Rant of Valakut: Building Delver-Grow (Part 3)

If you missed part 1 and part 2 of my Delver-Grow article, I suggest starting there. I have a lot to cover this week to wrap things up, so I won’t have the time to go over everything again!

As a reminder, here is the deck list I am working on:

Ben’s Delver-Grow – Version 1.2

And now, on with the show!

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INTERACTION

Most decks require some way to interact with the opponent. It may be in the form of removal spells, counter magic, or hand attack, but having something that can stop an opponent from executing their plan is essential. Without it, combo decks will defeat you every time, and even regular beat-down strategies will overwhelm your forces.

A catch-all counterspell for 2 mana is hard to come by in modern unless it has some sort of drawback. Mana Leak loses a lot of power in the late game and is less effective if your opponent knows to keep up the extra mana. Still, if they are delaying their spells by several turns this deck has the means to punish them by getting in damage repeatedly with Delver of Secrets or one of its other creatures.

Mana Leak is really handy in the early to mid-game, but is rarely the card you want to draw when things go late. 3 copies is that happy medium to ensure that you draw a few consistently, but don’t get stuck with piles of them.

Remand is the other catch-all counterspell you see in most Modern decks. While sometimes Remand is the best spell ever, the problem is that your opponent gets their spell back and can recast it right away. Given its reputation, it seemed like Remand should always be amazing, but it is—in practise—very situational.

Initially I thought 4 copies of Remand would be a no-brainer, but I found it to be too many most of the time. A lot of the spells this deck needs to counter only cost 1 mana: Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push are the big ones. Remand loses a lot of its value when your opponent can just recast their spell on the same turn.

Still, Remand is very useful against expensive spells and anything that needs to be cast during a certain window, like opposing counterspells. 3 copies in the deck feels about right, but it could potentially go down to 2 if I find myself continually up against the wrong decks.

The last counterspell in the deck, Spell Pierce, primarily serves as an answer to opposing removal and planeswalkers. Because it only costs 1 mana, it is very easy to cast alongside any of the deck’s creatures. This lets me advance my plans in relative safety.

In creature-based matchups like Elves Spell Pierce is pretty useless, and its usefulness drops off in the late game in any matchup about as quickly as Mana Leak. 2 copies has been a good number so far, but I could see upping this to 3, possibly replacing 1 copy of Remand.

Where the various counterspells in this deck are fairly situational, Simic Charm shows remarkable versatility. Its primary use in this deck is to give my permanents hexproof, effectively acting as another counterspell, but the Charm‘s other modes are equally handy:

  • Bouncing a creature back to its owner’s hand can slow my opponent down or clear a path for my attackers. In a pinch I can even return one of my creatures to my hand to save it from a spell like Supreme Verdict.
  • Giving a creature +3/+3 has rarely come up in my matches, but it can help close out a game quickly or help a creature to survive combat. Because Simic Charm is a blue spell it will even make Quirion Dryad bigger when I cast it. If I’m lucky this could result in a huge blowout in combat, but most opponents will see something like that coming.

Given its flexibility and utility, I’ve made sure to include 4 copies of Simic Charm.

I was initially running several copies of Vapor Snag, but I kept running into issues with it. Like Remand, Vapor Snag only really served to delay my problems, putting me at disadvantage in the long run. While Vapor Snag can be great in a deck with Snapcaster Mage, delaying an opponent turn after turn for very little mana, I found it to be quite lackluster in my deck. Even when using it to save one of my own creatures it didn’t work well; Quirion Dryad and Delver of Secrets both ‘reset’ when they leave the battlefield, so instead of getting my big monsters back I ended up with 1/1 creatures again.

Looking for alternatives, I found Rapid Hybridization. This is about as close as blue can get to a Path to Exile; 1 mana to destroy any creature seems like a great deal, but it comes at the cost of giving them a 3/3 frog lizard token instead. This seems like a bad exchange most of the time, but in practise it was better than I expected; the creatures in my deck get so big so quickly that the 3/3 frog lizard is outclassed in short order.

Using Rapid Hybridization to destroy my own creature in response to my opponent’s removal is also a lot better than returning it to my hand with Vapor Snag. Replacing my creature with a 3/3 works out a lot better than recasting a puny 1/1!

So far 2 copies of Rapid Hybridization have been enough, but with more testing I might adjust that number. If I really want a lot of copies I could even diversify and use Pongify.

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UTILITY

It’s sometimes hard to classify every card in a deck. These utility cards are the oddballs that don’t really fit into the other categories.

I initially thought that Surgical Extraction would only be useful in sideboards, but when I was testing this deck I found myself almost always putting in a copy for games 2 and 3.

Because I can pay life instead of mana I can trigger Quirion Dryad unexpectedly, and it can also serve as protection against cards like Snapcaster Mage, Unburial Rites and Past in Flames. It even lets me look at my opponent’s hand and deck, which can be valuable in its own right. Additionally, there are times when it is worth targeting a card in my own graveyard. Thinning my deck by removing a useless card from it could help me to draw what I need later in the game, and it can be a way to shuffle my library if need be.

