Owen’s a Win – #GPNJ Blue/Red Delver

Last week I played in GP New Jersey and it was one for the record books, literally. I have always fancied myself a bit of a Legacy expert and before I ever played a Grand Prix or a Pro Tour I was one of those guys that thought Legacy was the only form of pure Magic. Since then, I have grown as a player but never shed my love of the format and I always relish the opportunity to play Legacy. My weapon of choice this time around was UR Delver with Treasure Cruise. It was the boogeyman heading into the event, and I thought the deck was ridiculous. Here’s the list I played:

The main deck is a real thing of beauty! It’s your standard 4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4 mix of cards that maximizes consistency. I’d say the thing that sets my list apart from most others is the lack of basic lands. I’ve playtested the deck quite a bit and watched it perform on coverage and one thing I almost always noticed was that people rarely attacked the Delver decks mana base, and that drawing one Volcanic Island and one Island instead of two Volcanic Island was a huge liability.

It’s sad to watch a deck unable to do whatever it wants to do every turn, within reason. When you have Monastery Swiftspear and Lightning Bolt in hand and you just can’t cast them because your lands won’t let you it’s a real travesty—and completely avoidable. I found it offensive that most of the Delver lists floating around had two basic Island and a Mountain.

In none of my tournament matches did I want to fetch for a basic and it never came up that my deck didn’t have enough mana producing lands in it. Sadly I did still run one Underground Sea which wasn’t great to draw but I felt it was an acceptable risk since it gave me access to Cabal Therapy.

I was really concerned about the combo matchups. When I used to play Jeskai Delver, I had 4 Wasteland and 4 Spell Pierce in addition to Daze and Force of Will which let me feel much more comfortable with my game one matchup against combo decks. Now I had replaced those cards with Gitaxian Probe and Treasure Cruise which are cards that can only aspire to turn into other cards. This is fine, but it’s worth noting that when you put more cards in your deck that can only ever draw cards you have fewer cards that impact the game. Often you use all your card draw and die with a hand full of card draw.

Cabal Therapy seemed like the perfect card to fix this problem. It pairs well with Gitaxian Probe and Young Pyromancer, and felt like a card people wouldn’t expect. Smart combo players wouldn’t try to win on turn one or two against a Delver deck for fear of Daze, Spell Pierce, or Flusterstorm but instead they would try to build up a good hand and wait until they had more lands in play. Cabal Therapy was amazing against that strategy.

I also liked that against players who would play the games more slowly that I would have more time to use my own Ponders to find my sideboard cards. I was able to draw it more often due to the nature of the matchups and a card that was more impactful when cast in the later stages of the game. It came up once against High Tide where my opponent would Merchant Scroll and pass the turn allowing me to always hit on my “blind” Therapies.

I decided to sideboard one copy of Electrickery and it was strong for me during the event. The main logic behind this card is to allow you to catch up from behind against an opposing Young Pyromancer and to provide some utility against Elves. I saw some people running Pyrokinesis, which is a card near and dear to my heart but in the end I decided against it. I didnt think the deck had enough red cards to reliably pitch to it and in the mirror match it would be a brutal beat if you ever exiled a card to cast it and got 2-for-1’d by a Hydroblast. At least with Electrickery you were still just trading 1-for-1.

I was impressed with Sulfuric Vortex as well. At first I worried that it might underperform since my opponent would surely be siding in Blue Elemental Blast against me and thus never be stone cold dead against it but it was strong for two reasons: it completely ignored creature removal against Miracles, a matchup I expected to be problematic, and it made me less weak to Batterskull. I felt good about the fact that I had a card I was happy to sideboard in against both Miracles and any kind of Stoneblade control deck.

Historically my Delver decks have always had one Wear // Tear in the sideboard to help out in matchups where equipments are an issue and I decided to honor that trend here with a Smash to Smithereens. In the Grand Prix my Smash to Smithereens had a (player) kill count of 1. I’ve seen people play some Smelt in their lists but I expected a non-zero number of players to try and beat Delver with Chalice of the Void for 1, and it’s totally unacceptable to put a card in your deck to kill artifacts and just be unable to kill one of the most problematic artifacts you could reasonably expect to face. I’m sure there are actually hundreds of cards competing for the slot of “optimal artifact destruction” but I prefer Smash to Smithereens since it supplements my existing burn plan.

I was nervous about playing with Monastery Swiftspear, but in the event she overperformed. In multiple matches I was seen attacking for SEVEN damage with it as early as the third turn of the game. It’s possible my opinion of it it skewed based on my results but one of the reasons I felt it was so strong was due to my opponents’ perceived fear of it. I would play turn one Monastery Swiftspear and people would kill it with Swords to Plowshares as soon as possible.

I always try to avoid having too-few threat cards in Delver, and for that reason I sucked it up and played with the Swiftspears, acknowledging that four Delver of Secrets and four Young Pyromancer just wasn’t going to do it. It felt great to have a one-mana creature that people felt the need to spend a removal spell on, making my next threat even better. It’s also worth noting that the value of prowess goes way up the more creatures you have with the ability, so the Swiftspears get better in multiples. It may sound basic to explain in that way but it came as a surprise to me, one Swiftspear meant all my Gitaxian Probes dealt 1 extra damage, but once you have two the effect is multiplicative.

Three Grafdigger’s Cage may have been slightly too many as I never got paired against Dredge and they never really had a strong impact on the game against the Elves and Reanimator decks I faced off against. I usually err on the side of caution with regard to Dredge hate. It’s so easy to lose to them by not sideboarding enough cards and so easy to beat them by only trying a little. I was happy to play Grafdigger’s Cage over cards like Tormod’s Crypt or Leyline of the Void as it can also stop Green Sun’s Zenith and Natural Order.

I was really excited to play with Forked Bolt, but in practice it was a bit of a letdown. I liked that it gave me the opportunity to come from behind in the mirror and kill Young Pyromancer and a token, or somehow kill a Delver of Secrets and another card. It allowed me to have more answers to the Elf deck, but ultimately it was too weak and mostly just dealt my opponent damage.

I was extremely happy to play eight total burn spells and moving forward with the deck I feel it’s mandatory to play at least eight cards in your deck that cost one mana and deal 2 or more damage. When you get paired against decks that feature Delver of Secrets, Stoneforge Mystic, and Deathrite Shaman you want as much burn as you can get your hands on. In fact, the burn gets even better because they allow you to trade resources in the early game and spit out as many cards as you can into your graveyard so you can be the first player to fire off a Treasure Cruise. I saw some players running Chain Lightning in that slot and I feel it’s likely the correct card to play.

I was sad to see Jeskai Delver win the Grand Prix, since I’ve championed that deck for so long and decided not to play it myself this time around. It does make some doubt creep into my mind about the possibility that I picked the wrong deck and that that negatively impacted my finish. The reality of the situation is that my deck was good, I went 12-3 which is a totally reasonable finish, and almost all my losses were as a result of my own bad plays. The tournament ran ridiculously long on the first day and I only got to sleep for six hours before having to return to play the next day. I’m not usually one to complain about outside factors, but this time maybe it truly was my long flight or lack of sleep. Either way, I didn’t feel great about my play on the weekend and I hope to tighten up before the World Championships in France and the World Magic Cup only a few days after that.

As always, thanks for reading and wish me luck in the upcoming events—it’s going to be a wild ride.

Owen Turtenwald
qazwsxedcrfvtgbyhnuj on Magic Online
OwenTweetenwald on Twitter

1 thought on “Owen’s a Win – #GPNJ Blue/Red Delver”

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