Transitioning to a full-time Modern player has not been an easy task. The more veteran mages of the game tend to settle in nice and comfortable with
strategies and decks that remind us of better days. For years I’ve traveled the planes with my trusty white and blue spells with enough success to put a
smile on my face when I think back to those events. Just recently, black has been added as the third and final color to my typical control strategies and
that is due to the destruction of powerful white removal spells and blue countermagic in recent years. Black is an integral part of any Standard control
strategy, giving access to removal that the other two control colors simply don’t have. We also receive an array of hand disruption that creates the
illusion of countermagic, but in a much more proactive way.
The Season Four Invitational is upon us in a few weeks and that means it’s time to polish Esper Control and get ready for the big weekend in Las Vegas. I
miraculously got approved vacation time right before the teacher’s winter break, so I’ll be on a flight to sin city to do battle in one of the most
competitive events offered in this great game. The last time I was there, I was able to capitalize with a top 4 finish with Esper Control in all formats,
which is a pretty reasonable goal to have this time around. In that last epic trip, three out of four of our hotel room made the top 8 cut, with Max Brown
taking the whole thing down. For these reasons, along with the degenerate gambling I will engage in with my life partner, Brian Braun-Duin, I am incredibly
stoked for this trip.
There is just one thing…
I’m playing U/R Delver in Modern.
You heard me right my friends. U/R Delver is an archetype that has been pronounced dead due to the popularity of cheap removal and lack of options when
manipulating the top of your library. Serum Visions is a four-of in every Modern deck; however, most believe that this is not enough to warrant the most
aggressive blue creature in Magic’s history. I took that challenge after getting my clock cleaned at #GPPitt last weekend, typing up a list that I really
liked in the car ride back and testing it the moment I arrived back home.
Pat Cox witnessed a thing of beauty once I finished my rant on Blood Moon via Twitter and after the last article I wrote addressing the abusive nature of the
card. He was sitting next to me as I confidently tore the only threat out of my opponent’s hand on turn 1 after he played a Noble Hierarch on his turn. I
kicked back, enjoyed the beauty of my hand that contained a basic land and a couple fetches, knowing I could just fetch my other color and the world would
be safe and wonderful. My opponent untapped, drew, and slammed a turn 2 Blood Moon and the game instantly ended.
I was safe! I kept a hand with a basic, a fetchland, and hand disruption to prevent a disaster. Everything was done correctly, but the combo deck killed me
easily still. I loved the debate we all engaged in on my last article and believe that open discussion is fantastic for the game. There were players that
ranged from PVDDR and BBD to a buddy of mine that just plays Commander and Modern, all of them acknowledging the abusive nature of the auto-win
Blood Moon doesn’t kill control players…It kills all players!
This U/R Delver deck I’m piloting at the #SCGINVII has Blood Moon in it. This is just like the time where my Esper Stoneblade deck was equipped with
Treasure Cruise (then Dig Through Time) while I stood on my soap box demanding the cards leave the format. In a perfect world I’d sleeve up decks that are
purely fair and win GPs and Invitationals, defeating the nemesis cards one by one, but that’s not the world we live in. These cards are fair game while in
the format, and by having success with them, writing about them, having video coverage and deck techs, it’ll shed more light on the danger that they all
pose. A week after Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise were spoiled I was back on that soap box and demanded week after week for their removal from older
formats. I purchased a few foil Dig Through Times and lost a few bucks, but it was well worth it. These three Blood Moons I purchased cost a pretty penny,
but I won’t be sad for the day they are removed from Modern and drop back to a few bucks each.
My brain is cooking up ideas to handle the vast Modern format filled with combo decks that could challenge even Legacy foes. The U/R Delver list I’m
posting here is the first of many final products that I want to bring to you guys. This is more than likely the list I will be using for the #SCGINVI, but
I have another nice one in the works from the Sultai School of Magic. I want to play Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in partnership with either Lightning Bolt or hand
disruption, which is why this Sultai list is coming soon to a Modern testing group near you. That is something for you all to look forward to next time,
but in the meantime, let’s talk about the lists I have for you today.
