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Delver of Secrets and the Ban List

Within recent months, there’s been a lot of discussion on whether or not there needs to be a ban in Legacy. Much of it has stemmed from the seemingly dominant performance RUG Delver has had recently. As such, I wanted to discuss the Delver shell, the Legacy ban list, and how they relate. 

The “Delver deck” shell is commonly considered one of the best, if not the best, thing to be doing within Legacy. Within the context of the format, it is the best control shell, tempo/aggro shell, and midrange shell. There are other decks in the format that can outperform Delver on one of these singular axes, but no other deck can seamlessly execute all three plans as needed without significantly weakening their ability to function on another axis. Depending on the matchup, Delver can alter its play patterns to assault the weak point of any given deck.


To Clarify:


Against Ancient Tomb and big mana strategies, Delver takes the form of an aggro/tempo shell where players utilize the deck’s ability to produce a clock while choking their opponent’s mana.

Against combo and creature-based strategies, players lean into more of the controlling aspect of the deck, leveraging card advantage and removal engines to grind the opponent down until eventually producing a clock to close out the game. 

Against control and other midrange decks, Delver’s role will shift based on who is the beatdown. Players capitalize on a fast clock along with card advantage engines to win. 

Ultimately, this allows Delver to have even-to-favorable matchups against the commonly played archetypes within Legacy, thus cementing its place as the “police” of the format. Respective to their formats, Delver and Splinter Twin both served a similar function of providing a proactive, disruption-heavy shell that forced everyone to have a plan against it while also acting as a limiting agent for degeneracy. While decks such as Belcher, Black/Red Reanimator, Oops All Spells, etc. do exist within Legacy, they exist at a much lower density than would be possible without Delver existing within the format. 

 

On Bans and How the Legacy Community Approaches Them:

The Legacy playerbase is heavily influenced by nostalgia. Most conversations regarding bannings ultimately boil down to “ban the most recently printed card that damages our accepted status quo.” There’s a general refusal to accept that Legacy will eventually move past the standard that was set in 2012. The format is defined by an affectionate affinity for design mistakes that have been normalized within the collective conscious, while newer design mistakes are often met with ire. In essence, there are cards within the format that have led to systemic issues that frankly will never be addressed. 

For example, one of the common complaints within the format is the dominance or oversaturation of blue decks. This has led to the fairly common discussion around banning the card Brainstorm. While doing so has the potential to make the format better in the abstract, it would strip the format of a major pillar of its identity in a way that would leave enfranchised players disillusioned. As such, when considering bans for the format, there are a large number of options that can’t be fully explored due to the potential backlash it would cause.

The discussions regarding banning a card from the Delver shell heavily reflect this dynamic. The effects that are discussed within the public eye are the “low-impact” effects that, if banned, would alter the power level of the shell itself without causing huge changes to the format itself. Whereas, the “high-Impact” effects are largely overlooked in modern discussion. 

Moving forward I will discuss the effects of banning certain cards. Ultimately, the issue is that the Legacy community wants new cards to be added to the format while also somehow maintaining the nostalgia of 2012 Legacy. Quite frankly, this isn’t really plausible.

“Low-Impact”

Oko/Dreadhorde Arcanist/Daze

The collective conscious has been calling for an Oko ban in part because of how powerful it is in Delver shells. I find myself questioning if Oko itself is the issue or if there’s a separate imbalance within the format. Delver is one of the few shells that can be tuned to address both fair and unfair decks without much opportunity cost. For this reason, a card like Oko has more of an impact that I think it reasonably should. 

Dreadhorde is in a similar place to me. At face value, the card doesn’t break any of the metrics for a creature being *too* powerful in Legacy. In essence, it’s on the same power level as Stoneforge Mystic – an easy to answer threat that creates a huge advantage if you untap with it. Historically, creatures that are *easy* to answer and require you to untap before they have a major impact on the game are the exact power level you want most creatures to be in the format. 

Daze is one of the linchpins that allows Delver to act as the “police” of legacy and its presence is a net positive in the format. There’s a pervasive stereotype that Legacy as a format is completely degenerate and games are often decided by turn 3. Daze acting as a limiting agent is one of the reasons this is not true. Games where the card is a relevant factor often draw on because players are incentivized to cast their spells at a slower pace. 

I think that banning any of these cards doesn’t actually solve the issues plaguing Legacy. The issue at hand isn’t that the new cards are *too* good. It’s that the addition of new variables to existing deck shells will push them from being “good” to “too good”. The current trend is addressing the symptoms of the problem without actually addressing the systematic root of the issue. 

