Delver Delver Delver Delver Delver Delver Delver Delver.
I understand all StarCityGames.com articles submitted for the next week have to contain the word “Delver” at least 65 times. Because this article will not be about Delver, I’m getting in my quota early.
“Not about Delver?” you scoff. “Surely you know nothing will ever beat Geist of Saint Traft and friends. Why, I’ve already invested my life savings in Snapcaster Mage stocks, and I’m looking to retire to Bermuda in three weeks. Why waste your time talking about such nonsense as another deck? Really, all anyone cares about is exactly how many Gut Shots to side in the mirror.”
Allow me to respond with some insightful words: Delver Delver Delver Delver Delver Delver.
(Up to, let’s see, eighteen already. Not bad.)
Secondly, here’s the thing: there are a ton of powerful cards in this format that are neither blue nor white. Delver is a good deck, but it’s only GerryT’s fault it’s been completely dominant thus far. The man loves his aggro-control, and let’s face it: he could put a fine edge on a toothbrush. If you give him a razorblade, don’t be surprised when he starts cutting through concrete.
And the format hasn’t yet evolved to the stage where people are playing diamond or adamantine. Rest assured there are plenty of angles yet to be fully exploited. Lingering Souls. Silverblade Paladin. Huntmaster of the Fells. Tempered Steel and Dungrove Elderâ€”anyone remember them?
- 2 Fume Spitter
- 1 Phyrexian Obliterator
- 3 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 2 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
- 4 Blood Artist
- 1 Butcher Ghoul
I like to call this deck Dead Giraffes, because if you say “Geralf’s” in an Australian accent, it sounds a bit like “giraffes.” Jir-AHFS. And they’re Zombies, so they’re dead. Fun fact, did you know giraffes have the highest blood pressure of any animal? It’s because their heart has to work so hard to pump blood all the way up their neck to their brain. Giraffes drop dead of heart attacks all the time. True story.
Now, you’re probably thinking:
What is Birthing Pod doing in a Zombies deck? It’s a green card.
Even though Zombies takes a lot more damage from its Pods than the average Naya deck turning Blade Splicer into Huntmaster of the Fells, Birthing Pod fits Dead Giraffes five times better than any green deck it’s seen play in. Your creatures want to die. They’re already dead, so why not try again? It didn’t inconvenience them the first time round.
The creatures this deck plays have a natural synergy with Birthing Pod. Gravecrawler can be turned into Blood Artist every single turn. Geralf’s Messenger turns into Phyrexian Metamorph copying Geralf’s Messenger. Every single turn. Blood Artist drains them, you guessed it, every single turn. The life points aren’t even that big a deal, because Blood Artist gains a lot of them back and most of the time you’re the beatdown.
Really, Birthing Pod is the card that lets the previously one-dimensional Zombies deck play the midgame. It’s like Ranger of Eos fetching Goblin Bushwhacker in Boros decks of old. Traditional Zombies decks just don’t have a lot of game when their Geralf’s Messenger gets Mana Leaked and they have to rely on Gravecrawler and Diregraf Ghoul.
Is the deck actually good?
There were two Standard tournaments in Melbourne over the weekend: a PTQ and a World Magic Cup qualifier. One person (Jake Hart) made Top 8 of both, and, you guessed it, he was the one playing this deck. In fact, he didn’t lose a single game in the Swiss, a total of 20 straight game wins.
It wasn’t an isolated fluke, either. Jake Hart, Daniel Unwin, and I have been working on the list for the last couple weeks and posting excellent results online. I have to give credit for the inspiration to Chris Schafer, who 9-0ed with a similar list Day 1 of GP Minneapolis.
Can it beat Delver?
Before I answer this question, a few quick words: Delver Delver DELVER Delver Delver.
But basically, yes it can. It doesn’t favor you by a lot, but I have no fear of Snapcaster Mage and friends when running this deck.
You’re generally the aggro deck in the Delver matchup. With nine ways to kill a turn 1 Delver, you shouldn’t fall behind to Insectile Aberration beatdown too often. In the early game, you want to deny them the capacity to race by simply killing everything they play. Metamorph gets Geist, Doom Blade and usually Tragic Slip get Angel, and everything gets Delver.
Luckily, the Delver deck loses a lot of its appeal when it isn’t beating down. There’s a reason Esper Control doesn’t play Gitaxian Probe and Vapor Snag. Snagging a Geralf’s Messenger to try and stabilize is, well, awkward, and Geist of Saint Traft is not the best blocker. Restoration Angel is still good, but as long as you’re aware of it, it’s never too scary. Go for the Throat (and Doom Blade postboard) deal with it. And even when it does come in and ambush a creature, you can often finish it off with a Tragic Slip or Fume Spitter.
