Silvestri Says – Manic Modern

Last time on Modern Marvels:

“If you’ve been paying attention to Modern over the past few weeks, you’ll see there was quite a heated discussion over Treasure Cruise. While I was firmly on the side of Treasure Cruise being busted, it wasn’t until more renowned players started weighing in that finally people stopped claiming we were just scared of a new format. Esteemed Malasada expert LSV talked about Treasure Cruise being completely busted in his UR Delver videos. “

And now the conclusion…

Shortly after that article Grand Prix Madrid took place, and when Treasure Cruise didn’t put 32 copies in the Top 8, the feedback was pretty quick across the board. I got a few nice messages about how dumb I am and generally that I was a large doo-doo head. Reddit and other forums were also filled with threads about how the ban express had derailed and that everyone should go laugh at the passengers. Really I wasn’t shocked by this once I saw the results, Delver may have won and Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time may have stolen the show, but they didn’t dominate the Top 8.

So I posted this, and figured I’d just weather the backlash:

“It warped the format badly, Delver still WON THE GP, and if anything it shows that Dig Through Time is probably as good as Cruise in every Scalding Tarn deck that isn’t Delver. I’ve seen at least 3 threads already mocking people for overreacting, which would be fair if Cruise totally flopped. Instead it’s just ignoring that the card won the tournament and its archetype had the greatest Day Two prevalence.

So yeah, it didn’t dominate the entire tournament. It only warped the format and someone playing Cruise still won.”

Surprisingly I wasn’t buried, and there was some great discussion on what exactly Madrid meant. Should I have been called a dookie head? No. However the disagreement was fine and in fact, and I enjoyed the conversation. There were a number of reasonable points made against hyperbole about how Modern was ruined. I fully admit that I took it a bit too far with my first impression and that I had convinced myself that blue decks ruled and everything else drooled.

So after Madrid there were legitimate reasons to be happy and I was definitely wrong about UR Delver dominating. It had a fairly good performance, but it was by no means overwhelming. It was just obnoxious to have your whole argument somehow discredited by one event’s results, when the cards in the deck still won the event. Still, in hindsight, it feels a little too sports HOT TAKES!!! than I would’ve wanted.

It comes down to how you want your information and I’m with Sperling on this, I’d rather make honest and firm statements and revise my opinion later than wishy-wash all over it. Nobody in Magic is going to nail 100% of their predictions regardless of finance, metagame, spoilers, bannings, or anything else. As long as the underlying reasoning is solid, I like when people give strong opinions. Besides, it gives some funny stories later about how you may have thought Myr Superion had a great chance of seeing play or how you thought Azure Mage was hot garbage and later got a Nationals squad to battle with it.

So with the new evidence and time to ruminate on it, I present my updated opinion:

UR Delver was overhyped
Delve cards are ridiculous
Birthing Pod is still quite good
Treasure Cruise should still be banned

As it turns out, Dig Through Time may also require a good banhammer whacking as well, but it’ll take longer to sort that one out. The key is that Scalding Tarn decks already had a very solid tier one archetype in Twin. Now there are multiple tier one Scalding Tarn archetypes and they’ll only get better with more refinement. I’m not against metagame changing, but whenever a metagame gets completely blown up like this and we have multiple major tier one shifts then I’m taking notice.

I think justifying any delve or Jeskai Ascendancy ban is far easier under the rules they outlined than Bloodbraid Elf. Treasure Cruise is at least as strong as Deathrite Shaman and in the context of the decks they were in, likely just a better card than Shaman. We’ve seen where leaving the best blue cards legal ends up taking us thanks to Legacy and old Extended. Where I screwed up was assuming that it would be such a massive boost that the non-blue decks couldn’t succeed.

As it turned out, Birthing Pod, the other card people have wanted banned for a while, was still a respectable choice for the metagame. Siege Rhino was a very nice addition that I undersold in the Pod shell. I figured there were plenty of value four-drops already available, but the deck matched up reasonably against Delver (though I still feel Delver is favored game one) and Rhino was great against Burn. The two major online decks, Burn and Delver, both had issues with newer Pod strategies which I hadn’t really expected. For the most part Burn has been hated into oblivion, the deck is as strong as ever, but nearly every reasonable Modern player now packs 4-8 cards against it.

My mistake was linking the UR Delver resurgence to the delve cards instead of realizing the high tide would raise the stock of every Scalding Tarn deck in the format. UR Delver gained the most and had the highest profile of all the decks, but Twin, Scapeshift, UR, and URW Control all became miles better.

Magic Online

Delver decks had really strong numbers considering how much they consisted of the current metagame. Between the number of mirror matches they’ve had to play and the target on its back, the win percentage has really shined. In the future with more data we may be able to present a matchup breakdown which could showcase where exactly the Delver decks are dominating, but for now all I can say is the Delver deck is one of the strongest aggressive and controlling bases in Modern.

Due to the cheap cost of the deck and the overall strength of Delver plans, the deck took over Magic Online in quick order and forced a major metagame shift. We now have a bunch of resilient combo strategies alongside Pod and kind of sad looking Junk decks. For the most part though there’s just not a lot of reason to play a non-blue deck that doesn’t involve Birthing Pod or Affinity.

