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Rogue’s Review – More of the Same in Manila

With this column being a few weeks off the ground, spanning a single Standard format without rotation, you’d expect a given deck to appear repeatedly. That said, Delver has gone above and beyond the call of duty this time around, securing another four slots, or HALF, of yet another Top 8. While we have focused on private cash events thus far, today we get our first dose of premier-level play thanks to Grand Prix Manila.

Now thus far, we have mainly looked at the Top 8 alone. Now while we won’t stray from that general formula today, we will get a little more specific. After we quickly look at the four non-Delver lists that made the Top 8 of Manila, we are going to look at a side-by-side comparison of each Delver list, and try to figure out what the pilots were thinking and what edges they might have gained by changing those 1-5 cards. But first, let’s skip right past all of the Delver, and look at the runner-up.

Naya Pod
Rick Lee

2012 Grand Prix Manila – 6/16
Standard

[deck]Main Deck:
1 Acidic Slime
3 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Blade Splicer
1 Borderland Ranger
1 Fiend Hunter
2 Garruk Relentless
3 Huntmaster of the Fells
1 Inferno Titan
2 Phyrexian Metamorph
4 Restoration Angel
2 Strangleroot Geist
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
1 Ulvenwald Tracker
1 Wolfir Silverheart
1 Zealous Conscripts
2 Birthing Pod
2 Cavern of Souls
4 Copperline Gorge
4 Forest
3 Gavony Township
1 Mountain
2 Plains
4 Razorverge Thicket
2 Rootbound Crag
2 Sunpetal Grove
Sideboard:
1 Ancient Grudge
3 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Crushing Vines
1 Daybreak Ranger
1 Hero of Bladehold
1 Huntmaster of the Fells
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Stingerfling Spider
2 Sword of War and Peace
1 Ulvenwald Tracker
1 Zealous Conscripts [/deck]

Naya Pod
Richmond Tan

2012 Grand Prix Manila – 6/16
Standard

[deck]Main Deck:
1 Acidic Slime
2 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Birds of Paradise
2 Blade Splicer
2 Borderland Ranger
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Fiend Hunter
1 Garruk Relentless
1 Gideon Jura
3 Huntmaster of the Fells
1 Inferno Titan
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
2 Restoration Angel
3 Strangleroot Geist
1 Sun Titan
2 Zealous Conscripts
3 Birthing Pod
3 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Oblivion Ring
3 Cavern of Souls
4 Copperline Gorge
6 Forest
1 Gavony Township
1 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Mountain
1 Plains
4 Razorverge Thicket
1 Rootbound Crag
2 Sunpetal Grove
Sideboard:
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Celestial Purge
2 Crushing Vines
2 Day of Judgment
2 Gut Shot
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Ray of Revelation
1 Surgical Extraction
2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
1 Tree of Redemption [/deck]

Alright, so I cheated a little bit, as that is actually both the runner-up and the 3rd place finisher. Since both were running the same archetype, I went ahead and lumped them together! So, if you have been living under a rock for the last… oh, I don’t know, three days? You might not be aware that Naya Pod is basically number two, right now behind the [card delver of secrets]Wild Nacatl[/card] with wings. The list carries a pedigree of articles, endorsements, and finishes with it, and most people seem to think it is one of the better ways to combat Delver while not tanking against everything else.

We saw Pod lists do well at most of the Magic World Cup Qualifiers and despite the lists being known, and available online, they continue to do well. Until Delver eases up a bit, allowing decks to more freely use main and sideboard space elsewhere, Pod appears to be a very viable threat. Right now Naya Pod is king due to the trickiness that the Pod can provide, the decent mana, and the individual card matchups against Delver.

