I remember scrolling through Eldritch Moon spoilers and passing over Bedlam Reveler, the last card I hadn't read that day. The image was in Portuguese, and my hopes were low. "A 3/4 for 8," I actually thought to myself. "There's no way I could ever have a use for this card." But I read it anyway, and immediately knew I could not have been more wrong.
The first Bedlam Reveler decks I built explored the card's force in midrange archetypes, but it's no secret my favorite kind of Magic involves attacking with a certain 3/2 flyer. I set the bar pretty high with Delver decks, and have taken so long to publish an article on Reveler in Delver because I wanted to make sure I had something worthwhile. It might have taken a couple weeks, but I feel that way now.
My first go at marrying Bedlam Reveler and Delver of Secrets involved maxing out the Devil's numbers in an Izzet shell. This deck sought to play as low-to-the-ground as possible and use reach to put games away quickly.
Early bouts of testing with the deck showed promise. Drawing Reveler against midrange decks made games very easy. UR Bedlam still struggled against faster linear decks, which it lacked adequate interaction for. It also had a hard time beating midrange decks that could deal preemptively with Reveler (often with Thoughtseize, but sometimes with Kolaghan's Command plus Liliana of the Veil or something similar) when it didn't naturally draw more copies.
I inevitably dipped into green to compensate for this weakness with Tarmogoyf and stronger sideboard options. Here are the changes I made to the mainboard, not counting manabase specifics:
Green also let us run Traverse the Ulvenwald, a card that perfectly complements Bedlam Reveler. Early, Traverse grabs a land to help us cast the cards in our hand. Since we run so few lands to begin with, Traverse functionally costs 0 mana in this stage---we tap one land for it, search up another, play it, and finish the turn cycle with the same amount of mana we'd have had if we hadn't cast Traverse. In this sense, Traverse is another zero-mana cantrip like Gitaxian Probe.
Probe and Traverse not costing us mana makes them the best way to fill the graveyard for Bedlam Reveler. Thought Scour underwhelmed me in testing, as any copies accumulated post-"threshold" essentially taxed us mana to draw for turn. As with the Treasure Cruise decks of bygone days, Bedlam Reveler-based aggro decks tend to want all of their mana every turn, even with five or more lands in play. In Cruise decks, spare Scours would at least fuel future delve spells; here, they only slow us down.
Obviously, Traverse is bonkers in the late-game. Temur decks with multiple copies of Bedlam Reveler can easily chain Devils by Traversing for one, resolving it, drawing into either Traverse, Snapcaster Mage, or another Reveler, and repeating the card-grab the following turn.
Traverse the Ulvenwald makes it much easier to access Bedlam Reveler when we need him, turning our midrange matchups into massacres. But it didn't do much to address the UR deck's other weakness: its difficulty interacting with certain linear strategies. Failing to draw boarded-in permission against decks like Grishoalbrand meant certain doom unless we managed to race to 20, a feat complicated by turn-eaters like Phyrexian Unlife or fast mana from Simian Spirit Guide. Our wealth of cantrips also made us worse than dedicated aggro decks such as Burn in these matchups.
To be totally clear, I would not return to this deck, which I now consider unfocused. Testing has shown me that a more interactive strategy compliments Reveler better than one watered down with Lava Spikes. Adding green slows the deck down but improves its interactive capabilities, making the Spikes even more out of place. I do think Reveler has potential in a straight UR shell more slanted toward aggression, but I lack the desire to explore that shell for myself.
Becoming a Delver Deck
After a week of testing, I cut the red sorcery for actual interaction. Mainboard permission would turn this deck into a true grow strategy and potentially supplant my darling Monkey Grow. This prospect scared me at first, but now I'm learning to stop worrying and love the Bedlam Reveler.
There's a lot to unpack here, so I'll break down the list in terms of its primary components: threats, permission, and removal. Then, we'll look at the sideboard and compare Traverse Delver to Monkey Grow.
The cantrips and manabase are relatively straightforward, so we'll leave those for another day. Much of what I have to say about Delver of Secrets, Tarmogoyf, Lightning Bolt, and other Temur Delver staples remains constant for this deck, so we'll also be skipping over those.
Bedlam Reveler: The reason to play Traverse the Ulvenwald in Temur Delver, and perhaps the reason to play Delver in Modern. Reveler is a nightmare for interactive decks and creature decks alike, refilling us on damage outputs and cheap removal at the same time. I don't like more than three since we can find him with Traverse, and a resolved Devil wastes others in hand by discarding them.
