Wasteland has been a four-of in every Delver variant since forever. It’s a sacred cow, completely uncuttable.
Except there are no sacred cows. Remember when people didn’t board out Force of Will until there was a flood of articles explaining why and where it was correct? And then there’s Brainstorm, a card I left out of UG Survival to up the creature count for Survival and Vengevine.
It’s not like tempo decks have always played Wasteland. Back in the day, four-color Thresh variants played 14-15 land, Waste-free. In the extra slots they just had more disruption.
On MTGO, some are playing Vintage but don’t have Wastes. They’re playing disruption-filled aggro-control decks, decks that would usually want the card, but instead they have more of another type of disruption or more gas and that’s just fine.
I understand that Vintage is its own world, but it got me questioning my base assumptions.
The issue came up the other night while playing a Grixis Tempo mirror. Our lists were almost identical, the key difference being that I didn’t have Wastelands on MTGO and my “budget” version had four more business spells. Our cards traded, and once we reached topdeck mode I was able to out-attrition him.
Just one match, but tempo mirrors often turn into grindfests due to all the one-for-one disruption. If it reaches the mid-game, the deck with the better topdecks is advantaged.
I’m not saying Wasteland is bad, and I’m not saying it isn’t good in a tempo mirror. It gives free wins, but it also falls off in the late game. We already want a critical mass of spells for Delver of Secrets, if we start adopting Young Pyromancer as well it’s possible that pushing the spell count further will lead to even more consistent and powerful builds.
In UWR Delver, Wasteland is a reasonable mana source due to equip costs, but in the more color-intensive lists it’s pretty much a spell—a spell that doesn’t flip Delver. If the opponent has an unanswered Deathrite Shaman, it can be much worse than a regular land drop.
If Wasteland isn’t necessary for the tempo mirror, and is actively bad in matchups where the opponent can fetch basics (UWx, Show and Tell, mono-color decks, Nic Fit), or when the opponent doesn’t need many lands to kill you (Storm), it could be a liability. In my sideboarding article, I touched on how people don’t board the card out enough, but what if we take that a step further? What if people are playing it too often in the first place?
I’ve played some wild ones in RUG over the years, cards like Predict, Green Sun’s Zenith, and Scavenging Ooze. Still, I never started questioning the actual ratios of the deck until I played a random Open in California. I was given a box of cards to build a deck with ten minutes before the event started, and it wasn’t until I sat down for the players meeting and started counting the deck when I realized I didn’t have Brainstorms.
Now, I didn’t cut the card, but I did have to rush to find a set of Brainstorms.
Round one I was deck checked, but didn’t think anything of it. A round or two later, I noticed I had a strange number of cards, and asked to see my list. Apparently, they had just crossed out where I wrote “60” and wrote “62.”
Over a long tournament, you get a feel for a deck, especially when you have filtering to see more cards than usual. At the end, I wasn’t raving about how 62 cards was the correct number, but I was unsure of its incorrectness, and even less confident in the usual ratio of lands to spells.
RUG has a few deckbuilding restrictions. You need a certain number of fetches for shuffle effects, fixing, and to build threshold for Nimble Mongoose, and you need a certain number of duals so that you don’t get Wasted off of a color, and you need a certain raw quantity of land so that you don’t mulligan to oblivion from no landers.
On the other hand, the deck runs a light land count for a reason. One of the reasons it wins is due to a good ratio of lands to spells, making up for the lack of card advantage by having a higher density of gas than other decks. After that Open, the idea of intentionally going above 60 cards or shaving down to 17 land to mess with the ratios appealed to me, though I never got a chance to test it until recently.
Currently, my main problem with stock RUG is that True-Name Nemesis creates a hostile environment for Tarmogoyf, which I never liked much in the first place. It’s not blue and is weak to Plow. Young Pyromancer, on the other hand, can swarm past a True-Name, can create value in response to a Swords to Plowshares, makes Liliana look awful, and doesn’t get hosed by Rest in Peace. If we swap out Tarmogoyf for Young Pyromancer, spells become better and utility lands become worse, and it becomes more justified to re-examine formerly unquestionable card choices.
It feels almost strange, silly to try cutting Wasteland, long considered one of the best cards in the deck. Almost no one questions the stock RUG shell. Some try out oddball one-ofs, others shift some numbers around (like cutting a few Tarmogoyfs for Vendilion Clique to go over True-Name Nemesis), but the shell stays mostly the same because people know it works and don’t want to mess with success.
The last time I can recall someone actively campaigning to change a stock card was Drew Levin’s crusade against Stifle. He argued that Stifle was a bad topdeck, that it was worse on the draw, and much worse if the opponent played around it.
In RUG, I always thought Stifle was necessary because it stops the opponent from fetching basics, keeping Wasteland relevant longer. It also answered a few problem cards like opposing Wastes, Pernicious Deeds, Engineered Explosives, and Terminus. Without Wasteland, we no longer have to worry about the opponent fetching basics, and we have eight slots to fill with more removal and cantrips and threats, all cards that play well off of the top.
