Treasure Mapping

Posted in Top Decks on October 3, 2014

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

I haven't touched on eternal formats in a while, but now seems as good a time as any to delve into them. It turns out that cards that get cheaper the more you fill up your graveyard are pretty good in a format where you get to fill that graveyard almost for free. Sacrifice some fetch lands, cast some blue card-draw spells, play a removal spell or two, and you get to cast cards that should be very expensive for just one or two mana. Cards like Gitaxian Probe, Preordain, Brainstorm, and Ponder are exactly what you want to enable delve, both because they fill up your graveyard and because they find the delve cards themselves (or shuffle them away if it's early or if you've drawn multiples). Granted, the last three are banned in Modern and restricted in Vintage, but that doesn't mean that Thought Scour and other substitutes can't take their place (not to mention cards like Gush if we are looking at Vintage).

Treasure Cruise seems like the main reason to be delving, but Murderous Cut, Necropolis Fiend, and Dig Through Time all seem plausible as well. Treasure Cruise has the advantage of costing a solitary blue mana and providing one of the most powerful outputs, especially in a deck with all cheap spells that can then deploy whatever it draws efficiently. Delve cards do end up putting a lot of pressure on your graveyard, so you can't play too many of them or too many Snapcaster Mages, although what the actual numbers on each look like isn't clear.

Legacy

First, the blue cards (where else to begin?).

Treasure Cruise plays perfectly in aggressive tempo decks like Delver, which use Daze and Force of Will to convert spells into board advantage and love playing a ton of cheap cards like Delver, Lightning Bolt, and cantrips. It also can be a good card in attrition decks, especially once those decks have their curve adjusted downwards and the number of cantrips increased. Dig Through Time is a more powerful way to find specific cards, but it costs a little more (the difference between one and two can be huge) and it isn't as much raw card draw. In Modern, where you don't have Brainstorm to turn any three cards into better ones, looking at seven and picking two sounds better. On the flip side, in Vintage, where you have only one Brainstorm and you have specific cards that are WAY better than anything else, looking at seven also sounds better. Legacy has to lean toward Treasure Cruise, as it has four Brainstorms and no restricted cards, so unless you are assembling a specific combo, I'd rather just draw three.

First, an example of the aggressive Delver deck that won the StarCityGames.com Open in New Jersey (complete with four Monastery Swiftspear as well!).

UR Delver by Bob Huang

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This perfectly encapsulates why Treasure Cruise is good in this style of deck. It's all one-drop creatures, one-mana burn spells, zero- and one-mana cantrips, and zero-mana counterspells. The only card in the entire deck that costs more than one mana and doesn't have an alternative cost is Young Pyromancer, which clearly does some good work. The deck can Brainstorm and Ponder away almost all the lands it sees past two, and it can reliably cast multiple one-mana Treasure Cruises over the course of the game. It's incredible how quickly Bob Huang built/found this list (I don't know its exact provenance), given that he won a tournament with it mere days after the set was released.

All this deck is trying to do is get ahead by spending less mana than its opponent. It gets to threaten the opponent with Delver, Swiftspear, and Pyromancer, all creatures that provide a ton more offense than their cost would suggest, and can end the game very quickly as a result. If that doesn't work, Treasure Cruise lets it shift into control mode, and just trade cards until it draws three to six extra, which is enough to pull ahead even when using Force of Will and getting two- for-oned. This is certainly a good starting place for Treasure Cruise, but there is more room ahead.

This looks like a good Legacy core to use either Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time (although to be fair, this is just a good group of cards to start with in general):

4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
4 Force of Will
4 Gitaxian Probe

What you do with this is pretty much up for grabs. The Delver deck added Daze, Lightning Bolt, and a couple other cheap interactive spells. A combo deck could play combo pieces, something like Thought Scour, and potentially end up close to the Vintage Pyromancer Ascension list that Josh Utter-Leyton has been playing in the Vintage Super League (which you should be watching, by the way).

Pyromancer Ascension

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It's not clear that playing Pyromancer Ascension is better than playing Delvers and Swiftspears, but this deck at least doesn't care about creature removal and is much harder to interact with. Of course, this is just one of the most streamlined delve decks (Pyromancer Ascension pressures you pretty hard to play all four-ofs), and there are definitely ways to build a more intricate deck.