I was surprised at how useful Surgical Extraction proved to be in so many matchups, so I decided to include 1 copy in the main deck.

One of the biggest problems with Quirion Dryad is that it can be hard to get through a wall of blockers. This 1 copy of Distortion Strike can make the Dryad unblockable two turns in a row, and because Rebound casts the spell again, it triggers Quirion Dryad and Deeproot Champion twice!

It is a very situational, all-in kind of card, so having several copies in the deck would be risky. Still, having 1 allows my deck to sneak out an unexpected win every now and again.

Search for Azcanta may be one of the most useful cards in the deck. On its own, it helps filter my draws by putting unwanted cards in my graveyard. However, it is when looking at this enchantment alongside the creatures in this deck that its utility becomes all the more apparent:

I only have 1 copy of Search for Azcanta in the deck for a few reasons. Primarily, it is because I only own 1 copy, but there are a few other reasons why I won’t be scrambling to get 3 more. It’s legendary, so having a duplicate in hand isn’t great. Also, it’s a very slow card; in a lot of matches I need to be proactive, and this enchantment doesn’t do much in that department. Slower matches? Yes, absolutely. Games where I might die on turn 4? Eh… not so much.

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LANDS

What lands a deck uses can say a lot about its game plan. This deck’s mana curve is really low, so having lands that come in untapped in the early game is important. Also worth noting is that this deck is mostly blue spells, so it doesn’t need a lot of green mana. That said, the green spells it has are its key creatures, so it can’t all be basic islands…

Breeding Pool can always enter the battlefield untapped if need be, and Botanical Sanctum will be untapped on turns 1 to 3. I could have opted for a card like Hinterland Harbor instead of the Sanctum, but my mana for those first few turns is crucial for getting an aggressive start. The Harbor is a bit too unreliable for this, being much better in slower decks. By the late game having a Botanical Sanctum enter the battlefield tapped is rarely an issue, since the deck will usually have more mana than it needs by then.

4 copies of Breeding Pool and 4 of Botanical Sanctum seemed like the logical choice for the deck, though cutting 1 Sanctum for something else could be a possibility.

As it stands, the deck has a relatively high number of basic lands, which can serve it well against Ghost Quarter, Path to Exile, Blood Moon, and aggressive decks like Burn (since I don’t need to pay as much life for my lands to come into play untapped). This is one of the big reasons that I wanted to run a 2 colour deck instead of one with 3; not only would it help keep the financial cost down, but it would make the mana more consistent and less painful.

Only having 1 basic forest seems a bit odd to me, but has actually worked out quite well. Unless I am facing a lot of land destruction and a Blood Moon I should have plenty of green mana. Really, the deck needs as much blue mana as it can get so it can chain together a bunch of draw spells to make Quirion Dryad huge. Having 5 basic islands is fine, but the amount is entirely flexible.

Fetchlands like Misty Rainforest thin your deck, reducing your chances of drawing excess lands, fuel the graveyard for Delve cards, and let you shuffle your library (which combos well with Delver of Secrets, as we discussed in Part 2). They do all of this for only 1 life, and the land they put into play isn’t even tapped.

I could rant for a very long time about how necessary fetchlands are for competitive play, but in the end the fact is that if I wanted my deck to do well in tournaments I needed to include 4 copies of Misty Rainforest.

Looking back at the various Delver decks from Part 1, most of them included a creature land. Their impact on the mana base is fairly minimal, since the rest of the lands can enter untapped. Having 1 in the deck provides an uncounterable threat, and to be honest Lumbering Falls always performed quite well in my matches. It was so good, in fact, that I am seriously considering adding a second copy, or possibly another creature land, like Treetop Village.

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SIDEBOARD

I finally put together a sideboard for this deck out of cards I had in my collection. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a start. I’m always looking for suggestions when it comes to my sideboards, so if you have any pointers I would love to hear them!

When you’re facing a deck of endless counterspells and removal, having some extra 1-mana counterspells of your own can make a big difference. Against Path to Exile or Fatal Push I would much rather have a Dispel in hand than a Remand or Mana Leak, for instance. While I could have included more copies of Spell Pierce, Dispel holds up better in the late game; it has a narrower use, but it is much better at it than my other options.

2 copies of Dispel is a good number to have, and will most likely swap out a Remand or two in removal-heavy matchups.

Most of my non-counterspell interaction in this deck is creature based, meaning that if a noncreature threat slips through the cracks I can be in trouble. Echoing Truth isn’t a great answer for these non-creature threats, but it can at least delay things. The Truth‘s biggest strength, however, is against tokens; if a swarm of goblins storm towards me it’s nice to have an answer for them. Echoing Truth is pretty powerful in that regard, and is also fairly versatile.

