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Silvestri Says – Qualifying for the Cup

While Delver continued to produce results for its pilots, other decks started to take up the challenge and fight back against the Delver horde. I say horde because while Delver was previously underrepresented in terms of success to popularity, this weekend it took up 50% of the metagame from the SCG Open at Origins. Even the commentary noted the difficulty of finding any non-Delver matches at the top tables, and multiple people on-site reported that Delver decks were on nearly every single table. Surprisingly though, Delver did not win the event, nor did it win a similar 5k event in Edison the same weekend.

With the West Coast getting it’s World Magic Cup Qualifier this weekend, I’ll be excited to see what happens when the best WC players battle it out this weekend. Sadly, I’ll be working at the event instead of playing in it, but getting to watch and root for my friends to be part of the new National Team is definitely worthwhile. Let’s take a look at the best Standard decks going into this weekend!

The Top Three

Delver

This is clearly the top dog going into the World Magic Cup Qualifier this weekend and the deck should be at the forefront of any testing or tweaking you plan on doing. The list from GerryT will likely be the gold standard of the deck for the next couple of weeks, and you should test primarily against that iteration of the deck. Even if updates do happen, they’ll likely be small tweaks to the existing design of Delver, such as modifications to the go-big sideboard plan or Sword count.

Since [card]Restoration Angel[/card] was accepted into Delver I’ve received a handful of questions about why the card matters in Delver or what difference it really makes. As I explained a few weeks ago, it provides one more angle of attack Delver can use against existing decks that were good against Delver.

[card]Restoration Angel[/card] is a 3/4 flash that sometimes gives you value from [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] / [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]. This is the not the primary attribute to look at on the Angel and I think that’s what gave some people pause. People overrate the blink part, and underrate the fact that a 3/4 is way out of the range of what most people expected from Delver, let alone easily deal with. You’re paying for the body.

One card I think may see a bit of play as a singleton or two-of in the board is [card]Psychic Barrier[/card]. As creatures become one of the overwhelming factors in many matches, including Delver—with the adaptation of [card]Restoration Angel[/card] and the other best decks being largely creature-based—Barrier is a fine answer. It teams up with [card]Mana Leak[/card], and is yet another answer to [card]Restoration Angel[/card], Titans, [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] and other obnoxious creatures while dinging the opponent. Just like [card]Vapor Snag[/card], the single life-loss itself isn’t going to be lethal, but when those points reduce your overall clock by a turn it makes all the difference.

PV covered why Delver is so tough to beat in his article on aggro-control, which is why it’s so surprising to see a high number of people bashing away with the same flawed concepts. Trying to answer Delver’s threats and pressure them at the same time is usually a losing proposition. Delver naturally does that better than anything else in the format. This becomes most apparent post-board, when many people bring in more reactive cards and situational pressure cards, while boarding out unconditional threats in their deck. Of course, part of that falls back on Delver’s answers being so good that almost any threat is going to falter at times, so good luck figuring out the best configuration against Delver.

Match-wise, the only decks I really hate playing against with Delver are [card]Lingering Souls[/card] strategies, which is why I’m a little surprised to see so few people taking up that mantle. RG Aggro and Pod decks can also be built and piloted to a point where I feel the match is even, though that’s purely from my experiences and I could simply not have played enough matches. Cards like [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] and [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] felt a lot more potent against Delver 4-6 weeks ago, and people are still banging away with them like nothing has changed. The more people run [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card], [card]Ulvenwald Tracker[/card], and other cards that are actively annoying while not crashing into Angel every chance they get, the tougher these types of matches will be.

If you aren’t going to play Delver at the WMCQ, be damn sure you can beat a competent player with whatever you do plan on playing. Because if you plan on actually winning the event you’ll have to go through a quality Delver player, and just throwing cards that were good against them at one point in time isn’t a real plan. I can’t stress enough how important it is to play the post-board games, especially if you want to play a green deck. Beating the slower iteration of Delver where they have [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card], [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] and [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] forces you to adopt vastly different lines of play at times. The same goes for testing against the [card]Lingering Souls[/card] version that Wrapter Top Eighted GP Minny with—beating a [card]Lingering Souls[/card] backed by real cards is something a lot of decks have trouble with. Be prepared.

