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Feature Article – Scour or Probe (English)

Starting now, my articles should come out on a regular schedule. I spoke to the translator, and we discussed publishing an article every two to three weeks or so. We’ll try our best to make this a reality.

I have participated in a Grand Prix every week over the past two months, beginning with Pro Tour Honolulu, then Kobe, Baltimore, Seattle, Indianapolis, Nashville, Mexico City and Salt Lake City. However, as one might expect the second half of my trip took a toll on my physical strength. Just when I thought the Grands Prix were over, more stretched on endlessly. At times this was very hard on me mentally. There was little practice needed for Limited, so I had to prepare for the Constructed events in particular.

At Grand Prix Salt Lake City that mental fatigue had a definite effect on my play. Day One I dropped a match due to two misplays, and during another match I lost to Ben Stark, ending my chances of making Day Two. And, during game three of that match I made a huge play error.

I think today’s article will be about the deck that brought me such unfortunate results: Delver. I am mildly embarrassed to present this deck in spite of the fact that I performed so poorly with it, but without a doubt I believe it is the format’s strongest deck. I would like to share my thoughts on each match up.

First, I will introduce the list I played at Salt Lake City:

[deck]9 Island
1 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Glacial Fortress
3 Moorland Haunt
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Invisible Stalker
4 Geist of Saint Traft
2 Dungeon Geists
3 Gut Shot
1 Mutagenic Growth
4 Vapor Snag
4 Ponder
4 Thought Scour
4 Mana Leak
3 Runechanter’s Pike
Sideboard:
2 Phantasmal Image
2 Dungeon Geists
1 Steel Sabotage
1 Oblivion Ring
2 Celestial Purge
2 Revoke Existence
2 Dissipate
1 Sword of War and Peace
2 Jace, Memory Adept[/deck]

As you can see, it’s nearly the same as the list Yuuya Watanabe played at Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur. I really like this build. If I were to play it tomorrow in a Grand Prix I would leave it almost unchanged, to the extent that one of the few things I am considering is adding one copy of [card]Batterskull[/card] to the main deck. As for other possible modifications, because the deck is somewhat ill-prepared to face token decks and Esper spirit decks, I think I would like to expand my options there. [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] is the natural choice, but because there is no space in the sideboard I think it might be a good idea to switch it with one of the main deck Runechanter’s Pikes in order to cope with these decks.

But I think that perhaps the question you are all more curious about is: why play [card]Thought Scour[/card] and not [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card]?

[card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] certainly has the advantage of letting you see your opponent’s hand and formulate a game plan based on that information. It is also potentially a zero mana spell, which is tempting in a deck that plays fewer mana sources.

Nevertheless, I support playing [card]Thought Scour[/card]. A turn one [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] is very strong, but in other situations it is quite underwhelming. And the second copy is almost meaningless. Checking your opponent’s hand a second time and starting to go on the offensive by tapping out is fine, but the one time this is your only choice is when attacking blindly. If the game runs long multiple [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card]s are redundant, since [card]Mana Leak[/card] (either cast normally or recast from [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]’s ability) can still generally counter one of your opponent’s spells.

On the other hand, with [card]Thought Scour[/card] you can anticipate an effect even late in the game. It adds to the number of spells that are useful to flashback with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], it fuels [card]Moorland Haunt[/card] and incidentally raises the power of Runechanter’s Pike. Moreover, it can be used to eliminate cards revealed with Delver that you do not need as well as the second and third card rearranged with [card]Ponder[/card].

Anyhow, there is a lot more you can do with [card]Thought Scour[/card]. Being unable to play it for zero mana is a disadvantage, but even excusing this fact its remaining merits offer a lot to the deck.

Well, I think that discussing the deck is probably unnecessary, and from here on I will explain specific matchups.

Versus the Mirror:

The least necessary card in this matchup is [card]Mana Leak[/card]. In the mirror, it’s easy for games to be decided by tempo. The first phase is where you can either deal with your opponent’s Delver or not, then next their [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], and then lastly their equipment. These three phases cover just about everything you will encounter, and for the most part setting up for [card]Mana Leak[/card] is pretty useless. Because it’s an aggressive deck cards that apply pressure should be prioritized, and after the give and take pauses it is easy to fall into the trap of being unable to counter their spells because they have assembled the necessary land.

