Digging Delver, the Columbus Classic, and Hidden Herbalists

Given my poor Standard performance in Columbus this weekend, I got to experience my first foray into the new Modern format at the Star City Games Classic. No Gitaxian Probes, no Golgari-Grave Trolls, and some Fatal Pushes peppered into a handful of decklists. David Ernenwein did a solid job of breaking down the published winning decklists, though I have some additional insight from the floor worth discussing.

I have some brews that I’m interested in for the new post-ban Modern, though I would be remiss if I didn’t show up with Grixis Delver at least once. It’s my baby. The changes I made from last week’s list are pretty minor, and were pretty much just based on shower thoughts the morning of the tournament. This is what I battled with:

Grixis Delver, by Ryan Overturf

Creatures (12)
Delver of Secrets
Snapcaster Mage
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Gurmag Angler

Instants (24)
Fatal Push
Kolaghan’s Command
Lightning Bolt
Mana Leak
Spell Snare
Terminate
Thought Scour
Remand

Sorceries (4)
Serum Visions

Lands (20)
Island
Mountain
Swamp
Spirebluff Canal
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents
Watery Grave
Sideboard (15)
Engineered Explosives
Countersquall
Dispel
Magma Spray
Collective Brutality
Spell Pierce
Go for the Throat
Cavern of Souls
Fulminator Mage
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Basically, I thought that Remand was probably good again if low-CMC creatures are going to be worse. Similarly, Collective Brutality will have fewer great matchups to shine in. The card that got cut from the 75 for these changes was the second Magma Spray. In light of the Classic results—specifically the potential return of Abzan Company—it should perhaps be the second Kolaghan’s Command or the Cavern of Souls that bites it instead.

Anyway, my tournament was solidly medium. I had a great time playing and my opponents were generally great people, though I didn’t have the requisite luck to make it through a nine-round event. I actually only played eight of my rounds, as I had three losses and thought my car was ready to leave town (which they weren’t). That’s neither here nor there though. I played some sweet games, though none against any new archetypes, so I think match records offer as much information as a full tournament report would:

Round 1 – 2-0 vs. Jund
Round 2 – 2-1 vs. GW Tron
Round 3 – 1-2 vs. Grishoalbrand
Round 4 – 2-0 vs. Grixis Control
Round 5 – 0-2 vs. Bant Eldrazi
Round 6 – 2-0 vs. Affinity
Round 7 – 2-0 vs. GW Tron
Round 8 – 1-2 vs. GB Tron

My Grishoalbrand opponent was Michael Coyle, who went on to finish third in the tournament. He killed me on turn three of both sideboard games with at least one Pact of Negation as backup. Simian Spirit Guide‘s legality remains, in my opinion, laughable. The Goryo’s Vengeance decks have enough consistency issues that it makes sense that a banning hasn’t hit them yet, and I certainly don’t want to come off as salty. Michael seemed like a good dude and we had a fun match. All I’m saying is that mana monkey is a villain and its presence in the format is suspect.

The fact that I played against three Tron decks was no accident. The Top 16 doesn’t tell the full story of this tournament, and in addition to playing against Tron a bunch, I couldn’t look left or right without seeing multiple additional copies of the deck. I don’t have raw data for the tournament, but Tron was very well-represented. In this field, it’s not remotely surprising that Goryo’s Vengeance and Ad Nauseum finished so highly. Tron is a huge winner at level one with regard to the bannings, and spell-based combo does a great job of wrecking Tron.

Regarding my Tron matchup with this specific build, I was very pleased with Fulminator Mage. Many players have asked me about Molten Rain in its place, but the ability to beat down and get in more than two points of damage came up more than once in my sideboard games. The ability to cast Fulminator Mage and leave up a counter on five mana is also a lot better than Snapcasting a Molten Rain, as you end up countering a lot of tutors for lands in the matchup. As such, I prefer using Kolaghan’s Command to recur Fulminators over using Snapcaster Mage to recur Molten Rains.

The round that I lost involved my opponent having turn-three natural tron plus a Chromatic Star to cast World Breaker in game three. There’s nothing my current configuration can do about this, and if I didn’t expect more do-nothing blue control decks to be showing up, I would consider Spreading Seas for this slot. As things stand, I suppose you just accept taking an inevitable loss to the absolute nut draw. Even turn-three Karn Liberated can be countered—it’s just turn-three World Breaker that is basically unbeatable.