Snapcaster Mage: I started with one Snap in the deck, and moved to two when I realized I wanted to draw one naturally and have the other in the deck as a Traverse target. The second Snap may still get cut in the future, but I'm a fan right now. Having two allows us to pitch one to Disrupting Shoal without losing Snap's immense versatility later in the game. Snapcaster's main purpose in this deck is to drastically improve Traverse the Ulvenwald, turning the sorcery into either a permission spell for next turn, a bounce spell for an enemy wall, or a burn spell for lethal. Snap is also great in attrition matchups and against blue decks, but we can't run more than a couple, since he cannibalizes Bedlam Reveler. We also don't need much help against those decks.
Delver of Secrets: I'm only including a section on this little guy to mention that we frequently board him out. We can blank an interactive opponent's Lightning Bolts by removing Delvers, further putting them at a disadvantage.
Ryan Overturf pioneered the now-standard sideboard playset of Ancestral Visions in Grixis Delver, and often cut Delver for them in Game 2. We already have the Vision mained, and on a 3/4 body to boot. Swapping the easily-killable Delver of Secrets for efficient disruption like Dispel and Blood Moon makes our already-positive midrange matchups even better without costing us any sideboard slots.
Disrupting Shoal: I messed around with Spell Pierce, Mana Leak, Spell Snare, and Stubborn Denial before even trying Shoal, but the free counterspell seems like the best one for us. Even Lightning Bolt decks can struggle against the format's linear behemoths; just look to Infect and Affinity's recent success despite inhabiting a field heavy on Jund and Jeskai. Shoal allows us to get very aggressive early on against midrange while giving us extra points against these linear decks.
Since Reveler's draw power lets us make so many land drops, Shoal's hard-cast mode always comes up by the mid-game, and gives us the same invincible feeling we get while beating down with a threat and holding Stubborn Denial or Simic Charm in Monkey Grow. Few decks can claim a hard counterspell in the late-game, and those that can don't count on that counterspell (usually Cryptic Command) doing anything in the first four turns. Conversely, Shoal interacts as of turn zero.
The main issue with other counterspells is that they're sometimes dead---some in the late-game (Leak, Pierce), some on an empty board (Denial), and others at random times (Snare). Dead cards usually end up being lost to Reveler triggers in this deck. Monkey Grow can "go Infect" on interactive decks, stockpiling Denials and Charms until it finds a Hooting Mandrills, at which point those protection spells turn on and ensure victory against opponents loading up on Path to Exiles. Bedlam Reveler doesn't allow this plan, since he throws all those cards away when he hits the field. Shoal is never dead---since mid-game Shoals counter one-, two-, three-, and sometimes four-drops, we're happy to simply pass the turn to opponents behind or even on the board until we can trade it for one of their cards, and then play Bedlam Reveler.
Remand: Like Disrupting Shoal, Remand is always live in some capacity. That doesn't mean it's always good. Against decks like Affinity and Burn, it's actively abysmal. Luckily, we already have enough game against linear aggro decks thanks to our burn suite, sideboard hosers, and Disrupting Shoal to cede a few "Leak points" with this old Twin staple.
Those linear decks we already beat can almost never play around Mana Leak, but Leaks die in a multitude of other matchups as games progress. As explained above, it's too volatile to run alongside Bedlam Reveler. Remand at least cycles into something else during topdeck wars, unlike more situational counterspells.
The card is also just better than Leak against a host of Modern strategies. It steals huge amounts of tempo from Tron, Valakut, and Chord, and even blows out spell synergy decks abusing Eldritch Evolution (the creature is still sacrificed) or Ad Nauseam (the Angel's Grace is still wasted). In blue mirrors, Remand is our best card, bouncing cards opponents try to counter and ruining Snapcaster Mage abilities. Remand also shines against Lingering Souls, a card that has always posed some issues for Delver players.
Monkey Grow prefers Mana Leak because it needs hard answers to cards that interrupt its gameplan. Siege Rhino, Tasigur, Tarmogoyf, and Liliana of the Veil can all stop Monkey Grow cold if they resolve, either on this turn or the next. Traverse Delver cares less about those cards, since it out-resources interactive opponents with Bedlam Reveler.
Tarfire: I've found loading up on relevant instants and sorceries far more efficient than running pure air like Thought Scour. In many matchups, playing a functional seven Bolts makes things a breeze (Infect, CoCo/Chord, Affinity, etc.). That Tarfire turns on Traverse the Ulvenwald so much faster brings the card over the edge.
Vapor Snag: One of Modern's strongest tempo cards, Snag mainly helps us push through damage. It also disrupts creature combos and saves our threats from removal (if inefficiently). It combines with Remand to severely disadvantage players with pricey threats, and nerfs cards that might otherwise hassle us like Scavenging Ooze and Threads of Disloyalty.
