Insider: The Black-Green Menace and Its Blue-White Nemesis

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A couple weekends ago, I watched most of the Star City Open in Knoxville. If you caught any coverage of this event or looked over the top 32 deck lists, then you know that Black-Green Delirium is seriously dominating in Standard right now. I knew a lot of players were rocking this deck, but I had no idea the format was skewed this far. The top 32 was littered with copies of this deck. I was astonished that there were 15 copies in the top standings of this event. Fifteen copies! That’s nearly half of the top 32. Here’s the complete archetype breakdown.

15 BG Delirium
10 UW Flash
1 Jeskai Control
1 WR Midrange
1 WR Vehicles
1 WR Humans
1 Mardu Vehicles
1 BG Aetherworks
1 BR Zombies

So our metagame right now is basically two decks and some other archetypes trying to regain a foothold. Before actually breaking down the numbers for each deck, it appeared there were more Delirium decks and fewer Flash decks, but both seem to be out of hand. There are similarities in the decks trying to pilot vehicles as well, so we could maybe add that as a third archetype to the meta, but it seems to have been sufficiently hated out at this point. These two decks that have found success are the decks that had positive matchups with the vehicles decks that drove circles around us at the beginning of the format, but I don’t think we’ve adjusted past that point yet.

BG Delirium

To start off today, we need to dissect this deck wreaking havoc on the meta. Take a look at the version that won the tournament.

I can’t stop thinking about this deck. I keep thinking: what makes this deck so good? When I look over this deck list and inspect it card by card, none of the components seem too powerful that they should be taking over a format like this. There are some cards that stand out in power level though.

One reason why this Delirium deck is consistently powerful is because of Grim Flayer. Once I made the connection that Grim Flayer is Standard’s Tarmogoyf, the pieces of the puzzled started clicking in place. This happened in conjunction with a conversation my friends and I were having about how this deck was basically the same as Jund. It’s a midrange deck with removal spells and a little bit of built-in virtual card advantage. Grim Flayer is the set up for all these pieces to fall into place as well.

One of the best advantages of Grim Flayer so far has been its consistent price. Despite most of the other Standard cards dipping value, Flayer has had a steady price. Not only has it seen some modest amounts of Modern play, but as a Staple of Standard, I expect it to continue to hold strong.

Liliana, the Last Hope is the main reason that aggressive strategies have trouble against BG Delirium. Not only does this deck provide big bodies to clog the ground with, but it also shrinks or kills the little dudes that try to swarm the board. That’s why UW Flash has a decent matchup against the deck – not many of its creatures are effected by the shrinking ability as they would be in another deck.

I feel like I’ve adjusted the price on Liliana so many times since her release but I think she’s stabilized now at just under $40. This Liliana is also following the same pattern as Grim Flayer, with some play in Modern and as a mainstay in Standard so I’d expect their price models to flow similarly.

For some reason, Mindwrack Demon flew under the radar for a long time. When it first came out, I couldn’t keep them in stock, but yet no one seemed to be playing them competitively. Yet I had to buy them very aggressively just to keep them in stock. When Kaladesh was released, one of the decks I worked a ton on looked a lot like this Delirium deck, except I tried to squeeze in some of the emerge dudes too. Now we have a streamlined version of the deck with Mindwrack as a big part of the strategy.

One of the best aspects of this flyer is that it can block the other flyers in the meta like Smuggler's Copter or Spell Queller. Flying is super important right now, as it’s really the flyers fighting against the flyers. All other creature decks are at a disadvantage because they cannot block any of the flyers from the two dominant decks.

Even as an essential part of the Delirium puzzle, Mindwrack still is not very valuable. The main factor to remember here is that this mythic was released as a Dual Deck foil, so the market has many more copies than it otherwise would. Without this promo holding the price down, I think we’d be seeing a $10 or more price tag on this one.

Finally, the true powerhouse of Standard’s number-one menace is Ishkanah, Grafwidow. Iskhanah is the Broodmate Dragon or Wingmate Roc of this archetype. She’s the windmill slam that stabilizes the board or halts the attacks of your opponents so that you can take the winning position. Without this legendary spider, the best deck in Standard likely wouldn’t be the best deck at all. It would still have Mindwrack to help with opposing flyers, but I don’t think that would be enough in the current meta.

With how impactful this creature is, I was surprised the price came in under $10. I think the comparison to Wingmate Roc is a great one, because their prices seem to be following the same patterns. I think it would take a lot for the Grafwidow to bump up above her current price point.

UW Flash

The other deck wrecking tournaments lately has been UW Flash. This deck should surprise no one because it was a solid contender last season and it lost very few cards in the transition to this season. Let’s take a look at what this deck is doing.

