Delver of Secrets is so good that it’s almost boring. Flip Delver and attack while Wasteing, killing, and countering everything the opponent does. It’s the easy-bake recipe for Legacy success, and the skill behind the tempo decks, aside from knowing how to sequence and correctly value the importance of individual cards, lies mostly in tuning for specific tournaments.
When you see a stock RUG list, sometimes it’s because the field is completely unknown and a stock list is absolutely correct. Other times, it’s because the pilots lack the experience, confidence, or motivation to tune. However, with the omnipresence of True-Name Nemesis, the Delver adepts have started to adapt.
This first list comes hot off a 2nd place finish at the SCG Invitational.
RUG Delver, by Jessy Hefner
There’s a lot to love about this list, with a disruption suite that has enough overlap to be consistent but enough diversity to keep them guessing.
I have some nostalgia for the Tarmogoyf count. Back in 2012, I went on a mini tear with 2x Tarmogoyf RUG, Top 8’ing a GP and Invitational back-to-back. At the time, I was convinced that Tarmogoyf was the worst card in the deck, as most of my opponents were playing a pile of Swords to Plowshares and Snapcaster Mages. If I wasn’t tempoing the opponent out with a fast Delver or grinding them out with a Nimble Mongoose, I was losing with a few exiled Tarmogoyfs.
I experimented with a few different replacements. Snapcaster wasn’t much of a threat by itself, but it added reach to the Delver hands by copying burn spells. Meanwhile, the card advantage helped grind with the Mongoose hands. All that and it pitched to Force of Will. Snapcasting back Forked Bolt gave me another way to beat Lingering Souls, letting me overperform in a somewhat fixed meta.
Another card I tried out was Scavenging Ooze, as it was just taking over Legacy and I thought it had the power to fill the slot of Tarmogoyf but with more utility. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t efficient enough for a tempo deck, especially one with so few green sources. Now, perhaps some BUG variant with Deathrite Shaman could use the card, but it’s too clunky in RUG.
For a while, the format diversified and Tarmogoyf became the best card for the slot again. After all, it’s the second best threat for pressuring combo. Now, True-Name Nemesis has given the fair decks another way of shutting down Tarmogoyf draws, and shaving the card is an attractive option. Unfortunately, the popularity of Deathrite Shaman makes Snapcaster Mage worse than it was when I ran it. Meanwhile, Show and Tell is the combo deck of choice and some of the tempo decks have adapted Stoneforge Mystic, making Vendilion Clique better than usual.
I talked with Jessy about his list, and he said that Clique overperformed. I questioned his choice to only run one Grafdigger’s Cage, since the card provides free wins against Reanimator and Dredge, and I love free wins. His main reasoning was that Surgical gives you another way of attacking the RUG mirror. Since we’ve got fewer Tarmogoyfs, that means we need more answers (like maindeck Spell Snare), but it doesn’t hurt to have a derpy “I win” scenario like Surgical Extractioning your opponent’s Tropical Islands after hitting them with Wasteland. Similarly, you could Extraction the rest of their ‘Goyfs if you won a counter war over the first one.
He didn’t explain the miser’s Scavenging Ooze, but I imagine it’s there for the grindy Deathrite Shaman or Life from the Loam matchups. I like it better out of the board, though it’s still not at its best in this archetype.
If the sideboard seems random, remember that RUG is mostly a pile of cantrips, and the deck has a natural ability to dig. That means that a lone Arcane Laboratory, while usually an inconsistent/ineffective slot, is there to cantrip into after Ad Nauseam shreds your hand or before Omniscience resolves Show and Tell.
I recommend Jessy’s list for the near future and his split between Clique and Tarmogoyf so long as True-Name Nemesis remains this popular.
In case you’re not convinced from one high-finishing list, there are a couple other Delver variants that have been shaving Tarmogoyf or cutting it completely.
BUG Delver, by Lawrence Griswold
This build, and another with 3 Tarmogoyf and 1 Dark Confidant, both Top 8’d the Open last weekend. The main reason to shave Tarmogoyf is that it doesn’t do anything against a True-Name Nemesis while your own True-Name can still get in there and Dark Confidant can still draw cards.
As with the RUG deck, this sideboard features an eclectic mixture of power cards that can be cantripped into in the appropriate matchups. Golgari Charm is one of the less intuitive slots. While it kills random dorks like Elves, Lingering Souls, or True-Name Nemesis, it also counters Abrupt Decay. More importantly, it answers Leyline of Sanctity against combo decks that are trying to protect their hand from discard.
I’m less experienced with BUG than RUG, but I know that I’d be confident running the above list in a tournament. You have the ‘walkers, Sylvan Library, Hymns, and True-Names to grind through the fair matchups without giving up the sweet Delver-into-disruption plan that guarantees a reasonable matchup against combo. In fact, BUG is even better off against most combo than RUG since discard into Liliana is its own form of pressure. Show and Tell can’t assemble two cards while hellbent, after all.