Pod (Naya or RUG)

I’ve always liked playing [card]Birthing Pod[/card] strategies, even though I’ve heavily criticized them in the past for being too inconsistent and cutesy instead of just powering out awesome cards. Finally, with the culmination of a nearly complete Standard, we have solid Pod strategies once again, being efficient aggressive decks with multiple engines ([card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card]) and some of the best singletons available. Just gaining [card]Borderland Ranger[/card] and [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] (And [card]Restoration Angel[/card] for Naya) would’ve been a big game, but [card]Wolfir Silverheart[/card] effectively gives you a Titan at the five slot. I’m not even sure if Pod decks truly need to go up to six anymore since [card]Acidic Slime[/card] fills the utility slot, and multiple Conscripts and Silverheart can break open nearly any game state. [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] really isn’t all that impressive anymore.

Speaking of unimpressive, people love [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] and [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card]; but honestly so many Delver decks (and decks in general) have adapted to dealing with these cards that they’ve lost a lot of oomph. [card]Blade Splicer[/card], [card]Fettergeist[/card], and [card]Restoration Angel[/card] all make life miserable for Strangleroot; and while Huntmaster can get through with time, you could just get a [card]Hound of Griselbrand[/card], [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card], or alternate four-drop that provides better offense or defense. There are still games where Huntmaster will be the best option; they just won’t be frequent anymore.

The [card insectile aberration]flip side[/card] is that when you aren’t playing [card]Birthing Pod[/card], you still have six to ten situational cards in your deck, and a host of mana rocks that are basically useless. Having thirty-two mana sources in the deck is not fun when you have draws with 70% mana/30% spells and you don’t see a Pod. In fact one of the biggest weaknesses of modern Pod decks is the abundance of [card birds of paradise]Birds[/card] and [card llanowar elves]Elves[/card] which have no bearing on the game after the first few turns. It also shuts off entire sideboarding strategies, since you can’t over-sideboard without cutting them and you can’t play anti-creature cards like [card]Whipflare[/card] without dumping them. Most iterations of Pod rely so heavily on the boost though that these options are simply infeasible, or would require an overhaul of the curve.

If you’re OK with those drawbacks, then Pod is one of the best non-Delver choices you could make. So why play one Pod iteration over another one?

Naya Pod Upsides:
•Better 3-drops in [card]Blade Splicer[/card] and [card]Fiend Hunter[/card]
•Better removal options
•[card]Restoration Angel[/card]
•Better Mana

RUG Pod Upsides:
•[card]Phantasmal Image[/card] is amazing
•Exarch lets you jump past the three slot
•[card]Dungeon Geists[/card] and [card]Frost Titan[/card]

Basically if you want to play RUG over Naya, it’ll primarily be on the back of [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] being a great card and making your [card]Birthing Pod[/card]s as strong as possible. The other blue cards are nice to have, and [card]Dungeon Geists[/card] in particular has won me a fair number of games Huntmaster wouldn’t have, but in the end RUG doesn’t favorably compare to Naya creatures or the stable mana. This also leads to a midrange role in many matches with RUG Pod while Naya can often just curve out with creatures and a [card]Gavony Township[/card], and present a reasonable clock against an opponent.

Additionally, the more I played with RUG Pod the more I hated all my non-[card green sun’s zenith]GSZ[/card] and Pod spells. I thought back to what Harrison Fang had initially told me about [card]Ponder[/card] when I wrote about the deck, and eventually just cut it entirely. Matt Nass went the extra mile of dumping [card bonfire of the damned]Bonfire[/card] into a river, and from there I was pretty content with having 4 [card]Birthing Pod[/card]s and 4 [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card]s as my only non-mana & non-creature cards.

This is the RUG list I like at the moment, though I’m constantly tweaking the numbers and figuring out what I do and don’t like.

