Wednesday, two weeks ago, I hopped on a plane to Hawaii with Todd and Kali Anderson. Our destination was what many call the pinnacle of tourism. It featured all the important things you look for in a vacation spot: sunshine, beautiful weather, beaches, and a dark, air-conditioned room inside of a convention center playing host to a Magic: The Gathering tournament. Honolulu certainly was not lacking in beaches and Hoes.
En route, Todd and I discussed what deck we were going to play at the Pro Tour. We hadn’t really gotten in as much testing as we would’ve liked, but nonetheless we had narrowed it down to two options: Delver and Mono-Green. Without much testing for Delver, the default was definitely Mono-Green. By the time we’d finally settled down in our hotel room, about a full 24 hours after we’d left Roanoke, we had decided on playing the green deck.
After our first successful hit, I was looking forward to the sequel about the little hexproof creatures that could. “Green Machine 2: Won and Dun” obviously starring Kirsten Dunst-grove.
Alas, the Pro Tour did not go as well as I had hoped. I won my first round, but then lost the next three to start out 1-3, putting myself in the situation where I needed to rattle off four straight wins to make the day 2 cut-off at 5-3. I managed to win my last round of Standard and the first two rounds of Draft, but took 13 points of egg to the face in my win-and-in round from a flipped Michael Lude-Vick’s Test Subject and died. 4-4.
The consolation prize for losing was that I had to spend a week enjoying Hawaii. What a blowout…
In all seriousness, though, I’m really hoping to qualify again for the Pro Tour because it was an amazing experience. I had a really great time and can’t wait to do it again. Plus, in Hawaii, we saw a sign that directed us to the birthplace of Bellowing Tanglewurm.
There was some obligatory bellowing in front of this great omen.
But that’s enough about the PT and Hawaii, because this past weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of being able to make a journey to an even better tourist destination. This lush paradise is home to such joys as cold, rainy February weather, a hotel with a cop consistently patrolling outside, and Bank of America. Yes, that’s right. I’m talking about the famed Charlotte, North Carolina. There are some who say it’s the gem of the East Coast.*
*This is untrue. It’s a well-documented fact that nobody has actually ever said that.
Charlotte played host to another StarCityGames.com Open Series. I decided to put down the green spells and play a different list. The two biggest decks that came out of the Pro Tour were Esper Spirits and R/G Wolf Run with four Huntmaster of the Fells. Both of those decks are tough matchups for Mono-Green. The green creatures struggle to punch damage through a wall of Spirit tokens, and the Esper deck can empty its hand fast enough to make Sword of War and Peace far less effective than it is against a lot of other decks. Wolf Run can just go over the top of the deck. You have to kill them before they can start playing Titans because it becomes exceptionally difficult to win after that point. Huntmaster, Solemn Simulacrum, and Slagstorm make it very tough to apply the kind of pressure you need to kill them this quickly.
I decided to play Esper Delver, which looks like the post-banning Caw-Blade of the format. It has all the tools it needs to compete with any archetype; you just need to build it to combat the expected metagame. In Charlotte, I expected a lot of Delver mirrors and Wolf Run, purely based on the results from the Pro Tour. I also expected to see a decent bit of Humans, because it’s a fairly straightforward and linear strategy that lends itself well to a lot of people’s preferred play styles. I don’t think Humans is very well positioned right now, but people will usually play the deck they enjoy playing regardless of whether it’s the best choice.
Here is the list I played:
I was very happy with the mana base on the weekend (courtesy of Gerry Thompson). The only change I’d consider making is to find room for another white source somewhere. I wouldn’t be opposed to cutting the last Moorland Haunt for a fourth Glacial Fortress. Nothing is sacred, and as good as Moorland Haunt is, I didn’t activate it a single time in 10 rounds and I never felt like I needed it either. Lingering Souls has taken the place of that kind of effect in the deck, and if you ever achieve two Captains in play, your creatures aren’t dying anyway.
Captain, Image, and Souls
This is the bread and butter of the archetype. The fact that Drogskol Captain is playable is a testament to Lingering Soul’s caliber. It’s the sole reason for playing this card. Phantasmal Image’s purpose in the deck is purely to increase the number of Lords you have, much like the role it played in Illusions. The difference from Illusions is that Image copying Captain gives both creatures hexproof and the flying is very relevant. Phantasmal Image is also very good in matchups like Humans where doubling up on Dungeon Geists or even just copying their own superior creatures is a very good play. The reason I don’t like running the full set is because there are a lot of matchups where it is a very subpar card. Against decks that run a lot of spot removal to handle your Drogskol Captains or against any control decks, you will struggle to get value out of Phantasmal Image. For that reason, the fourth copy is in the sideboard for the matchups where you really want it.
