Esper Delve by Patrick Chapin

Finkel: Why Did You Choose This Deck?

Chapin: I chose to play this deck because I believe it is the strongest strategy in this format. It’s like playing Legacy when everyone else is playing Modern.

Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler are extremely powerful in Modern, thanks to all of the cheap cantrips. They are much better than Tombstalker since they generally require less delving and often cost only a single mana. The deck’s primary strategy is to cast Tasigur or Angler on turn 2 backed up with a piece of disruption (Stubborn Denial, Thoughtseize, or Inquisition of Kozilek).

Tasigur is the flashy mythic rare and totally amazing, but Gurmag Angler is actually even better in this deck. It’s not that much harder to cast and kills a turn faster. Additionally, 5/5 is an incredible set of stats, as it lets you completely trump Siege Rhino and most Tarmogoyfs (particularly once you exile your own graveyard). Finally, Gurmag Angler is not a legend, which is very helpful in games where the game gets bogged down on the ground. It’s extremely minor, but Gurmag Angler being a Zombie also means it can’t be killed with Victim of Night, which came up multiple times in testing.

This is not to say that Tasigur is just worse. In addition to being a 1-mana 4/5, he’s also a valuable source of card advantage for grindy, attrition matchups. While you don’t get to use his ability that much against some very fast decks, it can be game winning against Abzan. He already gets rid of a lot of cards in your graveyard, himself, and Anglers help you shrink your graveyard so small that you often get what you want from Tasigur (over and over). And even if you don’t, at least you draw an extra card a turn (Gitaxian Probe, Bauble, etc).

The rest of the deck is just support for our core engine and hyper-efficient interactive cards, including Stubborn Denial, which is absolutely incredible in this deck. It’s usually just a 1-mana Negate, except on the first turn, and on the first turn, people usually can’t pay the 1. Being able to protect your Tasigur or Angler from Path to Exile is huge, but it also offers an extremely effective way of interacting with most of the format’s combo decks.

Finkel: What’s Your General Plan with the Deck?

Chapin: The deck is designed to cast a fatty on turn 2 most games, often with disruption to protect it. To cast a turn 2 Tasigur, you only need five cards in your graveyard (or four if you are willing to spend two mana for him). Each fetchland counts, each Mishra’s Bauble counts, each Gitaxian Probe counts, and the first two 1-mana spells you cast count (one on turn 1 and one on turn 2, unless you want to hold up Stubborn Denial). Thought Scour actually counts triple and basically ensures the turn 2 fatty on its own.

Normal combinations that make Tasigur on turn 2:
Thought Scour + any 1-cost spell and a fetchland or a 0-cost spell
Two 1-cost spells + three fetchland/0-cost spells (obviously needing at least one 0-cost spell)

The Angler is a little trickier to get out turn 2, but still happens commonly:
Thought Scour + any 1-cost spell and two fetchland/0-cost spells
Two 1-cost spells + four fetchland/0-cost spells

And of course, if you ever draw two Thought Scours, that is six cards right there, not even counting fetches or zeros. Amusingly, sometimes people will cast Inquisition of Kozilek and actually speed us up!

We’ve got a huge amount of library manipulation that lets us rip through our deck to find whatever interactive elements are needed against each opponent. We’ve only got a little permission, a little discard, a little creature removal, and our sideboard has a little land destruction and a few sweepers, but we dig so hard it’s like we have almost twice as many of our key cards.

Finkel: Can You Talk About Sideboarding?

Chapin: I had considered playing straight blue/black, as Path to Exile can be replaced with downgraded in-color cards like Geth’s Verdict, Go for the Throat, Victim of Night, Dismember, and Murderous Cut, but the white sideboard cards are incredibly valuable for overcoming three of the deck’s harder matchups: Affinity, Zoo, and Burn.

Additionally, Lingering Souls greatly improves the Abzan matchup and adds several valuable dimensions to the deck (many threats instead of one big one, flying threats, card advantage, tons of chump blockers, etc.). Lingering Souls is also just an awesome card in the deck because of Thought Scour and Liliana. If we ever flip it to Thought Scour, it’s like we drew half of an extra card. Mishra’s Bauble and Serum Visions increase the chances that we’ll know one is coming and be able to time our Thought Scour to flip it. Discarding it to Liliana is similarly awesome, since it still works in the graveyard and sometimes is just easier to cast, since white is our splash color.

