Last week, I broke down the G/B Aggro deck that I played to an 8-2 finish at Pro Tour Kaladesh. Simply put, I love this deck. I love the way that it attacks the format, can ignore delirium in order to keep a proactive game plan, and has resilience against everything you can throw at it.
The question that I’ve received the most in the past week has been how I compare my G/B Aggro deck to traditional G/B Delirium decks. I’m going to break down the key differences here to help you make that decision going forward.
My aggressive deck is a Smuggler’s Copter deck. I view Smuggler’s Copter as the best card in Standard. Finding the perfect shell to put that in, while still having game against the field, was important to me.
By not having access to Smuggler’s Copter, you’re not going to have the same ability to get aggressive. You will have fewer artifacts for triggering delirium, but you can also make sure you don’t play weaker creatures just to crew Smuggler’s Copter—namely, Gnarlwood Dryad and Catacomb Sifter.
There are many creatures in the format that have flying. This is a pretty big weakness for Gnarlwood Dryad. When you’re aggressive, you’re happy to spend a single mana for a creature that can keep attacking through blockers, can crew a Smuggler’s Copter, and will be a 3/3 in fairly short order. But it’s not needed in G/B Delirium Control.
Catacomb Sifter is a game-changer for aggressive G/B and is the reason why I feel my deck was so successful. The ability to make 2 creatures, scry for the late game, crew Smuggler’s Copters, and accelerate out Verdurous Gearhulks makes Catacomb Sifter exactly what that deck wants. It’s not useful in a deck that doesn’t care about accelerating to 5 and doesn’t need to crew.
Not having to play Servant of the Conduit, which really is a 2/2 creature for 2 in many instances, is the biggest upside. Accelerating to 4 or 5 is great in any aggro shell, but this is the card you least want to draw in the late game for basically any deck.
Instead, you can play cards like Sylvan Advocate and Tireless Tracker. As we’ve seen in previous formats, these cards are completely acceptable in the early game while giving you a real advantage in the late game. Neither creature is that much more powerful than the aggressive creatures, but you’re not playing a Smuggler’s Copter and Gearhulk game, at least of the Verdurous variety. When you’re trying to survive to implement a powerful late game, you want creatures that will help play defense and draw some cards.
The late game is where G/B Delirium shines. Ishkanah, Grafwidow is completely broken. If you’re looking for a card that will bridge the mid to late game against decks like Vehicles and U/W Flash, Ishkanah, Grafwidow is the way to go.
I recently played my G/B Aggro deck in the MOCS Playoff event and made just a few small changes. One of which was moving a single Ishkanah, Grafwidow into the main deck in exchange for a Gearhulk. I’m not sure that this was correct, but I can’t play that many 5-drops and Ishkanah, Grafwidow is truly amazing in the format right now. With Smuggler’s Copters, Selfless Spirits, and Avacyns everywhere, having an Ishkanah, Grafwidow to tutor for with Traverse the Ulvenwald is important.
If you’re able to get to the late game, G/B Delirium will give you access to Noxious Gearhulk to clear the way and gain some life, and finally Emrakul, the Promised End. Pairing up Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Emrakul, the Promised End makes the game unwinnable for your opponent. You’re going to kill their creatures, blow up their hand, and then have a 13/13 flying trample creature left to end things quickly.
Here’s the list Yichen Wang used to take down GP Providence this weekend:
G/B Delirium Control
Yichen Wang, 1st place at GP Providence
One of the most interesting things to note about this list is the lack of Grim Flayer. This is extremely unusual for any G/B Delirium list, be it aggro or not. Grim Flayer offers so much for such a cheap cost. It’s 2 mana for a potential 4/4 trample that can offer you fantastic card selection. It doesn’t do much, however, if you can’t force it through.
I do think Grim Flayer’s stock is at an all-time high right now, however. A large reason for this is that the most common turn-2 play in the format is, and will continue to be, Smuggler’s Copter. Forcing your opponent to play a creature to block Flayer is a big tempo swing, as is any time you can have an opponent not crew their Smuggler’s Copter to hold back and play defense. You can really blow them out when this happens with a removal spell.