Rumor has it that Walt Whitman advocated playing this archetype way back in 1865. People thought it was ridiculous that Walt would abandon playing Geist of Saint Traft, but it looks like he was a few steps ahead of the metagame.
This card reminds me a lot of Sower of Temptation, which is certainly a good card to be compared to. Spirits can struggle with other creature decks that play bigger creatures faster than it can keep up with, but Dungeon Geists is the ultimate trump to that. Not only do you get to turn off their scariest creature, but your Dungeon Geists will generally be bigger than the rest of their team as well. If you have a Captain in play, it gets hexproof and +1/+1 to boot. There are two extra copies of this card in the sideboard, because you want them in the mirror match and against Humans.
Dismember is the new Gut Shot (which was the new Dismember). Everything that Gut Shot used to kill either doesn’t exist in the format anymore or doesn’t really matter. Delver of Secrets is not a scary card when it often just trades with one-fourth of a Lingering Souls. In the mirror match, you want Dismember for their Captains. Against Wolf Run, Dismember is better because it kills Huntmaster. Gut Shot is mediocre against the Human deck as well. You need it on turn 1 to kill Champion of the Parish, but if you ever draw it later in the game you’re going to want to shoot yourself in the gut. Honor of the Pure also makes the card completely dead.
I hate Wolf Run with a passion. I have a huge shrine in my room that holds a clock, ticking down the time until Primeval Titan rotates out of Standard. Every day I offer up a Flashfreeze to the Ramp Gods with the hope that it will prevent me from getting paired against Wolf Run in the next event. So far this has been wildly ineffective, leading to rampant but unfounded speculation by many that the so-called Ramp Gods do not exist. Those heathens will learn the truth of the matter eventually.
Coming into the event, I wanted to make sure that I did everything I possibly could to ensure that I wouldn’t lose to that deck. Mutagenic Growth wasn’t my first choice, but it certainly grew on me as a way to save your Drogskol Captain from Galvanic Blast or Slagstorm. Flashfreeze and Dissipate are counters that hit their big spells even late in the game when they’ve ramped way past the range where Mana Leak is relevant.
Act of Aggression isn’t really that spectacular because it’s not a proactive card in its own right, but it does serve as an excellent way to get those last few points of damage in after they stabilize by stealing their Titan and slapping them in the face with it. I also think that Act of Aggression is a reasonable card against Huntmaster of the Fells. If they pass their turn to flip Huntmaster, you can just let this happen. Then, in your upkeep, play Act of Aggression targeting the Huntmaster in response to the transform trigger. When the trigger resolves, you control the Huntmaster, so you can assign two damage to them and also kill off their Wolf that was created when he came into play if it’s still around. You then get to attack them for four more just to rub some salt in the wound. I would recommend not playing a second spell in the turn unless you are fine with them flipping it back over, gaining two more life, and making another Wolf.
If I’m going to be honest, though, the best reason to run Act of Aggression is in the hope that you can live the dream by playing a turn 1 Delver of Secrets and reveal the Act of Aggression blindly to flip it on turn 2. Your opponent will probably have a response to this, which is to promptly defecate in his or her pants.
This card is purely there to be a huge trump in the mirror match. If you have more Captains in play than they do, then you can Gale for one less than the toughness of all your Spirits, wiping their entire board and killing none of yours. If you have fewer Captains in play than they do, then you can use Gale as a Day of Judgment to even the playing field. If you have it in hand from early on in the game, you can sculpt your plays to set it up to be a huge blowout.
In the first round, I got paired up against Brad Sheppard, a friend of mine who was also on the deck and unfortunately had the sick Corrosive Gale mirror tech. I was pretty sure this wouldn’t be an easy match, but to my surprise it was. For him, that is. I got steamrolled. In the first game, he assembled the double Captain hexproof lock while I durdled. I drew Dismember the following turn for maximum value.
