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Silvestri Says – Delverlessly Delving

With M13 fully spoiled, it’s been confirmed that green decks will get a bit stronger and Delver will remain largely unchanged until rotation. They’ll need to respect Pod decks that much more with the singletons they get, and Augur of Bolas be put through its paces in the midrange variants, but I don’t expect a seismic shift. So I’ll write about what I played at the most recent PTQ I attended this past weekend, what worked, and what didn’t*.

*The actual PTQ, for one thing.

One of the biggest keys to this format is the ability to withstand both an early assault from multiple [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card]s and other recurring threats, while using the same set of cards against [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] and [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]. [card]Blade Splicer[/card] and [card]Restoration Angel[/card] are the best combination of cards in the format, precisely because they hold off every non-Titan in the format without assistance. Only cards like [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card] and [card]Ravager of the Fells[/card] have any real shot at getting through over multiple turns, and this assumes there aren’t two Golems in play. Otherwise, if the green opponent expects to bash through, they need to have back-up from [card]Gavony Township[/card] or [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card]—and the second is irrelevant if the Golems still have first strike.

As a result, I wanted to play a deck that could just grind opponents out of the game and still be aggressive when necessary. After getting tired of bashing Delver decks against multiple [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card]s and [card]Lingering Souls[/card], I decided [card]Blade Splicer[/card] and [card]Day of Judgment[/card] were where I wanted to be. It helped that my friend Sam Pardee had already laid the groundwork for me with his recent forays into UW Delverless.

This is the deck I played at the PTQ:

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Blade Splicer
4 Restoration Angel
2 Phantasmal Image
1 Sun Titan
4 Ponder
4 Gitaxian Probe
1 Twisted Image
3 Mana Leak
3 Vapor Snag
2 Day of Judgment
2 Dismember
2 Gideon Jura
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Glacial Fortress
1 Cavern of Souls
2 Moorland Haunt
5 Plains
7 Island
Sideboard:
3 Mental Misstep
3 Celestial Purge
2 Timely Reinforcements
2 Day of Judgment
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Phantasmal Image
1 Batterskull
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage[/deck]

My matches were:

Wins: 3 Naya Pod, RG Aggro, Delver and Esper Midrange
Draw: Naya Pod
Loss: Delver

Result: 6-1-1, 9th on tiebreakers

I expected a lot of green decks coming into the tournament, and a bit of Zombies as well. Most people locally didn’t actually want to play Delver, and even some of the people I’d normally expect to play the best deck / best blue deck were firmly on [card]Forest[/card]s instead. As a result I chose to play the deck slanted heavily toward smashing the Forest decks.

Anything with Forests Except Wolf Ramp:

Control the board and grind them out with [card]Blade Splicer[/card] and friends, [card]Day of Judgment[/card] when necessary, and don’t be afraid to throw away a card to get them to commit more board presence before sweeping. I’d happily sacrifice a [card]Blade Splicer[/card], or anything short of a [card]Gideon Jura[/card] or [card]Sun Titan[/card], to nab another Huntmaster / Metamorph / Hero out of their hand.

Realistically, Naya Pod and RG Aggro just can’t beat a couple of Golems in play or [card]Restoration Angel[/card] and a friend. God forbid you [card]Gideon Jura[/card] and make them bash into first strike blockers while picking off any left-over angels on the board. Any game one in which you see a [card]Day of Judgment[/card], you’ll be hugely favored in most cases.

Worst-case for you is that they have a board of [card]Blade Splicer[/card] and [card huntmaster of the fells]Huntmaster[/card] backed by [card]Gavony Township[/card], which means you either have to Day, or hope they wait until they can safely play around [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. Neither of these scenarios is game over, and most of the time if you have the Day you can shift the flow of the game toward destroying them with it.

Game one is slightly unfavorable if they resolve [card]Birthing Pod[/card], but even then, I’ve been on both sides of the match and it’s just hard to grind UW Splicers out. In the PTQ I ran two Naya Pod players out of relevant creatures in their deck after they resolved [card]Birthing Pod[/card] on turn three, and I came close with another one.

