Early last week, Wizards of the Coast snuck a teaser in their Secret Lair announcement. In it, they referenced that they were planning on banning Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath in a number of formats, and having “discussions” about what to do in Legacy.
You could almost see the sparks fly in the Legacy community. Players have been nothing short of begging for bans for almost two years. Enthusiasts have been quitting the format left and right because not only was the metagame stale, but frankly, the format wasn’t fun.
Well, the community asked and Wizards delivered! This ban list update saw Oko, Thief of Crowns, Arcum’s Astrolabe and Dreadhorde Arcanist get removed from the format. Notably, Uro was excluded from this list, and I think that decision was likely correct.
This was an excellent move by WotC, rejuvenating player interest in the format and setting up a situation where people are going to be loving the format once again. There are many reasons why these cards were chosen to be banned, but the goal of this article is not to focus on why the bans occurred. If you’re looking for that, Andrea Mengucci wrote a piece for ChannelFireball that I suggest checking out.
My focus this week is going to be on the future of Delver decks. While losing the two most potent cards in the deck might be a significant de-buff for the archetype, this is by no means the last we’ll see of the deck. Delver will likely always be a Tier 1 archetype in Legacy and there are still a lot of different options that players have access to when building their decks.
First, I want to briefly focus on some of the macro-level impacts that the bans had on the archetype. Then, I will shift gears to address a core question and present some general observations and thoughts I have surrounding the archetype. Finally, I will talk about some specific variants, presenting some lists as a starting point and discussing some specifics in the lists through the lens of the previous two sections. There’s a lot to cover today, so let’s not waste any more time!
First and foremost, Delver decks are going to lose some of the resiliency that they have had for the past year and a half. Oko provided a diverse threat that answered every threat in the format and Arcanist provided a non-stop flow of card advantage. Without these cards, the texture of Delver must shift and it won’t be nearly as easy to play a long game anymore.
This means that it’s important to lean into the aggressive element that Delver provides. The deck still has many tools that give it a midrange feel, but there aren’t any other decks in the format that can combine those midgame tools with brutally efficient threats.
Another result of the ban is that certain cards (and archetypes) will be a bit more challenging to deal with. Chalice of the Void strategies, for instance, will generally be a lot more effective without Oko in the mix. Similarly, decks that swarm the field (namely Elves and Death and Taxes) will be more difficult to manage than they were before. Dreadhorde Arcanist provided a crucial main-deck tool for allowing Delver to keep up with their game plans. That being said, Delver is never short on answers if you’re willing to put the work in, and these archetypes might simply require a more dedicated approach in the sideboard.
There are a million options that Delver players have access to, which can make the process of deck building rather overwhelming. There is one major question that has been guiding my work on the archetype that might make it easier to tackle:
A. What is the metagame going to look like?
B. What will the texture of the answers be?
This influences just about everything from threat choice to types of disruption utilized to removal suites. A few days of testing in a relatively new format will hardly provide a clear answer, so this will have to be at the forefront of our minds as the metagame develops.
My initial inclination was that players will be keen to try non-snow control decks again, most notably traditional UW-based approaches and Grixis. This means that the two cards I’m thinking about the most are Swords to Plowshares and Plague Engineer. In addition, I’m anticipating a fair amount of Gurmag Anglers to enter the picture again, and might be expecting Stoneforge Mystic to do the same. Uro is also still a legal card, so it’s important not to completely forget about the game-ending Titan.
Here are some quick-hit thoughts that have been using to build my decks:
- Delve is a very powerful mechanic.
- Ethereal Forager seems powerful despite its fragility.
- Lightning Bolt is a crucial card for the Delver archetype.
- There are a lot of threats to choose from and I’m unsure which ones are the best, thus I will try as many as possible where I can until I get a better sense of the metagame.
These are some really basic guidelines, but they pretty heavily influenced my initial deck building. After some theorycrafting and chatting with Lawrence Harmon, I jumped right into testing, so without further ado, let’s jump right in starting with Grixis Delver.
