Know Your Enemy: Delver Decks

If you are just getting into Pauper, you have to be prepared to play against Delver of Secrets and its Mr. Hyde side, Insectile Aberration. Delver of Secrets is the best offensive 1-drop in the format and acts as the perfect start to multiple aggro-control and tempo-based game plans. Delver decks try to get ahead early and stay in control. Beyond this, the various builds of Delver are all slightly different and require varied approaches. Today I want to talk to you about the most popular Delver decks, some fringe contenders, and to help you figure out which one you’re facing and how to fight against the different builds effectively.


FranMTG, 1st place at April 17th Pauper Challenge

Delver, as an archetype, has been around Pauper since the card first hit in Innistrad. A uniquely powerful threat, Delver of Secrets slotted perfectly into various blue decks that wanted to leverage Spellstutter Sprite into Ninja of the Deep Hours, backed up with Spire Golem and Counterspell. Delver became the go-to 1-drop and the top tier of Pauper has never been the same. Since it hit the scene, Delver has never been a bad deck and is often a contender for best in the format.

Traditional Delver is a mono-blue aggro-control deck. It uses blue cantrips to dig for its key cards and backs it all up with Counterspell. While the best starts involve Delver of Secrets or Faerie Miscreant chains, the deck also can play from behind thanks to Augur of Bolas and, more importantly, Gush. Gush lets the deck generate an additional mana in the mid- to late-game (float two blue, return the Islands, replay a land) while also going up a card.

That’s what Delver is best at: going up one card at a time. Even when using a Ponder or Preordain, the blue behemoth improves its card quality even if it isn’t accruing true card advantage. Combined with tools like Vapor Snag or Snap, it becomes almost pitifully easy to keep opponents off balance long enough for its air force to deal 20.

Beating Delver involves overloading their mana. Traditionally, green creature decks like Stompy and Elves excel at this as they can maneuver their threats in such a way that one will resolve. Delver has a hard time dealing with permanents on the battlefield, and sticking a Skarrgan Pit-Skulk or a River Boa with a Rancor can spell game over. Stompy also has an element of stack interaction thanks to Vines of Vastwood and the potential all-star sideboard plan of pairing Scattershot Archer with Quirion Ranger to mow down anything with wings.

That exposes another weakness in Delver—the creatures are unimpressive. Outside of Spire Golem, every creature falls to Lightning Bolt and most die to Disfigure. Sticking a pinger—Sparksmith or Cuombajj Witches—can delay Delver’s game plan quite a bit. The presence of this persistent source of damage makes Spellstutter Sprite worse and can render late-game copies of Delver of Secrets useless. While flying hate tends to be good against both Delver and the Izzet version, the lineage of Prodigal Sorcerer only shines in this particular matchup.

How do you know you’re playing against this version? It’s all in the lands. Mono-Blue Delver does not run anything besides Islands. If you see copies of Evolving Wilds or Ash Barrens you can reasonably expect that you are up against another variant. The other big key is Spire Golem. While Golem might be castable in other decks, it sees almost no play outside of this one archetype.

Izzet Delver

Reddybear, 1st place in April 29th Pauper Challenge

Remember how I said that Delver can struggle against green decks that can cast multiple threats in a single turn? Izzet Delver shores up this weakness with red removal. Instead of running bounce spells (although recently builds have shown up with copies of Vapor Snag), the blue-red version of the deck gets access to Lightning Bolt and Skred. These two spells give Delver access to board control of a more permanent nature. Whereas Delver has to press the advantage immediately lest a bounced threat get recast, Izzet Delver can point and click a threat away.

Izzet Delver has been able to thrive thanks to the interaction of its cantrips with Ash Barrens. The ability to dig for the correct land while also filtering away dead cards, all while improving overall card quality, makes it very easy for the base-blue deck to splash the best cards from a companion color. In the case of the blue-red deck this means using Augur of Bolas and Brainstorm to reset the top of the deck and ensure that the goods never stop coming. The result is a deck that dedicates some amount of time each game to fixing its mana, but the payoff—the ability to kill nearly any creature—is worth the wait.

More than regular Delver, Izzet Delver suffers from incredibly fragile creatures. Nothing in the main deck can survive a Lightning Bolt, but the same pingers that thrive against Delver do not work as well here thanks to the presence of actual removal. Instead, Izzet Delver is vulnerable to decks that can prey on its reliance on mana development. Boros Monarch, with its corp of flyers and ability to draw tons of cards, can match up very well with the blue-red Delver deck. Delver needs its creatures to start generating persistent advantage, and overloading on removal is a fine way to stem their ability to establish a foothold.

How do you know when you’re facing Izzet Delver? The easy answer is when you see a Snow-Covered Island or Mountain. But some players have taken to running these lands in decks without the payoff. Whether this is to obfuscate their actual strategy or try to get their deck list featured remains to be seen.

The Fringe: Azorius Prowess and Dimir Delver

Dimir Delver, NY8381, 5-0 in a Pauper League

The remaining two decks are not nearly as popular. Dimir Delver is older than the Izzet variety. While it is nominally a Delver deck it has a focus of dumping cards into the graveyard to fuel a Gurmag Angler. The black version of Delver also forgoes bounce spells in favor of actual removal, even if it is less effective than Lightning Bolt.

Dimir Delver suffers from being threat-light. Outside of Delver and Gurmag Angler, the deck runs very little in the way of offense. Some versions have added Exhume and Striped Riverwinder as a plan B, but the deck suffers from the fact that right now Disfigure and Chainer’s Edict pale in comparison to Lightning Bolt.

It’s easy to tell when you’re up against this deck: They cast Thought Scour. Thought Scour and Mental Note are needed to facilitate an early Gurmag Angler.

Azorius Prowess

HeyNongMan, Top 8 in April 22nd Pauper Challenge

Azorius Prowess is the newest deck out of these four. Made possible by Seeker of the Way, the deck is less of a Delver build and more of a prowess theme deck. With Elusive Spellfist and Jhessian Thief, the deck wants to chain together cantrips and bounce spells to attack for massive chunks of damage.

Unlike the first two, it has no Ninja of the Deep Hours and skimps on Augur of Bolas. As a result, the deck leans harder on Gush. At the same time, the presence of Gush allows you to deal a ton of damage in a single turn thanks to floating mana.

Seeing an Elusive Spellfist or a Seeker of the Way should be the first clue you’re up against this deck. Another threat light build, it runs some cards—Mutagenic Growth, specifically—with the intent of protecting its army. Beating it often comes down to exhausting their resources so that their creatures never get above the stats printed on the card.

Delver decks are everywhere. I hope this brief synopsis helps you to understand what you might be up against and the first steps in fighting against them in Pauper.


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