2 copies of Echoing Truth is probably enough, though I could see trimming that down to 1 after some more testing; I will need to see just how often I put it into my deck against non-token strategies, but as it current stands it is one of my only answers for enchantments and artifacts on the battlefield. Hm… perhaps I should consider a copy of Beast Within as another catch-all answer?

If the match-up consists of a lot of 1-toughness creatures like Birds of Paradise or Snapcaster Mage, then Gut Shot can be pretty handy. Not only can it destroy a creature for 0 mana, but it will also trigger Quirion Dryad and Deeproot Champion for free.

Gut Shot isn’t good everywhere, but against the right deck it could be quite the blowout. I worry that it might be a waste of a sideboard slot, but I’m willing to experiment with 1 copy.

While I have tried to ensure that all of my non-creature spells can trigger Quirion Dryad, it was worth making an exception for Heroic Intervention. This spell is remarkably unique, and is one of the only answers for a spell like Supreme Verdict; normally I would try to counter a mass-removal spell, but that doesn’t work against the Verdict, so alternatives had to be found!

It’s worth noting that Heroic Intervention is not just good for mass-removal spells, but also works well targeted spells and abilities, like Path to Exile. I suspect I will end up increasing the number of Heroic Interventions to 2 at some point in the future, but for now I will have to stick with the 1 copy.

Hooting Mandrills, Remand and Surgical Extraction; these 3 cards were good enough for the main deck, but in most matchups I don’t want more than what I already have. That said, adding in a 4th Hooting Mandrills when I need another big threat would be great. Similarly, it would be nice to have another Remand or Surgical Extraction against combo decks. Against graveyard-centric decks having a second Surgical Extraction could also be what saves me. 1 each of these for the sideboard seems fine, though I might not bother with the extra Remand in the long run.

The cat snake was sitting in one of my boxes when I was looking for something else. When I saw it, I realized that it might be just the thing to include in control match-ups. It dies to all of the common removal spells, like Lightning Bolt, but being uncounterable does greatly reduce the number of answers my opponent has to stop it. If I time things right I might even be able to sneak in a second creature under the Serpopard‘s anti-counter shield. If all else fails, the Prowling Serpopard is a large threat in its own right for relatively little mana. 1 copy is probably enough for the sideboard, but if I find myself frequently putting it into the deck against other non-control matches I may have to add more.

Ratchet Bomb is another good answer for tokens, but it can also serve as removal for pretty much anything if I have enough time to set it up. Cards like Engineered Explosives are probably better than Ratchet Bomb, but the reasons I chose the Bomb instead were twofold: First, I already own a copy. Second, Engineered Explosives works better in a deck that can produce more than 2 colours of mana; if I were to include the Explosives I would have to completely change what lands I was using. At that point I would also want to completely reevaluate the deck, since I would be opening up the option for a 3rd colour. Sticking with 1 Ratchet Bomb just makes my life a whole lot simpler.

The graveyard is frequently an invaluable resource in Modern. Whether it is fueling delve cards, flashing back spells, or any number of other unfair things, a lot of decks make good use of it. It’s important to keep the graveyard in mind when building a sideboard, which is why I made sure to dig out my copy of Relic of Progenitus. I also decided to try out Sentinel Totem as something different, though I suspect a second copy of Relic of Progenitus would ultimately serve me better.

Pithing Needle is usually the best card to shut down Planeswalkers and problematic activated abilities (I’m looking at you, Lantern Control decks!), but being able to peek at your opponent’s hand is nothing to sneeze at. Is it worth the extra mana? That remains to be seen, but considering I don’t own a Pithing Needle I am willing to try out my 1 Sorcerous Spyglass in its place.

I know I keep saying how disappointed I’ve been with Vapor Snag, but I decided to keep 1 copy in the sideboard for that rare matchup where it’s good. Honestly, I’m not exactly sure I know what matchup that is, but hopefully I can recognize it when I see it. And if not, I can always cut it for something better later on.

People tell me it’s good, but I’m not so sure anymore…

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CONCLUSION

Well, we finally got there. Thanks for sticking with me until the end! This article series got a bit long, especially Part 3, so I am grateful for your patience as I try out something a bit different.

As you can probably tell, I still need to do more testing with Delver-Grow, especially with the sideboard, but I’m pretty happy where it currently is. Will I ever add a second basic forest? Will I use Beast Within as another answer to enchantments? Will Rapid Hybridization be as good as I think it will? Time will tell, but I know this much: Delver-Grow is a lot of fun to play, and it’s getting me excited about playing more Modern. I’ve already won more games with it than I initially expected, and more importantly, even my opponents enjoyed playing against it.

As always, I would love to hear from you in the comments. If you have suggestions on how I might improve the deck, let me know. Also, was this in-depth deck review something you enjoyed? If I was to do something like this again, do you have any ideas on how I could improve the article?

In any case, next time I’ll have something new to Rant about. I hope you’ll join me then!

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