Slowly, the Standard metagame seems to be changing. Looking at the World Championship and the Star City Games Players’ Championship, it looks like the previously omnipresent midrange mirrors are becoming less common. Instead, we see more of Yuuya Watanabe’s token list, more UW Heroic, and a lot of “Delve” decks. By Delve decks, I mean the Abzan and Sultai decks with a green-black base, often with Whip of Erebos and creatures going up the curve all the way to Hornet Queen, while starting with Satyr Wayfinder (or sometimes Elvish Mystic).
On Magic Online, the Jeskai Tokens deck seems to be the most common deck to post a winning record, followed closely by Abzan Midrange and Mardu Midrange. Abzan Aggro, UW Heroic, and UB Control follow at a bit of a distance, with various GBx Delve decks at about the same percentage of the field as those. Together, however, the Delve decks make up as much of the winning field as Jeskai Tokens.
With the above field, it isn’t surprising to me that the Delve decks are doing so well in Standard tournaments. You are favored against the midrange decks and can hang fairly well with the slower aggro decks. Against the faster aggro decks, you have plenty of sideboard options, and you even have a bunch of good cards against them in your maindeck: plenty of early creatures to block, some removal, and a number of ways to gain life in Whip of Erebos and Siege Rhino, if you’re playing an Abzan variant. Having a bunch of Doomwake Giants isn’t bad against the red decks that try to go wide with tokens, nor is it bad against the more popular Jeskai Tokens deck.
Now, if you expect something like the above metagame (which we should, at least for the next few weeks) and you decide to play a Delve deck, how do you beat the mirror? I think you can go two routes: either you go the Reid Duke/Gerard Fabiano route and go with a stronger Constellation angle, using a full set of Eidolon of Blossoms to outdraw your opponent; or you do what I did (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) and fight your opponent’s ability to abuse their graveyard with a couple of Anafenzas in your Abzan Delve deck.
You see, I’ve been fairly high on Gerry Thompson’s Abzan Delve list, as I really like how well it can play like a more traditional midrange deck when you need to (against decks where you don’t want to rely on seven-mana flying insects). At the same time, I’ve been very impressed with what I think is Andrew Tenjum’s brainchild (correct me if I’m wrong), a modified version of which Brian Braun-Duin took to the Star City Games Players’ Championship:
Abzan Aggro by Brian Braun-Duin
Similar to the deck Mike Sigrist used to top-eight the Khans of Tarkir Pro Tour, this deck looks like an Abzan Midrange list but is more aggressive. Compared to Sigrist’s, this particular list has Wingmate Rocs instead of Herald of Torment and more removal over Sorin-a card I’ve always found lackluster unless you can produce a lot of creatures before it comes down. Wingmate Rocs are great against the Delve decks because Hornet Queen is often their only favorable interaction with it.
What I am more impressed with are two other cards that I think are particularly well-positioned right now: Bile Blight and Anafenza, the Foremost. Bile Blight has targets against just about all the top decks and is fantastic against the many tokens flying around (literally in the case of Hornet Queen). Abzan Midrange is a notable exception to the targets, where Blight doesn’t really hit what you want, but sometimes you can kill Sylvan Caryatids by targeting your own or wipe some Elspeth tokens to attack her. Anafenza is a great way to start pressuring the slower decks or to start blocking and killing creatures against the aggressive decks, and it seriously hampers your Delve opponent’s ability to stock up their graveyard or use their Whips to full effect.Bile Blight isn’t exactly what I want in my Abzan Delve list, but Anafenza sounds great! This is what I’m currently messing around with:
Abzan Delve by Jay Lansdaal
Gerry Thompson had some Fleecemane Lions in his earlier versions, and I basically have Anafenza take up that slot. While it’s a tad slower, it doesn’t die to Lightning Strike, so it might be a bit more reliable as a blocker, and it works just as well in the midrange plan B that this deck employs. We do have Bile Blights in the board, but they’re not really main deck candidates for this deck just yet. Another notable sideboard card is probably Erebos, which is something I’m trying out in the place of an Eidolon as a draw engine that makes the Whip of Erebos mirror less obnoxious. “Swing for 16, you’re down to 58, I’ll go up to 79?”-FUNNN.
A deck where I have been trying some maindeck Bile Blights where they are usually not seen, is Mardu:
Mardu Unchained by Jay Lansdaal
Normally, Mardu is an Rwb deck, whereas this is very much a BWr deck. This has some advantages, but also some disadvantages. First of all, we lose Chained to the Rocks. There is no way I can get the requisite 9 to 10 mountains in this list and still pretend to be able to cast turn-two Bile Blight and turn-three Brimaz. The latter might already be a stretch, but that’s fine-Brimaz is more than fine a turn later as well, as it is included mostly as a card that can win a game on its own.
This version of Mardu plays a lot more like last season’s Mono Black Devotion than the usual versions. It uses spells that don’t care about what you’re playing (Thoughtseize, Hero’s Downfall) to pave the way for big threats that can end the game on their own. Rabblemaster is your Pack Rat, Butcher of the Horde your Desecration Demon, and the rest of the creatures are similarly hard to kill or gain you value in some way. The singleton Seeker might look a little off, but I just wanted another cheap spell that wasn’t dead against control, and the incidental lifegain really helps casting the Thoughtseizes and Sign in Bloods.
Speaking of Sign in Blood: I had Read the Bones in this list, and had quite frankly forgotten Sign in Blood is currently legal in Standard. Read the Bones is the better spell to dig for something specific, but I just wanted more cards-most of my cards fulfill similar functions anyway. The big advantage to Sign in Blood is that it costs two. While it might not always be possible to play it on turn two (I have done my best to make it possible, but we’re still playing three colors), it fits perfectly together with a three-drop on turn five. I’m a big fan of trying to maximize my available mana every turn, and more cheap spells like Sign in Blood help out there.
One notable missing piece in this deck might be Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. While it seems to be an auto-include in most Mardu decks, I don’t think it’s un-cuttable. It’s not like we need the four-damage removal spell very much, and while the indestructible flyer is powerful, Wingmate Roc is also hard to kill and costs double white instead of double red. Not having to worry about having to cobble together RR is liberating, and it goes a long way towards making the Bile Blight into Brimaz draw possible.
I hope you find some of these ideas useful, and if not, I’ll try to improve in the coming year, as always!
Happy Holidays and a Magical 2015,
iLansdaal on Twitter