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Llanowar Elf
4 Strangleroot Geist
2 Phantasmal Image
1 Aether Adept
1 Borderland Ranger
1 Daybreak Ranger
1 Deceiver Exarch
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
2 Huntmaster of the Fells
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Dungeon Geists
1 Druid’s Familiar
1 Acidic Slime
1 Wolfir Silverheart
2 Zealous Conscripts
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Birthing Pod
10 Forest
3 Island
1 Mountain
4 Copperline Gorge
2 Rootbound Crag
4 Hinterland Harbor
Sideboard:
2 Ancient Grudge
3 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Stingerfling Spider
1 Ulvenwald Tracker
1 Dungeon Geists
2 Wolfir Silverheart
1 Viridian Corrupter
1 Phantasmal Image
1 Daybreak Ranger
1 Inferno Titan
1 Huntmaster of the Fells[/deck]

Naya is interesting because it gives you the opportunity to swap out a fair number of [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card]s for [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card] which is a major pain for non-green strategies. This past weekend showed a return of Esper decks with [card]Lingering Souls[/card], which she shines against, and Delver has never liked playing against Thalia in the first place.

[deck]Main Deck:
2 Cavern of Souls
4 Copperline Gorge
3 Forest
1 Mountain
2 Plains
4 Razorverge Thicket
2 Rootbound Crag
4 Sunpetal Grove
2 Gavony Township
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Birds of Paradise
1 Strangleroot Geist
1 Torch Fiend
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Blade Splicer
1 Borderland Ranger
2 Fiend Hunter
2 Huntmaster of the Fells
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
4 Restoration Angel
1 Wolfir Silverheart
2 Zealous Conscripts
1 Acidic Slime
3 Birthing Pod
2 Bonfire of the Damned
Sideboard
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Combust
2 Arc Trail
3 Hero of Bladehold
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Wolfir Silverheart
1 Zealous Conscripts
1 Tree of Redemption
1 Stingerfling Spider
1 Riders of Gavony[/deck]

If you want a little greed and more experimental cards, [card]Druid’s Familiar[/card], [card]Tandem Lookout[/card] and [card]Ulvenwald Tracker[/card] have all excelled at times. I’ve even tried [card]Nightshade Peddler[/card] as a way to discourage attacking and power up [card]Ulvenwald Tracker[/card] in green mirrors. Otherwise, I find Thalia, [card]Blade Splicer[/card], [card]Restoration Angel[/card] and either [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] or [card]Wolfir Silverheart[/card] to be the best curve—versus trying to cram four [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card]s into the deck. Of course, without [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] most of the value is lost from that plan anyway, since your odds of double Geist and a reasonable follow-up drop immensely. Trying to battle a Strangleroot into a [card]Blade Splicer[/card] or [card]Restoration Angel[/card] is pretty futile anyway.

WU Control / Esper Control

Esper Control won both major Standard events this weekend while defeating a field largely full of Delver decks in the process.

Zack Mullin, 1st TCG Edison

[deck]Main Deck:
2 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
4 Phantasmal Image
3 Sun Titan
3 Day of Judgment
3 Doom Blade
4 Forbidden Alchemy
4 Lingering Souls
1 Nihil Spellbomb
3 Oblivion Ring
3 Ponder
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Unburial Rites
1 Cavern of Souls
2 Drowned Catacomb
2 Evolving Wilds
2 Ghost Quarter
4 Glacial Fortress
2 Island
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast
2 Swamp
Sideboard
1 Cavern of Souls
2 Celestial Purge
1 Day of Judgment
3 Divine Offering
1 Doom Blade
2 Karn Liberated
3 Negate
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Wurmcoil Engine[/deck]

Michael Belfatto, 1st SCG Origins

[deck]Main Deck:
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
2 Phantasmal Image
3 Sun Titan
1 Gideon Jura
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Batterskull
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Day of Judgment
1 Dead Weight
1 Dissipate
4 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Go for the Throat
4 Lingering Souls
2 Mana Leak
1 Negate
1 Oblivion Ring
3 Ponder
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Terminus
1 Unburial Rites
1 Darkslick Shores
3 Drowned Catacomb
2 Evolving Wilds
2 Ghost Quarter
4 Glacial Fortress
2 Island
4 Isolated Chapel
3 Plains
3 Seachrome Coast
2 Swamp
Sideboard
1 Celestial Purge
1 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Divine Offering
1 Flashfreeze
1 Griselbrand
1 Liliana of the Veil
3 Negate
2 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Terminus
2 Timely Reinforcements[/deck]

