With 4 copies in the Top 8 of each of the last 3 Standard GPs across 3 different continents, B/G Delirium has established itself as the deck to beat. There are certain decks that have very good matchups against B/G Delirium—Marvel is one, U/R Fevered Visions is another—but those decks aren’t well positioned against anything else, which makes the question of how to beat B/G Delirium particularly problematic. As long as the metagame doesn’t shift radically, I think B/G Delirium is simply the best deck to play. Since it seems this opinion is shared by many other players, winning this mirror match becomes particularly important, and in this article I’m going to tell you how.
The Deck List
There’s some variation in B/G lists, but they should all work relatively similarly in the mirror unless there’s a huge discrepancy. If you want to tune it as hard as you can for the mirror, you’ll include Grim Flayer over Sylvan Advocate (which I think you want to do anyway), a high number of Grapples and Vessels, a low number of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Mindwrack Demons, no Dead Weights, and Transgress/Ruinous Path as your sorceries. I don’t recommend doing all of those things in excess because you still have to beat everyone else, but you can take an existing list and do some of those to make it a little better in the mirror. This was the list I played in Santiago:
If you want to make the deck better in the mirror, then I’d suggest adding a second Transgress the Mind, perhaps in place of a Murder. You can also remove one Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet for a third Tireless Tracker but you have to be very sure of the metagame you’re facing, because Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is your most important card against any graveyard deck.
From the sideboard, you definitely want a second Emrakul for starters—there’s too much discard in B/G decks post-board and you can’t risk getting it Transgressed. You often don’t want to Traverse for it early on, so your Traverses are susceptible to Pick the Brain, which means you have to draw Emrakul herself sometimes. In an ideal scenario, you’d actually rather mill it than draw it, because then it just sits there waiting for a reanimation spell.
Other cards that are good in the mirror are Transgress, Pick the Brain, and Lost Legacy. Those are important because they can get rid of Emrakul in the Emrakul games and answers in the Grim Flayer games (more on this later). I think Lost Legacy might be the best in the mirror since it snipes Emrakul wherever she is, but you can’t play too many of those as they’re dead draws in any games that are not about Emrakul. In the end I went with the 1-1-1 split because I felt that it was what I could afford, and I wanted each for a different scenario. If you want even more sideboard cards for the mirror, you can play more Transgresses (which are also good versus U/W and Marvel).
The other cards that are good in the mirror are cheap threats—Tracker and Nissa. Playing a second Nissa is not out of question if you want to be better in the mirror —it’s quite good at killing planeswalkers or winning the late game. Finally, you can add another To the Slaughter. It’s excellent versus Liliana, the Last Hope/Nissa and on rare occasions can even get an Emrakul.
I think you should sideboard very differently on the play and on the draw. On the play, Grim Flayer is good because it puts the burden of reacting on them. On the draw, it’s not as good because they can be aggressive, and I think a lot of the time you’d rather have a reactive card instead. If they play a turn-2 Grim Flayer you’d much rather Grasp it than play your own Grim Flayer, and same for Tireless Tracker because otherwise you fall too far behind.
This is how I was sideboarding:
On the Play
This tries to keep your deck as proactive as possible while still having good late game. It is a bit risky to take out so much removal if your opponent does not take out their Grim Flayers on the draw, but between your own Flayers, To the Slaughter, Ruinous Path, and Liliana, the Last Hope, you should be able to stop it.
On the Draw
The 3 Kinds of Games
In game 1 of this matchup, there are 3 different kinds of games: “Grim Flayer games,” “Liliana, the Last Hope games,” and “Emrakul games.” It’s important to know which type of game you’re playing because the value of certain cards changes a lot depending on what’s going on. For example, Liliana, the Last Hope should be +1’d in the Liliana, the Last Hope games but -2’d in the Emrakul or Grim Flayer games.
You can try Grim Flayer or Liliana, the Last Hope strategies and, if they fail, you can move into the Emrakul game, but the reverse is not possible as Grim Flayer/Liliana, the Last Hope strategies have to be executed early. In practice this means that if it’s the middle of the game and you have no strategy, then Emrakul is your strategy by default (i.e., if you draw a Liliana, the Last Hope on turn 15 it’s better to -2 it trying to find Emrakul than to try to tick it up to ultimate).