This deck doesn’t care all that much about tempo, so this isn’t a critical play, but it’s interesting to note. For example, here’s the deck Seth Manfield piloted to 2nd place in the same GP:
Seth Manfield, 2nd place at GP Providence
This deck is similar, except Seth is more focused on delirium. First off, it has Grim Flayer, so having delirium is more important and you have additional ways to get it.
Manfield also has an extra copy of Ishkanah, Grafwidow. It should come as no surprise that I’m very high on this change since Ishkanah, Grafwidow is sure to be one of the most powerful cards in Standard. It has reach—in every sense of the word.
The other big difference between the lists is how many artifacts and planeswalkers Manfield has available. The inclusion of multiple copies of Pilgrim’s Eye is something we haven’t seen in a deck without emerge (he doesn’t even have Distended Mindbender in the sideboard). Manfield removes trims a few copies of Tireless Tracker to get the guaranteed card advantage of the Eye and also make sure his ability to get delirium is improved. With the full 4 copies of Liliana, the Last Hope, this deck has a reasonable number of every card type you could want. This also makes it easier to cast Emrakul, the Promised End.
With so many of every card type, Mindwrack Demon loses almost all of its downside and just becomes a massive threat that blocks well against Smuggler’s Copter. This is one of the weakest cards you can have against Spell Queller and Reflector Mage, but so is every 4-drop creature. It’s not like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is any better in that matchup, so having something that can block when they don’t have any of their 3-drops at the ready is valuable. If you’re able to survive the onslaught, you’re likely to kill a Spell Queller and get your Demon back, anyway.
The spells in G/B Delirium are pretty constant, but the numbers can shift dramatically. This is best highlighted in the numbers for Grapple with the Past and Vessel of Nascency. Both are good at digging deeper and filling your graveyard, but there is no clear answer which is right and which is wrong. I find it interesting that both Wang and Manfield chose to play 4 main-deck enchantments, although it varied between 3 Vessel 1 Dead Weight for Manfield and a 2/2 split for Wang. Wang is heavy on instants with all 4 of his Grapples, which certainly isn’t mandatory to hit delirium.
Access to 4 Grasp of Darkness as the best removal spell in the format, in additional to 2 copies of Murder, is welcome. These spells are cheap enough to be relevant against aggro but still kill what you care about. Murder became more important with cards like Torrential Gearhulk in the format, but it’s important that your removal can kill Smuggler’s Copter at instant speed, Spell Queller, and Avacyn. Being able to kill a Verdurous Gearhulk, even if it’s going to be much easier with the counters trigger on the stack, is also really strong.
Liliana, the Last Hope is a mixed bag. It doesn’t shine against Vehicles, but it’s only a 3-mana spell, so if you’re shutting off an opponent’s creature for multiple turns and making a Smuggler’s Copter swing at Liliana, the Last Hope for 6, you’re getting value. Gain 8-10 life for 3 mana is Liliana, the Last Hope’s floor. The fact is that Liliana is also excellent against many Smuggler’s Copter decks, able to pick off Gnarlwood Dryad, Selfless Spirit, Toolcraft Exemplar, Veteran Motorist, Pilgrim’s Eye, and many others. It just so happens that control decks like the one Shota used to win the Pro Tour are also fairly weak to an early Liliana, the Last Hope ticking up. Her stock should be on the rise.
You’re not always looking to play a turn-3 Liliana, the Last Hope as an opposing Smuggler’s Copter from R/W could spell serious trouble. They have a full 8 ways to pump their Smuggler’s Copter and take Liliana, the Last Hope out between Veteran Motorist and Depala, Pilot Exemplar. Plan accordingly. There will be a number of situations where I’m actually OK with allowing Liliana, the Last Hope to just gain 4 life and go to the graveyard. Turning on delirium is sometimes hard to do and extremely important. If your followup is an Ishkanah, Grafwidow and a bunch of friends, this is a line to keep in mind. Opponents will almost never choose not to kill her.