Post-board I lost a total of one game against Forests and that was because I played the worst I had all tournament, made a bad play to allow a bad attack, followed up by another bad attack, and him drawing spells from turn five until the end of the game. Game three I drew normally and dominated the game from start to finish. You just bring in the extra [card]Phantasmal Image[/card], [card]Batterskull[/card], [card]Day of Judgment[/card], [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card]s, and possibly a [card]Celestial Purge[/card] or two if you expect [card]Hellrider[/card]. [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] is also reasonable, but you don’t really need them, and honestly the 1/1 Soldiers are useless as anything other than chump blockers.

My final note is that if you plan on grinding them out of the game and running them out of creatures—a valid option—you need to concern yourself with time. I went to time against two Naya Pod opponents, neither of which I felt played slowly. What they did have in common, though, was that both had games where they activated [card]Birthing Pod[/card] around 8+ times in a single game. Just the mechanical actions take some time, and while shortcutting can help save time, it doesn’t fully make up for the fact that you’ll be shuffling upwards of 10 times for a single game. Thanks go out to Raymond Nguyen for scooping to me in turns, when I only needed another turn or two to win.

Wolf Ramp:

Hope they think you’re on Delver, so that they believe [card]Whipflare[/card] and [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] are OK/good cards against you. If they still go heavy on [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] then you’ll be in trouble, since you don’t have a great solution to them bashing you to death with a couple backed by Wolf Run.

Just dealing with [card]Primeval Titan[/card] and [card thrun, the last troll]Thrun[/card] is simple enough with your removal and [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] / [card]Sun Titan[/card] set-up. Key difference in this match is that you want to actively pressure them, instead of sitting back and grinding them out of the game. I’ve played this match a total of twice with the deck, so I don’t have much else to add.

Zombies:

While I didn’t play against it in the PTQ, I have a bit of experience with the matchup and feel like it could be the worst one you have. [card]Blade Splicer[/card] and [card]Restoration Angel[/card] combine for great defense, but Zombie Pod and B/R Zombies both have enough removal to put you in precarious positions. You can’t just sit back and ride a pair of [card]Blade Splicer[/card]s to victory, since they can just suicide creatures if they have [card]Blood Artist[/card]; and if they Pod, [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] trumps everything you have except [card]Dismember[/card]. You also can’t stabilize with [card]Gideon Jura[/card] the way you could in other matches, because [card]Brimstone Volley[/card] and [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] both make life miserable for you. There’s a reason I wanted three [card]Celestial Purge[/card]s in the sideboard.

Post-board, you can either go with Purges plus [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], or only keep two in and bring in the [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] to handle [card]Gravecrawler[/card] and [card]Geralf’s Messenger[/card]. Obviously Cage is better against the Zombie Pod decks due to [card]Birthing Pod[/card], but in general if you can handle Aristocrat and Messenger you’ll win those games. Dealing with [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] is a major issue, and my best suggestion is to really consider what you spend a [card]Celestial Purge[/card] on in this match. Messenger can be a very dangerous creature, but if you have a [card]Blade Splicer[/card] or Angel in hand maybe you just want to eat the damage and deal with it the old-fashioned way.

Delver:

I feel like most of the trade-offs in this match balance out, with the key exception a turn one [card]Delver of Secrets[/card]. A turn two blind flip is basically unbeatable, unless you drew one of your two [card]Dismember[/card]s. Otherwise [card]Blade Splicer[/card] and [card]Restoration Angel[/card] both match up well with [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], and the only scary card normal Delver has after the first couple of turns is [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] or Runechanter’s Pike.

While both cards can clock you very quickly, between [card]Dismember[/card], [card]Vapor Snag[/card], [card]Day of Judgment[/card] and [card]Gideon Jura[/card] you have some solid options for dealing with it in game one. Otherwise all of your creatures are either the same in the mirror or better on defense than normal Delver.

After sideboarding, if you have ways to deal with equipment you’ll actually be in a better position compared to game one. My own sideboard made no such allowances, because I thought the metagame would be heavily skewed away from Delver—and the few Delver players I did expect I put on Yuuya Watanabe’s deck. As a result, I cut the [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] and [card]Divine Offering[/card] you usually see in the sideboard.

