-Deck of Promised Victory-

(This article was posted on July 2 and translated here now)

Introduction of the Star:

 Starting with a win in GP Kyoto 2007, Yuuya was also that season’s ROY, POY 2009, and 2 consecutive GP wins. People are no longer surprised at his result even when he wins another GP. He was put up as one of “cards to be banned” for the first time as a player, some people named him “Japanese Juggernaut”, an hommage after the great Kai Budde before him.

  He is crazy about Japanese culture. No one can imitate his original play style.  For example, he is known for saying things like, “I won when I reached the ‘ecstasy’”. When he won GP KP 2012, he commented “I touched the ‘Angel’”, which was awkwardly mysterious.

You can say he is an extraordinary player in many ways. Many fear him as an enigmatic figure titled “Unknown Zenith.”

 It is common place that a deck played by Yuuya Watanabe will eventually dominate the Standard, Extended, or Modern formats.

How do you do? This is Yuuya Watanabe.

It is my first time to writing a Deck Construction Theater.

(*Deck Construction Theater is an article series about deck construction on MTG-JP.com)

Usually I write articles about Limited here at MTG-JP, but this time I joined in the Deck Construction Theater team as a guest. Please be kind.

Normally, there is always a player who is obsessed with playing Blue-Green cards (Naoki Shimizu), a player who always thinks about how to play Emrakul (Yoshihiko Ikawa), a player who writes about some Planeswaker’s fictional company (Akira Asahara), or a player who shouts “War Mammoth!!” (Tatsushi Tsukamoto) in this ‘theater.’ And I think they’re all crazy, so this time I will do things differently. I’ll introduce a deck with no originality, but really common deck for those playing Standard.

This is the deck I’ll be talking about:

Yes, it’s UW Delver. I played this in GP Manila about two weeks ago, and ended up with taking home the trophy.

Why did I write about the tier one deck of the current Standard? Because many of you asked me to explain the list I played. A lot of internet messages, and some opponents in GP Yokohama, asked me. I was even asked, “Why don’t you write an article about that deck?” directly [PHAM: That was from me translating the outcries from Lucas Siow and Gerry Thompson on Facebook]. Therefore, I asked the editor of Deck Construction Theater to write here, as I remembered that once he invited me to join the Theater. He immediately gave me the OK, and here I am.

I will tell you about the testing and the details of card selection and boarding plan. This is not usual Deck Construction Theater, but this is also a story about deck construction. If you could read it to the end it would make me happy.

Three weeks before the GP

After the release of Avacyn Restored, I had no knowledge about Standard, because I played block constructed only. This is the start, I randomly built the deck, remembering the time at GP KP.

This is the list I played in a local Game Day.

At that time the other lists were not very good. Simply I tried playing the new cards from Avacyn Restored. But it was too much. The whole deck costs too much, and is overall composition looked strange. After looking at it again it sort of makes me sick.
As a result of the first testing, I got the following impression from new cards.

Restoration Angel is really good. Simply put, is already great value on its own and it fits the overall flow of the deck. Really nice.

Since I thought it is good with the Angel, I played Blade Splicer. It was good, but it doesn’t fit the true flow of the deck. It should be for the sideboard.

Tamiyo is good if it could be cast, but costs too much.

Furthermore, I felt UW delver becomes better after Restoration Angel was added.

Since I had experience from GP KP and it fit my playing style, I decided to play this deck in GP Manila

However at that time, it was still more than three weeks until the GP. There weren’t many options other than just playing the best list at the moment (Gerry T’s SCG list).

Two weeks before the GP

As long as I had time, I kept testing on MTGO.

Restoration Angel was then increased to four as it was simply too good.

I picked Dismember to deal with opponent’s Restoration Angel and GR’s Huntmaster of the Fells

I changed the equipment to Sword of War and Peace, which is good against the Mirror or Bonfire of the Damned, and enables me to recover from life loss of Dismember.

Then the deck became heavier in terms of overall costs. The number of UW Delver and GR beats matchups increased, and so I was thinking about focusing mainly on those matchups.

While I was trying out several cards, looking through the delver lists that won WMCQs or PTQs, big news came to me. LSV won the WMCQ.

I copied this LSV’s list, but I found a lot of problems.

