What Does Delver Look Like After the Legacy Bans?

We are a week out from some pretty impactful Legacy bans. So far it’s looking pretty exciting. As I tend to play a lot of Delver in general, it felt appropriate for me to talk about the archetype this week since it was one of the primary two decks addressed in the bans. I have seen a lot of uncertainty surrounding the archetype, and a fair amount of doomsaying regarding the deck. While I understand the sentiment, I think Delver is absolutely going to continue to be one of the best decks. There are a lot of options when it comes to building it and many different questions to address. However, the tools are absolutely still there and a good version of Delver certainly exists.

There’s a lot of different information to cover this week. First, I will explore my first takes on the archetype. Then, I want to take some space to address some more common questions I have seen. Finally, I want to briefly touch upon the Legacy Challenge I played last weekend, where I put some of these thoughts to practice. 

 

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First Takes on Delver

While losing Expressive Iteration was a hit for the archetype, it didn’t look anything like a deathknell to Delver. The most recent version of Delver still contained the most powerful threat base the archetype has ever seen. Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Murktide Regent are still obscene cards and leaning into them heavily appears to be a good direction to take. As far as I could tell, this would be the core spell-base of the best Delver decks going forward:

  • 4 Delver of Secrets
  • 4 Dragon’s Rage Channeler
  • 4 Murktide Regent
  • 4 Brainstorm
  • 4 Ponder
  • 4 Lightning Bolt
  • 4 Force of Will
  • 4 Daze

If these 32 cards look familiar to you, it’s because this was still fundamentally the core of previous Expressive Iteration variants. To me, this demonstrated that despite the significance of the loss, there was still an extremely potent core to the archetype. Now, I don’t view anything outside of Brainstorm as an untouchable sacred cow of the archetype. However, I think if you’re looking to step away from this core, you need to have a good reason.

To illustrate this, let’s take a look at the threat base. This has been one of the most common questions that I have been asked: Is [insert non-MH2 threat] good again? Cards like Young Pyromancer and True-Name Nemesis are fan-favorites, and many people have been disappointed that they have been largely out-moded. Going into the new format, people want to explore whether some of the old guard of past Delver decks still have what it takes to succeed. However, when I look at these threats and compare them to the MH2 threats, it begs the question: what are they bringing to the table that warrant cutting/trimming from the core?

I think there are reasons to do this, namely as a response to heavy graveyard hate or spot removal. However, there is no doubt that any non-MH2 threat is weaker than what MH2 is bringing to the table, ful stop. This returns to the question: why do you think it is correct in your expected metagame to step away from the de facto best threats? There may be an answer for this question that makes sense and qualifies as a good reason, but I personally don’t have a good reason for doing so (for what it’s worth, “because I want to” is a perfectly valid reason).

Returning to building a week zero deck, tuning this core resulted in a number of interesting questions. Does the deck need a way to replace Iteration? How many removal spells should be played? Does this open up the room for soft permission? If so, which are the best spells? Is Mystic Sanctuary still a strong option? How many lands should be played? How many Mishra’s Baubles? Is Pyroblast still worth it in the main deck?

Honestly, that’s a small selection of the questions that have permeated the topic for me. It’s really difficult to get a sense of what is “correct” before there is a clear indication of how the format develops. While I could make some educated guesses, knowing anything for certain would be a challenge. Instead, I turned to my instinct and ended up here:

Post-Ban Legacy Izzet Delver by Rich Cali

 

This was founded on some old-school Delver principles, the idea being that you would lean into the aggressive element of the deck very heavily and protect your threats. Playing four Baubles helps you get delirium, Minor Misstep fits into the deck’s plan better now, and you can cast Daze a lot more proactively since you need fewer lands in play. While there were some strengths to building the deck like this, there were absolutely some weaknesses, as well. 

The most prevalent of these is that control may be more difficult, since they can effectively keep pace with one-for-one removal and there’s no longer a clear path to pulling ahead of them on cards. Minor Misstep did help, since that allowed you to trade with Plow at every stage of the game, but I wasn’t sure it was enough. I was unsure about whether the options in Izzet were good enough and Minsc & Boo seemed like a hammer in the matchup. The cost of this was two-fold: you need a Tropical Island in the deck and it’s fairly narrow. Despite that cost, I found M&B to be incredible in the matchup, and did everything I wanted to. 

Overall, I was very impressed with this approach and did not see it as completely necessary to find a replacement for Iteration. However, considering that we have seen the full potential of the archetype once card advantage enters the picture, I thought exploring replacements would be worthwhile. There are a number of options, such as Reckless Impulse, Chart a Course and Predict. Predict and Chart a Course are both a bit “feast or famine,” where they work if things are going well (threat in play) and aren’t as good otherwise. Reckless Impulse doesn’t have that downside, but disincentivizes you from playing with countermagic, and can be generally a bit awkward. I haven’t had the chance to play with Impulse yet, but I fully intend to since it does seem strong. However, in the first week I found Predict the most appealing, so that’s where I spent my time.

Legacy Izzet Predict Delver by Rich Cali

 

This is functionally very similar to the first list, except that it included Predict. It’s a solid card that can be kind of awkward. Having a way to refill some cards is really nice in a lot of matchups and will often be key if opponents are heavily interacting with you. Again, I’m still leaning into the M&B plan, since that was my primary concern in the new metagame. Again, there are some questions here. How many Baubles/Predicts should be played? Is 19 lands better with Predict in the mix? What about Mystic Sanctuary?

