Rant of Valakut: Building Delver-Grow (Part 1)

I was still pretty new to Magic when M13 came out, but I remember when the reprint of Quirion Dryad was announced. I hadn’t heard of the card before, but I remember there being a buzz of excitement from veteran players. Here was a classic card, a powerhouse in its day, back again for the first time since Tenth Edition. There was a lot of speculation surrounding the card at how it could be the next big thing for Standard, but ultimately these predictions fell through. The card came and went, all but forgotten. It was barely used in Standard, and eventually drifted off again to collect dust.

Still, I remember the excitement around that reprint. I didn’t know much about the deck that made Quirion Dryad so infamous, but I did learn its name: Miracle Grow. At the time I was focused on other decks, so I never bothered to look up a list. By the time M13 rotated out of Standard I had completely forgotten about the Dryad, just like everyone else.

That is, until Ixalan.

Deeproot Champion is a spiritual successor to Quirion Dryad. Looking at the two cards side by side, one can’t help noticing their similarities: they are both 2-mana green creatures that get counters when you cast certain spells. They obviously aren’t identical, but the number of spells that trigger the abilities of both the Champion and the Dryad is staggering. Any non-creature spell that is white, blue, black or red will do, and that happens to be a huge list.

This got me thinking that if Quirion Dryad was such a powerful card in its day, it might be worth learning why. Now that a deck could contain up to 8 copies of Dryadlike creatures, this strategy might now have the consistency that it lacked previously. The questions remained, however: What was Miracle Grow? How did it function, and was it the sort of deck that could be reproduced in a format like Modern?

Miracle Grow was popular several years before I even started playing, so all I really knew of it was its name. By including Quirion Dryad I knew it had to play a lot of cheap non-green spells, but beyond that it was a mystery. Thankfully, I was able to find an old article that not only included decklists, but also went into detail about how the various versions of Miracle Grow worked. According to the article, Miracle Grow would try to get out an early creature and defend it with counter-magic. What made the deck powerful was that the creatures it played would get bigger over time; the more an opponent tried to remove a Quirion Dryad, the more counters it would get from casting spells to stop them. It wouldn’t take long for the creatures in Miracle Grow to get unreasonably large, allowing them to close out the game in short order.

 

Alan Cormer’s Miracle-Grow:

The Evolution of Miracle-Grow (Alex Shvartsman)

 

As the deck changed, most builds adopted Werebear as their other big threat. While it couldn’t get quite as large as the Quirion Dryad, it was still a sizeable threat for very little mana. The Werebear could produce mana if needed, but its real strength lay in its Threshold ability; when its controller had 7 or more cards in their graveyard this little 1/1 turned into a 4/4. Considering the deck was running a lot of cheap spells to make the Quirion Dryad bigger, such asĀ Brainstorm and Opt, the graveyard would get filled up pretty quickly with them. It would only take a few turns to get to the 7-card Threshold.

Most old Miracle Grow decks also made good use of free spells like Force of Will and Gush. Being able to tap out for a Dryad or Werebear and still be able to cast spells meant the deck could play its threats much earlier and still be safe from removal.

The other consistent feature of the Miracle Grow decks was the inclusion of Winter Orb. This was an excellent way of restricting an opponent’s mana and slowing them down. With the Orb in play it would be very unlikely that most decks would be able to cast more than 1 spell a turn. Depending on how much mana their deck needed, the opponent might have to skip several turns before doing anything. Considering Miracle Grow itself didn’t play any high-mana spells, the impact of the Orb on its game plan was minimal. This certainly explained why every version of this deck included 4 copies of Winter Orb.

Looking at how important these free spells and Winter Orb were to the strength of Miracle Grow, I began to worry that building a similar deck in Modern would be impossible. Perhaps Quirion Dryad wasn’t the reason this deck was good; maybe it was just the best card in a deck full of Forces, Gushes, and Orbs? If this was the case, it could explain why we haven’t seen Miracle Grow since its glory days. Without free spells and oppressive mana denial, maybe it just wouldn’t work as a deck.