Cavern of Souls’ instability to produce colored mana

Cavern of Souls is surely good against Mana Leak in the mirror match, but I felt it is not easy to play because Delver plays various kinds of creatures. I couldn’t stand it when I had to choose Geist of Saint Traft or Restoration Angel when I had both. In addition, the advantage that you can ignore opponent’s Mana Leak is in Game one only. Your opponents board them out and the Cavern becomes almost worthless. No one leaves Mana Leak in after boarding when they see your Cavern of Souls.

It counts as a White mana, but it can’t help me to play Celestial Purge. Neither does it allow me to play both Ponder and Thought Scour in a single turn. Personally I felt the Cavern has less pros than cons.

Too much Mana-Flooding

While Delver has a lot of 1mana-drawing spells, playing 22-lands is unusual. It is true you want to play Restoration Angel or Sword of War and Peace on the proper turn, but I felt the Mana Flooding happened too often instead.

It may be necessary if you want to play multiple Caverns, but I doubt the power of Cavern itself. Therefore I wondered if the number of the lands was truly best.

The popularity of the decklist

This is the biggest problem. In this ‘information society’, this decklist was instantly known by everyone. So much more so when LSV played this deck. In the tournaments on MTGO, every Delver list became like his due to the speed of information. And the other decks were getting ready to battle against LSV’s list.

For example, GR decks had been playing Crushing Vines in SB to deal with both Consecrated Sphinx and Equipments, but after LSV’s list came up, they began to play both Combust and Vines. Everyone thinks about choosing better cards to beat LSV’s list.

Therefore, after LSV won a big tournament playing his list, this list then became the most famous ‘template’ list in the environment, and everyone was conscious about that template, so you can’t expect very good result if you play a similar list.

I believed that I had to differentiate myself from this in order to win.

Until then, I had tested lists similar to LSV’s list; I reset the testing so far and began to look at the basic of the deck again.

A week before the GP

Even if you want to do things differently, the core of the deck (Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage, Geist of Saint Traft)cannot be changed. Ponder and Vapor Snag are also the best cards for Delver, so I didn’t change the number of them either. So in a way, they are also the cards that should never be changed.

I then thought about how I can change the other parts.

Fix the number of Restoration Angel

It’s true that Restoration Angel is a great card. But I often felt that  four mana in the Delver deck was too high of a cost, especially when I had two or more of them and was unable to play either.

Besides, I often saw her Dismembered or Vapor Snagged immediately after she hits the battlefield. It is a big loss in tempo, so I concluded that playing four of her was too much.

However, if you don’t play too many Restoration Angels, you have to prepare an  answer to deal with opponent’s angel. Again I looked over other possible cards.

Changed Sword of War and Peace to Runechanter’s Pike

I didn’t like the three cc cost of Sword of War and Peace, and so I tried changing them to Runechanter’s Pike. Then, I was surprised with the smoothness of the deck. At first, I didn’t have any two cc cards other than Mana Leak, a reactive spell, and Snapcaster Mage with Phyrexian Mana spells. But the Pike could be the active action that you can take on turn two. I liked it very much.

It costs only four mana, when you cast and equip, so even if your opponent was ready to cast Restoration Angel on turn four, you can ignore her and attack. This was the answer that I was looking for.

In addition, turn three Geist of Saint Traft, and turn four Pike is simply great.

I came up with this list, in my testings.

I’m not sure about the sideboard, but it was like this:

I wanted to test the actual games, I took part in a local tournament named “Five Dragons Cup” in Tokyo with this list. However, the results were not favourable (3-3).

Restoration Angel and Runechanter’s Pike worked like I expected, but I felt the other parts were still not perfect.

More precisely:

Short of  one cc draw spells

At this time I played eight 1cc draws, Ponder and Thought Scours, but another one was needed: Gitaxian Probe.

I wanted to equip Runechanter’s Pike on turn four and be ready to attack, so I needed to accumulate spells as much as possible, but eight Ponder/Thought Scour were too few. I concluded that at least ten 1cc draw spells were needed to play Runechanter’s Pike effectively.

In addition, after Avacyn Restored, you have to change your plan whether your opponent has Restoration Angel or Bonfire of the Damned, so checking their hand becomes more necessary than ever. And of course, it goes well with turn two Snapcaster Mage, which is what I wanted.

