Welcome back to Good Grief Games. Today’s Brewed Up entry is especially near and dear to my heart. My first introduction to Modern brewing came in late 2013. More than five years later with new toys from Modern Horizons, Mono-Blue Delver is back. Today I will present my battle-tested decklist and break it down card by card.
3x Fiery Islet
15x Snow-Covered Island
2x Cryptic Serpent
4x Delver of Secrets
4x Thing in the Ice
4x Archmage’s Charm
4x Disrupting Shoal
1x Echoing Truth
1x Spell Pierce
4x Thought Scour
2x Vapor Snag
4x Serum Visions
2x Ceremonious Rejection
2x Cryptic Command
1x Disdainful Stroke
2x Gut Shot
1x Narset’s Reversal
2x Ravenous Trap
2x Snapcaster Mage
2x Surgical Extraction
1x Vendilion Clique
75 Cards Total
The first thing you will see is that this is a Mono-Blue Delver deck. If you have been playing Modern for more than five years, this likely will remind you of the classic Ninja Bear Delver. The years have been very kind to this archetype and I do believe it is time for a renaissance. The question for such a deck has always been, why just blue? The Modern format has fetch-shock manabases and all of the fastlands. At a basic level, reducing your color count adds consistency and reduces mana-pain. We have seen this in recent years as Tron has defaulted to Mono-Green, Rock decks have gone down to straight Golgari, and Control decks have gone down to Azorious. For this deck in particular though, the rewards are especially handsome. Modern players have recently gained a free Negate but if you are willing to play mono-blue, you have a free catch-all counterspell in Disrupting Shoal. Now thanks to Modern Horizons we have the insanely versatile Archmage’s Charm and the restrictive mana cost is irrelevant to a mono-blue deck. I will go into detail on these cards below but I am fully aware that I must justify playing a mono-color deck in Modern.
It is a mono-color deck so the manabase is quite simple. With a curve this low and abundant cantrips, eighteen lands does the job just fine. The number of canlands is really up to you. I began with four but aggressive decks tend to be the more difficult matchups. Also you have so many card draw effects already that you both win and lose with a hand full of options. There are also games where you lock the opponent down and tap out four or five turns in a row for expensive hard counters, Charm and Shoal, so the damage adds up. Regardless, turning lands into extra cards on an opponent’s endstep is great. Fiery Iselts were chosen as an Izzet bluff and the ability to hardcast Gut Shots for one less life.
The creature suite of Thing Drake Delver has felt so much better than the ancient Ninja Bear Delver. Every creature begs us to max out on instants and sorceries; we are more than happy to oblige. Of course Delver of Secrets is the main attraction and, thanks to the cantrips, we have managed to squeeze in twenty-eight spells to flip it. At this number it will naturally flip 46.67% of the time but we of course have Serum Visions to help guarantee it. Thing in the Ice has been such a massive benefit to the deck. Go-wide aggro has always been the bane of mono-blue decks but now we can fit a threat and board wipe into one slot. The nasty 7/8 outsizes nearly everything else in the format and our instants help us to flip it out of nowhere, even when tapped out. In fact, in a pinch you can Shoal anything just to get a thaw trigger. It is worded just like Fatal Push “if its converted mana cost” so you can target a spell that has the incorrect mana cost if you need a free, instant way to cast a spell or fill your grave.
Then we have a back-up Delver in Pteramander. He has a higher floor and ceiling but the distance between them is much further. I mean that it will take more time on average for his growth. But we are very good at filling the grave for it; especially with Thought Scour. Note that the ability is instant speed so you can leave it up as an option in the lategame alongside a counterspell. Also if you activate it and the opponent’s responds with Bolt, you can activate it again to trump them. The final threat, and another beneficiary, of Thought Scour is the criminally underrated Cryptic Serpent. This cousin of Bedlam Reveler is even larger and sees a fair amount of Legacy play. A vanilla 6/5 may not seem particularly enticing but when you pay only two mana for it, it feels amazing. We are quite good at defending our threats but a Push-proof threat is always nice to have. It is the most efficient, immediate fatty a mono-blue deck could hope for. Also it is quite narrow but you can pitch it to Shoal to counter Karn Liberated. Now that is podracing.
The true bulk of the deck is of course the instants and sorceries. Opt, Serum Visions, and Thought Scour are integral to the deck and cannot be touched. Cheap instants and sorceries are required to enable our threats but a tempo deck cannot just dump free spells like Mono-Red Phoenix. You need to keep a full hand to maximize Shoal options and you want to keep the land count low for Delver flipping. The dozen cantrips make it possible. You will also notice the one of Spell Pierce. Do not run it if you do not want to. But you will not find me playing a blue tempo deck without the singleton Pierce. They cannot play around it and if they do, they are playing themselves. The final one drop is the two of Vapor Snag. It is negative card advantage but direct damage is great and bounce effects are a great way to setup a counterspell. Do not be afraid to use it to save your own creature from removal.
