Grixis Delver in the Dredge Metagame

Kaladesh shook up Standard in a big way, and with the results of the Star City Games Milwaukee Open in the books it looks to be making its mark on Modern as well. Early on in the tournament we saw Jeff Hoogland crush Bant Eldrazi with a build of the new Jeskai Aggro deck, though as the tournament progressed, Infect and Dredge were demonstrated to be the biggest gainers in the format.

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Infect wasn’t able to crack the Top 8 of the event, though four copies in the Top 32 is nothing to scoff at, and Blossoming Defense absolutely made it more difficult to interact with the deck on the stack. Meanwhile, Dredge put two copies into the Top 8, with seven more copies in the Top 32. Dredge wasn’t especially looking for a two-drop, though Cathartic Reunion has proven to be powerful enough to bring the deck to the forefront of the Modern format.

I can’t speak to the staying power of Caleb Durward’s winning Spirits list, though I love the metagame call of runner-up Samuel Jadin’s Ad Nauseam. While it is true that Infect gained a lot with the printing of Blossoming Defense (Infect is Jadin’s nightmare matchup), it’s also true that Dredge and Burn rose to the challenge of keeping the Infect monster at bay. blossoming-defenseNot only that, but the fact that two very different proactive strategies were projected to be great choices for the weekend made it a lot harder for a blue control deck to succeed, especially with Bant Eldrazi being a feature of the format now. As such, Jadin likely played against very few decks featuring permission elements.

Dredge is the deck to beat right now, which I think will hold true despite it not taking the trophy home this weekend. Graveyard hate will be important in the coming weeks, and the other hyper-aggressive linear decks should continue to see success. This assortment of aggressive decks did a good job of suppressing Bant Eldrazi this weekend, and once you boil the tournament down to the best performing decks, it seems that Burn and Jund, with a healthy does of graveyard hate, would perform well in this field. Ad Nauseam should also continue to be a good choice as long as you can dodge the Infect matchup. Perhaps Devin Keopke’s transformational sideboard with Madcap Experiment could even shore up that weakness.

When we talk about hyper-aggressive decks succeeding, that means that Tron and Bant Eldrazi will be pushed back by the speed of the format. Further, Jeskai Nahiri is all but absent from Modern right now, and with these decks fading into obscurity and the top decks being fairly easy to disrupt, I don’t think you’ll need two guesses to determine where my head’s at. It’s looking like a great time for Grixis Delver. And I’m not talking about that Young Pyromancer garbage either. Cavern of Souls and the bigger Snapcaster Mage decks are down, which will allow Grixis Delver to laser-focus on beating the successful field without having to worry about some problematic matchups. Of course, enough has happened that I won’t just be able to dust off my old list. It’s time for some updates.

New Additions

Grixis Delver has little in the way of flex slots, though there are a couple updates to be made based on printings of new cards. Spirebluff Canal obviously is something that must be considered, though it’s not actually a significant shakeup for this archetype. When I first started playing the deck I ran multiple Steam Vents and only a single Watery Grave, though Thought Scouring over your only fetchable dual of a color pair really sucks, and I don’t like going below two of the blue ones. Collective BrutalityFetchlands are also a big part of casting Tasigur, the Golden Fang on time, and as such Spirebluff Canal doesn’t belong in Grixis Delver as more than a one- or two-of.

The new spell on the block to take note of is Collective Brutality. This card has really taken off in a wide variety of archetypes in Modern, and I believe it to be worthy of a maindeck slot in Grixis Delver. The Burn matchup is very close, and a maindeck haymaker should do wonders there. The card is also excellent against Infect, and it might even be possible that a second copy is worth tossing in the sideboard. Notably, Collective Brutality is also very strong against Grixis Delver, and this is just one more reason not to go below four Spell Snare.

I’ve seen some players adopt Ceremonious Rejection as a sideboard card, but I’m not on board. Affinity is already a very positive matchup, and the updates that I’m currently making to the deck are based on a projected downturn of Bant Eldrazi and Tron. Even if I expected these decks to be huge, cast triggers and Cavern of Souls are the problems in those matchups anyway. I don’t see any reason to be sideboarding this card in Grixis Delver.

Identifying the Enemy

If the expected field consists largely of Burn, Infect, and Dredge, then the major deckbuilding constraints to focus on are keeping the deck lean, and having a great sideboard plan for Dredge. Regardless of the field, I like maindecking the full set of Mana Leak as good, generic disruption, though the more aggressive the format gets the less I like Remand. The more one- and two-mana spells you expect to interact with, the less Remand matters. Grafdiggers CageIt will be important to board out removal spells for counters in matchups where removal is bad, though as of now I am choosing “non-combo blue mirrors” as the category I would skimp on in the sideboard to make room for graveyard hate.

