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Calca-Yes!

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The letter A!fter a couple of largely Insectile Aberration-free weeks in the Standard portion of the StarCityGames Open Series, Delver of Secrets crashed back to the top of the Standard standings at Grand Prix Minneapolis last weekend... and did so in a brand-new, super-duper shell. Let's look at how this most recent Constructed GP shook out:


Pretty interesting stack of decks, no?

Minneapolis came within one deck of eight different color/deck strategies (and truth be told, the two WU Delver decks have some substantial differences). That said, more than half of the decks played four copies of the mighty Delver of Secrets, and 7/8 played Island.


Christian Calcano

Christian Calcano broke out in Minneapolis with a deck that itself might prove a breakout archetype. Calcano's deck is quite a bit different from every Delver deck we have seen in Standard to date, but obviously proved successful for him. Will its combination of power and different-ness prove compelling for players in the coming weeks and months?

Let's examine how this deck works:

Calcano's deck has an eight-pack of Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage (constants across most every Delver deck), but the specific instants and sorceries he played to flip Delvers and gain value with Tiago Chans swapped Revoke Existence and Timely Reinforcements for Avacyn Restored standouts Pillar of Flame and Bonfire of the Damned.

Red spells have tremendous synergy with Calcano's side plan of Invisible Stalker and Runechanter's Pike. Essentially, these instants and sorceries boost Runechanter's Pike more or less exactly as well as the white ones... but can get blockers out of the way or double up on efforts (Incinerate does 3 to the face itself, plus puts an instant into the graveyard for more Pike damage). The solo Desolate Lighthouse can help out the same way, or can clear a troublesome, non-miraculous Bonfire of the Damned from hand.

Bonfire of the Damned, itself, is a big-game tool in this format where card advantage token producers like Gather the Townsfolk, Midnight Haunting, and Lingering Souls are played in so many opposing builds.

So how about the more traditional Delver decks of the Minneapolis Top 8? Here are the latest builds of both white-blue and white-blue-black:

Josh Utter-Leyton, Esper Delver

Josh Utter-Leyton Esper Delver
Standard – Top 8, Grand Prix Minneapolis 2012


Josh Utter-Leyton

The former US National Champion and ChannelFireball stalwart Josh Utter-Leyton put together a dominating take on Delver of Secrets. In addition to white-blue constants Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage, and Geist of Saint Traft, Utter-Leyton added Hero of Bladehold as a big four-drop.

Now, obviously Hero of Bladehold puts lots of white tokens onto the battlefield... as does the black-splashing Lingering Souls. All together these cards make for good synergy with Honor of the Pure. Previous token-heavy Delver decks used Intangible Virtue, but what Utter-Leyton might lose in vigilance is made up for somewhat with his ability to make a 5-toughness Hero of Bladehold (much harder to block and kill in combat with a Batterskull, say) and even more value for Geist of Saint Traft. Josh's Geists don't die to Whipflare once buffed by Honor of the Pure, and his Angel tokens smack for 5 big damage in the sky.

New card alert!

Utter-Leyton played Tamiyo, the Moon Sage in his sideboard, a two-of five traditionally occupied on the curve by one Batterskull and one Jace, Memory Adept. Tamiyo can lock down big threats and punish control; in addition, given Utter-Leyton's propensity to have a bunch of tapped attackers (generally tokens, en masse), Tamiyo's second ability can make for a good burst of card advantage.

Calling this deck "Esper" might be a little misleading (especially as we are no longer in Shards of Alara mode)... Utter-Leyton played only four Darkslick Shores and one Swamp (off his two Evolving Wilds)... his black splash being exclusively for the flashback on Lingering Souls; yet, a point of differentiation against the next two decks.

White-Blue Delver

Taylor Laehn's White-Blue Delver
Standard – Top 8, Grand Prix Minneapolis 2012


Taylor Laehn

Taylor Laehn played a straight White-Blue Delver list with quite a few instances of customization and innovation. While we have seen Dungeon Geists before (a card originally played in the Pro Tour Dark Ascension-era Esper Spirits decks of Jon Finkel, Jelger Wiegersma, and company), Laehn's two-drop choice of Merfolk Looter over Invisible Stalker is not one we have seen for many months. Laehn still played Runechanter's Pike... he just didn't pair that Equipment with its typical battlefield bearer.

