Delver decks are having a hard time lately in Pauper. The bans of both Daze and Gush significantly weakened the strategy and have necessitated a shift in their game plan. At the same time, the ascent of Kor Skyfisher powered Jeskai decks have made it even harder for the tiny flyers to get the job done. While not on the power level of Daze and Gush, Throne of Eldraine has given blue access to two free effects that have bolstered Delver strategies back to relevance–Mantle of Tides and Mystic Sanctuary.
Before going further, I want to be clear about what I mean when I am talking about a Delver deck. These are base-blue tempo builds that want to stick an early series of threats and ride them to victory. They accomplish this through countermagic and bounce, refilling their hand with card draw to keep applying pressure. Daze and Gush were key parts of this plan. Daze let a player tap out for a threat while leaving up defenses, while Gush allowed them to refill late for no real mana investment. Delver is somewhat of a misnomer as not every one of these decks ran Delver of Secrets.
Finalist, August 25 Pauper Challenge
The Delver decks that have succeeded in the current metagame are far more aggressive. Lacking the ability to reload for free they have to press their advantage via damage. Mezzel’s build runs Mutagenic Growth as both reach and a way to counter opposing toughness-based removal. Snap has the potential to be huge tempo play when paired with Spellstutter Sprite, but it can also force through damage and draw thanks to Ninja of the Deep Hours. While the strategy still experiences some amount of success, it is nowhere nearly as good as it has been–as of this writing Mezzel’s performance was the last time the archetype made the Top 8 of a Magic Online event.
Here is where I see Mantle of Tides and Mystic Sanctuary coming into play. The Mantle can improve the combat stats of any creature for free, which has some serious advantages. First, it is not subject to the whims of the topdeck gods. Even though it may feel that Delver of Secrets always blind-flips, that is not the case. Drawing two cards a turn, however, is far more common. Add to this the ability to move the Mantle for free post-combat (we see you Ninja of the Deep Hours), and you have a card that is good on offense and defense.
Mystic Sanctuary provides some strength in the late game. It isn’t just that it can set up your next draw, but the fact that it can do it for free from a land slot. And while Daze and Gush are gone from Pauper, there are still ways to pick up Islands. Fathom Seer unmorphs by returning two Islands to your hand and Deprive can pick up any land. The fact that Sanctuary also helps to cast Spire Golem on the cheap makes it a near-perfect fit for these decks. The biggest drawback is that if you do not have three other Islands it enters the battlefield tapped. As a result, I think the correct number of copies is one or two, depending on how many total lands you are running.
As I was tweaking my own version of Mantle Blue, kgry posted a 5-0 in the Pauper league with this build:
kgry’s Mono-Blue Mantle
15 Island (335) 1 Mystic Sanctuary 4 Faerie Miscreant 4 Faerie Seer 4 Ninja of the Deep Hours 4 Spellstutter Sprite 4 Spire Golem 1 Ponder 4 Preordain 4 Counterspell 1 Deprive 1 Force Spike 2 Hieroglyphic Illumination 2 Snap 2 Spell Pierce 1 Vapor Snag 3 Mantle of Tides Sideboard 2 Annul 3 Blue Elemental Blast 2 Curfew 1 Dispel 1 Echoing Truth 2 Psychic Barrier 2 Relic of Progenitus 2 Viridian Longbow
Kgry cut Delver of Secrets completely, a move I wholeheartedly endorse. Mantle of Tides might not match the offensive power of Insectile Aberration, but the fact that it survives through a removal spell means it adds up damage over the course of the game. However, adding it decreases the density of cards that transform Delver. Cutting the Innistrad staple might cost you some free wins, but I believe that overall it improves these decks.
Despite its strength, Delver of Secrets is just a creature. More than that, it is a creature that no longer matches up well with the threats seeing play. Kor Skyfisher has long been the nemesis of Insectile Aberration and now the 2/3 flyer is everywhere. Mulldrifter–another card that trades profitably with the 3/2–is seeing increased play. The endgame of Jeskai decks also make it trivial to spend an early Skred or Lightning Bolt containing Delver. Without any additional synergies it is hard to justify the 1/1 these days.
