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This Week in Legacy: Introduction to Delver

Hello, everyone! Welcome to another edition of This Week in Legacy! Last week, we looked at a more general perspective of the Legacy metagame, but this week, we'll hone in on one of the more significant macroarchetypes of the format: Delver decks. This week (and every week following), I'll also feature a spicy deck at the end of the article!

Last week, Grixis Delver was one of our featured decks, and it indeed currently remains the most popular Delver variant. This popularity was not always the case. Perhaps the most recognizable and defining Delver deck for a long period of time was RUG Delver, and BUG Delver saw a lot of heavy play (and still does), thanks to the printing of some powerful cards in Return to Ravnica. UR Delver has also been very popular recently, thanks to some new additions. There are also a few fringe Delver variants around too, such as Jeskai Delver and 4c Delver. Nonetheless, let's have a look at all of the ways to flip those Wandering Ones and Fugitive Wizards!.

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RUG Delver

The granddaddy of all of the Delver decks, RUG Delver has existed in some incarnation since the start of Legacy. Once known as Canadian Threshold, due to its reliance on the powerhouse combination of of Nimble Mongoose and Werebear, while crediting its Canadian designers Lam Phan and David Caplan, the deck took the purest and most straightforward approach to tempoing out the opponent. Stick a threat, defend it, counter spells for free, destroy opposing resources, and then finish the opponent off with a flurry of Bolts. A list of Caplan's deck circa 2007 looked like this:


Although a powerful deck, and definitely a tier one deck at the time, Canadian Threshold lacked the threat density of modern RUG lists and also didn't have a threat that truly capitalized on the powerful tempo draws involving Daze, Wasteland, and Stifle. Then, Delver of Secrets was printed, making the deck's game plan fall into place. Compared to the rest of the Delver decks, RUG Delver is probably the most synergy-oriented, aiming for the whole deck to maximize tempo draws. There is no midrange backup plan of Deathrites or Young Pyromancer that we saw with Grixis Delver. If the deck reaches the late game and the ground gets stalled out or the deck's threats are depleted, the deck has to hope to burn out the opponent with Lightning Bolt. Nonetheless, out of all of the Delver decks, RUG is personally my favorite, though its popularity has waned in recent months, especially with Deathrite Shaman eating up all of Mongoose's fuel.

Nonetheless, the deck is always present in Legacy and continually places well in leagues. Here's a recent list that 5-0'ed by Shoe555, featuring the stock core plus flex slots filled with Fire // Ice, Forked Bolt, Dismember, Spell Pierce, and Spell Snare.

That's not to say there haven't been some recent innovations in the archetype. Gianluca Gazzola brought a very interesting take on the classical RUG Delver and placed seventh in GP Prague:

Notice the change in the threat base—Hooting Mandrills, True-Name Nemesis, and Vendilion Clique have replaced Nimble Mongoose, which matches up poorly against the Deathrite Shamans and Thought-Knot Seers of the world. However, losing Mongoose against Miracles is certainly significant, as forcing them to scramble for Terminus just for one creature was certainly nice. Nonetheless, this age-old Delver variant still has some legs, and I'd recommend it to anyone wanting to enter the format with the most classical approach to tempo.

BUG Delver

BUG Delver grew from variations of the classical tempo approach. Traditional RUG runs out of gas very quickly, so the card advantage machine Dark Confidant was a natural fit, with Smothers replacing Lightning Bolts. Existing simultaneously was Team America (a name many still adopt for modern BUG Delver decks), which was heavier on mana denial via Stifle, Sinkhole, and Wasteland. It also utilized Snuff Out as an additional "free'"spell to Force and Daze, and had a primary finisher of Tombstalker.

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These two variants eventually grew closer and closer together with the printing of Delver of Secrets, Deathrite Shaman, and Abrupt Decay. Deathrite naturally gets stronger as the game progresses, and Decay being two mana—compared to Lightning Bolt's one—caused BUG lists to gravitate more toward the late game as a tempo–midrange hybrid.

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It's also notable that although BUG Delver utilizes Force, Daze, and the typical cantrip suite, the rest of the deck is fleshed out with a different approach to tempo. Hymn to Tourach is a common addition, supplying card advantage and occasionally hitting lands to further the mana-denial plan. This approach makes the deck a "tap-out" tempo deck, compared to the instant-speed nature of RUG. Liliana of the Veil also commonly makes appearances to further this approach.

Hoppelars's 5-0'ing list is a strong example of BUG Delver that leans heavily on its midrange plan. Sylvan Library in the main deck to grind longer, along with Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the sideboard, indeed shows the deck's tempo–midrange duality.

That being said, Hymn, Liliana, and other slower spells can be cut to make the deck more closely aligned with RUG's pure tempo approach, similar to the old division between Dark Thresh and Team America. Unfortunately, Lightning Bolt is lost for reach, but this loss can often be made up via finishers like True-Name Nemesis.

Bennett Snyder placed with a Stifle-based BUG list at GP Columbus, for example.

UR Delver

UR Delver had always skirted around the edges of Legacy as a strange counter-burn deck. It wasn't until Khans of Tarkir that UR Delver reached its zenith. Young Pyromancer, Monastery Swiftspear, a pile of Bolts, and Treasure Cruise were a format-defining combination until Treasure Cruise met the ban hammer, as the UR combination had little reliance on the graveyard, unlike BUG or RUG. Bob Huang blitzed the SCG Open in New Jersey in 2014 with UR Delver during the first week Khans of Tarkir was legal.

You can see how busted the deck was in the finals . . . winning via racing Griselbrand?!

