Delver, On a Bulk: Counter-Cat in Practice

When I introduced Counter-Cat to Modern Nexus last week, a number of readers voiced understandable concerns about the deck. Didn’t it auto-lose to Burn? Why not just play Monkey Grow? Or… Domain Zoo?! I promised answers, and this week I have them—sort of. I haven’t had the time to play much Magic this past week, but I attended Face to Face’s monthly Modern tournament with the deck and cracked Top 8.

mutagenic growth art crop

That tournament was by no means a huge event, but as the purpose of last week’s article wasn’t to unveil the new best deck in Modern, the purpose of today’s isn’t to demonstrate that Counter-Cat is Modern’s new boogeyman. Rather, this article aims to give readers a better understanding of how the deck works by examining some of its games close-up.

The Deck

I played the exact list from last week’s article at the tournament. For a detailed explanation of the list, check out that piece.

Counter-Cat, by Jordan Boisvert

Creatures (16)
Delver of Secrets
Wild Nacatl
Hooting Mandrills
Snapcaster Mage

Instants (19)
Mutagenic Growth
Path to Exile
Lightning Bolt
Lightning Helix
Spell Pierce
Spell Snare
Mana Leak

Sorceries (7)
Serum Visions
Gitaxian Probe

Lands (18)
Misty Rainforest
Flooded Strand
Arid Mesa
Wooded Foothills
Steam Vents
Temple Garden
Stomping Ground
Hallowed Fountain
Sideboard (15)
Huntmaster of the Fells
Isochron Scepter
Lightning Helix
Destructive Revelry
Ancient Grudge
Boros Charm
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Face to Face Modern Monthly Report

Round 1: Bye

My opponent is a local Burn player, and I’m excited to prove Counter-Cat’s anti-Guide chops to the Nexus readership. Unfortunately, he never shows up to the event, and I end up with a bye. I use the round to walk around and write down most of the decks I see, which gives me extra info for the rest of the event. Most of Modern’s top decks are represented. Sadly, Storm is the only dedicated combo deck in the room. I’m very happy with my positioning, as the only decks I see that I don’t want to face are GR Ponza and Abzan Midrange.

Round 2: GR Tron (2-0, lose roll)

In August, I wrote an article series on Modern archetypes and struggled while placing Tron, since it has many hallmarks of a midrange deck—ramp and disruption, and big creatures. Now, though, I always organize my sideboard guides with Tron helming the combo section. The deck plays like a combo deck, and more importantly, Delver plays against it as though it were a combo deck. This matchup was a lot worse last autumn, when I experimented with Disrupting Shoal in Counter-Cat; with the two-mana counterspells and Spell Pierce back, it becomes clearly favorable.

Game 1

RemandI open a decent seven with a pair of Mandrills, two fetches, Bolt, Path, and a Serum Visions. But knowing my opponent is on GR Tron, I ship it to find Delver and Nacatl. I succeed there and keep six.

My opponent starts us off with Ancient Stirrings, which finds him a Tron land. I play a Delver and pass. He drops some Spheres and passes back to me. I flip the Delver, drop a Nacatl, and attack for three with blue mana up. His Sylvan Scrying eats Spell Pierce, and a second one gets Remanded after I play a second Nacatl. Finally, my opponent makes Tron at 8 life and resolves Karn, exiling my Delver. The Nacatls go for the jugular and Mutagenic Growth makes lethal.

-4 Mutagenic Growth
-3 Lightning Bolt
-2 Lightning Helix

+2 Isochron Scepter
+2 Boros Charm
+2 Negate
+2 Destructive Revelry
+1 Ancient Grudge

Game 2

I keep three lands, Goyf, Nacatl, Bolt, and Remand. Three lands is a lot, and Bolt is mostly dead, but if I mulligan to six, I risk finding a hand that depends on Serum Visions to land a threat. I already have threats for turns one and two, plus a counterspell, so I keep the hand.

Nacatl and Goyf go to work on my opponent’s life total, but I can’t stop him from assembling Tron. I get to Negate a Karn and an Oblivion Stone, but at 1 life he casts Ulamog and exiles my attackers. I Remand the Ulamog to buy myself a little time. I draw Tarmogoyf and keep it in hand, knowing Ulamog is coming; I’m also slow-rolling an Arid Mesa, since I want to make sure my opponent doesn’t take out all of my red sources with Ulamog. The Eldrazi comes down again and eats two of my lands.

Boros CharmI play the Mesa and the Goyf now, hoping to stop my opponent from attacking me with Ulamog long enough for me to draw one of my Boros Charms or a Path. He casts Oblivion Stone, though, and activates it to kill the Goyf. Then he resolves another Stone and attacks for ten. I respond by searching up my Stomping Ground so I don’t lose it for good, then Ulamog exiles 20 cards. We look through the pile, which contains two Revelries and a Boros Charm, and I realize I only have one Boros Charm left in the deck as an out. I draw it and win.