With regard to the graveyard hate that I would play, after seeing Dredge in action a lot this weekend I have decided that I want a lot of slots and that I don’t want to use permanents. Dredge players are going to be boarding as if their opponents have Leyline of the Void and/or Grafdigger’s Cage, and as such I would like to utilize spells that are more difficult for them to interact with. Ravenous Trap came to mind, though it doesn’t play particularly well with Snapcaster Mage, and I envision wanting to Thought Scour over my hate to find it from time to time.

Given that current builds are just about Bloodghasts and Prized Amalgams, with Bridge from Below falling out of favor, Surgical Extraction looks to be perfectly positioned against the deck. Sometimes you can Ravenous Trap them and they just reset, but with Surgical Extraction you can cut them off the only cards that matter—Bloodghast, Prized Amalgam, and Narcomoeba. Notably, if you Extract Bloodghast and Narcomoeba, the stock lists won’t even be able to rebuy Amalgam.

The List

Grixis Delver, by Ryan Overturf

Creatures (13)
Delver of Secrets
Snapcaster Mage
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Gurmag Angler
Vendilion Clique

Instants (23)
Dismember
Kolaghan’s Command
Lightning Bolt
Mana Leak
Collective Brutality
Spell Snare
Terminate
Thought Scour

Sorceries (4)
Serum Visions

Lands (20)
Island
Mountain
Swamp
Spirebluff Canal
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents
Watery Grave
Sideboard (15)
Engineered Explosives
Countersquall
Dispel
Magma Spray
Spell Pierce
Go for the Throat
Surgical Extraction
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It’s important to keep in mind that this build is configured for a major tournament, and is unlikely to succeed in a given self-contained metagame. If your LGS features a lot of Jeskai Control, Tron, and/or Bant Eldrazi, this build will be horrible at sideboarding against them. Outside of those decks, there really isn’t a deck in Modern that I would be unhappy to pilot this deck against. Regarding Dredge and Infect, I believe that this build of Grixis Delver can easily go toe-to-toe with both decks and anybody prepared for a metagame infested with them.

Snapcaster MageOne thing to keep in mind is that people will side in the graveyard hate they’re packing for Dredge against you too. Grafdigger’s Cage is laughably bad against this deck, as it only does anything to Snapcaster Mage, which barely matters when you consider that they basically mulligan for every Cage that they cast. Relic of Progenitus is also generally unimpressive against this deck, as Thought Scour just puts too much pressure on the card to matter in the majority of games.

I would be slightly concerned about Leyline of the Void, though you will benefit some from the fact that opponents playing Leyline against you are generally overboarding and the deck can generate hands that just don’t care about Leyline at all. That said, if you’re looking at playing a build similar to this deck that goes deeper on Gurmag Angler in place of Delver of Secrets, you can definitely expect to get wrecked by a Leyline now and again.

In my article last week, I broke down how Bant Eldrazi is a deck that is beaten by strategies, not cards, and given that Grixis Delver is bad game one against Eldrazi, it’s just unfavored in three-game sets. With a deck that’s good against Eldrazi stealing the spotlight and a bunch of linear aggressive decks succeeding as well, now looks like a great time for some disruptive tempo action. Dredge is definitely a bad game one matchup for Delver, though I believe the sideboard Surgical Extractions go a long way, and every other deck from the Milwaukee Top 8 is convincingly positive.

Grixis Delver isn’t for the faint of heart, and Infect and Burn are by far the most skill-testing matchups. But if you put the time in to learn the play patterns, I believe that it’s a phenomenal choice right now. Just remind yourself constantly that you’re a control deck, and that will make the learning process a lot easier.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan Overturf
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter

24 thoughts on “Grixis Delver in the Dredge Metagame

  1. Why do you like the more controlling version vs the more aggressive with young pyro? Do you feel it’s just down to play style? It seems like the most recent successful lists are running less counters and pyros, so I’m just curious. Would a meta with more eldrazi and big mana decks necessitate running Blood Moon?

    1. The more aggressive version banks heavily on being ahead and can’t do much once it falls behind in addition to not having as much interaction for the spells that push you behind outside of killing the opponent. That build has more game against Bant Eldrazi and more speed to clock something like Tron, though in general I believe the controlling build is just the better deck.

