A few words on Rich Cali
(Twitter: @learntolove66 | MTGO: learntolove6)
Rich is a Legacy lover from upstate New York who loves to play fair blue decks. He has two SCG Open top 8s with one win, and numerous high-level Magic Online results.
Right now, I think Grixis Delver is the best deck in Legacy. While each of the other Delver variants (Jeskai and Sultai being the primary alternatives) have a lot of strengths going for them, Grixis tends to be the most well-rounded and focused. Playing Black provides a lot of effective ways to recur with [[Lurrus of the Dream-Den]] and generate 2-for-1 value, and Red allows the deck to play the role of a traditional, aggressively-slanted Delver deck.
The EPIC Storm is a tricky matchup. Due to the abundance of artifact-based mana sources, the mana denial element of Delver is far less effective than ever before. As a result, [[Daze]] is more difficult to turn into a meaningful piece of disruption. While [[Veil of Summer]] isn’t too much more disruptive than a discard spell on the critical turn, identifying when the critical turn is occurring is more challenging than against a deck like [[Ad Nauseam]] Tendrils. This is because [[Burning Wish]] and [[Wishclaw Talisman]] can be played in advance of a pure combo turn, thus requiring the Delver player to burn a critical [[Force of Will]] while the Storm player still has multiple cards in hand. All of this makes it quite tricky to win in game one.
That being said, I find The EPIC Storm to be more susceptible to permanent-based hate out of the sideboard, which goes a long way towards helping the matchup overall. On top of that, [[Delver of Secrets]] decks always can put together the perfect combination of pressure and disruption to defeat any opponent. While I do think it’s a tough matchup, it is certainly very winnable.
On the most basic level, Delver decks have shifted towards playing more permanents that can be recurred with [[Lurrus of the Dream-Den]]. [[Mishra’s Bauble]] has become a staple in the main deck, and many sideboard cards that were Instants or Sorceries (e.g. [[Surgical Extraction]] and [[Abrade]]) in the past have become permanents that can sacrifice to generate an effect (e.g. [[Nihil Spellbomb]] and [[Goblin Cratermaker]]).
Many Delver decklists have gone a few steps further than that, however, and have fully adapted to playing cards that improve the matchup against the Delver mirror. [[Baleful Strix]] has moved into the main deck, [[Thoughtseize]]s have been replaced by additional removal spells, and [[Kolaghan’s Command]] have been steadily increasing in numbers over time.
The most ubiquitous disruption suite that almost all Delver decks play is a full set of both [[Force of Will]] and [[Daze]] alongside two [[Force of Negation]]. As I previously mentioned, a lot of other disruption like [[Thoughtseize]], [[Spell Snare]], [[Spell Pierce]], and [[Stifle]] have been eschewed from recent decklists in favor of cards that help against other Delver decks. For the most part, this substantially weakens Grixis’ ability to interact with The EPIC Storm in pre-boarded games. Some of the cards that have replaced them, namely [[Kolaghan’s Command]], can be very good in this matchup if the Delver player is given enough time to survive.
With previous versions of Delver, my priority was always to assemble [[Delver of Secrets]] + [[Daze]] in just about any matchup and lean into my aggressive role. The presence of [[Lurrus of the Dream-Den]] in Grixis shifts that priority quite a bit. Now, I tend to value the ability to survive to the late-game a lot more, which generally means I am keeping more hands with both removal spells and [[Force of Will]], and fewer hands with threats. This is even more the case when I know my opponent is also playing [[Lurrus of the Dream-Den]] as my first assumption is that it is a mirror match.
[[Empty the Warrens]] is a weird card because it can easily win the game by itself and must be respected for that reason, but it’s also a lot easier to account for. In the post-board games, I tend to value finding answers to [[Empty the Warrens]] in my opening hand to give myself some peace of mind that [[Goblin Token]]s aren’t going to run away with the game. If I don’t have an answer in my opening hand, I do try to find one as soon as I can with cantrips. All in all, I would say that yes, I do worry about [[Empty the Warrens]].