Burn on the other hand looks downright embarrassing if you take the numbers at face value. Instead what this does is showcase an excellent example of what happens when everyone has hate against a given linear strategy. Nearly every single Modern player has Dragon’s Claw or Leyline of Sanctity against Burn players. Everyone playing red has hate aimed at the mirror match. Nearly every Delver player has anti-red cards and they could already sideboard into a reasonable strategy with cheap countermagic.

How good is Burn really? Well I can say that the deck was an easy tier one choice for the first weeks players were adapting to Khans of Tarkir thrown into the metagame. Now? Not such a great option in the real world and downright miserable online.

Jeskai Ascendancy Ban?

So banning Jeskai Ascendancy is pretty interesting since it hasn’t actually dominated. It’s put up some reasonable results, but nothing too scary. So on one hand you can’t make the usual domination argument for a ban. On the other hand it definitely breaks the speed rule for Modern and is likely never going to be used in any fair capacity in the format. What worries me as well is that the primary reason Ascendancy has been slapped down is because Delver and Burn were the two most popular decks which both had great matchups against all the current builds.

In other words, if Treasure Cruise was to eat a ban then at least one of the best decks against Ascendancy goes away. It also creates some splash damage for Burn because green and white midrange decks with life gain suddenly look a lot more interesting with Delver gone.

Essentially, Jeskai Ascendancy is a “this card is a mistake” ban and I’m OK with that. If they want to leave it in the format because it hasn’t done much, I’m OK with that too. However, I do think eventually there will be a point where this card is busted in half and the metagame will correctly curl into a fetal position until it gets booted out of Modern.

MTGO Data!

Modern1 Modern2 Modern3 Modern4

Notes about the Data

UWR has a way higher winning percentage than I would’ve expected. A lot of these are more controlling shells, but there are also a few Delver decks splashing for Path, Geist, and Lightning Helix in there as well. Between Boros Charm and Helix you can make a pretty reasonable argument for Jeskai Delver if you already firmly slot into the Swiftspear/Delver/Burn archetype. What this also tells me is that the blue shell is pretty open to any colors and configuration you want now.

In other words, UWR Control, UWR Kiki-Combo, UWR Delver and so on are all based off the same core concepts and cards like Cruise, Vision, Remand and so on. It isn’t just the Jeskai color set as well, as Delver, Twin, and Blue Moon are all viable strategies sticking to straight dual color. Essentially if you want to jam Scalding Tarn in your deck to cast blue and red spells, you’ve made an excellent decision.

UR Delver and UR on the sheet are essentially the same decks broken down slightly differently because of what the replay data shows. MTG Goldfish has the same weird breakdown, but when I asked about specifics, UR and UR Delver are essentially the same thing split into two categories with a few minor exceptions. In other words the win % is a lot closer to 54ish % and you can pretty safely assume Delver is in the 4,000 games range.

Outlier decks actually have an impact on Modern compared to Standard. For example, Rolle pointed out the success of Amulet of Vigor is pretty much this one guy.

Meanwhile Battle of Wits metagame penetration can be linked almost entirely to Mattias and his stream.

Grand Prix Madrid

If you want to read about more Birthing Pod, I would recommend Sam Pardee’s article on the subject.

My favorite list in the Top 16 is actually Milan Niznansky’s Scapeshift:

I could see taking this 75 and just swapping the Black Cat for a real card since it’s assuredly a translation error. My only real swap would be to cut a card at random and add the 4th Dig Through Time since Dig is just amazing. Most likely the 26th land, specifically a Breeding Pool, since quad Breeding Pool is a tad excessive. I could also see cutting it down to two and just adding another Flooded Grove as well if you expect more Affinity/Burn/UR Burn Delver, to cut down on life loss.

Scapeshift is in a nice position in the metagame. It has enough early interaction to not get run over by a turn one Swiftspear or Delver and can fight through countermagic. It also has some good sideboard options that totally negate UR Delver’s sideboard arsenal and forces them to aggro you out of the game. Aggro and green midrange also suffer greatly between EE, Grudge, Hurkyl’s Recall, Anger of the Gods, and Pyroclasm as relevant options.Siege Rhino ignores all of these, which is a concern, but Rhino and other four-drops also play straight into Remand and Cryptic Command.

A second Boseiju also seems appropriate for the sideboard since, if we’re willing to run one, odds are good we’d like to see it some time this year. Dig Through Time does help us dig for it in the midgame, but smart opponents aren’t going to let Digs just resolve willy-nilly.

As for the Delver decks, I almost prefer playing Delverless at this point. Everyone is prepared to deal with the namesake of the deck while Young Pyromancer does most of the work in removal-heavy matchups. Swiftspear can also be leveraged with all the cheap spells. If I had to pick a more aggressive build, I would take the Mikel Diaz build and then add Stitched Drake to the sideboard. You can also consider Lava Spike if we’re going as far as jamming Vapor Snag and going down to only five maindeck counters. I do prefer the Remand in his deck over the Mana Leak in Floch’s build as it’s better against Treasure Cruise and both are pretty bad against cheap spells in the mirror.

That’s all from me this week, if you’ve got some holiday topics for the slow month, feel free to send them to me!

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: [email protected]


Worlds Modern deck lists were released.

That’s a lot of delve cards and combo… Delver, Scapeshift, Storm, Ascendancy and Pod are the primary metagame. Also Ascendancy combo with a sideboard into a different combo? Fun times.


Scroll to Top