Grixis Delver still seems great on the whole in Modern, though the Top 16 of the Classic this weekend did have three copies of Bant Eldrazi and one copy of Dredge, which are both convincingly bad matchups. All things considered, I would say that the changes to Modern are net-positive for Grixis Delver, though if Dredge proves to be more than fringe I will be doing more experimentation in the coming months. The four Fatal Push decks are going to be put to the test by Snapcaster Mage and Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and I feel good enough about my plan against Tron’s projected increase in metagame share.

Innovations

Both of my GW Tron opponents had Walking Ballista in their deck, and the Triskelion variant was quite impressive. It’s a serviceable payoff when you have tron online, and is great on turn two against decks like Delver and Infect. I would expect the card to show up in small numbers in Tron going forward, and also see it as a potential tool for Affinity. The interaction with Arcbound Ravager is definitely powerful, and Arcbound Worker is champing at the bit to reappear in the deck. Expect to play against this card in the near future.

Fatal Push made its presence known this weekend, though its impact fell more in line with my predictions than notions that it would completely change the landscape of the format. Two Affinity decks and an Infect deck made the Top 16 of the tournament, and the decks resilient to Fatal Push were more successful than the Fatal Push decks themselves. The card is quite good—it just has more secondary effects than primary effects: e.g. big mana, high-CMC creatures, sticky creatures, and spell-based combo benefit more than control decks. Meanwhile, Infect and Affinity have been squaring off against one-mana removal since day one, and rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.

New Tools for 8-Whack

The relative success of Affinity this past weekend is indicative of the fact that going wide quickly is another great way to win, even in the face of one-mana interaction. Robots have proven their consistent viability historically, though I believe there may be a new kid on the block in the realm of powerful go-wide aggressive decks. Burning-Tree Emissary has seen a good amount of Modern success, and I believe that Hidden Herbalists stands to add consistency and power to the explosive Reckless Bushwhacker decks.

These decks aren’t exactly my cup of tea, and I’ve only started to experiment with them. Bushwhacker Zoo decks have moved away from Goblin Bushwhacker to play more consistent and less all-in strategies, though I believe that Hidden Herbalists allows the deck to goldfish turn three-kills consistently enough to really push a narrow-minded game plan. I think that Goblin Bushwhacker still doesn’t quite cut the mustard, though I am inclined to believe that I want the full 8 Burning-Tree Emissary effects. This is where my build currently sits:

Herbalist Zoo, by Ryan Overturf

Creatures (32)
Burning-Tree Emissary
Hidden Herbalists
Reckless Bushwhacker
Goblin Guide
Wild Nacatl
Experiment One
Kird Ape
Narnam Renegade

Instants (10)
Lightning Bolt
Atarka’s Command
Manamorphose

Lands (18)
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Arid Mesa
Misty Rainforest
Forest
Stomping Ground
Sacred Foundry
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The deck is light on actual lands that tap for mana, which is fine because we’re really trying to win on turn three anyway. We need to be fetch-heavy to enable revolt, as this deck is basically unplayable without doing so consistently. The Manamorphose may look a bit odd, but we have a lot of red spells to cast after we play Hidden Herbalists, and we won’t always have a Burning-Tree Emissary to filter our Herbalists mana. This deck should handily smash Tron, keep pace with other linear decks, and be able to steal plenty of games even in the face of efficient interaction.

I’m wary of facing off against Inquisition of Kozilek into Tarmogoyf, and I expect that as I learn the ins and outs of this deck I will have to make small adaptations to handle the Tarmogoyf problem. On the play this deck will often be explosive enough for this not to matter, but you can’t always win the die roll or keep the nuts seven. Ghor-Clan Rampager, Mutagenic Growth, and my own Tarmogoyfs are on my short list of potential includes as remedies. I strongly dislike Path to Exile for this job, as I believe a narrow-minded focus on raw damage output will lead this deck to the highest win percentage. Minimally, Narnam Renegade will be able to attack with abandon due to its deathtouch. I’ll either be playing this or Grixis Delver at the upcoming SCG Regionals, though either way I am very excited for this event and the future of Modern.