The cards I side in here actively answer the three phases described above. I use [card]Dungeon Geists[/card] to cope with equipment cards because it can take another creature out of commission while still being a large creature itself. There is, however, the risk of it being targeted by [card]Vapor Snag[/card]. [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] serves as removal for [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card].

In the past I had sided out one or two copies of [card]Vapor Snag[/card], but I now feel that that was a complete mistake. [card]Vapor Snag[/card] can deal with an [card]Insectile Aberration[/card] by making them replay it as a [card]Delver of Secrets[/card], and it is a huge help in winning the crucial tempo battle in this match up. It’s the number one spell I hope to flashback with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card].

I drop one copy of [card]Invisible Stalker[/card] because there is no other card I would rather take out given that I want to keep all of the [card]Vapor Snag[/card]s in. However, for that reason my reliance on equipment cards similarly decreases. Anyhow I suspect my opponent will also side in Disenchant-type cards, and in that case a two mana 1/1 is not particularly appealing. It might also be preferable to side out two copies of [card]Thought Scour[/card] leaving two in the main deck and side in two copies of [card]Revoke Existence[/card] rather than just one.

Side out:

4 [card]Mana Leak[/card]
1 [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card]
1 [card]Thought Scour[/card]
1 [card]Invisible Stalker[/card]

Side in:

1 [card]Steel Sabotage[/card]
2 [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]
2 [card]Dungeon Geists[/card]
1 [card]Revoke Existence[/card]
1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

Versus Esper Spirits:

This is clearly a difficult matchup. Lingering Souls creates a lot of trouble, and if they ever assemble two Drogskol Captains it spells the end for you. Because of this, here you have no choice but to leave in the Mana Leaks that you want to take out for the mirror. Basically, because you are at a disadvantage I think it is essential to make it hard for your opponent to predict your choices thus creating a pattern that is difficult to combat. For example, you could win via an unexpected attack with an equipped [card]Invisible Stalker[/card] or take advantage of the larger [card]Dungeon Geists[/card].

Side out:

1 [card]Vapor Snag[/card]
1 [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card]
2 [card]Thought Scour[/card]

Side in:

1 [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card]
1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
2 [card]Dungeon Geists[/card]

Versus White/Black Tokens:

Although not as difficult as Esper Spirits, this is still a hard matchup for Delver. It’s one where I am ready to concede if they ever stick an [card]Intangible Virtue[/card] followed up by [card]Lingering Souls[/card]. However, it’s easy to control the game state because unlike Esper Spirits this deck has little means to disrupt instants. Because you can add ways to destroy enchantments after sideboarding, I feel this matchup is not so bad.

Side out:

3 [card]Gut Shot[/card]
1 [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card]
2 [card]Thought Scour[/card]

Side in:

2 [card]Revoke Existence[/card]
1 [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card]
2 [card]Dungeon Geists[/card]
1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

Versus Red/Green Beatdown:

When I reviewed this list at a glance my impression was that the matchup would not be very difficult because Delver has plenty of possible routes to victory. The key here is to somehow invalidate the threat of [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card]. You must not try to cope with it. It’s always a much better choice to continue to take two damage. Of course because it will win the game if left untouched, it’s absolutely essential that you are racing with a clock of your own.

After sideboarding, I take out all of the equipment cards that are obvious targets for [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] as well as the now useless [card]Invisible Stalker[/card]. I make cards that can tangle with [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] the central focus of the deck. Because [card]Steel Sabotage[/card] copes well with my opponent’s equipment and [card]Phyrexian Metamorph[/card]s, this is quite an effective sideboard.

Side out:

2x [card]Invisible Stalker[/card]
3x Runechanter’s Pike
1x [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]

Side in:

2 [card]Dungeon Geists[/card]
2 [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]
1 [card]Steel Sabotage[/card]
1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

Versus Birthing Pod:

Your game plan versus this deck is very similar to how you combat Red/Green Beatdown. Like that deck, Birthing Pod’s foundation is a large amount of mana creatures and [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card], but it plans to develop a board with large creatures instead of playing burn spells and swords. Usually that’s all there is to it. Because their development is uneventful, [card]Mana Leak[/card] is very effective. They also lack somewhat in removal, so if [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] flips you can often make undisrupted attacks.