Moorland Haunt got worse

There are more Restoration Angels, so I felt I needed 1/1 fliers less often going into the mid to late game.

Following Avacyn Restored, the expression “You are favoured in the mirror match if you draw Moorland Haunt” is no longer true. I decreased the number, because it’s also hedging against the colored-mana screw.

Mana Leak got worse

I thought it is risky to play four Mana Leaks in the main while popular decks like Delver, Zombies, or Naya were playing Cavern of Souls. They were often just stranded in my hand doing nothing. However, you need Mana Leaks to beat control decks which were still seeing some play. So I decided to play three, at least.

Those were the complaints I had then.

After the tournament, I exchanged information with my Delver playing friends and I got some very valuable information. A friend that always plays Delver told me “playing 18 lands is enough.” He was always playing many draw spells and few lands, and was putting up good results in various local tournaments. That day specifically he ended up with 5-1.

I had seen this list at that time, but I was fixated on the idea that 18 lands would cause too many mulligans. I didn’t test this list much.

However, it is wrong to judge it without testing. I borrowed this deck and played a few games. I was surprised at the results. I had few mana screws contrary to my expectations, and Delver of Secrets often transformed immediately, and I could easily reach Geist of Saint Traft thanks to a lot of draw spells. I really liked it. In addition, the percentage of noncreature spells was high, which followed suit with my idea to play Runechanter’s Pike effectively. This deck made me believe it is OK to decrease lands.

This is the most valuable information I received. I immediately went home and logged into MTGO.

Three Days before GP

I made the final tweaks on MTGO, considering the experience so far.

After tons of trial and error, I finished building the main deck..

19 Lands in the end

It was true that 18 lands caused almost no problems, but I was often short on white mana, so I added a Plains as the 19th land.

I needed ninth White in order to play Celestial Purge and Timely Reinforcements.


Cutting Dismember

Dismember is good against Restoration Angel and Huntmaster of the Fells, but this build already required a lot of phyrexian mana, so I sadly had to I cut this. I already had eight phyrexian spells, so it was impossible to play Dismember which required even more life.

I built the list by assessing the results of my testing.

I made this deck to be as fast as possible, since I reduced the number of lands. If you call LSV’s list “heavy delver”, you should call this “light delver”.
I was content with the actual match results so I completed the main deck.
Finally, I had only to build the sideboard which goes well with this.
I kept the following two things in mind when building the sideboard:

  • The maindeck is very stable. You must not break the stability. Whatever opponent you meet, you should only change four or five cards. No more.
  • You should have cards that are critical for some specific decks. For example, Blade Splicer doesn’t have a clear purpose. Celestial Purge against Zombies, and Mental Misstep against the mirror are better.

I was very aware of the second point. Standard decks these days are really powerful; therefore it is not effective to play vague cards. Rather, you should play cards that are very powerful but narrower against specific decks, or cards that can help support the main deck’s strategy.

The completed sideboard was as follows:

Cards that were two or more were the ones I thought were “narrowly powerful card against specific decks”. Cards that show up as one are supporting the main deck’s strategy. I call them “the fixers”

Now I will explain the actual sideboarding strategy:


VS Mirror

3 Mana Leak
1 Mutagenic Growth
1 Runechanter’s Pike

2 Mental Misstep
2 Phantasmal Image
1 Sword of War and Peace

(On the draw)
1 Gitaxian Probe

1 Timely Reinforcements

Misstep is the best answer to opponents’ Delvers and Ponders. Phantasmal Image can deal with Geist of Saint Traft. Sword of War and Peace or Timely Reinforcements are for dealing with slow games.

Timely Reinforcements is good only when you see Geist of Saint Traft hit the battlefield. You shouldn’t board it in when you are on the play.

You should cut Mana Leak since it’s ineffective due to Cavern of Souls, and Mutagenic Growth, which is awkward due to Vapor Snag. You shouldn’t play too many types of equipment when you play Sword of War and Peace, so you should cut Runechanter’s Pike.

VS. GR Beats
1 Mana Leak
1 Gitaxian Probe
1 Thought Scour
2 Runechanter’s Pike

1 Gut Shot
1 Mutagenic Growth
1 Spectral Flight
2 Timely Reinforcements

This plan changes if you see Cavern of Souls or not. At that time only a few GR players chose to run Cavern, and so I followed this plan.

