Today, I’ll be discussing Blue Based Aggro Control featuring Delver of Secrets decks in the MTG Pauper Metagame. The play blue because it’s great strategy has traditionally proven itself to be a winner in #MTGPauper and even on the heels of a B&R that specifically targeted blue decks, Islands won’t be denied!
JULY 13th B&R
It’s a reset of sorts and I tend to view the move as a nerf to blue across the board. Mystic Sanctuary functioned as a “broken” card/ It was essentially an inclusion in every deck playing Islands and provided a whole swath of decks with a looping endgame at virtually no cost other than playing decks that were already great. The ban doesn’t hinder one specific deck, but rather knocks all blue decks down a peg relative to the field.
Expedition Map isn’t really the broken thing that Tron based decks do, rather it is a card that lends consistency by helping them assemble Tron more often. The ban doesn’t address the broken things Tron can do (Tron-up, deny opponent’s combat step, or execute several unbreakable endgame loops), rather the ban is designed to curtail the deck’s overall consistency.
LEVEL 1: PAY-TO-PLAY TRON
Before I get to my Delver lists, I want to be forthright. As a player, I 100% believe Tron is the best and most powerful deck in the format by a significant margin. It’s not “unbeatable” by any stretch of the imagination, but I do see the strategy as objectively more powerful, better positioned, and harder to hate out than other top tier strategies.
Anybody who follows me on social media (@Briandemars1) knows my reaction to the July 13th bans was that I thought despite losing a card that I believe Tron actually improved its position in the metagame as a result of the DCI’s choice of ban targets.
Here’s why I thought that:
- None of the powerful things that Tron can do were taken away.
- Expedition Map is typically a card that is at its best in Tron’s worst draws (particularly on the mulligan) and not important in Tron’s strongest draws (of which we see more thanks to the London Mulligan Rule).
- The Ban to Mystic Sanctuary is a bigger hit to Blue Aggro Control in the head-to-head against Tron than Map since it takes away Blue’s advantage engine. Now, instead of locking things up with a Sanctuary there will be plenty of scenarios where Delver will have to win a legitimate topdeck war against a deck full of Boom Booms that all set up Tron’s flicker loop.
My initial thought when I saw the bans was that the DCI was playing kingmaker with Tron, and my snap reaction was: “Whatever, I’ll just play some deranged Tron deck.” I’ve played a ton of Tron in the past and own most of the cards from these previous level builds with the exception of two, brand new, non-expansion staples:
I logged into MTGO to complete my deck and was shocked and horrified to see acquiring two playsets of these brand new commons would set me back 100 tickets (roughly $100 USD). So, let me get this straight…. If I want to play the obvious best deck in the format I need to spend $100 on staples that have been recently planted in MTG Pauper via non-expansion sets?
When I considered how many leagues I would need to post a winning record in to break even on building the deck (which I already mostly own, mind you) and weighed it against how little I enjoy playing Tron on MTGO (it makes me feels stressed and anxious as I constantly check the clock while trying to execute dozens of repetitive loops against the chess clock), I came to the conclusion I’d take a hard pass.
If you are Tron-ing…. More power to you because it’s your time to shine and Tron is lit; but on the other hand, I can’t help but feel there are a ton of Pauper fans who play for reasons other than the pure joy of spending $100 bucks on two playsets of brand new cards and today’s article is written with those players in mind.
DELVER IS FINE
Instead of buying eight new Tron cards I was able to spend a fraction of that amount to update and complete Mono Blue Fae, Dimir Delver, and Izzet Delver. Granted I consider myself an above average Magic player, but I’ve been able to post positive MTGO League equity switching between my blue trio and keep in mind that is while learning how to tune, mulligan, and play these decks in a new field and switching between them.
I don’t typically play Weekend Challenges (which I understand have a higher representation of Tron) and typically stick to leagues or open play vs friends and play mostly for personal enjoyment and to unwind in the evenings. MTGO Pauper tends to fill the role that before the pandemic would have been satisfied by spending an evening slinging cardboard at the LGS. It’s something I do because I enjoy it and not for any specific results oriented goal.
For leagues, I think Delver is a great choice but if you’re making the investment of time and money to play in larger weekend events it’s important to keep in mind you’ll likely see more Tron.
As I would tend to expect, on the heels of the Ban, Aggro decks have been an extremely popular choice and have performed well out of the gate. Notably, Stompy is an archetype that has been surging in terms of both being played and performing well all the way into the highest levels of Pauper play.