The problem is when [card]Birthing Pod[/card] resolves. Even if it gets through, that alone is not the end of the game. With the ideal setup, there is still a chance to win if you counter the creatures that feed the Pod. Moreover, when [card]Blade Splicer[/card] or [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] have entered the battlefield you have an opportunity to cast an instant and deal with the creatures with their abilities on the stack. Also, there are times when the creatures they want to Pod into are in their hand, and their deck functions rather awkwardly.

I find it very difficult to believe that Birthing Pod always performs so well. For example, even if it works flawlessly Delver can put a stop to it with something like [card]Mana Leak[/card]. [card]Birthing Pod[/card] itself is unstable, and I think that in the long run the matchup favors Delver slightly.

Side out:

2 [card]Invisible Stalker[/card]
3 Runechanter’s Pike
1 [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]
1 [card]Thought Scour[/card]
1 [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card]

Side in:

2 [card]Dungeon Geists[/card]
2 [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]
1 [card]Steel Sabotage[/card]
2 [card]Revoke Existence[/card]
1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

Versus Esper Control and Blue/Black Control:

The sideboard plan differs slightly for Esper Control and Blue/Black Control, but because the game develops in much the same way I am going to explain them together. Game one might be about even. [card]Gut Shot[/card] is completely useless against control decks, and although it still has its uses, [card]Vapor Snag[/card] becomes much weaker. Drawing multiples of these cards can make the matchup a little more difficult.

Throughout the match Curse of Death’s Hold is the key card, but in game one it is very tough to deal with. This is because if it resolves, almost all of your creatures becomes trash from then on. Basically, assuming you win the initial battle you hope to make a final push with Runechanter’s Pike or [card]Moorland Haunt[/card]. Regarding Runechanter’s Pike, if you draw it on an empty battlefield, you are unhappy, and their casting a Curse as a follow up is a scary thing. Because the second is nearly meaningless, even if you draw two copies you are often indifferent if it is countered on turn two. A Pike cast around the fifth turn while being careful to keep mana up for [card]Mana Leak[/card] is strong, but having said that tapping out for equipment is a different story.

After sideboarding, Delver has the advantage as it can efficiently improve upon useless cards. Here I can discuss the changes I have gradually made to Yuuya Watanabe’s list. There is [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card], and I have also adjusted the sideboard away from an “Aim for Speed” build in terms of [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] itself. That is to say, I have selected cards that match the “Play it and Win” strategy, which I am very pleased with. Of course, Jace is that kind of card.

He’s not a card that will instantly win the game, but even though many cards in the Delver deck seem low-powered if you are able to draw twice the number of cards your opponent does each turn sooner or later you will win. Blue/Black is the kind of control deck where establishing Curse of Death’s Hold is first priority as part of a metagame full of anti-Delver strategies. Beyond that, nothing more is agreed upon.

Given that, whichever manner of Delver you are playing I don’t think you should reduce the number of [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card]s below two copies. And it’s excellent to [card]Revoke Existence[/card] an [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] targeting Jace.

Side Out:

3 [card]Vapor Snag[/card]
3 [card]Gut Shot[/card]
2 [card]Dungeon Geists[/card]
1 [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card]

Side in:

1 [card]Steel Sabotage[/card]
2 [card]Revoke Existence[/card] (1 vs. Blue/Black Control)
1 [card]Celestial Purge[/card] (2 vs. Blue/Black Control)
2 [card]Dissipate[/card]
2 [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card]
1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

Versus Zombies:

Being on the play is quite advantageous in game one, and it can be a one-sided match. The zombie deck’s basic removal is a [card]Diabolic Edict[/card]-type effect paired with one point of damage, and if Delver cannot gain a superior position by amassing a number of creatures it can make for a very difficult game. If you start the match on the play and can actively develop the game state you may win with no special effort, but frankly this might not be a matchup you want to face repeatedly.

After sideboarding you have access to your silver bullet, [card]Celestial Purge[/card], and I think that there can be no mistaking the fact that it becomes a much easier matchup. The question of whether to include a third copy of [card]Celestial Purge[/card] in the board to improve your chances of winning deserves some thought. Drawing one copy of this card often amounts to a double blow, and it has a much larger effect here than against other decks. Finally, I think it might also be a good idea to remove all the copies of Runechanter’s Pike and replace them with [card]Revoke Existence[/card] or [card]Steel Sabotage[/card] to defend against Mortarpod and Swords.

