Another week has come and gone in the world of magic and we again have more results to sort through, and while much of it is most of the same, I'll be primarily talking about an under the radar deck!
SCG D.C. has come and gone, with U/W Delver variants taking up nearly half of the top sixteen spots and Naya variants close behind with four of these slots. Two of the top four decks were the new SCG Blue Delver deck, eschewing Restoration Angel and instead championing Hero of Bladehold and Mental Missteps to protect them from those pesky Vapor Snags. For reference, here is the list:
4 Delver of Secrets
3 Hero of Bladehold
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Gut Shot
3 Mana Leak
2 Mental Misstep
1 Mutagenic Growth
2 Thought Scour
4 Vapor Snag
4 Gitaxian Probe
3 Cavern of Souls
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Seachrome Coast
The Next Evolution in Delving
In removing Restoration Angel along with all equipment, this Delver variant is effectively streamlined into one of the most powerful and fast aggressive decks in the format. Given a perfect curve of Delver, Geist, Hero, the game ends on turn five dealing a whopping nineteen damage on that critical turn. Even if we are not able to flip our Delver or attack with Geist on the fourth turn of the game, the staggering damage output that Hero allows the deck to press through means that this deck is by far the fasted deck in Standard at the moment. Now that is not to say that other Delver variants are not also prone to exceptionally quick kills, but gaining Hero allows the Delver player significantly greater resilience against the Green decks given that they almost never profitably block the Hero while it continues to bash them for astronomical amounts of damage, as well as being nearly impervious to Bonfire of the Damned.
While many of the Green decks continue to be Naya-flavored, Restoration Angel causes a distinct problem for generic U/W Delver lists that this list subverts with Hero. As anyone who can add knows (everyone), a 3/4 can never profitably block a 3/4.... that is, unless the 3/4 brings along friends! So often against Green decks would the tempo of the Delver deck be essentially neutralized by a Restoration Angel on turn four blinking a Blade Splicer, not only on the ground but in the air, that traditional angel lists have traditionally had a difficult time fighting against these decks. Fortunately, as stated before, Hero gets around this problem, but just to be safe, the SCG Blue Team added a few more spicy numbers to ensure the Hero connects while simultaneously improving the mirror match!
Four Gut Shot. Two Mental Misstep, One Mutagenic Growth
While many of the Delver lists I have seen running around still only have two Gut Shots, the number should almost assuredly be at least three, if not four like this deck is sporting. Gut Shot is arguably the most powerful tempo spell in the format, being a powerful play against turn one plays that many of the decks within the format are sporting. Gut Shotting a turn one Birds of Paradise or Delver of Secrets is one of the easiest ways to win in this format so why not play four? Given that you have excellent card selection and can shuffle or mill them away when you need to most of the time, increased numbers of gut shots at this current period is an easy choice. Heck, it even kills Blood Artist in the Zombies match-up. Personally, as a Delver player, Gut Shot in my opening hand will often change the range of other cards in my hand that I will find acceptable when deciding to mulligan, since it is so powerful versus the field that it will often buy you multiple turns that you would have otherwise not have if their Delver or Birds had stuck around.
As for Mental Misstep, this one is one the additions I am not particularly fond of. While it is a live draw against nearly all the prominent decks in the format, it is generally a dead one past the first few turns unless you're playing against Delver. Spending a card to counter a late Birds of Paradise isn't exactly exciting, nor is countering a Tragic Slip at the cost of two life. But of course, the place where this card shines is in the mirror match. Given that Hero of Bladehold is now the main aggressive weapon in this variant, protecting it is crucial, especially since it is a sorcery speed spell unlike the Angel. Mental Missteping Vapor Snag is generally what you should save the card for, as it tends to be difficult to connect with a Hero without these, but of course situations arise in which you must counter Ponders and Delvers. Growth is a card I have not seen in many lists, but I personally have been running for quite a while. Against the lesser played Ramp decks, saving a Geist from a sweeper is imperative, but also in the Mirror and Green match-ups pumping a Geist or a Hero past opposing blockers often leads to a huge tempo swing and a quick win.
But enough about Delver, I said I'd try not to talk about it, but this spicy list drew me back in! Now I have another spicy list to talk about, one which a friend of mine has been playing in the Dailies on Magic Online, so here is a 4-0 list from MWatts10, URW Midrange:
I'll begin by looking at the decklist as is and how it works along with discussing the card choices, and then some potential changes, so lets start with the creatures.