Grim Flayer Games
Grim Flayer games are the ones where a player sticks a source of continuous advantage or pressure and snowballs that out of control, eventually reaching a position where the opponent can’t fight back. This source of advantage/pressure is usually Grim Flayer, but it can also be Tireless Tracker in the new lists. For you to attempt to play this type of game, you need to have one of those cards in your hand. If your hand is reactive (like a bunch of Grasps and an Ishkanah), then you should not try to do it.
This type of game is not easy to pull off in game 1 because there is simply too much removal on top of a lot of blockers, but it’s still possible, and the fact that this kind of game exists is one of the reasons I like Grim Flayer a lot more than Sylvan Advocate. In Grim Flayer games, your goal is to kill the opponent before they can cast Emrakul, or at least achieve enough of an advantage through it that you’ll either cast yours first or win anyway. In this type of game, you want to spend removal on their blockers (such as Ishkanah) and you want to be continuously presenting threats. Normal plays in Grim Flayer games are to use Grapple for a Grim Flayer that died early on, or Vessel/Liliana, the Last Hope to set up turns in which you play 2 Grim Flayers, or a Grim Flayer and another creature. A turn in which you have 3 mana left can also end with a Traverse for Grim Flayer. This type of play is generally bad if you’re playing Emrakul games, so it’s important to know if you can actually win with Grim Flayers before you do this kind of thing.
If you feel your opponent is playing the Grim Flayer game, then you want to be the control in the matchup. Kill everything you can and set up for the late game.
The second type is the Liliana, the Last Hope game, which consists of playing an early Liliana, the Last Hope and ticking up until you ultimate it and eventually win. With no sweepers in the deck, Liliana, the Last Hope’s ultimate will beat virtually anything other than a very fast Emrakul. Even if they Emrakul you, if they are low enough or if you already have some Zombies, then they’re likely to die anyway because you also get Zombies on the turn they control. Even if neither of those is true, all you need is an Ishkanah to survive the second Emrakul hit and then you’ll likely overwhelm them with Zombies.
In this type of game, your priority is to keep Liliana, the Last Hope alive. To make it work, you need Liliana, the Last Hope and usually removal spells, but plenty of blockers are okay too—a hand of Liliana, the Last Hope, Grasp, and a delirium Ishkanah, for example, can attempt this. Liliana, the Last Hope games are very good game 1 because there are usually only 0 to 2 cards that kill outright Liliana, the Last Hope in most lists.
If your opponent is playing a Liliana, the Last Hope game, then you have to do everything in your power to either kill or damage Liliana, the Last Hope. This involves making plays like activating a Hissing Quagmire and attacking for 2 instead of playing a Grapple or sacrificing a Vessel.
Emrakul games are the most common game 1 games, because there are enough reactive cards to deal with anything else, and usually nothing that deals with Emrakul. As such, you should already start the game with the “Emrakul game” mindset, because that’s very likely what it’s going to come down to. In Emrakul games, the board is usually stalled, and then it’s a race to see who finds Emrakul first. That player can then kill all of their opponent’s creatures and usually win the game. If you play Transgress main and manage to hit your opponent’s Emrakul at some point early on, then you know you’ll win any game that comes down to Emrakul wars and you can plan accordingly.
During this type of game, Emrakul is the most important card, and lands and types in the graveyard are the second most important, and are what you should prioritize with your selection spells. Pilgrim’s Eye in particular is a fantastic card because it grabs you a land and then adds one or two types to your graveyard when it dies (which you can even cause yourself with Liliana, the Last Hope or Grasp if your opponent is unwilling to attack). In Emrakul games, Liliana, the Last Hope should often be -2’d because you want to accelerate more types into your graveyard and you’re not going to get to ultimate it anyway.
Post-sideboard, everything changes. Grim Flayer games are more common, because there are more Grim-Flayer-type cards, more disruption in the form of discard, and fewer ways to answer creatures. If you’re on the play, then you want to play the Grim Flayer game. Get a fast advantage and kill them with Flayer, Tracker, or Nissa while they draw Pick the Brains and Emrakuls. In these types of games, you want to use your own Transgress and Pick the Brain to get their removal spells and their blockers, you don’t care much about the very big threats.
