I won't deny that week one of Standard is an exciting time, though finding cards and an event to battle so quickly isn't a given. I had the option to stay in and watch coverage of the Baltimore Open this weekend, though the unbanning of Ancestral Vision piqued my interest in battling a local Modern event. I don't own Visions myself, yet, though local judge Steve Farkas had my back this weekend. Thanks Steve!
If you read my Insider piece last Friday, then you already know that my strategy was to play Grixis Delver and experiment with Visions in the sideboard. I think that the maindeck is great against most of the decks that you would expect to play against in Modern, and my only real concern was battling against players with Visions in their maindeck. In case you don't have Insider access (shame on you) and also for a crisp presentation, here's the list I played:
I believe that Grixis is easily the best home for Delver right now, and that Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror and Young Pyromancer are dramatically worse than Tasigur. A turn two Tasigur or a turn three Tasigur with counterspell backup is a mile ahead of what most decks in Modern are doing, and demands very specific answers immediately. What I wasn't sure of was whether Delver was good enough to put in a Grixis deck, and this weekend would put this question to the test in Visions Modern. 84 players made it out to the Level Up Cup Magic Cup Qualifier at Level Up Games in South Saint Paul, which meant we were settling in for seven rounds.
Round 1 Vs. Azorius Thopter Sword
In terms of matchups, this has be be close to my nightmare game one. My opponent was on a full set of Ancestral Vision and Thopter Foundry, as well as three Sword of the Meek. That said, my opponent's game one hand didn't come together at all, and things get much better post board. I was very fortunate that my turn one Delver just went the distance against dedicated Thopter Sword with four Path to Exile among other removal spells and sweepers.
The sideboarded games were pretty much all about Ancestral Visions. In game two my opponent resolved two to my one, and in game three I resolved one to his zero. The most interesting remark about this matchup, is that in game three I chose to take the draw, and I believe that are about to be quite a few matchups where this decision is correct. Visions mirrors are going to go long, and hitting land drops and having more counters is what the games are about. Having Visions come off suspend first is obviously ideal if it resolves, but your opponent will have access to exactly as much mana as you do at the start of the counter war if both players have hit all of their land drops, and having the extra card going into the battle is a real advantage.
Round 2 Vs. Monored Goblins
In game one my opponent led on Mogg Fanatic. This card matches up exceptionally against Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration, but my first play was a Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Some Spell Snares for Mogg War Marshal coupled with some removal spells made it easy for Tasigur to close game one. Post-board I get to bring in more removal spells and have fewer two mana counterspells, and I think this matchup is significantly favorable.
Round 3 Vs. Gruul Tron
Historically, I've won most of my matches against Tron playing Delver, though there are some things that have to go right. Specifically, you need an early threat and a healthy mix of counters. In game one, I mulliganed into four lands, Serum Visions, and Thought Scour. It's a pretty bad hand, but it's keepable. My opponent led on Urza's Mine, and when my cantrips found garbage like Terminate things only got worse as the game progressed.
In game two I kept on seven with four lands, a Tasigur, a Mana Leak and a Spell Snare. Spell Snare is great when they have Sylvan Scrying, but I really wished it was Spell Pierce when my opponent played Expedition Map. I was able to land Tasigur and connect twice with it in this game, though my topdecks were not great, and weren't enough to defeat my opponent despite him sequencing very poorly. The first haymaker that he deployed in game two was a Karn Liberated, which I hit with the Leak, and the turn after he played Ancient Stirrings finding a Wurmcoil Engine which he had mana to resolve through another Leak. Instead he played a second Karn, which I Countersqualled. If I peeled red cards from here I would have closed this game easily, though I was unable to punish my opponent for his mistake. Had he played the Wurm the first turn he had the option to though, I would have never even had a chance.
Round 4 Vs. Jund
This matchup is great for Grixis as long as you can cover Liliana of the Veil. This can be accomplished easily with counterspells and/or Snapcaster Mage, though it's not a given. Every other card in their deck can be answered cleanly by multiple spells in your deck, and Snapcaster Mage is the best card in the matchup.
While sideboarding in this match I ended up leaving Delvers in because this matchup has always been good and Delver has never been expressly bad, though later in the event I rethought this plan. Ultimately it didn't matter because this matchup is so good, but I do think I boarded incorrectly.
Round 5 Vs. Elves
I didn't see a Collected Company out of my opponent this round, and that's really their only card that matters. Cavern of Souls can be obnoxious, but unless they draw multiples you're usually able to counter something, and if it's a Company then that's great. Delver puts them on a real clock, as does Tasigur, and meanwhile you have plenty of removal to stop them from going crazy. On top of that, this is one of very few matchups where you get access to an actual factual haymaker in Engineered Explosives.