Omni-Tell

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Omni-Tell is another deck with not a ton of room, and I'm not even 100% sure that cutting an Emrakul is right. What I am interested to see is exactly how good Dig Through Time is in this sort of deck, as it dumps a lot of cards into its graveyard and is looking for exactly two specific cards in return. Between Dig and Cunning Wish, you have access to a lot of Digs (including one in the five-card "wishboard"), and because Dig Through Time + Omniscience is so powerful, I'm willing to risk having Show and Tell and not having the fourth Emrakul to go with it (plus, Show and Tell into Emrakul isn't what you want to do in most games anyway). Intuition sets up Dig very well, and I even wanted to fit in a third Dig to make Intuition for Digs a thing. It might actually be fine to cut all the Cunning Wishes and run a more Dig-centric build. Cutting two Cunning Wishes for one Dig Through Time and a Thought Scour or something along those lines could be worth exploring.

Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise (particularly Cruise) both seem like fine additions to control decks as well. Miracles doesn't necessarily want them because it's so tight on mana and it spends a lot of time using Sensei's Divining Top instead of filling its graveyard with cantrips, but decks like Sultai Delver (with or without the Delvers, even) are a natural fit. Treasure Cruise might even be a good enough engine to spawn new control decks, as it could provide a more enticing build-around than the whole Counterbalance-Top engine to begin with.

We have barely even scratched the surface of what Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time offer Legacy, and I expect tons of new decklists and ways to use them to surface.

Modern

The most (potentially) broken thing going on in Modern right now is Jeskai Ascendancy, which also happens to play a bunch of Treasure Cruises. The following list got 2nd at the Mana Deprived Super Series:

Jeskai Ascendancy Combo by Tyler Longo

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All the deck is trying to do is get out a Jeskai Ascendancy and one or more mana creatures, at which point every spell cycles and is either free or generates mana. You rip through your deck, drawing extra cards with Treasure Cruise, and eventually attack with a very large mana dork (or wish for Flesh // Blood if your large creature happens to be a Sylvan Caryatid). I wouldn't be surprised if this deck massively impacts Modern, which is exciting. It uses multiple new cards, and adds another potential Tier 1 archetype to the discussion (whether it's Tier 0, as in too good, is not clear yet but is definitely on the table).

I haven't had a chance to goldfish the Jeskai Ascendancy deck yet, so I will refrain from suggesting sweeping changes (for some decks I feel comfortable doing so, but completely new ones that I've never played are not always among that group). Sylvan Caryatid does seem quite important in making sure you untap with a mana creature in play, and I do think this deck is not just immune to disruption. Abrupt Decay and Thoughtseize are both great, although Glittering Wish does its part to make sure the deck has easy access to Ascendancy. If this deck is the real deal, there are hate cards that can make its life harder, and the same is true of delve in general (although those cards don't necessarily overlap). Leyline of the Void is the most extreme answer, but more Relic of Progenituses can chip away at graveyards and make delve at least a little more awkward. Besides hand disruption and enchantment removal, traditional anti-combo cards like Rule of Law can hinder the Ascendancy deck, and counterspells are generally good as well.

From that very same event we have Jeskai Control with two copies of Dig Through Time, which does more and more to support the theory that delve is insane in older formats.

Jeskai Control by Kaspar So

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This is essentially the same Jeskai deck I've played a ton of in Modern (although with a shiny new name!), and I really don't need much of an excuse to dig it up and start testing it again. The base plan of trading one for one and picking up card advantage here and there is still a good one, with Dig Through Time replacing the clunky Sphinx's Revelations. There's still one Rev to Dig to, which I like, but making the deck much more efficient seems like a huge upgrade. It isn't clear if Dig plus four Snapcasters is too much pressure on your graveyard, but I suspect it is not, and certainly am looking forward to finding out. I also love that this deck gets to sideboard great cards against every deck in the format, which rewards you for metagaming well and picking the right sideboard. Dig even helps there, as seeing an extra seven to fourteen cards per game makes your one-of sideboard cards that much more impactful.

Much like in Legacy, I expect delve to spawn many more new decks in Modern (besides the already-new Jeskai Ascendancy deck), and as soon as I get back from Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir I will be looking into them.

