Another Pro Tour is in the books, and I’m thrilled with my choice of Standard deck.
The first couple of Pro Tours after no longer working with CFB were tough. I started strong in both of my Day-1s Drafts, posting a 3-0 and 2-1 record. I would fail to make Day 2 in both events, however, after going 1-9 in Constructed. Clearly, something was missing.
My biggest strength in testing for a tournament is being able to absorb and process information. I would rarely play games while preparing for a tournament, but I would watch as much as I could. I think this was incredibly useful for both myself and my team for a variety of reasons. Seeing how other people play with various cards, decks, and in different matchups is useful. It’s also going to give a more accurate representation of results, especially when it’s a deck I’ve built or I’m invested in.
I think this is something that can easily rub people the wrong way. “Why are we playing all these games and he’s not doing anything?” The truth is that I watch and process Magic all the time. I think about Magic all of the time. Even when I’m doing something totally unrelated, I still think about how to tune decks and improve matchups. This ability to take in information has allowed me to build or help build some of the most successful decks for years.
The biggest innovation for this deck came when I was doing something completely random. It was the middle of the night and I was watching some Netflix with my fiance when the perfect card to shore up a deck that had already been testing really well popped into my head.
But we can get to that in a little bit.
For Pro Tour Kaladesh, I prepared by talking a lot of theory and playing maybe 100 games against Patrick Chapin. I drafted by myself on Magic Online, and of course watched tons of Drafts between streams and the Grand Prix in Atlanta. Having a resource like NumotTheNummy to showcase so many successful draft strategies is a valuable resource to those without a big team to Draft with.
At the Open two weeks ago, Brad Nelson and several of the Roanoke guys played a G/W Aggro deck that looked like it did a lot of things well. They incorporated some great cards from Kaladesh, but the deck felt lacking. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Gideon in the expected Copter metagame, and cards like Fairground Warden didn’t impress me.
Here’s the list Tom Ross played in the Open:
Tom Ross, Top 16 at the Standard Open
I wanted to play the same powerful Kaladesh green cards, but in a G/B Delirium shell.
This meant I could replace Gideon with Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Kalitas is already strong against aggro and graveyard decks, but it also plays well with acceleration in the form of Servant of the Conduit, protection in Blossoming Defense, and pump in Verdurous Gearhulk’s counters.
You know what other card plays extremely well with cheap pump like Blossoming Defense and massive pump in Gearhulk? Grim Flayer. Blossoming Defense will let you force it through, get an instant into the graveyard before the trigger, and still be able to play a 2-drop on turn 3. Turn-2 Flayer, turn-3 Defense plus Servant means you can still get a turn-4 Gearhulk on time. Also, the game should be over.
I wanted this deck to be aggressive and not lean too hard on delirium. With a package of Gearhulks, Ishkanah would likely not even make the main deck, losing some of that payoff. Flayer tends to incidentally get you to delirium in any conventional deck, especially if you can force it through, but it’s not the first priority.
This meant that Gnarlwood Dryad was not exactly an MVP. I started with several copies, trimmed down to 2, then 1, then 0 for a time. My final list ended up with 2, and I think that’s correct. I never want to draw 2 of them, but having a 1-drop before playing Smuggler’s Copter does free you up to cast your noncreature spells on turn 3. More importantly, I could play it on the same turn as a Transgress the Mind or Grasp of Darkness that had to come down turn 3, while still getting to crew my Copter. This turned out to be really important and the decision to go from 0 back up to 2 the night before ended up being huge.
Smuggler’s Copter is Standard. This card defines what you should be doing or what you need to react to. It’s easy to crew and challenging to interact with. It provides fantastic card selection and fills up your graveyard for delirium, digging deeper to find what you need, discarding excess 5-drops or legends or lands, all while getting in for 3 in the air. It’s also an artifact that will die to removal often, and makes delirium so much easier to enable in every way because of all of that.
Grim Flayer is not incredible, but it’s really strong with the right support. Even in a deck not heavily dedicated to getting delirium, Flayer is great thanks to the green tools from Kaladesh. The Blossoming Defense tempo swing wins so many games, and once it gets through, you’re likely to both be close to delirium and draw the cards you’re looking for.