For the most part, the deck is just going to be the best creatures in the Naya color wheel all along the curve. From [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card], to [card]Blade Splicer[/card], to [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card], to [card]Wolfir Silverheart[/card], most of your creatures are going to be found in multiples and will be nothing out of the ordinary. Once you reach the tutor targets though, each deck can take on its own identity. There are some targets that are going to be more common than others. Some of the more common ones include:

[draft]Acidic Slime
Zealous Conscripts
Fiend Hunter
Inferno Titan
Borderland Ranger
Sun Titan
Phyrexian Metamorph[/draft]

Less common but still viable options include:

[draft]Geist-Honored Monk
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Wurmcoil Engine
Phantasmal Image
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Daybreak Ranger[/draft]

Because of that versatility, in combination with a wide suite of removal that can deal with just about everything, few lists will be identical. That said, the core engine of the deck is always going to be the same, and most of the creature slots are accounted for. Play against other targets to the best of your ability, but be familiar with as many of the available targets in the format as possible. Moving on, we come across a slightly different look at Naya:

Naya Aggro
Martin Juza

2012 Grand Prix Manila – 6/16
Standard

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Blade Splicer
4 Borderland Ranger
3 Geist-Honored Monk
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
4 Restoration Angel
3 Strangleroot Geist
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Bonfire of the Damned
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Copperline Gorge
3 Forest
4 Gavony Township
2 Mountain
2 Plains
4 Razorverge Thicket
Sideboard:
1 Ancient Grudge
2 Celestial Purge
2 Combust
1 Crushing Vines
2 Hero of Bladehold
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Plummet
2 Wolfir Silverheart
3 Zealous Conscripts [/deck]

Juza decided to skip messing around with the clunky [card]Birthing Pod[/card] engine, and instead just jammed four of all of those good creatures into his deck to begin with. [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card], [card]Restoration Angel[/card], [card]Blade Splicer[/card]. The same role players are all here, but we are missing the cameo of a bunch of singletons, and instead have a much more dedicated aggressive deck.

It is a little strange to only see 3 [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card]s, but Martin clearly didn’t think it was crucial in his list. With eight mana creatures, the goal is usually going to be a 3-drop on turn 2—even if you come up short in that department, Thalia is actually a great 2-drop in this list as well. Whereas before you had Birthing Pod as a central piece to the puzzle, making Thalia a potentially bad 2-drop play for you, now we only have Bonfire that gets interrupted by Thalia, and they are typically good in different matchups anyway!

Last thing of note about Martin’s list; check out those lands. Despite having access to both [card]Slayers’ Stronghold[/card] and [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card], Martin decided to pack the full four [card]Gavony Township[/card]s and eschew all of those other options. That says a lot about how powerful of a land Township is in this style of list. But enough about Naya, let’s move to a darker subject.

BR Zombies
Jacklord Nerez

2012 Grand Prix Manila – 6/16
Standard

[deck]Main Deck:
3 Blood Artist
4 Diregraf Ghoul
2 Falkenrath Aristocrat
2 Fume Spitter
4 Geralf’s Messenger
4 Gravecrawler
2 Phyrexian Metamorph
3 Porcelain Legionnaire
4 Brimstone Volley
2 Geth’s Verdict
2 Go for the Throat
1 Killing Wave
2 Mortarpod
2 Tragic Slip
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
3 Cavern of Souls
4 Dragonskull Summit
12 Swamp
Sideboard:
1 Batterskull
1 Killing Wave
2 Manabarbs
2 Manic Vandal
1 Massacre Wurm
2 Nihil Spellbomb
3 Pillar of Flame
1 Witchbane Orb
2 Zealous Conscripts [/deck]

Here we have B/R Zombies with a [card]Blood Artist[/card] plan. I like these lists a lot, and have even been recording some Rogue’s Gallery stuff with them—but the numbers in this one are a bit confusing. 2 [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]s is a bold move, as the card is such a potent finisher and works really well with your synergy package. [card]Blood Artist[/card] as a 3-of, with only 2 Clones is also a bit staggering. Generally, cards that important to a deck’s core strategy appear as 4-ofs, but Jacklord had something else in mind.

