Should I Play B/G Delirium?

Brad Nelson is historically a Standard master, and he’s spent weeks on this format to maintain that status! But he keeps running into roadblocks! Why is #SCGKNOX Standard so different? Brad shares his detailed findings and more here!

So here we are: one final Open left on the SCG Tour before we head to Atlanta for the #SCGINVI. My season started off strong with a semifinal finish in the season’s first Invitational, but since then I’ve had mediocre results, which, coupled with a few events where I was absent, has caused me to fall in the ranks with barely a glimmer of a chance to make my way to the Players’ Championship. My only chance is to spike #SCGKNOX this weekend to bounce back into the running or take down the main event in a couple of weeks.

Luckily for me, the format at hand is once again Standard. Will I be able to do what I do best in my favorite format, or will I continue to have mediocre performances on the SCG Tour? One will never know until the story is written, but I can at least continue to give myself the best chance by preparing as hard as I usually do.

My testing began last weekend when I found myself without the record to play Day 2 of the Open. I asked a few of my friends what I should play in Standard and all of them replied with B/G Delirium. I took a couple of ideas from each one of them and ended up registering this list.

I took a loss in the mirror without learning much thanks to how much velocity he had with a lack of my own, and another one to G/R Energy, which Pummeled the hell out of me. Five of my six wins were to white-based Smuggler’s Copter decks, which all felt the same. My opponents would put some pressure on me, but eventually Ishkanah, Grafwidow would shut down any aggression my opponents had left. Emrakul, the Promised End was normally the way I closed out the games, but anything really could do that, including additional Ishkanah, Grafwidows once my opponent was attritioned out.

Decompressing from the event left me dumbfounded that more people aren’t playing B/G Delirium, but results-oriented thinking would say otherwise. Most of the SCG regulars who played in the same Classic took W/U Flash to a better finish than I had. A little more research found many of those same Top 8 competitors had also done well a week earlier in Baltimore. W/U Flash seems to be the top choice for the big names on the SCG circuit, but B/G Delirium is the go-to for most of my friends I consider trustful confidants. So what is actually going on here?

Deck selection has always been my favorite part of Magic, not only what deck I should play but why others play the decks they do. By analyzing others, you can sometimes even find errors in your ways, as they may have seen something you chose to ignore for whatever reason. It would be easy for me to ignore the fact that many of the big names played W/U Flash and continue practicing with B/G Delirium, but I would just be isolating myself with my own ideas. That’s normally a fine place to be, but right now I am limited both in knowledge of the format and time to prepare.

W/U Flash does have its merits that shouldn’t be ignored. It’s a much more flexible strategy than B/G Delirium while also playing absurdly powerful cards in the form of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Archangel Avacyn. It’s also a deck that is more difficult to exploit through deck selection. B/G Delirium has shown its dominance on the GP circuit last month, but since then many strategies have popped up that give it trouble.

Ted Felicetti solidified his lead in Season Three of the SCG Tour with a Bant Aggro deck that can give B/G Delirium a whole heap of trouble. Most of the creatures have utility out of combat with just enough toughness to keep Liliana, the Last Hope from taking over the early game. As the game goes on, the high density of planeswalkers can cause a ton of issues for B/G Delirium, since the deck isn’t great at attacking in the early turns, especially with Tamiyo, Field Researcher’s icy cold breath keeping them locked down for multiple turns.

Logan Nettles brewed up a rather spicy Aetherworks Marvel deck in the past couple of weeks that has been giving me some trouble on Magic Online. Aetherworks Marvel is the perfect strategy to combat B/G Delirium, since it’s so difficult for the deck to punish the time it takes to set up Aetherworks Marvel and six energy. Once the deck is online, it has more copies of Emrakul, the Promised End; more planeswalkers to generate advantage; and just more stuff to do with its mana. B/G Delirium simply falls behind.

B/G Delirium can’t beat this deck in the early turns and doesn’t have enough removal to deal with every creature. Even in a battlefield stall, it’s difficult to get to Emrakul, the Promised End before they find some way to attack with an abnormally gigantic creature that smashes through everything you’ve got. This isn’t as bad of a matchup as the other two for B/G Delirium, but it’s not pretty either.

All three of these decks have one thing in common: they prey on B/G Delirium but falter against W/U Flash. One way or another, W/U Flash can pick apart their strategy, since they are so linear in an attempt to do something extremely powerful to be able to beat through B/G Delirium’s defenses. The list even goes on and on, but with more and more fringe decks. For example, Eric Froehlich’s B/G Aggro deck is great against Delirium but terrible against W/U Flash, just like the rest of these, but that deck has lost most of its following. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t still exist, though. There are just more landmines out there for B/G Delirium than for W/U Flash which is fairly interesting.

That might be because B/G Delirium does seem to have the edge against W/U Flash. The last time I’ve seen a format dominated by two decks was back when Mono-Black and Mono-Blue Devotion ran the streets. The only major difference for back then compared to now is that both those decks were very close in power level against one another. There also was Sphinx’s Control, which beat both of them, but that’s another story for another time.

For now, it does make sense to attack B/G Delirium over W/U Flash with a fringe strategy, since it wouldn’t make much sense going the other way in theory. In practice, it might make sense, given how W/U Flash has been taking up way more high-level finishes than B/G Delirium.

