Tireless Trackers. They can also team up with Liliana to take down opposing Ishkanahs or Mindwrack Demons so it’s hard for them to be truly dead.

On the Draw

Out

In

On the draw I like boarding in Transgress even though it’s quite a bit worse in the matchup than Pick the Brain. You can actually fall behind pretty quickly, and want to trade your mana for your opponent’s cards as effectively as possible. Tracker is also far worse simply because of how mana intensive it is, a luxury you won’t have. Demon is good enough to keep in though. On the play you’re often ahead enough the Demon doesn’t do a whole lot, but on the draw your opponent can be aggressive with Ishkanah, which is the perfect time to have Demon as an answer. Do your best to survive the initial few turns and your faster Emrakul should win you the game.

R/G Marvel

On the Play

Out

In

Ishkanah actually does some nice things in the matchup, namely pressuring Chandra and allowing you trade a Spider token for an opposing Emrakul when you play Emrakul. But you end up boarding out all your instants and both your Lilianas because they just aren’t impactful enough and that makes hitting early delirium incredibly difficult. You want to Marvel faster than your opponent and play discard spells to keep them from Marveling. I think Chandra is a bigger gain than the black adds in this matchup, but I think you’re only a slight underdog. You gain enough from the other matchups that I still prefer to be G/B than R/G in the current metagame.

On the Draw

Out

In

You’re more incentivized to stop opposing Trackers on the draw than try to have your own and that’s why I like having a pair of Grasps on the draw and leaving the 4th Tracker in the board. Because of this, you also aren’t likely to be the first to Marvel, which means shaving a Puzzleknot is more reasonable.

Mardu Vehicles

On the Play

Out

In

Servant is a nombo with Flaying Tendrils, which is the main reason it gets cut. Marvel goes way over the top of whatever your opponent is up to, even if it grabs a non-delirium Ishkanah. You morph into more of a control deck and end up cutting some Eldrazi because drawing them is just so bad here. Ishkanah and your 6-drops become your go-to win conditions and this is the one matchup where you want all 3 Natural States because there are so many targets for them. 1 cmc is huge since you need to spend as much mana as you can in the early turns so that you don’t die on turn 5. If that happens you’re a huge favorite to win.

Your opponent might board into all 4 Gideons and some number of Fleetwheel Cruisers. If this happens and they cut some low end, you can be more aggressive by keeping in Servants and going for a faster Marvel, skipping the Flaying Tendrils plan entirely.

On the Draw

Same plan but I like cutting another Servant for the 4th Grasp.

U/x Control

Out

In

Play or draw matters less against control because the matchup is all about attrition and you want to play threat after threat until something resolves. The exception to this is when you can set up a discard spell plus a threat in the same turn to overload your opponent’s mana, though this only sometimes works, and be wary of Ceremonious Rejection, which can counter your Transgress the Minds. Your Marvels will generally get countered, which means you will often have excess energy. That’s why you end up shaving so many Puzzleknots compared to other matchups, since drawing too many copies here will often be the difference between winning and losing.

Ishkanah is an awesome go-wide threat, but it matches up pretty poorly against Torrential Gearhulk, especially when you don’t have Grasp of Darkness to help kill the Gearhulk post-board. Since it’s hard to kill a Torrential Gearhulk, I like keeping in Noxious Gearhulk as an answer, though you also gain access to World Breaker, which is an even better answer. The matchup is unfavorable but it’s not actually that bad because so many of your cards end up mattering. Games also go on long enough that it’s entirely possible to hardcast your singleton Ulamog.

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