Earlier this week, I reacted to the Ragavan ban, a decision that I’m quite happy with. Now, however, I think it is most appropriate to turn my attention to the deck that has the most focus on it: Delver. Truthfully, I’d be incentivized to talk about this archetype regardless of the changes made since this is my deck of choice. However, there has been a lot of conversation surrounding the deck since from players across the format and this is as good of an opportunity to explore post-ban Delver in a “fresh” format.
As many players have noted, the core of Izzet Delver remains largely unchanged. That means that the Izzet shell does largely look the same, which consists of this spell base:
4 Delver of Secrets/Insectile Aberration 4 Dragon's Rage Channeler 4 Murktide Regent 4 Ponder 4 Brainstorm 4 Expressive Iteration 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Force of Will 4 Daze
This makes up 36 of the 42 spells that these decks usually play. Of course, you could argue that there are other cards foundational to the archetype, such as other threats or removal spells, but this is where I think my Delver decks will all start. Murktide Regent may be the one asterisk to that end, since running four copies may not be a “core” feature of every Delver deck going forward. However, I think the raw power of Murktide is significantly higher than just about any other alternative and I will not only be playing four copies whenever I can, but I will also be building my deck to maximize the power of Murktide.
You could also argue that Dragon’s Rage Channeler isn’t “core” to the deck and other threats (either in Izzet or off of a splash, but more on that later) could replace it. I don’t really buy that, though, since Dragon’s Rage Channeler is not only a powerhouse threat, often being better than the deck’s namesake Delver of Secrets, but it provides very meaningful card selection and utility throughout any game it sticks around.
Here is the list I have been working on since the ban:
Post-Ban Legacy Delver by Rich Cali
As I mentioned, this deck looks largely the same as it did before. Cutting Ragavan has not had a significant impact on what the deck is trying to do. Moving to four Delvers was the obvious direction since it was only barely edged out in the past, and that leaves us with the “flex” spots.
With regards to additional threats, my instinct was to turn towards Sprite Dragon, since Endurance is one of the cards that is most present in my mind. However, Young Pyromancer has a long pedigree for a reason. It’s very powerful and even though it’s a bit more exposed to cards like Plague Engineer, it can put opponents that rely on spot removal in dire situations very quickly. I think this space can be occupied safely by any reasonable threat, and Sprite Dragon, True-Name Nemesis and Brazen Borrower are all high on my list of cards to try here.
I am really tempted to include Unholy Heat in the “core” of the deck, but I don’t think it’s quite true. I think Unholy Heat is one of the best cards picked up for the Delver archetype over the past few years. I know it hasn’t always been included, but it provides this deck with an answer to larger creatures, which is something that has frequently been a problem for Izzet. There are other options to include here, such as Chain Lightning, Pyroblast or Tarfire, but I think Unholy Heat is very much the best among them and it’s where I’m going to stay for a while.
I could actually see playing additional copies of Mishra’s Baubles in the deck. I used to think it was a pretty bad card but not only is it excellent with Dragon’s Rage Channeler, it facilitates extremely quick Murktide Regents. Two copies feels appropriate for now though, and it’s worth noting that it works with Sprite Dragon but not Young Pyromancer, so that may be incentive to change the threats up.
Finally comes the topic of the mana base. I think four Volcanic Islands continues to be necessary since you not only want the ability to cast either threat on turn one and have Daze up, but it’s very important to make sure you have enough sources of both colors to smoothly enact your plan. That naturally transitions into one of the key questions I have been asked recently: is the Steam Vents still necessary? I think maximizing the amount of Izzet duals you have is really important. Drawing a superfluous Island or a Mountain when you need both colors is really costly. Even though there are some games where having basics can be important, I generally find that the deck is less functional by itself (regardless of pushback from opponents) when you have basics in play. This all leads me to wanting to keep the Steam Vents for now, but if I face enough Back to Basics or Chokes, that may change.
This is going to be better served in a future Delver deep dive article after the format becomes a bit more defined, but I wanted to make some quick notes about the sideboard. This sideboard is just a port from my previous sideboard but I think most of it is still applicable. I think the four Pyroblasts continue to be important with Murktide Regent around. Meltdown is one of the best sideboards possible against the all-in artifact decks in the format, so I don’t really feel comfortable leaving home without a few copies of that (sorry Callum!).
I don’t think green decks are dying down any time soon and Karakas is a lot worse without Ragavan, so I think Submerge is going to be a solid choice for the time being. Two Surgical Extractions are not enough against Reanimator, so I do recommend running extra graveyard hate spells. Running two Force of Negations may be better than any Flusterstorms, but I’ve been pretty happy with Flusterstorm overall. Finally, the Narset, Parter of Veils/Court of Cunning split was previously a big part of my plan against control decks. I imagine they still will be, but without Ragavan, the way the plan fits into the deck needs to be re-evaluated, so this will likely be in flux going forward.
This is the number one question I have received over the past few days: without Ragavan, is there enough incentive to add an additional color? To me, I don’t think Ragavan is the reason that Izzet was more common than Temur or Grixis, for instance. When adding another color it is generally for one of three purposes: the threats, the answers or the sideboard cards. Generally, Temur has been popular when Tarmogoyf was effective and green has provided additional versatility in the sideboard. Grixis, on the other hand, has been driven by answers such as Fatal Push or Thoughtseize and effective sideboard cards (with Gurmag Angler bringing up the rear in recent years).
However, when I look at the Izzet shell, the threats and answers aren’t the major point of weakness. Murktide Regent is quite a bit more powerful than any threat a different color will provide you and Unholy Heat is largely more versatile than Fatal Push. As a result, adding additional colors serves less of a function than it has in the past since the Izzet colors now have the missing pieces that would justify a splash. On top of this, Court of Cunning has superseded the need to use Sylvan Library as an alternate plan against control (not to mention that Prismatic Ending is great against Library and pretty poor against Court).
Now, this doesn’t mean that I think splashing is a horrible idea. Running Tarmogoyf in addition to Murktide can be effective when Lightning Bolt is the most popular removal spell around. Hooting Mandrills is also a tempting card if you want to sidestep Pyroblast as an answer to your threats/lean into efficiency. Grixis does have removal options that justify a splash (we have recently seen Snuff Out be a popular choice), and generally cards like Plague Engineer or the aforementioned Thoughtseize can be irreplaceable cards in the sideboard. Again, Gurmag Angler may serve a similar purpose to Hooting Mandrills, but keep in mind that these Delver threats are really cold to Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath.
However, splashing does come at a cost and may actually lead to more problems associated with a third color than benefits. Consider that I’m denouncing basic lands in Izzet as leading to games where you can’t effectively cast your spells. Cards like Underground Sea or Badlands are glorified basic Islands or Mountains when your game plan is going to essentially look like an Izzet strategy.
While I largely think it is more costly than beneficial, I do want to provide suggestions for those who want to splash. I think Jeskai may be the best splash color. Cards like Prismatic Ending do actually provide the deck with something it is missing. I don’t know if any of the threats are worth exploring, but Stoneforge Mystic is a powerful option that, once again, does something different than the threats Izzet has at the moment (provides card advantage). If you wanted to explore Temur, I may suggest that you look towards Uro as an incentive since, while clunky, it is still one of the most powerful cards in the format. Finally, if you wanted to play Grixis, I would lean heavily on the sideboard cards and only minimally use black spells in the main deck (Snuff Out potentially being the best among them).
I think it bears repeating that I think the ban has a positive change on the format. It’s pretty unlikely that Delver is going to be knocked out of Tier 1, but I do think it has a decent chance of no longer being Tier 0. In addition, as I mentioned earlier in the week, I think the ban will have a significant impact on reducing the homogeneity of the format. I’m really looking forward to playing Legacy going forward and seeing how the formats plays out over the weekend of events.