The Simic deck is back!
If you haven’t read my “Building Delver Grow” series, about my Modern Blue-Green deck, you can read it here:
In Part 1 I talk about how I adapted the old Miracle Grow deck for Modern.
In Part 2 I go over my initial choices of creature and card draw.
In Part 3 I went over my initial choices of interaction, utility, lands and sideboard.
I recently participated in my first ever competitive Modern tournament and used my Delver Grow deck. I didn’t have a great finish, but I did do better than I expected. Here is the version of the deck that I took to the tournament:
Ben’s Delver Grow for Fusion’s 1.5k
In the tournament I faced off against Death & Taxes, Storm, Gideon Tribal, Abzan Midrange, Mill, Slivers, and Soul Sisters:
Death & Taxes
I wasn’t surprised that I lost to Death & Taxes, considering I was facing down a Thalia on turn 2 both games; my deck relies so much on casting a flurry of cheap spells that having to pay 1 more each time is back breaking.
Against Storm I came frustratingly close to winning, but I ran out of removal spells for Goblin Electromancer each game. All it took was 1 turn of stumbling for my opponent to combo off. If I could have stopped him for 1 more turn, I could have won. So at least there’s that.
My match against the Gideon deck was slow; game 2 was a big grind, with my opponent gaining a bit of life (though from what I don’t recall…), and eventually chipping in for enough damage to finish me off. I could have won game 3 with one more turn, but time was not on my side. Still, a draw was not the end of the world.
By utilizing the +3/+3 mode of my Simic Charm and a sneaky use of Delve to shirk a Tarmogoyf, I was able to steal a win against Abzan. My opponent didn’t expect my Hooting Mandrills to suddenly attack for 10 damage when he had me all the way down to 3 life, and I got lucky and drew the second Simic Charm I needed to win.
My match against Mill felt very one-sided, considering my opponent was making my Hooting Mandrills cheaper for me (by putting cards in my graveyard…). I did have to be careful not to draw too many cards, but a creature-heavy hand made short work of things.
Against Slivers I struggled to keep my opponent’s board clear, especially when I was on the draw. An early Aether Vial made my counter-magic plan a bit of a non-starter, and Diffusion Sliver made my head hurt and my spells inefficient. I did manage to race my opponent pretty well each game, even winning game 2, but having to answer Lord after Lord after Lord, plus my inability to permanently deal with them was frustrating.
I finished off the tournament playing against Soul Sisters. In game 1 I mis-read how much life Martyr of Sands gained, so I ended up making a bad attack and losing my Delver of Secrets to a suddenly-flying Serra Ascendant. It wouldn’t have made much difference if I had read the card properly, though. Even when I wiped the board with my Ratchet Bomb in game 2, my opponent just played three more threats without batting an eye. I did deal over 20 damage to my opponent in game 2, but he ended up gaining 30 or 40 life to compensate.
My final record was 2 wins, 1 draw and 4 losses. Of the 17 games I played, I managed to win 6 of them. Considering this was my first time playing at a competitive event, and the fact that I was using a home-brewed deck, the tournament went significantly better than I expected. I had fun overall, and it was a good learning experience.
My big takeaway from my experience in the Modern tournament was how anemic my deck felt in a number of matchups. The things my opponents were doing were a lot more powerful that what I could bring to the table, and if I fell behind I struggled to do anything relevant. I needed to find some way to keep up.
I also learned that a lot of the big, powerful plays in Modern seem to revolve around creatures. Sure, Planeswalkers are certainly an issue, but most games rely on having a creature or two to do unfair things. Even Storm needs an Electromancer to combo off early! I clearly needed more answers to creatures in play.
While I have been looking at ways to improve the deck, I want to make sure the basic concept doesn’t change: cast an early Delver of Secrets or Quirion Dryad to apply pressure, then disrupt my opponent long enough to swing in for lethal damage. These creatures should remain at the core of the deck, even if other threats are added alongside them.
I made a number of revisions, and this is what I came up with:
Ben’s Delver-Grow – Version 1.4
The Wrong Interaction
I found in most matches that I lacked interaction, but looking back, it seems more like I had the wrong kind of interaction. My counterspells were fine, but I was rarely able to deploy a threat while keeping up enough mana to also counter something. To make matters worse, my opponents did well to play around my counter-magic, either though clever timing or by using cards like Aether Vial. Remand was particularly disappointing; not only was it difficult to counter relevant spells, but Remand is not a permanent solution to these problems. Given that a lot of my other answers have been bounce spells, a counterspell that puts a threat back into my opponent’s hand just isn’t what this deck needs.
Frogs, Lizards and/or Apes
In terms of answers, I was quite impressed with Rapid Hybridization. At 1 mana it could easily be played alongside any of my creatures, and the 3/3 token it left behind was not as problematic as I feared. There were certainly instances where I had to use a second spell to remove the token, but I was either very far ahead by then or so far behind that I had basically lost already. It wasn’t exactly a Path to Exile, but for a 1 mana removal spell the Hybridization worked. I just wish I’d had more copies in the deck during the tournament!
As it happens, finding more copies of Rapid Hybridization has proven surprisingly difficult. It seems that those who have copies are not very keen on trading them away. Thankfully, I had a backup plan: Pongify. These cards are functionally the same card, but instead of replacing a creature with a Frog Lizard it turns it into an Ape instead. I didn’t feel I needed to have more than 4 copies of either Pongify or Rapid Hybridization, but further testing may push me to include even more of them. Time will tell.
