Deck Review: Blue-Red Delver in Legacy
- Rodrigo Martin
Rone returns to his Legacy review series focused on Delver variants. This time he aims at the Izzet version where Dreadhorde Arcanist has become the newest all-star—thanks to the combination of tons of cantrip and burn spells. Check it out!
Hello, everyone! I am here once again to talk about Legacy. In the past few weeks, Blue-Red Delver caught my eye, because I was missing some Izzet action ever since Arclight Phoenix was buried when Faithless Looting got the axe (read my eulogy here in case you didn't already).
RUG Delver is widely considered the strongest option in the current Legacy metagame. But the Izzet version does have some advantages. It also got a strong addition in War of the Spark that is conquering several Eternal formats at the moment, including Vintage: Dreadhorde Arcanist. So, let's talk about the card itself, about the current configuration, about Throne of Eldraine additions, and about sideboard plans!
Analyzing the Delver Shell
Almost every Delver deck shares the same basic structure, almost like a cooking recipe: some early threats such as the Human Wizards itself, a large number of cantrips so you can find the exact cards you need as well as get rid of extra lands, and finally a nice touch of free permission, mainly the inseparable couple of Daze and Force of Will.
Which secondary color or colors you want to run depends on the expected metagame or on personal preference. Nowadays, the red-blue-green version is undeniably the most successful one, due to the huge impact Wrenn and Six has had on the format. The second 2-drop planeswalker in Magic history wasn't supposed to be another Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded, and so the design ended up a little pushed, able to set up a recurring Wasteland or kill any toughness 1 creature. You could ask: why play the straight Izzet version then if Temur is the king of the hill? Well, that's one of the questions this article addresses.
|Blue-Red Delver by Rone, November 2019|
As with my previous Legacy deck reviews, I'll dissect every card choice divided by category.
1. Creature Suite
- 4 Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration
- 3 True-Name Nemesis
- 4 Dreadhorde Arcanist
- 2 Young Pyromancer
This is a tempo deck. If we aim to win games with it, we need to kill opponents before it is too late. We don't want to play a long game where our Daze and Spell Pierce become useless—quite the opposite: the sooner we finish, the better. Delver of Secrets//Insectile Aberration on turn one is the best start, especially backed-up with eight free counter spells. The namesake card of the deck obviously dies to almost every removal in the format, but if you manage to protect it long enough, it will usually be a six-turn clock.
The second blue creature the deck relies on is True-Name Nemesis, which has been an all-star ever since it appeared in Commander 2013. Lately, the all-mighty Merfolk has been suffering from Plague Engineer, but a quick Nemesis remains one of the most reliable paths to victory against the Temur version. They cannot interact with it in any way, and they typically can't race it because of Blue-Red's bigger burn compartment.
The remaining creatures are both red 2 drops that offer some sort of card advantage. Young Pyromancer's glory days have passed. No longer does one get to follow up a turn-two Pyro with Gitaxian Probe, and its vulnerable to the ubiquitous Wrenn. Today it's a much softer threat, but one that still sometimes gets out of control, creates an army of 1/1 Elementals, and nevertheless is worth two to three slots on our team.
Then there's Dreadhorde Arcanist, yet another superb addition directly from yet another set that has warped Legacy quite a bit with a number of relevant planeswalkers. When evaluating this card, it's easy to see a parallel to Snapcaster Mage: both cost 2 mana, both re-buy instants and sorceries from the grave for extra value. They key aspect of Arcanist is that it'll quickly become a two- or three-for-one if uncontested. If fed continuously, it will run away with a game just as much as Wrenn and Six.
2. Other Considerations
Monastery Swiftspear is an all-time favorite for red mages in Burn decks. Here it could add some early pressure paired with Delver. The awkward thing is it doesn't synergize well with counter magic, so unless you want to go full aggro, I wouldn't consider it for now. Then there's the aforementioned Snapcaster Mage. Some lists add a single copy, especially to re-play some cheap counter magic in the shape of Spell Pierce or Spell Snare. Last but not least, a recently printed card is making an appearance in Legacy tournaments, Brazen Borrower is a two-in-one spell, bouncing a permanent for tempo and later joining the race as a 3/1 flier for additional damage.
3. Blue Spells: Permission and Cantrips
I already wrote about my preferred counter package in my Death's Shadow article and the configuration is similar here: a total of 11 counter spells with nine free counters and two copies of Spell Pierce. After trying some other options, I stuck with the Pierces as they hit a wide range of problematic cards for just 1 mana, and when you counter, for example, a Jace, the Mind Sculptor that cost 4 with it you are gaining a lot of tempo. Your opponent probably spent a whole turn to deploy their card and you just get rid of it at minimal expense.
Stifle can still be game-breaking when you stifle your opponent's fetch land. But, I am sorry to mention for the bazillionth time, once again Wrenn and Six nullifies the mana-denial plan. All in all, it's a personal choice, though I would rather add some more cantrips and other choices that work with Dreadshorde Arcanist.
Just a small note before we move to the next point; these blue spells are here to ensure we hit our land drops, transform the Delver reliably, don't get mana flooded and fill the graveyard enough to feed the Arcanist. Brainstorm and Ponder need no further explanation and Preordain brings the number up to ten.
