Kaladesh shook up Standard in a big way, and with the results of the Star City Games Milwaukee Open in the books it looks to be making its mark on Modern as well. Early on in the tournament we saw Jeff Hoogland crush Bant Eldrazi with a build of the new Jeskai Aggro deck, though as the tournament progressed, Infect and Dredge were demonstrated to be the biggest gainers in the format.
Infect wasn't able to crack the Top 8 of the event, though four copies in the Top 32 is nothing to scoff at, and Blossoming Defense absolutely made it more difficult to interact with the deck on the stack. Meanwhile, Dredge put two copies into the Top 8, with seven more copies in the Top 32. Dredge wasn't especially looking for a two-drop, though Cathartic Reunion has proven to be powerful enough to bring the deck to the forefront of the Modern format.
I can't speak to the staying power of Caleb Durward's winning Spirits list, though I love the metagame call of runner-up Samuel Jadin's Ad Nauseam. While it is true that Infect gained a lot with the printing of Blossoming Defense (Infect is Jadin's nightmare matchup), it's also true that Dredge and Burn rose to the challenge of keeping the Infect monster at bay. Not only that, but the fact that two very different proactive strategies were projected to be great choices for the weekend made it a lot harder for a blue control deck to succeed, especially with Bant Eldrazi being a feature of the format now. As such, Jadin likely played against very few decks featuring permission elements.
Dredge is the deck to beat right now, which I think will hold true despite it not taking the trophy home this weekend. Graveyard hate will be important in the coming weeks, and the other hyper-aggressive linear decks should continue to see success. This assortment of aggressive decks did a good job of suppressing Bant Eldrazi this weekend, and once you boil the tournament down to the best performing decks, it seems that Burn and Jund, with a healthy does of graveyard hate, would perform well in this field. Ad Nauseam should also continue to be a good choice as long as you can dodge the Infect matchup. Perhaps Devin Keopke's transformational sideboard with Madcap Experiment could even shore up that weakness.
When we talk about hyper-aggressive decks succeeding, that means that Tron and Bant Eldrazi will be pushed back by the speed of the format. Further, Jeskai Nahiri is all but absent from Modern right now, and with these decks fading into obscurity and the top decks being fairly easy to disrupt, I don't think you'll need two guesses to determine where my head's at. It's looking like a great time for Grixis Delver. And I'm not talking about that Young Pyromancer garbage either. Cavern of Souls and the bigger Snapcaster Mage decks are down, which will allow Grixis Delver to laser-focus on beating the successful field without having to worry about some problematic matchups. Of course, enough has happened that I won't just be able to dust off my old list. It's time for some updates.
Grixis Delver has little in the way of flex slots, though there are a couple updates to be made based on printings of new cards. Spirebluff Canal obviously is something that must be considered, though it's not actually a significant shakeup for this archetype. When I first started playing the deck I ran multiple Steam Vents and only a single Watery Grave, though Thought Scouring over your only fetchable dual of a color pair really sucks, and I don't like going below two of the blue ones. Fetchlands are also a big part of casting Tasigur, the Golden Fang on time, and as such Spirebluff Canal doesn't belong in Grixis Delver as more than a one- or two-of.
The new spell on the block to take note of is Collective Brutality. This card has really taken off in a wide variety of archetypes in Modern, and I believe it to be worthy of a maindeck slot in Grixis Delver. The Burn matchup is very close, and a maindeck haymaker should do wonders there. The card is also excellent against Infect, and it might even be possible that a second copy is worth tossing in the sideboard. Notably, Collective Brutality is also very strong against Grixis Delver, and this is just one more reason not to go below four Spell Snare.
I've seen some players adopt Ceremonious Rejection as a sideboard card, but I'm not on board. Affinity is already a very positive matchup, and the updates that I'm currently making to the deck are based on a projected downturn of Bant Eldrazi and Tron. Even if I expected these decks to be huge, cast triggers and Cavern of Souls are the problems in those matchups anyway. I don't see any reason to be sideboarding this card in Grixis Delver.
Identifying the Enemy
If the expected field consists largely of Burn, Infect, and Dredge, then the major deckbuilding constraints to focus on are keeping the deck lean, and having a great sideboard plan for Dredge. Regardless of the field, I like maindecking the full set of Mana Leak as good, generic disruption, though the more aggressive the format gets the less I like Remand. The more one- and two-mana spells you expect to interact with, the less Remand matters. It will be important to board out removal spells for counters in matchups where removal is bad, though as of now I am choosing "non-combo blue mirrors" as the category I would skimp on in the sideboard to make room for graveyard hate.
With regard to the graveyard hate that I would play, after seeing Dredge in action a lot this weekend I have decided that I want a lot of slots and that I don't want to use permanents. Dredge players are going to be boarding as if their opponents have Leyline of the Void and/or Grafdigger's Cage, and as such I would like to utilize spells that are more difficult for them to interact with. Ravenous Trap came to mind, though it doesn't play particularly well with Snapcaster Mage, and I envision wanting to Thought Scour over my hate to find it from time to time.
Given that current builds are just about Bloodghasts and Prized Amalgams, with Bridge from Below falling out of favor, Surgical Extraction looks to be perfectly positioned against the deck. Sometimes you can Ravenous Trap them and they just reset, but with Surgical Extraction you can cut them off the only cards that matter—Bloodghast, Prized Amalgam, and Narcomoeba. Notably, if you Extract Bloodghast and Narcomoeba, the stock lists won't even be able to rebuy Amalgam.
It's important to keep in mind that this build is configured for a major tournament, and is unlikely to succeed in a given self-contained metagame. If your LGS features a lot of Jeskai Control, Tron, and/or Bant Eldrazi, this build will be horrible at sideboarding against them. Outside of those decks, there really isn't a deck in Modern that I would be unhappy to pilot this deck against. Regarding Dredge and Infect, I believe that this build of Grixis Delver can easily go toe-to-toe with both decks and anybody prepared for a metagame infested with them.
One thing to keep in mind is that people will side in the graveyard hate they're packing for Dredge against you too. Grafdigger's Cage is laughably bad against this deck, as it only does anything to Snapcaster Mage, which barely matters when you consider that they basically mulligan for every Cage that they cast. Relic of Progenitus is also generally unimpressive against this deck, as Thought Scour just puts too much pressure on the card to matter in the majority of games.
I would be slightly concerned about Leyline of the Void, though you will benefit some from the fact that opponents playing Leyline against you are generally overboarding and the deck can generate hands that just don't care about Leyline at all. That said, if you're looking at playing a build similar to this deck that goes deeper on Gurmag Angler in place of Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration, you can definitely expect to get wrecked by a Leyline now and again.
In my article last week, I broke down how Bant Eldrazi is a deck that is beaten by strategies, not cards, and given that Grixis Delver is bad game one against Eldrazi, it's just unfavored in three-game sets. With a deck that's good against Eldrazi stealing the spotlight and a bunch of linear aggressive decks succeeding as well, now looks like a great time for some disruptive tempo action. Dredge is definitely a bad game one matchup for Delver, though I believe the sideboard Surgical Extractions go a long way, and every other deck from the Milwaukee Top 8 is convincingly positive.
Grixis Delver isn't for the faint of heart, and Infect and Burn are by far the most skill-testing matchups. But if you put the time in to learn the play patterns, I believe that it's a phenomenal choice right now. Just remind yourself constantly that you're a control deck, and that will make the learning process a lot easier.
Thanks for reading.
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