With Treasure Cruise banned, however, Grixis took over, thanks to the black delve threats that replaced the card drawer. UR Delver has seen a big resurgence recently, however, thanks to the newly printed Stormchaser Mage in Oath of the Gatewatch. Being a fast threat that synergizes with cantrips slants the deck to be more of an aggro deck (similar to Burn) with some light countermagic, rather than the tempo decks we've seen. Instead of Wasteland, the deck also abuses Price of Progress, an excellent card in the current metagame, with Eldrazi and three-color decks so prominent. UR Delver also does not get harmed much, thanks to its robust mana base featuring a plentiful amount of basic lands.

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The Bazaar of Moxen leg in Strasbourg featured UR Delver making a Top 8 appearance, piloted by Locoge David.

That being said, the aggression of Stormchaser Mage can be eschewed to create a more tempo-oriented UR Delver list, with Wastelands and occasionally Stifle. This style has great benefits in Delver mirrors and against other Wasteland decks, due to the ability to fit in basic lands. The deck has also seen some interesting additions, with Eli Kassis innovating within this spectrum of the archetype. His recent list features Thing in the Ice, while previous lists have also utilized Set Adrift!

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It's also notable that UR Delver is probably one of the better entry points for Legacy, as it can be easily upgraded into RUG Delver or Grixis Delver once Tropical Islands or Underground Seas are obtained. That being said, no longer should the deck be considered just a poor man's Grixis Delver. It has carved its own niche, with recent additions, and has placed incredibly well in both paper and online, making it a very respectable long-term choice.

Not to mention some new potential additions with Eldritch Moon! Has UR finally got its Gurmag Angler with a Treasure Cruise stapled to it?! Chaos Reveler may say so!

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4c Delver

Probably the next popular Delver variant is 4c Delver. Four colors, you say!? 4c Delver comes in a few forms, but is typically the BURG colour combination and can be thought of as "BUG-in-a-RUG." I mentioned previously how Stifle BUG lists lack the reach that Lightning Bolt provides. Luckily, Deathrite Shaman makes splashing extra colors very easy. Stifle also has great utility due to its ability to defend your fragile mana base from opposing Wastelands.

The threat base of 4c Delver can vary quite a bit and is truly up to personal preference. More traditional BUG-style threats are typical (e.g., Delvers, Deathrites, and Goyfs) but diversifying away from threats that rely on the graveyard by using Young Pyromancer, True-Name Nemesis, and Dark Confidant is also an option. Snapcaster Mage and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy have also been seen, since 4c lists are generally quite grindy and appreciate the card advantage these cards provide.

Depending on how the list is configured, Grixis Delver can also be considered a four-color list sometimes, as an extra Tropical Island and Abrupt Decays are occasionally incorporated into the utility slots. Also notable is how fancy you can get with sideboard slots. You have four colors to work with, so you can find some pretty spicy answers!

Daniel Signorini brought 4c Delver to a strong finish at GP Columbus, taking ninth place.

Jeskai Delver

The last Delver variant to look at today is Jeskai Delver, which blends the typical aggression of Delver, backed up with Lightning Bolts, with a powerful midrange–control gameplan of Stoneforge Mystic and True-Name Nemesis. It rose to greatest prominence after True-Name's printing, as the deck was seen as the best home for the obnoxious fish. Owen Turtenwald took down GP Washington DC with the deck, further cementing its place.

Unfortunately, unlike BUG Delver, which blends its tempo–midrange duality well thanks to Deathrite Shaman, Jeskai Delver can have difficulties drawing the wrong half of the deck and has fallen by the wayside. Having to utilize Swords to Plowshares while aggressively beating down with Delver or drawing clunky, expensive equipment in your 18-land deck (while needing to cast Daze) is certainly a problem that Jeskai Delver can face.

The deck does get access to sideboard cards most variants don't have access to. Although Jeskai Delver can have pretty horrendous combo matchups on game one, post-board, the deck can arm itself with both countermagic and hatebears, such as Meddling Mage and Ethersworn Canonist. It also gets some of the best graveyard hate, thanks to Rest in Peace, as well as the best color hoser, Pyroblast!

A typical list is something along the lines of Ark4n's 5-0ing list.

I mentioned that adding Deathrite Shaman is a nice way to bridge midrange and tempo though, didn't I? And, he also makes greedy four-color manabases possible, so . . . why not add some black to Jeskai Delver and create Dark Jeskai Delver?

Although it has an incredibly greedy mana base, this list is much more appealing, in my eyes. Deathrite really assists with accelerating out True-Name and getting a Umezawa's Jitte on him quickly, while also giving the tempo-positive mana advantage that Grixis and BUG Delver are so fond of. Although Deathrite's green ability is pretty hard to utilize (there's a Tropical Island), everyone knows that his black ability is generally the most useful in Delver shells, right?


So, that concludes our analysis of the Delver decks in Legacy! Hopefully, exploring these lists has been illuminating for those just venturing into the format, while also offering some interesting technology and refreshers to seasoned Legacy players. Next week, we'll continue establishing the general metagame by exploring it archetype by archetype, while also offering tidbits on how the metagame has evolved week-by-week. I'll see you there!

‘Til next time,


The Spice Corner

At the end of each article, I'll try and find some interesting (or terribly janky) lists to investigate. For this week, hopefully you've checked out SaffronOlive's Instant Deck Tech of BUG Opposition that Top 8'ed a Legacy Bazaar of Moxen event. It's very spicy.

Another interesting list I came across was what initially looked like an Enchantress list. Enchantress aims to utilize Enchantress's Presence and Argothian Enchantress to chain enchantment into enchantment and then amass an impenetrable prison. But this was a different deck abusing Enduring Ideal, harkening back to the Standard of 2006!


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