Right after Arthur Fusco beat two-time World Champion Shahar Shenhar's Burn deck with Mono-Blue, a spectator came up to Fusco and said, “People don't show up with foil Commandeers in a triple-sleeved deck and not know what they're doing.”
It's true. Fusco does know what he's doing. Hailing from Colorado, and having moved to Cincinnati last year, Arthur Fusco has been steadily evolving the deck once known as “Ninja Bear Delver,” and has turned it into something completely different. And in the process, his own abilities with the deck have evolved too. It's a hard deck to pilot. I mean, I hope one would expect that from a deck with Cryptic Commands, Psionic Blasts and fourteen creatures.
“I've continued to improve with the deck over the years. If you pick up this deck, expect to lose in the beginning. It's just part of the process.” Fusco said.
Fusco started playing the deck soon after Ninja Bear Delver showed up online. “I saw it and thought, ‘Hey! I have all those cards!” Fusco played it to death, but after Forked Bolt became a thing in Modern, he realized he'd have to adapt or die. “Forked Bolt is real bad when your deck is full of Phantasmal Bears.” This was just the first inkling of the constant metamorphosis the deck must undertake.
So after various changes over the course of months—Phantasmal Bear became Jeskai Sage, which became Fettergeist, which became Thing in the Ice, etc.—the deck has morphed into something entirely different. I mean, sans all the same blue spells and a full suite of Disrupting Shoals.
“I learned immediately [after picking up the deck] that Disrupting Shoal is a real card.” Free counterspells are usually the thing of Vintage or Legacy. Though Shoal asks a bit more of you, in a streamlined format like Modern, with many similarly costed cards throughout all the decks, it can be just as powerful.
The best play I witnessed from the deck was when his opponent's Ancestral Vision was about to resolve. Fusco calmly cast Redirect to draw the three cards himself; and though his opponent had Snapcaster Mage to flashback a counter—with a Mana Leak to back it up already in his grip—Fusco simply countered the Mage with Disrupting Shoal for free to play around the Leak.
He drew the three cards off his opponent's Ancestral.
Now that is the stuff of eternal formats.
Another “free” spell that found its way into the deck—in multiple copies—was the Coldsnap craziness, Commandeer.
“Commandeer showed up pretty fast, because there's a lot of Tron in my meta,” Fusco said. He talked about how there's no better feeling than taking that big mana Planeswalker right out of the stack and onto his own side of the battlefield.
And as a humorous corner case, even if you have too few cards in hand to steal Karn, Liberated, “You can pitch Commandeer to Disrupting Shoal to counter it,” Fusco said, they have the same converted mana cost. “I haven't done it this weekend, but I've certainly done it before.”
The Disrupting Shoal (and to a lesser extent, Commandeer) guides the deck. “The Shoal—that's why the deck is Mono-Blue, for that card.” Things like Psionic Blast are never “dead” even when you're at two life, because they can pitch to counter something that costs three. Don't worry about using Gatherer, there are many cards in the format that cost three.
So what even is this deck? It's not really tempo; it's not quite control.
Fusco tried to shine a light on the matter. “The simplest name for people to understand is “Mono-Blue Delver.” But he advocates for a different nomenclature, paying homage to the deck's origin: “SnapDelverThing”—for the three marquee creatures, Snapcaster Mage, Delver of Secrets, and Thing in the Ice.
And he was quick to defend the tempo origins of the deck too. “It's definitely not Tempo ... but it can play the tempo game.”
He told a story from earlier in the format when he was stuck on two lands against Red-Green Eldrazi with two Insectile Aberration. His opponent cast World Breaker and targeted and Island with the cast trigger. Fusco cast Remand on the Eldrazi and drew into his now new-second Island. The opponent did the same thing the next turn, and he did the same Remand play again. “I six'ed him to death,” thanks to the transformed Delver of Secrets.
Then, for the next game the sideboarded out the World Breakers, “and my hand was four Island, Serum Visions, Remand, and Vedalken Shackles—against a deck that now tops his curve at five ... I just needed one more Island to steal his Reality Smashers.” Which he drew with ease.
“He died with three Smashers in his hand and ten mana.” Fusco smirked an evil smirk.”
Though plays like these are possible and likely, the deck is difficult to play, and must continue evolving. “You have to keep up with what other people are doing; you have to know your opponents' plan and the format.” Fusco explained that for example, “During Eldrazi Winter, you couldn't play the deck. They play Cavern of Souls and Vapor Snagging Thought-Knot Seer or Reality Smasher is miserable.”
People talk about splashing other colors, and adapting for whatever metagame arises. But Fusco emphasized that the deck is meta-dependent at its core. “You can't play this if you're running into Cavern of Souls five out of six matches.”
“I was 11-4 at Grand Prix Charlotte a few months ago. Literally all four losses were to that exact card.” Cavern of Souls is a bad time for a deck that relies on countering threats.
The other problematic match is decks with Abrupt Decay. Jund and Abzan are the two biggest offenders. “And using a card for Disrupting Shoal is bad against them.” This is where Thing in the Ice shines, because, as Fusco said “It's bigger than anything they have; It's bigger than Tarmogoyf.”
Since moving to Cincinnati, Arthur Fusco's been attended a lot more Grand Prix than he had when he was in Colorado. The iteration at a higher level has already been paying off with the difficult deck, and he's excited to keep transforming it, and his own play with the deck, to just keep getting better and better.