Legacy Grixis Delver by Rich Cali
Jarvis Yu posted a list akin to this shortly after the ban announcement, and this looked like an excellent place to start for the archetype. There might be times where Thoughtseize won’t be the direction to go, but at the start of the format (when it’s most difficult to predict what disruption you’ll need) Thoughtseize is at its peak.
I have found in the past that Grixis can have some stringent mana requirements and Thoughtseize is one of the primary reasons this is the case. However, this list is de-emphasizing Young Pyromancer and leaning into Gurmag Angler, which makes the requirements more black-heavy, which greatly alleviates that issue. Speaking of delve creatures, my initial list (and the list Jarvis posted) had a Forager in the deck, but the pure efficiency of Angler is really hard to argue against.
As I mentioned, I thought Plague Engineer would be a popular answer players would lean into, which made me hesitant to lean into True-Name Nemesis at first. In fact, Grixis tends to be one of the weaker variants in the face of Engineer, as many of the most potent threats tend to fall victim to X/1 hate. However, in all of my initial testing, True-Name has been quite strong and I haven’t seen many Plague Engineers. While I’m not going to fall victim to a small sample size, I wonder if Plague Engineer might be a bit less common than it was before because it’s no longer free to play black in your deck.
Before, any deck with an Astrolabe could just play any number of Engineers but now, there’s a serious commitment to adding black to your deck. However, it’s a matter of time before people adopt cards like Engineer (and Terminus) if True-Name is one of the most popular threats. At that point, it’ll likely be important to diversify the threat base a bit more to be more resilient. For now, I think the hate for True-Name is lighter than expected, and all of my deck lists from here out will reflect that.
There are a million options that you can play in the sideboard, but this sideboard really covers a lot of cards I find really effective in Grixis. I’ll be doing a lot more testing with other options, but to me this is playing a lot of the best answers/haymakers Grixis has access to.
Hullbreacher is the one card that I might just be missing the mark by not playing, so I’ll be working on testing that going forward. It’s primary issue in a deck like Delver is that it’s rather fragile, while also not being a potent proactive threat due to its poor stats and lack of evasion. It’s still an extremely effective card if you expect a massive number of slower blue decks, but I don’t think it should function as an auto-include.
In sum, I think Grixis is likely the frontrunner for best Delver deck. It has a lot of options to work with and tends to return the best payoff. When people begin to adapt though, it’s important to make sure you’re ready to shift gears and adjust your deckbuilding.
Legacy Temur Delver by Rich Cali
Even without Oko, I think green still adds a decent amount to the archetype. Hooting Mandrills is worse on rate than Gurmag Angler, but it can still be a heck of a beating. The green sideboard cards are still extremely potent and add a lot to certain matchups that you just can’t find in other colors. However, I will note that Tarmogoyf has gotten a lot worse with the banning. No longer is it reliably getting five power (because your own planeswalkers aren’t dying anymore), which means it can’t brawl with cards like Gurmag Angler anymore. In addition, Fatal Push will likely gain in popularity and that card trades extremely well with Goyf.
My initial list ran Ethereal Forager over Hooting Mandrils and Brazen Borrower over True-Name Nemesis. This was certainly fine, but adding one or two mana to each of those spells greatly slowed the pace of play, which is not the direction I think this version of the deck should go. If, however, you decide to cut Stifle, adding in Preordains and additional countermagic/removal, and try to capture a bit of that midrange element that Temur just lost by leaning into Forager, I think that could be a really effective way to go.
However, in my opinion, Temur is the variant that wants to lean into efficiency the most. It doesn’t have the ability to answer every possible threat like Grixis, which is part of the reason that Temur decks generally opt to run Stifle. By trimming on lands and playing really cheap, low investment threats that put opponents in a squeeze, you can really close out a lot of games before opponents can stabilize.
One notable exclusion here is Nimble Mongoose, which a lot of people have been turning towards. I know the pain of losing to a Nimble Mongoose with a hand full of spot removal (hell, that even happened in my testing this week already!). However, I think Nimble Mongoose is a better card when there is a clear idea of what the answers are.
It’s superb against Swords to Plowshares and Lightning Bolt, the floor on Mongoose is rather low and, compared to other threats, it can be relatively impactful in a prolonged game. In addition, it presents a paltry clock against combo decks, which is always a concern of mine. I can all but guarantee I’ll play that card a few times over the next few months, but as I begin to feel out the metagame I’d rather lean into a card with a bit more power behind it, like Hooting Mandrills.
Overall, I like Temur and will mostly want to turn to it if I think the combination of the green sideboard cards (most notably, Veil of Summer, which is one of the best cards still legal in the format) and a lean, Stifle-oriented game plan is correct.
With the other deck lists, I’ve been posting my updated versions after testing them. For this, I’m going to post my initial list as a discussion point and then my recommended list a bit further down.
Legacy Izzet Delver by Rich Cali
I’ve been hearing a lot of commentary that Izzet is dead with the banning of Arcanist, but I just don’t see that to be the case at all. That being said, I struggled at first with the best way to build it and, while this list had some good things going for it, overall I didn’t like the way it was tuned. I wanted to lean into Stifle to start, mostly on the same basis as Temur (not having the ability to answer everything), but I was rather unimpressed with it in this deck. The threats are too expensive to deploy when you have to hold up a mana, and you lose a lot of efficiency in that regard.
I was hesitant to max out on Young Pyromancers because I was concerned with having enough spells to support it without Dreadhorde Arcanist. I know these decks can run any number of cantrips they want, but without any true way to generate card advantage, you can often run out of steam. My initial inclination was to run less True-Names, which I have quickly been proven incorrect on.
Magmatic Channeler was totally fine, but it’s certainly an awkward card. There aren’t enough proactive cards in this deck to ensure you always get value and it’s not always a 4/4. It especially works poorly with Ethereal Forager (which was pretty decent, but really fragile), so chock that up to poor deckbuilding. I could see a world where Channeler is a potent threat but I think it makes more sense in a deck like Grixis than Izzet, as they tend to run more proactive spells like Thoughtseize.
I haven’t had the chance to personally tune this deck list, yet. Fortunately, players have started hitting the grind and Matti Kuisma posted this deck list, which I love.
Legacy Izzet Delver by Matti Kuisma
I think this is an excellent deck list, and it really demonstrates some key points I went wrong. With the full set of Sprite Dragons and Young Pyromancers, you might think that you’ll run out of steam with your spells more quickly. However, by maxing out on them, the actual result is that you maximize aggression, thus making each spell that much more potent. That was the key point I overlooked when building initial deck lists, and it’ll certainly be a lesson that I’m going to take with me. Beyond that, running eight powerful two-drops further incentivizes additional cantrips because it increases the potency of a turn one cantrip.
Matti suggested adding more copies of True-Name which, if you have been following along with me, I’m completely on board with. I’d probably start by cutting the Pyroblast, but the spell count might be important enough that you should trim one of the two-drop threats.
Similarly to Temur, Izzet can’t answer everything the opponent is doing. While Temur generally tries to attack opponents’ resources, this Izzet list is taking a different approach and is just trying to kill the opponent. I think that’s a much better direction to go with the archetype, and it really helps Izzet stand out as a unique entity from the other Delver decks. I’m really excited to work on this deck and I will absolutely be working on this really lean, straightforward approach.
Legacy Jeskai Delver by Rich Cali
I think there’s a lot of merit to the addition of white. Teferi, Time Raveler is an extremely powerful card and I started off wondering if it was just worth playing white for him alone. However, white does provide some other options so I decided to explore a more traditional approach to the archetype.
Stoneforge Mystic is, and always has been, an interesting card in Delver decks. It’s slow and doesn’t have much impact on the board, but it gives Delver access to a form of card advantage and late-game it doesn’t usually have. It lacks efficiency, which as I have mentioned a few times, is a key element of this era of Delver decks, but it makes up for that with power, which makes it worth considering in my opinion. It taps into the midrange deck feature that Delver just lost with the bans and in my testing games, it performed reasonably well. If cards like Kolaghan’s Command greatly pick up in popularity again, Stoneforge might be better off left on the sidelines. For now, though, I think it adds an extra element to the archetype.
Teferi was my initial pull to white and he was very impressive in my games, providing a diverse card type that can make things pretty annoying for opponents in Legacy. I’m not certain that this deck is taking the best advantage of him the way it’s built, but just as an annoying, tempo-oriented planeswalker, I was very happy to have him in the deck.
Outside of these two cards, there are a smattering of other white cards that all do some interesting and powerful things. Swords to Plowshares, in particular, is an excellent card to have access to in certain metagames. In addition, cards like Sevinne’s Reclamation (which overperformed in the main deck), Court of Grace (which I replaced Palace Jailer with) and Meddling Mage all add a decent amount of staying power to the deck against certain archetypes. I also found a single copy of Ethereal Forager to be very effective here. This deck hits more land drops in general, which makes it more reliable to cast, and it is powerful if it ever sticks.
Overall, I think white does add a decent amount to the archetype, but it shifts it away from a traditional Delver deck. The games go much longer and the route to victory will often involve trying to grind opponents down, which can be a tough ask for a deck with Daze in it.
Jeskai tends to exist in a middle-space, in between control and aggro, which can make it extremely challenging to build. It’s easier to fall victim to getting the bad end of either strategy rather than the good, and that’s a serious knock against the archetype. In addition, building the deck in this manner places the emphasis on True-Name Nemesis, which as I discussed previously can be a serious downside with the growing popularity of Plague Engineer.
However, Jeskai does get access to some extremely effective planeswalkers and enchantments to function as alternate game plans, so I definitely would not count it out. I think the metagame will have to become a bit clearer before I feel comfortable taking this to an event, but I think it’s an excellent tool to have in the Delver arsenal.
I didn’t mention other variants, like Sultai and Shadow, because I wanted to lean in on the variants that play Lightning Bolt. That being said, Death’s Shadow remains completely untouched and it was a strong deck before, and will likely still be a good choice. It gets substantially worse the more Swords to Plowshares you expect to play against, and I think that’s going to be a common removal choice for the time being, so proceed with care.
Regarding Sultai, which is one of my favorite decks of all time, I think losing Lightning Bolt is a massive deal for this deck. It can grind down just about any opponent, but when it comes to actually closing the game, it falls short because it can’t back up that early/midgame pressure with any reach. It’s worth noting that Sultai is likely the best Delver setup to play Uro, and that’s certainly worth exploring. As the metagame develops, I might work on it a bit and I’ll certainly write about it if I think it’s in a good spot. For now, I’m going to leave it on the sidelines and leave that archetype for other players to figure out.
Of course, Delver is here to stay. Even without a broken card advantage engine, there are so many potent tools to work with. Here are some of my takeaways after a week of testing:
- True-Name Nemesis is excellent and will likely only be held back by Plague Engineer.
- Ethereal Forager can be potent but lacks the raw power that Delver is looking for right now while also being very fragile. I don’t think it’s worth pursuing for now.
- Force of Negation is more costly, for sure, but if you build your deck to contain enough blue cards and threats that generate virtual card advantage by blanking removal (True-Name and Mongoose), then Force of Negation can be completely devastating.
- Try to play the most powerful cards before you turn to less well-established cards.
- Be aggressive, and force your opponents to answer the questions you present.
I’ve been having a blast playing in this new metagame. In many ways, it feels like an older version of the format with some new tools fit in, which is great for a Legacy stalwart like me. One of my favorite parts of this week so far has been seeing the revitalization from the whole community as they re-explore the format they love again. Legacy is almost entirely filled with completely enfranchised players and to see such a positive community response has been joyous. The metagame will stabilize relatively soon but for now, the options are pretty endless, so I’m going to enjoy it while it’s here.