Laehn's spell setup included quite a few one-ofs and a fair spread of Phyrexian mana... one Dismember, one Gitaxian Probe, one Gut Shot, and even one Mutagenic Growth all graced Taylor's main deck. While a stack of one-ofs might seem odd (forget about the fifteen one-ofs in Calcano's sideboard for a moment), in a deck like Delver, chock full of Ponders and other manipulation spells (including the aforementioned one-of Gitaxian Probe), a one-of is not exactly the same thing as a one-of in a regular deck that has to rely on the top of the library and a nod from Fortuna for its spells. Taylor can even flip some of his instants and sorceries into the graveyard with Thought Scour in order to set them up for Snapcaster Mage!

While he didn't play any Swords in his main deck, Taylor ran both Sword of Feast and Famine and the currently more popular Sword of War and Peace as one-of options in the side.

Ben Friedman's White-Blue Delver
Standard – Top 8, Grand Prix Minneapolis 2012


Ben Friedman

Friedman played a similar white-blue twelve-pack of creatures, and added Restoration Angel as his two-of spice. Restoration Angel is an interesting choice in the Invisible Stalker-ish slot: In addition to being able to help out Delver of Secrets in the case that the opponent has a removal card (and you have four open lands), it is actually superb for resetting Snapcaster Mage!

Restoration Angel is something else, isn't it?

Restoration Angel | Art by Johannes Voss

I think it was Brian Kibler who first said this is a card that basically reads "3/4 flyer for 3 ManaWhite Mana; when Restoration Angel enters the battlefield, draw a card." But when you mix it up with Snapcaster Mage? The "draw a card"-ness gets to be drawing like two cards! Filthy. (Can we call an angel "filthy"?)

Ben's spell suite reflects his lack of Invisible Stalkers... No quick Runechanter's Pike plan. Instead, he played a suite of Swords, plus a Faith's Shield to help protect his cadre of mostly not-Hexproof creatures.

Humans... With Delver of Secrets

Rick Stout played a Humans-aggro deck with more than a little blue. In fact, he played as many Islands as Plains! And with good reason, apparently...

Rick Stout's White-Blue Humans
Standard – Top 8, Grand Prix Minneapolis 2012


Rick Stout

That's right, Rick had not just Champion of the Parish on one mana, but Delver of Secrets as well! The combination of playing both Champion of the Parish and Delver of Secrets as one-drops makes for twice as many explosive starts as "just" playing Delver.

Of course this deck can get the crazy stupid Delver, Delver + Delver draws that clock the opponent to death nine damage at a time... But have you considered draws like this?

Champion of the Parish | Art by Svetlin Velinov

Turn 1: Champion of the Parish
Turn 2: Elite Vanguard + Delver of Secrets

???

Delver of Secrets, being a Human, actually buffs Champion of the Parish as well as Elite Vanguard might.

Important Spice:

Esper Control

Schultz pushed Forbidden Alchemy to new heights depths with this new take on Solar Flare:

Jerret Schultz's Esper Control
Standard – Top 8, Grand Prix Minneapolis 2012


Jerret Schultz

So how does this deck work?

Well, it's mostly a Sun Titan deck.

Blade Splicer is a pretty good attacker (with its first striking buddy) and an elite defender; and if the Blade Splicer itself wants to start jumping in front of the enemy, it works quite well with Sun Titan.

Phantasmal Image of course works with Sun Titan... heck, half the time you just have two Sun Titans!

Dead Weight is a huge three-of in this deck—taking precedence over much more commonly played cards like Tragic Slip—again due to its synergy with Sun Titan. You can kill something (putting the Dead Weight into your graveyard), attack with the Sun Titan, and bring back Dead Weight to kill something again. Dead Weight equals more and more dead men.

Phantasmal Image | Art by Nils Hamm

Forbidden Alchemy is the card that can help dig all these Splicers and Images and Dead Weights into the graveyard to begin with.

And in terms of non-Sun Titan-related graveyard awesomeness, this deck also packs four Lingering Souls! Lingering Souls is of course a superb defensive card on turn three (perfect to hide behind while you set up), and great again when you flash it back the next turn.