I like [card]Mental Misstep[/card] over [card]Gut Shot[/card], because they both stop the turn one Delver, while it tends to retain value better as the game goes on, since countering [card]Vapor Snag[/card] can be a big game. Otherwise, having access to planeswalkers gives you an angle normal Delver decks lack, so if you can survive the first couple of turns without losing half your life, you should be able to take control.

If anyone has specific questions about the deck construction, leave a comment—just keep in mind the sideboard was heavily slanted toward my own take on the metagame.

The Worst PTQ I’ve Ever Attended

“Are we just gonna ignore that Louise pooped in the pool?”
“Ignore it? I already named it. Jezebel.”

So as I mentioned above, I PTQ’d this weekend in Sacramento, California. It was the worst PTQ I’ve ever attended, and one of the worst events, possibly the very worst.

Things that were wrong with the tournament:

1. The tournament was supposed to start at 11:00am. It started at 12:30pm. Swiss ended at 9:30pm and the entire tournament was done at midnight.

First off, holding eight round tournaments at 11am is already a gamble—if there are any issues or the rounds go long you’ll be looking at a 7-8pm end time for the swiss. To have it start past noon meant that all of our days were shot, even if we 0-2 dropped, unless we lived within 15-30 minutes of the site. We had a two hour drive to get here, and the only reason we didn’t get a refund and bolt once it crept past the hour mark was the sunk time and thought of an immediate two hour drive back home.

The reasons for the massive delay included the credit card machine breaking and having no immediate alternatives available. The printer died, but there was at least a spare one close by—so this wasn’t the disaster it could’ve been. And of course, not having enough chairs for the 160 players that showed up to the tournament.

Now one could easily excuse the CC machine dying, since things can and will go wrong at any time. The printer would be the same—except that it was only out of ink. Yes, they had to grab the office printer since nobody bothered checking the ink level of the one assigned use for the tournament. Of course this was averted with the spare printer, and overshadowed completely by the chair issue.

Chairs. Yes, we didn’t have enough chairs for the 160 players that showed up at a venue that previously hosted a 200+ player Sealed PTQ just seven months earlier. A venue that already had the numbers from our other PTQs of 130 and 210 players respectively. So not only was whatever estimate they had off (which if at all reasonable should have been at least up to 150), but there was no contingency in place in case there were more players coming in. So not only was this 50 players less than the largest PTQ to date, it shouldn’t have been outside of expectations anyway.

2. It was 100+ degrees inside the warehouse-esque space we were in. They had a total of one fan, and it took them 4+ hours to open the large supply door because the staff wouldn’t let the judges do it for whatever reason. This taking place in June, in Sacramento (the average temp for the week was 97), in what amounts to a small warehouse with bad airflow—and nobody accounted for or cared about the heat? Seriously? I could basically forgive everything else* if we weren’t baking for extra hours and any potential solution being no-sir’d by the store.

*Ok, not the chairs.

3. Less important than the other two points, but I may as well bring it up. The prize payout was laughable even by cheap prize standards. They took in 4k, and if I give them the most generous of pack prices of full retail, they were giving out 1,400 in prizes.

I’ll have more on this next week when I do a full breakdown of what went wrong here more generally, but this got me thinking about all the other PTQ’s this season at the store-level that have run into massive problems. If you have a story you’d like to share about a specific PTQ this year, feel free to send me an e-mail about what they did wrong—preferably major tournament issues and not just that a judge made a bad ruling. PTQ Fire Marshall is a good example, and the same with my PTQ this weekend. Multiple systemic issues that could have been solved by giving the Qualifier to someone who is qualified to run the event.

So next week I’ll publish some of the replies I get, the full breakdown of what happened here and at other stores, and if system overhauls are needed. Hell we may even talk about how to run a good event! With that I’ll leave off with what I ended up doing during my hour plus wait. Thanks to my esteemed colleague FroTim for coming up with abilities and flavor.

Garruk, Basketball Adept

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

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