Owen’s a Win – UWR Delver

I played in the SCG Invitational last weekend, and although I didn’t quite make it to the Top 8, I did have a strong showing in the Legacy portion and that continued on into the Sunday Legacy Open.

I went 2-1 in the main event and 7-2 in the Open, which, while not quite good enough for the big bucks, is a solid record, and a 70%+ win rate will get you far.

I played UWR Delver, and the deck was outstanding. At my last big Legacy event, I played RUG Delver and I just couldn’t quite get it to work for me. Too often I faced down matchups like Shardless BUG and Jund which felt close to hopeless. The main concern I have with RUG Delver is its weakness to [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]. Before you sideboard, your best outs are [card]Force of Will[/card], [card]Daze[/card], or two copies of [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]. This version of Delver is far better equipped to deal with [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] given that it has maindeck [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card] and access to [card]Rest in Peace[/card]. Here is the list I ran:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Ponder
4 Brainstorm
4 Spell Pierce
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Stoneforge Mystic
4 Delver of Secrets
1 Batterskull
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
2 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Wasteland
4 Arid Mesa
2 Polluted Delta
1 Flooded Strand
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Scalding Tarn
3 Volcanic Island
4 Tundra
2 Meddling Mage
2 Red Elemental Blast
1 Pyroblast
1 Grim Lavamancer
3 Rest in Peace
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Geist of Saint Traft
2 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Wear and Tear[/deck]

The most noticeable omission from this list is [card]Stifle[/card]. I have always hated [card]Stifle[/card], and my suspicion that it’s just too weak was confirmed when basically every person whose opinion I respect on RUG Delver told me the exact same thing: “It’s a bad card but I feel like I have to play it.”


Well, I don’t feel like I have to play it, and I have to say the deck runs much more smoothly without it. I have noticed that my opponents often play very, very aggressively around [card]Stifle[/card] at all times, which makes me satisfied with my decision to cut it, both because it would be uncastable much more often if they always play around it, and it’s a huge advantage if they assume I have it when I don’t.

I played a match recently against a Shardless BUG deck that contained zero basic lands, he decided his best play for the first turn was to play a fetchland, so he went ahead and fetched in his main phase to avoid getting [card]Stifle[/card]d. I simply played a [card]Wasteland[/card] and destroyed his land which would never have been possible if he just played a fetchland and passed the turn, next turn the exact same sequence happened. Did my opponent make a mistake? Probably not, but maybe. When you have zero basic lands in your deck and your only lands are fetchlands, you’re stuck between playing around [card]Stifle[/card] and [card]Wasteland[/card], and since I never have Stifle in my hand, he gets blown out half the time (assuming he chooses to play around both Stifle and Wasteland equally, which I doubt, since Stifle seems more devastating when stranded in my hand).


I believe 4 [card]Ponder[/card] is mandatory in any deck with [card]Delver of Secrets[/card], sometimes I see people playing with 3 or 1, which is simply wrong. Ponder is just an overpowered card, it’s that simple. They banned it in Modern for a reason—it’s cheap and fast, and it does too much for a card that only costs one mana.

I also really appreciate the fact that when I build my deck with 4 Ponder and 0 Stifle, I never have to make a tough decision on turn 1 to choose to Ponder or leave my mana untapped, and in the event my opponent doesn’t fetch or plays a fetch and passes I just lost my mana and opportunity to cast Ponder. Putting Ponder in your deck does amazing things for the overall consistency of your deck and allows you to lose less games to mana screw and mana flood over the course of a long tournament. Plus, in a format like Legacy, being able to regulate which cards you draw helps make sure you draw [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] more often against a deck like Elves and less often against a deck like Sneak and Show.

[draft]lightning bolt
swords to plowshares[/draft]

I looked at many different UWR Delver lists, and the number of removal spells they played was almost entirely random. I saw many people playing two or three [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card] and three or four [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], when the best mix is your standard 4 and 4. I like maxing out on these, because suppose you get paired against a deck with [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], [card]Dark Confidant[/card], and [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card]. Do you just not use [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] on [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] in fear of them having a [card]Dark Confidant[/card]? Seems like a quick way to lose to [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card].

I prefer to have too much removal so that I can cast it aggressively and get the value out of my mana and get the tempo boost as soon as possible. [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] is not conducive to playing a long grindy game, and in a format like Legacy with cards like [card]Wasteland[/card] and [card]Daze[/card] you really want to do everything as soon as possible while preventing your opponent’s deck from functioning. I like to have as much removal as I can get my hands on so I can just cast it ASAP.