Kataki, War’s Wage is obviously for Affinity and needed as they are faster than us and Etched Champion and Cranial Plating are really hard for us to beat. I tried Stony Silence, but it messes up our Engineered Explosives which are actually very important in the matchup, and it doesn’t stop Etched Champion or a creature that already has Plating equipped to it. I still like Stony Silence in control decks, but Kataki was higher impact.

Timely Reinforcements is a similarly important card against Zoo and Burn. We do a lot of damage to ourselves, which makes burning us out easier than usual. Casting Timely Reinforcements is often game-winning in either matchup, as it gives us just enough life and positioning to take over the game, perhaps with an Angler backed up by a Stubborn Denial for their Path or whatever. Boarding out Gitaxian Probe is an important part of both these and the Affinity matchup, as we can’t afford the life or the mana in many situations.

Fulminator Mage is a little bit of an odd-ball, since almost every other card in the deck is hyper-efficient or part of the engine. I don’t know that Fulminator is the best we can do, but it is the best Stone Rain in our colors, and there are a lot of matchups where we need to be able to interact with lands like Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, Urza’s Tower, and Inkmoth Nexus. It’s also a valuable tool for combating midrange and control decks, such as Abzan and Jeskai, by attacking their manlands, disrupting their ability to fight back, and giving us threats that are good against removal. Finally, when you consistently cast 4/5s and 5/5s on turn 2, destroying someone’s land on turn three is much more devastating than it normally would be.

Engineered Explosives gives us access to a much-needed sweeper, but is also our “Disenchant” effect for everything from Vedalken Shackles to Cranial Plating, Pyromancer Ascension to Rest in Peace.

I am not 100% sure I am going to play Plains in the Pro Tour, but I sure hope I can make room. It is super valuable against Blood Moon, and avoiding the pain when we search for it is big against Zoo, Burn, and Affinity. Besides, we are a little short on white mana, so it’s nice to be able to up the white count when we bring in all these white sideboard cards. I’ve considered maindecking it—and I guess that is still an option—but in the maindeck it doesn’t actually help us cast very many spells. 55 cards in the deck cost 0 or 1, and very few of them can be cast for white mana. Every land that doesn’t produce blue is effectively a spell anyway, since we can keep most one-land hands as long as that land produces blue.

Finkel: What is Most Counterintuitive About the Deck?

Chapin: Probably that Gurmag Angler is stronger than Tasigur, much of the time, but that isn’t particularly important since we rely on both. More interestingly, Mishra’s Bauble actually has an incredible amount of play to it.

You can target yourself to get a virtual scry 1 when you have a fetchland, since you can fetch on your turn or your opponent’s (which determines if you draw the card you saw or not). You can also use Thought Scour to reset the top of your deck if you don’t like what you see (or if it just happens to be a Lingering Souls). Similarly, you can use Thought Scour on your opponent when you look at their deck and see they are about to draw the stone nuts. You can also decide when to Path to Exile based on the top card of their deck. Of course, they can decline to search their deck, but you can also just be bluffing and trick them into not searching when their top card is just another land, anyway.

Mishra’s Bauble’s information component is surprisingly awesome. On the play, game 1, it lets you know what you’re up against, so you can decide how painful your plays can be with Probe and shocklands. It helps inform your discard decisions, your choice as to what to counter, even your decision of whether or not to tap out for a fatty. Probe, Thoughtseize, and Inquisition mean you’ll often know their hand, and Bauble takes it a step further, letting you also know what their hand will be next turn.

Mishra’s Bauble can let you “hide” a card from Liliana, so that you end up with multiple cards rather than being “locked” at 1. Also, if you draw two Mishra’s Baubles, sometimes you want to wait to crack one or both of them. If you wait until your opponent’s turn, there are fewer options in your hand for their discard spells to hit. You can also crack one on your opponent’s upkeep to see what they will draw this turn, then crack the other on their endstep, to see what they will draw next turn, giving you more info than if you had just cracked both immediately.

Finally, Mishra’s Bauble gives you extra info for making decisions like whether or not to cast a Serum Visions looking for land. For instance, maybe you need to Thoughtseize this turn, but if your top card is a land, you can Serum Visions first.

Mishra’s Bauble looks like filler on the surface, but is actually one of the key cards in the deck and is very strong.