Now, there are a subset of decks out there that do the exact opposite, which is prey on W/U Flash while losing to B/G Delirium, but those matchups aren’t as severely lopsided for both matchups. The most common in that category is W/R Vehicles. I’m a firm believer this deck is the best variant of the archetype. Mardu Vehicles and R/B Aggro exist but just seem to be worse versions of this deck.

W/R Vehicles is easily the “third” best deck in this format. Honestly I could see this deck being just as good as the other two decks in the format, but without enough of a following to show just how good the deck actually is. I know this can be the case every now and then. Just last season, barely anyone actually played Bant Humans, but I will die believing that was a superior choice to Bant Company. Sometimes the best decks just aren’t as flashy.

Get it?

In my limited testing, I’ve found this matchup to be good for B/G Delirium, but many have told me it’s closer than my results. They’ve also told me the deck is very good against W/U Flash, which I would believe. Both decks do relatively the same thing, except one’s cuter than the other one. Usually the more powerful deck will win out, which in this case is W/R Vehicles.

So now, with a foundation, we can see exactly why W/U Flash performing well in tournaments. It has a clear line to victory as long as enough players showed up with unique decks attacking B/G Delirium instead of joining them. It’s not really important now to figure out exactly why people are picking up the deck, since there is clear and concise logic behind choosing the deck. Should it be my choice, though?

Now we have to analyze personal bias. This is the manipulation of the decision-making process using the Human element. For example, I like the believe many players chose a deck like W/U Flash because they like the play decks that make them feel smart. A little bit of control, some good use of tempo, and all of a sudden you have an opponent squirming for battlefield position. I also like to believe those who would play B/G Delirium enjoy powerful Magic cards that eventually leave an opponent grasping at straws to find any way out from under a huge resource disadvantage.

Prized Amalgam players are just masochists who enjoy playing with weaker cards and sometimes winning. They don’t count.

My personal bias is towards the enjoyment of midrange strategies that can transition between proactive and reactive. That’s exactly what B/G Delirium is at first glance, but it’s actually just a control deck once you see what the rest of the format is trying to do. Sure, the deck plays a ton of potentially aggressive creatures like Grim Flayer and Mindwrack Demon, but they often do more blocking and dying then they do attacking. The deck is just a defensively slanted midrange deck, but it’s one of the most winning decks, which is why I have to put up with it.

Part of me thinks that not playing W/U Flash is a mistake, given the deck’s consistent results as of late, but I’ve tricked myself into believing that the top players on the SCG Tour haven’t been playing B/G Delirium, which causes the deck to look as if it’s underperforming.

Even when I’m writing about being logical and conclusive, I’m still biased. There’s really no hope for any of us, is there? In the end we just play decks that make us happy. What I do like about the deck is that it preys on Smuggler’s Copter archetypes, which is a huge portion of the metagame. I’d much rather play B/G Aggro and join the Smuggling game, but the deck just isn’t good enough against the other Copter decks. It’s also felt great against dedicated control, which, no matter what, will always exist, even if it’s terrible. Right, Shaheen?

“I’d take offense if he didn’t speak the truth.”

Playing B/G Delirium does open yourself up to more potential landmines as a tournament progresses, but at the same time it will have some very good matchups to make up for random booby traps. The only question is if there is a way to build a version of B/G Delirium that gives you the best chance to beat W/U Flash while also having enough game to keep up in the mirror.

This is currently where I am with the deck, trying to do exactly that.

No, there isn’t an error. I’m playing one Transgress the Mind maindeck, and the logic for it isn’t even that bad. I’ve enjoyed having more options for when Grim Flayer gets to trigger as well as having options for how to sequence out my hand. Very rarely will drawing one hand disruption spell be bad with how the format plays out, but many times has it taken an important card out of my opponent’s hand. I’ve obviously not played enough games with the one-of to know for sure, but so far I’ve liked it over any other option, given how cheap it is.

There really isn’t much innovation outside of that, but honestly I don’t know what more you can do for this deck. The most control I’ve felt in deck construction has been how much I want to respect Scrapheap Scrounger, which, by the look of my deck, is a lot.

Flaying Tendrils isn’t the best card in the format, but it’s nice to have when on the draw against hyper-aggressive decks. I’ve found it to be more effective in bad spots than more one-for-one removal, especially since those matchups often come with Pia Nalaar, which is an annoying card to deal with using traditional removal. It’s rather nice to have a sweeper, even one that’s fairly ineffective at times.

I’m not sold on Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet just yet, but playing one copy feels as free as you can get. B/G Delirium has this impressive ability of stretching a single one-of by being able to not only tutor for it but also recur it multiple times with Liliana, the Last Hope and Grapple with the Past. It’s just difficult for me to cut the last copy of this card from my deck, even though it has felt unnecessary thus far.

Sadly, this article will get posted before Brian Braun-Duin and I sit down for an exciting session of the mirror. I can’t honestly think of anything less thrilling than playing the mirror match for half a day, but it has to be done if I expect a good finish this weekend, especially using the logic previously explained that the only way it’s correct to play this deck is if you believe you can win most, if not all, of your mirrors. It might not be doable, but the only way to try to make that a reality is to practice it and find out.

That’s all I have before #SCGKNOX. Hopefully I come home after this weekend with just enough points to make the Invitational interesting, but even if I fail, I can still win it all in Atlanta to find my way to the Players’ Championship.

In the next couple of weeks, we will be taking another stab at Modern in an attempt to understand if Death’s Shadow is actually a good deck choice and delve deeper into Standard as we make our way to one of the biggest tournaments of the year. I’ll see y’all next week!