For a long time, Delver (and Delver variants) was a deck that would go years without seeing a single change to the archetype. While part of the reason for this is that the shell was full of older cards that defined what the archetype was able to do, another major reason is that the overall power level of the cards printed by Wizards was much lower. These days, while the core of the archetype is still largely unchanged, it seems like every set yields a new potent tool for the archetype. Strixhaven ultimately brought with it Expressive Iteration, a staple for years to come, and this pattern was only accelerated with Modern Horizons 2, a set designed to shake-up eternal formats.
Since the format has begun to take some shape with Modern Horizons 2 in the mix, now seemed like as good of a time as any to take a closer look at Delver as a whole in the format, as well as what specific variants have been having success. I have personally played a lot of Delver lately (which, to be fair, is often the case when I’m playing a lot of Legacy), and I’m hoping to provide some meaningful insight on the Legacy format as it stands.
As I wrote about right before Modern Horizons 2 came out, Legacy was in a bit of a tumultuous spot for some time. The Delver archetype clearly made its mark as the de facto best deck and was overstaying its welcome in that spot. Part of the issue is that many of the decks touted as having great Delver matchups were not actually able to consistently win the matchup. Players would have to build their decks specifically to beat Delver, which meant that other matchups began to suffer. Even decks like Lands, which has historically been viewed as a “Delver killer,” had to make adjustments to beat Delver. Despite this, Delver could still fight back, and was consistently putting multiple players in every Top 8.
With Modern Horizons 2 in the mix, things appear to be quite a bit more balanced. Many of the decks that are designed to have a good Delver matchup are actually able to hold true to their name. Enough decks received substantial buffs that they can either answer what Delver is doing more effectively or enact their proactive plans in a way that Delver can struggle to interrupt. Bant Control, for instance, received Endurance as a major buff for the archetype. This card gives them a really clean answer to almost every threat in the deck that Delver can struggle to get off the board. On the other hand, decks like Lands picked up Urza’s Saga, which gives them another proactive plan that is challenging to disrupt.
These examples, and many more, lead to a metagame that is actually effectively hostile towards Delver. To me, this was the desired outcome from Modern Horizons 2‘s inclusion into Legacy. There was concern that Delver would reach a new precipice of power with the new tools it gained from Modern Horizons 2. While Delver has clearly become a stronger deck, so have the decks around it, leading to a substantially healthier metagame, in my opinion. Delver is still an excellent deck that is among the top decks in the format, but it no longer exists in a tier above the rest of the format, which is relieving to see.
This set had three creatures that were poised to find a slot in the Delver archetype: Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Murktide Regent. While there has been debate as to which of these cards is the most impactful for Delver decks, it is abundantly clear at this point that they are all extremely effective in the archetype. With the addition of these three threats from Modern Horizons 2, Izzet Delver was the deck most players immediately turned to. In Delver decks, adding extra colors generally serves two purposes: getting access to better threats or better answers. With these three creatures rounding out the threat suite along with Delver, Izzet Delver becomes an extremely lean and aggressive machine.
Here’s what Delver expert Gul_Dukat split the finals of one of the weekend Challenges with:
Legacy Izzet Delver by Gul_Dukat
This is the shell that has been prominently featured in Legacy since day one. Ragavan has really accentuated a lot of what made Delver so potent. Backing it up with Daze feels extremely unreasonable a lot of the time and Delver, more than most decks, really makes good use of a mana advantage. Dragon’s Rage Channeler gives this deck another copy of Delver that’s occasionally much better (although occasionally worse, since it has to attack). Surveil 1 is a really powerful effect, and the amount of card selection this deck gains from that is massive. Additionally, giving this deck another four copies of a three-powered flying creature let’s this deck take an aggressive stance in just about every matchup. Adding both Ragavan and Channeler to the deck substantially lowers the curve, which allows Izzet Delver players to cut a land and always play a lean, efficient game.
Murktide Regent didn’t get quite the same press as the red creatures in preview season, but it very quickly proved itself to be a standout from the set. It’s a massive flying creature, often costing two mana, and there aren’t many decks that are prepared to deal with that. Since this deck is full of one-mana threats these days, Murktide Regent is the perfect follow-up to help close the door quickly.
Like Tarmogoyf, Murktide Regent has a pretty huge body, which means that it plays defense the turn it comes down and then quickly helps you turn the corner. Having so many potent flyers is really nice since it means that you can effectively race a lot of opponents who are trying to overwhelm you on the ground. It is a bit awkward in a deck with Dragon’s Rage Channeler, for sure, but occasionally that works to your advantage, as removing delirium for a turn might stop the Channeler from attacking into a bad situation.
In this list, Gul_Dukat is using another Modern Horizons 2 card that has been showing up a lot in Modern – Unholy Heat. It can be a bit awkward, as delirium is not only difficult to hit sometimes and Murktide Regent actively works against it sometimes. However, at its worst it’s a Shock, which isn’t that terrible of a card. At its best, though, it really helps against creatures like Tarmogoyf, which is a lot of upside for a one-mana removal spell to have. The rest of the deck, including the sideboard, isn’t much different than it was pre-Modern Horizons 2, but these additions have certainly enhanced the archetype a fair amount.