It’s clear to me that if you want a shell like Delver to exist in Legacy, you have to accept that there are going to be periods of time where it’s very clearly the most broken thing within the format. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. What I mean is, you can’t allow Delver to exist because of nostalgia for it’s previous iterations while not accepting the power level of its current forms and how easy it is for them to be *too* good. 

“High-Impact” 

Delver of Secrets/Fetch lands/Wasteland

If you actively want there to be a paradigm shift within the format, you have to ban cards that have a greater impact on the format. If you ban Delver of Secrets, the format is going to be forced to readjust in order to fill that void. I don’t think that it’s likely that there will be another Tempo shell that can reasonably take Delver’s place, but it’s possible that shift would be a net positive for the format. 

Wasteland is one of the most egregious effects within the format. As a whole, its ability to create “non-games” is extremely high, but it does keep decks like Cloudpost in check. Banning Wasteland would cause decks like Death and Taxes, Lands, and Delver to cease to exist, forcing the format to go through major changes. I’m not necessarily advocating for this, but if the goal is to change the status quo of Legacy, this is one of the ways to implement this. 

Banning fetch lands would effectively end the discussion about whether or not Brainstorm and Ponder should be banned, since the argument for banning them is due to the disproportionate consistency they offer Blue decks when used in conjunction with fetch lands. 

 On a completely subjective level, I feel like Brainstorm is tied to the identity of Legacy and the interaction of Brainstorm + fetch, or as Cedric would say, “The Perfect Brainstorm,” is one of the core reasons people get into Legacy. The removal of the card would lead to a number of people quitting the format. This brings up the idea that a sense of objective format health matters more in this case than the relative fun of nostalgia that people gain by playing Legacy. However, that’s a completely different conversation so I won’t go into it here. 

 

What I Would Do:

Ban Uro and Astrolabe and keep an eye on Veil and Oko

Legacy as a format is currently dealing with an issue of imbalance. As I mentioned before, control decks currently have too many angles to address. As a low opportunity cost game-ending threat, Uro has changed the dynamic of the fair mirrors. Historically, cards such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor, True-Name Nemesis, and Batterskull were able to dominate games when left unchecked for an extended period of time. However, they could be answered cleanly by effects such as Pyroblast, sweeper effects, and artifact removal respectively, meaning that their impact on the game wasn’t initially backbreaking.

Uro, however, stands head and shoulders above those cards due to its recurring nature. In order to answer it, you need both specific removal for it as well as some sort of graveyard hate, which control shells historically have not had. Now, control shells are forced to warp deck construction in such a way that they must devote more cards to beating the mirror. Ultimately, this creates a dynamic where they are forced to play cards that don’t properly address the unfair matchups because the opportunity cost is too high to adequately address the rest of the format. I feel that if this power dynamic is addressed by banning Uro, the format will return to a point where singular answers are adequate and thus restoring the much-needed balance.  Additionally, from a deck building standpoint I think there should be a real opportunity cost to incorporating a win condition into your deck, and unlike the other cards I mentioned, Uro doesn’t really have one outside of “play blue in Legacy”, which isn’t a cost at all. 

Arcum’s Astrolabe has a similar effect on the format to Deathrite Shaman: it makes the color pie no longer a limiting agent in deck construction. When we omit the segregation of color  boundaries, we end up in a format defined by 4 color “blue soup” deck shells. When this happens, it’s common for Legacy to slowly devolve into a “fair deck arms race” where players seek for more and more ways to win blue mirrors while neglecting to address the rest of the format. 

I think Veil of Summer and Oko are largely *fine*, but I think it’s important to monitor them as potential cards that could be too powerful for the format. As it stands, Oko has the ability to take over games single-handedly, but tools exist to address it. Pyroblast, Abrupt Decay, Assassin’s Trophy, and Skyclave Apparition all answer the card cleanly, and I’d like to see a format where those effects are allowed to shine. Veil, by nature, invalidates two of these cards, and I think that could be a problem. Additionally, if Astrolabe is banned, this will pigeonhole Oko to RUG, BUG, and UG shells which will have a limited array of tools to utilize to combat the format. I think that while Oko is an obviously good card the problem is exacerbated when it’s surrounded by every good card in 4+ colors. I’d like to place the card in an environment where it isn’t as well supported across the board and then reassess how much of an issue it is from that point.   

Ultimately, I think that the Legacy community needs to really figure out what it really wants from bans. In essence, the format is heavily rooted in nostalgia and it’s common for decks to become part of a players identity. So doing something like banning a key piece of Delver isn’t just a consideration of how it will affect or balance the metagame, but also a matter of whether or not you’re effectively forcing a portion of the playerbase to sever its ties.

Discussion

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