Bob’s Play: Grixis Delver

Situation #1

You’re on the play game 2 in the mirror.

My Play

Underground Sea, Delver of Secrets, go.

I asked a bunch of Delver experts, and surprisingly, the results were split in favor of most players choosing to Ponder first. This was shocking to me as I’ve made this play many times before. For me, it boils down to a few reasons.

  1. The mirror is extremely tempo oriented, and you want to use all of your mana every turn. Leading on Delver maximizes your on-board tempo.
  2. Leading on Ponder and shuffling when you don’t find another land is a huge sign of weakness. I almost always Wasteland a Delver opponent who goes turn-1 Ponder, shuffle.
  3. Even if my opponent Wastelands me, I have a Delver out.
  4. An opponent who Wastelands me can be in a really poor position and punished if I simply go, flip Delver, play my second land, and play another threat. So it’s a risky proposition for them.

Let’s take a look at the other side of the equation to illustrate this.

Situation #2

It’s game 2 and you’re on the draw. Your opponent leads on Underground Sea and Delver of Secrets. You do not know the rest of their hand.

Your hand:

My Play

Play Scalding Tarn for Volcanic Island, and Lightning Bolt the Delver on my turn. This plays around Flusterstorm and maximizes my tempo. Furthermore, it ensures that I am at parity on board. I would never play around Daze here, as Daze in the early turns would set my opponent back, effectively giving me a “pseudo-Deathrite Shaman.” By returning their land to their hand, they miss out on 1 mana every turn for the rest of the game, and I’m happy with that exchange. As a side note, thinking of Deathrite Shaman or Daze as a free Lotus Petal every game in the tempo mirror might help you make some of your decisions. This is why you must kill a turn-1 Deathrite Shaman, because the tempo advantage is so huge that it’s even more important than card advantage.

Other plays, such as playing my own Delver, get punished if their Delver flips and they have removal for my Delver. Your priority in the mirror should be to keep their board clear, and that’s usually more important than developing your own board. Another option would be to lead Scalding Tarn, go, then untap, play Lightning Bolt, and then Wasteland them. But I don’t like this play as you need to use every mana every turn. It’s simply not worth playing around Daze.

Finally, Wastelanding them on turn 1 can be especially punishing. If they flip their Delver and play another Delver, they now have 3 key permanents on board to your 0, and it can be very difficult to recover this tempo. Sure, there might be ~20% of games where they don’t have a second colored source, but I think this is closely outweighed by ~80% of games where they are able to punish you for getting greedy.

To recap: I don’t think leading on turn 1 Ponder is horrible in the first situation—I just play a bit greedier than most. If you think your opponent is weaker than you, it might make sense to take a conservative line and play the Ponder. But I’m fairly sure about the second play. The tempo and board presence is just too important, and you should definitely clear their threats before attacking their lands or worrying about Daze.

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