Blade Splicer and Restoration Angel
Now, this is probably not new to any of you, but these two have some sweet synergy! Spells, and especially creatures that allow me to be modal are some of my favorite in the game. By this, I mean that while Blade Splicer allows us to get in easily with the token, especially should be resolve multiple, we also can use them to play defense. Pilots of midrange decks often reach a point where this becomes a dilemma, and in my opinion an important point where many reasonable pilots often fail. Knowing when to be the beat down and when to pass with blockers is imperative for winning with this variety of deck, as beating down when they are the beat down often leads to a swift death, while playing passively for too long will generally cause a game to spiral out of control. In short, make a game plan and know when you need to abandon and shift, both of these spells attack and block amazingly, especially in conjunction with one another, so learning the situations in which to shift is essential with this deck.
Snapcaster Mage and Phantasmal Image
Snapcaster is of course the bread and butter of this deck. Given that this deck has an exceptionally diverse array of spells and answers, Snapcaster is to be used here as an additional piece of removal as opposed to a value spell like it is in Delver. Besides four Ponders, none of our spells are maxed out, giving us less redundancy than Delver decks, and we have a more random element draw spell than typical midrange decks, meaning that our Snapcaster will often have to fill the role of removal spell as opposed to digging like it does in many other decks. This is something which I would like to change, and will address later in the article, as Desperate Ravings does not interact well with Snapcaster or this deck in general.
Sun Titan and Thundermaw Hellkite
The typical fatty boom-booms that fill out the top of the curve in most midrange decks, Sun Titan has seen plenty of play in these roles, but Thundermaw Hellkite is a card worth talking about. When this card was spoiled, many people, including myself, believed that this would fill a role in Green decks that they typically had not existed, a flying end-game with haste. Its unique ability also fills a role in the current metagame tapping down flipped Delvers and Restoration Angels, but also kills Birds of Paradise and Moorland Haunt tokens. Since this deck is sans-counter spells, this deck is more apt to be the beatdown, and Hellkite is just the card you want in that given situation. You have five board sweepers (2 Whipflare and 3 Bonfire of the Damned), and as such it is likely you will be at board parity with the opponent or ahead going into the fifth turn of the game, meaning this guy will come down and turn a race in your favor quickly. Going long, while he doesn't have the staying power that additional copies of Sun Titan would have, he ends the game without giving your opponent time to really stabilize the board and race, something many midrange decks are lacking.
Ponder and Desperate Ravings
I believe that my right-hand man Ponder needs little introduction or explanation, as he is essentially the bees-knees (if that's what the cool kids are saying these days) and make sure that our well oiled machine is....well, oiled! Synergy with Bonfire of the Damned should not be overlooked in this deck as it will come up often enough. Aside from that we have an interesting choice in second draw spell that is Desperate Ravings. Ravings has been used in control decks that often have large hands, making it unlikely you will hit the card that you will want to keep. Conversely, when you need to dig for a land, Ravings is about the best card you can have (aside from Ponder that is...) as it takes you two deep and the likelihood of discarding a newly drawn land is low. Unfortunately, that really isn't what this deck wants to be doing. Although this spell does give us a piece of random card advantage, this card doesn't interact particularly well with anything else in our deck and I think it is better suited as a different draw spell, likely Gitaxian Probe. This will allow us to take advantage of our Snapcasters and actually use them for value, as well as scope out our opponents hand to plan out our turns and attempt to induce them into running headlong into our Whipflares and Bonfires.
This is actually my favorite part of this deck, the very diverse removal suite. Thought I'm not sure about the numbers, this deck literally has an answer to everything. While Pillar of Flame is no Gut Shot overall, in red-based decks the nod definitely goes to Pillar. While the number of Strangleroot Geists has gone down drastically from AVR Standard, those pesky zombies are still crawling out of graves everywhere and as such having a mana-efficient way to deal with them permanently is always nice. You will very seldom turn 1 a Pillar of Flame in this deck given how the mana base is constructed unfortunately, meaning that we can never clear those pesky Birds, but you should generally dismiss those anyways, as they will be preyed upon by a Whipflare or Bonfire later anyways and the dynamic of this deck doesn't care about halting the early game, as we want to take em long! Oblivion Ring seems like a fairly important inclusion in this variety of deck, as there are many cards that, without a sweeper, can stone wall this deck easily. Pikes, Pods, and Gideons all give this deck trouble, and having the generic answer is extremely useful. Again, as I said before, I like spells that allow me to be modal, and Oblivion Ring serves that purpose, it does not discriminate between attackers and blockers, it removes everything. For this same reason I do NOT like Dismember very much in this deck. Unfortunately, I personally do not have enough games under my belt with the deck to know have identified exactly which creatures are problematic, but the pilot, MWatts10, told me that Angels are not the problem. In this case, if x/4+s aren't the problem, these slots may be better suited as something like Incinerate which doesn't make us spew away life on the Snap back, or just more copies of Pillar, Whipflare or Bonfire, considering all those cards are exceptional in this deck.
