Sometimes I marinate for minutes (no, tens of minutes) on clever article titles, but today's came naturally. After months of turning Eldrazi Temple sideways, I've returned to my beloved Temur Delver, and fetching out basic Island has never felt more right. I guess you don't know how dirty some things are until you stop doing them. To me, Delver of Secrets epitomizes clean, honest Magic, sitting—or, hovering—firmly across from Eye of Ugin and Goryo's Vengeance on Modern's fairness spectrum.
An audibled, awakening FNM with Monkey Grow inspired me to take the deck to SCG States. I was told the Montreal event marked Star City's official foray into the snowy wilderness of Canadian magic, and in retrospect, I would have felt guilty playing anything but my longtime favorite deck at the inaugural tournament. Tarmogoyf and pals didn't bring home a trophy, but I placed sixth and had a blast. Hopefully, this tournament inspires other dormant Delver lovers to join me in coming out of hibernation and playing Magic to its fullest.
Daddy Hooty's Home
It's hard to dissect a decklist without actually inspecting it, so here's what I played last weekend:
This build closely follows my (now only slightly outdated) guidelines for building Temur Delver in Modern. To keep things interesting, I also tried out some new tech, including the best card in Magic—basic Mountain!
More Bolts: I expected heaps of Collected Company decks at this tournament, and maybe some Affinity. Zero players sleeved up the latter, stranding my Grudges in the sideboard, but I saw some Birds of Paradise. Modern seems to be getting increasingly friendly to dork-fueled fast-mana decks. Forked Bolt is an all-star in these matchups, and Tarfire’s Battlegrowth effect for Tarmogoyf makes it the favorite against linear combo or black delve strategies.
No Traverse the Ulvenwald: Last month, I explored the possible applications of Traverse the Ulvenwald in Temur Delver. I’ve been excited to integrate delirium cards into the archetype ever since Invasive Surgery was first spoiled, but some more testing has led me to conclude that Traverse doesn’t exactly fit into this deck. Here’s why:
1. It butts heads with delve. Sometimes, we want to cast Mandrills before Traversing for another threat. Delve and delirium curdle so much that enacting that fantasy is almost never possible. Especially with a Blood Moon on board, we usually have to choose between casting Mandrills or casting Traverse in even moderately-paced games, meaning Traverse can only effectively come in for grindy matches.
2. It doesn’t get to Blood Moon fast enough. One of Traverse’s major upsides is its ability to find a Moon effect on command via Magus of the Moon. Unfortunately, paying four mana for Blood Moon really isn’t something Temur Delver can afford to do. Our other option is to Traverse for Magus now, and cast it next turn, but that alerts opponents to our game plan and gives them an opportunity to fetch a basic land. I found that in the matches we want Blood Moon for, we want to dig for it privately and play it on-curve.
3. We can’t make great use of a creature toolbox. The bullets I experimented with included Magus of the Moon, Izzet Staticaster, and Thrun, the Last Troll. Of the three, only Thrun panned out. Can you guess why? I only wanted him against grindy decks like UW Control. These matchups guarantee we’ll have delirium and delve food for Hooting Mandrills. But if we only bring Traverse in for attrition decks, why not simply run answers to attrition decks instead? By cutting the Traverses for hard copies of Thrun, for instance, we dodge disruption like Muddle the Mixture, Spellstutter Sprite, or Rest in Peace, all while paying one less mana to cast our creatures. In a deck that mostly exists because of the relevance of a one-mana Negate, Traverse's single-mana tax hurts more than it would in a midrange shell like Temur Toolbox.
Modified Revelry package: Before choosing flex spots, I recommend Monkey Grow newcomers stock their sideboard with a few tried-and-true packages. My three go-to’s include a Huntmaster package, running 3-4 copies of the Werewolf haymaker for aggro and midrange matchups alike; a Blood Moon package, playing no less than two of the powerful hoser; and a Revelry package, or a suite of versatile hate for Affinity.
Only the Revelry package got a revisit this weekend. I’d settled on a 2/2 Destructive Revelry and Ancient Grudge split after GP Charlotte, but currently, I like running Natural State over the second Revelry. State gains us points against Affinity, but loses them versus random bombs like Worship or Form of the Dragon. Since Modern is so fast, and Temur Delver often forces opponents to play quickly, I think Natural State fits into the package well.
Mountain: I had fun showing this card to opponents after matches and watching their faces contort in bewilderment. Some friends who’ve tried the deck have told me they sometimes experience difficulty casting Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells on time against aggressive decks. This issue definitely comes up sometimes, and that’s what the Mountain is for.
Against hyper-aggressive strategies, we don’t necessarily have the time or the disruption to sit around and wait for land drops to magically appear off the top of our library. Nothing’s more embarrassing than eating hits from Master of Etherium and a Plating-equipped Vault Skirge with a pair of clunky Ancient Grudges in hand. Mountain comes in for Burn, Infect, Affinity, Tron, Grishoalbrand, and other decks that punish us for missing land drops. Against the decks we want Moon for, it can also replace Breeding Pool, which threatens to delay Moon’s resolution a turn if drawn.
SCG States Report, Part I
Round 1: Gruul Zoo (2-0, win roll)
Of Modern’s many Zoo decks, Gruul is the easiest to beat. In other variants, Knight of the Reliquary and Scavenging Ooze can give us a hard time, but Gruul Zoo runs neither of these cards. We can usually force bad trades with our green creatures, and blow out Ghor-Clan Rampager tricks with Simic Charm.
