Rant of Valakut: Building Delver-Grow (Part 2)

Last time I discussed the history of the old Miracle-Grow deck and how I might turn it into a Modern deck. This week, I’ll be doing the first part of the card-by-card analysis of the deck itself.

Shortly after part 1 of my Delver-Grow article went up, I got an opportunity to test out my deck. It went surprisingly well, but there were a few cards that weren’t working well. Most notably, Vapor Snag turned out to be quite the disappointment. It’s possible that it just wasn’t good against the decks I was facing, but it never felt great to cast. I went looking for alternatives, and came up with a new version of the deck:

Ben’s Delver-Grow – Version 1.2

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CREATURES

The backbone of this deck is its creatures. Without them, the deck does nothing. There aren’t a lot of them, but each one has proven itself to be a must-answer threat, especially if they’re able to stick around for a few turns.

Most of the time, when I’m building around a particular card I try to make sure it stays in the deck. Over the years, I’ve learned that this isn’t always the right call. Occasionally, a card works well as a starting point, but once a deck is put together the end result doesn’t suit the card very well. It always feels weird to cut the card that started it all, but sometimes it’s just better to cut it out and keep the rest of the deck.

Thankfully, this wasn’t the case here. Quirion Dryad and Deeproot Champion still work very well as the core of this deck. They are cheap to cast, either by getting out early or sneaking in with enough mana left over for a counterspell. They also live up to their reputation for getting really big really quickly; it is not unreasonable to have one or two 5/5 Dryads or Champions in play, if not larger.

Their biggest downfall is that they are vulnerable to all of the most efficient removal in Modern. Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push all take out Dryads and Champions with ease unless I can protect them for a few turns (then, at least, they’re safe from Lightning Bolt). This usually means I need to wait to cast my creatures until I can protect them in the same turn, but depending on my draws I may not need to worry about losing the first one I cast. Still, 8 of these creatures proved to be too many very early on; 6, on the other hand, seems to be just about right.

It wouldn’t be a Delver deck without this 1/1 wizard. Interestingly enough, there are a few different tricks you can perform with this fellow, beyond just turning him into a 3/2 flier as early as turn 2.

Delver’s upkeep trigger lets you peek at the top card of your library before drawing it, and that information can be surprisingly handy. If you see a card you don’t want, casting a spell like Thought Scour or activating a Misty Rainforest before your draw step are excellent ways to replace it. Thought Scour puts the unwanted card into your graveyard, while the Rainforest shuffles it away. Opt can even be used in a pinch to scry the card to the bottom of your deck if need be. All of this value, and the Delver might not have even transformed!

I think 4 copies of Delver of Secrets was always going to be the right answer for this deck; I can’t imagine ever running fewer than that.

These apes are amazing. With Thought Scour and Misty Rainforest, it’s possible to get them into play as early as turn 2 with mana to spare. That’s pretty absurd for a 4/4 trampler. Unanswered, that will end games very quickly.

I’ve found that the biggest strength of the Mandrills is not their potential for early game nonsense, but rather their inevitability. With one of these creatures in hand, it doesn’t seem so bad when a Delver of Secrets or Quirion Dryad gets countered or destroyed. Not only is it one less removal spell in my opponent’s hand, but regardless of the card my opponent uses it will get me closer to being able to cast the Mandrills. If I have the ability to fight a removal spell with counter magic of my own, it will help to fill my graveyard as well. The worst case scenario is that I pay 6 mana for Mandrills; it’s not ideal, but if the game gets to that point having a 4/4 trampler might just be the sort of big threat I need to close things out.

Looking back at the old Miracle Grow lists, Mandrills feels like it is filling the role of Werebear. Both creatures require several cards in the graveyard to be cheap 4/4 threats, but given the choice I think I would stick with the Mandrills. Werebear needed 7 cards in the graveyard to become a 4/4, but by comparision,the Mandrills only require 4 cards in the graveyard to cost the same as the Werebear (and with 5 it costs even less). Moreover, having trample is far more useful than the ability to produce green mana in most scenarios. Granted, casting multiple Mandrills in quick succession can be difficult, since the first one exiles cards that would have been used to fuel the second, but this deck is remarkably good at refilling the graveyard quickly.