Again, despite becoming a more powerful deck, I don’t think Izzet Delver is overwhelmingly dominant in this metagame. There’s a lot of counterplay that has been added into the rest of the decks, which helps maintain a healthy balance in the format. However, I do think Izzet Delver is an excellent level 0 Delver deck, and still a fine choice for anyone looking to play in a Legacy event.
Historically, Jeskai Delver is more of a dark horse, at best, of Delver decks. The white used to add a more resilient aspect to the deck by giving access to Stoneforge Mystic and Swords to Plowshares, which came at the cost of aggression. However, in the Modern Horizons 2 metagame, I think Jeskai is actually an extremely effective way to respond to the relatively hostile, anti-Delver development of the metagame, as it primarily provides access to some excellent answers.
Here is what I’ve been working on (which is based on the starting points of Magic Online players, such as Wakarock and Easymoneymarksman).
Legacy Jeskai Delver by Rich Cali
A lot of the base of this deck functions like an Izzet Delver deck, but the white does change things up a fair amount. Losing Dragon’s Rage Channeler while simultaneously gaining four white removal spells makes the deck substantially less aggressively-slanted. Speaking of the white removal spells, Prismatic Ending is an excellent addition to the archetype. Not only does it often function as a Swords to Plowshares that doesn’t gain the opponent life, which by itself is something this deck really wants, it also serves as an answer to all sorts of problematic cards that show up. Being a sorcery means that it isn’t the perfect answer, but it’s extremely versatile and I have been very impressed with it.
The addition of white also yields a substantial benefit in sideboarding. Karakas is generally a very strong card at the moment, bouncing both opposing Ragavans, as well as your own. The fact that it helps this deck actually cast spells is really nice, as adding otherwise “colorless” lands to Izzet Delver can be costly. White hatebears are also a welcome addition to the deck. I’m playing Meddling Mage as a nod to Doomsday, but there’s no limit to effective hatebears for whatever purpose you need.
This approach to Delver feels a lot more like a traditional midrange deck, where you can use your card advantage spells to keep the board rather empty and rely on your threats to win the game off the top. However, since it isn’t losing that much from the core of the Izzet Delver decks, it is still an aggressively-slanted deck, which gives you the opportunity to apply meaningful early pressure. The mana base is quite a bit more fragile than Izzet, but if you’re playing in a metagame where removal is at a premium, I would highly recommend this approach.
Temur Delver has not been the most popular Delver variant over the past few months. While Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Tarmogoyf are extremely powerful cards, the deck tends to be quite a bit more clunky than other Delver decks. However, I think this deck actually gains a lot from Modern Horizons 2 and could be poised to be well-positioned in the current metagame.
Here’s the list that Magic Online Delver expert Silviawataru has been tuning.
Legacy Temur Delver by Silviawataru
Ragavan actually adds a lot to this archetype. Since Uro requires a substantial mana investment, Temur Delver can really take advantage of the Treasure production Ragavan provides. In addition, since this deck has four Tarmogoyfs, a potent two-drop, it makes this deck abuse the Treasure by letting you play a Tarmogoyf and Wasteland on turn two, which is a start reminiscent of the Deathrite Shaman days.
Ragavan isn’t the only Modern Horizons 2 card that makes an impact here. This is the only Delver archetype that can take advantage of Endurance, one of the other best cards from the set. The casting cost does create some tension with Ragavan, needing red mana early and double green mana in the midgame, but Endurance has proven itself to be a powerful, versatile card in the Legacy metagame. A “split” hate-card that stops Delver, Doomsday and graveyards, while also applying pressure is exactly what many decks were in the market for.
Regarding the cards that green gives you in the sideboard, we’ve talked about most of them in previous articles, so there isn’t too much new there. However, running more green cards in the main deck makes cards like Force of Vigor a lot easier to cast. In a way, running all of these “free cards” helps balance the fact that this deck is more clunky, since you can alternate cast a lot more spells than most other Delver decks.
Because this deck is still a bit clunky and relies very heavily on creatures, it can be a bit more exploitable than the other variants. Whether this is through combo decks that can ignore the creature element, Blood Moon or just through Wasteland, Temur Delver can run into some issues. However, I think the raw power of the archetype is particularly strong as the format stands right now and moving towards Tarmogoyf really helps against decks that rely on Lightning Bolt (Delver) or Endurance (Bant) to manage the creatures.
These are the three Delver archetypes that stand out to me the most. I’m sure there are effective Grixis Delver or Death’s Shadow decks out there, but they don’t have the same draw for me as Izzet, Jeskai or Temur at the moment. Additionally, the Delver shell has been expanded to include decks that don’t include Delver. I wrote about the Jeskai Monkeystill deck last week, which has been doing quite well in the format. I think that’s a great direction for players to go if they want some of the Delver experience with a less aggressive approach.
Overall, on a personal level, the Modern Horizons 2 Legacy format has been pretty enjoyable for me so far. The games are interesting and I’ve played against a fair amount of different archetypes. I think some of the cards from Modern Horizons 2 are certainly a bit dominant, Ragavan among them, but so far I haven’t found it oppressive. From a larger perspective, looking at the events that have happened with Modern Horizons 2 in the mix, I do think things are quite healthy right now. Legacy really needed this after a long run of single-deck dominance, and I’m certainly happy with where it’s at.