Grixis Delver Primer-Part One

KevinJones

I feel like I’ve been talking about this a lot lately. I suppose winning a tournament kind of boxes you in to talking about that deck in the subsequent article. Most people want to hear about the winning deck right from the mouth of the winner. And I don’t blame them. So today, I’ll give the people what they want. This article will be long and fairly in depth. Because of this I’ve elected to break it into two parts. Today we will discuss the deck list and the time leading up to the event. Next week I’ll tackle the actual tournament and a rough sideboard guide. So let’s jump in!

Most magic players, myself included, will tell you that being results oriented is bad. Most of us will then attach an unnecessary amount of weight to results. That’s pretty silly, but it’s rampant in the community, even among the top players. Sometimes it’s presented in direct ways like winning a tournament and then playing the same deck in the next event without accounting for changes in the metagame or it can happen in reverse; 0-2 dropping an FNM or PPTQ and then being off a deck you previously thought was very good. Now sometimes both of these things can be the correct choice to make. The issue is that you likely aren’t making the decision for the right reasons. The information that catalyzes your decision process is of limited scope and incomplete. While not being immune to this behavior I think that I put more stock into how things feel than how they play out. I had played Grixis Delver in one large event, an SCG Classic in Atlanta, and dropped at 3-3. But the deck felt pretty good and I was constrained by card availability. It had a noticeable impact on my event. I had a slot in my sideboard that should have been a Countersquall but unfortunately couldn’t find a second one. I decided to replace it with a Stubborn Denial and my inability to turn on ferocious cost me twice in the six rounds I played. The second copy of Countersquall would’ve been great for me, however. I decided that I still liked the deck but would likely play something else for the upcoming Dallas open. There was a nagging thought at the back of my mind saying that the deck was probably bad because I went 3-3 and wasting all the energy, time, and funds of such a long trip on playing what could be a bad deck was a scary proposition. I left New York on Friday with the intention of playing Infect. Even going so far as to borrow the deck from my brother so I could get Andrew’s 75 when I got to the hotel. Then some stuff happened that changed a bunch of things.

Do as I say, not as I do. Actually don’t even do as I say if you have someone else to ask. I say you should leave for the airport so that you arrive between 70 and 90 minutes before your flight departs, thus having ample time to navigate the constantly changing variable that is airport security and to take care of whatever you have to before boarding your flight. I arrived at Laguardia on Friday morning with a mere 45 minutes to spare. By the time I parked my car and the shuttle dropped me at the terminal it was 2:15 and the flight was boarding for a 2:45 departure. I wasn’t purposefully trying to cut it close, some terrible traffic in the NYC area led to delays and rerouting myself on the fly. Security was a nightmare and American wouldn’t print my boarding pass. They said I was too late to even try. I was angry, Jim was angry, the managers were angry and I was ready to go home. However, being part of a team comes with a certain degree of sacrifice that you must make. Team MGG gets a lot of perks, awesome jerseys, free flights, breaks on hotels, etc. But these things are earned because we all commit a certain amount of our lives to this. Dedication is required, not recommended. After rushing to make it to the airport and still missing it I was ready to write this one off. I called my manager, Frank, in hopes that he could provide some insight. I was disillusioned with my SCG Tour performances in 2016 and wondered if the team wasn’t better off with someone else, especially if I couldn’t show up on time. I half hoped that I would get kicked off cause at least I could go home. Giving up is really easy sometimes but he asked me which decision I would regret more, getting on a plane or going home. It wasn’t close, and despite the usual anxiety that plagues me whenever I fly, I managed to board my flight (it had been changed from a flight with a connection to a direct flight). As they say, “mise!” When I finally arrived at Dallas/Fort Worth international airport I hopped in an Uber and after getting some supplies (read: water, red bull, and cigarettes), and an awesome Texas treat called a Whataburger, I was at my hotel. All my teammates were asleep, except for Pete, who was taking selfies in the hallway. That allowed me to sneak in and register my beloved Grixis Delver deck before anyone could wake up and stop me. Here’s what I finally submitted.

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There’s a few interesting card choices and I’ll explain those here.

1 Electrolyze / 1 Kolaghan’s Command – Kolaghan’s Command is the backbone of the new Grixis shell. It’s absurd synergy with Snapcaster Mage has kept the struggling archetype afloat. And I think anyone looking to pick up the deck would be remiss to cut Kolaghan’s Command. I would honestly recommend two maindeck to anyone picking the deck up for the first time. Cut the Electrolyze for the second one. You really only need one though so I played a card that replaced itself over the second command because I felt that while three lands allowed you to reach the important threshold of playing two interactive things in one turn (bolt and leak, Tasigur and leak, Snapcaster and bolt, leak and spell snare), the deck had much more flexibility when it reached four mana. You could activate Tasigur for value, snap back a remand or leak, or protect your command or Electrolyze with Spell Snare. I thought the Electrolyze would help you get to four and five mana while also replicating the effect of Kolaghan’s Command against the aggressive decks like Infect and Affinity. Electrolyze wouldn’t do exactly the same thing but it would be close enough that I was willing to play the cantrip effect.

