The U/R Pteramander Guide: Reaching New Thresholds
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Salamander! It appears to have been hatching for quite a while because the little drake is everywhere in competitive Magic at the moment. CabalTherapy has been testing it in Legacy and he's here to share his results!
The Little Drake that Could
Before we start, I need to make a distinction. The deck I've been testing and that we're going to discuss is not U/R Prowess. It just shares colors with it. Obviously, decks that run on a similar mana base and also wants to play Delver of Secrets are similar in many respects, but the differences between these two decks become apparent when Pteramander enters the stage. The little Drake has been putting on quite a show in Standard and Modern. It is a highly cost-efficient threat that chips off life points early on and gives the boost you need to win later on. The deck I want to talk about is not another version of the string of successful and popular U/R Delver decks, but instead is a relative of Canadian Threshold, also known as R/U/G Delver. Broadly speaking, starting off with a generic Canadian list, cutting green, and adding Pteramander results in having a build that offers Canadian's versatility paired with the stability of a two-color mana base.
On that note, Pteramander has enabled a strong tempo version of R/U/G Delver that can rely on two instead of three colors. Even though there have already been U/R Delver builds that tried to follow RUG's game plan of depriving the opponent of their mana and putting a fast clock on them, Pteramander looks far superior in that regard than Young Pyromancer or Snapcaster Mage. Firstly, having eight proper beaters that can be played on turn one, but are still relevant later is a huge upside when compared to Young Pyromancer which constantly demands proactive spells and Snapcaster Mage, which just isn't that heavy of a hitter.
Let's look at a generic Canadian Threshold deck first, which usually consists of the following:
Sample Canadian Threshold list, 03.03.2019
|18Lands||12Creatures||30Instants and Sorceries|
|4Flooded Strand||4Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration||1Forked Bolt|
|4Scalding Tarn||4Nimble Mongoose||4Ponder|
|4Force of Will|
While there are lists that play Hooting Mandrills or True-Name Nemesis alongside or instead of Tarmogoyf and Nimble Mongoose, it is not uncommon to encounter this set up in 2019. Looking at a U/R Prowess list, we can detect many differences; most notably in the lack of permission spells and the increase of red spells:
Sample U/R Prowess list, 03.03.2019
|16Lands||14Creatures||30Instants and Sorceries|
|3Flooded Strand||4Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration||4Chain Lightning|
|2Polluted Delta||4Stormchaser Mage||4Brainstorm|
|4Volcanic Island||4Force of Will|
Obviously, cards like Young Pyromancer, True-Name Nemesis, Snapcaster Mage, Bomat Courier, Bedlam Reveler, Goblin Guide, Soul-Scar Mage, and Pteramander itself occasionally see play in this aggressive version as well. It does not have much in common with the counter-heavy Canadian that tries to control the board and then punch through with Goyf, True-Name or one or two Mongooses. Let us then look at my new Pteramander deck:
U/R Pteramander by Robert Swiecki, 03.03.2019
|18Lands||12Creatures||30Instants and Sorceries|
|2Flooded Strand||2Bedlam Reveler||2Chain Lightning|
|2Island||4Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration||4Ponder|
|2Polluted Delta||2True-Name Nemesis||4Daze|
|4Scalding Tarn||1Fire // Ice|
|3Volcanic Island||4Force of Will|
The first thing you might notice is how similar it is to the R/U/G list. The creature-to-spell ratio, the mana denial plan, the inclusion of Spell Snare makes it operate like a classic tempo deck that cares about both players' development during the first few turns more than anything else.
- Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration: There is nothing much to add for this particular Wizard. It's still the best one drop in the deck and should be prioritized over Pteramander for obvious reasons.
- Pteramander: You can't treat this creature as a turn one play but rather as a mix between Tombstalker and Gurmag Angler. Its keyword Adapt does not remove cards from the graveyard which is far better than Delve in multiples. Rather underwhelming early on, it is a great top deck in the mid to late game where it can close out the game in one swing. It takes on a similar role to Nimble Mongoose, but Pteramander has more advantages than the little snake eater. Not having shroud hurts, but being able to fly over most blockers and weighing in at 5/5 makes Pteramander a stronger threat than the Mongoose, which ends up overpowered by many creatures in the current Legacy.
- True-Name Nemesis: It should never have been printed, but it was, and thus it's an auto-include and truly a must-run in this deck. Basically, it is a blue version of Tarmogoyf that hits hard and holds position when needed. There is a world where a full playset might be the way to go, but for now, the bare minimum of two is what I've chosen to go with.