At the two drop slot we are packing the full set of Remand. Between Shoal and Charm we have plenty of access to hard counters. Bouncing an opposing spell and maintaining card count is much better than something like Mana Leak in this deck. Also there are times where you will want to bounce your own spell in a stack war. When your spell would be countered you simply return it to your hand, draw a card, and say “Okay maybe later”. You could even bounce a spell and then pitch that spell to a Shoal mid-stack war but now we are getting really obscure. The miser’s two drop of choice is Echoing Truth. As explained above, bounce effects are quite good in this deck. This one in particular lets us deal with troublesome resolved permanents such as Chalice. It has bonus utility against Image decks such as Humans and Spirits; make sure to target the non-Image if you actually want the multi-bounce!
Then we come to linchpin of the deck, Disrupting Shoal. This card is amazing and a key reason to play mono-blue in Modern. Admittedly, in this deck it is similar to a Force of Negation that can hit creatures but only stops one drops and two drops. Do no get me wrong. That comprises the vast majority of spells in the format. But it is rare that you will be pitching a Charm or Serpent to it so the coverage is limited. You will get some really nasty and shocked looks playing this card. Have you ever been on the draw and countered a Bogles player’s Turn 1 hexproof threat? Or seen a Humans player’s face when you counter their Turn 1 Vial before you have even played a land? It is a very smug feeling and lets you deal with cards that would normally thrash a tempo deck. In the midgame, using one of the many instants speed draw effects, in response to a spell, to dig into the CMC you need feels awesome. Then in the lategame you just start using it as a hard counter. It will never be efficient but when you have already stabilized, it does not need to be.
Finally we come to the keystone that unlocked this deck’s potential: Archmage’s Charm. I tried to make the deck work from time to time over the years and always ran into issues. Mono-blue is not particularly aggressive so you need to be able to stabilize for more than a turn or two. You need hard counters that are more efficient than hard Shoals and stay active unlike Mana Leak. You need a way to net card advantage after the Shoals and bounce effects whittle it away. You also need a way to actually deal with go-wide decks. The classic deck had to play Cryptic Command, and an unfavorable amount of lands, for utility of these proportions. Cryptic is a great card but as a mainboard four of, it forces you too run too many lands and/or too few threats for an effective Delver deck. All of these issues have been solved by Charm. Now we have a hard counter to fill in the blank between Remand and hard-Shoal. Now we have an instant speed way to refill our hand. The most narrow but exciting effect is the mind control effect. It will not come up often but it is a built in two-for-one and a stolen Champion of the Parish can just win the game.
I will not cover the board in too much detail as the metagame is in such an uncertain place at the moment. Rejection is great against Tron and other artifact decks. Cryptic is for go-wide decks and anything grindy; UWx and GBx. Stroke is for the various big mana decks but it seems too narrow against the recent builds of UW Control. Gut Shot is insurance against weenie decks and Infect but I think I might want to swap these for Dismember; though it is dangerous against aggro decks. Narset’s Reversal is pure fun. This take on Remand may only hit non-creature spells but rather than drawing a card you get a free copy of the bounced spell. Truly busted in the blue mirrors, especially on your own spells. Snapcaster comes in for any matchup where you have an especially potent instant or sorcery, such as Rejection against Tron, or want to net some card advantage. Clique helps you to boost your threat count, disrupt combo, and peek at your opponent’s hand; I might be boarding it in too much. Engulf the Shore is something I need to test. I would rather not be running a full set of grave hate but that is the state of Modern right now. Feel free to cut down to two copies of Ravenous Trap once this blows over.
We have a live one here folks. I am very confident that this is a truly competitive brew. Mono-Blue Delver has been viable in the past and the years have been very kind with new printings. Apart from Delver, the threat base is entirely new and much more fierce than the humble Ninja of the Deep Hours. Now with an additional instant speed cantrip in Opt and a fresh top end in Charm, the deck is ready to roll. I will probably get some hate for this but I believe that this is the best way to play Delver in Modern. Bolt is great but Shoal and Charm are amazing. My only complaints so far have been the Burn and Affinity matchups but those matchups have become quite rare and the sideboard mostly ignored them. Build the deck to suite your expected metagame and I promise you will not be disappointed.
I do hope that you enjoyed this stroll down memory lane, and if the concept was new to you I recommend you give it a shot. Mono-colored decks in Modern are mostly just budget decks but I truly believe that this is the best Delver build in Modern. I have been super impressed by Archmage’s Charm. What is your favorite card from Modern Horizons? Do you have any brews that could not have existed pre-Horizons? Please come share it with us in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back tomorrow with an awesome artifact brew. Until then my friends.