Servant of the Conduit is a nice form of acceleration. The second point of toughness is useful in a world with Thraben Inspectors and Lilianas. I’m not sure I played a single game where I wished I had more energy that just wasn’t available, so it did really function as a 2/2 that fixed and accelerated my mana. It carries Gearhulk counters well, crews a Copter, and makes turn-3 Kalitas a possibility. I found it tested far better than Deathcap Cultivator.
The revelation I mentioned at the top seems simple, but it really was a game-changer. Catacomb Sifter is the real reason to play black. As a 3-mana play, you’re getting two bodies. The 2/3 creature can hold the fort against Inventor’s Apprentice, Thraben Inspector, Toolcraft Exemplar, Scrapheap Scrounger, Sylvan Advocate, Grim Flayer, and more. The token can crew a Copter, which is priority number one. It also allows you to have a rather simple draw of Copter into Sifter, into turn-4 crew my Copter, sacrifice the Scion for a mana and a scry, and then play a Gearhulk with the Copter ready to accrue counters. Attacking for 3 on turn 3 and then for 9 on turn 4 is unbelievable.
Don’t overlook the scry ability of Catacomb Sifter. Creatures die and die often. Having all of the selection of Copter, Flayer, and Sifter in the same deck was a massive advantage and the quality of my draws was better than my opponents’ because of it.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is not a card you often see as a 4-of, but it felt right for this event. If I were to do it over again, I could see going down to 3. That said, I never lost a game from drawing too many of them (multiple times drawing all 4) just due to the power level against so many decks. If they can’t deal with it, it takes over the game. If the U/W decks with more Reflector Mages and Spell Quellers become more popular, Kalitas loses value, and should go down to 3 tops. Otherwise, I’m still happy with the playset.
Kalitas is one of the biggest blowouts possible with Blossoming Defense.. Once it starts making Zombies or picking up Gearhulk counters, there’s rarely any coming back.
Verdurous Gearhulk is ridiculous. Truly and utterly. This deck does the best job of both casting it on turn 4 and making good use of the counters by being able to spread them around. Counters on a Copter make a really tough threat to deal with, and having 8 giant trample threats and 4 more lifelink threats is too much for most decks to handle. Being an artifact to help delirium is a nice bonus, but this is one of the best aggressive spells we’ve had.
Blossoming Defense is kind of the oil that keeps makes this deck run. It protects your Kalitas or giant Gearhulk to take over the game, your Copter on turn 3 after playing a 2-drop to crew it and getting in for 5 damage, and forces through your Grim Flayer. There really are very few games where you’re not happy to draw this card. It can even allow you to finish off your opponent through a resolved Ulamog by protecting your threats.
Grasp of Darkness is the best removal spell if you can cast it. Cheap, instant speed, forces your trample creatures through for maximum damage, handles Copters, and is another instant to pair with Blossoming Defense to help delirium.
Traverse the Ulvenwald is going to be a G/B dual land that enters the battlefield tapped more often than not. But when it’s not, it’s a 1-mana tutor to go get Gearhulk, Kalitas, or Ishkanah after sideboard. Okay, so there are other times when you have no green mana in your opening hand and you have to mulligan, but that comes up rarely and the ceiling is very high. It’s your lone sorcery for delirium in the main deck, which is a bit odd for a delirium spell, but you do have a fair number of instants, creatures, artifacts, and lands to help out.
I played 1 copy of Liliana, the Last Hope, and that number feels correct. It’s just not that good in a Smuggler’s Copter world, although it is quite powerful against a number of the Copter shells otherwise. I ended up boarding in multiple copies on the play in a variety of matchups where it would usually shine, but often only wanted 2 max on the draw.
The mana base got a real upgrade in Blooming Marsh, but the real MVP is Hissing Quagmire. It trades for large creatures, can crew a Copter, finishes off planeswalkers, and plays defense—which is rare, since this deck likes to smash.
Here’s the list I played to an 8-2 record at Pro Tour Kaladesh:
Can you afford to play more Evolving Wilds? Maybe. I’m really not a fan of the card or my lands entering the battlefield tapped. I want to make sure I’m casting my Gearhulks when I need to.
The main deck worked out perfectly. The creatures are aggressive and complement each other well. You can’t get Liliana flooded, and you’re going to be able to curve out and crew up consistently. This deck has draws that win on turn 5, so despite Aetherworks Marvel being a poor matchup, you’re going to pressure them to kill you quickly.
As for the sideboard, it was excellent. To give you a general idea of how you’re boarding, the matchups where Grasp or Blossoming Defense aren’t as good should be relatively clear. I think the same goes for Kalitas and Liliana. If you look at the Marvel deck, Kalitas is just too slow and lifelink is irrelevant, so you’re not interested.
Dead Weight allows you to board in cheap removal. It works well with Kalitas, and will buy time and gain plenty of life. In the pseudo-mirror, I would board in Dead Weights when on the draw to deal with their Grim Flayers and Tireless Trackers. I didn’t bother when I was on the play, as I would go up to 3 Lilianas and have plenty of time to get my blockers into play. These are great against Veteran Motorist decks.
Appetite for the Unnatural is great against the Vehicles decks, your best card against Colossus decks, and can be very useful against Marvel decks. I’ll also board it in for the actual mirror where they have playsets of Copters and Gearhulks.
Ishkanah, Grafwidow rules the midrange matchups. Vehicles struggles to get through it, as does any white deck. It’s also strong in the mirror and will help you stabilize and prolong the game. In the mirror, I would only want 1 copy on the play to Traverse for, instead relying on Verdurous Gearhulk, but I’ll cut a Gearhulk for the 2nd Ishkanah on the draw since you’re more likely to fall behind. It’s also your MVP versus U/W decks.
Liliana, the Last Hope can deal with small creatures better than anything else, and will threaten to ultimate in the mirror. The main use of Liliana throughout my tournament was to bring back a Kalitas, Ishkanah, or Gearhulk to finish the job after it bought me some time. I would rarely protect it except in the most obvious situations, and I was fine letting it die if it got me the value of a Gearhulk in my hand.
Noose Constrictor is here to lower the curve. Having more blockers for aggro or cheaper creatures for combo when Kalitas is bad gives you some useful flexibility.
Ob Nixilis Reignited is for midrange and control as a way to take over. It’s not outstanding, but is an important tool against decks like Grixis and Jeskai Control.
Transgress the Mind and Pick the Brain are for control and combo, as they have always been. The deck is too aggressive to really care about these options in a midrange matchup, but they’re awesome for dealing with Marvel. Pick the Brain can be game-winning against combo. Unfortunately, Transgress can actually just miss against Marvel when their hand is Meltdowns, Contingency Plans, Puzzleknots, and Cathartic Reunions. Hitting an Eldrazi isn’t exciting, except to make Reunion a little worse, so this isn’t the best answer. When they cast Contingency Plan, leave 2 on top, and then you Transgress their Marvel, it feels really good (this happened to me in the Pro Tour).
I would love to have a great way to gain percentage points against the Marvel decks, but I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do. Luckily, the deck loses to itself a ton, so having a little bit of interaction and a super fast clock is a reasonable start. I went 2-0 against it during the Pro Tour, but I recognize that the matchup is bad.
That said, there was no other matchup I was looking to fade. I ended up going 8-2, losing to U/W Spirits after some mulligans and mana screw, and to Craig Wescoe’s W/B Aggro deck. I think the W/B Aggro deck was among my best matchups in the tournament, and Craig noted he was 0-2 against Delirium at that point, but I lost a super close game 3.
As far as this deck going forward? I strongly recommend it. So much so that I think it’s a mistake if you aren’t at least prepared for it. The deck is strong, resilient, and fast. I’m sure people will find ways to improve on a great shell, but I love the deck as is.
I would not touch the core of:
- 4 Grim Flayer
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Catacomb Sifter
- 2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
- 4 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Smuggler’s Copter
- 4 Blossoming Defense
- 22 land minimum
This still gives you 12 slots to work with and customize. I like having a few removal spells. Traverse is awesome and allows you to play a lower land count, 5-drops, and sideboard bullets. I could see adding another Liliana or more 1-drops.
I don’t like Nissa in this deck. It’s not as powerful or aggressive as Gearhulk and I don’t need more 5s.
Scrapheap Scrounger was considered in the Noose Constrictor slot. It’s better against Marvel, but worse against Vehicles. I think Noose is easily better. I could see another Dead Weight, but you need more cards for Marvel.
If you can find a good way to shore up the matchup against Marvel, I’m all ears. I think this is going to be one of the decks to beat going forward in Standard and I’m really happy with the results. If you have any suggestions for improving the Marvel plan, sideboard options, or ways to make the cards outside the core even stronger, then sound off in the comments!