As we get deeper into this Standard season, the accepted “best deck” has begun to emerge. While G/B Delirium, U/W Flash, and red-white/Mardu Vehicles make up the big 3, the power level of G/B seems to be the highest. The matchup against the other two is considered favorable, but some decks are popping up that exploit the weaknesses of G/B.
A recurring theme for those who want to get ahead of an established metagame has been to find a point where you can mash two good decks together. One of the best examples appeared just a few short months ago. The top two decks were Bant Company and White Humans aggro in the early weeks of Standard. That didn’t last too long, however, as a mashup between them created a deck that dominated the format for some time in Bant Humans.
If B/G is the best deck in the format, it’s a great shell to work with. So the question then becomes:
What is the best way to attack B/G Delirium?
The answer to that, for many people, has been Aetherworks Marvel. B/G Delirium did not have a good showing at the Pro Tour, but the most played deck was Marvel. The big issue is how B/G looks to set up its long-term game plan.
Ishkanah, Grafwidow is a great way to stabilize a board and shut down Smuggler’s Copter and other white decks. It can also turn around the game and win quickly, though nowhere near as quickly as some giant Eldrazi. Aetherworks Marvel offers a continuous advantage even if you don’t hit a giant threat the first, or even the second time.
Against other decks, even when you have your best hand of an early Marvel with the energy to activate it, you will sometimes need to hit perfect on the first spin. There are games where a turn-5 Emrakul, the Promised End just isn’t enough. You can make their best creature chump attack into Emrakul, the Promised End, but then the swarm (not to mention the extra card) might finish you off. If you miss on that first spin, the game is completely over.
The big issue with an all-in combo deck is—and I know that this is pretty shocking—that you’re all-in. There is no real plan B. You’re doing all that you can to interact your plan A as quickly and consistently as possible. With lots of ways to try to find the Aetherworks Marvel, generate energy, and then hit the Eldrazi you need, you can be pretty sure that you’ll be able to enact your game plan.
This is not a great strategy when there’s good interaction in the format.
For G/B Delirium, you’re looking at a few discard spells. The most common is Transgress the Mind, and honestly there are very few hits. When it hits a Marvel, you’ll feel like a genius, but Transgressing away an Eldrazi merely gives Marvel a little less fodder for Cathartic Reunion.
Cathartic Reunion, in addition to any Glint-Nest Cranes, Puzzleknots, Contingency Plans, or other cards used to generate energy can’t even be hit by Transgress the Mind. While a miss means they don’t have Marvel in their hand, it doesn’t do much if they get to keep all their cards to help find it in a world where you aren’t presenting a fast clock.
G/B Delirium is capable of starts that are fast enough to matter. On the play, a Grim Flayer into Tireless Tracker will end the game pretty quickly. Throw in a turn-4 Transgress the Mind before Marvel comes down, and G/B can win before they set up again. These draws aren’t very common, however, and if you had to take an early turn off to cast a Transgress the Mind instead of playing a threat, they will have multiple turns to recover.
The most common route to victory for Delirium is to set up behind an Ishkanah and finish the game with Emrakul, the Promised End, and is not an effective strategy against Marvel. Marvel is just a better Emrakul, the Promised End deck than G/B.
The question then becomes, what happens if we take the best parts of what makes G/B Delirium work and mix in some Aetherworks Marvels? You may have a deck that’s less consistent at implementing the G/B Delirium or Marvel strategy alone, but maybe one that is more powerful overall.
Jaberwocki has had success on Magic Online with his version of G/R Marvel:
JABERWOCKI, 1st place at the MTGO Standard Championship
This list does a number of things well, but it’s certainly nowhere near as explosive or consistent at implementing the Marvel plan as the deck whose sole focus is doing so. That said, it has tons of fallback options.
There’s Harnessed Lightning and Chandra for removal, there’s Ishkanah to stabilize the game, and there are plenty of ways to get cards into the graveyard to turn on delirium or hardcast an Emrakul, the Promised End. With Chandra doubling as card advantage and tripling as ramp to cast Emrakul, the Promised End, this deck has serious game. It can’t ramp like dedicated ramp decks, and it can’t Marvel like dedicated Marvel decks, but it gives you more fight against some tougher matchups.
The biggest issue with Marvel, besides the fact that it was still too inconsistent as an all-in shell, is that a single piece of disruption can ruin everything. Transgress the Mind is troublesome, but countermagic is even tougher. While many Marvel decks would board in their own Dispels and Negates to fight opposing Negates and Ceremonious Rejections, the big issue came from Spell Queller. Queller could counter everything relevant in the deck. Without removal spells, this was a hard counter that would often be enough to end the game.
So that immediately raises the question of whether G/B Marvel could be an improved R/G Marvel, understanding the fact that it’s acceptable to not be as consistent with either of the two deck’s main game plans.