Liliana, the Last Hope games, on the other hand, are less common in post-board games, because there are usually more direct answers to planeswalkers. I’d expect the norm to be about 3 between Ruinous Path and To the Slaughter, as opposed to the 0-2 I’d expect main. As a result, there’s a higher chance you’ll make worse plays just to tick Liliana, the Last Hope up and it’ll end up dying at 7 counters regardless. It’s still a viable plan though, especially because you are going to bring in discard spells.
The Emrakul games are less common in post-board games as well, for 2 main reasons: One, there’s a higher chance someone will just get Grim Flayered or Trackered to death; two, there’s more disruption. Transgress, Pick the Brain, and Lost Legacy all make it harder to play the Emrakul game, even if you have a second in the board (which most people will). If you’re on the draw, then I think you want to be reactive and play the Emrakul game.
Unlike many other matchups, resolving an Emrakul is not an auto win, but if you play your cards right (or their cards right, I guess), it’ll be very hard for your opponent to come back from it.
When you’re controlling their turn, priority number one should be stopping them from killing your Emrakul. This means that if they have Ruinous Path or Noxious Gearhulk in hand, you probably want to cast those. Priority number 2 is stopping them from Emrakul’ing you back.
The best way to do this is to make sure they do not have access to Emrakul. If they have Traverses, cast them—also make it a point to spend cards that could get Emrakul in the next 2 turns, such as Grapple and Vessel. If they already have Emrakul and no discard spells, then try to play their turn in such a way that they will not get enough types in the graveyard to use it. Attacking with Hissing Quagmire, for example, is a good way to prevent them from casting Emrakul some of the time. If they have a Liliana, the Last Hope with 4 counters and not a lot of mana, don’t -2 it—it’ll just put cards in their graveyard and will even let them cash Liliana, the Last Hope in for an extra type on the following turn.
One interesting thing you can do to assure your opponent is not casting their own Emrakul any time soon is to attack with Grim Flayer and take it, so that you can manipulate the top 3 cards of their library. People very rarely do this and it’s almost always correct. You only need 2 turns to kill them with Emrakul, so it’s worth 4 damage and keeping the Grim Flayer alive if it means you can guarantee they’re not going to draw an answer in those 2 turns. At the PT I played a mirror match and both of us won a game by attacking with a Grim Flayer and letting it through.
If they have nothing, then your priority should be to leave the game at a state where, if they topdeck Emrakul, you are still ahead. This usually means getting rid of anything that could break Emrakul parity, such as Liliana, the Last Hope or Ishkanah tokens. In rare situations, it could include even attacking your own Liliana, the Last Hope and letting it die, just so that your opponent cannot +1 it to force your Emrakul to attack into theirs. If they have infinite mana, then you also want to play a land if you can, because there’s a chance they topdeck Tireless Tracker or Nissa, Vital Force, and you want the land in play rather than in their hand.
When you attack, you should remember you can order blockers any way you want. This means that if they attack with Grim Flayer and you block with 4 Ishkanah tokens, you can assign all the damage to one of them instead of killing two. The most common double-blocks are Grim Flayer + Spider blocking Ishkanah (assign all damage to Grim Flayer), Grim Flayer/Ishkanah + Spider blocking Noxious Gearhulk (assign all damage to the Spider, killing it), Spider + Ishkanah blocking Grim Flayer (assign all damage to Ishkanah), and Emrakul + Spider blocking Emrakul (assign all damage to Spider).
Sometimes you know you’re about to get Emrakulled and there’s nothing you can do to stop it, but there are a couple of things you can do beforehand to make sure you get hurt as little as possible.
Priority number 1 is to spend Traverses, Vessels, and Grapples. In general, you want to keep Traverse in hand rather than Emrakul because of Pick the Brain and Transgress, but if you’re about to get your turn taken over then Traverse becomes at best a blank and at worst a liability, so you want to cash them in the turn before. It’s usually best to just get Emrakul, as Emrakul is the one card they can’t really deal with unless you draw a discard spell of your own on the turn they’re controlling.
Priority number 2 is to spend your removal, such as Grasp, Murder, and Ruinous Path. Even if you don’t have any premium targets, it’s better than using it on your own creatures. With Murder and Grasp you have time to cast them, but Ruinous Path has to be cast in advance since it’s a sorcery.
If you have a Liliana, the Last Hope that you can cash, you should usually do so, especially if you have Emrakul in play. Your opponent controlling your -2 is usually a liability, since it either does nothing or gets something that’s bad for you.
Good luck in the mirrors.