My ongoing attempts to make a good Simic Delver deck in Modern continue!
If you want to catch up on how I got to this point, here are links to the previous articles in the series:
Building Delver Grow
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
Back in September I participated in the local Modern PPTQ with my Delver Grow list that I have been working on. The Thursday before the tournament I tried out my previous version of the deck and found that Quirion Dryad just wasn’t working. Despite it and the old Miracle Grow decks being the inspiration for my deck, I sadly cut the Dryad and made some other small adjustments.
Here was the deck list I used:
Ben’s PPTQ Delver Grow
Overall, I did better than I thought I would, though I had low expectations. My final record was only 1-5, but I managed to win a game in most of my matches. Comparing my results to how I did at the Fusion’s 1.5k a few months back, I did about as well; I won roughly the same percentage of my games, even if my match results at the PPTQ weren’t as good. That said, this time around I felt like I had a much better chance in the matches, and I was able to put up a better fight.
Where I Struggled
With so few threats in my deck, removal is always painful. I was able to dodge Path to Exile a few times with a clever Pongify, but Terminus and Supreme Verdict were very problematic in the Jeskai matchup. Even if they were only a 1-for-1 trade, it took me a long time to dig for another threat. By the time I found another creature I was staring down a planeswalker and a lot of counter-magic. Similarly, against Hardened Scales, Walking Ballista pretty much ruined my game plan every time it hit the battlefield.
Against Eight-Whack, Affinity and Hardened Scales my interaction proved to be too slow. Most of their threats were down on the table before I could even consider countering anything, and returning something with Simic Charm or Void Snare wasn’t going to do much when everything only cost one or two mana.
I’m not sure where that leaves the deck; it’s in this odd limbo where its best matches seem to be against slow-ish midrange decks, which don’t seem especially popular in today’s metagame. Still, I am hopeful and determined. This deck could do well if I could only shore up some of its shortcomings.
What Worked Well
When facing a Teferi emblem I actually felt that I had a slim chance to win; Simic Charm could have protected my lands, and my Lumbering Falls was also able to dodge a trigger by giving itself hexproof. In the extremely unlikely event that I could have snuck in one or two more attacks I might have been able to win, but that would have required getting very lucky.
In most matches my Hooting Mandrills were all-stars for me. There was only one game where they were too slow and I ended up with too many of them in my hand. For the most part I could consistently deploy one on turn 3 or 4 with a way to protect them, and later on in the game they were a solid top-deck. Having them countered, returned to my hand or removed with a Path to Exile hurt, but they were a must-answer threat every time.
Simic Charm also showed its strength and versatility every match. There was almost never a situation where I didn’t want a Charm in my hand to protect a creature, to buff one for lethal damage, or to bounce an incoming threat. The mana cost was somewhat awkward from time to time, but a more liberal use of my Shocklands could easily address that.
As for Chart a Course, it is a phenomenal card. Even when I had to discard a card, drawing two cards for two mana was a great deal. That’s not even considering the fact that the discarded card could help cast a Hooting Mandrills, either! An Insectile Aberration flying in with a Chart a Course to back it up felt very good, and provided some much-needed card advantage. I think Chart might be better in this deck than Ancestral Vision!
Dismember was a last-minute inclusion, but was absolutely the right call. The four life to cast it was very painful, but it ultimately prevented more damage than it caused. It was an awkward answer to cheap 1-mana utility creatures, but it seems like a necessary evil in this deck.
Botanical Sanctum showed up in my opening hand a surprising amount of the time, and it was nice to avoid a lot of the life loss I would have suffered from my Breeding Pools. These Sanctums also gave me more wiggle room for my Dismembers, since I could spend my life on the spell rather than an untapped land. I’m just happy I didn’t run into Blood Moon or I would have been in a bit of trouble.
Delver of Secrets worked well for me, and transformed pretty consistently. I know the deck is about 50% instants and sorceries, but I was still pleasantly surprised at how often I could run out a Delver on turn 1 and have it start flying in for three damage right away. Even when it took a turn or two to transform I still felt like I was doing alright.
What Didn’t Work
Void Snare, while a low-cost way of delaying things, underperformed every time I drew it. Being a sorcery is a huge drawback, and it was never quite enough to answer my opponent’s threats. Finding an instant to replace it seems like a good idea, even if it costs a bit more mana. Ironically, I replaced Echoing Truth with Void Snare because Truth cost too much, but that appears to have been a mistake.
