Modern Blue-Red Monkey Tempo – Deck Guide

Blue-Red Monkey

“Tempo can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only be transferred from one player to another” -Dr. Richard Garfield


Richard Garfield, Ph.D.


I’m often asked my opinion on various “tempo decks.” These are strategies that play the efficient one-for-one removal and counterspells that you’d see in a typical control deck, but instead of a grindy over-the-top win conditions like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, they play low mana value creatures like Delver of Secrets.

Usually, when talking about these strategies, I’m quick to point out “there’s no such thing as a tempo deck.” But that’s only a half-truth. Similar to card advantage, tempo is an in-game concept of tangible advantage, not a playstyle. There are two main ways a player can gain a tempo advantage in Magic: the Gathering.

  1. A player can cast a spell that trades up on mana with an opponent’s spell. For example, when a player casts a Fatal Push targeting Tarmogoyf, or when a Thoughtseize is countered by a Counterspell. In both cases, a player was able to trade their card for a card that cost more mana than theirs.
  2. A player can time their spells in such a way that their opponent is not able to use their mana efficiently. Examples would include: casting Stone Rain on your opponent’s land so that they aren’t able to cast their expensive spells or waiting to cast a Vendilion Clique against an opponent with cards in hand and open mana until their turn so that they aren’t able to spend mana on your turn using a Counterspell or Lightning Bolt.

Almost every deck in Modern looks to gain tempo advantage in some form, so it’s strange to characterize any one strategy as a “tempo deck,” just as it would be strange to call a control deck a “card advantage deck.” In my opinion, I’d describe these Delver-like “tempo” decks as control decks that are trying to win by obtaining a tempo advantage in lieu of card advantage. 

These tempo-control strategies hold a special place in my heart. The first Modern deck I ever played at a tournament was a Grixis Delver deck built by Caleb Durward in 2015. The archetype has always been extremely fun and rewarding to play, but over the last several years has faded into obscurity. Excitingly, Modern Horizons 2 offers a lot of exciting new upgrades that have breathed new life into the archetype!

There are a lot of options to explore. Modern Horizons 2 contains several new threats including Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Murktide Regent that outclass older cards like Delver of Secrets, Young Pyromancer and Gurmag Angler. There’s also of course efficient new answers like Counterspell and Unholy Heat as well.

After a few drafts and around 40 matches, here’s the list I’m currently playing.


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