Here’s the deck Mark Nestico took to a Top 32 finish in the latest Standard Open:
Mark Nestico, Top 32 in the Standard Open
G/B Delirium works because it is the best Ishkanah, Grafwidow deck in the format. The powerful mythic creates so many blockers with so much toughness that it can be near impossible for even the best starts to break through the barrier.
6 power is solid for a 5-mana threat, but it’s the 11 toughness that makes things so difficult. A typical board of a 1/2 Thraben Inspector, 3/2 Scrapheap Scrounger, and 3/3 Smuggler’s Copter (with whatever creature they play this turn to crew it) can do absolutely nothing against a single Ishkanah. The big Spider will take down the Copter, the Inspector bounces off a baby Spider, and a pair of Spider tokens can take down the Scrounger. You’d be trading your 3/3 and 3/2, in this instance, for a single 1/2 Spider token.
Much of the rest of the delirium deck is centered around finding Ishkanah by turn 5, but also making sure you have delirium.
Vessel of Nascency is the most potent. It’s an enchantment for delirium in a deck that otherwise wouldn’t have enchantments. The fuel it provides for getting delirium is also useful for a minimal mana investment. But most importantly, this is the one card that allows you to dig deep to find the missing piece.
The fact that you can also get lands, Puzzleknots, or a planeswalker is some serious icing on the cake. There will even be games that have gone deep enough that Emrakul, the Promised End is the card you’re looking for, so Vessel of Nascency really does it all. The fact that the other 3 cards, in addition to the enchantment itself, all go to the graveyard is another massive bonus.
Grapple with the Past and Liliana, the Last Hope are other key pieces to G/B Delirium for similar reasons. They allow you to fill up your graveyard and bring back key creatures. This will often be Ishkanah, but Emrakul, the Promised End isn’t uncommon. These are the reasons why Ishkanah is so overpowered—there just aren’t reasonable answers to it. If you use a great removal spell, such as Unlicensed Disintegration, the small Spiders will often be able to take care of blocking duties for a turn until Ishkanah is back from the graveyard with more friends.
Neither Grapple with the Past nor Liliana, the Last Hope are as useful in the G/B Marvel version, as they won’t be returning artifacts from your graveyard. This means that hitting a Marvel doesn’t actually help you here. They do make sure you have more fuel to turn on delirium and are in a better position to cast Emrakul, the Promised Ends that you draw or return with either spell.
There are 4 copies of Emrakul, the Promised End for obvious reasons. You want to hit her off Aetherworks Marvel every time. This also means that against G/B Delirium decks, you have far more copies of Emrakul, the Promised End. This gives you more insurance against cards like Transgress the Mind, assuming you can load up your graveyard in a timely manner.
The biggest downside for me in G/B Marvel over dedicated G/B Delirium is the “loss” of Traverse the Ulvenwald. I say that you’re losing it even though it is present in this deck, but you really can’t afford to play nearly as many copies. While the option is on the table, the downsides are too many.
First off, G/B Delirium makes incredible use of Traverse as just additional lands. Most versions run only 23 lands, and a large reason why you can get away with that is Traverse. A split card that not only functions as a land, but as a color-fixing land (essentially a G/B enters-the-battlefield tapped land, since you’ll be spending 1 mana to play it), that also turns into a creature later in the game is so overwhelmingly powerful that it really sets G/B Delirium apart.
G/B Marvel does have the option to play more Traverses, but it comes at a cost. First, you need to have plenty of black sources in the deck. Both G/B decks are utilizing the full 4 copies of Grasp of Darkness as it is one of the most efficient removal spells in Standard. They’re both big on Liliana, the Last Hope as a way to preserve life, load the graveyard, and produce card advantage. These cards are double-black, so you can’t go too low on black mana sources. You still need to have enough green to cast your Traverses, so you can’t lower your overall land count too much or the balance will be lost.
So why can’t G/B Marvel just run the full 4 Traverses and have a functionally similar mana base to that of G/B Delirium? Attune with Aether.
This is an important piece of any Marvel deck. It does what Traverse does in the early turns, acting as a G/B enters-the-battlefield tapped land so long as you have access to green mana. The energy, however, is critical. While Traverse adds late game power and consistency that Attune simply can’t provide, you need to have as many “free” energy sources as possible. The G/B Marvel deck can’t afford to play too many energy sources as it crams in all of the most useful cards that port over from G/B Delirium. This means that Traverse is going to be the big sacrifice, as Attune with Aether is simply a must-play.
The tools to create energy in this deck are limited. You have Attune, and of course the Marvel itself can add to the count if it’s already in play.