Note that I shaved a fetchland for a fourth Volcanic Island. With an increased dependence on red mana, it’s important to not get Wastelanded off of red. One of the nice things about Stifle was that it helped protect our own mana base, letting RUG face off four wastelands with only three of each dual.
At first, the list had a miser’s Dismember and a Counterspell. Counterspell is a reasonable card, pretty good in some matchups, and a great topdeck in the late game. On the other hand, you’re almost never holding up mana for it on turn two, and it’s usually only reasonable after the seemingly more costly Snapcaster Mage. Meanwhile, Dismember is stone dead in some matchups and doesn’t even pitch to Force of Will.
I got a hold of Drew and asked him his thoughts. While we disagree a decent amount, that’s a sign of two active minds and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The whole trick in Magic, as in all things, is knowing when to trust others and when to trust yourself.
After some general words of encouragement, he suggested Vapor Snag, which makes a lot of sense. A tempo bounce spell gets a lot better when it creates a tangible advantage in Young Pyromancer 1/1s. Also, a permanent answer for Tarmogoyf is less necessary with Pyromancer to potentially outclass ‘Goyf.
Overall, I’m happy with the list. I’ve had some success cutting or shaving Wastelands in other Delver variants, though the card does get better when you have Deathrite Shaman. Here, we lack Deathrite and could use the extra spells for Snapcaster and Pyromancer. Seems win-win.
Young Pyromancer is strong enough for Modern. It’s rewarding to play and build around, and absolutely dominates a board unlike any other two-drop. While there are a ton of Electrolyzes in the format, there are a few other factors that make me think Pyromancer is strong.
The banning of Deathrite Shaman has made 1 toughness matter again. Izzet Staticaster has started popping up, Forked Bolt and Electrolyze are more popular than ever, and Gut Shot has started taking up a legitimate number of sideboard slots.
The less embarrassing Gut Shot becomes, the more we can switch away from the crappy way-too-many-lands Delver lists and start running some sweet 18-land juice machines. The last time I won a PTQ it was with a Prosak-inspired 18-land juice machine, and that was a while ago. I’m thirsty, thirsty for insect juice.
Here’s the deck I’ve been testing on MTGO:
This deck feels amazing. It’s powerful, fast, consistent, and has game against the field. It can grind and it can race. It can do a lot with very little mana and rarely floods.
On its own, Serum Visions is lackluster, but being able to consistently cantrip into the card you leave on top makes it much better.
The current build has a whopping 19 land, which is one more than I like, but there are a pair of five-drops in there and being able to Snapcast back Electrolyze is nice. Remember that a critical mass of cantrips will lead to hitting land drops whether you want to or not, so it’s good to have a way to take advantage once you do hit them. Even Legacy RUG can start hardcasting Force of Will in the grindier matchups.
The mana base is smooth, relatively painless, and supports Blood Moon. Moon isn’t good in every matchup, but it’s strong in general and it’s at its absolute best in the rougher matchups. Decks with Lightning Helix and Electrolyze, decks that should prey on Delver, fold to this card.
Alternate card choices:
I used to have a 1/1 split between Batterskull and Runechanter’s Pike, and the Pike was OK, but Batterskull wins a lot of games on its own. Generally, if you have enough mana to play and equip a Pike you’ll have the mana to ‘skull, and not being vulnerable to Rest in Peace or Relic of Progenitus is a big plus.
Grim Lavamancer is a fine card. However, it’s not a spell, takes a turn to impact the board, and hogs all the mana. 1-2 might be fine, but I’d never want more than that and I think 0 is a fine number too.
Vendilion Clique might be better than Negate in the sideboard, but it costs a lot and I wouldn’t maindeck it. Not a spell for Delver, Young Pyromancer, and Snapcaster.
Dragon’s Claw might be worse than Leyline of Sanctity, but I hate mulling for Leyline, especially in a deck full of cantrips that can find sideboard cards efficiently. Dragon’s Claw is hot in multiples, while Leyline is redundant. I like it better than more countermagic because you need some way to recoup the loss after dealing with Eidolon, it benefits from our own burn spells, and some red decks are more threat heavy than others.
I’m running Shatterstorm over other options because this deck is already good vs. most of the Affinity deck, but it can randomly lose to Etched Champion, and Shatterstorm is an efficient, powerful answer that makes Welding Jar look like crap. It’s possible that Hurkyl’s Recall is superior because it’s even more efficient, the fastest answer to a turn two Ensoul Artifact 5/5 there is. It has some nice synergy with Snapcaster Mage.
Keranos is an option for grinding down the fair matchups, but for now I like Batterskull better because it has an immediate impact on the board.
That’s it for this week, I hope you enjoyed the brews and thoughts.