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Reid’s Guide to Legacy: Delver

My goal with this guide over the coming weeks is to paint a picture of the Legacy format, and today we are going to focus on Delver decks, which are a prominent part of the metagame.

Table of Contents

Part I: An Introduction to Legacy
Part II: The Defining Cards of Legacy
Part III: Choosing Your Deck
Part IV: Using Cantrips Properly
Part V: Graveyard Decks
Part VI: Combo Decks
Part VII: Prison Decks
Part VIII: Delver

Legacy Guide Part VI: Delver

Most of Legacy’s aggressive decks are built around the same little blue creature.

Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration

Delver of Secrets decks are the best way to be aggressive in Legacy for two basic reasons. The first, quite simply, is the card Delver of Secrets. Wild Nacatl was the best aggressive creature in Magic for many years, and Insectile Aberration offers comparable stats and flying for a smaller deckbuilding cost. The second reason is that blue is generally the best color in Legacy, and specifically the best color for an aggressive shell. Let’s examine why this is true.

Early on in this Legacy Guide, I covered some of the best and most defining cards in the Legacy format. Right at the top of the list were Brainstorm (along with its cousins: Ponder and Preordain), Daze, Force of Will, and Force of Negation. If many of the best cards in the format are blue instants and sorceries anyway, then Delver of Secrets couldn’t be a more natural fit. You can even pitch it to Force of Will!

Specifically, having Brainstorm and the other cantrips allow the Delver decks to function as well-oiled machines. You keep your density of spells high for “blind flipping” Delver, or you can use Brainstorm or Ponder to stack an instant or sorcery on top of your library in order to guarantee transforming. The cantrips also allow you to build your deck with a low land count (often only fifteen sources of colored mana), because you can comfortably keep one-land opening hands so long as they contain a Brainstorm or Ponder. Additionally, having control over the top of your library allows you to shuffle away extra lands when you draw too many, facilitating an extremely efficient deck filled with one- and two-mana spells, that rarely runs out of gas.

Blue also has the most effective disruption in Legacy, with all-purpose permission spells that are good against a wide variety of strategies. In a format as wide open as Legacy, this is extremely valuable. Why build a disruptive deck by choosing one card that’s good against Strategy X, one card that’s good against Strategy Y, and one card that’s good against Strategy Z, when you can simply have Daze and Force of Will which are good against everything?

All things considered, the odds are stacked in favor of blue players in Legacy, and aggressive Delver of Secrets decks are among the best and most direct way to put the format’s blue cards to use.

One hallmark of Legacy’s Delver decks are their strong sideboards. This is something that makes them much different from the single-minded beatdown decks of Standard and Pioneer. Delver players diversify their gameplans with lots of one- and two-of sideboard cards that allow them to attack from new angles, dismantle combo decks, and punish opponents that overdo it on creature removal spells.

Although Delver of Secrets itself is a ubiquitous card, and although all Delver decks share a familiar shell, there’s still plenty of variety within the category of “Delver.” Let’s look at a few of the most popular ones.

Temur Delver

To me, no deck encapsulates the spirit of the Legacy format like Temur Delver. This deck takes the concept of efficiency to an extreme with the lowest possible land count, and the highest possible concentration of cheap spells.

Temur Delver is designed to play the leanest game of Magic possible, and forces the opponent to play that game with them. Wasteland, Stifle, Lightning Bolt, and cheap permission spells allow Temur Delver to trade off resources at a blistering pace until both players are whittled down to nearly nothing. From that point, the deck with the ability to operate on one or two lands–and the ability to shuffle away excess lands via Brainstorm and Ponder–is almost always going to beat the deck with the more complex, ambitious gameplan.

The traditional creature base of Temur Delver is Delver of Secrets, Nimble Mongoose, and Tarmogoyf. However, as Water_Wizards’s decklist shows, there’s plenty of room to customize. In addition to Hexdrinker and Brazen Borrower, you might see Dreadhorde Arcanist, Young Pyromancer, Hooting Mandrills, True-Name Nemesis, or a number of other fringe options.

U/R Delver

U/R Delver uses a similar shell, but is even lower to the ground, and more focused on attacking the opponent’s life total. You’ll find more burn spells, and the option for hyper-aggressive card choices like Monastery Swiftspear.

In my own experience with U/R Delver, I was unhappy playing with basic Mountain, instead preferring an extra source of blue mana. I was very happy with Price of Progress and Sulfuric Vortex in my sideboard, which unload damage in ways that may opponents aren’t prepared for.

Sultai Delver

By now, it’s likely that I’ve made some Delver experts angry with me by repeatedly referring to this category of decks as “aggressive.” The truth is that all Delver decks, including the Temur Delver and U/R Delver decks featured above, are capable of taking on a defensive posture and winning longer games. In that way, Delver decks are their own animal which cannot be entirely categorized as “aggressive,” “controlling,” or “midrange.” It’s part of what makes them so difficult to combat.

Sultai Delver leans a little more into the midrange category. There’s more emphasis on threats that cost two and three mana, including Oko, Thief of Crowns. It trades in the red burn spells for versatile answer cards like Abrupt Decay, which is particularly important in a world of Chalice of the Void, equipment, and opposing planeswalkers.

In some ways, Sultai is a little less focused on the low-to-the-ground Delver gameplan, and instead emphasizes individual card quality. As such, there’s tremendous flexibility. Some players go a little smaller with Stifle and Spell Pierce. Some will prefer to reach up the curve for True-Name Nemesis or Leovold, Emissary of Trest. Others might prefer Snapcaster Mage or delve creatures like Gurmag Angler. Still others will skew towards black mana in order to play the extremely powerful Hymn to Tourach and Liliana of the Veil, although this has become less common with the prevalence of Veil of Summer.

There’s a virtually limitless number of ways to build a deck within the Delver shell. Mixing colors and crossing strategies is very possible. So if you’re a Delver player, feel free to experiment with different ideas and make your deck your own. If you’re preparing to face Delver decks in a Legacy tournament, then you should learn to expect the unexpected, since you’ll never know when an opponent might surprise you with a Stifle, a Hymn to Tourach, or an unconventional sideboard card.

It’s rare to see pure aggro decks in Legacy. With their ability to play both offense and defense, and to win both long games and short, Delver strategies are generally the best and most well-rounded ways to be attacking with creatures. They are a pillar of the format, and you’ll have to contend with them any time you want to make a deep run in a Legacy tournament.

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