Grand Prix New Jersey and the Legacy format have received a ton of attention on social media and in articles here in the USA, but across the Atlantic Modern has been star of the show.While US players were heavily focused on Legacy during the weeks leading to the Grand Prix, European players were busy developing their post-Khans of Tarkir Modern decks in preparation for Grand Prix Madrid. With 1900 competitors, GP: Madrid was under half the size of GP: NJ, but it was a massive tournament by any measure and the most significant Modern tournament that has occurred since Grand Prix Kobe nearly three months ago. The results from Madrid will color the metagame going forward and are pieces of essential information for anyone interested in the format.
Treasure Cruise stole the Legacy show in Edison, but in Madrid delve was equally integral to Modern's development. By the time Brian Braun-Duin had won the Legacy GP in New Jersey with a set of Treasure Cruise in tow, Immanuel Gerschenson was likely sleeping soundly, if not still awake celebrating, after his playset of Treasure Cruise sailed him to a first place finish hours earlier in Madrid.
Just as Braun-Druin did, Immanuel paired his playset of Treasure Cruise with a playset of Young Pyromancer. Much like BBD, Immanuel was not satisfied with just Young Pyromancer as a powerful two-drop threat, and he splashed into a third color to get one he found fit. Stoneforge Mystic's ability to win a game singlehandedly made it the best Legacy option, but in Modern Tarmogoyf is the best option. Tarmogoyf has been played in this sort of deck for as long as it has been in print, but recently many predicted that it had dropped greatly in strategic value because of all the delve cards eating graveyards on both sides of the table. It's clear that the assumption is not true, and Tarmogoyf is still a very valuable asset. In fact, in terms of metagame positioning Tarmogoyf is likely much better now than it was three months ago. I expect Tarmogoyf gave Immanuel a significant edge in the mirror match, where Tarmogoyf is nearly impossible to deal with on a one-for-one basis once resolved.
Two out of two Grand Prix victories on the weekend for Treasure Cruise is a big accomplishment for the card and very solid evidence of just how good the card really is. That's not to say it's the only relevant new card, because in Madrid Dig Through Time had an overall bigger showing than did Treasure Cruise. Where Treasure Cruise was found in just one major archetype, URx Delver, Dig Through Time was found across multiple archetypes, including the second place Scapeshift deck, with another Scapeshift deck in the Top 16, Splinter Twin combo, which put two copies into the Top 16, and even the Blue Moon control deck that finished in the Top 16. The only Treasure Cruise in the Top 8 was found in the winning decklist, with two more URx Delver decks in the Top 16.
To be clear, both the delve cards Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are extraordinarily powerful in Eternal formats filled with the tools necessary to harness them effectively. Fetchlands are a great start, and are the baseline for building around delve cards in any format, as seen in Standard, but one card in the graveyard is nowhere near the six or seven needed to reach full delve potential. It's cheap blue card drawing spells that do the trick, and it's these blue card drawing spells that bring delve cards from good to great. While Brainstorm and Ponder do the heavy lifting in Legacy, in Modern Serum Visions and even Sleight of Hand are just as effective. Gitaxian Probe works wonders in both formats as a free fodder, but in Modern a new innovation may prove to be the best option of all: Thought Scour.
Thought Scour actually acts as a pseudo-Dark Ritual towards a Dig Through Time or Treasure Cruise, and the single mana put into the spell puts out three mana worth of delve. It's a great topdeck draw and a superb innovation by those who employed it.
Attentive eyes noticed the single Thought Scour in the GP winning decklist, but the card could be found in half of the decks from 9th-16th place, in two Delver decks and two Splinter Twin decks.
While he finished just outside the elimination rounds in 9th place, Patrick Dickmann played two Thought Scour in his Splinter Twin combo deck to support his full playset of Dig Through Time.
Combined with few fetchlands and a spell or two, Thought Scour actually enables a turn three Dig Through Time, at which point its controller will be flush with action and well-positioned to control the midgame or simply combo for the win. This is the dream, but it's quite effective at every stage of the game. It's ideal for finding both combo pieces, or one piece and some disruption, but in his interview Dickmann stated he most often uses Dig Through Time to find even more card advantage, like Cryptic Command or another Dig Through Time. Dickmann has proven that Splinter Twin combo is alive and well. To paraphrase Dickmann, he said he doesn't think the archetype is necessarily better than before, but it has kept up with the competition. It's surely a great option for anyone with dedication to learn its intricacies.
Also just outside the Top 8, Ivan Floch showcased Thought Scour in his Treasure Cruise build:
This deck is not far from stock delve beyond his sideboard Geist of Saint Traft, but his three Thought Scour make his Treasure Cruises considerably better than they would be without, and I assume they gave him a big edge over his opponents without access to such technology. The white splash gives Ivan the great tool of Geist of Saint against players that seek to fight him with loads of targeted creature removal. Rest for the Weary is better now than ever, while Wear // Tear gives this deck valuable enchantment removal not available to Izzet.
Card draw spells alone do not a delve deck make. An assortment of cheap, efficient spells are also are required to bring delve cards to their full potential. The best of these spells offer some sort of early game utility, like the disruptive Counterspells Remand and Spell Snare in Dickmann's deck, or the set of Lightning Bolt many decks lean on as a removal spell. Even cheap creatures work, since if they live they will win the game, but more likely they will quickly die and hit the graveyard as delve fodder.