Thought Scour always seemed to toss a Hooting Mandrills or other key card into the graveyard when I cast it. One of my opponents suggested running more Opts instead of Thought Scours, and I am inclined to agree. The instant-speed draw is really what I am after, and getting the selection from Opt would be more useful than getting an earlier Hooting Mandrills. That opponent also pointed out that the deck is better off Hooting Mandrills on turn 3 when I can keep up mana to protect it, than it is to try and sneak one out on turn 2 undefended. Given my problems against Path to Exile, I think he was right.
As for Ancestral Vision, it was always just a bit too slow in this deck. Either I was dead before it came off of suspend, or my opponent was ready with a counterspell. It’s a very powerful card, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not as amazing here as I hoped it would be. It was great when it resolved (…except the game where I drew three lands with it… and then drew a land for the turn, too…), but that said I think Chart a Course is the better option for that role here. Two cards now is far more useful than three cards later, even if I am paying more mana.
Looking at my counter-magic; Mana Leak and Spell Pierce were odd ones. Casting Mana Leak when my Affinity opponent had mana available to pay was perhaps my favourite play of the tournament. He looked a bit confused, then tapped his Mox Opal and his two copies of Inkmoth Nexus so that his Master of Etherium could resolve. With his only way to block my Insectile Aberrations now tapped, I was able to swing in for lethal over the next two turns. That said, a lot of the time my counterspells were dead cards. The artifact decks belched out their hands far too quickly for me to even consider countering anything, while the control deck always seemed to have an extra counterspell of their own, or enough lands to pay the mana tax. The counterspells did shine against the GB Landfall deck, though, so there is that.
I had initially left out Blossoming Defense because it couldn’t trigger Quirion Dryad‘s ability, but with the Dryad now gone that was no longer a concern. Given the options for protecting my creatures, Blossoming Defense was one of the most efficient options, negating any targeted removal, helping against attacking or blocking creatures, and even saving my creatures from some of the damage-based mass removal. It could even be used to deal a little extra damage in a pinch.
As for Strangleroot Geist, one of my opponents suggested including it, and the more I thought about his suggestion, the better the Geist the looked. Haste meant it could better pressure planeswalkers, and its Undying ability would make it one of the more resilient threats in the deck. I also knew that it would work well with Pongify and Rapid Hybridization, giving me two 3-power creatures for cheap, having seen that little synergy used in a sweet Blue-Green Aggro deck some time ago. With all these upsides, it was looking like the Geist would be a great inclusion.
The only downside to Strangleroot Geist is its double-green mana cost. There is a decent chance that the card could get stranded in my hand, unable to be cast. Fetching more often for Breeding Pools instead of basics would help, but the risk is still there. To make matters worse, the deck only had one basic Forest in the deck, which meant that Strangleroot Geist would be a dead card in the face of an early Blood Moon. When tweaking the deck I would need to add a second basic Forest to protect against that eventuality. Given the extra need for green with both the Geist and Blossoming Defense, that Forest was probably a good call anyway.
The other new addition to the deck was a single copy of Ghost Quarter. While it’s great to have the ability to destroy key lands, like Cavern of Souls, a Tron piece, Celestial Colonnade or Inkmoth Nexus without needing to find room for another spell, the colourless mana the land produces is a significant cost. There are very few spells in my deck that can make use of generic mana. Still, the benefits of including the Ghost Quarter far outweigh the risks.
Here was my revised list after the PPTQ:
Ben’s Post-PPTQ Delver No-Grow
Now that Quirion Dryad was no longer in the list, the name “No-Grow” seemed more appropriate. Also, removing Ancestral Vision entirely felt weird. Like I said, though, Chart a Course just worked so much better in this deck.
Blink of an Eye found it’s way in to replace Void Snare. It can’t deal with an animated land, and I don’t see myself kicking it very often, but it can deal with an Ensnaring Bridge or a planeswalker that is about to ‘ultimate’. In those instances where I’m mana flooded, that card draw could be vital, too.
Other than the new cards, the main deck is mostly the same. I tweaked some quantities (I am back to three Hooting Mandrills, for instance), and I also removed the Thought Scours, but overall it was nothing major. I feel I’m mostly down to fine tuning at this point.
As for my sideboard, it needed more work and has undergone a bit of an overhaul. I tried to think back on the cards I sided in for various matchups, what threats I had to contend with, and picked cards that could serve me well against multiple decks. I don’t think the sideboard is quite optimized, but it feels like a step in the right direction. That’s one aspect of deck building that has always been a struggle for me. That said, the more Modern I play, the more it makes sense to me.
That’s it for this week. I hope you join me next time as I go over some of the testing I did with the new deck configuration. The changes look promising, but more tweaks are on the horizon, including trying out a very odd beast with Flash….