In the second game, he mulliganed to five cards. Those two extra cards appeared to be a luxury Brad did not need. On turn 3, I played a Lingering Souls, and he mirrored my play on his turn. On my fourth turn, I Pondered, attacked for two damage, flashed back Lingering Souls, and played a tapped land. With Phantasmal Image in hand, I thought things looked pretty good for me. If he played a Drogskol Captain on his turn and attacked, I could just copy it on my turn and crack back for eight damage.
All according to plan, he played a Drogskol Captain. Brad apparently wasn’t fully versed in the details of the plan because his next play diverted a bit from it. He cast Corrosive Gale for one, clearing my entire board and leaving all of his creatures still very much alive. You could say that his Gale was quite the…blow…out. With my board state corroded, I fought back to one where I had a reasonable shot of winning if he didn’t draw an untapped land to play two Drogskol Captains in the same turn and assemble the hexproof lock. He drew the untapped land. I drew Dismember the following turn for maximum value again.
Starting the tournament 0-1 was not exactly what I’d hoped for, but I was pretty confident in the deck and resolved to battle back. I was paired against Michael Braverman in the mirror match in round five after winning 3 straight. In the first game I had him dead unless he drew a Lingering Souls, but he did and clawed back into the game. Eventually we reached a board where he was at three life and died to double Vapor Snag and the attack from a 1/1 Spirit, and I was dead if I didn’t have it. With my third and final Vapor Snag in hand, and three dead Snapcaster Mages in my yard, I had one draw step to hit that one-outer fourth Mage to win. You can see where this is going. It can be said that I…Snapped…Michael’s hopes of winning the first game. Usain Bolt never ran this well. We later ended up drawing the match when neither of us could push through a standstill in game 3.
In the ninth round I was paired against Harold White playing the mirror match. Game 1 was quite memorable. At one point, we had a combined 129 power of flying, hexproof creatures in play! I was able to squeak out a close win in this game and took the match in two games.
At this point I had battled back from a round 1 loss. I now sat at 7-1-1 and had a greater than 50% shot of making Top 8 if I won the last round. I remarked to Todd Anderson that the only games I had lost in the entire tournament had been in the mirror match. I had won 2-0 against every other deck I was faced against. His response was, "Yeah, but have you played against Wolf Run yet?" *Cue ominous music and a David Blaine Street Magic Parody serious look toward the camera.*
In round 10, I was whisked off to play an on-camera feature match against Ryan Dail playingâ€”you guessed itâ€”Wolf Run. The Ramp Gods had ignored my pleas yet again. I felt reasonably prepared for R/G Wolf Run; he was not playing R/G Wolf Run. I felt reasonably unprepared for B/G Wolf Run; he was on B/G Wolf Run. All those Flashfreezes, Mutagenic Growths, and Act of Aggressions are far worse against Black Sun’s Zenith and Grave Titan. I don’t even want to watch the video of this match because the games were not particularly close and in addition to drawing poorly, I also made a number of mistakes in the second game.
I ended up finishing in 23rd place. Disappointing, without a doubt, but I managed to erase a history of bad tiebreaker luck and 9th place finishes by making Top 8 in a Draft Open the next day at a 2-1 record and splitting the Top 4 there! I invested in some Better Lucky Than Good sleeves out of obligation.
I think we’ll see a good deal of changes to Esper Delver in the weeks to come. Corrosive Gale is a card I expect to see in a lot of sideboards. By virtue of being effectively colorless, it’s reasonable to think that any deck could be playing this card as a trump to the Spirit strategy.
If people overload on Corrosive Gale, then I think the next logical progression is to side into Geist of Saint Traft to blank their Gales. Another good option is Hero of Bladehold. Brad Sheppard ran two copies in his sideboard, and while I like the card a lot, I think the 2WW mana cost is pretty tough for the deck to consistently hit. It seemed to work out pretty well for him, though.
I won’t be at GP Baltimore this weekend, but I’m excited to see what comes of it. What archetype will rise to the top next? I’m hoping it’s going to be Mono ‘Getting-Browned’ Control.**
Thanks for reading,
BBD on Magic Online
@BraunDuinIt in the land of the Tweets.
**I have absolutely no clue what it means to "get browned" and it would probably destroy the mystique if I found out. Therefore, I’d rather not. But let’s be real here. It’s one of the most enjoyable phrases to use to reference a situation where someone was thoroughly defeated.