Changing Tides: U/R Delver in Legacy

For many years, U/R Delver has been a great choice for aggro players in Legacy. Its damage output via Delver of Secrets and Monastery Swiftspear fueled by Gitaxian Probe allowed for insane starts. But does it work nowadays?

No More Chasing Storms

Stormchaser Mage

The banning of Gitaxian Probe and Deathrite Shaman has affected U/R Delver significantly. Digging through the library and activating the Prowess mechanic with Gitaxian Probe was the biggest upside compared to other Delver and aggro decks, other than its relatively inexpensive mana base. Nevertheless, U/R has never been just a budget option, but rather a strong contender in metagames where midrange decks are the premier choice.

A regular pre-ban U/R Delver list looked like this:

Pre-Ban U/R Delver

Taking out Gitaxian Probes ruins the aggressive core of the deck. Prowess isn't nearly as impressive when you don't have zero mana cantrips. Monastery Swiftspear remains a great card but Stormchaser Mage – a hitter that always seemed a bit clunky – appears even worse now. In addition, Bedlam Reveler loses a bit of its speed and punching power. Staying on 16 lands is also not an option anymore because one cannot hope to hit lands on turn one or two without free draw spells.

Two Directions

Stifle Lightning Bolt

In my opinion, there are two possibilities for the deck. Both are fine choices but inherently different. Let us look at the hyper aggressive variant first. This deck pretty much loses to most combo decks and will have a hard time beating them even with a massive arsenal of bullets postboard. Yet, it profits from its sheer speed and makes up for its lack of permission spells and sustainable creatures by pressuring the opponent with one-drops and burn spells during the first few turns of a game:

Hyper-Aggressive U/R Delver

This list tries to play a one-drop creature on turn one and potentially a second one on turn two and burn its way to victory. Goblin Guide is a great attacker for such as purpose. All in all, this lists creatures act like burn spells. On their own, they have little value and can be seen like pawns which die after they had done their job. Supported by ten Bolts and a Fireblast, this list can easily outpace most midrange decks. Especially without Deathrite Shaman, Sultai and Esper decks tend to be a tad slower nowadays. This approach, however, suffers a bit in the late game where its creature draws are not very impressive.

Another direction is to mimic Canadian Threshold's game plan by running more counter spells, less creatures, and a mana denial package. Let us look at a possible list first:

U/R Tempo Delver

Basically, this version wants to play the same tempo play as Canadian, but profits from having a better mana base and slightly better creatures; even though that is kind of debatable. I feel like Nimble Mongoose is simply too slow for today's meta and while Tarmogoyf still performs decently, Grim Lavamancer, Young Pyromancer, and True-Name Nemesis provide a strong line-up that should not be underestimated. Spell Snare, in particular, is a nice addition that negates pesky Baleful Strixes, Snapcaster Mages, Hymn to Tourachs, Counterbalances, Infernal Tutors, and many other problematic spells like most of the white and green hatebears.

At a Crossroads

Kabira Crossroads

U/R, as a concept, is at a crossroads in Legacy. That does not mean that there is only one correct way though. Both directions have their advantages and disadvantages and both are capable of developing and winning major tournaments. As for now, I feel like the slower mana denial approach might be the way to go since having more game against Reanimator, Storm, and Show and Tell looks to be more important, at the moment, than improving midrange match ups. Let us not forget that Lightning Bolt and friends work wonders against Dimir Shadow when timed correctly, whereas Nemesis takes out Gurmag Angler or Death's Shadow on the ground.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

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