This Week in Legacy — The Best Delver

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Howdy folks! It's Joe again and we're here with a little bit more Legacy content to whet your proverbial whistle! This week we're gonna dive into a topic that's been hotly debated since Pro Tour 25th Anniversary:

Which Delver is the best Delver?

As it stands right now, the top three Delver variants in the Legacy metagame are: Blue/Black Death's Shadow, Grixis Delver, and RUG Delver. We're going to address all three and talk about their strengths and weaknesses, starting with RUG Delver.

RUG Delver — The Goose is Loose!

Upon the banning of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe, many folks cried out in one voice that the Goose was indeed loose once more. However, since that time, RUG Delver's level of results has been… well, not great. Other than minor smatterings of results here or there, RUG's proclaimed dominance over the format has simply not happened.

RUG Delver — pokemonych | 6–0 MTGO Legacy Challenge 8/5/2018

Creatures (12)
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Nimble Mongoose
4 Tarmogoyf

Instants/Sorceries (29)
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
1 Fire/Ice
4 Force of Will
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Ponder
2 Spell Pierce
1 Spell Snare
4 Stifle
1 Tarfire

Enchantments (1)
1 Sylvan Library

Lands (18)
4 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
3 Tropical Island
3 Volcanic Island
4 Wasteland

Sideboard (15)
2 Ancient Grudge
1 Dismember
2 Flusterstorm
1 Grafdigger's Cage
1 Null Rod
2 Red Elemental Blast
2 Rough // Tumble
2 Sulfuric Vortex
2 Surgical Extraction

To get an understanding of why RUG Delver simply hasn't dominated the scene of Legacy, let's take a look at a few key points.

  • Legacy just isn't the same field as it was when RUG Delver was *great*

This should be relatively obvious. Numerous sets have released throughout the years, bringing with them newer cards and newer technology such that the format just isn't the same, and removing Deathrite and Probe doesn't change that fact.

  • RUG Delver's play style is more difficult and unforgiving than Grixis' was

It's worth noting that anyone who immediately jumped ship to RUG after the supposed death of Grixis was most likely shocked to find out that RUG is actually pretty unforgiving in its play. The deck is on a very different gameplan than Grixis was, and Grixis didn't punish its pilots nearly as much in mistakes as RUG does. RUG basically requires tight play and zero mistakes or you basically lose the game.

I hate to say it, but the Goose is simply not that loose anymore. A one-mana 3/3 with shroud may be great versus control decks like Miracles, but the clock presented by a card like Gurmag Angler or Reality Smasher is just too strong to be ignored. Tempo plays have just proven that Angler and its ilk are just too much for the little-Goose-that-could to push through and be effective. While RUG has tools to deal with five toughness creatures (Dismember), they have to draw that tool and be able to keep up with the clock that Angler and friends present.

  • RUG's playstyle breaks down rather easily when facing good opponents

RUG Delver's primary game plan is pretty simple: Tempo mana denial your opponent with Stifle/Wasteland and then run them out with Spell Snare, Spell Pierce, etc. while beating in with your threat. Unfortunately, cards like Stifle break down a bit when your opponent is more aware of their existence and the possibility of you having them, meaning that the better your opponent is at the game, the less likely you are to "get them" with Stifle. Good opponents that play around your tricks can generally outlast you at that point and then the deck's whole gameplan falls apart.

So far, things aren't looking great for good old RUG Delver. Personally, while I love the deck quite a bit for its unique approach to tempo, even I can see that this deck may be struggling to climb back into the limelight it once had but simply can't because the format is too evolved, too different.

It's unfortunate, but I think we have to say that RUG isn't the "best" Delver variant right now. While the deck can be fun and rewarding at the local level, and sure enough the most dedicated of pilots will continue to play the deck, if you are seeking the best variant for a competitive event, keep reading on.

U/B Shadow

The new kid on the block: Blue/Black Shadow. This deck was all over Pro Tour 25, touted as the "new hotness" of Legacy. Shadow is a Delver variant in that it also plays Delver of Secrets in addition to Death's Shadow. What makes this deck remotely interesting is the fact that it can be built without any ABUR Dual lands like Underground Sea, instead, owing to technology from Modern to play Watery Grave instead. While most lists still play two Seas, it is certainly possible to play the deck without them and play basic lands instead.

U/B Shadow — David Thomas | 1st Place SCG Dallas Team Open 8/19/2018

Creatures (14)
4 Death's Shadow
4 Delver of Secrets
2 Gurmag Angler
4 Street Wraith

Instants/Sorceries (28)
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
1 Dismember
2 Fatal Push
4 Force of Will
3 Ponder
1 Preordain
2 Reanimate
1 Snuff Out
2 Stubborn Denial
4 Thoughtseize

Lands (18)
2 Flooded Strand
2 Marsh Flats
1 Misty Rainforest
2 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
2 Underground Sea
4 Wasteland
3 Watery Grave

Sideboard (15)
1 Diabolic Edict
3 Dread of Night
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Hymn to Tourach
2 Liliana, the Last Hope
1 Nihil Spellbomb
3 Surgical Extraction
2 Throne of Geth

U/B Shadow's existence has certainly made some waves in the financial side of things (Throne of Geth, anybody?) thanks to the showing at the Pro Tour, and of course, it has multitudes of people trying out the deck because of how relatively inexpensive it is. It almost seems like U/B Shadow is here to stay.

