Insider: Developing and Investing Around Modern Delirium

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If you're reading this after 10:00 am, Central Time, you'll be too busy rejoicing about the death of Eldrazi to think about the powerful delirium options from Shadows. If you're reading it before then, you'll be too distracted by the upcoming announcement to imagine a Modern world without Eldrazi. I know I've had a countdown on my desk since the Grand Prix weekend.

Just to get it out of the way, and for those readers who check in before the official announcement goes live, I'm predicting either an Eye of Ugin ban or a dual Eye and Eldrazi Temple ban, with the former scenario being slightly more likely. Rest in pieces, Eldrazi as we knew it. You will not be missed.

Eldrazi's demise today, or at least their severe de-powering, returns Modern to some semblance of its pre-Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch state I reported on back in February on Modern Nexus. That's good news to some but disappointing to others---it's easy to get bored with the Modern Tier 1 canon.

For those who want something new in Modern beyond Infect, Affinity, Burn and Jund (and perhaps an Eyeless R/G Tron), Shadows over Innistrad offers a new mechanic to get the creative energies churning: delirium.

Modern Gone Delirious

Shadows brings 27 delirium candidates to Modern, even if only a handful of those are likely to prove playable. At least one, the toolboxy Traverse the Ulvenwald, is looking to make waves in the format while others promise some sideboard and even tiered maindeck appearances.

Of course, delirium isn't quite as easily fulfilled as the text box of its inspiration, Tarmogoyf. Counting only your own graveyard, delirium forces you to jump through a few hoops to maximize the mechanic. Thankfully, Modern has all the tools you need to make those leaps and go delirious.

Today, we'll go over the fundamentals of the delirium shell in Modern, highlighting major playables and where you should invest your money ahead of Shadows' legalization.

Going Delirious over Traverse

I rarely pre-order cards because most pre-sale prices are simply too high. Players, pricers and pickers often underestimate how much a card will get opened, overestimate how impactful the cards will be, and overlook the history of past set releases. This is doubly true for non-rotating formats, where the bar to entry is high and the metagame is relatively solidified.

Shadows got me to break my rule, first with Thing in the Ice (a card undervalued when I bought it but absurdly overvalued now), and then with Traverse the Ulvenwald. I don't think Traverse is the next coming of Green Sun's Zenith, but I do see it as a potent Tier 2 contender in the post-Eldrazi Modern.


Evaluating Traverse comes down to three questions:

1. Is Lay of the Land good in Modern?

Nope. Traverse's non-delirious mode is bad, and also no Zenith into Dryad Arbor. It's a consolation prize en route to the big payoff, but you're not playing Traverse for its pre-delirium effect.

That said, it's worth noting that Traverse decks will likely run lower land counts to maximize delirium enablers, which makes the early mana fixing marginally better than Lay of the Land in a vacuum.

2. Is a one-mana, sorcery-speed Eladamri's Call/Sylvan Scrying hybrid good in Modern?

Yes, yes, yes. Please, sir, may I have another? Once Traverse goes delirious, it becomes one of the best tutors in Magic, let alone in Modern.

Let's start with the Scrying mode, which is fine but not spectacular. Most decks playing Traverse won't have a lot of land bullets, although you might see this grab the occasional Kessig Wolf Run to close a stall. Ghost Quarter and Tectonic Edge are also options, especially against Affinity, Infect, Tron, and a manland midrange grindfest. If Eldrazi Temple survives, busting up Temple/Vesuva will be relevant as well.

Traversing the Modern Landscape

The creature mode, on the other hand, is absolutely nuts. It's a straight Green Sun's Zenith that doesn't need to fetch green creatures. Zenith put a creature into play for one mana plus X, where X was their casting cost. Traverse puts it into your hand for one mana, where you can then cast it for their casting cost.

That is to say, it's the exact same thing (minus the Arbor application and the reshuffle), except any creature is at your fingertips.

Magus of the Moon when you need the Blood Moon shutdown? Done. Snapcaster Mage to re-buy a Bolt or counterspell? Done and done: once for the Snapcaster and once for the second Snapcaster you fetch by rebuying the initial Traverse for value. Spellskite for defense or anti-Infect and Bogles interaction? Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker as part of some Temur Twin revival?

Traverse enables it all. And that doesn't even mention all the juicy green targets, especially your 5/6 or bigger Tarmogoyfs.

