Why BUG Delver Is the Best Delver Deck at the Moment
No more Deathrites, no more BUG? Quite the contrary! BUG Delver should be claiming the top spots in this new world and today, I am going to tell you why it eventually will.
What Does It Look Like?
Let us go straight to the point: the decklist. This is an exemplary list. The deck has different setups, but this one provides us a solid basis for further discussion:
|BUG Delver - Tweaked by Matteo Defant, based on Patrick Frontzek's list (20.01.2019)|
|2Bayou||4Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration||3Hymn to Tourach|
|4Polluted Delta||1Tombstalker||1Sylvan Library|
|1Tropical Island||3True-Name Nemesis||1Liliana of the Veil|
|4Underground Sea||2Abrupt Decay|
|2Verdant Catacombs||2Assassin's Trophy|
|4Force of Will|
|2Diabolic Edict||1Dread of Night||2Flusterstorm|
|1Grafdigger's Cage||1Liliana, the Last Hope||1Marsh Casualties|
|1Nihil Spellbomb||2Spell Pierce||2Surgical Extraction|
Both Matteo and Patrick are seasoned Legacy players. They may not have the shiniest achievements in the game, but they have been playing Legacy and a variety of midrange and tempo decks for a while.
The Delver Decks
Delver decks suffered a major hit when Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe were banned last year. The golden standard used to be Grixis Delver, a fast tempo deck that was able to win against everything in the meta, and this had a significant share in getting both cards banned. What happened next is history. U/B Death's Shadow rose to glory during the Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, and many people celebrated the return of Nimble Mongoose – including myself to some extent.
Now that 2019 has begun, things are already starting to look a bit different. Death's Shadow has a meta share of around 2% and Canadian looks to be below 1%. Grixis Delver is at a healthy 6% and U/R Delver is at 5% while BUG Delver is not even on the list. Other decks including Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration are: Mono Blue Delver; W/U/R Delver, certainly a playable deck with a history; and Esper Delver, a rather fringe choice. So why is BUG the best Delver deck?
First of all, statistics are not always the best (and absolute) indicator of how good a deck really is. If many people believe in one thing, it does not mean that this becomes automatically correct; it rather becomes the generic standard. Of course, statistics and meta overviews are great tools to find solid decks for tournaments, but every data still needs to be scrutinized and questioned.
Secondly, BUG Delver has fallen out of favor with many tempo players because it has lost its tempo characteristics. Without a turn 1 mana dork, the deck cannot play an early-game focused match and instead, tries several things at once.
Let us look at some of BUG's distinct features:
1. The Creatures
You have Delver, and you have Goyf. These are still two of the best beaters in Legacy. The opponent has to have an answer for them and both set the clock on combo decks like no other single creature in Legacy. True-Name Nemesis is also an all-star by now. Fighting against every other creature-based and control decks, like Loam, Maverick, Miracles, other Delver decks, and Death and Taxes, this merfolk provides a solid backbone and pitches to Force of Will in combo match-ups where it usually gets sided out. Tombstalker is also great addition to BUG's line-up because it overpowers most creatures and flies over Gurmag Angler. In a Miracle-heavy meta, Leovold, Emissary of Trest is a decent substite for the large demon.
What BUG really does slightly better than Grixis, U/R, and all the other Delver decks is that it plays creatures that have a higher value on their own. Tarmogoyf famously got splashed into almost every deck back in the day and became kind of a meme – maybe even Legacy's first one. True-Name Nemesis is a perfect roadblock and can be seen as the unblockable and untargetable version of Delver, while good old Tombstalker serves as Tarmo number five. In comparison to Grixis' Young Pyromancer, Goyf requires less fostering, but suffers from cards like Baleful Strix. U/R Delver's creature base, for example, is the total opposite and could not care less about its creatures, which are basically simple peons in their overall game plan. Monastery Swiftspear and Stormchaser Mage are extremely weak threats in isolation and only work well with a ton of fuel.
2. The Removal
A mix of Abrupt Decay, Assassin's Trophy, and Fatal Push and the deck is all geared up. Even though playing a full set of Trophies is tempting, Decay can provide a safety plan against Counterbalance and many other problematic permanents without engaging in counter wars. Sure, killing Jace, the Mind Sculptor and trying to get rid of a Griselbrand or annoying lands like Maze of Ith and Dark Depths is great. But usually, one does not want to have to rely on a counterspell to back up Trophy, and that is where Decay does the job quite well.
No other Delver deck can deal with Blood Moon, Chalice of the Void, Counterbalance, and fringe playables like Moat or Humility that easily. Furthermore, Fatal Push is a convenient solution for small and pesky threats, such as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Noble Hierarch, or any other ramp or hate creature.
The only great tempo removal that BUG cannot play is Lightning Bolt. Possibly the greatest red spell of all time, this instant has slowly lost its significance in the meta. There are way more stompy decks running around than a couple of years ago, and the versatility of Decay and especially Trophy makes up for the potential loss in this department.
3. The Late Game
A Delver deck with a strong late game? Yes. And that is why BUG edges out Grixis, U/R, and W/U/R. Sylvan Library, Liliana of the Veil, and Liliana, the Last Hope are awesome tools to combat control decks. There are even more options to consider like Jace, the Mind Sculptor to fight Miracles with their own weapons. Having an aggressive beatdown plan with flipped Delvers while holding back Nemeses and Goyfs is a much superior route to take than throwing small creatures at the opponent, especially when thinking about the potential late game. Going online with Library, ticking up Lilianas, and grinding it out with Nemeses does not sound like a typical Delver strategy, but it does resemble BUG Control, a deck that has a strong late game plan.
The great thing about BUG Delver is that it can outperform many tempo and midrange decks by simply changing its pace with either Delver of Secrets itself or True-Name Nemesis. There is no set plan for BUG because of its versatility, thus making it seemingly criminally underplayed at the moment.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.