Servant of the Conduit is a nice way to accelerate, fix your mana, and give a small energy boost. Servant will likely die in combat, but it will let you cast a turn-3 Marvel against a deck that can’t cast its Spell Queller yet. There are few ways in Standard, at least in game 1, to deal with a resolved Aetherworks Marvel. Fragmentize is one after sideboard, and the few decks that can run Anguished Unmaking can certainly deal with anything, but even Appetite for the Unnatural has been losing favor for Natural State in sideboards. This makes Marvel more appealing.
Investing 5 mana, spread out over multiple turns, to gain 6 life sounds awfully appealing, doesn’t it? On the surface, Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot does seem terrible. That said, 6 life is far from an awful rate. Most decks in Standard deal incremental damage and don’t just swing for 50 on the final turn, so it’s not uncommon for the life gained off Puzzleknot to be worth at least one additional turn.
The real highlight of Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot, and the reason it is a mandatory 4-of in every Marvel deck, is because of the way it perfectly fits the curve. As we all know by now, a hand that can play turn-2 Puzzleknot, crack it turn 3, and play Marvel on turn 4, is off to the races. A mulligan to 4 that includes a Puzzleknot and a Marvel has a very real shot at winning the game with some lands.
The fact that your Marvel has 4 Emrakul, the Promised Ends to hit means that you won’t be getting an Eldrazi with incredibly consistency, but you don’t need to find Emrakul, the Promised End to extend the game. Ishkanah will often do the trick, and G/B Marvel also features a couple copies of Noxious Gearhulk, just like many versions of G/B Delirium. This gives you additional creatures and artifacts for the delirium count, but also a big body that can gain some life—both very useful when trying to stabilize and turn the corner.
In a side-by-side comparison of Nestico’s G/B deck vs. Open Champion Brad Nelson’s winning deck list, we find these similarities:
- 1 Noxious Gearhulk
- 1 Emrakul, the Promised End
- 3 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
- 3 Liliana, the Last Hope
- 3 Vessel of Nascency
- 1 Grapple with the Past
- 4 Grasp of Darkness
- 1 Traverse the Ulvenwald
Still, that’s nearly half the spells in the deck that overlap. Many of the spells in the G/B Delirium deck are just additional copies of these, as well. The differences:
1 Additional land
This is a relatively small difference of just 21 cards, and highlights the different directions of the two decks. Sure, Vessel of Nascency vs. Grapple with the Past is going to come down to whether you only want to bring back creatures or whether you’re interested in finding artifacts.
Seeing how synergistic these 21 cards are makes me pretty optimistic about the direction of Marvel decks. Your matchup against U/W is likely going to take a hit considering they have answers to your Marvel and you have less access to removal spells, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Fewer Traverses, meaning likely fewer Ishkanahs with a slightly tougher time of reaching delirium, means that traditional G/B should have the more consistent Spiders, which should give more game.
Sideboarding is pretty interesting. Here’s what each player ran:
You may not have been able to tell which sideboard went to which deck if it weren’t for the single copy of Emrakul, the Promised End in that first listed sideboard. Because Marvel already has 4 main deck, we know that sideboard belonged to Nelson’s Delirium deck, but otherwise they are incredibly similar.
This also means sideboarding is going to be similar for both decks. Tireless Tracker is great in midrange matchups where you can get aggressive but also want a late-game creature. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is great against Prized Amalgams and Scrapheap Scroungers. Discard is good against the mirror, slow decks, and combo decks. Natural States and Dead Weights are great against aggressive decks with Smuggler’s Copters, such as R/W and Mardu. World Breaker and Emrakul, the Promised End can go over the top of slow decks and are a nice insurance policy against cards like Transgress the Mind.
One thing that stands out to me is that the differences between the two lists are rather minimal to the point that you could come close to building an optimal version of either with a change of around 15 cards. It wouldn’t surprise me to see players attempt a transformational sideboard.
This might mean that Servant of the Conduit makes it into the main deck over a card like Grim Flayer, which would definitely be a loss if you’re trying to play delirium in game 1, but we’ve already seen people play what I would consider to be inferior creatures such as Sylvan Advocate by choice.
You can build a sideboard with the plan of taking out all of the Marvel cards in some matchups. You could even slant the main deck to be better in certain matchups, such as having more discard or interaction main vs. removal spells or planeswalkers, if you want to try a different approach. By then boarding into Grim Flayers, more Grapple with the Pasts, and perhaps some Traverses, you can have a deck that’s better in the “mirror” game 1 but that has more game against decks delirium is designed to beat after sideboard. It’s just something to keep in mind if you feel like getting creative.
Whether Aetherworks Marvel is the right solution to improving G/B remains to be seen, but it’s awesome that we continue to see innovation in the powerful archetypes. Which direction do you think G/B is going to take on going forward? Sound off in the comments!