Given that each subsequent ape gets harder to cast, 4 copies seemed like too many. 3 copies feels right, but I made sure to include a 4th in the sideboard, especially since I noticed a few decks struggled to deal with them.

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CARD DRAW

The draw spells in this deck were chosen because of their interactions with its creatures. Quirion Dryad needs non-green spells, and Deeproot Champion needs non-creature spells; the cheaper they are to cast, the more spells can be cast in a single turn, making these creatures bigger faster. That’s pretty open-ended.

Delver of Secrets and Hooting Mandrills, on the other hand, require more specific cards than just “cheap non-green spells”.

 

Opt is not necessarily all that exciting or synergistic, but it is an excellent all-purpose draw spell. It provides just enough filtering to be relevant, and because it’s an instant it opens up a lot of opportunities that are unavailable when using a sorcery like Sleight of Hand.

Being able to keep up counter magic during your opponent’s turn is incredibly important, but if your opponent decides not to cast anything, it’s a bit of a waste if you’re just sitting on your mana. By having a spell like Opt that you can cast when your opponent passes the turn without doing anything means that you haven’t wasted your turn.

If you don’t have a counterspell in hand, waiting to cast your Opt can also help conceal this fact. You can sit with all of your mana available and watch as your opponent sweats. Do you have the Mana Leak or not? Is it worth the risk? If they don’t call your bluff, you can cast Opt and won’t have wasted your entire turn.

4 Opts may seem like a lot, but it does a lot of work to filter through the deck. It’s usually the first card to get cut when sideboarding, but that is not a strike against it. Rather, it is just not as good as Serum Visions when it comes to finding the cards I need. Plus, it has the least synergies with the other cards in the deck.

 

Like Opt, Serum Visions provides some much needed deck filtering. Being able to scry useless cards to the bottom of the deck is invaluable. Without cards like this the Delver-Grow deck wouldn’t be nearly as reliable.

Serum Visions is also one of the best cards to pair with Delver of Secrets. With the number of instant and sorcery cards in the deck, the odds of transforming a Delver are already pretty good, but scrying 2 cards with Serum Visions all but guarantees that the wizard will transform.

Serum Visions keeps the deck flowing properly. I would probably run more than 4 copies of it if I could. But I can’t. 4 it is, then!

 

If Serum Visions is the perfect spell for Delver of Secrets, then Thought Scour is the perfect spell for Hooting Mandrills. Being an instant, Thought Scour lets me keep up counterspells, but unlike the other draw spells it doesn’t provide any card selection. What it does, however, is put extra cards into your graveyard.

Targeting yourself with Thought Scour is remarkably common in Modern games, which may surprise newer players. Given the popularity and power of the various cards with delve in the format, it helps explain why this tactic is so popular: each card in the graveyard can be used to help cast a spell with delve.

In a strange way, Though Scour is like the spell Dark Ritual when casting Hooting Mandrills; by targeting yourself you end up putting 3 cards into your graveyard (the 2 from your deck, plus the spell itself). Effectively, it makes Hooting Mandrills cost 3 mana less.

This is not to say that Thought Scour has to target your own deck. There is some value to putting cards from an opponent’s deck into their graveyard, but these moments are few. For instance, if you are having trouble identifying the deck your opponent is playing, Though Scour can yield some valuable information. Or if your opponent puts a card on the top of their library you can disrupt their plans. Additionally, by putting cards in your opponent’s graveyard you can set up some interesting plays with Surgical Extraction. That said, getting a cheaper Hooting Mandrills is usually better than all of that.

It may be that I should be running 4 copies of Though Scour and 3 of Opt, but it’s hard to say. I like the improved card selection that Opt provides, but Thought Scour’s synergy with Hooting Mandrills is one of the most powerful interactions in the deck. If I had all 4 Mandrills in the main deck I would probably want the extra Thought Scour, but as it is I still feel that 4 copies of Opt is the better choice. 3 Thought Scours have seemed like enough so far.

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That will be it for this week. There’s still a lot to cover, and I’ve gone on for quite a while already.

Next time we’ll look at the last few cards in the deck, including its lands, utility cards, and interactive spells. I’ll hopefully even have time to talk about the deck’s sideboard, which I did, in fact, finish!

I also look forward to discussing my replacement for Vapor Snag. Let’s just say that Frog Lizard tokens are pretty cool…

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