3 Tasigur, the Golden Fang / 1 Gurmag Angler – I was very close to playing a 2/2 split and had been doing that in my local events occasionally. I recognized that a turn one Lightning Bolt, Serum Visions, or Spell Snare followed up by a Thought Scour and a Tasigur represented one of the best openings the deck could produce. I played more copies of Tasigur because it’s much easier to cast on turn two. Thought Scour, bolt, fetch or scour, fetch, fetch or scour, bolt, snare/visions all cast a turn two Tasigur while none of these combinations yield a turn two angler. Having as many spells as possible cost one or two mana is essential to the functionality of the deck. I wouldn’t change these numbers and would prefer a 5th delve creature but you likely can’t support it with the current spell base or mana base. One interesting way to mitigate the drawing of a second Tasigur is by attacking with your first one and then playing the second untapped post combat and sacrificing the first. The only times I would ever do this are when I am facing down a lethal counter attack or when I’m playing against Jeskai Nahiri and putting their life total under heavy pressure. This prohibits them from killing your best threat with the minus ability of Nahiri. I would only do this if you’re planning on closing the game within the frame of 1-2 turns because attrition is also very important in the matchup and throwing away a threat could also cost you the game.

1 Vendilion Clique – After Ryan Overturf’s top 8 with Grixis Delver at SCG Indianapolis in May I started playing the deck. I didn’t love every card choice and threw a single Vendilion Clique in the deck over the fourth Spell Snare. I don’t think the fourth snare is necessary unless you’re expecting a ton of Burn and Affinity type decks. My local meta was rife with Cavern of Souls decks, often also playing Aether Vial as well as Tron and Eldrazi decks. The Vendilion Clique is a huge upgrade to the Spell Snare in these matchups and that’s why I chose to play it. I just liked the threat base and didn’t really feel like the large scale modern metagame really justified changing it. The clique was great all weekend, including against Merfolk, one of the deck’s worst matchups.

2 Remand – While I boarded this card out quite often it’s one of the best cards in the deck against combo and midrange decks. Because your Snapcaster Mages are extremely important for closing games against decks like Jeskai it’s essential that you have a few Remands to both combat their Snapcaster Mages and insulate your own copies against cards like Spell Snare and Cryptic Command. Remanding your own spells is extremely important against other blue decks and one of the best targets is Snapcaster Mage. The reasons for this are twofold; your deck is relatively bad at fighting their Spell Snares and you often need to resolve both Snapcaster and the spell it flashes back. You won’t win game one by running your Jeskai and Grixis opponents out of cards but you will kill them with cards in their hand. And interestingly enough, if you do grind them out in game one it’s likely because you were on the right end of some Remand battles.

1 Dreadbore – The one copy of Dreadbore was a concession to the strength of the Jeskai Nahiri deck and going forward I think it should be able to kill both Nahiri and Celestial Colonnade. Ryan Overturf suggested Hero’s Downfall and I think it does exactly what you want. Three mana at instant speed isn’t too different from two mana at sorcery speed in a lot of situations. The one drawback is that it makes you fetch Blood Crypt more than you want to. I hate Blood Crypt. It’s a necessary evil but I try to have as many blue producing lands in play as possible to facilitate chaining spells and big Snapcaster turns.

Sideboard.

4 Ancestral Vision – This package comes in against decks like Jund, Grixis, and Jeskai. You often board out Delver when you board in vision. The Grixis and Jeskai matchups are two great examples of this. I could see cutting Delvers against Jund too, but I’m unsure if it’s correct. It’s kind of awkward because you’re boarding in Ancestral Vision and trying to go long against a 23/24 land deck also playing Vision when you have 20 lands. You’re both less likely to have the mana to fight over the initial Vision and less likely to hit the land drops to prevent from having to discard, but this doesn’t really happen in practice. Just prioritizing lands very highly and getting your delve creatures into play to make them cast Path to Exile can go a long way towards keeping pace with them. The huge upside is you’re way less likely to flood in longer games. I had every fetchable land in play against Jeskai last weekend. One deck I could see having both Vision and Delver in your deck is Scapeshift. More often than not it’s a clean swap though.

2 Crumble to Dust – Pretty obvious; Scapeshift, Tron, Eldrazi, RG Valakut. There’s a case to be made for boarding them in against Colonnade decks but I don’t think a four mana sorcery is what you want.

2 Countersquall – Bring this in when you feel it’s good. I don’t bring it in against Infect. It’s pretty intuitive. Best against Chord/Company decks, control decks, ramp decks, and burn. Also Ad Nauseam. I hate that deck so much.

2 Magma Spray – Weaker than Anger of the Gods but more efficient on your mana and doesn’t require double red. You’ll usually get double red at some point in the midgame but I prefer not to have to work for it early on, especially against decks that pressure your life total. Burn, Affinity, Infect, Bant Eldrazi, Merfolk, etc.

1 Kolaghan’s Command – Any midrange deck or control deck where you have time for the three mana effect. Also, Ad Nauseam, Infect, and Affinity.

1 Vampiric Link – I was told to expect a ton of Aggro decks and last minute I added this card. It’s not a great card because people often have path against you. But it’s best against Burn and Zoo and also I was bringing it in against Bant Eldrazi cause I had to take out so many counterspells.

1 Dispel – Not much to say here. Remember you can Remand your own Dispel in counter wars. Much better than Remanding their Dispel most of the time.

1 Vandalblast – Great with Snapcaster and also self explanatory. Affinity and Lantern. Probably also Ad Nauseam. Don’t bring it in against Aether Vial decks. Just go up to two K Command instead.

1 Engineered Explosives – Great against any linear aggressive deck that plays creatures. Not great against burn in my opinion. Infect, Affinity, Zoo, Elves, Merfolk, Allies, etc. Also Lantern control and Tarmogoyf and/or Liliana decks.

That concludes the overview of the main deck and sideboard and marks a great place to break for part two. Check back next week for the recap of the tournament with some interesting match analysis and how I boarded. Thanks for reading!

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Kevin Jones

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