I like to say that I never feel comfortable leaving home without [[Null Rod]], but unlike the Delver decks of yore, it comes with a real cost in Lurrus Delver. With four [[Mishra’s Bauble]]s in the main deck and numerous sideboard cards that are affected, it can be difficult to have a stable plan in a matchup that involves bringing in [[Null Rod]].
Keeping that in mind, I think [[Null Rod]] is incredibly well-positioned at the moment. [[Lion’s Eye Diamond]] decks have increased a lot in popularity since Companions have hit the scene, and many of them can be completely crippled by a turn-two [[Null Rod]]. As I mentioned in the opening question, I think permanent-based hate is very important in approaching the matchup against The EPIC Storm, and [[Null Rod]] is likely the best of the available options.
Even considering that [[Null Rod]] can work against some of Delver’s own cards, I think it’s worth including at least one in Grixis Delver sideboards going forward.
Right now, my disruptive suite in the main deck is four [[Force of Will]], four [[Daze]], two [[Force of Negation]], and two [[Kolaghan’s Command]]. The sideboard tends to be in flux, but recently I have included at least one copy of [[Null Rod]], [[Pyrostatic Pillar]], and [[Engineered Explosives]], which are my best cards in the matchup. I have been including [[Abrade]] over [[Goblin Cratermaker]]s, which helps in this matchup because [[Goblin Cratermaker]] doesn’t kill [[Wishclaw Talisman]]. This is rounded out by the usual suite of three [[Pyroblast]]s and at least two pieces of graveyard hate (currently two [[Nihil Spellbomb]]s).
Unless the mulligan situation is dire, I try to never keep a hand that can’t survive until turn two. In the perfect world, I want to find two lands, a [[Force of Will]] effect, a Blue card, and a permanent piece of hate. The London Mulligan makes this much more achievable than it used to be, so I tend to mulligan to six cards a bit more liberally. I’ll basically never mulligan a functional hand with a [[Force of Will]] effect (e.g. a few lands, a few cantrips, and a [[Force of Will]]), but won’t usually keep a dysfunctional hand based on only [[Force of Will]] (e.g. five lands, [[Force of Will]], [[Daze]]).
I tend to bring out 1-2 [[Wasteland]], one [[Karakas]], all copies of [[Fatal Push]], all copies of [[Baleful Strix]], 0-1 [[Lightning Bolt]], and one [[Mishra’s Bauble]] if I’m bringing in [[Null Rod]]. [[Wasteland]] is a bit controversial, but The EPIC Storm has a lot of artifact-based mana sources. Even if there is a [[Wasteland]] target on board, using [[Wasteland]] might set me too far behind on mana. Even more importantly, it makes [[Daze]] less effectiv. It still has some disruptive function, and it does help cast some of the more important cards in the matchup, but I don’t find it to be an important element to the Delver gameplan. With the inclusion of [[Lurrus of the Dream-Den]] in The EPIC Storm, I think it’s important to keep at least three [[Lightning Bolt]]s in the deck to keep it in check.
I generally bring in one [[Null Rod]], one [[Pyrostatic Pillar]], one [[Engineered Explosives]], two [[Abrade]], 1-3 [[Pyroblast]], and 1-2 [[Nihil Spellbomb]]. [[Pyroblast]] has a high-variance place in the matchup. It generally tends to do one of three things: snipes a cantrip, act as insurance against [[Echo of Eons]], or rots in your hand and does nothing in the face of [[Veil of Summer]] or [[Defense Grid]]. It is not only difficult to make use of, but it’s also easy to play around from the Storm opponent. That being said, when it can protect you from losing to [[Echo of Eons]], it is absolutely a lifesaver. [[Pyroblast]] is at its best in the matchup when it can both interact with cantrips and has a value against [[Echo of Eons]], which means I’m more likely to have 2-3 copies on the play when hitting a cantrip is a bit more doable, and 1-2 copies on the draw.