Snag also interacts well with Bedlam Reveler, allowing us to continue drawing by bouncing our own Reveler and casting him again. Bouncing Reveler in response to a removal spell generally makes it impossible for interactive opponents to come back from the card deficit.
Simic Charm: I started with three Snags in this deck before cutting one for Simic Charm. Charm is another two-drop to pitch to Disrupting Shoal, and its other modes are relevant enough that I'm happy to have a copy in the deck. With so much draw power, having a protection effect handy isn't as crucial as it is to Monkey Grow, and Charm is a two-mana Vapor Snag in some cases. Given these faults, I wouldn't play more than one right now, especially since Snapcaster can provide us with extra Charm effects if we need them.
Traverse Delver's sideboard takes after Monkey Grow's in many ways, but defects in others. We'll consider the discrepancies.
No Huntmasters: The main difference is the absence of Huntmaster of the Fells. Huntmaster fulfills two roles in the Monkey Grow sideboard: he stabilizes against aggro when we take on a midrange role, and he combines with Blood Moon to give us a viable plan against dedicated midrange decks. Reveler already does both of these things in this deck, handing us more interaction against aggro and more threats against midrange.
Some colleagues have asked me if we could play one Huntmaster, which we can find with Traverse. My response is in that stage in the game, we'd almost always find a Bedlam Reveler. Additionally, drawing tap-out bombs like Huntmaster doesn't mesh with our primary gameplan of tearing through the deck with Reveler.
Anger over Pyroclasm: The sweeper package also gets an update, transitioning from Pyroclasm to Anger of the Gods. Anger is a major upgrade in decks that reliably hit RR, which is trivial in a deck accommodating Reveler. To its credit, Pyroclasm is significantly better against Affinity, where it comes down a crucial turn early to take out Springleaf Drum's operators and slow the robots down. But Anger outshines it versus Abzan Company, Zoo, and Dredge.
State over Revelry: The Revelry package plays Natural State instead of Destructive Revelry, which isn't efficient enough for what we want to be doing: killing Rest in Peace. Since State costs one less mana, it's naturally better in a deck that wants to rapidly load up the graveyard with cheap interaction and maximize mana efficiency even in grindier games. Monkey Grow didn't mind spending a little extra post-board, since it had less to do with its mana anyway, and preferred gleaning value from flashier cards.
New flex spots: Removing Huntmasters suddenly gives the Temur Delver sideboard a bunch of flex spots. I'm currently trying 2 Dispel, 2 Roast, a Feed the Clan, and a Vendilion Clique in these spots. I like them all, but time will tell which cards (if any) could better address the deck's issues as they begin to manifest themselves. Other possible options include Disdainful Stroke, Send to Sleep, and Negate.
Comparing Traverse Delver to Monkey Grow
I've cast enough Gitaxian Probes in my lifetime to guess what readers are thinking as they skim my article for decklists. Your current burning question: what does Traverse Delver have over Monkey Grow? I've kept this question in the forefront of my own mind during every game I played with the new deck, and here's what I've found.
Pros: Instead of almost always losing to BGx, we crush BGx. We also crush other midrange decks, which went either way for Monkey Grow.
Cons: We lose Stubborn Denial (somewhat impacting our Tron and combo matchups) and are weaker to grave hate. Huntmaster of the Fells gave us a plan that totally ignored grave hate, which Traverse Delver notably lacks. Luckily, most grave hate currently played in Modern is of the Grafdigger's Cage variety. Ancient Grudge and Natural State come in from the board to address this issue by cleaning up copies of Relic of Progenitus and Rest in Peace. (Nobody plays Leyline of the Void.)
Neutral: Traverse Delver plays more reactively, as Reveler rewards us for playing this way. Unlike Monkey Grow, we can't rush out Hooting Mandrills on turn two with Denial backup, and therefore can't be as proactive. Remand also gives us a compelling reason to play more slowly against blue decks. This point is possibly a con, since Modern favors proactive decks, but we interact so well I'm not sure it's something to be concerned about.
The Start of Something New
As soon as Bedlam Reveler was spoiled, I knew Traverse Delver was the Reveler deck I was bound to play. I'm happy I finally got around to putting it together and feel I've engineered something very powerful. Barring some unforeseen revelation, I'll be playing this deck deep into the summer, and taking it to high-profile events in August. Modern Nexus will be the first to hear about Bedlam Reveler's successes and failures in my supple hands. Wish me and our hot-headed newcomer luck!