I consider us fortunate enough to be able to play Bonfire of the Damned in this deck, as it ONLY has 25 mana sources. Luckily, drawing Bonfire and using its Miracle trigger for two is almost never bad, and on a board where you already have Blade Splicer or anything really, it will get you far, far ahead, and hey, this can easily be set up by a turn two Ponder! Casting Plague Wind out of the midrange deck seems highly unfair, and even hard-casting it for five mana will break board parity and put your opponent close to dead, but enough of Bonfire, anyone who has ever drawn one or had one drawn on them knows the card is absurd. I LOVE Whipflare in this deck. Now you see, outside of this deck I have never cast a Whipflare (anti-Ramp all the way!). The card seems very unassuming, but given the context of the current metagame, this card is an MVP. Against the Delver decks you kill literally every relevant creature in their deck (except Hero, which you might just need those dismembers for...). Versus Zombies you also kill all of their creatures save for an undead Geralf's Messenger, and while you run the risk of getting Blood Artisted out of the game, killing their guys is better then letting them slowly eat your brains turn after turn. Against Pod and Naya flavored decks you kill a majority of their creatures that are strong against you, heck, against control you even get to kill those damned pesky Lingering Souls. While you'll often be trading a Blade Splicer sans-token away in this transaction, that is generally an acceptable trade for...oh, lets say, everything they've committed so far.
Unfortunately, and I will not lie to you, this mana-base sucks. Now its not that MWatts doesn't know how to build a mana-base, its just not there. We are a base-red deck, but only barely and as such we need to make sure we can cast all our spells early. Cavern of Souls is the saving grace of this deck I believe, as while the creature types don't really match up, being able to cast Humans on curve when you need them is necessary.
While I didn't list it before, here is the sideboard:
Not sure I like Tormods Crypt or Revoke Existance over Divine Offering, but the rest of the cards seem fine. Mana Leak might be what we want, but I think considering they aren't in the main and likely only going to be sided in against Control variants, Negates would better fit this slot as we unfortunately can't commit to double blue for Dissipate. I very much like the addition of Ghost Quarter, since we have 3x Phantasmal Images to tutor them up against the Ramps post board, a sideboard package that isn't very taxing to the deck and has been implemented before but kind of fell off. With Reid's win in DC last weekend with Wolf Run Blue, this package looks prime to be included in this variety of deck.
So taking all this into consideration, here is the version I would play if I were to run this deck in an upcoming event:
2 Evolving Wilds
2 Celestial Purge
2 Day of Judgment
1 Divine Offering
1 Revoke Existance
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Timely Reinforcements
1 Phantasmal Image
Fortunately, there isn't much that needs to be changed in this deck. I cut out a Thundermaw Hellkite and a Phantasmal Image from the main in order to fit in the fourth Restoration Angel. The synergy represented between her and the other creatures, specifically Blade Splicer, is too much to pass up on having more redundancy in drawing those two together. The Phantasmal Image we still want three copies of total to combat those pesky Geists, and as such I moved the other copy to the sideboard over the Tormods Crypt. While Hellkite is good, we don't want too many five and six drop game enders. As I mentioned when discussing the deck, Ravings is just too variant of a card for me personally, and I feel the slots are much better served as Gitaxian Probes. While drawing two cards is very different than drawing one, seeing their hand is worth the (lessened) risk. Other than this change I left a lot of the spell numbers the same, three Bonfires is the perfect number given we have eight draw spells, the four Ponders are obviously immovable. Oblivion Ring might be better as a 1-1 split out of the sideboard but I think currently with Equipment and Pods everywhere its fine, as well as acting as more Pillar of Flames against Zombies. Speaking of Pillar, I added an extra copy over a Dismember, this might be wrong, and it could possibly be a Whip Flare instead, especially considering we eliminated a maindecked out to Geist of Saint Traft in removing Image.
Besides that, I took out two basic lands in favor of two Evolving Wilds, this should smooth out our mana problems, giving us access to all colors with a dual land plus Wilds (even though the dual will be tapped), the deck starts at turn three truthfully with Blade Splicer, besides that the only action you have is Pillar and Ponders, so we're not too hurt by having come into play tapped lands.
Given that this deck has such a diverse array of answers and threats, I definitely believe it is a contender in the current metagame, it just needs a pilot! If you want to play something fun yet still very powerful, this is something I would recommend trying out! That's it for me this week, I'm just hours removed from heading to fellow writer Jeff Rasmussen's home to head out for Kansas City for the weekend. While this won't go up till next week and you'll already know what happened on my journey, I'll still be back next weekend to talk about my trek out West. Thanks for reading and stay tuned here, and to the coverage!