I don’t tend to be very scientific when it comes to sideboarding in any matchup. I spend a lot of time feeling out how my opponents have played, what decisions they have made, and seeing how much they’ve respected me having certain cards when I make my decisions. The fact that the adjustments I’m suggesting are so variable in number reflects my tendency to adapt to the situation.
Before [[Lurrus of the Dream-Den]], I didn’t think graveyard hate was worth bringing in against The EPIC Storm. It’s very difficult to exile an [[Echo of Eons]] before it can be cast, and just removing copies of [[Rite of Flame]] isn’t worth a card. With [[Lurrus of the Dream-Den]] in the mix, however, its value has certainly gone up, but the jury is out regarding how much. While it does add a new disruptive element to the Delver gameplan, it probably won’t have a game-warping impact. On top of that, it gets caught by [[Null Rod]], which can be more backbreaking for the Delver player than the Storm player. I think one copy is generally worth it, but I wouldn’t fault someone for bringing in more or less of them.
I think I tend to be more scared of [[Veil of Summer]] being cast as [[Silence]] as opposed to being a counterspell for [[Force of Will]]. Having to cast [[Force of Will]] when your opponent has 5-plus cards in hand feels bad, but it is almost certainly a forced play from Delver. To me, it seems that the way that The Epic Storm is built these days allows for many of the powerful spells to be cast upfront before any other cards have been committed to comboing off. Those are the situations that leave me feeling the most unprepared as the game reaches the critical combo turn.
Regarding Delver players, as a result of [[Daze]] losing a lot of impact as the turns develop in this matchup, I think it’s likely correct to [[Daze]] anything that will generate a card of value. The two most common cards you will get are a [[Lotus Petal]] or a cantrip, but I think that’s generally worth it. This is all being said out of context, though. Sometimes [[Daze]] will be the perfect spell at the end of the game as every game is unique. Just be mindful of what’s appropriate when you’re in the game, but try to make sure you can get at least a card for your troubles.
In a vacuum, the EPIC Storm is a bit more difficult to play against than the other combo decks in the format. This is because some of the broader anti-combo cards Delver plays, like [[Thoughtseize]], [[Pyroblast]], and [[Nihil Spellbomb]], aren’t as effective against The EPIC Storm as they are against other combo decks. The trade-off is that I find The EPIC Storm to be a bit easier to account for if you’re willing to dedicate space to cards like [[Null Rod]]. If you are properly accounting for The EPIC Storm, I think it’s overall a bit easier than playing against Sneak & Show and ANT. That being said, it is still a brutally powerful deck, so even with some dedicated cards it can still be an uphill battle.
With The EPIC Storm having access to [[Lurrus of the Dream-Den]], it is much more difficult to permanently stop cards like [[Wishclaw Talisman]] from being effective. Stopping it for a turn or two and forcing the Storm player to recast it can be exploitable if you can apply enough pressure. Try to be mindful of what kind of mileage you’re getting out of your disruption and really think about how to make the most out of every card. For example, a hand of primarily copies of [[Lightning Bolt]] doesn’t want the game to go long, so use your disruption to try to cut as many turns off as you can.
I occasionally write articles for Flipside Gaming and the MinMax blog, so feel free to check those out. I also post about Delver decks on twitter @learntolove66, and occasionally stream on twitch.tv/learntolove6.
Huge thank you to Rich Cali for joining Through the Looking Glass and providing some outstanding insights on Grixis Delver deck ands it’s matchup with The EPIC Storm.
With the announcement of a B&R announcement early next week by Wizards of the Coast – I wouldn’t be surprised if my TTLG article once again leads to the banning of a deck (For future guess/estimations ask Bryant, not me!). Until next time, keep Storming!