Side out:

1 [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card]
2 [card]Invisible Stalker[/card]
3 [card]Gut Shot[/card]
1 Runechanter’s Pike

Side in:

2 [card]Dungeon Geists[/card]
2 [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]
2 [card]Celestial Purge[/card]
1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

White/Blue Humans

Delver’s strong point is that it has a fairly even matchup with nearly every deck in the format, but I find that this pattern does not hold with White/Blue Humans. This deck has action beginning on turn one, and cards like [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card] and [card]Grand Abolisher[/card] that cause Delver to function awkwardly. Additionally, there is [card]Honor of the Pure[/card] to increase their creatures’ size. Because White/Blue Humans can cast creatures like [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] if they establish their mana, it’s quite difficult to think about how best to combat this deck.

Though this is what I expected, in practice I found that the competition is surprisingly even. This deck is the same colors as Delver, but I think that while Delver has an abundance of card draw and a consistent predominantly blue mana base, humans has no draw spells and a predominantly white mana base that can be the deck’s downfall. Bringing in Dark Ascension’s [card]Dungeon Geists[/card] makes a big difference. Thanks to this card, Delver can establish a superior position in the damage race.

For the same reason that applies to the mirror match, [card]Mana Leak[/card] is removed after sideboarding. Rather than leave up mana for counter spells, you choose more effective active cards that have the same result. Additionally, you want to prevent a Thalia “checkmate” as much as possible. At any rate, you always need to be prepared for Thalia. It comes down to that.

Side out:

4 [card]Mana Leak[/card]
1 [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card]
1 [card]Thought Scour[/card]
1 Runechanter’s Pike
1 [card]Invisible Stalker[/card]

Side in:

2 [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]
2 [card]Dungeon Geists[/card]
2 [card]Revoke Existence[/card]
1 [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card]
1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

Versus Kessig:

Currently the deck I least want to play against with Delver is Mono Red, but I am not worried because in today’s metagame there isn’t really any space for such a deck. Besides, it seems that if strong countermeasure cards continue to pile up the matchup will improve dramatically. Instead Kessig decks cause Delver the most trouble. It’s much like losing to a resolved [card]Primeval Titan[/card] was in the past. It is good to make use of multiple [card]Mana Leak[/card]s, but nowadays it is the four mana [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] that creates the issue. Frankly, having only four counterspells seems insufficient. That said, increasing the number of counterspells doesn’t mean that you will succeed. In order to win the game you definitely need to have a damage clock and be prepared for anti-counterspell measures like [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card] and [card]Autumn’s Veil[/card].

If the game drags on, the Delver side is at a clear disadvantage. And, I guarantee there is no sideboard space left. Honestly, there are circumstances where the sideboard is entirely insufficient even though it is fifteen cards, and there is no room for more dedicated cards like [card]Flashfreeze[/card]. As a result, my current sideboard plan is a tentative solution of [card]Dungeon Geists[/card] and [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] handling Kessig’s four mana creatures, but…

As for that, I feel that I myself haven’t performed very well. I think I need to work over the construction a little more.

Side out:

3 [card]Gut Shot[/card]
2 [card]Vapor Snag[/card]
1 Runechanter’s Pike
2 [card]Invisible Stalker[/card]

Side in:

2 [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]
2 [card]Dungeon Geists[/card]
1 [card]Steel Sabotage[/card]
2 [card]Dissipate[/card]
1 [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card]
1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

Well, I believe I have covered most of the decks in today’s Standard environment. I made reference of this many times in the article, but in gathering data I’ve found that Delver’s strength is that it has a 50/50 matchup versus nearly every deck. Moreover, I think that it plays out in a similarly smooth way almost every game. This deck always tests the accuracy of your plays, but on the other hand your winning percentage will drastically increase as your skill level rises.

Practically speaking, whether or not you decide to use this deck at a tournament or not there is no doubt that it will continue to be a tier one deck until the summer. Simply giving it a try and practicing will be a useful experience.

Until next time, thank you for reading.

Shuhei Nakamura

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