Monday, 25 June 2018
I thought I had done an article on this back when these cards first came out but apparently not. As this is one of the most powerful archetypes in cube now it feels remiss to not give it a little showcase. There are lots of ways to incorporate a delirium theme within a deck but this is the build that goes deepest and is the cleanest. I have built plenty of decks trying to rush out Emrakul, the Promised End. I have used lists with heavy overlap to this one for Death's Shadow decks, I even have a couple of quirky delirium decklists sat as drafts. This however is the best and cleanest example list and most deserving of the title. It is not even an Emrakul deck, I have run plenty of these without her and it isn't a huge loss, you still have inevitability with a fair number of cards in the deck and that is all Emrakul really brings. She makes it super easy to crush any of the slower decks. This list is adept at finding and playing Emrakul but that isn't what make this deck good. Most midrange decks can kill you before you do that if that is all you are doing. What makes this the best Emrakul house is that you do really powerful things all the way up to Emrakul as well. It is nice when one of the most powerful cards in magic is just a backup plan you can afford to throw in!
The delirium card that brings the whole deck together is Ishkanah. She is exceptionally effective. She looks pretty high power level on paper but when you come to play with her she vastly out performs her already strong appearances. She is one of the best defensive plays possible. She covers tall and wide, air and ground, she is near impossible to clear from the board without clearing the whole board, and she makes an ungodly amount of toughness for the mana. Attacking into Ishkanah is slow and unprofitable. She is one of the best from behind cards and will put a lot of those games into an immediate board stall which in turn plays perfectly into your game plan. From that position you will eventually win with one of the many slow value and grindy tools in the deck. I have won a bunch of games just with the built in spider drain! The deck might be built around the delirium mechanic but it is absolutely Ishkanah that makes that a top tier thing to do.
Elves of Deep Shadow
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Grapple with the Past
Grisly Salvage / Vessel of Nascency
Abrupt Decay / Dissenter's Deliverance
Liliana of the Veil
Ramunap Excavator / Jadelight Ranger
Ishkana, the Grafwidow
Nissa, Vital Force
Emrakul, the Promised End
Mostly you want to keep a delirium deck pretty streamlined. A good spread of card types is great but don't get caught up on that, you don't need all of them and you don't need to have at least three of each. More is better but it isn't worth compromising your built to do. You want a good amount of self mill and ideally a bit of discard on top of that. You then want to be able to dig into your deck and cycle through it a bit more than non-blue decks tend to do. Then you want some recursion effects so that you can pluck the things you need out of the bin. You want a bit higher count of removal and disruption effects than you might imagine as well, mostly because your self mill and dig tends not to find these cards so often. Your deck is effectively half the size of most normal decks. You able to run fewer action cards than most midrange decks as your dig will find them. This in turn means you can just run the premium cards and so it feels like you have a much higher power density in those cards. Your single Ishkanah turns up as often as if you had two in the list.
The game plan is fairly simple, get ahead with your cheap early ramp, cheap disruption and over sized cheap dorks. Then milk value and stall with your midgame until you can close the deal with spiders or Eldrazi or even just too much value and control to lose from your position. A lot of decks will fold to a 4/4 trample or 4/5 two drop with any disruption or followup. This list has great tempo, very high power level, all the answers, loads of choice and control over cards, and all the late game. Put like that it is no shock at all that this is one of the best unpowered cube lists. It even has a very deep pool of cards it can draw on to build with. No card is essential either, you really want Ishkanah and you quite want some others but you are totally fine without. I could make a totally tier one deck using nothing but the lands and a number of the delirium cards from this list. I would only be using the delrium cards to make it a delirium deck rather than just a Golgari midrange deck but still, you get the point. You don't even need all the self mill effects but not having them greatly increases the importance of having cheap cards across most of the types that put them selves in the bin somehow. If you can't cheat stuff into the bin as it were you have to manually do it! The tools are there. Most decks, including this one, are a mix of both sorts of support types; the mill and the cheap cyclers. Lands that put themselves in the bin somehow are also increasingly important without the self mill and are generally good to begin with.
One point of note, I have found that increasingly I want mass removal access in my midrange decks. The go wide strategies are just too hard to beat without it. Toxic Deluge is great for it although there are plenty of options. As you only really need it against cards in the 0-2 mana range you ideally want effects with some level of variable control over what they will kill. Being able to take out the smaller things and keep the bigger stuff about makes mass removal feel very one sided against the decks you have it in against. Deluge is the most powerful effect on offer but the artifact options give you some extra removal capacity against non-creature stuff too. They are a bit better in the matchups not flooding the board with dorks.
Here are some of the especially good cards for this kind of deck that I didn't manage to fit in. Some are just cycling filler cards to help shrink the deck and fill up the yard in a nicely distributed delirious way! Some are direct replacements for other kinds of card in the deck and others are just great cards that work well in this kind of shell.
Sakura Tribe Elder
Meren of Clan Nel Toth
Arguel's Blood Fast
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Liliana, the Last Hope
Whip of Erebos
Courser of Kruphix
I especially like the Blood Fast in this build and have seen Treasure Map used to good effect for some similar reasons. Blood Fast allows you to do some nice late game ramping without over doing it on land count.You get to play what feels like an extra late game land while increasing the enchantment count in the deck. Blood Fast is also a really good all round protection tool once flipped. Exile removal is one of the few ways to mitigate the inevitability of this kind of deck and being able to sac off your dorks in response to such things is a huge help. The lifegain boost is also nice as burn is way you can lose. The more lifegain effects you can sneak in the less that tier one matchup will be a problem. Mostly Blood Fast is a value tool and this particular list is not lacking in that department.
I mentioned that cheap ramp was a good way of pulling ahead early which is certainly true. That being said this deck is not overly in need of ramp. A lot of its good early control cards are sufficiently big and cheap that you tend to be better off just slowly and steadily making land drops than you are trying to curve out with one or two jumps. Card advantage is generally preferable to ramp effects. You can make a turn five Emrakul but it isn't consistent nor is it necessary. Just make a big fat dork in the early game while disrupting them just a bit in just the right places while drawing extra cards and making your land drops. Don't go over board on ramp effects, two or three is plenty and more is probably detrimental.
Red and white are appealing splash colours for the odd gold bomb like Lingering Souls or Kolaghan's Command. Blue offers to bring a lot more to the archetype with loads of self mill and recursion effects but doing so is a much bigger commitment. Going Abzan or Jund delirium changes little about the deck as I have presented it. Going blue actually changes the structure of the deck and uses a lot more cheap blue cards. You have to have a much much better mana base to incorporate it and you typically have to run a much higher count of instants and sorceries. These three colour builds can absolutely be more powerful but the Golgari version is plenty powerful enough. You have to concede basically no consistency for it to be worth going more colours. It is not as if you lack any tools or power nor even a depth of cards to play.