Delver of Secrets and the Future of Legacy

Originally, this article began as a Grixis Delver Deck Guide. Unfortunately, with the banning of Dig Through Time, that deck will have to undergo substantial changes so I’ve decided to take that article and turn it into a more generic “Delver of Secrets do’s and don’ts,” as well as share some thoughts on the future of Legacy.

Common Misplays to Avoid

I see a lot of players make a variety of minor misplays with Delver. Keep in mind that these are all guidelines and there are definitely times when you are supposed to make these “misplays.”

  1. Lead with Delver over Deathrite Shaman – Delver is your fastest threat, but 95% of the time you should lead with Deathrite Shaman when you play both in your deck. Note that this percentage may change with the new scry rule as you will have opportunities to play a Delver and guarantee that it will flip. In general though, Deathrite Shaman allows you to accelerate your game plan by giving you 3 potential mana on turn 2, and often that will mean that you can play the Delver plus a cantrip to flip the Delver. The main exception to this rule is when you are not sure if there will be a land in the graveyard for Deathrite fuel, or if you know you are playing against combo and need to aggressively clock them by flipping the Delver on your upkeep via Brainstorm. Which brings us to:
  2. Use Brainstorm to flip Delvers – I see this play very often, and I think it is generally wrong, especially if you expect the game to go long. Brainstorm should almost always be used as a pseudo-Ancestral Recall by shuffling away two of your bad cards, or as a last-ditch effort to find lands/removal to avoid being put too far behind on tempo. Brainstorming to flip Delvers is more justifiable if you need a fast clock against combo, or if you are flipping multiple Delvers.
  3. Use Ponder as a shuffle effect for your Brainstorm when you have both in hand – This one is by no means a hard rule, but I often see people “waste” Ponders as a shuffle mechanism. Ponder is so powerful that it was banned in Modern and restricted in Vintage, and I honestly think it isn’t that far from Brainstorm in terms of power level. It lets you keep many more one-landers and continually have threats to deploy. Playing Ponder before Brainstorm gives you the best chance at finding the threats or removal you need, and eventually you will probably draw a fetchland to pair with the Brainstorm.
  4. Fetch to thin – This one has been covered before, but I would never crack a fetchland to thin unless I have one draw step left. Fetchlands are excellent with cantrips, and should also be used in conjunction with unflipped an Delver to scry. Peek at the top card with your Delver trigger, then decide afterward whether you want to shuffle it away before you draw. Another common interaction is to Brainstorm and leave a dead card like Daze on top, flip the Delver, and then fetch to shuffle away the dead card on your upkeep.
  5. Fetch the wrong land – This one might sound obvious, but it really isn’t. Depending on the matchup, you need to cantrip on turn 2 for a Deathrite Shaman or a Lightning Bolt, so the land on the first turn should be the OPPOSITE color of what you think you might need to cantrip for on turn 2. That way, you don’t get stuck with two Volcanic Islands or two Underground Seas.
  6. Deathrite Shaman vs. Deathrite Shaman – Deathrite is generally intuitive to use when there is only one on the field. But, when there are multiple copies this gets very tricky. Your Deathrite Shaman can basically be used to “counter” theirs by exiling their card in response. The key during the early turns is figuring out if using mana on your turn is better than taking away mana on theirs. Perhaps you have more mana than they do and can keep deploying threats, whereas they might be low on land. In that situation, it is probably wise to hold Deathrite back. There are also times when you want to aggressively use Deathrite Shaman to delay their Gurmag Anglers or Tombstalkers. Honestly, there are a lot of variables at play here and there is no hard and fast rule. Just try to think about the potential applications and implications of when to use Deathrite.
  7. Play Gitaxian Probe too early – This is a minor one, but in general I like holding Probes. They become more powerful in conjunction with Young Pyromancer, so if I have a Probe and a Ponder on turn 1, I might hold the Probe and hope to Ponder into a Young Pyromancer so that I can create a free token and gain more information on turn 2.
  8. Play out extra lands – You want to keep excess lands in your hand and shuffle them away to Brainstorm. This should be a rule of thumb when playing with Brainstorm, but is doubly important when playing Delver. Your cards are generally weaker than your opponents, so it’s important to be able to gain some virtual card advantage when possible by holding fewer dead cards.
  9. Cast cantrips when you need to save them for your Force of Will – Pretty self-explanatory, but it’s a mistake I’ve made before and it’s worth calling out.
  10. Sideboard Daze/Force of Will incorrectly – My #1 rule for sideboarding is to figure out your role in the matchup and whether or not you will need the extra help in the early game, or if your goal is to grind to the late game. For example, I leave in a number of Daze/Force of Will against RUG Delver with BUG Delver because their game plan is so low to the ground and I’m confident that I will win a longer game. In that situation, the goal is simply to survive and the counterspells help you do that. However, against Miracles or the mirror with BUG Delver, I almost always remove Daze because the games go long and you need to have as few dead cards as possible.

The Flavors of Delver

As of now, I would say there are probably 6 flavors of Delver of Secrets. In order of most aggressive to least aggressive you have: UR Delver, RUG Delver, 4-Color Delver, BUG Delver with Stifle, UWR Delver, and BUG Delver with Hymn to Tourach. When playing Delver, it’s important to know your role in the matchup, especially with the more midrange versions of Delver. When you are facing a more aggressive version of Delver, it is more acceptable to leave in additional Force of Wills as your deck will naturally outdraw theirs as long as you can keep playing Magic.

