I’ve spilled lots of digital ink discussing the relative intransigence of the Pauper metagame. So when a fringe player comes out of nowhere with a facelift to take three of the Top 8 slots in a Sunday Challenge, I have to sit up and take notice. The deck in question is Blue-Black Delver, and its strong September 9th showing came on the back of an impressive 7-0 Swiss run on September 2nd, ending in a semifinal exit.
IronicGentleman, Top 4 at the September 2 Pauper Challenge
This take on Blue-Black Delver is a departure from previous versions. The deck, which has been around in some way shape or form since Khans of Tarkir gifted the format Sultai Scavenger and Treasure Cruise, faded from glory after the delve Ancestral Recall got banned. The deck was based around applying pressure with Delver of Secrets backed up with cantrips, countermagic, removal, and Gurmag Angler. Treasure Cruise served as a way to reload on interaction at a bargain basement price.
After the boat got the boot, the deck lingered on. This was before Gush was as widely adopted and the deck first relied on Accumulated Knowledge. Eventually the broken blue card found another home and the deck started to trend toward the build above. The biggest difference is that these versions run 2-mana cards like Counterspell and Diabolic Edict—some even went with Chainer’s Edict for some late-game insurance—and ran Augur of Bolas main instead of a more offensively threatening creature.
So what does this build do differently? First, it more or less completely ignores the late game. Cards like Daze and Spell Pierce mean that the latest iteration of the deck wants to dominate the early stages of any battle. A turn-1 Delver of Secrets, protected by Daze, can win the game almost on its own. By focusing almost exclusively on 1-mana (or free) spells, this low-to-the-ground build can deploy a threat on turn 1 and then load up the graveyard for a delve threat on turn 2 or 3.
Blue-Black Delver also takes advantage of the Gush+Brainstorm+Ash Barrens package. Brainstorm is not the powerhouse in Pauper it is in Legacy and Vintage. Part of what makes Brainstorm so strong in those formats is the interaction with Polluted Delta and the like. Evolving Wilds is no Polluted Delta, and it certainly can’t fetch a land that makes two types of mana. The triumvirate, however, gets close. Casting Gush by returning two Islands, conveniently tapped for mana, then Brainstorm (putting back two Islands) and Ash Barrens to get a fresh land puts you up three cards—all of which are potentially useful in the moment. The ability to see so many cards early helps to shrink the number of turns that could potentially matter.
While slimming down on mana cost is an innovation, it comes with some serious drawbacks. Daze is no Counterspell and this version gives up a lot as the turn number increases. The winner of the September 9th Challenge was a Boros Monarch deck that packed three copies of Journey to Nowhere—a card that will always resolve if timed correctly. The low threat density also means that a deck that runs enough removal can simply negate any win condition. Running so many creatures with delve is parasitic and it is easy to see a scenario where the second Gurmag Angler gets stranded in your hand.
Still, this deck is a breath of fresh air and should be taken seriously. It runs a large number of high impact cards and given the strength of its filtering, it is likely to see a good number of them. It is possible to build the deck for a longer game—the 2nd place finisher in the September 9th event opted to run two copies each of Counterspell and Diabolic Edict.
Completely independent of the development of this deck, I was working on updating Blue-Black Delver in the wake of Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. The Legacy Death’s Shadow deck caught my eye. I put it on the back burner after realizing that Unearth was not a good replacement for Reanimate, but IronicGentleman’s result encouraged me to take another look. I opted to push the deck more toward the midgame, using Elusive Spellfist as an additional threat, and have settled on this build.
My version sacrifices some early game power. I am not running Gitaxian Probe and skimped on removal. Between Gurmag Angler being bigger than everything else and Elusive Spellfist getting through blockers, the need for removal is not as great. I have also been impressed with Ingenious Skaab as a way to maximize damage output. Prowess is a fantastic ability that turns each cantrip into more damage and Skaab does double duty with its +1/-1 activated ability.
Blue-Black Delver does not look like a flash in the pan. Instead, it builds upon a potent card advantage engine and instead of leveraging it into the efficient removal of red, it directs it into the massive threats found in black. It will be interesting to see where this deck ends up in a few weeks once we have full access to Guilds of Ravnica.
Why? Surveil. This ability gives decks running the Dimir colors the ability to filter the top of their library directly into the graveyard. Not only does this increase card quality but it also adds food for the Zombie Fish. As of writing, no card seems tailor-made for this deck—Unexplained Disappearance is the closest as a 1U Unsummon with surveil 1, but it is not impossible to envision a gold card that fits perfectly into this archetype to give it a boost in the coming weeks.