If you’re leaguing, I think it makes a ton of sense to play a Delver list with a splash for efficient removal and bullet sideboard cards as opposed to going straight Mono Blue which has a more difficult time dealing with the cheap, bulky creatures I tend to associated with Stompy and Affinity (two archetypes that along with Tron have seen a renaissance on the heels of the ban).
MONO BLUE DELVER
All Delver decks share a core of powerful spells from which the central strategy is derived. Mono Blue is sort of the purest form, since it relies almost entirely on the strength of the Delver synergies and doesn’t branch into other colors for additional tools.
Pauper Mono-Blue Fae - Brian DeMars
Nothing too fancy going on here, but Mono Blue has the advantage of using only basic lands. Part of the reason Stompy and Burn are such effective strategies in Pauper is they have great mana. Think about what kind of sequence a 2+ color deck needs to cobble together in order to roll out its offense with such ease, and we get to do it every single time. On paper, I tend to think that Mono Blue matches up poorly against a wide array of strategies but it’s easy to underestimate how good playing with the lead can be in a deck designed to take advantage of it.
I’ve constructed my Mono Blue list to take every opportunity to quickly seize the lead and force my opponent to play from behind into my interaction. I find Mono Blue’s match ups tend to depend greatly on how smooth my draw is compared to theirs. The moral of the story with this deck is given a large sample size we should be able to play from ahead often which translates to a positive match win percentage.
The downside, is of course that we’ll be losing a fair amount of games where it feels like there’s nothing we can do because we’re playing from behind with a deck that is pretty bad at mounting a comeback. Mono Blue wants to race in almost every situation, and so it’s natural predators are decks that tend to be more aggressive, less reactive, and better at winning a foot race such as Stompy or Red Decks. If we want to shift the scales to our advantage against Aggro we’ll need a splash for reliable removal.
I’m not actually sure whether I prefer Dimir or Izzet Delver, as they both provide similar upsides but have access to doing it in slightly different ways. I guess, which deck I prefer tends to depend a lot upon the match up but I think both versions are solid.
Pauper Dimir Delver - Brian DeMars
While I’m playing Delver of Secrets in this deck because it’s a straight up powerful threat my Dimir build is very controlling and can become significantly more so against a wide array of decks post sideboard.A card that I’ve been extremely impressed with in the Mystic Sanctuary-less metagame is Frantic Inventory.
It’s basically an Accumulated Knowledge that only counts copies in the caster’s graveyard. Without the ability to loop Sanctuary for value, lue decks need some source of card advantage to leverage as games go long – otherwise, what’s the point?
Snuff Out is another card that is fantastic in this deck and a reason to play UB. Anything “free” has a ton of potential to swing a game one way or another and a removal spell is certainly a great thing to play without mana.
Another nice option black provides our Blue shell is access to Edicts after sideboard vs. Hexproof creatures. I’m also a big fan of the fact that the deck can run Echoing Decay to help against Boros Midrange (which is a predator of Blue-Based Aggro control) as it deals with Seeker of the Way but more importantly a bunch of Flying Spirit Tokens.
Echoing Decay is also a great tool against various spam the board aggro decks, since whenever the opponent draws two of the same creature it scales up to a cheap 2-for-1.
I’m also a huge fan of Nihil Spellbomb since it is a great value tool against Tron, but also any other deck looking to leverage the graveyard. I really don’t like Relic of Progenitus in my Frantic Inventory decks for pretty obvious reasons and Dimir also wants to use it’s graveyard to fuel out Gurmag Anglers.
The strength of the deck is it’s quality of cards and fantastic selection. It adds fantastic removal options to the blue Delver shell, but adds some key lines of strategic interaction: efficient removal (that is good against either/or hordes or hexproof), graveyard hate, as well as Thorn of the Black Rose monarch beef from the board.
Izzet Delver is the list I spent the most time with and they way I ended up building it greatly informed my approach to Dimir Delver.
Overall, I think it’s fairly accurate to say blue and red are the best, deepest colors in Pauper and pairing them together in a “good stuff value deck” makes a ton of sense. There’s obviously wiggle room for exactly how each slot in the deck can be uses, but at the end of the day you’re going to have 75 quality cards at the ready when playing UR.
I think the biggest upside of Izzet is the quality of sideboard cards we have access to. Obviously, Red Elemental Blast is a tremendous help against decks with Mulldrifter such as Tron, and a straight-up dagger against Mono Blue.