The biggest problem is Sword of Feast and Famine. Granted, you can still race it or kill all their creatures. But it’s the best card in the Delver deck against you, no question. Unblockable + unkillable + massive tempo swing is tough. Most lists only play two, and as the mirror gets bigger some are swapping them out for Sword of War and Peace, so there’s that. You also have Manic Vandal after board, which should always be brought in just in case even if you didn’t see Sword game 1.
Currently I’m boarding:
If it wasn’t for this matchup, you could run three Obliterators and two Conscripts maindeck. Against any deck that wants to go big both cards are tremendous, and that’s why you have more copies in the board. But neither matches up well with Vapor Snag, Snapcaster, and friends.
Instead, you take out your expensive cards and bring in more cheap utility and removal. Blood Artists can be awkward in games where you’re hitting on the ground and they’re flying over, so a couple come out for Gloom Surgeon based beatdowns. Bonfire of the Damned doesn’t seem great on paper, but given they side in Timely Reinforcements it’s exactly what you need. It also takes out incidental Delvers, Geists, and Spirit tokens.
You’re pretty happy if they try for the pure control transformation with Consecrated Sphinx; you have four two-mana removal spells for it. Not to mention Tragic Slip to kill it main phase after you Pod up a Metamorph.
How about the rest of the metagame?
That’s where Dead Giraffes really shines.
G/R aggro is your best matchup. You’re better than them at every stage of the game. Removal for their early plays, Geralf’s Messengers to outclass anything they bring to the table on turns 3 and 4, and Birthing Pod into Phyrexian Obliterator when the board’s clear. Obliterator is an absolute trump against any G/R deck with a semblance of aggression. They can’t attack into it or remove it, and when you Metamorph it things start getting disgusting. I have yet to see Dead Giraffes lose this matchup.
The extra land in the board might look odd, but you want to go up to 24 in matchups where you bring in Obliterators and Bonfires. It’s also nice to not have to lose life to your Birthing Pod against a portion of the metagame.
Game 1 against G/R Ramp depends a lot on your draw. Some of your cards are outstanding against them: Falkenrath Aristocrat, Zealous Conscripts, Birthing Pod, Go for the Throat, Phyrexian Metamorph. Others are practically blank: Fume Spitter, Mortarpod, Blood Artist. If you keep an excellent-against-Delver hand game 1 of Fume Spitter, Mortarpod, Gravecrawler, Blood Artist, three land, you may come off second best against Mr. Slagstorm into Primeval Titan.
Luckily, you get to board:
And life becomes a whole lot easier. It’s worse if they’re playing Wurmcoils, but Primeval Titan itself doesn’t scare you all that much. Killing it is easy, and you might even get to Conscripts or Metamorph it first. Falkenrath Aristocrat is an absolute beatdown in this matchup. They have no reasonable way of killing him; the best they can do is block with an Inkmoth, and you have a few ways to stop that from happening. Ideally you can win in the first five turns, but even if the game goes longer you’re not necessarily unhappy. Birthing Pod does a lot of work.
Against other Pod decks, it depends a ton on their build because Birthing Pod decks come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. Blood Artist will always be fantastic, and if you can get two of them onto the table you should be able to race just about anything. Falkenrath Aristocrat is also a beatdownâ€”most lists are midrangey decks that can’t race effectively or interact with him at all, really, other than chumping with Birds. Fume Spitters, Tragic Slips, and Mortarpods let you get ahead early by taking out their mana dorks. In general, Pod mirrors are determined by who gets Pod active first, but you have an extra beatdown angle you can exploit.
It’s hard to give a definitive board plan. Some number of Diregraf Ghouls can come out, and you can consider cutting the Obliterator when they’re just going to copy it 20 times. Bonfire of the Damned and Manic Vandal are the cards you definitely want to bring in. The extra Zealous Conscripts may or may not be good depending on what they’re ramping into. A lot of the time, though, you’ll have to play this one by ear.
Esper Control is tough and probably your hardest matchup. A lot of your removal is useless and theirs is fantasticâ€”Oblivion Ring and Terminus both make Geralf’s Messenger a sad panda. You can still get there, especially against decks with Day rather than Terminus, but your deck has too many cheap removal spells against people who want to go very long.
You haven’t lived until you’ve used Conscripts to go ultimate with their planeswalker. That’s always a lot of fun. Past that, you’re better postboard but not insaneâ€”your best bet is getting Pod online early and grinding them out on turns 4 through 7.
What else? Mono-Green Infect is a gimmicky deck that’s been getting a bit of press lately. Dead Giraffes thrashes it pretty simply: you just kill all their creatures. Wild Defiance doesn’t protect them from anything. If you curve Gravecrawler into Mortarpod, the game is probably over already.
Because the metagame isn’t well defined yet, there’s a lot of stuff out there that falls into the generous category of “other.” I’m pretty happy taking Dead Giraffes into the wilderness. The deck holds together well, and it has both strong individual cards and natural synergy.
Should I play it?
Probably. I dunno, it’s good and stuff. Also, Delver Delver DELVER Delver Delver.
Until next time,
@JeremyNeeman on Twitter