[draft]Spell Pierce[/draft]

I see [card]Spell Pierce[/card] in other Delver lists, usually in small numbers. I expected a ton of Sneak and Show and other combo decks so I went with the maximum number. I used to play 2 in the main deck, and that quickly became 3 main and 1 sideboard, all the way on to 4 main. The card is invaluable, because when it counters a spell it does it very efficiently and can range from just plain good, countering a [card]Brainstorm[/card], to a total blowout when you snag cards like [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card], [card]Natural Order[/card], or [card]Show and Tell[/card].

One thing I like to do when evaluating a card for a certain matchup is to look at exactly how it will match up against the opponent’s cards on average. For instance, with Spell Pierce, you should look at how many cards it can target from the opponent, and with the exception of Elves and Goblins, an overwhelming percentage of the time my opponent’s deck will have between 20 and 30 noncreature cards, which means that Spell Pierce can act as hard removal for 1 mana that stops their best cards. When Spell Pierce counters a spell that you actually want to stop it is absurdly powerful, a card that counters Sneak Attack and has a casting cost of one is broken and the cost of putting it in your deck is very low. I like Spell Pierce against a wide range of unfair decks like Reanimater, Sneak and Show, and Storm, while it has good utility in a Delver mirror match.

[draft]Stoneforge Mystic[/draft]

[card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] was also a large draw for me to play this deck. I wanted to have a creature that was cheap and could win the game in a short amount of time, and Stoneforge Mystic delivers. I really like how she lets you play a deck with a low land count while also having a ridiculously powerful late-game strategy. RUG Delver has a cap on what it can do, it’s bar-none most powerful play is to put a 5/6 Tarmogoyf into play. With Stoneforge Mystic, you can put Jitte on [card]Batterskull[/card], and no matter how long the game goes you have an infinite number of threats that the opponent has to deal with by removing your artifacts or killing you, and not many decks in Legacy can remove an artifact in game one. I also quite liked that it was a threat that could not be affected by [card]Rest in Peace[/card], unlike [card]Tarmogoyf[/card].

[draft]Rest in Peace[/draft]

I played 3 copies of [card]Rest in Peace[/card] for the express purpose of shutting down decks like RUG Delver and Shardless BUG. I was hoping that having Rest in Peace in play for the entirety of the game would make [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], [card]Nimble Mongoose[/card], and [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] useless, and when you have a card that sits on the table and blanks your opponent’s best 8 creatures it’s very hard to lose the game. With the deck filtering it would be easy to avoid having two copies clogging up my hand in the late game. I’ve run into some issues with [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] destroying my [card]Rest in Peace[/card], but there is nothing you can do in the format to make a deck like this better against [card]Abrupt Decay[/card], you have to accept the fact that they have a great card against you and move on. Also by coincidence you sometimes get paired against decks like Reanimater which get crippled by Rest in Peace, for whatever reason this deck seems to be gaining in popularity so having a bunch of graveyard hate in your sideboard is a good place to be.

[draft]Grafdigger’s Cage[/draft]

I played with 1 [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] in my sideboard and I feel strongly that this is the correct card to play and that it’s smart to play exactly one. The primary reason for this card is against Elves, since having the Cage in play means they can never cast [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] or [card]Natural Order[/card], and the game plays out very differently than normal. Once your opponent can’t do anything broken with [card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/card], your [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card] and [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]s become much more effective and you can fight them in a fair game where they do not win very often. It also slows the game down so [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] and [card]Umezawa’s Jitte[/card] can take over.

[draft]Grim Lavamancer[/draft]

The rest of the sideboard is fairly straightforward and I cut some [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] in the 75 because I aimed to be a Rest in Peace deck, and I also added more spot removal to the main deck to compensate for his loss. 1 is still a fine number, since he is still a great card in any creature match, and there’s serious value in having him when he goes uncontested and starts to mow down [card]Baleful Strix[/card]’s all day.

[draft]Sword of Feast and Famine[/draft]

The one [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] is great, because having [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] get [card]Batterskull[/card] or Jitte is too weak against combo or control decks, so just getting the Sword and turning four of your creatures into [card]Hypnotic Specter[/card]s allows you to play a game where you protect yourself early with Force of Will, Daze, and Spell Pierce only to survive long enough to rip their hand apart. It’s very important to have a strong proactive game plan against combo decks and not let them sit around for very long sculpting an unbeatable hand. I often aggressively [card]Daze[/card] and [card]Spell Pierce[/card] their search cards like [card]Brainstorm[/card] and [card]Ponder[/card].

I will continue to tune and test my different builds of Delver in Legacy and if you guys liked this article I can come up with more leading up to GP DC. As always, let me know what you think in the comments!

Owen Turtenwald
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OwenTweetenwald on twitter

1 thought on “Owen’s a Win – UWR Delver”

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