4c Delver, by Eric Rill
While Legacy has more playables than any other format, it’s still relatively rare for a new idea to take down a larger tournament. Yet, that’s what we see here. Edric has seen some play before, and Young Pyromancer has seen a lot of play in various tempo decks, but the two have never been combined to success. Edric is usually part of a Green Sun’s Zenith package, and Young Pyromancer is typically a resilient option for decks that can’t run Nimble Mongoose. The main reason they haven’t been combined is because Pyromancer didn’t exist when Edric first came out, and when Pyromancer got spoiled everyone started thinking of sweet spells to pair it with (as opposed to sweet creatures).
One very real weakness to Pyromancer is that it can lose to larger creatures, especially when you’re flooding and can only produce a few tokens. In theory, Edric lets you lose some 1/1s to blockers while turning hits into more cards which in turn make more 1/1s.
After the fifth round, the Edric hadn’t been cast once, and it didn’t make an appearance in any of the feature matches, and it’s hard to say if it belongs or if it’s too cute. People have won large events with absolute bricks in their decks before. I remember when RUG Delver started getting popular, and there were a few tournaments in which people net decked a list with a miser’s Temporal Spring despite the card being absolutely terrible at all times.
The Delver decks are so good at filtering that they can get away with a random suboptimal slot, especially if that card can be pitched to Force of Will. That’s one reason Fire // Ice has been such a popular 1-of throughout RUG’s history, and it’s also why I got away with running a Predict for a while.
Come to think of it, the Predict did make some good stories. I remember a match against Shaheen Soorani in an Invitational Top 8. At some point, I tanked on what to name with Predict. As is the nature of a tank, I wasn’t sure how long I thought, but I went through every card in my hand and graveyard and realized that Ponder was the only 4-of left, making it an easy name. Usually there were a few different cards tied for the highest number, and I had to figure out whether it was better to mill, say, a Tarmogoyf or a Wasteland and if I should be playing for the best case scenario or the worst. If Wasteland was my only out, it didn’t make much sense to name it with Predict, as it’s less likely to hit a Wasteland after milling one. Now extend that line of thinking to the more middle of the road cards like Ponder vs. Stifle vs. a third land and you can imagine my relief at having one clear-cut card to name.
I ran it out and hit. I drew my cards, and Shaheen paused the match to inspect my sleeves. After the match, Glenn said it was because I was so damn cavalier about the whole thing, like I wasn’t surprised at all to hit. I took pride in that. By maintaining a pure focus on the game, I wasn’t giving away tells. Hitting on Predict was one outcome, and rather than impact me emotionally it merely adjusted the game state in a very predictable way: I now had one more card.
In Poker they say you shouldn’t think about the chips as money, but rather as game pieces. You want to remove emotion and make the game as much of a math problem as possible, as that can help ignore the swings and consistently make good decisions. It makes the game as fun as doing taxes, but it does create a profitable mentality.
Getting back to 4-color Delver, it’s clearly strong enough to win without Edric. On its own, Young Pyromancer has a lot going for it. It’s better than Tarmogoyf against spot removal and Liliana edicts, and unlike ‘Goyf it can win through an opposing True-Name Nemesis. On top of all that, it diversifies his threat base to be less vulnerable against graveyard hate. In contrast, RUG has Nimble Mongoose + Tarmogoyf and BUG has Deathrite Shaman + Tarmogoyf, making them both weak to Rest in Peace.
The only real downside to Pyromancer is that it opens you up to cards that are good against True-Name Nemesis. In Eric’s own sideboard there’s Marsh Casualties, but I’m more concerned about Golgari Charm out of BUG. It’s not new technology or anything, but Rough // Tumble out of RUG brutalizes Eric’s creature suite. Also, Sneak and Show tends to run Pyroclasm in the board, though Eric did chew through a non-zero number of ‘Clasm’s on his way to victory. In an interview, Eric mentioned that he was worried about that type of effect at first, but realized they’re mostly sideboard cards and the deck has a lot of general answers in Cabal Therapy and Force of Will.
One improvement in this list over older Grixis Delver lists is how focused the main deck is. It has a very RUG-like feel to it, and as such should be live most of the time. In contrast, a few similar brews tried cramming Therapy + Young Pyromancer + Gitaxian Probe into the main, leading to some inconsistent topdecks in the matchups where Therapy is bad. He still has access to it out of the sideboard when he has more information and it’s even more likely to hit, similar to how Esper might sideboard Meddling Mage.
One downside to this list is the mana base. While Deathrite Shaman smooths things out, the Tropical Islands aren’t doing much, and they’re only really necessary against Reanimator or for casting Life from the Loam. Loam requires multiple green sources so you don’t get Wasted off of it, but the cost of drawing what is essentially an Island is pretty high. One option is to cut the Loam from the board and go -1 Tropical Island, +1 Underground Sea. This would make it difficult to activate multiple Shamans, which could matter against Dredge.
Going forward, I’m not sure which of these is the best Delver variant, but I’d be ecstatic to sleeve up any of them. In the end, you’re going to have the most success playing a list you’re comfortable with. Knowing the role of each card in each matchup is important, as it’s how we value things for cards like Brainstorm and Force of Will.