After testing my “Delver No-Grow” deck for three weeks I decided to make some changes and try out a new version of the deck. I was excited to try Plaxmanta and my increased suite of counterspells. As always, I had low expectations, but I will admit that I had higher hopes than usual for this iteration.
Here was the revised list:
Delver No-Grow 2.0
Unfortunately, this version of the deck struggled to find a win. I was paired up against Bant Knightfall, Eight-Whack, Amulet Titan, and Mardu Pyromancer. I beat Mardu Pyromancer, but lost to the other decks.
Vs Bant Knightfall
Noble Hierarch‘s Exalted trigger left me dying to a buffed Spell Queller turn after turn. Try as I might I couldn’t find any interaction or removal of any kind for the flier. A surprising main-deck Spellskite also shut down all of my combat tricks in game 1. In game 2 I snuck in a win in a very close damage race thanks to a lucky Delver flip. As for game 3, it saw me struggle just to keep up; my opponent went wide, and filled the skies with fliers, and all I could do was watch.
It turns out that Legion Loyalist wrecks this deck. Also, not finding any lands in the early game wrecks this deck. At least in game 2 I had a Dismember to take out a Smuggler’s Copter, which saved me a lot of damage. It was this game, too, that saw a stack of 2 Lightning Bolts, a Plaxmanta and a Blossoming Defense to fight over my attacking Insectile Aberration. When the dust settled on the stack I was left with a 5/4 flier and my opponent took a big chunk of damage. Entrancing Melody then stole a Burning-Tree Emissary, which cleared a path for lethal damage. Game 3 was like game 1, with more Loyalists and more mana screw, so it was another loss for me.
Vs. Amulet Titan
Unsurprisingly for anyone who knows the deck, when your opponent gets an Amulet of Vigor out on turn 1 it can power out a Primeval Titan incredibly quickly. In game 2 I flooded out, drawing far too many lands and no good answer for my opponent’s Hornet Queen. I probably should have taken a mulligan in that game, but I didn’t. Oh well.
Vs. Mardu Pyromancer
In game 1 I could only answer the first Young Pyromancer my opponent played. Unfortunately, the second one powered out several tokens thanks in no small part to Lingering Souls. I had no way through the wall of creatures, and promptly lost. In game 2 I was able to protect my Hooting Mandrills from multiple removal spells, which won me the game. Sadly, my opponent couldn’t find a third land in the final game until he was dead on board. Early on he attempted to Fatal Push my Strangleroot Geist, but I just used Pongify instead, allowing me to keep up the pressure. With his mana troubles it wasn’t much of a game.
Plaxmanta was sweet. It performed pretty much exactly as expected, and was a solid addition. It flashed in to protect my other creatures when needed and was an extra body in a pinch. Its blue-green cost was also surprisingly easy to pay.
Unfortunately, the rest of the changes I made to the deck didn’t quite hit the mark. In several games I lacked effective ways to interact, and I repeatedly had trouble getting the right mix of lands and spells. One consolation, however, was that coloured mana was barely an issue despite the deck’s greedy mana costs. I was stuck needing a second green source once to cast a Strangleroot Geist, but that was it. Truth be told, I was probably losing that game even if I’d cast the Geist, so I guess it didn’t really matter in the end anyway.
As is probably apparent, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with how this version of the deck performed. Rather than do two more weeks of testing as it was, I decided to make some small tweaks right away. I knew there were some shortcomings with this version, and I preferred to do further tests with a list that took those issues into account. I went back and looked at what I was struggling against time and again, and I narrowed it down to three big problems: I had trouble dealing with cheap creatures, fliers and combos.
1-mana threats, utility creatures, and chump blockers have proven quite problematic for me because my removal doesn’t line up well against them. Dismember costs too much life to warrant destroying a 1/1, while Pongify and Rapid Hybridization just end up giving my opponent a better creature.
What I needed was a card like Gut Shot that cost little to no mana but wasn’t as taxing on other resources, like my life total or board presence. That said, paying life for Gut Shot felt like it was only reducing the problem, not solving it, and I wanted to avoid going into a third colour. One option that looked promising in blue-green was Piracy Charm.
Piracy Charm had been on my radar for this deck for a long time, but I always dismissed it as not being good enough. -1 toughness didn’t seem like it would destroy enough things in Modern, but the more I play the format the more I realize that’s not the case. Noble Hierarch is my main target, but it also deals with Legion Loyalist, Vendilion Clique, Snapcaster Mage, Steel Overseer, and a number of other popular, problematic creatures. It’s worth noting that Piracy Charm also buffs power, so in a pinch it can be used for extra damage when pointed at my own creatures.
In non-creature matches, Piracy Charm‘s discard mode might be ok, too. It’s a pretty minor effect, so I am skeptical, but it’s at least an option. The Islandwalk mode of the Charm could even be useful in corner cases; while rarely what I need, it could be a game-winning spell to sneak in a fatal blow, much like Artful Dodge has been in the past.
Whether I am dying to Lingering Souls, Spell Quellers or Mantis Riders, flying creatures have proven to be quite a thorn in my side. I looked at various options, including assorted Plummet spells and creatures with flying or reach, and landed on one in particular for my main deck: Avatar of the Resolute.