Round 6 Vs. Blue Moon
My opponent led on basic Island, and I was immediately suspicious, and I told him as much. When he played a Sulfur Falls as his second land and passed, I told him that he wasn't going to Blood Moon me, and I fetched a basic Swamp on turn two and a basic Island on turn three. On his turn four he played a Blood Moon, which I Mana Leaked because even with two basics it still makes my Snapcasters quite bad, though he had Spell Snare backup. Ultimately, he drew too many lands (his deck has more of them than mine, after all) and a second Blood Moon which allowed me to come out on top despite being limited to one blue mana and one black mana per turn for the entire game. Had I fetched a Watery Grave on turn two- which there was a high incentive to do- I would have assuredly lost this game.
Post sideboard I get to board out Delvers and Terminates for Countersqualls and Visions, and things get so much better. The knowledge that I want to actively find basics and that my opponent has no way to just kill me with early game spells is a strong advantage as well.
Round 7 Vs. Jund
The tournament was only seven rounds, and with me in tenth place going into the final round I had to battle for a Top 8 slot. I was relieved when my opponent led on Raging Ravine. After winning game one, I rethought my sideboarding from earlier and boarded out Delvers with their vulnerability to Abrupt Decay being the point that settled the debate. After the match I found out that my opponent had boarded out Decay, which was amusing, though they can't beat an Ancestral Vision anyway.
Quaterfinals Vs. Grixis Control
The good news was that I was the second seed by virtue of playing all seven rounds and not being able to ID. The bad news was that I was paired against a maindeck Ancestral Vision deck. In game one I led on a fetchland into Serum Visions, while my opponent cast an Inquisition of Kozilek. Another fetchland from my hand coupled with the card I was forced to discard gave me access to a turn two Tasigur. The Inquisition took my Spell Snare that would have been able to fight over a Terminate, so the Tasigur was vulnerable by casting it on turn two instead of waiting for Mana Leak mana, though ultimately I decided that it was better to get under opposing Mana Leak and Remand. Things worked out perfectly, and my opponent didn't have the Terminate and the Tasigur went the distance.
Once again, the sideboard makes things dramatically better for me, and now I have access to more counters and Visions of my own. Fortunately for me, my opponent didn't have an early Ancestral Vision in game two, and he died with the ones that he did draw still on suspend.
Semifinals Vs. Jund
I don't remember the exact details of game one, though what I do remember is that I was probably overly aggressive with the way I spent my interactive spells and I'm pretty sure my opponent just had a great attack on board with a 5/6 Tarmogoyf that he didn't make out of fear of dying on the way back. I'm relatively confident that I was dead on board or easily in two turns for a short window, though the way my opponent played it I was able to topdeck a lethal burn spell.
Things went much better in game two, and I never allowed my opponent to have a winning position in the first place. Sitting back on counterspells with Ancestral Vision on suspend just feels great.
Finals Vs. Abzan
Lingering Souls is about the only card that it really sucks to have your opponent cast when you're playing Delver. It's basically unbeatable. My opponent played two copies in game one. I lost and it wasn't close.
In game two I ended up winning a long game with a little help from Ancestral Vision and a lot of help from drawing both copies of Engineered Explosives to deal with Lingering Souls. This was another match where I happily took the draw, and I wouldn't consider revising this position for a second.
Game three was super disappointing. I kept a four lander with Serum Visions on the draw, and drew the fifth land on my draw step and the sixth off the Visions. There was a point in this game when I made my land drop and passed with my hand being four more lands exactly. I ended up losing to Siege Rhinos and a Liliana that actually didn't matter- cards that numerous combinations of spells from my deck could easily combat. It would have been nice to win, but more than that it was a horrible way to go out.
On the balance, I was happy with the deck, though I'm taking moving off of Delver entirely under strong consideration. I think I was too worried about drawing Visions in the matchups where it's not good, in large part because the cheap interaction and Tasigur does so much work against these decks, and minimally that Visions needs to find a way into the main. Mostly it feels terrible to not have access to Visions in all three games in the matchups where it is good.
Before Eldrazi was unleashed on the format, I was very happy to play Grixis in Modern, and with just Eye of Ugin being banned I would think the deck was great. With Ancestral Visions being unbanned on top of this, I think that Grixis is the best deck in the format by a lot. Even without Delvers in your deck, Lingering Souls is still a tough card to face down, and Abzan definitely has merit with a favorable Jund matchup and Souls to keep Grixis in check, though Grixis does have tools to keep Souls in check. Engineered Explosives is great, and if push comes to shove you can always channel Legacy sideboards and jam Sulfur Elemental.
Going forward I will be working on Grixis Control, and as of now I'm not sure that unbanning Ancestral Vision was safe- though time will tell. Interestingly, Sword of the Meek may be less good in Modern that I thought it could be given the number of decks that just don't care about the combo in addition to the number of powerful sideboard options against it. I still suspect that this combo will be a major player in Modern, though many of the cards and strategies that are strong against the deck are actually just things that people are happy to be playing anyway.
Thanks for reading.
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