Last weekend was like the Star Wars: Episode 5 of this Standard Format. Aetherworks Marvel struck back, and it dealt a great blow to the Rebellion of Generically Good Decks.
G/B Delirium managed to miss Top 8 of both Grand Prix last weekend, and there were also 5 Marvel decks in the Top 8 of the SCG Invitational. Despite this, Standard has proven time and time again to be a cyclical format, and there is going to come a point again where G/B Delirium goes back to being a top dog.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to master the G/B Delirium mirror. If you too are interested in sleeving up Standard’s most grindy deck, hopefully the words contained within will ensure that you won’t find yourself immediately at a disadvantage in the mirror match.
First of all, here is the most recent list that Brad Nelson and I sleeved up for the SCG Invitational, where we went a combined 13-3. Shaheen Soorani then took the deck, made a few changes, but still made Top 8 of the SCG Open because he is a talented, albeit misguided, magician.
Pre-board games can take a few forms. Early in the game, I have basically two priorities. The first is to establish Grim Flayer advantage. I want to ensure that I am not getting repeatedly hit by an opposing Grim Flayer because that kind of a card selection and delirium edge can easily snowball out of control. If I’m in a situation where I don’t have a removal spell to handle Grim Flayer, my goal immediately becomes to find a way to gum up the board so I am no longer taking damage from it, and that often means assembling delirium and finding Ishkanah, Grafwidow.
The other early game priority is to stop Liliana, the Last Hope from going ultimate. Often, this is a tough ask. In game 1, players often don’t have a lot of ways to handle Liliana, the Last Hope directly and have to rely on combat damage to take it down. Since both players have a lot of removal and defensive-oriented creatures, it can be tough to reduce her loyalty, especially since Liliana helps protect herself. Liliana’s ultimate is nearly unbeatable, so it is paramount to play aggressively to keep this from happening, even if you have to incur card disadvantage along the way.
On that same note, on the play I am almost always going to focus on using Liliana’s +1 to push toward the ultimate. Only when it’s clear that I can’t win that way, either because my opponent is going to ultimate a Liliana before I can or can apply enough pressure to stop it, will I start using her -2 to generate card advantage.
If you escape the Grim Flayer/Liliana, the Last Hope early game, the mid- and late game revolve entirely around Emrakul. The goal is to do what you can to find and play your Emrakul in the most devastating way possible and likewise try to set up board states to minimize the damage an opposing Emrakul can do. It is basically a race to Emrakul.
If you are losing the race to Emrakul, the goal becomes to set up scenarios where opposing Emrakul’s do the least amount of damage and leave you in a position where you can still win. The primary way to accomplish this is to keep the board as clear of creatures as possible, so Emrakul can’t ruin your board state through the combat step. Another way is to set up board states that can’t be totally destroyed by Emrakul. Using Vessels and Traverse and Grapple before they can Emrakul you is important—and sometimes finding your own Emrakul can set up situations where they wreck your board with Emrakul, and then you play your own copy and even the score.
Playing with and Against Emrakul
Two key cards to win Emrakul fights are Liliana, the Last Hope and Noxious Gearhulk. Having a Noxious Gearhulk in hand can sometimes mess up their Emrakul turn, because they are forced to cast your Gearhulk instead of doing anything else. If they don’t, you can just spend your extra turn Gearhulking their Emrakul and reset the board in your favor. If they do cast the Gearhulk you can then use the extra turn to try to find a way to kill your own Gearhulk and return it to handle Emrakul. This also means that they are loathe to kill Gearhulk in combat, and since it has menace, you can sometimes race their Emrakul if you have a decent enough board.
Liliana, the Last Hope is an interesting one. If you can get a Liliana to 4 counters, there isn’t much they can do about it. They can minus it down to 2 counters when they steal your turn and return no creatures, but then you have the ability to minus it again on your turn and return something like an Emrakul or Noxious Gearhulk to steal back the initiative. If you suspect you’re going to get hit by Emrakul, getting a Liliana out there and up to 4 counters is pretty powerful. Liliana can also swing Emrakul fights by using the +1 on an opposing Emrakul, allowing your own Emrakul to best it in combat. Lastly, sometimes it is worth leaving a Liliana on 1 counter instead of pumping her up to 2 if you suspect you will get Emrakul’d the next turn. By leaving her on 1 counter, they can’t kill her, but if you bring her up to 2 counters, they can just -2 her for no value and leave you with nothing.