At two mana, Avatar of the Resolute has a lot of bang for its buck. A 3/2 body with both reach and trample looks good enough already, but it could even come in with extra +1/+1 counters in some cases. Even at 3/2 it would be big enough to trade with most fliers in the format, and with a Simic Charm or Blossoming Defense in hand I could keep it alive fairly easily.
As far as creatures with reach were concerned, the other option I considered was Kraul Harpooner. It’s also a 3/2 with reach, but this one fights a flying creature as soon as it comes into play. While tempting, in the end Avatar of the Resolute won out because of trample. Against chump blockers, the trample on Hooting Mandrills has proven it’s worth time and again, especially with my various combat tricks. Adding another trampling threat in Avatar of the Resolute was much more appealing than having yet another creature that could be blocked for days on end. It gave the creature some flexibility instead of only being there to deal with fliers. By that logic, I also decided to swap out Lumbering Falls in my mana base in favour of a Treetop Village.
For the sideboard against fliers I decided to include a copy of Aerial Volley from Magic: Origins. The price is right at only 1 mana, and its ability to divide its damage lets it deal equally well with Lingering Souls tokens and Mantis Riders. This makes it a nice option for the sideboard, as it will be good against various decks.
Every time I face combo decks like Storm and Scapeshift I struggle. My interaction thus far has largely involved Mana Leak and Spell Pierce, neither of which has worked out the way I wanted. By the time my opponent attempts their combo they often have enough extra mana to play around Leak and Pierce, which has proven frustrating time and again.
Unfortunately for me, Modern has very few options for versatile counterspells at less than three mana. Remand is a popular option, but it is far more of a delaying tactic than a proper answer. When digging through my collection for Piracy Charms I stumbled across my copies of Deprive, and I had to stop and consider them.
At first glance Deprive looks great; it’s 2 mana that can counter anything; they don’t get the spell back, like Remand, and they can’t pay mana to save the spell, like Mana Leak. As you might expect, though, there’s a catch. As an additional cost to cast it you have to return a land to your hand. That’s a bit awkward for most decks, and it was certainly a major concern for me here, too.
Looking at how my deck plays, however, bouncing a land didn’t look like such a big problem, especially if the game ends up going long. My deck can usually operate on only two mana, though four mana is the sweet spot, where I can pop off a creature and still keep up 2 mana. If I am trying to save up for a Hooting Mandrills or for a double-spell turn, Deprive can really set me back, but delaying my plans for a turn to stop a big threat is probably worth the wait. For what the deck needed, Deprive looked like a decent option, though I felt that four copies would be too many.
Armed with these new cards I decided to adjust the deck and try them on for size. Here is the revised list:
Delver No-Grow 2.1
This final version of the deck ended up going 3-1 the following week. I got lucky in some of the matches, but overall the deck felt a lot better. I had far fewer dead draws, my interaction was more impactful, and my sideboard plan felt stronger.
I also used this version at the Fusion 5k, but unfortunately couldn’t repeat its former success. I ended up with only 2 match wins out of 8 rounds. I was disappointed, but if I’ve learned anything testing this deck over the past year it’s that losing is just an opportunity to improve.
In general, I am happy with how this version of the deck turned out. It’s fun, it’s quirky, and it’s pretty reliable, all things considered. It still struggles against the ‘unfair’ combo-style decks of the format, which was one of the big problems I had at the 5k, but I still really like its matchup against the various creature-based and midrange strategies out there. I don’t think it will ever be the best deck in Modern, but even after my disappointing showing at the 5k I feel like my janky list has a fighting chance.
I’m sure I’ll keep tinkering with the exact contents of the deck, but at this point a lot of the tweaks are just that, tweaks. The basic structure of the deck is sound: it functions as intended and can win games. Any changes going forward would largely be metagame choices, trying to gauge how much creature removal I will need versus artifact hate or counter magic, for instance. Will I face a lot of control decks? Which combo decks will show up? It’s something that I can’t easily pin down before a given tournament, but by iterating so much on this deck I have a pretty good idea of what I can swap in and out and still have it work. With that in mind, this final iteration of the deck is as finely tuned as any of the versions going forward will be.
I’m pretty biased, but if you’re looking for something new to try that won’t break the bank, I would highly recommend some variation on this deck. As regular readers have seen over the past year there have been a lot of changes to it, from its humble Miracle Grow-like beginnings to its final Plaxmanta variant. The early versions were admittedly weak, but this last one and the post-PPTQ build have surprised me. I honestly feel that if I could make the right metagame calls and included the appropriate interaction that this deck would do pretty well.
It’s taken about a year, but I’m proud of my work with Simic Delver. It’s a unique take on the archetype, and while the specific cards have changed so much from where I started, the structure and play style remains the same. It’s fun to pilot, and tinkering with it has been very rewarding and enlightening. We’ll see if the stars ever align for the deck to really shine at a larger tournament, but even if it never does all this effort hasn’t been in vain. I’ve learned a lot through this project, and I hope you readers have, too. Thanks for following along on this journey.
I guess now it’s time to start puzzling over what my next sweet brew will be….
If you’re interested in reading the whole Delver Grow saga from the beginning, here are links to all the previous articles: