It seems to be that time of the year again as ban conversations have begun to throttle up. Unlike preview season, which is the best part of the year for many Magic players, I think ban season is by far the worst part. I understand its necessity at times, but it firmly shifts the rhetoric towards the negative and I really prefer to have a more positive perspective. This is especially true coming off of the heels of a pandemic which refuses to end, in which negativity was impossible to avoid (both in life and in Magic).
That being said, I understand where people are coming from. Delver is overperforming, especially considering that the deck was just hit with a ban. Many people are referencing the fact that in the ban announcement, Wizards of the Coast mentioned they would continue to monitor the deck and format to see if any other changes are necessary. For those players, it appears the time has come and it has been long enough to warrant a second evaluation. I decided that despite personally not wanting to engage in ban discourse, it is my duty as a writer and community member to present a position. Hopefully this is the only time it is necessary.
I want to preface my take with a few comments. The first is that I have biases. I always preface my ban discussions with this because I am known as a Delver aficionado. While I don’t view myself as exclusively a Delver player (if they banned the whole deck I would find another Legacy deck to play and love, just like I did with Miracles), many people view me as such and anything I say may be viewed through that lens. The second is that I have been loving this Legacy format, perhaps even more than the previous one. The decks in Legacy right now are more powerful than ever and there are a lot of awesome archetypes. I have really enjoyed the interactions and patterns, which have kept me wanting to play Legacy exclusively (which is not always the case). The last is that lately, I have been losing a lot more to different archetypes that have prepared for Delver. This tells me that there is counterplay to the archetype, which is a positive characteristic of the format.
I do think Delver is both a bit too strong and a bit overrepresented. Even with the counterplay in place, Delver has a ton of options for adapting to these decks, which is part of what makes it perform so well so consistently. As a result, it may be possible that a format change is in order. Without further ado, let’s jump into it.
Why talk bans at all? Well, to the surprise of no one, Delver consistently maintained its position as the top dog of the format in the post-Ragavan world. While losing Ragavan certainly weakened the deck to some degree, the shell mostly remained the same. Some argued that Delver actually improved post-ban, since non-blue matchups would get better after losing Ragavan. I actually don’t think that’s true, since even in matchups where Ragavan was relatively weak, playing it on turn one was still correlated with an incredible win rate.
Nevertheless, the deck has still persisted through the previous banning and all of the same offenders from before are present. Let’s take a look at the cards that most warrant discussion of this variety.
Perhaps the modern-day poster child for pushed creatures, Murktide Regent is the most powerful creature on rate Legacy has ever had. It attacks and blocks like a beast and even has the added benefit of being able to grow while it’s in play. Due to its size and mana cost, it restricts the amount of removal spells that can target it, which further makes things awkward for opponents. On top of that, it flies, which is among the most potent abilities in Magic that makes it difficult to keep in check.
With this in mind, it is just a big creature and there are ways to kill big creatures in the format. On top of that, having a creature define the format isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Creatures are at the core of Magic and, similarly, are the easier permanent type to answer. However, Murktide’s sheer stats and abilities are so significant that it does have a limiting effect on the format, making decks like Elves have more difficulty keeping up. Of all of the cards in Delver right now, I think Murktide is the most limiting and potent, so this would be near the top of my list of cards to ban.
Providing the aggressive deck with a proactive, cheap form of card advantage is usually something that pushes these decks over the top. Iteration is significantly better than its peers (being Light Up the Stage and Reckless Impulse) and bears more similarities to a card like Dig Through Time.
Now, I don’t think it’s quite that good (I’m also not looking to debate that), but it still gives Delver the ability to keep up with just about any deck as the game goes long. This has made this variant of Delver particularly difficult to keep in check, especially from the control players perspective. Historically, control decks could just answer the early aggression and keep Delver from ever getting a foothold on the game, which prevents them from keeping up as the game goes on. Iteration changes that dynamic, which has had an impact on the format.