While Schultz's deck can potentially get a crazy Forbidden Alchemy-into-Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite-and-fourth turn Unburial Rites (which can itself kill a fair number of small creatures), what this deck seems mostly great at is the murder of creatures. It has Dead Weight on one, Ratchet Bomb on two, Oblivion Ring on three, and the almighty Day of Judgment on four. Gideon Jura can lock down creatures (or eliminate them one at a time) on five, and then of course Sun Titan can bring back more and more of these elimination cards turn after turn after turn.

Jerret played some substantial anti-control cards in his sideboard, including Consecrated Sphinx and Karn Liberated. That said, while he had two potentially backbreaking Negates in his sideboard, Shultz played an Esper Control sans Mana Leak... which, given the tenor of the format, might not be much of a liability.

Grand Architect

Brad Nelson's Grand Architect
Standard – Top 8, Grand Prix Minneapolis 2012


Brad Nelson

Former Player of the Year Brad Nelson returned to Sunday stardom with the blue deck that broke Minneapolis's seemingly uniform pairing of Plains and Islands. This time, rather than going either Delver of Secrets or Day of Judgment, Brad played a deck based around Grand Architect spitting out Wurmcoil Engines.

Unlike some Grand Architect decks you might have seen in your younger years, this one doesn't top up on a ton of Mindslavers and Spines of Ish Sah. Wurmcoil Engine. Just the fact, Ma'am: one Batterskull. If Brad isn't dead, he might not be so easy to kill... almost all of his big bomb creatures either gain life (Wurmcoil Engine and the aforementioned living weapon Equipment), or keep him from getting hit (Spellskite).

Want to play a powerhouse, but looking for some self-actualization in a non-Delver zone? Maybe try bringing Wurmcoil Engine back to style at FNM this week!

Red-Green

Stephen Bishop's Red-Green Wolf Run Ramp
Standard – Top 8, Grand Prix Minneapolis 2012


Stephen Bishop

Rounding out this Top 8 was the lone non-blue deck: Stephen Bishop with a straight Red-Green Wolf Run Ramp deck.

This deck packs a whopping eight Titans! Both Primeval Titan and Inferno Titan! To get there, Stephen played eight two-mana accelerators to bring him from two-to-four on turn three, whereupon he could play another accelerator or a Solemn Simulacrum to set up turn-four Titan mana.

In previous formats, a turn four Titan might spell death in the mirror, but Bishop could actually answer one with Beast Within. It might suck to be down a ton of value due to a Titan's special abilities—and then give up another 3/3 body due to Beast Within—but it's a heck of a lot better than losing on the spot.

Primeval Titan | Art by Aleksi Bricolt

Many decks of this style in the past played (at least) one Birds of Paradise, along with Green Sun's Zenith (turn-two Green Sun's Zenith for Birds of Paradise being essentially the same acceleration as a Rampant Growth or Sphere of the Suns), where Green Sun's Zenith could also go and get Primeval Titan; Bishop played a completely different X-spell in Devil's Play and three copies of Thrun, the Last Troll to try to get the jump on the obviously popular blue decks.

So what happens after a guy goes and gets a Primeval Titan into play, anyway?

Since the days of Brian Sondag, Primeval Titan in Standard has set up Kessig Wolf Run and Inkmoth Nexus. Inkmoth Nexus, of course, being a prime target for Kessig Wolf Run-buffing, capable of killing at twice the speed of a non-infectious creature—especially given the main phase-ness of so much of this format's removal.

Speaking of special lands, Bishop played three copies of Cavern of Souls in his sideboard. Cavern of Souls set to Giant can make for some essentially unstoppable Titans. Sorry Mana Leak. Sorry Dissipate.

I don't know about you, but the ebb and flow of this Standard since the release of Avacyn Restored has been an exciting roller coaster ride (so far) for me as a fan of the game. To think, I was worried for a moment that Delver of Secrets—that multiple-format-bender and pre-AVR Best Card in Standard—might fall off the map! Delver came roaring back this past weekend, in both enhanced classical forms (White-Blue Delver with Restoration Angel or a black-splash with Hero of Bladehold) and the radical new blue-red build (as well as Humans!) Who can say what secret lists will be Delved up in the coming week? Or will green burst back to the forefront with its Primeval Titans or perhaps call up Wolfir Silverheart from the Block Constructed D-League?

It might be Planechase Week for the rest of the site, but this is the Magical movement I'm chasing. :)



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