Tuning Sultai Delirium To Prey On Pioneer’s Top Tier

How should Sultai Delirium adjust to the new Pioneer metagame? GerryT has the answers for SCG Indianapolis!

Tireless Tracker, illustrated by Eric Deschamps

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Two scary combo decks sit atop Pioneer at the moment and Sultai Delirium is exactly the deck that can beat them both. Using last week’s decklist to beat this week’s metagame never works, so it’s time to return to the drawing board.

First, the decklist, which went 5-0 in a Magic Online League.

Much has changed in the last two weeks. For starters, Lotus Breach and Dimir Inverter are the best two decks in the format and everyone knows it. Bant Spirits and Mono-Red Aggro have risen up as a means of defeating the combo decks. That means our metagame is set and we can tune our deck in order to beat the popular decks. For a deck like Sultai Delirium, that’s perfect. 

Traverse the Ulvenwald

Every year or so, we have to have a discussion on sacred cows. 

In Magic, there aren’t any. 

People on Twitter said that Traverse is free, it’s Demonic Tutor, and that it’s the best card in the deck. I strongly disagree on all points and think that, while it’s traditionally strong in these sorts of decks, now isn’t the time. Looking back, I probably would have advocated for cutting Traverse two weeks ago had I thought about it, but inertia is a helluva thing. 

The end-game of Grisly Salvage or Satyr Wayfinder into Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is clean enough, especially if you have enough disruption. Emrakul, the Promised End creates some absurd, memorable situations and is a strong way to lock up the game but it’s typically worse against the current metagame than Tireless Tracker or Uro plus interaction. 

Nissa, Who Shakes the World is a threat that doesn’t care about graveyard hate but is clunky in a format where you can’t afford it. Cutting Traverse the Ulvenwald grants us the freedom to move away from cards whose sole job was enabling it, such as the random planeswalkers and cards like Brain Maggot and Walking Ballista

We don’t want the Traverse targets, so why do we want Traverse?

Tireless Tracker

As much as I love Courser of Kruphix, Tireless Tracker is the new and improved model. We are fishing for weird card types to enable delirium early, so we can just play the stronger cards. Tireless Tracker draws you more disruption, helps you hit your land drops, and typically puts an opponent on a three- or four-turn clock. 

Even if Tireless Tracker dies, you probably got some value from it. Your opponent has to kill Tireless Tracker immediately because the advantage you gain snowballs quickly. Courser of Kruphix is more of a slow burn that your opponents can remove later and still very easily be able to win the game. Four toughness and the lifegain aren’t inconsequential, especially when in racing situations against Mono-Red Aggro and Bant Spirits. I’d still rather do something else for three mana. If I were looking for a total hammer against aggro, I’d want more copies of Ishkanah, Grafwidow, not Courser of Kruphix.

Grisly Salvage

Going harder on Grisly Salvage makes sense when you’re trying to get the most out of Ishkanah and Uro. Being able to find Murderous Rider increases its versatility. 

Grisly Salvage is basically a Ponder with upside in this deck, and for a base Golgari deck, that’s solid. When you factor in the graveyard interaction, I can’t imagine playing fewer than four copies with this version of the deck. It does everything you want. 

; Leyline of the Void Soul-Guide Lantern

Is graveyard hate a necessity? If the mirror becomes popular again, maybe. For now, it’s only really effective against Lotus Breach and there’s stronger disruption against them in Damping Sphere. Should hedging be more appealing that hammering the top tier of the format, you can certainly find room for graveyard hate in the sideboard if you want it. 


VS Dimir Inverter


Fatal Push Fatal Push Fatal Push Fatal Push Breeding Pool Abrupt Decay Abrupt Decay


Negate Negate Mystical Dispute Mystical Dispute Liliana, the Last Hope Sultai Charm Assassin's Trophy

This is one of the most interesting matchups I’ve had the pleasure of playing. They will always be threatening a combo kill, but depending on their setup and sideboard plan, it will either focus on your ability to stop them from comboing or whether or not you can win a war of attrition.

I like sideboarding out a land in this matchup because of how important it is to win the war of attrition. You also have a much sleeker deck after sideboard, so the extra land for casting Ishkanah on time isn’t as relevant. Feel free to sideboard out a land on the draw in any matchup where the same rules apply.

Leyline of the Void is a potential issue but most versions have moved away from that card. If you see Leyline, you’re going to want the Unravel the Aether.

A couple of Ishkanahs are fine here but not exciting. The same could be said for keeping in a single copy of Drown in the Loch

VS Lotus Breach


Fatal Push Fatal Push Fatal Push Fatal Push Liliana, the Last Hope Ishkanah, Grafwidow Ishkanah, Grafwidow Murderous Rider Murderous Rider


Damping Sphere Damping Sphere Damping Sphere Mystical Dispute Mystical Dispute Negate Negate Drown in the Loch Sultai Charm

Sideboarding is straightforward in this matchup. They aren’t doing anything fancy and neither are you. Disrupt them and attack them for twenty before they can put together the necessary pieces.

Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath isn’t incredible here but it allows you to find a clock and potentially more disruption just by virtue of you milling yourself. 