Traversing the Modern Toolbox

As a preview of the next section, I've focused on Temur-colored creatures because these fit the delirium-enabling shell. You can definitely try other color options, but you'll get the most mileage from Temur. Why? Because although Traverse's delirium mode is clearly Modern material, its power is predicated entirely on the third evaluation question...

3. How easy is it to achieve delirium in Modern?

That's the million dollar question. Or rather, the $3.99 question if you're pre-ordering Traverse, and the $10-$15 question if you're thinking about the card's short-term ceiling.

Non-delirium Traverse is clearly unplayable. Delirium Traverse would have been broken if printed on a card without a requirement. This means the most important, and also least certain, question is about delirium as a condition, not Traverse as a card.

Thankfully, as this article's feature art suggested, Modern has ample tools to get delirium online and, just as importantly, synergize with Traverse in a competitive shell.

Achieving Delirium: Temur Style

Sorry, Sultai, Abzan and Jund mages. Although your colors can attain delirium with some of the effects in this section, Temur is often going to be the best of the bunch. This is due to a unique combination of enablers like Thought Scour and graveyard synergies such as Snapcaster Mage. Other pairings can pick up some of the tech in this section, but Temur is going to be the best at pushing it.

Before we talk about delirium activators, we need to do a quick, high-level review of what does and does not fulfill delirium.

  • Common card types: sorcery, instant, land, and creature
    Most delirium decks are going to have no trouble getting a sorcery, instant, and land in the graveyard. Creature too, but only to a lesser extent---you'll have a little less control over binning a creature than the other three types. Of these, lands are the easiest (fetches), followed by instant (Bolt, Scour, countermagic), and sorcery (Serum Visions, excess Traverses, etc.). You'll get creatures in the yard as they die, but you probably won't be playing too many sacrificial lambs whose purpose is to fuel delirium.
  • Uncommon card types: artifact, enchantment, planeswalker, and tribal
    Looking beyond the big four, Modern offers four other card types to satisfy your delirious needs. Tribal, particularly Tarfire, is easily the best of the lot, fulfilling not just one but two types in one card (the powerful Tarfire is both "tribal" and "instant"). After that, artifacts are the next easiest to include with a variety of powerful effects that involve sacrifice, followed by planeswalkers and enchantments.

The Tribal Renaissance

  • Supertypes don't count
    Legendary, snow and arcane don't help us get delirium any faster. That's probably a good thing because Disrupting Shoal would be really unfair in Tempo Delirium otherwise.
  • Don't play bad cards
    Final word of caution before we get to delirium specifics: don't play bad cards just to enable the mechanic. Delirium, like delve before it, is at its best when you're just being rewarded for playing a game of Magic. Tarfire is a highly relevant removal spell that kills dorks, trumps most of Affinity, Infect and Burn, and gives you extra late-game reach. Crib Swap? If you're paying three mana to kill a creature, you're not removing the creature---the creature is removing your spell.

To some extent, we can challenge the "don't play bad cards" paradigm by arguing for newfound relevance in the context of delirium. For instance, Seal of Fire was on the wrong side of the "borderline" tracks before, even with its Tarmogoyf synergy. Delirium gives it a nice push over the line.

With this framework in mind, let's delve into Modern's best Temur delirium enablers.

Blue - Cantripping, Digging & Discarding

Serum Visions is no Preordain, but it's still one of the best cards in Modern and arguably the most consistently strong turn one play outside of "Noble Hierarch/Birds of Paradise, go."

From a delirium perspective, Visions gets a sorcery into the graveyard and sets up two more draws to help fill any unmet card types before you fire the turn two or three Traverse. All of these factors make Visions a natural cornerstone in any delirium deck.

Speaking of cantrips, we're playing a blue-based graveyard deck, so we're also playing Thought Scour. Scour isn't often better than Visions, but when it is it's by a lot and Temur Delirium decks are poised to maximize this cantrip.

We already know the deck has unorthodox card types on top of the more basic ones. This means Scour's floor is putting at least two types into the yard (instant automatically and then maybe a creature, land, or sorcery). Its ceiling is immediate delirium activation as early as turn two.

Add Scour's natural synergy with Tarmogoyf and Snapcaster Mage, two other cards we're already probably running, and we got us a one-drop winner.