- Bedlam Reveler: Now we are venturing into trickier territory. Reveler is a card that looks to be anti-synergistic to the deck's principles. Discarding the hand, then drawing three new ones is a potent ability but it doesn't work well with counter spells. It is, of course, a solution to many decks from Miracles, where it represents a solid clock and can potentially draw into the missing burn damage, to midrange decks like Grixis or B/U/G Control, where it can completely negate a Hymn to Tourach and is more often than not a game winning play. At the moment, Bedlam Reveler teeters on the brink and could easily be replaced by other beaters.
- Other options: Since this deck really does not want to play utility creatures like Snapcaster Mage, I would tend to focus on mana efficient critters that provide a good body; the relevance of the textbox should be secondary here. I could see Cryptic Serpent – a card that I am very fond of and which I wrote about a year ago – taking Reveler's spots or even making room for two additional Nemeses. Vendilion Clique and Young Pyromancer also raise their hands, but as I have already mentioned their drawbacks, I would opt for the other creatures.
- Brainstorm and Ponder: Both cards need no introduction.
- Daze and Force of Will: Playing tempo requires a playset you don't want to miss out on a single Daze or Force in your deck.
- Stifle: Stifle is a card that has fallen out of favor in recent years. Nonetheless, it is still a highly versatile spell that targets more than fetch lands. It can be boarded out in many match ups where it doesn't seem relevant like Burn, Elves, and Stompy decks but most of the time it is a serious threat and even it potentially being in the deck often forces opponents to play differently, compromising their plans.
- Spell Pierce and Spell Snare: I am pretty sure that running Pierce alongside Snare is the best way to go right now. Pierce is an all-star and catches removal, cantrips, combo pieces, and most importantly, planeswalkers. Spell Snare, on the other hand, is Tempo-incarnate because it trades a one mana card for a two mana card and does not care about its card type. It is a great way to deal with a plethora of strong turn two plays like Hymn to Tourach, Dark Confidant, basically any hate bear, and Baleful Strix. It also remains powerful against Miracles as an answer to pesky Snapcaster Mages and Counterbalance.
- Lightning Bolt: Yet another no-brainer. First and foremost, it's as a removal spell but there are many times where a well-timed bolt to the face will clinch your victory.
- Chain Lightning: These two slots are not set in stone. Having more than four Bolts seems to be a solid removal suite and at the same time chances are quite high that one draws more than two Bolts in a game and is able to finish off the opponent with burn spells. As for now, six Bolts seems like a fine number.
- Fire // Ice: Obviously, if Chain Lightning hasn't fully earned its keep, then Fire // Ice is even further from flex-slot territory. Keep in mind that it can tap down lands during the opponents' upkeep to prevent them from having access to it for a turn, which can be a game-winning tempo play.
- Other options: Since I see Chain Lightning as a decent enough option, I would consider Fire // Ice, Stifle, and maybe one Spell Snare being the flex slots in this deck. There is definitely a possibility of leaving the house without Stifle, choosing Preordain instead. Additional proper burn can also be a solution to a combo-light meta. Here, cards, such as Forked Bolt or simply a third Chain Lightning should be enough to deal with most creature-based decks. Options like Abrade or Counterspell are clean answers to everything the opponent tries to do. In addition, there is Light up the Stage, which seems to be fine in more aggressive lists. Having so many reactive spells, however, makes it a suboptimal decision.
- Wasteland: It is a tempo deck and just like any other deck, a full playset of Wasteland is mandatory.
- Volcanic Island, Island, and Mountain: The lonely Mountain can be literally the worst draw in this deck because it does so little sometimes. However, I strongly believe that one should play it and having both Islands and the Mountain in play against any deck with Wasteland is a game-changing advantage.
- Scalding Tarn and 4 other blue fetch lands: There is nothing to discuss here. Scalding Tarn is a must-have and there could be some reasoning to play a fifth red fetch land like Bloodstained Mire to access your Mountain easier.
Red and blue provide many useful sideboard cards but here are a couple of my current favorites:
Vortex is extremely important against Blade and Miracles, where it can close out games quickly. The rest of the board looks rather generic and one could argue in favour of cards like Electrickery, Sulfur Elemental, Null Rod, and many more. Basically, anything that R/U/G Delver can play – minus the green part obviously – could find a home in U/R's board.
Let us look at some of Legacy's most common decks and see how U/R fares against them.
