Deck Testing: Ninja Bear Delver

Hello there! This is the first installment in what is going to be, if no problems arise, a monthly series: deck testing. Is it a primer? not exactly, even though I am going to try and explain briefly the reasons behind each card. I will simply explain how the deck felt, and how good I think it is right now.

But, before we begin, let me give a shout out to my friends at Industria 61, a Magic: The Gathering store near Sagrada Familia in Barcelona where I play weekly. The store owners have been kind enough to let me borrow the cards I needed to play some tournaments with the deck. Were it not for them, I would not have been able to write this. Totally recommended store, very nice people and a great place to play. Mondays and Thursdays are for Modern, with an average of 20 people showing up regularly.

Let’s start then.

Travis Woo started a small storm, which Luis Scott Vargas stoked, when he wrote this article in which he talked about a tempo deck that used [c]Delver of Secrets[/c], [c]Phantasmal Bear[/c] and [c]Ninja of the Deep hours[/c] combined with [c]Snapcaster Mage[/c], [c]Cryptic Command[/c] and [c]Disrupting Shoal[/c] to do very cool things in the right hands. The deck featured full playsets of every card, and had a consistent plan. It was a bit difficult to believe at first, but it started showing results occasionally, and became a bit of a phenomenon. Then it all died down in the wake of the unbans that made [c]Wild Nacatl[/c] legal again.

I was very curious about the deck though. I love mono coloured decks over anything else, and this promised to be a fun deck to play with, with some of the best cards in Modern together and in whole playsets. So I put the deck together and started trying it out.

What this deck is about

The deck felt a lot, and I mean a lot, like one of the best Pauper decks available: Mono Blue Delver. The two decks share some cards and the general game plan: cheap threats, card draw, disruption, delaying the opponent.

18 Island
2 Mutavault

4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Serum Visions
4 Vapor Snag
4 Remand
4 Cryptic Command
4 Disrupting Shoal

4 Delver of Secrets
4 Phantasmal Bear
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Ninja of the Deep Hours

35Mono blue means no fetchlands and no shocklands. This makes the mana base essentially free, save for those two [c]mutavault[/c]s. This also makes your opponents start the game easily six life below you, which is good for your game plan. This six lives are going to come in handy, as you are going to play [c]Gitaxian Probe[/c] often to obtain information. This deck needs the information, because it doesn’t play big cards that warp the game: this is no ‘goodstuff’ deck where we have threats that win us games. We have to play tight, play well, and use our mana and our cards as efficiently as possible. Mono blue also makes one card shine: [c]Disrupting Shoal[/c] is a real blast to play. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition [c]Disrupting Shoal[/c]. It was just bananas at times. Finally, mono blue means we are going to find [c]Cryptic Command[/c] easily castable, and we want to be able to cast it, because it is an amazing card.

38This is not a cheap deck by any means: [c]Cryptic Command[/c] is crazy expensive right now, [c]Snapcaster Mage[/c] is very expensive too and [c]Remand[/c] and [c]Mutavault[/c] are not cheap, even though the former has stabilised as an affordable staple and the latter is going down in price as we speak. Nevertheless, all the expensive cards here are used in other decks, so they are good cards to have, and the rest of the cards are very cheap to acquire. This means this deck does not feel expensive. From an economic point of view then, this is not a bad way to start playing Modern. Would I recommend it to a new player though? One word: never.

Ninja Bear Delver is really, really unforgiving and difficult to play and how well the deck performs depends a lot on how good the pilot is. That is why Luis Scott Vargas and Travis Woo sliced through other decks like nobody’s business, and that is also why I did not. Not even remotely. This deck showed me how mediocre I still am when playing Modern.

There is no removal in this deck. There is countermagic, but countermagic requires more skill and knowledge of the opponent’s deck. Plus, open mana at exactly the right time. Of course, [c]Cryptic Command[/c] buys you whole turns, but you can only cast so many [c]Cryptic Commands[/c]. I felt like I couldn’t recover when the opponent was ahead, and that it was too easy for the opponent to overwhelm me. Be it Merfolk, GW hatebears or BGx, they all had ways to just render me unable to catch up. I felt powerless.

4 Hibernation
4 Vedalken Shackles
3 Vendilion Clique
2 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Echoing Truth[/deck]

vedalkenshackles2When using the sideboard, some matchups felt a lot better. [c]Vedalken Shackles[/c] was able to steal some key creatures, [c]Hibernation[/c] meant a one sided board reset in some games, and [c]Hurkyl’s Recall[/c] bought me a lot of time. Shackles, in particular, was very good. Like, mainboard good. It doesn’t fit the initial game plan though, so it is out of the question.

The verdict

Ninja Bear Delver is a fun, though demanding, deck. It is consistent, and there are some very powerful plays (Ninjutsuing [c]Ninja of the Deep Hours[/c] to an unblocked [c]Snapcaster Mage[/c] felt a bit like cheating). Do not start playing modern with this deck, by any means. If you have an experience already though, you really should try it. It’s a very nice experience and tempo is not something that is played a lot in Modern, so it’s a welcome change. I think it could be somewhat competitive in the right hands, but it still lacks a bit of something. By the way, a red splash would necessarily result in another deck entirely, there is no middle ground: you’ll end up in either Hoogland’s or Del Moral’s deck.

I must say I was frustrated though. Maybe a couple of weeks of playtesting isn’t enough, but I felt like I couldn’t play Magic at all. This deck is hard.