Czech Mate – Beating Delver in Modern: Hexproof

Before GP Madrid, I spent almost two weeks playing Modern to learn how much the addition of Treasure Cruise and other cards like Jeskai Asendancy and the Onslaught fetchlands have changed the format.

The first thing I noticed was that on Magic Online, almost everyone played either U/R Delver or Burn. Delver because it is the best Treasure Cruise deck, and Burn because it was the best strategy against Delver. Between fetchlands, duals, Probes, and sometimes even Gut Shots, Delver takes a lot of damage in order to gain tempo and fill their graveyard quickly for Treasure Cruises. Burn takes advantage of that, killing their guys with Searing Blaze and Searing Blood while only playing creatures that are basically guaranteed to deal damage to them even if they die right away—Goblin Guide and Eidolon of the Great Revel.

For the first couple days I tried playing these decks as well, making sure I was prepared for the mirror matches with cards like Kor Firewalker, Lightning Helix, and Forked Bolt, but it felt like I wasn’t really accomplishing anything. I was just building a metagame deck which beat Delver and Burn. But GPs are different, most people just play whatever deck they have been playing for a while. The real life metagame doesn’t change nearly as quickly as it does on Magic Online, because you can’t just sell your deck to a bot and immediately buy a new one in a couple of minutes.

I guess you can’t really do that on Magic Online anymore either, because there’s basically nothing that works on this new client, and trading might just be the worst part of it. Literally every single time I play on Magic Online since the new client has been forced on us, it is a horrible and infuriating experience. The program needs a complete rework and until that happens, unless I really have to use it to test for a tournament, I will take my business elsewhere. It’s sad, because I love Magic and this is obviously a bad thing for everyone, but it is seriously mind-boggling how bad this program is after 10+ years of work. Magic Online used to have the same effect Hearthstone has on me now—it made me want to stay up all night and just play non-stop. Now it is the exact opposite, it makes me never want to turn it on again.

Back to Modern. Eventually I decided that I should just try to explore other decks, even at the cost of losing a lot, because if your deck wasn’t good against Delver and Burn you were going to have a bad time. The first deck I thought could be good was Shouta’s Tezzeret that he finished 9th with at the last Japanese Modern GP:

Tezzeret

What I liked about it the most was that it seemed like the perfect home for Chalice of the Voids so I shaved a couple cards here and there to make room for 4 and took the deck for a spin. Chalice set on 1 was pretty much game over not only against Delver and Burn but also against other decks like Hexproof and some versions of Ascendancy Combo. The deck felt OK, but not great. Sometimes I had the nut draw with Mox Opal and Darksteel Citadel into a quick Tezzeret which obviously felt great, but in some games I would just draw all lands and Signets and then in the next game they would Ancient Grudge my two sources of colored mana and I would be unable to play a spell. 30 mana sources and only 4 card selection spells makes the deck a little too clunky in my opinion. I guess it’s one of the decks only Shouta really knows how to win with.

After some time I gave up and moved on to Jeskai Ascendancy. We had the version with green but it quickly became apparent that trying to go off with Birds of Paradise in a world where almost every deck has 4 Lightning Bolt is not a great plan. If you could play 8 Sylvan Caryatid the deck would be awesome, but 4 is just not enough. Wrapter did a good job of realizing straight-up Jeskai was the way to go and breaking it for the Modern portion of Worlds, so if you are interested in this deck I’d advise you to just play his version:

Jeskai Ascendancy Combo

After that, I tried various G/B decks with Treasure Cruise, but the mana was very clunky and I always had to take so much damage that I was easy prey for all the red decks. Another issue with the G/B/X decks, whether it is Junk or Jund, is that there are no good 2-drops besides Tarmogoyf. As long as Delver and various Burn decks are such a big part of the metagame, Dark Confidant is just too slow and too much of a pain. And the problem with Scavenging Ooze is that the first one is decent, but every other copy you draw after that is mediocre at best.