My sideboard plan could have used some work in this matchup. Isochron Scepter really doesn’t belong in my post-board configuration. I even board out my removal! I won some games against a friend on GR Titan Shift last week by locking him out with Scepter-Remand, but I don’t think that’s a very reliable plan against Tron (or even against Titan Shift). We don’t play enough countermagic. Besides, one or two of those spells should prove more than enough in the race, and we can’t always afford the two-mana down-payment on Scepter in this matchup.

Round 3: GR Ponza (1-2, win roll)

All I know about this deck going in is that I’m going to have a rough time. I saw my opponent sling some Stone Rains in Round 1, but don’t know much of what’s on the menu for me besides some Utopia Sprawls, Arbor Elves, and mystery fatties.

Game 1

BatterskullI blaze out the gate with Delver and Nacatl, never even seeing a Blood Moon. My opponent spends his time ramping. At 8 life he resolves Inferno Titan, which I deal with in the messiest way possible—I Grow Delver past the 187 damage, and double-Bolt the Titan. My opponent’s out of cards at this point, and I have Delver and Nacatl on the table. But he rips another Titan off the top, and I’m also out of cards. This titan kills Delver, and then Nacatl when it attacks next turn. I drew and resolved a Goyf in the meantime, but I’m no match for a Batterskull off the top that joins in on the assault.

-2 Hooting Mandrills
-1 Snapcaster Mage
-2 Lightning Helix
-2 Spell Pierce

+3 Huntmaster of the Fells
+2 Destructive Revelry
+2 Pyroclasm

Game 2

Destructive REvelryMy opponent mulls to six, and I keep a Moon-proof hand of Temple Garden, Forest, Tarmogoyf, Nacatl, Bolt, Revelry, and Growth, and lead with Temple Garden, Wild Nacatl. In these scenarios, I like to save basics in my hand, baiting opponents into uselessly allocating time and resources into early Blood Moons. It’s also important to lead with Garden here so that Growth saves Nacatl from Lightning Bolt.

My opponent leads with Utopia Sprawl, and sure enough, casts Moon on turn two. I swing with Nacatl and Tarmogoyf, and use the red from Temple Garden to Revelry his Sprawl before combat damage. He plays an Arbor Elf and passes without making a third land drop. I swing for five with Bolt in hand, and when my opponent doesn’t block, burn him out with the instant in post-combat main.

-1 Snapcaster Mage
-1 Spell Snare

+2 Isochron Scepter

On the draw, I’m expecting even faster Moons. Isochron Scepter lets me cast Bolt and Path under the enchantment, and I’ve realized at this point my opponent probably doesn’t have Goyfs for my Snare to eat. Snapcaster is a little slow for this matchup, and uncastable without an Island under Moon.

Game 3

Stormbreath DragonMy opponent quickly resolves two Blood Moons, and I kick myself for not casting Serum Visions when I had the chance. I’m without blue with two Visions and a pair of Paths in hand, and even Scepter and Huntmaster are no match for a flock of Stormbreath Dragons. I ran a Stormbreath in the side of my Temur Traverse decks for the reason that some decks, including Abzan Company and Hatebears, simply can’t remove it and lose to it very soon after it resolves. Counter-Cat is one of those decks.

I don’t think there’s much I could have done differently during my games in this match to improve my chances at victory. Ponza decks have always been a struggle for Counter-Cat, and Living End is by far the worst combo matchup for that reason. That said, I think I could have sideboarded much better. I had the ill fortune of facing this opponent again in the Top 8, where I lost my second match of the day; my sideboarding errors became more obvious after that round.

Round 4: Naya Zoo (2-0, win roll)

I know this player is on Nacatl, Knight of the Reliquary, and Tarmogoyf, but am unsure if he sleeved up Collected Company or not. Either way, I feel very comfortable going into this match, as I’m essentially playing a version of his deck with more Paths via Snapcaster Mage, and a set of Mutagenic Growths to deal with Bolts and win in combat.

Game 1

Wild NacatlMy deck gives me a great hand of two Nacatls, Bolt, Visions, Growth, Steam Vents, and Arid Mesa. I lead with Temple Garden into Wild Nacatl, and my opponent responds with his own Wild Nacatl. We briefly discuss the merits of his English Cats versus my objectively stronger German ones, but as they say, talk is cheap.

I play the Vents to Bolt his cat, attack for three, and play a second Nacatl. My opponent also plays a second Nacatl. I attack with both of mine, and he tries to trade one; Mutagenic Growth wins that fight, and a third Nacatl I drew comes down after I Serum Visions. Like clockwork, my opponent resolves another Nacatl as well, and a Voice of Resurgence. I draw a scried-top Bolt for his new Cat, attack my opponent to one, and get a concession.

-1 Remand
-2 Spell Pierce
-2 Serum Visions
-3 Gitaxian Probe

+3 Huntmaster of the Fells
+2 Isochron Scepter
+1 Lightning Helix
+2 Pyroclasm

Game 2

I open two Bolts, Isochron Scepter, a pair of lands, and a Delver. My opponent leads with Nacatl, which I Bolt. He follows up with a tapped land and a Noble Hierarch. I slam the Scepter and imprint Lightning Bolt. He responds with a Loxodon Smiter. I untap, make a land drop, cast Delver, and pass. My opponent taps out to Bonfire of the Damned the Delver for 1, and I Grow it in response. Then, Delver chumps Smiter, and Scepter finishes the elephant off. I untap and zap the Hierarch with Scepter before passing, and the game continues in this fashion for a few turns, with me killing creatures when they show up and shooting my opponent when they don’t.

