Like I’ve always said, I’m a Bad Magic Player. So it should be no surprise that I fell hard on my face at a PTQ in Columbus this past weekend, going 1-3 before dropping with my blue-red Fettergeist deck.
It wasn’t a total blowout in terms of the deck being bad; my losses were deserved due to my inability to really understand what the deck is supposed to do versus. Before I get into all that, let me show you the 75 I had with me on Saturday (or click here to go to the interactive version of the list on tappedout.net):
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Delver of Secrets
1 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Grim Lavamancer
4 Mana Leak
1 Galvanic Blast
1 Gut Shot
3 Gitaxian Probe
3 Pillar of Flame
2 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Red Sun’s Zenith
1 Devil’s Play
4 Sulfur Falls
2 Desolate Lighthouse
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Phantasmal Image
1 Lone Revenant
1 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Frost Titan
1 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
1 Koth of the Hammer
Blue-red “delver” decks have been around since Innistrad, but only with the addition of Bonfire of the Damned, Fettergeist, and Pillar of Flame have the decks really reached a point of playability. Chandra’s Phoenix is no longer good thanks to Lingering Souls, so the deck has been lacking a good 3 drop since Dark Ascension. The two most popular (and arguably best) decks currently in standard are blue-white Delver and red-green aggro, all of which are full of 1 and 2 toughness creatures who are weak to even a lowly Shock. This deck has all of that. Any red burn is great to take care of flipped Delvers, and Bonfire of the Damned gives another answer (besides Phantasmal Image and counterspells) to Geist of Saint Traft. Bonfire with X=2 is insane. Pillar of Flame takes care of annoying (but awesome) Strangleroot Geist, and again red burn comes in handy against everything else they can throw at you.
But what makes this deck great against those decks is our main man Fetters. Fettergeist can block all day long against all of those threats, and is not easily dealt with. (Don’t say Vapor Snag, since that’s the answer to anything, so it doesn’t count). Fettergeist stops a flipped Delver and an undead Strangleroot Geist and still survives. Most importantly, it blocks a Bird of Paradise or Llanowar Elf equipped with a Sword of War and Peace, which is HUGE in a deck that has no real maindeck ways to stop a resolved Sword (other than making sure nothing lives to equip it and the one-of Disperse). Fettergeist is also more relevant now that blue-white delver employs Restoration Angels. Your 3/4 versus their 3/4 is a fantastic matchup, since you have plenty of firepower to burn down the Angel after blocking. They have to pay 2 life and Gut Shot away your guy, for a nice 2-for-1.
Fettergeist fits nicely in this deck since there aren’t many other creatures to worry about driving up his upkeep costs. There might be a flipped delver or a Snapcaster Mage out there, but generally it’s always worth having to hold back one mana for that. Plus the deck doesn’t really need much mana to function well so losing one mana after turn 3 is no big deal for what you’re getting in return.
The red “X” burn spells are really good and fit great in this deck. Bonfire of the Damned is obviously busted, especially when you can Ponder it up. But it is pure gold to use Devil’s Play early in the game to take out a creature and then flash it back for the win in the late game. Red Sun’s Zenith is good in that you can use it to shuffle, and, more importantly, to exile those Strangleroot Geists and Geralf’s Messengers.
Let’s talk about sideboard. Lots of one-ofs, many of which came right from the deck that won GP Minneapolis. But those were in there for a reason. Frost Titan is a house against Wolf-Run Ramp, giving you a fine answer to their turn 6 titan to tap it down and start swinging back. Tamiyo serves a similar purpose, although she is also fantastic against blue-white delver for tapping down Moorland Haunts and white mana sources, often leading to a win by locking down their ability to play their better creatures (Geist and Restoration Angel). Against control decks Tamiyo and Koth double team the opponent, both easily getting to ultimate if an Oblivion Ring isn’t readily available. It only takes one mountain to make Koth go the distance, and just running a 4/4 into a control deck will win the game.