Instead of boosting the strength in numbers of some of the cards thought to be essential to the deck, Jacklord decided to run more removal. Maybe this was specifically to help against Delver, as a card like [card]Geth’s Verdict[/card] does get around the creature-saving effect of [card]Restoration Angel[/card], while also taking out a [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card].

With only two 4-drops in his list, it is a bit strange to see 23 lands in it, but once you gaze at the sideboard it makes sense. Jacklord has packed his helpful 15 with a bunch of expensive spells like [card]Batterskull[/card] and [card]Massacre Wurm[/card]. Typically, you would not expect those types of controlish cards in a deck like this, but apparently we should all think again. I am interested in trying out this list sometime. As all good things must end, it’s time to move on to Delver.

UW Delver
Yuuya Watanabe

2012 Grand Prix Manila – 6/16
Standard

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Geist of Saint Traft
3 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Gitaxian Probe
3 Gut Shot
3 Mana Leak
1 Mutagenic Growth
4 Ponder
3 Runechanter’s Pike
4 Thought Scour
4 Vapor Snag
4 Glacial Fortress
8 Island
2 Moorland Haunt
1 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast
Sideboard:
3 Celestial Purge
1 Dissipate
1 Gut Shot
1 Mana Leak
2 Mental Misstep
1 Mutagenic Growth
2 Phantasmal Image
1 Spectral Flight
1 Sword of War and Peace
2 Timely Reinforcements [/deck]

UW Delver
Hironobu Sugaya

2012 Grand Prix Manila – 6/16
Standard

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Dismember
3 Gitaxian Probe
3 Gut Shot
3 Mana Leak
4 Ponder
2 Runechanter’s Pike
4 Thought Scour
4 Vapor Snag
4 Glacial Fortress
9 Island
2 Moorland Haunt
1 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast
Sideboard:
2 Blade Splicer
3 Celestial Purge
2 Divine Offering
1 Mana Leak
3 Phantasmal Image
2 Sword of War and Peace
2 Timely Reinforcements [/deck]

UW Delver
Weng Heng Soh

2012 Grand Prix Manila – 6/16
Standard

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Dismember
2 Gitaxian Probe
2 Gut Shot
3 Mana Leak
1 Mutagenic Growth
4 Ponder
3 Sword of War and Peace
2 Thought Scour
4 Vapor Snag
2 Cavern of Souls
4 Glacial Fortress
9 Island
2 Moorland Haunt
1 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast
Sideboard:
1 Act of Aggression
1 Amass the Components
1 Batterskull
2 Celestial Purge
1 Dissipate
1 Divine Offering
2 Dungeon Geists
2 Phantasmal Image
1 Surgical Extraction
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
2 Timely Reinforcements [/deck]

UW Delver
Jonathan Justin Luces

2012 Grand Prix Manila – 6/16
Standard

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Dismember
3 Gitaxian Probe
2 Gut Shot
4 Mana Leak
4 Ponder
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Sword of War and Peace
1 Thought Scour
4 Vapor Snag
2 Cavern of Souls
4 Glacial Fortress
8 Island
2 Moorland Haunt
2 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast
Sideboard:
2 Blade Splicer
1 Celestial Purge
1 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Day of Judgment
2 Dissipate
2 Divine Offering
1 Ghost Quarter
2 Phantasmal Image
1 Sun Titan
2 Timely Reinforcements [/deck]

So there is our batch of lists, now what does it tell us? Well, it tells us that Delver is still an insane choice for a tournament, but it also tells us that Delver, while being narrowed in on, is hardly a solved deck. If we take every unique main deck card, and recreate this list using the four above, we end up with a 70-card beauty that looks like this:

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Dismember
1 Mutagenic Growth
4 Gitaxian Probe
3 Gut Shot
4 Mana Leak
4 Ponder
3 Runechanter’s Pike
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Sword of War and Peace
4 Thought Scour
4 Vapor Snag
4 Glacial Fortress
9 Island
2 Moorland Haunt
2 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast
2 Cavern of Souls[/deck]

Now right away, this list only being 70 cards tells us quite a bit. With four different decks represented, if you take every single card in every single list and combine them, you only go over the standard deck size by 10. If you were to do the same for most other archetypes, that number would likely be much higher, but Delver is a deck that people feel comfortable relying on the data of others for.