You need to kill the mana creatures with the additional Gut Shot. Mutagenic Growth protects your Geist of Saint Traft from the combat damage or Bonfire of the Damned. After boarding, Timely Reinforcements can recover the life loss from Phyrexian spells, and Spectral Flight with Geist can lead to easy win. You should cut Runechanter’s Pike which is the main target of Ancient Grudge. However, you shouldn’t cut all of them because you will have a lot fewer aggressive cards. Having one isn’t a big loss in advantage even if you lose it to an Ancient Grudge.

And you should cut some random spells because you cut Runechanter’s Pike. I think you have to leave some Mana Leaks in to shut Bonfire of Damned off.

VS Naya

3 Mana Leak
1 Gitaxian Probe
1 Thought Scour
2 Runechanter’s Pike

1 Gut Shot
1 Mutagenic Growth
1 Spectral Flight
2 Timely Reinforcements
2 Phantasmal Image

The basic is same when you see GR beats.

However, all Naya players have Cavern of Souls, therefore you should cut all of Mana Leak. Add Phantasmal Image which is good against Blade Splicer.

VS Zombies

3 Mana Leak
1 Mutagenic Growth
1 Gitaxian Probe

3 Celestial Purge
2 Timely Reinforcements

Celestial Purge is almost all you need for Zombies, and Timely Reinforcements can keep your life high.

Cut Mana Leaks since it’s bad against Cavern of Souls, and Mutagenic Growth is simply ineffective. It is not meaningful to look at your opponent’s hand in this matchup, so cut Gitaxian Probe. Against Zombie it’s tough, but after boarding you can be content with the matchup thanks to the selective sideboard cards.

VS Wolf Run Ramp

3 Gut Shot
1 Runechanter’s Pike

1 Mutagenic Growth
1 Mana Leak
1 Dissipate
1 Spectral Flight

Gut Shot cannot kill any creatures. Fix Runechanter’s Pike to play around Ancient Grudge.

You should play additional counter spells. Mutagenic Growth and Spectral Flight are to protect Geist from Slagstorm.

The main strategy is to manage to protect Geist of Saint Traft.

You shouldn’t play Phantasmal Image because there is no good target to copy other than Thrun. It is not good when you have your Phantasmal Image (copying Primeval Titan) targeted by the opposing Kessig Wolf Run.

VS Esper Control

3 Gut Shot
1 Mutagenic Growth
1 Vapor Snag

1 Mana Leak
1 Dissipate
1 Sword of War and Peace
2 Phantasmal Image

There are few targets of Gut Shot and Vapor Snag. Mutagenic Growth’s can’t do anything. In fact I want to cut more Vapor Snags, but there is nothing to change for it.

Additional counter spells, and equipment to avoid Lingering Souls tokens.

Phantasmal Image is just better than the out-cards. He will mainly become Snapcaster Mage to replay Ponder or Thought Scour to get card advantage.

This was the sideboard plan I used.

The only time I didn’t sideboard this way was in the playoffs when I had my opponents decklists.  Otherwise I followed this strategy completely during the swiss.

Finally I was content with the deck and sideboard plan, and flew to Grand Prix Manila.

As you know, I got the best result.
I was really grateful that my three weeks of testing got me the achievement.
I am really confident with the construction of this deck, so I will not change anything even if I play in the next tournament.

If you decide to change it, you may want to have anti-artifact cards for cards like Birthing Pod.

Steel Sabotage or Divine Offering may sneak into the sideboard.

As Kenji Tsumura said in his article (*Mtgjp.com has Kenji’s articles), Delver is dominating this Standard format.

The WMCQs in Japan were all won by UW Delver, and there was a discussion about banning some of the Delver parts. Surely the Delver deck has a power level that needs to be discussed.

But this is true for just right now, until when “Magic 2013” becomes part of Standard.(*Sorry for the delay in translation)

The dominating deck, Delver, will have a hard time in the next format. It is up to YOU to create the new deck to give Delver a hard time.

That’s all of for my Deck Construction Theater. It was long, but thanks for reading until the end.

See you somewhere!!

Yuuya Watanabe

Translated and Edited by Naoki Shimizu and Daniel Pham (and then edited here at Manadeprived by David Mantel)