The ability to field a full playset of BEB and REB is incredibly powerful. It is my opinion that in a match up where these cards “play” there is no individual card with a greater impact that a REB or BEB in terms of the cost to cast and the options they open up in a game. Blue and Black both have access to sweepers against Tokens and so that is a wash, but Red also covers the Artifact angle extremely well.
I’m on a split in favor of Smash as the moment because I’m using the card as a way to attack Tron’s mana rocks as well as being a great card against artifact land decks like Affinity or Fling Atog.
There isn’t a ton of post-ban metagame data available yet, and so I’ve gone with an array of tools that tends to reflect what I see in the leagues. Izzet doesn’t have Nihil Spellbomb to grind out Tron’s graveyard loops for value and so we need another approach to the match up. Obviously, Red Elemental Blast is a tremendous help and so choosing that second color to pair with the Core Delver Shell isn’t an obvious right or wrong question but rather has a fair amount of nuance.
It’s also of note that I’m playing an extra black or red source in both of my lists which is a little bit different from what the hivemind is doing with 2 sources. The reason for this is twofold: first we don’t need as many Islands to turn on Mystic Sanctuary since the ban. The second is that I’ve noticed a lot of Boros and Black decks (midrange) frequently bringing in land destruction to come after my splash sources. The games tend to go long and getting locked off the color that runs our removal package is quite bad. I’m also a big fan of bringing in some number of Blue Elemental Blast, because it’s a strong card in general, but specifically because it’s a fantastic answer to Boros’s Molten Rain.
TURN 1: ISLAND → use blue mana to do something.
I’m a fan of these grindy Delver configurations because I think they occupy a metagame space where they are slightly favored against the aggressive beatdown decks that tend to manhandle Mono U Delver and also have some legitimate options against Boros which is the natural predator of Delvers.
I think on paper, after working on the article and breaking these lists down that I’m inclined to say Dimir has a higher quality of cards and coverage, but Izzet is much better at being proactive and seizing the lead in a lot of match ups. I noted earlier in the article how underrated being able to seize the lead and play from ahead can be with decks like Mono U Fae and it’s certainly a dynamic Izzet can do fairly well because of how cheap and flexible its threats are.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON DELVERS
Overall, I’ve been extremely impressed with these various configurations of Blue Aggro Control. I think they are competitive against the metagame and a lot of fun to pilot and tune. I do think Frantic Inventory is a fantastic card that helps add some late game boom to an archetype that is looking to replace Mystic Sanctuary.
The other great thing about these Delver decks is that true to the spirit of the format they are all fairly inexpensive to assemble and don’t require a backbreaking investment of new “Mythic Rare Commons,” such as Thriving Isle and Bonder’s Ornament to be assembled which is a huge upside if you’re trying to learn the format on a budget.
It is also my assumption that playing with a splash is preferable in the metagame, since Blue and Black offer some terrific options that help shore up key weaknesses.
It’s week one after a ban but I’m a firm believer that beating Stompy and Affinity is a great place to be, as well as having a coherent plan for when you are paired against Tron. Since both Izzet and Dimir pass both of those criteria, I’m inclined to say that both will remain good choices and the primary criteria that would inform my preference for one deck over the other lies solely on Red Elemental Blast.
The biggest factor that would lead me to play one list over the other is “how good is Red Elemental Blast in the meta?” I tend to think it’s extremely good right now, specifically against Tron and other Delver decks. If the meta trends the other way, toward being Boros heavy, I’d be more inclined to shrug my REBS in favor of Spellbombs.
As good as Spellbombs are against Tron it’s important to note that without REB at the ready it puts a ton of pressure on Dimir’s Counterspells to stop Mulldrifters. Dimir is not nearly as good at pressuring (playing with the lead) and so it gives Tron a lot of time to simply jam Mulldrifters for value.
I’m happy to play either Izzet or Dimir against aggressive decks (but I think Izzet is slightly better in these matchup) but the true delineation is that I’d much rather be playing Izzet vs. Tron and Dimir vs. Boros or Mono Black. Granted, I don’t think Izzet is favored vs. Tron, nor Dimir favored vs. Boros, but the respective match ups are “less bad.”
So, if you’re choosing between Izzet or Dimir the biggest question to consider is do you expect to play against Boros or Tron more often. I also haven’t played these decks head-to-head, but I can say that having access to Frantic Inventory in the main deck is a huge advantage against other Delver decks that don’t. There’s a lot of trading off and raw card advantage in the late game is often the deciding factor. So, Inventory is a card that I’m expecting to play a significantly larger role in Blue decks going forward as a replacement for Mystic Sanctuary.