The Thing’s the Thing!
I had initially steered away from Thing in the Ice because of its unfavorable interaction with the rest of my creatures; if the Thing ever transformed it would reset my Delvers and Quirion Dryads, and depending on the state of my graveyard recasting Hooting Mandrills could prove difficult. And yet, the more I reflect on my matches the more I realize how important the Thing in the Ice can be.
Especially in the face of Lingering Souls, I would get outnumbered quickly. I didn’t really have a way to reset the board, and my creatures struggled to force through the last bit of damage. Having some copies of Thing in the Ice changes all of that; I may reset my creatures, but if the battlefield gets cluttered up my Quirion Dryads and Delvers won’t be doing anything anyway.
Draw. More. Cards.
My deck doesn’t do anything particularly powerful. It’s a pretty fair deck, and while I can get a big threat early on, it’s not as explosive as a lot of the decks circulating Modern these days. Playing the tempo game, bouncing creatures back to my opponent’s hand and swinging in steadily with one of my creatures, I can quickly run out of cards in hand. Having some way to draw extra cards seems crucial.
Thinking back to when Delver decks were in their prime, it was Treasure Cruise that pushed them over the top. It cost very little mana and drew a lot of cards. While there are innumerable options for generating card advantage in Modern, like Think Twice, Chart a Course, or Blue Sun’s Zenith, all of them are too mana-intensive to be useful in a Delver or Miracle Grow list. Traditional Miracle Grow lists used Curiosity for their card draw engines, but there are far too many removal spells in Modern to make that a viable option.
What Delver decks need to excel are good 1 mana draw spells. That’s why Opt and Serum Visions are so good in the deck. They help churn through the library, but they only serve to filter cards. To get card advantage for 1 mana, there is really only one option in Modern: Ancestral Vision. It’s a bit slow unless you are doing something cheeky with it, but if you can stall for the 4 turns it takes to cast it from Suspend, it’s hard to beat drawing 3 cards for 1 mana.
The Truth Echoes… Slowly….
Along the same lines of trying to find cheap card draw spells, I determined during the tournament that Echoing Truth cost too much mana for what I needed it to do. Often, Echoing Truth serves as a way of bouncing non-creature permanents back to my opponent’s hand, while also doubling as an answer for tokens. I think having a copy in the sideboard is a good idea, but for the main deck I decided to look for a cheaper option.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many in Modern. For 1 mana the only spell I could find that returned non-creature permanents to their owner’s hand was a sorcery called Void Snare. I remember when it was first printed; everyone looked at it with disgust. Here was an Unsummon that could only be cast on your main phase. How awful, they said.
If I am perfectly honest, I don’t think I realized that Void Snare could target non-creature permanents before about a week ago; I had dismissed it along with everyone else. And yet, as far as its utility is concerned, I think it might work. In the Modern tournament I ended up using my bounce spells during my turn a fair bit, especially since my opponents were out of mana. I didn’t want them to have a response when I tried to bounce something. At only 1 mana, Void Snare might just fit the bill.
I had been using Distortion Strike as a way to sneak out wins with a big Quirion Dryad, and I have to admit that it feels really good when it works. That said, the Rebound effect isn’t quite as useful as I had hoped. Too often, my opponents untap and remove all of my creatures before I can recast the spell. That’s why I decided to try using Artful Dodge instead.
Artful Dodge has a few advanatages over Distortion Strike in this deck. First, if I happen to put it in my graveyard with Thought Scour I can still cast it. Second, if I want to make more than one creature unblockable in a single turn I have that option. And finally, I don’t have to use Artful Dodge on back-to-back turns; I can cast it once, then bide my time until an opening appears. This is particularly useful if my opponent kills my creatures on their next turn.
Is that YOU, Jace?
Ah, the perpetual question since his un-banning: is Jace, the Mind Sculptor right for this deck? Honestly, there are only a couple of reasons I didn’t include him in my list: I only own 1 copy of him, I’m running out of room in the deck for cards, and his mana cost is a lot higher than than I would like.
I have found that 4 mana is actually quite a lot in a game of Modern, and my Delver Grow deck thrives on being able to cast a threat while keeping up mana for interaction, be it a counterspell or something else. Search for Azcanta proved to be too slow in most matches, and I can’t help but feel that Jace, the Mind Sculptor will be equally slow. I’m leaving him out for now, but he certainly is on my radar.
On the Side
I am still trying to figure out what a good sideboard looks like for this deck, so what I have is a little cobbled together. I was impressed with Sorcerous Spyglass, Ratchet Bomb is a good catch-all answer, and Relic of Progenitus seems almost mandatory given how many graveyard based strategies are floating around Modern right now. I also like the option of including a fourth Hooting Mandrills for some games.
Other than those cards, I’m really not sure. I tried to include cards that could answer a variety of threats, but how I envision them working and how they actually play are two very different things. I would go into detail about the rest of my sideboard, but I’ve ranted enough already.
Suggestions are always welcome, especially when it comes to building a proper sideboard!
I suspect I will find myself right back here in a few months with even more revisions, but I feel like this new version of Delver Grow brings a lot more punch to the table. Will it win more than my last version? I sure hope so. It would be a shame to waste my new Ancestral Visions!
Until next time, if you’re going for a skate make sure to watch out for random things in the ice…!