Is U/R Delver the Best Deck in Pauper?

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I’ve been exploring Pauper decks left and right, and this week felt like the right time to tackle one of the format’s boogeymen: U/R Delver (sometimes called Deep Hours Aggro).

“Name the deck after me!” “No! Name it after me!”

All the while, Brainstorm and Ponder sit quietly in the back thinking: “Please and thank you for taking the heat off us a little!” And they say Ninjas are sneaky…

Alex wrote a wonderful article last week, and proposed the idea that the blue card draw and selection could have problematic effects on the future of the format. A must-read for the serious Pauper fan.

Turbo Xerox decks have a reputation for being metagame killer whales. Anybody who advocates keeping an eye on this oft predatory archetype gets my seal of approval.

Xerox is an archetype defined by decks that have access to card filtering/selection paired with cheap victory conditions. The entire archetype of “Delver” is textbook Xerox. The minutiae of archetypes isn’t the point of the article—it can be simplified to: are decks with a bunch of Brainstorms and Ponders too good for Pauper?

Let’s look at the format’s premier blue deck: U/R Delver (Sorry, Ninja).

Stock U/R Delver Deck List

I’ve battled against Delver many times but have never sleeved it up myself. It was never an issue of believing the deck was anything less the superb. How could it not be? It has better card filtering than Legacy!

Needless to say, after flipping a few Delvers I was impressed with the deck and confirmed it is a top dog in the meta.

Here’s the list that I scraped together:

U/R Delver

Brian DeMars

The deck is beyond stock—the choices are so straightforward that there isn’t much room to innovate. It’s one of those shells where 9/10 well-intentioned tweaks make it objectively worse. It’s textbook Xerox: cheap threats, flexible removal, fantastic card selection, permission, and light on lands.

Who would have thought thinking would be so OP?

In a multiverse of Dragons, monsters, and mages the most powerful thing is to take a moment to think about options. A true testament to the ills of improperly costing cards. Cantrips smooth out draws so nicely. Not only is the player more likely to have a threat or removal when they need it, but it also dramatically reduces the odds of ending up mana screwed or flooded.

How Does U/R Delver Work?

The Xerox Delver archetype has been a Legacy mainstay for years. The premise is cheap, evasive threats, and cheap interaction threaded together with cheap library manipulation to smooth draws.

In my experience, the two most impressive cards (outside of the draw spells) have been Ninja of the Deep Hours and Spellstutter Sprite.

Both are solid sources of card advantage in a deck that would otherwise be mostly small creatures, cantrips, and 1-for-1 removal. They also team up for a backbreaking one-two punch: The Sprite counters a spell on its way into play and is an evasive attacker to Ninjitsu with. Returning the Sprite allows it to counter yet another spell when recast.

U/R Delver is the blueprint of efficiency and quality, which allows it to be in nearly every game.

The Best “Play from Ahead” Deck in Pauper

Aside from consistency from cantrips, Delver’s other big strength is that it is a beast when playing from ahead. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the deck is built to get ahead quickly and never relinquish advantage. It starts with eight 1-drops:

Both are great ways to cheat a Ninja into battle on the second turn. Obviously, it’s difficult to fight against an opponent that is drawing extra cards on the second turn. It puts a ton of pressure on the opponent, as extra cards mean extra removal and counterspells to continue to push the Ninja through.

The biggest drawback of Delver is that the creatures do not hit very hard. Twelve creatures with a single power means that it takes several turns to close out a game. The upside is that most create card advantage or replace themselves upon resolution, which means that the deck is very good at fighting a war of attrition against other aggressive decks.

Once the deck has flyers deployed it will often use its cantrips to simply find counterspells and run the opponent out of time. You don’t need to control the game forever—just long enough for the Fae to finish the job.

The sideboard is also well equipped to play from ahead. Every card is a bullet for something, which means high impact if resolved at the right moment. Cantrips help ensure the sideboard cards are found on time.

Blue Ban?

U/R Delver is probably the overall “best deck” in Pauper. If you added up all of the percentages from all the matchups I would be shocked if the deck didn’t have an overall win percentage that exceeds 50%.

Most formats have a known best deck, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means that a particular strategy carries a lot of weight in the metagame. From Standard to Vintage, best decks are a fact of life.

My expectation is to find a best deck, so I don’t consider that to be an automatic qualifier for the ban hammer. I’m more of an “eyeball test, backed by data” person when it comes to ban talk:

“Do I feel like a dummy for not playing a deck and do I feel demoralized when I play against said deck.”

For instance, I played an anti-Treasure-Cruise deck at a Legacy Grand Prix before it was banned, and still lost to Treasure Cruises. In retrospect, it was wrong not to play Cruise because it was truly ban worthy. Even decks designed to beat it didn’t consistently beat it.

I haven’t felt that way about blue decks in Pauper so far. I think the U/R Delver and Mono-Blue Tribe decks are great choices, but not prohibitively so: Elves, Slivers, Affinity, Tron, and Boros Monarch all feel equally viable.

The other problem is: what would you even ban?

The deck has an embarassment of riches when it comes to blue cards that would be snap banned in Modern. Brainstorm and/or Gush would be my guess.

As Pauper continues to grow, I anticipate that we’ll cultivate more and better data. I did take a look at some online analytics and it looks like Blue Xerox decks (Izzet Blitz, All Delver, and Tireless Tribe) make up about 33% of the winners metagame. I thought it would be higher:

“You can play Ponder, Brainstorm, Preordain, Counterspell, Delver, and Gush.”

Yet, two-thirds of the players choose to do something different. I also believe there is a heavy bias to play this style of deck. Delver is familiar. People also enjoy playing decks where they feel like they are in it every game.

In a pure numbers game, Alex has a solid point that we should keep an eye on the impact of blue cards in the format. I enjoy these cards and strategies, but I like the dynamic element of lots of competitive decks as well. My experience has been that blue decks feel comparatively balanced against the other tier 1 decks I’ve played. If the percentage of blue decks starts creeping from 1/3 towards 1/2 of the metagame, I’ll likely consider reevaluating my experiences.

I also like the fact that banning a card like Brainstorm or Gush is a nice safety valve if blue decks start encroaching on metagame territory. One ban wouldn’t kill blue, but it would weaken it, if that ever becomes necessary.

On a personal note, I hope doesn’t happen. I really enjoy playing with both Gush and Brainstorm in Pauper. Both add a cool “Eternal charm” to the format that would be missed without them.

U/R Delver is one of the top choices in the format right now and definitely worth learning about. I certainly gained a new respect for the deck after putting the time in. It performed about as I expected: very well.

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