      “Necessitate” running Blood Moon is strong, but a list like the one I posted would definitely struggle in that field, unless you mean Valakut by big mana. That’s the one big mana deck that you can easily crush with counterspells.

    1. Canal lets you pass turn and scour snare or bolt on t1. If the deck ran t1 discard there might be a case for darkslick, but with no iok the canal is the more versatile t1 land because if you dont have to bolt you can scour.

    1. There aren’t any matchups where I would want Anger that I would consider bad, and Surgical makes it so that they can’t just dredge back into the game because there are no Amalgam’s left. It’s worth considering, but I don’t endorse it.

  2. How do you feel about Rakdos Charm over Surgical Extraction copies 3-4? It has applications in multiple matchups (pops artifacts against Affinity, though that matchup is favorable anyway), and can complement the Surgical well by wiping the yard after Surgical has slowed them down. I’ve been testing it in the Pyro-Probe build of Grixis Delver, and it’s performed splendidly.

  3. Do you feel that the loss of remand and fulminators makes the tron matchup a lot harder to deal with. Skewing controlling rather than aggressive I’m sure doesn’t help already. We tryin to dodge the matchup here (makes sense, haven’t seen much of it recently)? Obviously 4 surgicals are for the Dredge menace, but could see going 3/1 split with fulminator (which incidentally could lead to a tron land surgical, although I used to just thought scour them and pray when I play aggressive versions). How did the fulminators end up working anyway? I remember from your previous post that they were a new ish addition.

    What’s the reason for not a single one-mana discard spells? I feel like a couple thoughtseizes could act as the legacy version of cabal therapy, though they seem to be a better fit in the side. I suppose countersquall is good against the same kinds of decks as thoughtseize. Honestly, when I loaded up my last grixis delver list, which skewed a lot more aggressive, I was running a single shattering blow to deal with wurmcoil cleanly as vapor snags and remands would only do so much.

    Also, any thought ever given to a 1 of creeping tar pit? It seems with the more controlling tilt, it could be a fit, but i even hesitated myself because using those first three mana over the first 2 turns is so important to not get too behind.

    Last question, why magma spray over pillar of fire? is the instant that much more necessary than being able to burn to the face? I suppose if you’re not trying to be as aggressive you don’t need as much reach, but was more than anything wondering the exact cards you are thinking about wrt magma spray being instant.

    Thanks so much man

    1. Tron is definitely going to be a relatively bad matchup for this build, but it’s on a heavy downswing. The plan is to dodge. I don’t like the 3-1 split because the game one matchup just crutches on Delver anyway and one sideboard card isn’t nearly enough to fix that. It would be committing to fighting a losing battle. The Fulminators were fine, though they didn’t make the matchup seem like a freeroll, which is a bummer when committing so much sideboard space.

      Discard spells suck in this deck- you don’t just want to trade cards for cards, you want to trade mana for mana. Discard spells are tempo negative. Also, this deck often plans on going long, and discard spells are putrid topdecks.

      Tar Pit is very medium, as ETB tapped is a significant drawback and most of the decks that go long are very capable of killing it. It’s an okay sideboard land but in general I’m bigger on Cavern of Souls because resolving Snapcaster Mages matters way more than chip shots. Tapping a bunch of mana on your turn can also be disastrous.

      Instant speed matters a great deal more than going upstairs for the Pillar/Spray distinction. You don’t have to get hit by too many Goblin Guides to figure this one out. Sorcery speed is also very bad against Infect.

      1. Thanks for your replies. “you don’t just want to trade cards for cards, you want to trade mana for mana.” really good sentence. Describes the deck really well.

        1. I’m very new to modern and just expanded my decks from merfolk to delver. I’ve greatly enjoyed the new challenge of learning how to pilot delver but I am really struggling to figure out how to tweak the deck as there are so many variants. I’ve tried ur but prefer grixis (and can’t stomach shelling out for goyfs). Can you or the author explain more about this phrase because when I read it I was stumped but you seem to get it. What’s so bad about the one mana targeted discard and trading card for card? And why so few copies of kolaghan’s command? I have found that when it works it is simply amazing, a blowout against so many decks with small creatures. (although as I type this I realize that kcommand does often end up sitting dead in my hand… Is it similar to the comment above about anger of the gods – it’s only great in matchups that are already good ones?) Thanks for sharing, I hope these questions aren’t too mundane or obvious.

          1. Discard is just off plan. There are so many good cards in Modern that you are not going to play everything that you could- plain and simple. Counterspells allow you to trap your opponent and manipulate the tempo of the game, and discard spells don’t.