Could a deck run both Mantle of Tides and Delver of Secrets? Sure, but that taxes deck construction. Mantles stack well, which means you want at least three copies. That’s three fewer cards that flip Delver of Secrets. As mentioned previously, this style of deck needs to apply more pressure these days since it lacks the midgame boost from Gush. The best way for blue tempo decks to do this is to run more creatures, which decreases the efficacy of Delver of Secrets.
Kgry is prepared for an Arcum’s Astrolabe metagame with two copies of Spell Pierce and a Force Spike. They also pack a light bounce package with Snap and Vapor Snag. Instead of Fathom Seer, they chose to run two copies of Hieroglyphic Illumination. The Amonkhet instant can attach Mantle on your own turn by cycling or on your opponent’s turn when you pay full price. Finally, we see a single copy of Deprive to go along with Mystic Sanctuary.
If you like playing Delver decks, I would pick up this build. It has similar play patterns and while it may not get the same number of wins on the back of blind-flips, it has a lot going for it against Kor Skyfisher decks. Afterall, a 3/4 Ninja of the Deep Hours tussles rather nicely with a Skyfisher.
I played a “Delver” style Mantle of Tides deck for a few leagues and while it performed fine, it was hardly inspiring. It was not that the deck was bad, it just felt better built for a metagame that no longer exists–one where Gush and Daze are legal and people aren’t drawing four cards and getting a 2/2 flyer for 2UW. I took my build in a slightly different direction and instead focused on adding more creatures. While I never replaced Delver of Secrets with Cloudfin Raptor, I could see a world where that is correct. Right now I’ve been jamming Blue Zoo builds and have been having a blast.
Alex Ullman’s Blue Zoo
16 Island (335) 1 Mystic Sanctuary 4 Faerie Miscreant 2 Faerie Seer 4 Slither Blade 1 Fathom Seer 4 Spellstutter Sprite 2 Man-o’-War 4 Stormbound Geist 1 Moonblade Shinobi 4 Ninja of the Deep Hours 2 Spire Golem 4 Preordain 4 Counterspell 1 Deprive 2 Hieroglyphic Illumination 3 Mantle of Tides 1 Sunken City Sideboard 1 Fathom Seer 1 Spire Golem 2 Curfew 2 Dispel 2 Echoing Truth 3 Hydroblast 1 Neurok Stealthsuit 2 Relic of Progenitus 1 Sunken City
Yes, that is four copies of Slither Blade.
Blue Zoo trades tempo plays like Force Spike and Snap for a more aggressive slant. Ten one-drops help to enable Ninja of the Deep Hours, which in turn helps Mantle attach for free. Man-o’-War is a classic, but it plays an important role in this build by allowing you to commit a threat and clear the path for Ninja. Stormbound Geist is a monster in the air, and with Mantle of Tides is a nightmare for the air force out of Jeskai.
Slither Blade, however, is the truth.
Yes, this is a bit of an exaggeration, but only by a little bit. First it survives Electrickery, a common sideboard inclusion to snipe Spellstutter Sprite. It also is exceptional at enabling Ninja of the Deep Hours and wears Mantle rather well. While it might never get as threatening as a Cloudfin Raptor, it is always going to get in there.
I’m currently testing Moonblade Shinobi. It is not nearly as powerful as the other Ninja, but if left unchecked it can take over a game. Not only can it spit out a stream of flyers, but if it wears a Mantle it does so as a 4/4. Even without the equipment it can trade on its own with a Skyfisher, and that counts for something.
Sunken City is a new official addition to the format despite being from The Dark. Effectively a Crusade for blue, it comes with a steep upkeep cost of UU. You don’t play it early, but it can end the game as a very tiny Overrun in the final few turns. A second copy lives in the sideboard for decks that are prone to bring in sweepers.
The last card I want to talk about is a piece of sideboard tech. Neurok Stealthsuit used to be a staple when Pauper was a player-run format. The ability to counter any targeted removal while it was on the board mattered quite a bit. Considering Jeskai wins the late game with recurring value, I see no reason why Blue Zoo cannot attempt to do the same by stopping their removal from mattering.
Be different; use your islands to populate the Red Zone.