UR Delver

Pros: Low to the ground, better manabase and gets to play Price of Progress/Blood Moon

Cons: Weaker to combo and Tarmogoyf

Good matchups: Infect, Shardless BUG

Even matchups: BUG Delver, RUG Delver, Lands, Death and Taxes, Elves

Bad matchups: Miracles, ANT, Sneak and Show

RUG Delver

Pros: Extremely consistent, has a lot of free wins

Cons: Stifle is a very binary card in that it either wins you the game or does nothing—many cards in the deck are like this

Good matchups: Infect, Sneak and Show

Even matchups: Shardless BUG, Miracles, Death and Taxes, ANT

Bad matchups: BUG Delver, Lands, Elves

BUG Delver with Stifle

Pros: You have some of the free wins of RUG, but better answers to permanents in Abrupt Decay

Cons: Lack of good 1-mana removal

Good matchups: Sneak and Show, ANT, RUG Delver

Even matchups: Shardless BUG, Miracles, Infect

Bad matchups: Death and Taxes, Lands, Elves, BUG Delver with Hymn

UWR Delver

Pros: Meddling Mage, Containment Priest, Rest in Peace, Swords to Plowshares

Cons: Less coherent game plan, UWR Delver typically excels when the format is more creature-based because it has a plethora of 1-mana removal

Good matchups: Infect, Death and Taxes, Elves

Even matchups: Sneak and Show, ANT, RUG Delver

Bad matchups: Shardless BUG, Miracles, BUG Delver, Lands

BUG Delver with Hymn

Pros: Great against combo, Hymn also gets you a significant amount of free wins

Cons: Slower and clunkier, with worse mana

Good matchups: Sneak and Show, ANT, BUG Delver with Stifle, RUG Delver

Even matchups: Infect, Shardless BUG, Lands

Bad matchups: Death and Taxes, Elves, Miracles

Generally, I consider Lands and Miracles as pretty tough matchups for Delver. You have the tools to beat both decks, but you will have to play carefully and get a bit lucky. My go-to will likely be BUG Delver with Hymn to Tourach to start with. Here’s my current list:

My BUG Delver List

The Future of Legacy with Battle For Zendikar

Legacy has finally left the delve era, and I’d like to go through some of the major changes and outline what I think will happen.

Dig Through Time is banned.

Losers

  • UR/x turbo Pyromancer decks, including Grixis Control and Grixis Delver
  • OmniTell
  • Delver decks in general as Dig was a crucial key to beating grindy decks

Winners

  • Miracles –The aforementioned decks were harder matchups. Losing Dig hurt Miracles a lot less than it hurt the other Dig decks
  • Shardless BUG – Benefits from Miracles being #1 and becomes the best blue grindy fair deck again
  • Infect – Gets to prey on Miracles and it was weak to a lot of the UR/x Delver decks
  • Lands – Benefits from the decline of OmniTell

Honestly, it appears to me that the format will return to pre-KTK Legacy with Miracles as the top dog and Lands as a new primary player. The metagame has never felt more hostile to Delver of Secrets. We’ll see if my predictions for the metagame hold true.

The new scry rule is in effect.

After testing the new scry rule, I’m pretty happy about its inclusion in Legacy. I believe that it makes the less consistent decks that don’t play Ponder or Brainstorm proportionally better. Decks with Ponder mulligan a lot less because they are able to keep more 1-landers. The decks without Ponder such as Merfolk or MUD tend to mulligan more, and directly benefit as the scry rule helps them hit the right number of land drops in the early turns.

People have also been talking about how this rule can help out Delver players because knowing the top card can help flip Delvers. The following conditions must be met for the Delver player to benefit.

  1. The Delver player mulliganned. Happens maybe ~10% of the time
  2. The Delver player has turn-1 Delver without a fetchland. Happens maybe ~15% of the time

Now, if the card on top is an instant or sorcery, you get the power of the information that your Delver will flip. This might lead you to play the Delver instead of a Deathrite, so it’s useful information. If the card on top is not an instant or sorcery, that is also information that you can use, and by scrying the card to the bottom and still playing the Delver, you increase your changes of flipping it.

Overall, I think these scenarios will come up, but they will be relatively few and far between.

Black Vise is unbanned.

I’ve argued that Black Vise has been safe for a while, and I think it’s pretty much a dead card after turn 2 in the vast majority of matchups. In my opinion, it’s likely to go the same way as Land Tax and Worldgorger Dragon and fade into obscurity. That being said though, I couldn’t help throwing a brew together.

I will state upfront that I believe this deck is not good. The idea is to combine Black Vise with Day’s Undoing to help ensure that it deals more damage in the future. Theoretically, untapping with Day’s Undoing should be very powerful as the deck has a lot of ways to generate direct damage (Galvanic Blast and Disciple of the Vault + Ravager). Still, this deck does rely on drawing the cards in the right order, so perhaps the more traditional versions of Affinity with Chalice of the Void are still the way to go.

Good luck to all my fellow Delver players out there! As always, let me know if you have any thoughts or questions in the comments.

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