Both lists are similar in structure, though I favor Mullin’s list in a couple of respects, the big one being [card]Ponder[/card]. Durdling around in this format is not a winning strategy for most decks, and [card]Ponder[/card] is the card helping you hit land drops and find precious removal until your sixes take over the game. The removal of [card]Think Twice[/card] is a wonderful thing, and lowering certain aspects of the curve should be favored until the metagame shifts again.

[card]Mana Leak[/card] is also a card I don’t mind playing, but definitely could see cutting outright or boarding out in many games. In this format, most of the time a [card]Doom Blade[/card] is the same or better than a [card]Mana Leak[/card] at nearly any point in the game. It can’t hit a [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] or [card]Birthing Pod[/card], but the rest of the cards you care about are creature-related.

The kill conditions for the deck do bug me a little bit since [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] is still very good, and being able to block fliers immediately is more relevant with the number of [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s around. It is also significantly less of a blowout if Sphinx gets taken by [card Zealous Conscripts]Conscripts[/card] over the other Titans.

Regardless of your finisher though, the one card neither deck played that I think is being overlooked is [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card]. Yeah, it can eat a [card]Vapor Snag[/card] or [card]Dismember[/card], but it also gives you a legitimate option on turn four that has to be dealt with or it can take over a board by itself. [card]Lingering Souls[/card] and [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card] can also provide enough of an early clock that it can force your opponent into overextending to race you. [card]Blade Splicer[/card] and [card]Fettergeist[/card]* are other options that can come in from the sideboard, or even take a few maindeck slots; and are not only effective against Delver, but actually can clock opponents once you gain some board control.

*Obviously this card is better in non-Souls control decks, but even with Souls in your deck you should rarely have to tap for more than a mana or two a turn unless you are absolutely dominating in a race situation.

Otherwise a lot of these lists’ choices are all defensible, the only card I’d call outright bad is [card]Terminus[/card], which is just a miserable sweeper spell—even in straight WU. Six mana is too much to pay to sweep the board when you could play a creature that can instantly create a board position, or simply play a cheaper removal spell.

For those wondering about the WU Control mention in the title, another deck that has had recent success at the PTQ level was Sam Black’s Delverless Delver list. While I don’t have an exact list for you, the gist of it is that [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] and [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] get swapped out for Blade Splicer, additional removal and large threats like [card]Gideon Jura[/card] and [card]Tamiyo, the Moon Sage[/card]. I’m sure Sam Black will write about his creation later this week and we can properly discuss it once the list and reasoning are available.

Last-Minute Update:
Sam Black, 2nd place at WMCQ in St. Louis
[deck]4 Blade Splicer
1 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Phantasmal Image
4 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Dismember
1 Gut Shot
4 Mana Leak
1 Thought Scour
3 Vapor Snag
2 Gideon Jura
2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
1 Day of Judgment
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Ponder
8 Island
5 Plains
4 Glacial Fortress
2 Moorland Haunt
4 Seachrome Coast
Sideboard:
1 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Phantasmal Image
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Celestial Purge
1 Dissipate
1 Gut Shot
1 Negate
1 Steel Sabotage
1 Surgical Extraction
1 Vapor Snag
1 Jace, Memory Adept
3 Day of Judgment
1 Timely Reinforcements[/deck]

I don’t think I ever actively want to play against this deck in the dark, at least on paper, with any green deck. It’s so easy to do everything wrong against this type of strategy, especially with the biggies maindeck and full suite of Day of Judgment post-board.

Hopefully later this week I can cover the remaining contenders in Standard such as Zombies, Zombie Pod, RG Aggro and a few others. Until then!

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

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