4. Rest of the Spells: Direct Damage and Miscellaneous
Red plays an important role in closing games, either by sending our Lightnings to the face or keeping the coast clear for our team. Compared to other premium removal for 1 mana like Fatal Push or Swords to Plowshares, Lightning Bolt can always find a target—namely the opponent—and is able to kill some low-loyalty planeswalkers. Chain Lighting comes in as the fifth and sixth copy in the shape of a sorcery but still necessary for closing games quickly.
Rounding things up, there are some flex slots, about one or two tops, that vary depending on the meta and the version you are playing: Vapor Snag and Magmatic Sinkhole are the main consideration as extra removal pieces, but this time I have decided to try out something spicy, a singleton copy of The Royal Scions. It comes at the reasonable cost of 3 mana and offers some great interaction with the whole deck. The first ability cycles through our deck, the second ability helps us to kill more quickly and wins the Delver battle. If you get to the ultimate, you are probably winning, but it's not impossible since it just take three turns after playing the Scions to draw four cards and deal 4 damage or more. It is a bit of an experimental inclusion, but it feels super cool to try out new cards in Eternal formats such as Legacy.
5. Mana Base
18 lands is the average number for this deck type, but it is possible to cut one Preordain for the 19th. One big advantage of this version is that you can play around mana hosers like Blood Moon, Back to Basics, or recurring Wasteland due to the three basic lands, which are easy to grab with a total of seven fetch lands. For budget reasons, I could see running just a couple of Volcanic Island and including a Sulfur Falls instead.
To sum up, the mana base is quite strong and even allows for a cycle land in Fiery Islet, in case you are mana flooded. But don't add more than one, it's not worth it.
Moving to the sideboard, I have to be honest with you, it's one of the trickiest things I have encountered when assembling the whole deck, and that's because there are infinite options among all the spells blue and red have to offer. Rather than an actual sideboard guide, I will be listing the main choices divided by use and the number of copies you should run:
1. Extra Counter Magic
In this chapter, we deal with Pyroblast and Hydroblast even if they are also ways to deal with permanents, since their main function is to counter spells from either red or blue. The above are the numbers I recommend at the moment, but it may vary depending on your local metagame. Two copies of Pyroblast are almost mandatory since blue is the best color in Legacy—like it or not—or at least the most played. One could consider a second copy of Hydroblast, especially when dealing with lots of Wrenn and Six, Sneak and Show, and Black-Red Reanimator.
Flusterstorm is key in counter wars and more specifically in the Storm matchup as a clean answer to Tendrils of Agony or Empty the Warrens. Last but not least, the second copy of Force of Negation comes in for combo and control matchups and for Chalice of the Void decks.
2. Graveyard Hate
There are a great number of decks that operate from the graveyard and that you should be prepared for. This includes Ad Nauseam Tendrils that relies on Past in Flames, Cabal Ritual, and Dark Petition, but also Dredge, Reanimator, and the new Hogaak Vengevine builds. Against all of those strategies your best bet is Surgical Extraction since it's free, an instant speed, and can be recycled via Dreadhorde Arcanist.
But it isn't enough to stop them, so I strongly recommend you add at least a third and maybe a fourth piece of graveyard hate. Both Tormod's Crypt and Grafdigger's Cage are strong choices and you can split them. Cage incidentally targets other decks like Elves too.
3. Extra Removal
Historically, one big downside of the Izzet color combination was the inability to deal with buffed threats, let's say toughness 4 or higher. Luckily for us, Magmatic Sinkhole has been printed in Modern Horizons, giving us a tool to kill both bigger creatures such as Tarmogoyf or Gurmag Angler or planeswalkers. If you have issues with giant legendary creatures like the Marit-Lage token or Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis you can go for a couple of Karakas and/or Sumberge, but in my experience Dark Depths players know well how to play around that card and they can combo off without a Forest in play. That being said, Submerge is a clean answer in the Temur matchup, especially if you can play it in response to them cracking a fetch land.
Vapor Snag is also a flexible slot to either Unsummon a giant threat or even save one of our guys from opposing removal. Both Izzet Staticaster and Blazing Volley are possible solutions to token problems.
4. Artifact Removal
You also need to keep an eye on artifact-heavy decks, mainly Eldrazi and others with Chalice of the Void, as they can completely destroy your game plan if they resolve that annoying artifact. A couple of copies of Abrade will always be my first weapon of choice here, since they are both artifact and creature removal.
But I consider to include an additional answer in the shape of Shenanigans or Smash to Smithereens. Both Null Rod and Shattering Spree have their upsides as well. The first one is superb at shutting down Lion's Eye Diamond and other mana rocks. The Spree, meanwhile, doesn't feel well suited to a deck whose primary color is blue.
5. Miscellaneous Slots
As I mentioned earlier, there are a great deal of options: Winter Orb, Blood Moon, and Back to Basics all fall under the same header of constraining mana—the idea of deploying a threat and then denying you opponent the opportunity to play any spells. Price of Progress is an extra game-winning card that people don't play around enough lately and that can steal a game or two; sadly Arcum's Astrolabe is warping mana bases to include more basics.
Narset, Parter of Veils is my personal favorite right now, included in particular to fight other cantrip-heavy decks. However, I have to confess she got stuck in my hand a little too often when the third land never showed up.
If you have reached this point, thank you so much for reading this article. To summarize: Temur may be positioned better overall, but the Izzet version of Delver can play more aggressively, with three copies of True-Name Nemesis to kill faster and direct damage to close up games. Feel free to comment on what you agree or disagree with regard to card choices. I'm interested in any and all feedback. Leave your comments or questions below or hit me up on my shared Twitter account.
Until next time,
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.