Force of Wilson – How To Beat Delver

If you want to be successful in Legacy, being prepared for the most popular deck is a requirement. Delver and its predecessors have been successful top tier decks for years in Legacy, and now Treasure Cruise has cemented Delver as the deck to beat for Grand Prix New Jersey.

One inherent strength of Delver decks is their resilience and versatility, making them difficult to attack. Unlike a linear deck, such as Dredge, Delver will be impossible to defeat with a single sideboard card. Nonetheless, Delver does have vulnerabilities and is not a perfect strategy. When a deck is on everyone’s radar as the best deck, it is a delicate line to walk between playing the known quantity or a metagame deck designed to beat it. I’ll leave that decision up to you, but you’ll need to know how to take Delver down whichever path you choose.

Mirror Match

My best advice is to simply bite the bullet and play Delver with slight adjustments in anticipation of the mirror match. The clear cards for the Delver mirror are Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast. I played UR Delver at a small local event this past weekend with seven of these Blasts in my sideboard—which was not nearly as excessive as it may seem.

In anticipation of Pyroblast, another great option is Hydroblast/Blue Elemental Blast. Countering a Young Pyromancer before the opponent can generate Elemental tokens in response to removal is fantastic. As a side note, Pyroblast and Hydroblast are superior to their counterparts Red and Blue Elemental Blast—you can cast Pyroblast/Hydroblast with no spells on the stack to trigger Monastery Swiftspear, Young Pyromancer, and fuel Treasure Cruise.

As far as maindeck changes are concerned, Forked Bolt is strong in many common matchups. I’m unsure of Pyrokinesis. The effect is fantastic but comes at the cost of a similar card (Lightning Bolt) regularly. Another free spell and high variance option is Commandeer, which when cast against Treasure Cruise is a big swing!


Reid Duke recently wrote an article about Miracles including recent updates. Previous versions of Delver that included Wasteland, Stifle, and Spell Pierce had a reasonable chance to disrupt Miracles’ game plan. UR Delver is a glorified burn deck without sufficient interaction to stop a good draw from Miracles. Miracles has the potential to lock out Delver from resolving any meaningful spells via a quick combination of Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance. Swords to Plowshares and Terminus are each cheap enough to impact the game early and dodge Daze. Miracle decks, including Reid’s suggested version, contain a red splash for Pyroblast which I have already noted as the most effective card against Delver.

As a pure control deck, Miracles can be adjusted for whatever metagame you predict. Legacy is always incredibly diverse, people have success with everything from Slivers Aggro to Doomsday Combo—diversity normally makes control poorly positioned . When a metagame is concentrated and predictable, control decks’ stock always rises. Perhaps now is a better time than ever to play Miracles.

Death and Taxes

Mono-white, a.k.a. Death and Taxes, is a surprisingly well positioned deck. Many talented players refuse to touch mono-white with a ten foot poll in Constructed, especially in a powerful format like Legacy. Death and Taxes is an entirely different approach to Legacy than the majority of other archetypes which will regularly mean that people are unprepared for it.

The most effective card here against Delver is Kor Firewalker. Kor Firewalker makes an embarrassment of Monastery Swiftspear, and eventually provides a risk-free creature to suit up with equipment. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, which can be protected by Mother of Runes or Karakas, can be a nightmare for a deck built around thirty noncreature spells. The combination of mana denial, Swords to Plowshares, and resilient creatures can be tremendously difficult for Delver to overcome.

Fast Combo

Linear combo decks that rely on resolving multiple expensive spells will struggle against Delver strategies—however there are a few combo decks that can outpace Delver. The foremost deck for this approach is Dredge. Dredge does not operate on the same axis as any other deck in Magic—it has the potential to dominate a game without resolving a spell. If you are going to play Dredge you have to embrace the fact that you will be playing a different game than your opponent. Dredge’s success has always been directly proportional to the lack of graveyard hate, therefore playing Dredge is a gamble on your specific matchups in a tournament. The majority of UR Delver decks play either one or two Grafdigger’s Cage, which is a concern but certainly beatable.

Reanimator utilizes the combo of Entomb and Reanimate which each only cost one mana. Playing cheap combo cards makes it feasible to play around Daze which is one of Delver’s main ways to interact. Once you are able to put a large creature into play, either Griselbrand or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Delver has virtually no chance of winning. When the sideboard card of choice in Delver is Pyroblast it is fantastic to be playing a combo deck focused on resolving nonblue spells. Reanimator was at one point the definitive best deck when Mystical Tutor was legal and before Deathrite Shaman was printed. Of course each of these cards has had a significant impact on Reanimator’s playability—nonetheless it remains viable.

In-game Tips

One reason that aggro-control decks like Delver are often either loved or hated is that they are challenging to evaluate during each game. In each individual game it is crucial to gauge your relative position and act accordingly. If your Delver opponent is spending their early turns casting cantrips then you may want to avoid casting any crucial spells early to play around Daze. Conversely, if your opponent begins with two Delvers in the first two turns then you will be forced to cast your spells as soon as possible to preserve your life total. Using Wasteland against Delver can be quite tricky and potentially game determining. A potential sign of weakness is if your Delver opponent begins with a Ponder and chooses to shuffle immediately. If your opponent is on the play and begins with a turn one Delver it is dangerous to use Wasteland. In general I would err on the side of caution against Delver, especially when you are going second.

Card Choices

The primary focus you should have in regards to Delver is removal. One-mana removal spells are the best bet: Swords to Plowshares, Lightning Bolt, Forked Bolt, Disfigure. Abrupt Decay is a good card against Delver decks but not nearly as effective as its one-mana counterparts—any time you spend more mana on an answer than your opponent did on a threat you have lost in the exchange. If you are playing a combo or control deck with red I would highly recommend playing Pyroclasm. Young Pyromancer has the potential to spiral out of control rapidly making targeted removal spells weak draws later in the game. Having any sweeper in your deck, such as Pyroclasm, provides a subgame for the opponent to potentially make mistakes by either playing into it when you have it or playing around it when you do not.

UR Delver Deck List

After playing a local Legacy event this past weekend I can recommend this version of UR Delver for anyone who loves Delver and burn spells. Previous versions of RUG Delver all played 14 blue-mana producing lands and four Wasteland. I have noticed that almost all UR Delver decks play extraneous lands. When playing a deck with four Brainstorm, Ponder, Gitaxian Probe you will consistently flood out if you play a “normal” number of lands—each cantrip should count as a small fraction of a land in your calculations.

I’m not sure on the exact number of Wastelands that this deck should play and would believe that either zero or four is correct. However I am confident that it is incorrect to play 16-18 lands with zero Wasteland.

The main aspect of the deck that surprised me was casting Treasure Cruise; I cast it for every amount between one and six mana throughout the tournament. If you have two Treasure Cruises in your hand you may want to spend two or three mana on the first one even if you have seven cards in the graveyard to make the second copy more feasible. As I have previously stated, UR Delver is more aggressively slanted than its predecessors meaning that when piloting it you should primarily focus on damaging your opponent early and often.

Thanks for reading,
-Jacob Wilson

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