That being said, I actually still think that U/B Shadow is a flash in the pan. The deck and all the cards in it existed before PT 25, not really making any waves. People have passed this off as Deathrite Shaman's existence made this deck a lot worse (and that's likely true), but there was plenty of time between the banning and PT 25 that if this deck was really the hotness it would have shown in my opinion.

What I dislike about this variant is how easy it really is to disrupt. While it definitely has a positive match-up versus other fair decks like RUG Delver, the worst thing it ever wants to see is a deck playing Swords to Plowshares. Getting X-for-1'ed off a Plow is about the worst feeling ever, and while many can say "Well don't play into it" sometimes you don't have much of a choice if you're trying to deal with cards like Mirran Crusader or say Monastery Mentor. Decks that go wide (like Mentor and Young Pyromancer decks) have no real issues with Death's Shadow, being able to make chump blockers for days while swinging through with simply better threats. Eldrazi, in particular, can just stonewall this deck with cheap efficient cards like Matter Reshaper and push through with its plethora of monsters like Thought-Knot Seer, Reality Smasher, and Endbringer.

I think time will tell, but we still haven't yet arrived at the best Delver variant with Death's Shadow. The deck, however, is intriguing and it could potentially be decent at some point. People are already discussing splashing Green into the deck to play cards like Abrupt Decay for Chalice of the Void (one of the deck's most hateful cards ever to see especially in game one), so who knows? A small dedicated base of players will definitely keep the archetype alive, but we shall see in a week at GP Richmond whether this deck has the chops or not to make it to a Top 8.

Grixis Delver

Now we come to the last Delver variant that's still big in the metagame. The variant that many of us decried as being, well, dead upon the banning of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe. Many tried different options, such as Bomat Courier and even Bitterblossom, proclaiming that Grixis is not great anymore.

Turns out, Grixis Delver is still very, very good. And it's my pick for what I think is right now, the best Delver variant to be on.

Grixis Delver — Tannon Grace | 2nd Place SCG Dallas Team Open 8/19/2018

Creatures (13)
4 Delver of Secrets
3 Gurmag Angler
2 True-Name Nemesis
4 Young Pyromancer

Instants/Sorceries (28)
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
1 Dismember
4 Force of Will
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Ponder
2 Preordain
2 Spell Pierce
2 Thoughtseize

Lands (19)
2 Flooded Strand
1 Island
2 Misty Rainforest
2 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
3 Underground Sea
3 Volcanic Island
4 Wasteland

Sideboard (15)
2 Abrade
2 Diabolic Edict
1 Flusterstorm
1 Grim Lavamancer
1 Liliana, the Last Hope
1 Marsh Casualties
1 Null Rod
1 Pithing Needle
1 Price of Progress
2 Pyroblast
2 Surgical Extraction

First off, I'll point out a recent Reddit thread by LewisCBR who is probably one of the most prolific Grixis Delver players on all of Magic Online. In it, he primarily discusses what Grixis Delver shell looks the best right now, and the sheer strength of the deck.

Here's some points that spoke to me personally about why Grixis Delver is still the best Delver.

Young Pyro was certainly pushed over the top with Probe/Therapy, but even without them the card is still extremely powerful, and now running four of them makes it even better. This card can quickly run away with games and it shows.

  • Grixis Delver's threat base is diverse and powerful

Cards like Gurmag Angler and True-Name Nemesis, in addition to the go-wide threat of Young Pyromancer, gives this deck multiple angles of attack and ways to hold the fort down. This makes it difficult for your opponent to be able to handle every threat you throw at them.

  • The U/B Shadow match-up isn't nearly as bad as one would assume

While U/B Shadow has some powerful threats like Death's Shadow (which can often be bigger in nature) and tradeable threats like its own Gurmag Anglers, the match-up from Lewis' perspective isn't really all that hateful. This is a match-up where Young Pyromancer as a four-of really shines, because Shadow only has so much removal and can't keep up with the token generation. This allows threats like True-Name Nemesis on the Grixis side to crash through, pushing through damage and games. Couple this with the fact that in order to have bigger creatures Shadow has to dome its own life total makes Grixis' clock much faster.

  • Discard is actually not fantastic in Legacy right now

One of the more interesting things to note from Lewis' analysis is that discard like Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize is actually not that great in a semi-fairly trending metagame versus other fair decks due to the presence of strong cantrips like Ponder/Preordain/Brainstorm. While there are decks that leverage discard spells like Cabal Therapy well (such as Nic Fit), it doesn't quite fit maindeck in a deck like Grixis Delver anymore. He compares this analysis to the Modern format, where discard spells are very good due to the lack of better cantrips in that format. Not running maindeck discard spells gives Grixis Delver access to more interesting flex spots, being able to run cards like Stifle instead, where it can play sort of like RUG Delver by debilitating its opponent's manabase, but with a more powerful clock in the forms of Gurmag Angler and True-Name Nemesis.

So there we have it, my call for what I think is the best Delver variant right now. Do you agree or disagree? Let me know on Discord or through Facebook! I will be interested to hear your thoughts!

Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! Hope you enjoyed the article and remember as always until next time, may all your Magic be eternal!

Joseph Dyer (@volrathxp) is an avid Legacy enthusiast. He's admin of the /r/NicFitMTG subreddit, as well as a regular participant on the Source and MTGLegacy subreddits. His knowledge of the Legacy format is deeply rooted in constant analysis, playtesting, and lots of discussion of the format. Joseph's primary accomplishments include a 10–5 finish at GP Columbus 2016 with Rhino Fit, and a 32nd place finish at SCG Columbus Legacy Classic with Sneak Fit. 

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