UW Flash is a great tempo deck that takes advantage of setting back the opponent and uses that time to build their board position. Many of the spells can be played on the opponent’s turn, hence the Flash name. I mentioned a couple weeks ago that players would be drawn to this strategy simply because it plays similarly to previous strategies like this. As it turns out, many players adopted this deck.

Some have put their own mark on the deck by changing up a couple cards in it, but for the most part, the strategy has stayed the same. Some cards you might see are Always Watching, Elder Deep-Fiend or a couple extra aggressive creatures. Other than that, you know what you’re getting into when you sit down across from this deck.

I know this may seem obvious, but Smuggler's Copter is a really good Magic card. We were all threatened by the blistering speed of WR Vehicles at the beginning of the format, but there turned out to be a strong counter to that strategy. The real home for this vehicle is UW Flash.

It still surprises me that a deck geared towards playing spells on the opponent’s turn would tap mana on its own turn for a card like this, but there's a reason it makes sense. Whenever I’m playing a deck like this, I always want strong threats to play on my turn after playing something on my opponent’s. This way if they deal with my flash threat, my follow-up play will stick. UW Flash does this extremely well with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but I think Copter fills this role as well. Usually you want your more expensive spells as a follow-up play, but although it costs two mana, Copter impacts the game like a four-drop.

Additionally, there are some threats like Thraben Inspector and Spell Queller that sometimes sit around unable to attack. We can utilize these cards to pilot the vehicle and still protect whatever spell is locked under Queller.

Speaking of Spell Queller, one of the best tempo plays you can make in this deck is disrupting your opponent by stealing their play. Spell Queller is a more versatile version of Banisher Priest, except this time you can nab planeswalkers or powerful spells and not just creatures. I don’t think Queller can ever really be impactful in a Lightning Bolt format, and I’m surprised the two-mana answers we do have in Standard, like Harnessed Lightning or Grasp of Darkness, aren’t good enough.

Basically any card you can lock down is a card your opponent doesn’t have access to, and the fewer resources they can utilize, the better. The best play is hitting their most powerful spell, but sometimes it’s good enough to just hit their removal spell. Some decks only run a few removal spells, so if you hide it with Queller, they may not be able get their card back.

I don’t anticipate much growth or decay in the price of Spell Queller any time soon. The current price already seems like a steal to me, but it’s looking quite stable.

Let me shed a little finance perspective on Selfless Spirit for you. Certainly a protection creature like this efficient flyer is a great addition to any deck, and we’ve seen its inclusion in a variety of strategies. We’ve also seen it become yet another card porting over to Modern.

One of the problems with all of these great cards being in the same set is that their prices balance out with the other cards in the set. The total amount a set can be worth has a ceiling, and once the value of a set breaches that peak, dealers will just start opening more product to sell the singles.

Selfless Spirit falls into the category of being impacted by this truth. There are better cards than it in the set, and even though it’s an amazing card, those other cards are still worth more money. So, unless something happens to open up a higher value slot in the set, this spirit will be held in check by the other more valuable cards.

I love the idea of this flyer in Modern though, especially when you can cast Chord of Calling to find it. Hard casting it is fine as well since it provides a relevant clock and prevents your opponent from killing your creatures (other than with Path to Exile).

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Archangel Avacyn is one of the most busted creatures I’ve seen in a long time. At this point, we’ve all been blown out by her flashing in during combat to ruin our attack. If your goal is to flip her, though, that can be a harder job to accomplish than it seems at first glance. This may be a long shot, but I think she might be good enough for Modern since you can hold up counter magic – and then when the coast is clear, flash her in instead.

Financially speaking, she’s been holding steady between $15 and $20 for a while now. When I saw her printed, I knew she would be a format all-star for her duration in Standard. I expect that to stay true as her price should stay stable. She’s a casual favorite, although many casuals think her price is too high and would rather jump on Gisela, the Broken Blade or Sigarda, Heron's Grace.

Where the Meta is Headed

Alright, so we know what the best two decks are – what are we going to do about it? We still have some time until Aether Revolt is released towards the end of January. Will that set shake things up in the metagame? More than likely we will be getting some other artifact tools to work with. Maybe that will help out some preexisting strategies or enable others to emerge.

I don’t think we’re done with this format yet, though. What about the emerge decks? Where have they been lately? I know some players are working on this type of strategy, so maybe it will be the next one to pop back into the meta. There are lots of other decks, like Tokens or Eldrazi, that should have a place but aren’t anywhere to be seen as of yet.

We need to get brewing and stir this Standard pot a bit. A two-deck format is just not acceptable anymore and definitely not what I’m used to. What have you guys been playing? If you’ve been having success with other strategies, please post them in the comments. If I get enough responses, I’ll have a holiday treat for you next week filled with some sweet brews and their spicy financial targets.

Until next time,
Unleash the Force!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter

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