Your game plan is to let Ishkanah, Grafwidow do her Spider thing and then let Emrakul, the Promised End close it out. You also have Lilianas and Grapples to get Emrakul, the Promised End back from the graveyard, so this is a pretty consistent plan. Traverse the Ulvenwald functions as a tapped G/B land in the early game and a Demonic Tutor in the mid-to-late. It’s what makes G/B Delirium such an attractive deck to play, as having that much access to Ishkanah, Grafwidow is tough to beat.
Here’s the list I played to a Top 16 finish in the MOCS Playoff event this weekend, filled with some of the toughest competition on the planet:
G/B Delirium Aggro
Eric Froehlich, Top 16 at the Magic Online Championship Playoff Event
The changes I made were minor. An Ishkanah, Grafwidow, 2nd Liliana, the Last Hope, and Murder made their way into the main deck. I cut a Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet since it wasn’t outstanding against U/W, and Amalgam decks are on the decline. I moved a Grasp of Darkness to the sideboard, and cut a Gearhulk. I’m really unhappy about losing the Gearhulk, but Ishkanah, Grafwidow is fantastic. I don’t want that many 5s in my aggressive deck, but it’s possible with 4 Servant and 4 Sifter that this was just a mistake and I should have run five 5s.
The sideboard changes were mostly cosmetic. With a Liliana, the Last Hope and Ishkanah, Grafwidow in the main, a couple slots opened up. To the Slaughter is okay against Marvel, but quite good against R/G Energy with Bristling Hydra. It’s also useful against Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, assuming you get to delirium. Another removal spell is nice and Grasp is the best of the bunch. I also moved a Scrapheap Scrounger in for a Noose Constrictor since it’s better against control.
I haven’t had much time to test personally for changes to make with the Pro Tour metagame, but luckily there are a couple of Platinum Pros who played virtually my identical main deck to Top 16 finishes in the MOCS, and each had an updated sideboard. There should be some good things to learn from these, so let’s take a look:
Brad Nelson, Top 4 at the MOCS Playoff
Sam Pardee, Top 16 at the MOCS Playoff
I didn’t talk to either before the event, but they both went the same direction as I did with trimming a Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Sam chose to put it in the board, which is probably correct as it’s your best card in matchups with Amalgams and Scrapheap Scroungers. Having access to the 4th copy against Mardu Vehicles is probably already worth it.
Brad’s decision to run Nissa, Vital Force over Ob Nixilis Reignited is one I’m asked about regularly. I don’t personally agree with it, but I know Brad and his group have really liked Nissa and had more success with her than I have. It makes some sense in an aggressive deck that this is where you want to be, but I’ve been very happy with Ob Nixilis and don’t think there’s room for both. The card drawing against control has been excellent, although, again, Nissa, does perform a similar task. It’s possible I’m wrong here, but I would stick with Ob for now.
They both went with Natural State where I had Appetite. There are many matchups where this makes perfect sense and it’s exactly what you want against decks with access to both Smuggler’s Copter and Stasis Snare. Being able to kill an Aetherworks Marvel has been very important to me, as has killing Flagship and Metalwork Colossus. The tempo of State against R/W Vehicles is important, but if more people are running G/B Aggro, being able to board in Appetite that can also kill their Gearhulks is excellent. Not being able to hit Cruiser is also a huge downside, so I’m really not sure about this one!
As for access to Plummets or Take Down, this is something I had for most of the week and eventually decided against. My guess is that Plummet is the much better option since you can kill Avacyn and Smuggler’s Copter at instant speed. You’re basically never killing 2 creatures with Take Down, especially since any time there are multiple 1-toughness flyers in play it means there are Selfless Spirits involved. I didn’t really consider Plummet, but I don’t like Take Down. Plummet will be in my sideboard going forward.
I don’t have much to say about Tireless Tracker. It’s an okay card—not really what I love for the deck, but it’s the best 3-drop available after Catacomb Sifter. I’m fairly low on it, but I understand it.