Eventually, I miss a turn of casting Bolt off my Scepter to resolve Huntmaster of the Fells on an otherwise empty board. My opponent is out of cards at this point and also resolves a Huntmaster. The second Huntmaster is always the worst one, since the first one’s transform trigger will resolve first (APNAP) and kill the other one. That’s exactly what happens, and Ravager of the Fells teams up with Scepter to quickly take my opponent to zero. I end the game with Nacatl, Growth, Path, and another Scepter in hand.

Isochron ScepterZoo is a fine example of a matchup that Scepter will single-handedly take over post-board. My opponent conceded that he boarded out his Pridemages for Game 2, but either way, Pridemage only provides players with two or three answers in their deck. We also have enough mana in this matchup that Scepter can come down later and immediately activate.

It’s rare that I board out Serum Visions, but against Zoo, all I really want is creatures and removal spells. I would have kept Pierce if I’d expected CoCo, but I guessed (correctly) after Game 1 that my opponent wasn’t playing it.

Round 5: Abzan (Intentional Draw)

I know my opponent’s on Abzan, so when he offers me the draw, I take it. I’d rather try my luck against the eternally annoying Lingering Souls in Top 8 than before. If I’d been paired with anyone else, though, I would have played, to ensure I had the play in each round of Top 8. Little do I know that drawing here will screw me in the Top 8 regardless. I should maybe pay closer attention to the standings sheet next time.

Top 8, Round 1: GR Ponza (1-2, lose roll)

This guy again? Just my luck! We’re pretty jovial, which makes for some really fun games, and end up playing a bit longer after we finish the round. After some readers misunderstood me last week as saying Counter-Cat had no bad matchups (it does, if few among Modern’s current Top 10), it’s fitting I get stomped twice at my first event with the deck in forever by one such matchup.

Game 1

bonfire of the damnedMy opponent keeps a very slow hand with no acceleration, but reveals Bonfire for its miracle cost and kills my Delver. I have three Goyfs, and they eventually meet a speed bump in Thrun, the Last Troll. My opponent tries to Beast Within one Goyf, but I Leak it to get in a little extra damage and put him at 3. My opponent reveals another miracle Bonfire and taps out to deal five to all my creatures, kill the Goyf armada, and put me at 8. Thrun takes me down to 4, but I draw a Snapcaster Mage to flashback Bolt.

-2 Hooting Mandrills
-2 Snapcaster Mage
-2 Lightning Helix
-3 Serum Visions

+3 Huntmaster of the Fells
+2 Isochron Scepter
+2 Destructive Revelry
+2 Pyroclasm

I try a new sideboard plan for this round, dumping the Serum Visions I can rarely cast under Moon. I prefer Probes in this matchup because they tell me whether I can afford to tap lands for more threats or whether I need to hold up Remand mana to deal with something like Inferno Titan.

Game 2

Mutagenic Growth saves Delver from a turn-three Bonfire for two, and I plant Leak on a Scepter after seeing Inferno Titan in my opponent’s land-light hand. He manages to draw lands for the rest of the game, though, and eventually resolves the Titan anyway. I Grow Delver again to save him from the Titan, and attack my opponent down to 3. He swings with the Titan and kills the Delver, and I draw a bunch of lands and die to the Titan in a couple attacks.

Even though I wished those lands were Serum Visions this game, I decide to keep my new plan intact for Game 3 and see how it performs.

Game 3

Feed the ClanI attack my opponent down to 8 before he casts Thrun and double Feed the Clan. My opponent has enough time after that to draw Stormbreath Dragon and pummel me in the air.

I did lots of testing with my partner last year with GRx Moon variants and Counter-Cat, and she found the deck to be quite resilient against speedy Moons if it could get a Forest on the table. Unfortunately, this was no ordinary GRx Moon deck. I was utterly unprepared for a stream of Stormbreath Dragons and Inferno Titans, and my opponent even boarded out his Moons in our second match, leaving me wishing I’d left my Helixes and Visions in after all. I don’t think it’s worth crafting a thorough board plan for these kinds of fringe decks. So much of the deck creation process and boarding decisions are up to my opponent that I have no idea what to watch out for.

To Be Cat-inued….

My biggest regret from the tournament was not having the opportunity to play more matches. Sure, I could have played instead of drawn in Round 5, but it just didn’t make a lot of sense from a competitive standpoint to risk my chances at making Top 8. I had a great time for my first real tournament with the deck in a year, and can’t wait to bring Counter-Cat to other events in the future. And who knows—some may even have Burn pilots!


7 thoughts on “Delver, On a Bulk: Counter-Cat in Practice

    1. Growth does not save Thing from Bolt, so that’s more of a non-bo than anything. I don’t think Thing is good in any Delver deck, and is especially bad in a deck with so many threats.

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