U/R Delver Breakdown
I have played Delver of Secrets with success on a few occasions. With my trusty Mono-Blue Wizards deck, I was able to spike an Invitational and Open Series
Top 8 many moons ago. This U/R Delver is a very similar deck to the one I played back in the old days. This version has very little red and burn, with a
ton of blue spells to interact with the opponent. The other burn spells besides Lightning Bolt are a bit too weak for my liking, so I fill that void with a
ton of counterspells and a few more creatures. Young Pyromancer is a card that I raved about when spoiled because it has a very control feel to it.
Talrand, Sky Summoner, Young Pyromancer, Mobilization, or anything that makes tokens excites me. This deck loves to have Delver of Secrets early of course,
but can survive with a few turns of reactive spells to stave off your opponent until the cavalry arrives.
Vendilion Clique is a card that I don’t think gets enough play in Modern, so two copies made the starting team. It plays an integral part in holding off
unfair decks while applying pressure at the same time. The only other creatures are the six Snapcaster Mages that help recast sideboard hate cards,
cantrips, and Lightning Bolt. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is pretty darn close to the power level of Snapcaster Mage and has that same bullseye on his head as the
other “untap and win” creatures that we are running.
The spells are pretty standard as far as Delver decks go, but the sideboard has a few spicy ones. My favorite card in testing has easily been Threads of
Disloyalty. This is another card that I am surprised gets very little play in Modern. I know Abrupt Decay is everywhere, but that sounds like the “Bad
versus Doom Blade” argument. They have to Abrupt Decay all the creatures in the deck and Blood Moon after sideboard, so you can ignore that criticism of
the card. I’ve tried to develop better ways to fight Tarmagoyf and other early creatures that avoid Lightning Bolt, but stealing them for your own gain is
easily the best strategy.
The Shatterstorm/Hurkyl’s Recall split is for obvious reasons, but I like to have a few different options. Sometimes you need that instant speed killer
against Affinity; however, in more situations, Shatterstorm reigns supreme.
The Sun Droplets are our best bet against Mono-Red variants. White and green have the best sideboard cards against red, which leaves us scraping the bottom
of the barrel. Sun Droplet is super powerful when they don’t draw Destructive Revelry, so cast it and cross your fingers. Luckily we have Blood Moon to
bring in and give them another fun target.
Did I just say bring Blood Moon in against red? Absolutely! Red decks are now Naya playing a ton of fetches and multi-color burn spells. If I can shut down
sixteen cards after they sideboard, you better believe the obnoxious enchantment is coming in. I had a discussion about this on Twitter, and I explained
how in testing, Blood Moon steals just as many games against aggro as it does control. Answer this card here, Remand that spell there, slam this silly
enchantment and clean up after.
Let’s steer from the Blood Moon talk and get to the more popular format in preparation for the big day!
Esper Control Breakdown
The last time I piloted this deck was at #SCGPHILLY a few weeks back, where I found myself 12-2 late in the tournament. With just one more win, I would
have locked myself into the top 8, but failed to do so in consecutive rounds. A disappointing finish to be sure, but it did tell me how powerful this deck
actually is. I haven’t changed anything in the list since that event, because the metagame has not changed significantly. There are still the same decks to
beat in Abzan, Jeskai Black, Atarka Red, G/R Eldrazi Ramp, and other Esper Control variants.
Narset Transcendent gets more and more powerful as the popularity of Abzan grows. Even the most aggressive versions don’t pack the punch they used to. The
only tough matchup for the deck in the Abzan realm is Abzan Blue. Hunter Nance was one of my early losses due to the amount of counterspells he drew to
defend his cheap and efficient creatures. When facing all the creatures in Standard without counterspell defense, Esper Control rises to the challenge and
has a very easy matchup most of the time. The Esper Dragons version has gained more popularity over the last month or so, but I still believe this version
is stronger because of the resilience it has against Crackling Doom. The logic many other players have is that when Abzan is strong, Dragons are stronger
than planeswalkers. This is definitely accurate, but in the upcoming events that have fifteen rounds or more of Magic, you’ll play the most popular deck
just a couple times. Standard, Modern, and Legacy are so diverse that it is unlikely you’ll play against the same deck over and over, so don’t ever overdo
it with card and deck choices to beat one deck. Play this version, or an Esper Dragon list that is well-rounded in order to dodge that common trap.
This week I venture to #SCGNJ with my trusty Esper Stoneblade, but after that event, it gets placed on the shelf for a very long time. It’s Modern and
Standard from here on out, and I look forward to producing more decklists for you all to try and help me improve.