The comparisons were inevitable. 1 mana. 3/2 flyer. And a little work to get there.
Delver rocked Standard while it was legal as a low-curve threat that eventually ran over the game without any further investment. It dominated Modern while Treasure Cruise was legal, and is still a go-to card in Legacy.
What’s this Bird going to do?
Bone Picker has some clear similarities to Delver of Secrets, but requires you to jump through different hoops. Remember that Delver isn’t just a 3/2 flyer for 1. It still has a set-up cost. Thus, it’s not the end of the world that Bone Picker can’t be played on turn 1 like Delver, as long as you’re able to cast it for 1 mana early and often enough. I don’t think every deck that includes the card needs to be able to cast it on turn 2 the majority of the time, but I do think that should always be a possibility. If the card sees play in Eternal formats, that becomes more important, but also easier with access to more powerful cheap removal like Lightning Bolt.
I have two different R/B decks today that utilize Bone Picker. The first is a nice, low-to-the-ground deck that can apply early pressure and easily cast Bone Picker on turn 2 or 3.
Aggro R/B Bone Picker
This is reminiscent of the old Kaladesh R/B deck, but shies away from the artifact emphasis for more robust creature threats. That said, Unlicensed Disintegration still packs a punch even with fewer artifacts and helps you cast Bone Picker for B, so I’m on board.
The deck has a compact curve, but also a lot of nuance in sequencing because it is designed to frequently cast two spells in a turn. There’s the sequence of turn-1 Neonate into turn-2 Fiery Temper plus Bone Picker. There’s also 1-drop into Scrounger into Bloodrage Brawler plus Temper. Bloodrage Brawler seems especially good in this type of R/B shell because you can often pitch an Scrapheap Scrounger or extra land and the thing is absolutely massive. It does incur some natural risk when Fatal Push is in the format, but I want to see what the 4/3 for 2 can do.
Soul-Scar Mage takes the place of Inventor’s Apprentice here because I didn’t feel confident that I could get the Apprentice online often enough. I also want to see if “Monastery Slowspear” is good enough, and 14 spells for prowess should let it hit for 2 a good portion of the time.
One card that could make Inventor’s Apprentice better but also works well with Soul-Scar Mage is Walking Ballista. The Mage takes into account all noncombat damage, not just damage from your spells, and so you can win a lot of combats by throwing around -1/-1 counters with the Ballista. I just fear that this deck won’t have enough mana to really make Ballista worth it, and so it didn’t quite make the cut.
As for Bone Picker itself, it just slots in nicely wherever you can land it. Your opponent will want to trade with you often, which lets you cast it on the cheap in some games when you don’t even draw a removal spell. I also like that it crews Heart of Kiran the turn it comes down and helps pressure planeswalkers thanks to its evasion.
I don’t have a sideboard built yet, but I do want to talk about Bone Picker’s inherent problems versus control decks. If you can’t actually cast it for B, the card obviously becomes quite bad. There are still ways to cast it in this deck without killing your opponent’s creatures, but that takes away a big chunk of enablers. This means that decks containing the card really need to have extra sideboard space dedicated to Torrential-Gearhulk-style control decks since removal is quite bad there, and thus makes the Bone Picker worse as well.
Depending on the exact composition, some decks will want to board out the Bird with the removal, while others won’t have that much space. I imagine this deck wouldn’t board out Bone Picker, simply because it’s still decent with Insolent Neonate and Bomat Courier.
The next deck is an example of one that would board out all the Birds:
Midrange R/B Bone Picker
This deck is still R/B and still uses Bone Picker well, but is trying something totally different. The last deck was just trying to get on board as quickly as possible and used Bone Picker as a cheap threat to augment the curve-out plan. This deck is really using Bone Picker as a way to transition from the control deck to the beatdown. The first couple turns are about stabilizing the board or setting up for good future turns via Heart of Kiran and Liliana. That’s not to say it can’t start attacking early, because it still has good aggressive draws with Scrapheap Scrounger, but realistically that will only be a subset of games, rather than plan A.
Bone Picker functions as a one-two punch with removal spells here. Fatal Push a small thing and then boom—here’s a 3/2 flying deathtouch for B. Have access to BBB? Grasp into Bone Picker sounds good to me!
In addition to all the removal you can also use Bone Picker as an insurance policy with Vehicles. Turn 3 you can play a Scrounger, then crew and attack with your Heart of Kiran. This was usually a bad play before because a Fatal Push would ruin your whole turn. Now you can just post-combat Bone Picker if your opponent uses Push on your Heart. Of course, if they’re really crafty they can just end-of-turn the Push, but you still dealt 4 damage in a deck with a bunch of reach via haste Dragons, Chandra, and Unlicensed Disintegrations.
I also love Bone Picker with Liliana, the Last Hope. Recurring deathtouch creatures just do so much, and Bone Picker is surprisingly good at protecting planeswalkers. You can go from a board where you have a planeswalker facing down 2 creatures to one where you resolve a removal spell and Bone Picker to stabilize for very little mana. Its efficiency just lends itself to many different roles. Bone Picker offers a way to fight off large creatures after removing small ones, and that catch-up potential packed into an otherwise aggressive card is a fantastic upside.
As you can see, this new Delver card is powerful and I’m excited to see the different ways it sees play in Standard. Almost as exciting are its Eternal format prospects. Delver made the leap into Modern and Legacy. Will Bone Picker follow? Only time will tell.