Sayonara

Whelp, as I mentioned last week, this will be my last regular article on Modern Nexus. Thanks again to everyone reading, and special thanks to everybody who commented last week. Don’t let anybody tell you that spreading positivity doesn’t matter. I appreciate you. Good luck to all of you, in Magic and in life.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan Overturf
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter

16 thoughts on “Digging Delver, the Columbus Classic, and Hidden Herbalists

  1. This list looks so fast. I was playing Bushwacker Zoo until recently. Any time we have a 2 of as with Manamorhose it looks a bit random but I can see the need for the filtering to red. Do you have any SIdeboard suggestions for this listing? I am going to run this at my FNM this Friday. We normally get 20-30 players so it should be a good test.

    1. Destructive Revelry jumps out at me as a strong option. Lightning Helix and/or Kitchen Finks for red mirrors seems solid, and the Finks pull double duty against removal-heavy decks. With Ad Nauseum winning the last Classic I could see Thalia and/or Gaddock Teeg being servicable options. A Couple Surgical Extractions as a hedge against Goryo’s Vengeance also seems reasonable.

  2. Did you find the one copy of Push to be appropriate moving forward? I’m also curious to know what you’d think of Blood Moon out of our grixis decks. I know you wrote about a dedicate Moon deck last week, but I’m thinking more Delver with sideboard moons – similar to twin decks of old.

      1. JW, how come? Since it’s so good at supplementing the enchantment with a clock, I’ve found Delver to be the archetype best suited to utilize Moon in Modern.

        1. This was my original thought, but my experience with fair decks in modern is limited to Pod, so it’s really not my area of expertise. Now that I’m on grixis, it feels like getting a turn two delve threat under a lock piece like Blood Moon would play well, but I’ll defer to others who have more reps.

        2. The builds that I have been successful with are heavily focused on interaction, and many of my games go long. Blood Moon feels like a mulligan often enough that it just doesn’t make the cut. Other players advocate it and have had success, but you should be looking at their lists and asking them rather than putting Blood Moon in a list similar to mine.

    1. Thank you! It’s a question that has come up before, and it’s something that gets shut down on paper. You exile stuff from your graveyard (Delver, Snapcaster) enough to make Rune Snag the worse card too often.

  3. With the added creature removal now with Fatal Push, do you think it would make sense to change some or all of the Spell Snares to Pierces in the Delver list? It seems like the removal suite would be able to keep the board clear, and Pierce would allow you to tag a lot of things that either Snare or Mana Leak would miss.

    1. Spell Pierce has been in my sideboard for some time, and comes in seldom enough that I would not consider it for maindeck inclusion. Too many of the games with this deck go long to utilize Pierce consistently.

    1. You don’t need four, as manamorphose by itself doesn’t actually help your gameplan. It is solely there for the few occasions where you want to Herbalist into Bushwhacker when you don’t also have a shaman to turn GG into RG. Four would be clunky, reducing your threat count while also occasionally bringing up two into your hand. Would suck to go Herbalist > Manamorphose > Manamorphose and not have a bushwhacker payoff.

  4. Hey Ryan,

    That Bushwhacker Zoo list looks great. I think fetches 13-14 are a bit much (makes the deck a bit vulnerable to land hate for my taste), but otherwise I’ve goldfished with the deck and it feels pretty powerful. The only card I’m somewhat iffy on is Narnam Renegade, but it’s frankly the best of what’s available. What do you think of Domri Rade as a sideboard card against the Jund types? I’ve always been a fan of it.

    As for your Delver list, I’m surprised by the 4 Terminate/1 Push mix. I agree with you that Push is more of a useful tool than a format-defining force, but in a deck as defined by efficiency as Grixis Delver is, I’d think Push would merit getting a 2nd copy snuck in there somewhere.

    Last but not least, good luck in your further endeavors.

    1. Thank you!

      The Renegade has actually been performing very well- worth noting that I have started playing Ghor-Clan Rampager over Manamorphose since this writing. The deathtouch just allows it to always attack, which can’t be said of the other creatures. I like Domri, and it’s worth trying. I currently have one Ranger of Eos in the board, and the mana efficiency on Domri could just make that better.

      Terminate matters a lot with Bant Eldrazi poised to pick up in popularity (two copies in the Top 8 of the Columbus Classic- one of my losses) and I can’t really justify shaving it as things stand. The two K-Command feels a bit heavy-handed and I could see turning one of those into the second push. The three mana spells have always been a bit taxing.

  5. For what it’s worth, I will miss your articles but hopefully this frees you up to do more SSG coverage. I personally feel you and Mathias Hunt have a great chemistry and are better than anything WotC has going on in their coverage.

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