GB decks in Standard have focused on two main paths. The first revolves around resilient midrange threats like Sylvan Advocate and Tireless Tracker that provide important plays early, yet strong card quality in the late game. Many players have moved to this model since it’s just hard to argue with 2-mana 4/5s. The other direction is to play Grim Flayers and Mindwrack Demons. The scary part about this is that you can topdeck 2/2s on turn 10, or play a 4-mana threat that just ends up killing you over the next few turns. Despite those problems, I’m all for ehading this direction and today I want to discuss some of the cards I brought to Portland, where I finished up 11-4:
I might as well start with the elephant in the room. Many players hate this card. It’s a creature that can literally kill you, and when things go right all you have is an undercosted threat that still dies to a lot of removal. My problem with that assessment is that it overlooks too many of the positives Mindwrack Demon.
First, it doesn’t die to Grasp of Darkness, one of the most popular removal spells at the moment. This is even more true as Ultimate Price is weakened by the metagame of Emrakul/Elder Deep-Fiend decks. If it survives, you can put your opponent on a very short clock or pressure planeswalkers.
In terms of killing yourself with the Demon, I’ve found that happens very rarely. If you look at the way this deck is constructed, you have access to 7 different card types, 5 of which have a good number of hits such that you’re actually milling a good variety of them rather than all of one type. But milling with the Demon to help prevent damage to yourself isn’t the upside on the card! It maximizes all the other cards in your deck, and that’s what really makes it shine.
Grim Flayer – Normally pretty medium since it can’t always connect, but a precombat Demon on turn 4 gets the Flayer up and running.
Liliana, the Last Hope – Often you want to minus for value but have to risk a blind flip since you have no creatures. This risk goes way down if you wait a turn and minus after resolving a Mindwrack Demon.
Emrakul, the Promised End – It’s not really enough to just stop at delirium for Emrakul. You really want to get the biggest discount possible, and Mindwrack Demon plays to its own strengths while milling huge swaths of cards in the process. Later Demons also help even after you have delirium, and I’ve gotten the full 7-mana discount with this deck multiple times thanks in no small part to the Demon.
One thing you have to be very careful about is sideboarding with Mindwrack Demon. Often you’ll want to keep it in versus grindy decks like WB to help pressure planeswalkers, but you end up cutting a bunch of instant-speed removal for sorcery-speed interaction like Duress or your late-game sorceries, Dark Petition and Seasons Past.
My sideboard looks a bit strange as a result but is designed to help mitigate this issue. To the Slaughter helps against planeswalker decks that give you time and you can even nab a juicy 2-for-1 from time to time. Because it’s an instant, it helps stave off 4-damage hits from the Demon and keeps a proper balance between instants and sorceries. Similarly, Pilgrim’s Eye looks like the weirdest sideboard card ever, but it comes in alongside these expensive 5- and 6-drop spells to simply help you hit land drops, but also counts double for your Demon.
Sylvan Advocate is simply more consistent than Grim Flayer will ever be, but unlike the Advocate, a turn-2 Grim Flayer is something your opponent can’t simply ignore. Liliana and your other 3-drop removal spells help the Flayer actually connect, and I’ve found that it’s actually very easy to turn them into 4/4s.
One downside the Flayer has when compared to Advocate is that it gets swept up by a hardcast Kozilek’s Return, which is a card that isn’t even aimed at your deck. That’s annoying, but I still think the upside is worth it, and it’s important to remember that you’re able to board good cards out. I never cut Grim Flayers when I’m on the play because they just snowball too easily, but if your opponent is well set up to stop your Flayers for very little effort, consider boarding 1-2 out on the draw. In those spots you’ll also have a few more proactive discard spells to cast post board, so you aren’t even losing much tempo by boarding out a 2-drop or two. This also helps prevent you from drawing multiples in situations where you have the choice of holding back or overextending and can instead just have a different, better card instead.
Because this deck enables delirium so consistently, I like having access to some main-deck tutor targets for Traverse the Ulvenwald based on the expected metagame. I chose Gilt-Leaf Winnower here because it helps solve a few tough interactions. The key targets it can kill are Tireless Tracker, Spell Queller, Ishkanah, Grafwidow, Thermo-Alchemist, and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. In a different metagame I could see playing a Kalitas instead, or something I haven’t even thought about to solve a specific problem. One other cute thing is that it’s another out to Emrakul if you happen to have a Liliana in play.
Transgress the Mind
This card has continually been an all-star out of the sideboard, but seemed particularly well positioned for the current metagame so I moved it to the main deck. It will have good targets against any deck in Standard except for WW Humans, and helps fill out the 2-drop slot with another proactive play, which this deck would otherwise lack. There’s even a third in the board for the grindy matchups, which overperformed for me. I also think the card is quite good versus Bant because it lets you see how your opponent’s hand will shape out and can take a key Collected Company or Spell Queller, but I don’t like boarding in the third since drawing two is just too hard on tempo, and also a horrible topdeck for the common long grindy games that happen in that matchup.
I enjoy the play that this deck offers. You’re constantly trying to maximize delirium while also stopping your opponent’s game plan. This means some games you’ll be a fast aggressor with an insane Grim Flayer curve-out while others you sit back and simply kill everything until you take over with an Ishkanah, or even more fun, big ol’ Emrakul herself. On top of the flexibility in game, this deck has an abundance of ways it can be built, and I love that the details really matter since delirium is so important. This makes it a great choice for constant metagaming and updating. While I love the Flayer/Demon package right now, I’m happy to admit that the Tracker/Advocate plan will be better for certain weekends. The deck is also pretty tough to play since you’ll have a ton of lines available at any given moment, and I’ve found it can be tough to know when to keep plus’ing Liliana versus minus’ing her.
Practice helps enormously, and I eagerly recommend the deck if you have any upcoming PPTQs or better yet, RPTQs. I’ve been having a blast playing it on Magic Online, and will keep trying to update the cards so that I have the best 75 for my next Standard tournament.