The 2nd Consecrated Sphinx makes sure you get one during the red-green aggro matchup, where you just win off drawing burn spells to dome at your opponent while Sphinx blocks everything. Zombies is still a thing, so Surgical Extractions come in handy against that, and during the PTQ it actually saved me against a red-white-blue Miracles deck. That deck aims to discard miracles like Entreat the Angels from Faithless Looting, and then Noxious Revival them back to the top of the library to miracle off a few turns later. Taking out Entreat the Angels basically means autowin as long as you had counters to deal with their Bonfire of the Damned. Lone Revenant comes in against control and Wolf-Run Ramp, again because of it’s difficulty in getting removed by Slagstorm and Bonfire, but also because against Control it’s usually getting in there for a crucial Impulse ability.
This deck is really fun to play, and does really well against the main decks in the format, but only if you are in the right mindset in piloting – which I was not at the PTQ. This is not blue-red delver like the deck that won GP Minneapolis. That deck was designed to be blue-white delver’s literal red-headed stepchild, with Runechanter’s Pike and Vapor Snags. While Fetters may be similar cards as both that deck and blue-white delver, it is not those decks.
Blue-red Fetters plays more like a midrange control deck, aiming to react (outside of the set of Mana Leaks in the main) to what the opponent does, as opposed to a tempo pressure deck that fights to keep a threat on board and push through damage by any means necessary. Delver of Secrets does put pressure on your opponents to deal with it or die, but it’s not necessarily a card that has to come out immediately if there are other more important things to do. For example, it will be much more rewarding to Pillar of Flame an opposing Strangleroot Geist and Ponder to set up the next few draws against red-green aggro, instead of playing a Delver and Pondering to set up the flip.
Where I went wrong this weekend was in thinking that I could keep sketchy hands that a blue-white delver player would/could keep. Hands like Island, Ponder, Incinerate, Gitaxian Probe, Shock, Shock, Snapcaster Mage. Because Fetters is a midrange deck, it needs starting hands like a midrange deck, with more than one land and ways to ensure that you can keep up while you dig for threats. I kept hands like this several times, just thinking, “Oh, I’ll get a Mountain off the Ponder, or if not, I can Probe and probably get one there.” Nope. I basically threw away games hoping to rip a mountain (or in at least two cases, keeping mountains and hoping for islands, which is an even worse spot to be in). All of the games I threw away to keeping bad hands were winnable games – in several of them my opponent sat for 3-4 turns mana screwed/flooded, and had I even mulled to a decent 5 card hand it would have been instant win happy time. Blue-red Fetters needs a playable opening hand to win, and the ability to dig into something potentially decent is just not going to cut it like it does for white-blue delver.
Most of you are probably cringing that you don’t see any Vapor Snags in the list. I had a hard time getting away from those, and it took several hours of arguing with a friend the night before the PTQ to finally replace them with more burn (3 snags became Grim Lavamancer, Red Sun’s Zenith, and Galvanic Blast). Vapor Snags are used by delver decks to ensure that their damage gets through – remember they are tempo decks designed to put pressure on their opponents and push damage through to win. Fetters wants to just kill what gets in the way, and doesn’t put enough pressure to justify bouncing creatures like Strangleroot Geist and Huntmaster of the Fells. Blue-white delver can bounce those value cards because they’re pushing in 6+ damage with Geist of Saint Traft, where bouncing them with Fetters basically means them going to Value Town for free.
Remember, Fetters strategy is to put a little pressure while dealing with threats and acting more midrange and is designed to take advantage of the red burn cards to eliminate creatures and throw fire to the opponent’s face. It is not to drop Delver and get in any damage as fast as possible by any means necessary. That mindset is key to winning with blue-red Fetters.
In testing and at the PTQ I felt really good about the deck when it worked. My one match win came against a decent white-blue delver player at the PTQ, and I have tested extensively against both that deck and green-red aggro, yielding favorable results. I am planning to make a few changes and continue testing and practicing with the deck and take it to the StarCityGames 5k in Detroit at the end of June. I already plan to take out the Grim Lavamancer and replace it with a Phantasmal Image or Phyrexian Metamorph. While Image is quicker as a response to a Geist of Saint Traft and costs less mana to allow flexibility to play multiple spells that turn, Metamorph’s ability to copy an artifact should not be overlooked, with the continued popularity of the Swords. I’m also going to test 1-2 Everlasting Wilds in the deck to see if that helps fix the mana a bit (although I haven’t really had too many problems with not getting one or the other type of land) and can be a way to take care of awkward Ponders where other decks have Thought Scour.
I think this deck can win tournaments with some practice (or a good pilot), and I hope that you’ll give it a shot!