I also played a little bit with Frank’s version of Affinity with Chalices, but every time someone played turn-2 Stony Silence or 2-for-1’d me with Forked Bolt I wanted to concede. Dario Parazzoli piloted an interesting version that actually uses cards with the keyword “affinity for artifacts” to the Top 8 of GP Milan, so who knows, maybe this is the way to go. The deck only plays 11 lands (+4 Moxes) but it’s definitely capable of some explosive starts and I’m sure that Scale of Chiss-Goria caught more than enough people off guard:

Affinity

My last effort at trying something new was when I remembered that Seismic Assault + Life from the Loam used to be dominant. I looked up some old version and built something that I thought might have a shot:

Well, long story short, it was bad. It felt like my only good cards were Tarmogoyf and Seismic Assault and every time they got me in the Life from the Loam lock with Spell Snares and Snapcasters and other counters, I just felt hopeless. Also Treasure Cruise. If I resolved Siesmic Assault on turn 3, it was actually pretty good, but considering there are 28 lands in the deck and no card selection, the odds of naturally drawing everything (assuming Dark Confidant just dies all the time in this format) are not very high.

In the end, I got fed up with losing to Delver and started looking for something that actually had a good matchup against it. With one week left before the GP, I came up with this:

Finally I had a deck that CRUSHED Delver and Burn and wasn’t bad against everything else. It even made sense. This deck used to be bad because there was a lot of Jund and Junk, and you pretty much couldn’t beat discard into Liliana. Now no one was playing Liliana because Young Pyromancer makes her look really bad and discard was also nowhere to be found.

I tried different mana bases, thinking Gemstone Mine would be good, but it’s not, because sometimes the games go long, especially after sideboard and you can’t afford to have a land that you can only tap for mana 3 times. Path to Exile didn’t seem necessary because my creatures were always bigger and Pod wasn’t very popular, so I moved those to the sideboard to make sure I had an answer for Spellskite against decks where I didn’t want to bring in artifact removal.

I noticed that I very rarely got to cast Kor Spiritdancer. In a format where almost everyone has instant-speed removal, you don’t want to go all-in on a creature they can kill. For a while I cut them and tried Silhana Ledgewalker and Bassara Tower Archer to have more hexproof guys, which meant I had to mulligan a little bit less, but it didn’t seem worth it. In most of your games you arent going to use Spiritdancer at all, but when he’s good he’s really good and you will appreciate him against decks like Affinity, Merfolk, Soul Sisters etc.

Some of the numbers might seem random, but I was happy with the list. I never thought I would play the card Spirit Link in a sanctioned match, but it just seemed like a necessary evil in this format. Unflinching Courage gives the creature trample and can’t be Spell Snared, which is very important. Keen Sense is good on the play and great against any control decks, but horrible on the draw, so I only played 1.

With this deck you don’t want to sideboard too many cards, because it basicaly functions like a combo deck so the sideboard only has high impact cards for specific matchups. I tried Ray of Revelation and Seal of Primordium instead of some Nature’s Claims for a while, but I think the 1 extra mana is more relevant than being able to kill 2 enchantments or Chalice of the Void for 1. Guttural Response is your best card against Scapeshift, because their plan is to chain Cryptic Commands until they have enough lands to Scapeshift for lethal. It also counters Dig Through Time and Hibernation.

Unfortunately the GP didn’t go as well as I hoped and I finished the tournament with 5 losses, missing the money by a couple places. Everything went according to plan against Delver and Burn but I played against too many decks with Liliana and also got destroyed by some unconventional sideboard cards like Porphyry Nodes. It also seemed that every blue deck I faced had at least 1 or more Hibernations in the sideboard, which was probably because the Hexproof deck was doing really well online during the week leading up to the GP and also because people were probably too afraid of Birthing Pod.

I still think it’s a solid choice for Modern, especially if your metagame is full of Delver, but expect this deck to get much worse if people start playing Jund, Junk, and Birthing Pod. You also need to mulligan very aggresively and it can get a bit frustrating, because your average starting hand size will definitely be much lower than usual, but you absolutely cannot keep a hand without a creature. It’s much easier to win with 5 cards with this deck than to keep 7 and hope to draw a hexproof guy in the first two turns.

Modern is a wide open format. There are so many different playable decks that attack from so many angles that it’s basically impossible to find a deck that has a good matchup against all of them. Ultimately you will just have to choose something you will not be able to beat. I think the most important lesson that I learned about Modern is that it rewards experience rather than creativity. Knowing your deck inside out, being familiar with every matchup, and having a good sideboard strategy will give you a higher chance of doing well than playing a deck that might have a 5% higher win rate against the field.

That’s it for today, thanks for reading!

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