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The Return of Standard Delver

Delver of Secrets is back in Standard! This is not literally true, but technically and spiritually the deck is back. I am of course drawing a comparison between Delver of Secrets and Honored Hierarch, but this time I’m focusing on bringing back Delver the archetype.

What is “Delver”?

Delver is more than a Magic card. It is a mindset. To play Delver is to stick a cheap threat and play the rest of the game at instant speed. It’s about shifting from aggro to control, and back to aggro as needed. It’s about keeping the opponent guessing whether you have counter, bounce, burn, or draw spells—or some other trick. Delver is about getting ahead on tempo and disrupting the opponent until they run out of time.

Standard offers all of the tools to play Delver. We have the cheap threats, the bounce, the burn, the counters, the utility, the tricks, and the mana to put it all together in a consistent deck.

Mana

The first thing to consider is the mana because that sets the stage. With fetchlands for battlelands we can easily play 4 colors without giving up speed, life, or consistency.

I’ve chosen green as my base and will be ignoring black, as Dark Jeskai is one of the top decks that is already getting a lot of attention, and green offers some unique alternatives. However, Blue Jund, Dark Bant, and Green Grixis are Delver-ish options.

If you are on a budget, this is probably not the best deck for you, as the lands make things tick. But if you are determined to make it work, then Evolving Wilds and painlands are the best alternatives.

Threats

A Delver threat should be cheap enough that it can come down on turn 1 or sneak into the game later while keeping counters up. I like Honored Hierarch for this reason and find Mantis Rider, Savage Knuckleblade, and Hooting Mandrills to be good creature options. Anything that is vulnerable to sweepers or Crackling Doom loses points for me.

Burn

Burn is important to a Delver deck for slowing the opponent’s board, forcing attackers through, and reaching across for the last few points of life. Lightning Bolt isn’t in Standard but there are some great options.

Bounce

Bounce is useful for a Delver deck that tries to win on tempo advantage. A cheap bounce spell can net a favorable mana difference when returning a bomb, and the opponent might not live long enough to use that card again.

Disperse is a fantastic metagame call right now. It fits right into the deck, and is especially effective at clearing Hangarback Walker, blowing out Nantuko Husk, and breaking up Atarka Red’s pump combo. It can bounce flipped planeswalkers, trade with a token, or even bounce your own permanent to save it from removal. This card is an all-star.

Counters

Counterspells are a must for any Delver deck and there’s a wide variety of options. None of them are as versatile and strong as Mana Leak, so it seems that a selection based on expected metagame is appropriate. Clash of Wills is the most universally useful, but it can be hit-or-miss. Negate, Disdainful Stroke, and Horribly Awry can all be great but sometimes blank. I think a mix is best.

Draw

Delver decks would prefer to have access to good card draw, so if the game slows into “draw-go” back and forth, you can use your mana to pull ahead. Eternal formats don’t have options that are nearly as good as Standard’s, with access to Dig Through Time OR Treasure Cruise. These cards are amazing.

Utility

Delver decks can make good use of instant-speed utility effects that have versatile options for specialized situations. Standard has a lot of these, from the Charms to the Commands.

Tricks

Finally, a Delver deck can capitalize on surprising tricks. Your opponent can take everything into account, but a game-breaking Fog or pump effect can throw off their math and end the game all at once.

Delver rewards intimacy from the pilot. The more you know your deck, the better you will do. I have made my selections to cater to my preferences. You can use my list as a starting point, but I encourage you to tinker with it further. I have found that Anticipate and Dig Through Time find the one card I need, and that one card may be different for others or your local metagame. So I encourage you to adjust.

Standard Delver

deck list image

Sideboarding with Standard Delver

This deck has nearly unlimited sideboard options to metagame and next-level opponents. All things considered, I am personally a big fan of the sideboard juke.

All it takes is Rattleclaw Mystic and Jeskai Ascendancy to transform into a combo deck. Both of these cards are good independently in the right context, so I like this plan B.

Beyond that we have our usual options of counters, sweepers, threats, tricks, and removal. Cut whatever is least useful from the main and bring in whatever is most useful. What is useful is up to your imagination and determination.

delver sideboard

The strategy is performing well for me and I’m excited to unleash my video results on Friday. It is competitive in the spirit of a highly maneuverable aggro-control deck—a really fun option for Standard.

Delver vs. Ascendancy Combo

I’ve received questions about how this deck compares to the pure combo version of this shell. First of all, this is not an update, but an entirely different deck that caters to a different play style. So if preference is your concern, go with what suits you.

I have noticed certain advantages and disadvantages to this version, however. The red matchup is much better—it even seems good. All the Shocks and Disperses accompanied by creatures make for a much easier matchup, rather than trying to assemble a fragile combination. But, this version is much weaker to Hangarback Walker and Siege Rhino, having to win through them whereas the combo version can generally ignore these cards and go over the top.

Overall, I haven’t decided which I think is more competitive as there are distinct differences. So I recommend choosing the one that looks more fun.

Let me know what you think in the comments, and stay tuned for the videos coming this week!

Discussion

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