- Miracles: This is a very close one. U/R can pressure their life totals fast but if they stabilize and have enough resources, it might be too late for a big move. It is extremely crucial to have an attacking creature on the battlefield in game one as fast as possible. Remember that Stifle can deal with the Miracle trigger and that Snare is a good answer to Snapcaster and Counterbalance. After boarding, this matchup depends heavily on the spells U/R is packing against Miracles. Vortex, Pyroblast, and True-Name Nemesis are great ways to secure the path to victory. Sometimes, it is advisable to leave Delver of Secrets and Pteramander in hand, especially if you have an active Nemesis in play, to pitch them to Force of Will. It is compelling to run out more creatures but you risk having not enough resources to deal with Terminus or Council's Judgement and usually you don't want to waste Force of Will on a Swords to Plowshares. The burn spells and Wastelands aren't particularly effective. At least two of these can be boarded out.
- Storm: Playing against any variant of Storm can be an uphill battle; at least the games are mostly fun and interactive. First off, I would definitely target their mana base with Stifle and do not keep it for a potential Storm trigger later on. Since in game one their road to victory has to be Past in Flames, it is very likely that they will flashback their discard spells before putting a huge Tendrils of Agony on the stack. Now, since the beginning of Stifle Delver decks, there has always been the question if you play out your Delver on turn one or try to catch a fetch land with Stifle. Ultimately, there is no real answer because there are so many other factors involved in this consideration like the remaining content of the hand and so on and so forth. More often than not though, I would play the creature because – especially when on the play – giving up important points of damage hurts more than potentially time walking the opponent. Stifle is still quite powerful on turn two while Storm players are generally very happy to not see Delver on turn one. Just like against Miracles, most burn spells should make room for counter spells with three Wasteland probably being more than enough as well.
- Stompy variants like Eldrazi or Mono Red: Sometimes they have it all and sometimes a single Spell Pierce wins the game. Keep mana open to counter Chalice of the Void and use Force of Will on the big threats like Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Thought-Knot Seer. A well-timed Wasteland is a great tool and a sideboard packed with artifact removal helps too. Things can get a bit tricky if they decide to bring in Leyline of the Void. Therefore, I might board out Reveler and Serpent and rely strongly on True-Name Nemesis.
- Lands and Dark Depths variants: Close to unwinnable, the Dark Depths combo protects itself via Pithing Needle and discard spells. The only real way to have a chance at winning is to transform Delver as fast as possible and hope for some Bolts. Stifle shines in this matchup because it acts like a time walk, preventing the evil interaction between Dark Depths and Thespian's Stage. After boarding, Flusterstorm seems to be better than nothing and Surgical Extraction can randomly take out one of their combo lands. In a lands heavy meta, Vapor Snag and Echoing Truth are great additions to the sideboard. Remember to use Ice's tapping ability on the token and to block with your Salamanders because unlike Mongoose, they can save you from Marit Lage.
- U/B and B/R Reanimator: "Playing against B/R Reanimator is like a chocolate box, you never know what you get…" If you survive the first couple of turns against Rakdos, then you are in good shape to win the game; otherwise, well you might be dead quite fast. U/R Pteramander matches up decently against the blue version though. It is not uncommon that choking them on mana with Stifle and Wasteland is a fruitful way to prevent them from assembling their combo and having protection at the read simultaneously. A fast clock renders Reanimate unplayable and Stifle can prohibit the drawing ability of Griselbrand. Postboard, the matchup should be even better because a pair of Extractions and Flusterstorms ask too many questions for Reanimator to answer quick enough to avoid death at the hands of Delver or Pteramander.
- B/U/G Midrange, Grixis Control, and Grixis Delver: While being vastly different decks, Grixis, B/U/G, and Grixis tempo share characteristics that are relevant for this matchup. They all have powerful spells that try to overwhelm opponents like Liliana of the Veil, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Leovold, Emissary of Trest, Baleful Strix, Liliana, the Last Hope and a wide variety of removal spells ranging from Lightning Bolt to Fatal Push, Abrupt Decay, Assassin's Trophy, Diabolic Edict, and Toxic Deluge. Canadian and U/R Pteramander do not have spells that trade favorably in terms of card advantage. U/R wants to win by outplaying the opponent in the first few turns but if plan A fails, the overall plan B of grinding them out and hoping for the best is rather poor and loses to hordes of Gurmag Angler, Young Pyromancers, planeswalkers, and other powerful high-costed cards. Protect the Delver aggressively with Spell Pierce and cut Force of Will and Daze for Flusterstorms and Abrades postboard. I strongly recommend trying out Vortex here as well even though it might come back to bite you.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.