Again, I don’t have any clear answers to these questions, but overall I think it’s solid but my initial pull was towards a version without a card advantage spell.

The Return of the Third Color?

This has been one of the most common talking points, and for good reason. Generally, it’s a good sign when there are multiple viable versions of Delver decks that each have their positives and negatives in a format. 

As I talked about in the past, I usually see two reasons to look towards extra colors: the threats or the answers. As I discussed, the Izzet colors have the best of both of those at the moment, with cards like Murktide Regent being the best threats and Unholy Heat being an excellent removal spell. However, viewing the reasons as that binary is a bit reductive. Instead of viewing it as “threats or answers,” it may be better to ask “what gaps can additional colors help address?”

This is essentially the guiding question that led me to include M&B, since that addresses a specific gap against control. While I don’t think Tarmogoyf is a better threat than the MH2 options, I think there could be a situation where Tarmogoyf is appealing, although I wouldn’t want to make that commitment before the metagame shaped up. Black does fill some meaningful gaps as well, since Thoughtseize and Plague Engineer are the best at what they do.

Additionally, the Delver archetype now has a meaningful gap in the card advantage space. This could result in an entirely different approach to the archetype that utilizes the power of Uro more effectively:

Legacy Temur Delver by Rich Cali

 

While there is some appeal to building the deck like this, Uro does work against the Delver plan in many ways. I think there’s a better way to build this, but I have been testing this and there is certainly some power there.

Either way, there is some room to explore regarding the third color and I recommend strongly considering what gaps you’re looking to fill/address when making this shift.

Is Stifle Good Again?

I’ve been through a number of different Delver bans, and there are generally three patterns that I notice from the community:

  1. “Delver is dead now, I don’t think the archetype can recover”
  2. “This means that [insert three-color Delver deck] is good again.
  3. Stifle is back!

I have already covered the first two, but the “Return of Stifle” perspective is always omnipresent during these first few weeks. People love Stifle. It’s a relic of an iconic time in Delver’s history and playing with it is very enjoyable. However, as I have written about many times, Stifle is a pretty poor card by modern-day standards. It’s predicated on the notion that your opponents will play on your terms, fetching when you need them to, and doesn’t have nearly as much versatility as it used to. Cards are really powerful these days and plenty of decks have the tools to rebuild from an early mana attack. 

Again, the same question arises: why is Stifle better in the post-ban metagame than it was before? It doesn’t fit into my expected metagame particularly well, nor have any other purpose beyond mana denial. In fact, it was better positioned in the last format, since it was effective against Initiative to some extent. All of this is to say that I do not think Stifle is poised to make a comeback at this point.

Legacy Challenge

Since I was liking some of the conclusions I was coming to, I decided to take a crack at the weekend Legacy Challenge. Initially, I was ready to queue up with my zero card advantage list, since I was liking it. However, I was starting to be convinced that the M&B was taking up a bit too much narrow space in the sideboard. I wanted to see if there was an option that would be functional against control without needing to dedicate so much space to the plan. This led me back towards Predict, and here is where I ended up:

Legacy Predict Delver by Rich Cali

 

I was unsure if Counterbalance would be effective enough against control, but having a sideboard card that overlaps against a few matchups seemed important to me. Even with Predict, 18 lands felt alright and I was comfortable making that choice.

As for the event, I ended up going 5-2, losing the last round to end up in 12th. Here is the breakdown of the event:

  • Four-Color Control (2-1) Win
  • Elves (0-2) Loss
  • Mono-Red Sneak (2-0) Win
  • Mono-Red Prowess (2-0) Win
  • Mono-Red Storm (2-0) Win
  • Bant Initiative/Tempo (2-0) Win
  • Turbo Arena Rector (0-2) Loss

The Legacy metagame is as wild as ever. I think this was reflective of a week one post-ban metagame. The Top 8 of this event (and the Saturday Challenge) was chock-full of unfair decks. I think for the time being, trying to address the faster decks in the format is more important than something like control, so I’m going to leave M&B on the sidelines for now. I do think things will shift, now that people have a better image of what to expect, and I fully anticipate control and Delver picking up a lot of steam over the next few weeks.

General Weaknesses and a Promising Start

After this week of testing, I think one of the biggest weaknesses of the deck is the sorcery count. This makes it generally difficult to get delirium in a lot of circumstances and this has come up fairly frequently for me. Additionally, it makes Murktide a bit awkward since there are fewer spells with which to grow it. This leads me to want to make the following change in my list from the Challenge: -1 Bauble, + 1 Preordain. That doesn’t address the delirium issue, but it does help Murktide a bit (as well as the blue card count).

In closing, I think the bans are proving to be very good. I think Delver continues to be a great deck and a lot of the metagame has opened up. If things continue as they did in the Challenge, I don’t necessarily think that’s a positive long-term change, since having a format of all combo/Ancient Tomb is not particularly the best we can ask for. However, I think that metagame makes the most sense when people don’t know what’s going on and expect a lot of interesting changes over the next few months. 

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