That being said, I’m not completely convinced that’s a bad thing right now. Control decks have not only gotten a lot more powerful over the past few months, but they have actually been doing reasonably well in the format. Expressive Iteration does have an exploitable floor, as well. It’s clunky, mainly being a turn three play (assuming you didn’t Daze). Decks can exploit that by planning to impact the game significantly (or just end it) before the opportunity to cast Expressive Iteration arises. I have had this situation come up many times and can really only shrug and move on, because that’s the risk that Delver players take in building a deck like this, rather than leaning into cheaper, more interactive cards. I’m lower on banning Iteration than I am Murktide by a decent amount for this reason.
Of the cards in the Delver deck, I think DRC is near the bottom of the list with regards to bans. It’s extremely potent, yes, but in many ways it is just a better Delver of Secrets, which isn’t quite enough to justify a DRC ban. It provides the deck with a ton of consistency, but not with the card advantage of raw power that Expressive Iteration or Murktide Regent provides. It’s also easier to answer than either of those two cards, since almost every removal spell in the format keeps it in check. Unlike Ragavan, if it remains in play for a few turns, it doesn’t have the same game-ending impact, either, so I don’t think DRC should really be considered for a ban.
In the Delver deck, I think the only two cards worth thinking about are Murktide and Expressive. I mentioned in my last ban article that I don’t think Daze should be considered and I’m even more on that side of the argument at this point, so I’m not going to reiterate my position here. Beyond this, I have seen conversations about banning some non-Delver cards, which at least warrant mention for the sake of completeness. There are two offenders that I have seen discussed most often: Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Prismatic Ending.
Uro is unquestionably one of the most absurd creatures, let alone cards, ever printed. In fact, roughly a year ago Wizards essentially acknowledged this and banned it in every format but Legacy (and Vintage, I suppose). Around that time, it actually looked as if Uro may have been fine to keep in the format. It wasn’t long after that Modern Horizons 2 came out and really shook things up.
Recently, Uro has not really been at the forefront of people’s minds, since Delver has taken the center stage in the format. However, I do think Uro has the potential to be one of the more problematic cards in the format if any significant changes come to Delver. If nothing gets banned from Delver (or from anywhere else), I don’t think Uro should even be in the conversation. But on both power and impact on the format, I think Uro should at least be a thought for future ban discussions.
Prismatic Ending is more innocuous than any of the cards mentioned today. The primary argument is that Ending is so versatile that it homogenizes the color identity of the format. Any deck looking to play removal should essentially always turn to white, rather than any other color, since Ending can answer a significant amount of problematic permanents. It’s also rather limiting, since if Ending is popular, the cards people can safely play in the format are rather restricted.
That said, I don’t really hold the opinion that Ending is a significant problem in Legacy. I get the argument, and if it was banned for this (or any other reason) I suppose I’d get it, but at the end of the day, it’s just a removal spell. I don’t think it homogenizes the format like Ragavan, Deathrite Shaman or Arcum’s Astrolabe did, and at the end of the day, removal being good in Legacy is not a bad thing. This format has some absurd cards and strategies, and if a removal spell is the biggest concern, that’s probably a good thing.
I’m far less opined this time around than I was when Ragavan was legal. Banning Murktide and/or Expressive seems fine and I could see that going either way (I lean towards Murktide Regent, but I’m not passionate about it). I wouldn’t think about touching Uro before you address a card in Delver, but once you do, I think Uro has to be close behind.
With all of this being said, there are a lot of decks in the format that are poor matchups for Delver, at least on paper. Lands variants, Death and Taxes and GW Depths are the major ones that come to mind and this has been reflected in tournament results. Even Storm variants have been currently exploiting the way Delver decks are built at the moment. I don’t ever expect Delver to fall out of this format, but I do think that there is churn left in the format. I don’t think this format needs to be addressed desperately, but I wouldn’t be unhappy if it was, so I suppose that’s personally a good place to be.