These efficient cards are also a key payoff of Treasure Cruise itself, a way to quickly convert the raw card advantage of Treasure Cruise into a material advantage. The Delver decks keep this to heart by employing its burn and creature suite in a "philosophy of fire" style strategy that simply seeks to bring opponents from twenty life to zero, and Treasure Cruise makes that math a lot easier. These cheap spells make it quite easy to actually utilize the extra cards Treasure Cruise provides and not leave them stranded in hand.
A unique route is to combine delve not with the traditional card drawing, but with an extensive package of mana ramp spells, which will add lands to the board and conveniently a card in the graveyard. Check out this second place Scapeshift deck from Till Riffert:
Sets of both Sakura-Tribe Elder and Search for Tomorrow are great cogs for enabling Dig Through Time. In addition to the extra card in the graveyard they also technically add a mana to the board, so in practice, a Sakura-Tribe Elder is mana-neutral with delve over two turns, while Search for Tomorrow actually nets a mana over three turns if suspended. The mana ramp doesn't function quite as nicely with delve as blue card drawing and its ability to chain together, but mana ramp is arguably a much better mana investment in terms of tempo because it actually yields a net-positive impact on the battlefield by generating a land, as opposed to blue card draw, which is purely a mana sink. In this Scapeshift deck the mana ramp is essentially the core strategy, so it works well here on every level.
The reason for wanting to play Dig Through Time is that it's such a great fit into the Scapeshift strategy. For one, it's card advantage, and this deck relies on card advantage because it spends a lot of resources on disrupting the opponent's strategy and neutralizing the opponent's board position, but it still needs to hit the seven or more lands it requires to combo off with Scapeshift and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and actually kill the opponent. If the story ended there the deck would just play Treasure Cruise for raw card advantage, but the Scapeshift deck is just that, a Scapeshift deck, and it all but requires its specific namesake card to win in any expedient and effective fashion. While it lacks the same raw card advantage power as Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time offers incredible card selection power by choosing only the best of the bunch; no lands here. Where Treasure Cruise would just look three cards deeper, Dig Through Time provides access to a whopping seven new cards. That's the same breadth as a new opening hand of a Time Spiral. In the past the archetype turned to the lackluster Peer Through Depths as a way to dig for Scapeshift, or even Telling Time as a more versatile but less powerful option. With Dig Through Time around those cards are history, and Scapeshift has a very bright Modern future ahead of it.Deckbuilding Theory: Treasure Cruise versus Dig Through Time
Treasure Cruise is phenomenal in straight-forward, linear strategies like UR Delver decks. Their decks are relatively single-minded and full of cards that do primarily one thing, that is they kill the opponent, and they exist in the form of efficient creatures and burn spells. These decks are filled with redundancy and cards that are very interchangeable, and there are really no cards that are significantly more important or better than others in the deck in a vacuum. In this sort of deck, the raw power of three cards from Treasure Cruise is ideal. The economics of these decks dictate that any three spells are going to be better than any two from Dig Through Time, and often Treasure Cruise will make that a reality. Often Treasure Cruise will yield a land in the mix, but in this situation the net effect is not measurably different than choosing two with Dig Through Time. Treasure Cruise is in fact inherently higher risk, and it could potentially yield two or even three useless land, but Treasure Cruise decks are naturally designed with a low count, in part because of the loads of blue card drawing they also play. The high risk also comes with high reward, because Treasure Cruise enables miracle topdeck possibilities in situations where there is no single out.Other Contenders
It was not just delve that did well in Madrid. An innovative Through the Breach Combo deck made it all the way to the semifinals.
This deck leans on Chalice of the Void as a way to hate out the cheap spells that have flooded the format to help abuse delve.
Junk, aka Abzan Midrange, is also still a major player:
A set of Siege Rhino is simply too powerful not to play in a metagame headlined by an aggressive, burn-laden deck like UR Delver. Much like Tarmogoyf, this card is nearly impossible for UR Delver to destroy without losing card advantage.
Melira Pod is also still a top-tier archetype and arguably the most successful of the tournament, putting three copies into the Top 8:
The hallmark strength of this deck is its superb flexibility and versatility, and the card choices in these new decklists, such as the inclusion of Siege Rhino and even Thragtusk, are concessions to the realities of the new metagame.
Mustn't I forget Martyr Proc:
I'll admit this style of deck has never caught my fancy, but I can't argue with results there. This strategy, which can gain immense amount of life every turn and is very difficult for UR Delver to disrupt, will exhaust any amount of Treasure Cruise + burn spell action.
Affinity did not find much success, but they did share Frank Karsten's list:
I consider Karsten an Affinity authority, so I'd try his list out for a spin.
Jeskai Ascendancy combo? Well, that deck was simply nowhere to be seen in Madrid. I followed the official text coverage, and it noted that the deck was absent in the GP: Trial winners decklists, and by day two just two copies of the combo deck were playing in the tournament. With 220 players on day two, that's less than 2% of the field and just a drop in the metagame bucket.
Grand Prix Madrid was a showcase for delve in Modern, and it's clear that these cards aren't going anywhere and will only get better as players find more ways to use them. Unless these cards get banned, they are among the best things to be doing in Modern, and I recommend playing them while you can!