Delving into Legacy Delver

I love playing tempo. Beating my opponent’s powerful spells by winning before they come down is right up there with still having all deez extra counterspells. When I’m playing tempo, the joke’s on my opponent for their ambitious mana base and comically expensive spells. So it’s no surprise I have a soft spot for Delver of Secrets.

However, when my tempo gets disrupted, I need to have a plan for recovery. The biggest problem I’ve had with Legacy Delver has been the inability to achieve raw card advantage. Ponder and Brainstorm are great at finding the right pieces at the right time, but when I start off with three cards, no matter how much cantripping I do, I will always end up with three cards. If my tempo plan encounters a hiccup against decks that generate real card advantage, it is difficult to recover. Cards like Ancestral Vision, Hymn to Tourach, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Liliana of the Veil, Stoneforge Mystic, Counterbalance, Dark Confidant, and my own Force of Wills allow my opponent to grind me out while I am limited to one card a turn. If my early threats meet removal spells, it is bad news bears.

How have Delver decks tried to overcome this problem?

RUG Delver plays Nimble Mongoose to dodge removal. As long as the opponent resolves no comparable threats, no number of Abrupt Decays, Swords to Plowshares, and Bolts will stop a ‘goose on the loose. RUG forgoes a powerful late game in order to go hard on mana denial, including Wasteland, and Stifle for opposing fetchlands. RUG is a pure tempo deck.

UWR Delver takes a more midrange approach, with Stoneforge Mystic plus Umezawa’s Jitte and Batterskull to generate card advantage. True-Name Nemesis with equipment gives UWR a powerful late game if turning Delver of Secrets sideways doesn’t work out. Swords to Plowshares is powerful a midrange spell, but would be mediocre in an all-out tempo deck like RUG.

BUG Delver also takes a journey to the middle of the range, with Liliana of the Veil and sometimes Hymn to Tourach. Additionally, BUG commonly includes True-Name Nemesis or Tombstalker to dodge removal.

UR Delver usually forgoes resilient threats and mana denial in favor of Goblin Guide, Grim Lavamancer, and additional burn spells. Instead of including resilient threats, ways to recoup card advantage, or mana denial to prevent the opponent from resolving more expensive threats, UR plays like a burn deck. Once the board state belongs to the opponent, it finishes with a flurry of face-burn. Additionally, Young Pyromancer offers a potential card advantage machine, but dies to literally everything.

There is an inherent tension between Delver of Secrets and midrange cards. Delver is powerful because it costs one mana, so it is at its best in a pure tempo deck with a lot of disruption, like RUG. So far, there has been no way to gain card advantage without slowing down, so Delver decks have either played pure tempo with the drawback of potentially running out of cards, or sacrificed tempo for more staying power.

But not any more! Enter Khans of Tarkir.

This weekend Bob Huang cruised to first place of the SCG Open in New Jersey with UR Delver, playing no less than eight main-deck cards from the new set.

Bob Huang – UR Delver

Treasure Cruise is a perfect way to gain raw card advantage without losing tempo. Assuming exiling seven cards is not a problem, Treasure Cruise refuels your hand like no other Delver-playable spell in Legacy.

Brainstorm is particularly good with Treasure Cruise. It fills up the graveyard before Cruising, shuffles away excess lands drawn off the Cruise, and shuffles away excess Cruises. Additionally, Cruises are easy to pitch to Force of Will, and keep the spells flowing for Young Pyromancer, forcing your opponents to brave the element(al)s. Also of note, the keyword delve has inherent synergy with Delver of Secrets

Isn’t four a lot of Cruises, because delve has diminishing returns? For example, Stephen Mann also made Top 8 in New Jersey, but played only two Treasure Cruise in his BUG Delver deck:

Stephen Mann – BUG Delver 

Unfortunately, Treasure Cruise does not interact well with Deathrite Shaman or Tarmogoyf. Perhaps this is why Mann played fewer Cruises in this BUG shell, but he still felt the card was strong enough to play, and it rewarded him with a Top 8 finish.

Conversely, Huang’s deck doesn’t care about maintaining the graveyard, so four doesn’t seem at all unreasonable.

When I saw Huang attack with a hasty red one-drop with a strange picture, I assumed it was a promo Goblin Guide. But no, Huang’s deck also included four copies of another new toy from Khans—Monastery Swiftspear.

Swiftspear is excellent here. It is strictly better better than Goblin guide on any turn when casting a spell pre-combat, and can easily crack for 3 or more. Between Gitaxian Probe, Ponder, Brainstorm, burn spells, and Treasure Cruise, this seems easy to achieve.

Mr. Huang’s deck looks awesome, and I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say about it!

However, Treasure Cruise is not the only draw spell with delve in Khans. Gus Schade included two copies of Dig Through Time in his Sneak and Show deck that he made Top 8 with at SCG Open Indianapolis, and Gerrard Fabiano included one copy in his Top 8 BUG Delver deck in New Jersey.

Gus Schade – Sneak and Show

Dig Through Time seems particularly effective in a combo deck that requires specific pieces to win. I expect Treasure Cruise to be the delve spell of choice for Delver strategies, because Cruising for one blue instead of digging for two blue is a big game, and many of the cards in Delver decks are interchangeable. That said, Dig seems fantastic in Sneak and Show as long as you can avoid shuffling your graveyard away with Emrakul. Imagine your opponent’s face when you topdeck Dig into Griselbrand and Show and Tell.

I am greatly looking forward to battling with Khans in Legacy—no longer having to compromise between tempo and card advantage in my Delver decks. The only sad thing about Treasure Cruise is that it is not friends with Nimble Mongoose, so when we go on the pleasure Cruise, the ‘goose may no longer be on the loose.

See you Thursday at 8 p.m.!

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