Legacy can be a tough format to get into. A pool of over 20,000 cards, a deeply-entrenched metagame, and the price tags of some staples mean that the format isn’t Magic’s most accessible. Nonetheless, Legacy is a rich and rewarding format to play, and Level One Legacy is all about helping you make a start and find your feet in the format. This week, I’m looking at Grixis Delver.
What Grixis Delver Does
Delver of Secrets is a pillar of the Legacy format, and Grixis Delver is—right now, at least—its most common home. This is a “tempo” deck. Its primary game plan is to stick an early threat, such as Delver of Secrets or Young Pyromancer, and defend it while riding to victory. Classic tempo cards like Daze and Wasteland provide quick and hard-hitting disruption to an opponent’s initial development, and its “late game” plan of Gurmag Angler helps to contest a more drawn-out battle.
With the banning of both Gitaxian Probe and Deathrite Shaman, Grixis Delver shifted to a slightly more midrange-style deck, with True-Name Nemesis and Gurmag Angler providing bigger threats. The core blue cards remain, however—Brainstorm, Force of Will, Ponder—and are joined by red removal (Lightning Bolt) and black hand disruption (Thoughtseize).
Odd as it may sound, Grixis Delver shares many similarities with Modern’s Jund. Winning on razor-thin margins, gaining value out of every card played, and having a generally very high card quality that doesn’t rely on synergy are all emblematic of Grixis Delver, and as a result it has few glaring weaknesses. It remains one of the best and most popular decks in Legacy, but demands rigorous practice to master.
Grixis Delver can beat just about any other deck in Legacy. That doesn’t mean it always will—the point here is that, without a real Achilles’ heel, Grixis Delver doesn’t have many hugely lopsided matchups. A quick clock (Delver) backed up with both proactive (Lightning Bolt) and reactive (Daze) disruption is a tried-and-true way to win games of Magic, and Grixis Delver does it better than most.
Gurmag Angler is a vitally important card to this deck as it allows it to win through a hostile field full of Chalices, Forked Bolts, and the like. Against nonwhite decks (they have Swords to Plowshares), Angler is a very difficult threat to answer and usually outsizes most other commonly-played creatures—it can carry games on its own.
Grixis Delver is also highly customizable, with important flex slots that allow it to adapt to the expected field. Additionally, potent sideboard cards come in game 2 to further improve any given matchup—usually this includes different angles of attack with planeswalkers like Liliana, the Last Hope and even enchantments like Bitterblossom.
Overall, Grixis Delver’s greatest strength is its capacity to pick up “free wins” with a flipped Delver and disruption combined with its capacity to play a slightly longer game. It’s flexible, powerful, and rewards dedicated pilots who work on critical skills like resource management, figuring out which cards to fight over, and which lines of attack to take.
Grixis Delver isn’t an ironclad and impenetrable monster, however. There are plenty of ways to attack it, and generally speaking most decks will have a plan for how to get the better of it.
Firstly, its mana base is almost always nonbasics. This means that cards like Blood Moon and Back to Basics can be a real issue, not to mention particularly hateful cards like Choke and Boil. It can also be susceptible to Wasteland, particularly when it keeps a one-lander (common in a deck with just 19 lands).
In a similar vein, given how efficient Grixis Delver needs to be with its mana, any mana-taxing effect is hugely effective here. Cards like Thorn of Amethyst or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben effectively double most of the deck’s converted mana cost, and as a result it won’t function properly while one is on the board. Additionally, Aether Vial-based strategies are another headache for Grixis Delver, as they render countermagic useless and can contest the mana advantage gained by Grixis Delver’s Dazes and Forces.
Any deck playing an “unfair” game—fast combo, for example—is in a favorable position against Grixis Delver, as they will need a specific hand with a good mix of countermagic and hand disruption in order to have a shot at winning. Grixis Delver is quick, but it’s not that quick, and if a deck like Sneak and Show can play around opposing disruption like Daze, they’ll have a good shot at it.
Finally, the top of the opponent’s deck can often be a weakness of Grixis Delver. It’s good at dominating the board and good at tearing an opposing hand to shreds, but it’s not very good against topdecks and can lose to a timely rip.
How to Beat Grixis Delver
The preeminent way to beat Grixis Delver involves a single card: Chalice of the Void. Chalice decks that can play a Chalice for 1 on turn 1 are nightmarish for Delver decks, as if they don’t have a Force or a Daze they can play, then the game is often over (this is why you see main deck Abrade, as an answer to Chalice). Be mindful that Grixis Delver usually brings in Spell Pierce to contest this play.
As Grixis Delver invariably wins with creatures, controlling the board is a good way to stymie its game plan. Leverage efficient removal to disrupt their threats, and remember that they don’t have many—their low threat density means that only a few effective answers are needed to keep them out of contention. Look for ways to maximize value when combating their creatures. For example, Snapcaster Mage flashing back a Bolt and then blocking.
Go after their mana as much as you can. Wasteland, Rishadan Port, Back to Basics, Thalia, Thorn of Amethyst—these cards can all dunk on Grixis Delver and ruin the tight margins on which it seeks to win games. Generally speaking, if possible, you want to adopt the controlling role, as outside of Gurmag Angler they don’t have much of a late game.
Finally, an excellent way to beat Grixis Delver is to just be faster and more unfair. If you can fight through their disruption and land something like a turn-2 Griselbrand, they’re going to have a bad time. Fast combo is a great way to beat Grixis Delver, especially when they’re not set up with sufficient relevant interaction like Thoughtseize or Inquisition.