I lead with a Scalding Tarn, which I crack for Steam Vents to Bolt a Goblin Guide. I follow up by fetching a Forest and resolving Tarmogoyf. My opponent responds with Kird Ape. I start swinging, Denying a Rancor and then Forked Bolting a Goblin Guide as my opponent fails to ever make a land drop beyond his first Stomping Ground. He concedes to a Hooting Mandrills.
We both mulligan, and I keep a one-lander with two Serum Visions, Bolt, Tarfire, and Mandrills. My opponent starts things off with a turn one Vexing Devil. I pay four life to kill it, and draw a second Steam Vents for turn. I shock myself and play the first one to Serum into a green source, drawing Island and seeing Scalding Tarn, Huntmaster. I scry both to the top, with Tarn first in case my opponent plays Goblin Guide. He doesn’t, instead opting for Burning-Tree Emissary and a Rancor. I play my Island, cast the second Visions, and Tarfire the emissary. My opponent plays Wild Nacatl, and I fetch-shock-Bolt it on my turn and cast Hooting Mandrills. He plays Experiment One and passes, leaving mana up to Bolt Huntmaster on my end step. I draw another one, though, and beat my opponent with Shoal in hand.
Even though it doesn't touch Ape and Nacatl, I like Pyroclasm in this matchup, since it answers boards full of Burning-Tree Emissary, Goblin Guide, and Experiment One. Blood Moon can occasionally screw Gruul Zoo, but I think it's a trap to bring it in against land-light decks that can easily fetch basics if they want to.
Round 2: Jund (1-2, win roll)
Jund is one of the decks I was hoping to dodge today, the others being Eldrazi Tron and UW Control. The deck asks us to have all the right answers at all the right times and is historically one of Temur Delver's worst matchups.
My opponent remembers me from the Super Series and correctly puts me on Temur Delver. He also keeps a magnificent hand, dismantling my own handsome seven effortlessly. He Bolts my Delver, Decays my Goyf, Terminates my Mandrills, and makes me sacrifice my second Tarmogoyf with Liliana of the Veil. I Bolt his Confidant, but a Scavenging Ooze takes the game away.
I mulligan into a slow hand with Disrupting Shoal, Curiosity, Blood Moon, and three lands. I play a land and pass, and my opponent tries Blackcleave Cliffs into Inquisition of Kozilek. I pitch Curiosity to Shoal so he doesn’t find out about the Moon, which I’m counting on to win me this game.
I play another land and pass, and my opponent plays a second Cliffs and Dark Confidant. Moon comes down and locks him out of the game, and we laugh as he flips Kolaghan's Command and then Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet to the awkward 2/1. My eventual Huntmaster eats Lightning Bolt, but his Wolf pal and a Hooting Mandrills secure the win.
I keep a one-lander with two Visions, a Goyf, Blood Moon, Mandrills, and Mana Leak. The first Visions doesn’t find me any lands, and the second gets Inquisitioned away. My opponent casts Liliana of the Veil and a Huntmaster while I take a shame bath in a lone Breeding Pool.
I learned at Charlotte to keep some number of Disrupting Shoal against Jund, since their removal spells and two-drop threats will outpace us if they can get the upper hand. Scour comes out here since they fill the graveyard for us, and Probe gets the axe since Jund frequently operates hellbent and I’d rather have a higher threat density than more air. The costs of these cantrips becomes troublesome with a Moon on the table, too, since I often only have one blue source in play.
Three Moons might seem like a lot, but Jund likes to Inquisition or Thoughtseize them away when they get the chance, making Moon sometimes function like an “extra threat”—that’s one less creature they’re stripping from our hand. They also Decay the Moon when they have shocks up to pay for the removal spell after the enchantment resolves, so I like boarding in the full three copies.
Round 3: Blue Moon (2-0, lose roll)
I play against this person almost every time I go to Face to Face, which admittedly isn’t that often anymore. The last time we dueled, she narrowly beat my Delvers in the finals of a monthly Modern tournament with UR Twin. I assumed she'd be on some sort of Snap-Bolt deck, and her turn one Scalding Tarn confirmed my suspicion.
Delver blind-flips off a Lightning Bolt and lives, but my Tarmogoyf eats a Mana Leak. Probe shows me Keranos, Snapcaster Mage, Remand, and Steam Vents, and soon my opponent starts chaining four-drops. Jace, Architect of Thought and Cryptic Command both get Leaked, and two Bolts to the head finish what the Aberration started.
This game doesn’t prove more fruitful for Modern’s castrated UR boogeyman. Delver gets Bolted this time after failing to flip, but my Probe shows no answer for this Tarmogoyf, who comes down with a Mandrills to start terrorizing my opponent. She has Dispel, Vendilion Clique, Batterskull, Engineered Explosives, Spreading Seas, and Harvest Pyre in hand, and manages to turn off my green source before snatching a Huntmaster with the Clique. I crack in for 8 and end the game next turn by bouncing Clique before blocks with Simic Charm.
Some familiarity between my opponent and I meant tensions were low, and we laughingly joked about how bad Blue Moon is. But seriously, it’s very bad. Do not play this deck. Remember how Twin couldn’t remove Tarmogoyf? Okay, now imagine that same deck trying to remove Tarmogoyf after getting Cranial Extractioned for the combo. That’s Blue Moon.
Next Time, on Hooty's House...
As with my Super Series report, great detail leaves little room on the page. Tune in next time for explosive matches against Elves, Infect, and UW Control. And if you have biting questions about my build, the tournament, or anything else, drop them in the comments and expect a formal response early next week!
Read part II here.