Traversing Modern & Standard
Developing a new mechanic and understanding how it affects multiple formats is something that even Wizards can get wrong. The best example of this is Delve; a mechanic first introduced in Future Sight. It was Khans block where Delve got actual support, and its impact was swiftly felt in Modern and Legacy as Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise were banned whilst Gurmag Angler and Tasigur became format staples. What people fail to see is that for every Delve or Affinity, there are five Inspired-esque mechanics that will and should see no play ever again. I believe Wizards hit that sweet spot with Delirium, as they gave it just the right set up cost while giving us powerful but ultimately fair pay-offs. Despite it being touted as a Standard-only mechanic, it has been a very prominent player in Modern with hits like Grim Flayer and Traverse the Ulvenwald.
Deaths Shadow Aggro, in its latest iteration, is Modern’s new break-out deck. It has it all: a fast clock, disruption, and staying power. Traverse has proven to be a huge part of the puzzle as the deck is very light on threats. This is partly what separates the deck from something like Bogles which has a reasonably fast clock, but takes a lot of mulligans. Additionally, you don’t have to bend over backwards to enable Delirium as you usually have it on the first, second or third turn of the game. Fetchland into shock land into cycling Street Wraith into Bauble into Thoughtseize enables delirium on turn 1 while knocking you down to 13 and giving you perfect information about your opponent’s hand. There are two prominent builds of Death Shadow; the first being Wrapter’s which splashes white for Renegade Rallier in the mainboard and sideboard cards. The second is the one, which I like more, is Michael Major’s straight up Jund list with Ghor-Clan Rampager.
Death’s Shadow Aggro by Josh Utter-Leyton:
1st Place, Grand Prix Vancouver
2x Liliana of the Veil
4x Mishra’s Bauble
Death’s Shadow Aggro by Michael Majors:
5th Place, SCG Open Indianapolis
2x Liliana, the Last Hope
4x Mishra’s Bauble
I prefer Majors deck because of its ability to tutor up a trample effect with Traverse alongside the fact that it has more consistent mana thanks to the second Overgrown Tomb. The drawback it does suffer is that it doesn’t have access to the format’s best sideboard cards. I have been toying around with a one of Godless Shrine in the board with the usual Lingering Souls/ Kataki package. If your meta has a lot of Jund and Junk decks though, Wrapter’s build is the better metagame call.
This is where Traverse first made an impression as it became a cornerstone of the feared GB Delirium archetype. However, Traverse wasn’t a one-deck wonder as it also features prominently in Temurge and RG Ramp lists. After falling off the radar during Kaladesh, the printing of a certain snek (Winding Constrictor) restored GB Delirium’s potency. This new Delirium deck doesn’t feel the same as it once did – it’s much closer to aggro than control. Another thing that bothered me is that one of the most powerful cards in the format, Grapple with the Past, was seeing little play. I built the deck and instinctively included Emrakul but swiftly remembered that she met her promised end. So I played the deck extensively, refined it and here is my current list
GB Delirium by Abdullah Elhawary:
Overall, I think the deck is quite powerful. It has real staying power, especially after you board in Seasons Past and Tireless Tracker. The Fatal Pushes, Grasps, Lilianas and Ishkanahs mean your Mardu Vehicles matchup is phenomenal. The only game I dropped in 9 matches or so with this exact 75 has been to my opponent drawing all four Gideons. The 4c Saheeli match-ups are very draw dependent but you can answer their creatures, planeswalkers and combo. Your most common avenues to victory are Ishkanah activations or Liliana emblems. All in all, I am unsure why this deck doesn’t see more play as it has solid to great match-ups across the board especially now that all-in Marvel decks are gone.
Whether it’s Modern or Standard, Delirium-based decks that rely on Traverse the Ulvenwald don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, and this may be the tip of the iceberg. Let me know what crazy Traverse brews you have in any format in the comment sections!