You can beat opposing Emrakuls in combat by double-blocking with Emrakul + a Spider or Pilgrim’s Eye and assign all the damage to the small creature. It’s pretty important on Emrakul turns to try to remove all of your opponent’s creatures that can block Emrakul to avoid getting destroyed if they have access to play an Emrakul on their next turn, since they can just trade off Emrakul for a Spider token. Another tip on Emrakul turns is to use your opponent’s Grim Flayer to reverse stack their deck. You swing with the Flayer, take the damage, and then leave only bad cards on top of their deck to ensure that they can’t draw anything relevant before Emrakul kills them.
Games where both players have Emrakul sometimes devolve into a game of “who can play the most Emrakuls,” in which case it becomes even more important to keep a Liliana, the Last Hopes on 4 or more counters in play so that you can keep bringing Emrakul back and they can’t do much about it.
On the Play
On the Draw
The main difference between play and draw is that I don’t have Grim Flayer on the draw and instead I have more removal spells and Transgress the Mind to try to play catch-up. On the play, I don’t have Transgress the Mind because I just want to get on board faster, and trying to play this back-and-forth game of hand disruption only favors the player on the draw.
One main thing I want to note is that I think it’s unnecessary to have a bunch of expensive cards in your sideboard for the mirror. You don’t need a ton of planeswalkers and you definitely don’t need a second Emrakul, especially since Lost Legacy is an important part of post-board games. Post-board games in the mirror are decided by efficiency. The player who makes the most of their mana every turn usually wins, and 1 Ob Nixilis is enough additional top end. I’d rather just have a bunch of Tireless Trackers and disruption for their Emrakul.
It’s not always right to take Emrakul with Lost Legacy. Actually a lot of post-board games revolve around draining each other out with Ishkanah, Grafwidow, and sometimes if you strip Ishkanah from their deck, it doesn’t even matter if they can Emrakul you—they still are going to be hard pressed to win the game from there. In general, I’m going to strip Emrakul, especially if I’m ahead and know I can beat Ishkanah, but a lot of other times, especially on something like turn 3, I might just snag Ishkanah and ensure that I can win the midgame enough to where I’m not even worried about Emrakul going late.
Gonti is a card I have tested for the purpose of breaking the mirror match and I’ve determined that it is merely okay. It has a powerful effect, but often it has an irrelevant body, especially if Liliana can tick up on it, and even though it is a 2-for-1, games in the mirror are not always decided by card advantage. One player can sometimes have an active Tracker for many turns and still lose the game, purely because Emrakul is sometimes a 10-for-1 and undoes any amount of card advantage.
Grim Flayer is great on the play and less so on the draw. On the play, your opponent has to have 2 black mana sources and exactly Grasp of Darkness to stop you from hitting with Grim Flayer. Grim Flayer also pressures your opponent to have to spend the Grasp of Darkness immediately—otherwise, it runs away with the game. That means it makes things like Liliana and Tireless Tracker better because you can play those on turn 3 with the tempo advantage of your opponent having not done anything meaningful yet. Usually they don’t have a second removal spell for Tracker or they are stuck with a bunch of discard and can’t beat the card advantage of Liliana.
Post-board, I want as many efficient cards as possible, and my game plan is to get to the board faster than they do. I want to have an advantage in play early on, and then use cards like Lost Legacy to take the cards that can go over the top of this plan, namely Emrakul and Ishkanah. I also play cards like Liliana differently, preferring to use her -2 more often than just ticking her up to ultimate, as post-board players have access to more cards like To the Slaughter that can deal with her.
Lastly, it’s important to play fast and make sure your opponent does as well. Games go long, and there are a lot of slow mechanics-related aspects to playing such as finding tokens for Ishkanah, counting delirium, panning through graveyards, searching and shuffling the library. It’s really easy to get a draw and it’s key to start playing quickly from the onset to avoid it.