I wasn’t about to give up that easily, mind you. To get a better idea of how well Miracle Grow might do in a fomat like Modern, devoid of free spells and Winter Orbs, I tried to find an equivalent archetype. If I could find some deck that worked similarly to Miracle Grow in Modern it would not only show that the style of deck I was looking to build was viable, but it could also give me some insight into what cards to include. Boiling Miracle Grow down to is bare bones, determined that I was looking for a deck that had:

  • A very low mana curve, topping out around 3 mana
  • A handful of cheap creatures that could close out a game quickly
  • A large number of cheap interaction spells and card draw

I gave it some thought. Looking at it this way, the first deck that came to mind was Delver: a deck named after, and revolving around, the card Delver of Secrets.

This wasn’t all that surprising, in hindsight; Delver of Secrets would have fit perfectly into the old Miracle Grow decks. It was a cheap creature that quickly grew into a large threat, just like Quirion Dryad and Werebear. For Delver to reliably transform it needs a large density of instant and sorcery cards in the deck, which Miracle Grow certainly had. What’s more, all of the Delver decks I looked up had a similar suite of cheap interaction and card draw, just like Miracle Grow. The biggest difference I could find between Modern Delver decks and Miracle Grow lists was Delver’s lack of free spells and mana denial, but I knew that was going to be the case. The mere existence of Delver decks in Modern suggested that the Miracle Grow archetype could still work without free spells. What’s more, considering that Delver has been a competitive deck historically suggests that a Miracle Grow deck could even flourish in the new format.

 

Patrick Tierney’s Legacy Temur Delver:

– Legacy Guide Part VI: Delver (Reid Duke)

 

Delver decks aren’t limited to Modern, either. Looking at some Legacy Delver decks, my conclusion that Miracle Grow and Delver were part of the same general archetype looked to be confirmed. Legacy Delver decks typically include a lot of the same cards that Miracle Grow did, like Force of Will, Daze, Brainstorm and (before it was banned) Gush. They even have ways of attacking an opponent’s mana base with cards like Wasteland and Stifle, which are often used to counter the activation of Fetchlands. Some of these decks even include Winter Orb in the sideboard!

With all of the similarities between Legacy Delver and Miracle Grow, I felt that I was on the right track; if I was going to make Miracle Grow for Modern, I wanted to model my deck after Delver.

The biggest trouble I ran into with this plan was that pretty much all of the Modern Delver decks I could find were blue and red. I saw the occasional deck that included another colour, but red was at the heart of each of them. This wasn’t exactly what I was looking for; as much as I like Lightning Bolt and Young Pyromancer, I was trying to do something different by making my deck blue-green. Still, it was a starting point. I just needed to figure out how to translate things.

Since I was planning to be in different colours, I would need to analyze these decks in more general terms to figure out the role each of the cards played. If I could determine what each card did in the deck, then I could find equivalent cards in my colours.

 

Modern UR Delver Deck:

– MTG Goldfish

 

 

Modern Grixis Delver Deck:

– MTG Goldfish

 

I tried to break these decks down into categories: How many creatures did they run? How many lands? Of the spells they included, how many of them were purely for card draw? How many spells were interactive, whether a counterspell or removal? If I could find some commonality between these decks, I would get a much better sense of how Delver decks operated in Modern. By extension, I could estimate how my Miracle Grow deck should work.

My rough analysis suggested a breakdown like this:

  • 19 lands
  • 14 creatures
  • 9 card draw spells
  • 18 interactive spells (around 6 counterspells)

Given that these decks were also running Snapcaster Mage, which sadly wouldn’t fit within my budget, I would have to make some adjustments to compensate. Also, because I was building a blue-green deck, I would probably have to rely more on counterspells; I wouldn’t have access to cheap removal like Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt or Path to Exile. Green is sorely lacking in that department, while blue really only has cards like Vapor Snag, which delay threats instead of eliminating them. Still, this breakdown gave me a general idea of what the deck would look like.

From my findings I came up with the following list:

 

My Modern Delver-Grow List:

It was a start, but tweaks would certainly have to be made.

That, however, is a discussion best left for next time. Next week I’ll jump into an analysis of my deck, along with some tweaks I’ve made since testing it out. Hopefully I’ll even have a sideboard built by then!

 

Until that time, I encourage all of you to take a look at some classic decks and do some analysis of your own. If a deck worked years ago, is there anything stopping it from working now? Is there a key piece missing from the deck in newer formats? Could you find a replacement? And if there is no such replacement, can you at least learn something from the deck’s play style and key cards?

If you do go digging through old deck lists, I hope you make some interesting and fruitful discoveries. And please, let me know what you find!

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