The most interesting thing about any list here, is easily in Yuuya’s list. He decided against the Standard 22 lands and went a bit lower. Not just to 21, or even 20, but Yuuya ran only 19 lands. Now, to make up for this of course, he jammed more free spells into his deck and more single mana cantrips, like [card]Thought Scour[/card], which help smooth his mana out. What this does, though, is increase the chances that Delver flips in the dark, along with preventing the deck from flooding out, which it can sometimes do. Yuuya managed to fit 23 instants and/or sorceries in his deck due to his refined mana, while other lists from this Top 8 could only fit 18 or 19 of them for example.

Now, in order to fit 19 lands, Yuuya did have to make a few concessions, like cutting a copy of [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. But, I do not think that will be a trend adopted by the majority. What Yuuya’s success will do is get people to think it is law that you must run 22 lands in Delver. This will likely result in the average land count of the best builds dropping slightly, maybe to 21 or 20, but likely not 19. This way, that 4th Angel can still make it into the deck, making most people happy from both sides of the deal.

But lands will continue to be a place of difference for Delver players, despite the options being pretty much solved. The numbers have never been officially adopted as gospel, and now what everyone thought was correct is being questioned. In our amalgamated list for example, much of that 10 card difference can be found in the lands, from [card]Cavern of Souls[/card], to extra Plains, to 23 lands in one list versus 19 in another. The land count in each list is 19, 20, 22, 22, 23 respectively. Once the optimal number in that department is decided, Delver should get even stronger.

The equipment package is clearly another point of dispute among Delver players, and it is really tough to say if one way is better than the other. [card runechanter’s pike]Pike[/card] can be devastating when it comes online early, whereas a Sword can secure an unwinnable game. Neither equipment has become the consensus best choice, and both play out very differently. What is important to note is how to differentiate between the various equipment builds while playing an opponent through context clues alone.

Generally, the Pike player will have more cheap instants and more phyrexian mana cards. Now this is going to be a difficult thing to interpret as you play an opponent, but some red flag cards include:

•[card]Mutagenic Growth[/card].
•3 or more [card]Gut Shot[/card]s.
•12 single mana cantrips.

Now, the second two points are difficult ones to assess, but as they [card]Thought Scour[/card] themselves, hopefully you can get enough of a glimpse of their deck to come out with the right information. For example, if you see a total of 3 [card]Thought Scour[/card]s, they probably have 4, and they definitely have 4 [card]Ponder[/card]s, and at least 3 [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card]s. That means, just from seeing 3 [card]Thought Scour[/card]s, you can safely put them on at least 10 cantrips, and likely 12, meaning the jump to Pike is a much easier one to make. [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card] is a little easier, because the free pump spell is mostly seen in Pike versions of the deck for extra trickiness. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions here, even in this very Top 8—but it is a helpful shortcut, even if not foolproof.

Those are really the two big points of disparity between most lists right now though. The creature package is just about locked in. Some may differ by 1-2 creatures, but that is uncommon. The spells are mostly locked in as far as the cards seeing play, although the numbers will adjust based on your land count of course. So really, your lands, and what equipment package you choose are the biggest places to create some individuality and still have a chance at winning. I am sure all of this will change in the next few weeks, but for now, this is where we are.

Wrap Up

Luckily for me, this weekend, we get to take a break from the Constructed grind and go play a little Sealed in Canada. Following on the heels of that event, we have our first Legacy Grand Prix that we will hopefully cover in full detail after the event. As for Standard, it looks like a healthy dose of Delver for the near future, although I have heard that it performed poorly overall last weekend in comparison to what it was doing a month ago for example. Good luck in your PTQs this weekend, and thanks for reading!

Conley Woods

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