            With regard to K-Command, I used to play two back when grindy matchups were more popular and getting stuff back from your graveyard mattered a lot more. These days you just have to care a lot more about being fast. Given that there really aren’t other Snapcaster decks, one K Command is more than enough to compete with Jund.

  4. Hi Ryan,

    Interesting input and revisions to the deck; I like it a lot, think they make sense and may go back to Grixis Delver after I’ve had enough of playing Suicide Blue (which actually has a pretty good matchup vs. Dredge).

    I’m interested to see if Cathartic Reunion will put Dredge into the spot as the top deck in Modern; this past weekend sure seemed to suggest that, but I guess we’ll see.

    One thing you didn’t talk about, but I think is really relevant, is just *how* good Spell Snare can be against Dredge if you can hit Cathartic Reunion (and to a lesser extent in hitting land drops and card advantage, their casting Life from the Loam) – I’ve only done it a couple times, but it’s totally amazing against my opponent. It stops their going crazy on Dredging and depletes their hand of cards so that, even if they get a Conflagrate in the graveyard, they can’t cast it for much! When I’ve managed it, this play felt like a Timewalk + a Hymn to Tourach. Now, it doesn’t matter much if you don’t have any sort of clock on them, but man, if you do, it has made the games I played feel very favorable.

  5. While I really enjoy Grixis Delver and especially ur Control version, i have a real stomachache sleeving it up.
    Your former Version had one unwinnable MU in Dredge and a couple slightly unfavorable MUs (Abzan/Tron/Bant Eldrazi/Jeskai Control). Now you made Dredge a decent MU and Tron/Bant Eldrazi/Jeskai Control became (much) tougher. I mean thats not how I want my deck to play and Grixis Delver doesnt seem to support sth inbetween.
    The last SCG open certainly supports your view and suggested changes. However one must remember most of the dredge players were scggrinders with byes. these people are known to play the deck of the month whereas normal players often times play their pet decks/cards they have.
    This leads me to GPDallas. Which version would you play? I’d argue that 4 surgical are too narrow especially in such a big tournament. There are over 2000 people and many normal people have byes. I feel its much more dangerous to play such a skewed list.

    1. You’re not wrong that this build ends up getting beaten up by decks that the old build didn’t, though Modern is at a point where Grixis Delver actually can’t beat everything. I think that Jeskai Control is a low enough share of the metagame and Bant Eldrazi is the sort of matchup where you just have to get lucky so I’m fine not messing with those. Tron likely remains relatively popular among the players who just own Tron, though you can definitely still cheese them with Delvers. I’m definitely on board with just respecting Dredge as of now.

    1. You don’t want black mana on turn one, and as such Darkslick Shores is pretty medium. I played one because I liked the idea of an extra land that tapped for mana and didn’t want another shock or basic. Canal is easily better.

  6. “Grixis Delver isn’t for the faint of heart, and Infect and Burn are by far the most skill-testing matchups. But if you put the time in to learn the play patterns, I believe that it’s a phenomenal choice right now. Just remind yourself constantly that you’re a control deck, and that will make the learning process a lot easier.”

    Could not agree more. This is a deck where you don’t many free wins. Scapeshift, Living End, Ad Nauseum(if you have multiple counters for pact of negation) and elves are about as close as you get to free wins. Those are great matchups as we are among the only decks in the format that pack maindeck counters.

    Affinity is a great matchup too unless they stick cranial plating on etched champion.

    This is a deck that demands skill and correct sequencing more than alot of decks in modern.

    I personally gave up the deck for a while because so many games were nailbiters. I prefer games where I can tell the outcome quickly.

    Plus now with Dredge plus infect, the lack of treasure cruise really hurts because we can’t just dig to find more answers. I also switched decks because quite frankly, I don’t think I currently have the skill to play the deck at or near its best yet.

    I’ve said it for a while, I think in the hands of a great pilot(like Overturn or Kevin Jones), it can be among the best deck in the format but the margin for error is so small. One reason is unlike other fair matchups, our curve is not neatly laid out. Jund and Abzan have a very neat curve laid out. T1 you do x y or z. T2 a or b. T 3 Liliana lol etc. Grixis we should never be paying over 2 mana for anything(maybe 3 mana for a delve creature) so it’s not always aparent what to cast when.

    I want to say it again as I believe it bears repeating: In the hands of a great pilot(like Overturn or Kevin Jones), it can be among the best deck in the format…but it is not for everyone.

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