There are plenty of other blue enablers and synergies we could discuss, but Standard coverage is at its springtime peak and all I can think about is Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Jace isn't quite the powerhouse in Modern as in Standard, but he's seen play and is bound to see more as delirium decks carve out a niche.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Jace, Vryn's Prodigy

Like Snapcaster Mage, Jace rewards you for filling the graveyard, buying back effects as the game draws on. Unlike Mage, Jace goes to work fulfilling delirium a turn after he hits the battlefield, discarding unused card types to efficiently enable delirium. Jace looting has the added bonus of further growing your Tarmogoyfs and giving even more mileage to Snapcasters.

From a financial perspective, the big winners here are foil copies of Scour and Jace himself, which feels like he can't get much more expensive but will keep rising if Modern picks him up in earnest.

Right now, he's sustaining his price tag based primarily off Standard demand, with some residual Modern price memory thrown in. If Temur Delirium decks hit Tier 2 and Jace is part of them, he'll only go up. And you thought the Year of Jace was just a Standard phenomenon!

Red - Fired Up

We're playing a red deck that isn't Affinity or Tron, so we're automatically playing the Lightning Bolt playset.

Don't negotiate those slots---post-Eldrazi Modern is going to be infested with Affinity, Infect, Burn and Zoo variants, Merfolk, and other random aggressive decks. Nothing busts up early aggression quite like Bolt. You'll even have Abzan Company dorks to zap, with the Company players coming off a post-Eldrazi high.

Bolt adds an instant to the card type bucket, but red can do better than that with the Bolt-lite, card type-heavy, Tarfire. Don't let the strictly better Shock fool you---this card is much more playable than its paltry damage stats would have us believe.

Remember all those aggressive decks I listed above? For most of them, with bigger Zoo variants being a notable exception, there's no difference between a turn one Shock or Bolt. Both kill all the Goblin Guides, Blighted Agents, Signal Pests, and Master of the Pearl Tridents in the world.

Sure, you'll hit Monastery Swiftspears and Wild Nacatls that are either out of Tarfire range or threaten it, but for the most part, the two burn spells are interchangeable in the aggressive matchup.

Thinking about delirium, Tarfire contributes two types with one card, making it an excellent early play and an even better mill off Thought Scour. It's also a quick and dirty way to grow Tarmogoyf to 5/6, and was already a trick Jund decks were running as a singleton.

On the topic of old Jund tricks getting new relevance, here's a Nemesis throwback ready to return to the tournament spotlight.

Both Tarfire and Seal of Fire bite for two damage, but the similarities mostly end there. Seal is sorcery-speed to cast, but gives you better mana efficiency in subsequent turns. As a tradeoff (which isn't always a tradeoff!) your opponent will know it's coming. Seal also can't get flashed back with Snapcaster Mage, but it also contributes "enchantment" to your card type roster. Early delirium and a 6/7 Tarmogoyf, anyone?

I expect to see the Tarfire and Seal of Fire package in any red-based delirium deck, especially Temur. You probably won't see more than 3-4 cards total between the pair (heavier on Tarfire). Financially, these cards had enough reprints that you are unlikely to make too much investing in the red side of the shell.

Final note on red: Faithless Looting gets a lot better in a post-delirium world.

If you're in Temur you probably don't need Looting on top of Visions and Scour. But if you're in Jund, Naya, or some other zany red-based delirium combo, Looting is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Green - Oath of the Tarmogoyf

With Traverse the Ulvenwald we're already stuck in green. Might as well make the most of it by playing the number one Modern beatstick and poster-child who grows to monstrous new stats in his new delirium shell.

Sorry, budget-minded players. Tarmogoyf is only going to get pricier as delirium keeps being a big Modern player. The inevitable Eternal Masters reprint will help rein in the creature's price-tag, but this will likely be counterbalanced by more players joining Modern and Legacy, and picking up Tarmogoyf decks.

If you're playing Traverse you're also going to play Tarmogoyf. Don't try and tech your way out of it---a Traverse deck is all but guaranteed to see 5/6 Tarmogoyf s and could grow them to 6/7 or even 7/8 territory as early as turn three. Besides, Traverse tutors for your Tarmogoyfs and ensures you have the monsters on the battlefield whenever you need to get the clock going.

Tarmogoyf isn't exactly a card you can still speculate on, but a much-hyped green enchantment presents riper pickings.