Vintage

Vintage is an interesting beast when it comes to interacting with delve. It clearly has the tools to fill up its graveyard, and can put cards like Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise to good use, but it also is much faster and more broken than Legacy, which makes the plan of getting one to three cards in your graveyard per turn potentially too slow. It also has cards like Yawgmoth's Will, that want you to leave cards lying around so you can recast them, which is another reason not to delve. Still, despite all those things, casting these cards for one or two mana is an enticing prize, and I think one worth going for.

My first shot at such a thing is Tendrils Combo. This is another deck I've played a lot of, and one that has fallen out of favor recently. Part of the problem is how much the deck is impacted by Mental Misstep, but I think that Treasure Cruise can actually help fight that. It's another card-draw engine, one that punishes controlling decks, and one that can help build up a lethal storm count or assemble Time Vault + Voltaic Key. It's also very relevant that delve cards get around Sphere of Resistance and other such cost-increasing effects, which makes them a little better against Workshops. Granted, getting seven to ten cards in your graveyard to begin with is challenging against Shops, but it's still an interaction you should be aware of.

Treasures of Agony

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The use of Treasure Cruise does rule out cards like Cabal Ritual, but I don't think it makes Yawgmoth's Will terrible. Drawing three cards already fuels Will, and this deck has a lot of Rituals, Probes, and Duresses to make all of these cards work. Treasure Cruise makes this deck more resilient, but I don't believe it speeds it up, which might actually be fine for the current metagame. Workshop decks are still annoying, but you can sideboard a lot against them, and drawing a bunch of extra cards in the midgame does go a long way against blue control decks.

Another way to use Treasure Cruise is to put it in a deck similar to the UR Delver deck we looked at earlier. By playing a low land count, lots of cantrips, and lots of cheap or free disruption, this deck can pressure the opponent and use Treasure Cruise to refill while doing so. This is very close to the list Steven Menendian used in the Vintage Super League, which looked like it played quite well.

Temur Delver

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Gitaxian Probe offers a little more support for Cruise, and a few nice one-ofs like Dack Fayden and Trygon Predator help you answer the common threats you will face in Vintage (I've stolen Blightsteel Colossus with Dack before; he's called the greatest thief in the Multiverse for a reason).

I like how this deck can operate on low amounts of mana, and how the low land count and high cantrip count let it filter and outdraw even a more dedicated control deck. Again, this is exactly what the Legacy version does, just with more broken cards (and in a more broken format). This was already one of the best decks in the format, and I think Treasure Cruise looks like a way to make it even better.

Much like the other formats, there is a ton of room in Vintage for delve, although it does face a higher barrier to entry than in Modern or Legacy. Vintage already has a lot of cheap and awesome cards, but the reward is there for those who can figure out the best way to harness delve. After looking at these lists and thinking about how they will play, I'm also leaning toward using Treasure Cruise over Dig Through Time. Getting cast for one mana is a big bonus, and given all the card filtering, drawing three sounds better than selecting two out of seven (although I will likely try both to make sure).

Lastly, we have the black cards. Both of these cards are powerful and interesting, but neither of them are build-arounds in the same way that Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are. I can definitely see these showing up in Modern/Legacy decks like Jund, Abzan, or Sultai, especially Murderous Cut, but I don't know if they will necessarily spawn entirely new archetypes. Your creatures aren't safe against a lone fetch land anymore, and even Tarmogoyf now has to watch his back. One of the interesting things about delve cards is how free the first couple are, even in a deck that isn't trying overly hard to enable them. Those are the decks that are going to play Murderous Cut, with Necropolis Fiend landing in more dedicated delve builds.

I suspect that we are going to see a lot of development in eternal formats over the next few months. A bunch of extremely powerful spells just got added, and they happen to be spells that have plenty of non-obvious uses and decisions attached. Yes, the Delver Treasure Cruise decks make a lot of sense and weren't hidden for long, but what exactly Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise mean to all these formats is still pretty obscured. Luckily for me, these are just the kind of spells I want to cast, and I expect to do a lot of that as I try and discover the best place for them in these formats.

I'm now off to Hawaii for PT Khans, which means that next week you get a rerun of a previous article. Hopefully my return the week after is a triumphant one, and as usual my desire is to do well enough to write about the awesome deck we all played in the Pro Tour.

LSV

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