As for the G/B Aggro versus G/B Delirium matchup—this is one I’ve played many times on the aggro side. I haven’t lost, although I was losing game 1 fairly often. Ishkanah, Grafwidow is very good in the matchup and it was tough when my opponent was the only one with access to this card.
Many cards are the same, so they will certainly match up similarly. Aggro has, of course, the aggressive creatures. This means you’re going to get in for some early damage. Verdurous Gearhulk tends to put them really far behind, often even in the face of Ishkanah, Grafwidow. Blossoming Defense allows your creatures to trump theirs and counters any removal spell for a single mana.
By getting in for a reasonable amount of damage before they start to take control with Ishkanah, Grafwidow, you’re going to be decently far ahead in life total. This means your own Ishkanah, Grafwidow can come down and drain them out. Emrakul, the Promised End can ruin your day, but they rarely have enough time for it in my experience. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is actually very solid in the matchup, especially if you’ve drawn Liliana, the Last Hope or some instants. In combination with just about anything, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet can swing the game against Ishkanah, Grafwidow.
I don’t sideboard much in the matchup. If they’re more aggressive, like Sperling and Nassif, Appetite is excellent. It kills Smuggler’s Copter, Scrounger, Gearhulk, and Key to the City. Ob Nixilis is excellent against any version. Ishkanah, Grafwidow is quite good, but it’s actually one of your weaker 5s on the play. I keep in all the Gearhulks there, but on the draw I’ll board one out for the 2nd Ishkanah, Grafwidow. Either way, the Ob Nixilis is coming in.
People also ask how the matchup is against the big decks to come out of the PT, namely Jeskai Control. The answer is that they’re good, but the matchup against U/W would be better with the more dedicated Ishkanah, Grafwidow deck. I would prefer to play G/B Delirium over G/B Aggro in a field of U/W, but the Flash matchup is far from bad. The best cards against G/B Aggro are Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Avacyn, but neither are back-breaking. I have found the matchup to be pretty close to even, although others have said that they think it’s very good for G/B. Adding Ishkanah, Grafwidow to the main deck has certainly helped.
Against blue control, I would rather be playing G/B Aggro. While the “inevitability” of Emrakul, the Promised End is really nice for G/B Delirium, they will likely counter it. Taking their turn can be very good, but it’s not really game-winning. Delirium doesn’t have that many threats and the ones they do have aren’t that aggressive, giving blue control more time to draw off Glimmers and flash them back with Gearhulks.
G/B Aggro, on the other hand, doesn’t give control much time to set up. They’re going to be dealing with threats every turn, so finding that time to spend 4 mana to draw 2 isn’t easy. They may spend 6 mana to cast Gearhulk only to have it killed before it blocks. The real reason I’ve loved the matchup against control is because Blossoming Defense is a 1-mana counter for their expensive cards. Spending 3 mana on a spot removal spell like Unlicensed Disintegration only to take 2 extra damage and not have the creature die is back-breaking. Cards like Verdurous Gearhulk, not to mention every other creature in the deck, have high toughnesses, making removal spells like Galvanic Bombardment and Harnessed Lightning often much weaker. I’m happy to play against this matchup and it gets even better when you can add Transgress the Mind.
I still don’t have a great answer to the Marvel decks, but with blue being extremely popular right now, I don’t see that being a major player right now. While the finals of GP Providence ended up being 2 G/B Delirium decks, both of which I can’t fathom ever beating anyone but the unluckiest Marvel pilots, the other GP featured 6 U/W Flash decks in the Top 8. The Marvel deck was already inconsistent and suspect, but having a ton of U/W Flash in the metagame makes it downright bad.
G/B Aggro is going to be much better against Marvel, but it’s possible you’re okay going a slower route if that deck completely dissipates. Be aware that Marvel’s stock should increase as more decks like G/B Delirium get played. Try to stay ahead of the metagame. With decks that crush Marvel doing well at the Pro Tour, few players are going to take that gamble, making G/B Delirium a very strong choice last weekend. Will that be the case going forward? That’s for you to figure out.
What other questions do you have about the various G/B builds? What have you found to be the best sideboard cards for G/B Aggro and Delirium? Sound off in the comments!