Dubbed "the green Ponder" by many, Oath of Nissa never materialized in Modern over the past months, although that undoubtedly had something to do with an unstable, post-Splinter Twin metagame and the Eldrazi hegemony. With delirium here to stay, Oath gets substantially better, both as a way to dig for your creatures and lands and as yet another enchantment to fuel the Shadows mechanic.

The legendary supertype doesn't help delirium directly, but makes a big contribution indirectly by allowing future Oaths to kill off early ones. This gives Oath a natural way to get in the graveyard, on top of synergies with Scour and Jace. Those 6/7 Tarmogoyfs are looking more plausible by the minute.

Oath of Nissa's stock is heavily dependent on the metagame. An aggressive metagame is going to favor more Seal of Fires in the enchantment slot. Grindier metagames will see a return to the card selection of Oath, which is not a great drop on turns 1-3 against decks like Affinity but is substantially better in the Jund, Abzan, and Grixis slog. This suggests Oath will start getting better in the Stage 1 or Stage 2 Modern metagame after the initial post-Eldrazi linear storm.

Artifacts - A Delirious Sacrifice

Whether you're in Temur or trying other colors, artifacts give you plenty of potential to add yet another card type to your graveyard. 8/9 Tarmogoyf, here we come!! If you're in a tempo deck, by far the most interesting card with by far the highest financial payoff is the Coldsnap uncommon made famous by delve in 2015.

This card already jumped from sub-$2.00 levels in early 2015 to the $10-$12 range in just a year, and delirium promises to make Mishra's Bauble even better.

If you're a deck builder, just remember not to include too many do-nothing effects in your delirium deck. Setting up delirium is great as long as you also aren't dying to an Affinity swarm on turn three. If you're an investor, look for any sign of a breakout delirium deck with Bauble. The ceiling on this is well over $10-$12 if the deck catches on.

Outside of Bauble, you'll want to look at any artifacts you can sacrifice for an effect. This ensure you can both voluntarily get the cards into the yard, or pitch them off Scour, Jace, or Looting. You don't want to play bad cards in trying to jam artifacts into your deck, but Modern has plenty of useful, playable effects to slip into unoccupied slots.

Artifacts for the Delirious

I'm partial towards Engineered Explosives, which has been sideboard material in various Modern decks for ages and is more maindeckable than ever with delirium. You can also use cards like Pithing Needle and Phyrexian Revoker in these slots. They are generally useful, can hit the yard off your discards/mills, and, in the case of Revoker, might die naturally anyway.

Delirious Excitement for Post-Shadows Modern

I spent most of today extolling Temur and Traverse the Ulvenwald, but these cards are not the only delirium winners in Shadows. Moldgraf Scavenger, aka baby Tarmogoyf, is still a 3/4 for two mana: nothing to sneeze at and a possible "Tarmogoyf numbers 5 and 6" in the right shell.

To the Slaughter is great in the Jund mirror, or in black delirium decks looking to trump Jund players, but be careful of using it against Abzan's Lingering Souls.


Thinking a little deeper, I actually really like Autumnal Gloom on paper. A 4/4 hexproof is extremely hard to kill in Modern, and trample prevents the elemental from getting chumped all game long. Topplegeist has a relevant effect with immediate impact, but is currently homeless. Hatebears and Death & Taxes decks that want the spirit are also bad delirium enablers.

Even if other delirium cards don't pan out, I'm still jazzed for Traverse the Ulvenwald and you can bet I'll be trying it out in various shells. This includes Temur Tempo, Temur Midrange, Temur Kiki-Jiki, and even my eight-Forest Goblin Charbelcher deck, now with more Oaths than ever before!

Until next time, enjoy the post-Eldrazi world and let me know in the comments if you have any questions about delirium, the delirium enablers, the April 4 banlist changes, and the metagame going forward. Get excited, deliriously so, for the new Modern!

2 thoughts on “Insider: Developing and Investing Around Modern Delirium

  1. Thank you Mr. Lardner for a very well written, in-depth article. This is exactly the type and caliber of forward-thinking, excellently presented, articles this site should be producing. Well done.

    1. Happy to hear you enjoyed! This kind of topic definitely deserves an in-depth analysis, and I hope to see many Temur and tempo/midrange players use it in the new Modern.

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