VS Bant Spirits

Out (on the play):

Thought Erasure Thought Erasure Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath Thoughtseize

In (on the play):

Mystical Dispute Mystical Dispute Sultai Charm Assassin's Trophy Liliana, the Last Hope Ishkanah, Grafwidow

Out (on the draw):

Thought Erasure Thought Erasure Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath Tireless Tracker Tireless Tracker Tireless Tracker Grisly Salvage

In (on the draw):

Mystical Dispute Mystical Dispute Sultai Charm Assassin's Trophy Disfigure Disfigure Liliana, the Last Hope Ishkanah, Grafwidow

On the play, I want fewer instances of cheap interaction because I’ll likely have the initiative and don’t want to draw weak cards in those situations. When you’re on the draw, you need things like Disfigure and Thoughtseize to maintain parity. I like keeping in Tireless Tracker and casting it on Turn 3, which often puts them on the back foot. On the draw, this plan is much too slow and it’s often you who will be reacting to them, usually without a way to slip a Tireless Tracker onto the battlefield. 

Because of Spell Queller and Mausoleum Wanderer, Bant Spirits has a distinct weakness to five-mana cards that aren’t instants or sorceries. Ishkanah is the perfect card to decimate them, although you should be wary of Disdainful Stroke after sideboarding.

Even though they kill you by inches, Thoughtseize is necessary in some numbers for cheap interaction and clearing the way for something like Ishkanah or Liliana to resolve. 

Be wary of Rest in Peace. Uro isn’t a huge deal against Bant Spirits and Ishkanah is usually very good, even as a 3/5 with reach, but it’s something you’ll probably have to remove eventually. Drown in the Loch is typically great in this matchup except for the existence of Rest in Peace and much of the matchup hinges on how long that card gets to stay on the battlefield. Mitigating its effect is key in the matchup, so I wouldn’t be opposed to taking out the maindeck copy, but it is a powerful effect to have access to.

VS Mono-Red Aggro


Thought Erasure Thought Erasure Thoughtseize Liliana, the Last Hope Jace, Vryn's Prodigy Jace, Vryn's Prodigy


Disfigure Disfigure Ishkanah, Grafwidow Drown in the Loch Assassin's Trophy Sultai Charm

They are mostly a pile of creatures and function like a tribal deck that has a Torbran payoff. Saving Fatal Push and an enabler, Murderous Rider, or a Drown in the Loch for Torbran can be necessary but most of the time you’ll be dealing with each threat as they cast them. You can also stabilize entirely behind a wall of Spiders. 

Since they’re more of a creature-based deck than a burn deck, I don’t mind keeping the majority of the Thoughtseizes in the deck. If you want to play without Disfigure, you should keep in all the cheap interaction you can.

Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is mostly how you’re going to win this matchup. Their graveyard hate is minimal and the cards in their sideboard meant for big creatures are Act of Treason effects, which mostly don’t matter when you have Spiders or Satyrs to chump block with. 

Liliana kinda stinks here. Their creatures have too much toughness and they’re very good at going wide and either ignoring her or attacking her to death.

VS Azorius Control


Fatal Push Fatal Push Fatal Push Fatal Push Ishkanah, Grafwidow Ishkanah, Grafwidow Breeding Pool Satyr Wayfinder


Mystical Dispute Mystical Dispute Negate Negate Drown in the Loch Sultai Charm Assassin's Trophy Liliana, the Last Hope

All of your cards are great against Azorius Control. You disrupt better than they do and gain card advantage better than they do. The only things that can really go wrong include them sticking a planeswalker or Rest in Peace for too long.

Cutting a Satyr Wayfinder might be silly but it’s the least impactful card in the matchup. We’re already gearing up for the attrition fight, so shaving a 1/1 makes sense, even if can potentially find an Uro.

VS Sultai Delirium


Fatal Push Fatal Push Fatal Push Abrupt Decay Abrupt Decay


Drown in the Loch Sultai Charm Liliana, the Last Hope Assassin's Trophy Ishkanah, Grafwidow

Of all the potential matchups, I’ve tuned my deck for ramp and the mirror the least. Both of those decks are losing popularity and rightfully so. Still, if they show up with Emrakul, Nissa, and Leyline of the Void you’re going to be in trouble, especially with your own lack of graveyard hate. My plan involves beating down with Tireless Tracker and Ishkanah but I admit that isn’t perfect. I’m less enthusiastic about siding out a land because I don’t really want to play an attrition game with them due to their superior late-game.

Is discard good in midrange mirrors? It’s more complicated than you might think. Given how the matchup is set up, you’re a disruptive aggro deck despite playing most of the same cards. You need to stick Tireless Tracker to win and the discard helps you accomplish that. It certainly helps that they typically shave on removal.

VS Izzet Ensoul


Thought Erasure Thought Erasure Thoughtseize Thoughtseize Murderous Rider Murderous Rider Jace, Vryn's Prodigy Jace, Vryn's Prodigy


Disfigure Disfigure Unravel the Aether Sultai Charm Assassin's Trophy Ishkanah, Grafwidow Drown in the Loch Liliana, the Last Hope

Is Izzet Ensoul even a deck? What about Five-Color Niv-Mizzet? I wouldn’t expect either to show up in large numbers but the plan against Izzet Ensoul needs to be stated. 

You have to walk a fine line between fighting off their aggression, keeping your life total out of burn range, and putting pressure on them. Depending on what your draws look like, it’s entirely possible to shift into a fully controlling role. If you don’t take much damage early, you can afford to sit back, draw cards, and ensure you have enough interaction to stop what comes off the top of their deck. Even if you’re at ten or so, Uro can give you some breathing room. 

Your role will likely change multiple times per game, so be aware of that.

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