A New Type of Delver Decks in Legacy
Delver has been a staple in Legacy since it's creation, but the lists surrounding the wizard have changed. Christopher looks at its origins and where it is today to demonstrate why it is Delver has changed.
When Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration was released in Innistrad in September 2011, it took less than a month for it to find a home in Legacy. Ciro Bonaventura piloted a new version of Canadian Threshold to a second place finish at GP Amsterdam in October 2011 with four copies of Delver as a strong addition to Nimble Mongoose and Tarmogoyf.
Canadian Threshold, Ciro Bonaventura, Grand Prix Amsterdam 2011
|1Flooded Strand||4Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration||4Brainstorm|
|2Misty Rainforest||3Nimble Mongoose||4Daze|
|1Scalding Tarn||1Fire // Ice|
|3Tropical Island||4Force of Will|
|4Volcanic Island||4Lightning Bolt|
|2Engineered Explosives||2Firespout||4Leyline of the Void|
|2Pyroblast||2Red Elemental Blast||3Spell Pierce|
Yes, this list is from 2011! If you compare this to any Canadian list from the last two months, you will see few if any changes. Canadian was and is the definition of a tempo deck and Delver perfectly fits into this. If you take a look at the newer Delver decks, like W/U Delver and Grixis Delver, the decks seem quite different than that original tempo shell from 2011.
I'm going to dive into older and newer archetypes of Delver to hopefully explain why Delver has changed over the last few years.
The Old Delver
The first Delver decks were extremely aggressive with cheap powerful interaction. Canadian Threshold (U/R/G Delver), Team America (U/B/G Delver) and U/R Delver are the most popular examples, with U/R Delver getting some new life recently with Pteramander and Light Up the Stage.
Canadian is probably the most iconic Delver deck and is considered by many to be the definitive example of the Tempo archetype.
The strategy for these decks is really where Delver wants to be. You kill your opponent as early as possible with cheap efficient creatures while using cards like Wasteland and Stifle to set them back on mana. In combination with efficient interaction, opponents will lose before their gameplan gets off the ground.
The New Delver
In todays meta, two new archetypes of Delver decks are dominating the format: Grixis Delver and W/U Delver or DelverBlade.
Grixis Delver, James Gertz, Star City Games Classig Syracuse 2019
|2Flooded Strand||4Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration||4Brainstorm|
|2Misty Rainforest||2True-Name Nemesis||4Force of Will|
|2Polluted Delta||3Young Pyromancer||4Lightning Bolt|
|2Scalding Tarn||2Spell Pierce|
|3Underground Sea||1Forked Bolt|
|3Volcanic Island||2Inquisition of Kozilek|
|1Engineered Explosives||2Flusterstorm||1Nihil Spellbomb|
|1Pithing Needle||2Pyroblast||2Surgical Extraction|
W/U Delver, Harlan Firer, Star City Games Classic Syracuse 2019
|4Flooded Strand||4Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration||4Brainstorm|
|1Misty Rainforest||4Stoneforge Mystic||4Force of Will|
|2Polluted Delta||2True-Name Nemesis||3Spell Pierce|
|1Scalding Tarn||4Swords to Plowshares|
|2Jace, the Mind Sculptor|
|2Back to Basics||1Celestial Purge||2Containment Priest|
|1Council's Judgment||2Disenchant||1Engineered Explosives|
|2Flusterstorm||1Gideon, Ally of Zendikar||2Surgical Extraction|
At first sight, these Delver lists have a higher average mana cost. Canadian played 18 lands. Grixis increases the land count to 19, W/U Delver to 20 lands. While Canadian plays only efficient one-mana spells (and 4 Tarmogoyf), Grixis and W/U go more over the top. True-Name-Nemesis, Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Stoneforge Mystic require a much heavier mana commitment.
These new Delver decks tend to have multiple gameplans. While the old Delver decks are more straightforward Aggro strategies, Grixis and W/U have a Plan B if the initial push fails to close the deal. Young Pyromancer, Gurmag Angler, True-Name-Nemesis, Stoneforge Mystic and Jace offer flexibility that the old Delver decks didn't have. Especially W/U looks like a typical midrange Stoneblade list that adds Delver for more pressure in the early game.
The Necessity of Flexibility
In the time between 2011 and 2019, several cards with high impact in Legacy were printed and this led to a significant shift in the meta. In today’s metagame, Chalice of the Void and Blood Moon are more played and can single-handedly shutdown Canadian due to the high number of one-cost spells and non-basic lands. In addition, the amount of possible ways to remove Delver and Tarmogoyf has increased a lot over the years. In the beginning, Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares were the common answers. Nowadays, Fatal Push, Kholagan’s Command, and Baleful Strix are all over the place and they quite effectively deal with the major threats in Delver.
In addition to that, being in the midrange camp gives you the ability to play the long game against the more aggressive Delver lists.
To summarize, non-aggro decks today have more tools to delay the game and additionally have the time to develop their game plan. Straight Delver Decks, on the other hand, don't have enough tools to play at the same competitive level as before. Going back to our original note on Canadian Threshold, you can see how few additional tools these decks hvae gained. Pteramander offers some new hope for these aggressive decks, but so far, it seems like an alternative plan is a strong option for Delver decks in the current meta. Grixis Delver can use the go-wide plan with Young Pyromancer and the big-beater plan with Gurmag Angler and TNN. W/U Delver can rely on Jace and Stoneforge to grind out their opponents. Basically, it's important to have some legs in the long game for Delver right now, but if you do, then your deck will still have the advantages that Delver has provided for Legacy players through the years.
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