Delver is one helluva deck isn't it?
Hopefully you've read Brad Nelson's article on the subject here. Together our articles should form a more complete picture of the format and how to fight the little Insect that flies off with all the trophies. I'm going to go over the non-Delver decks in Standard and how to best fight Delver with them.
There's a huge difference between me talking about how to fight Delver and being able to beat it consistently. Some lists that I've seen have lacked the tools to beat Delver entirely but even once you get those tools that doesn't mean you'll succeed. Delver has a way of "stealing" wins with tempo and might just be matched up favorably against your favorite archetype regardless of what you do.
Anyway let's get to it!
I happen to like Zombies. B/U is fine but I prefer B/R for a few reasons. The main problem I have with B/U is its vulnerability to Vapor Snag. In my opinion the curve in B/U is higher than it should be.
Just because you're splashing Phantasmal Image doesn't necessarily mean you need to play Diregraf Captain. It might seem good in theory seeing as how it's a Zombie and adds a significant amount of reach but it's not necessary. Is Captain really going to deal more damage than just playing an additional two-drop? Zombies isn't a swarm deck so the +1/+1 bonus isn't entirely relevant.
One of the easiest ways to beat Delver is to swarm them. However you need to swarm them with legitimate threats. Something like three or four Grizzly Bears isn't going to get the job done but when you start backing them up with Honor of the Pure (assuming those bears are white) or Gavony Township then Delver is in trouble.
One of the problems with facing Delver is that curving one-drop two-drop three-drop might not do much. Their one-drop is bigger than yours and your curve can get broken up by Mana Leak and/or Vapor Snag pretty easily. At that point Snapcaster Mage will put them firmly in the driver's seat.
A deck with Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves will do a much better job at achieving the swarm victories against Delver than Zombies. The main things Zombies has going for it are the incremental reach and the fact that Gravecrawler and Geralf's Messenger are great in combat. Of course it's because of decks with Birds that Delver decks should probably play Gut Shots.
Here's the list I used in a playtesting session:
- 2 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 3 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 2 Fume Spitter
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 1 Highborn Ghoul
- 2 Skirsdag High Priest
- 1 Stormblood Berserker
This list is pretty solid despite being 61 cards. There were several things that I wanted to try out and it worked out well; I'm still not sure what I can cut.
The plan vs. Delver is to kill everything while nickel and diming them. Because that plan is best B/R is better than B/U. You want more interaction and fewer creatures. Brimstone Volley is way better than Diregraf Captain trust me. Realizing this is step one to having a fighting chance against Delver.
I'm pretty sure Falkenrath Aristocrat isn't good against Delver. At times it's been good against me but most of the time it doesn't do enough for its casting cost. Still it might be similar to Patrick Chapin's Cruel Ultimatum Theory. He felt that Cruel Ultimatum made his deck so good against other decks that he could skew his deck towards beating Faeries.
It's the same way now. Your removal can fight most ways the Delver deck will try to beat you but that alone isn't enough. Several decks try this approach and it's a mistake. Decks like U/B Control might have a good Delver matchup in theory but in practice (against prepared opponents naturally) it doesn't work out that way.
Just like U/B Control Zombies is adept at killing creatures. You just need a way to close before they can recover with more threats Moorland Haunt or equipment. Aristocrat is good at achieving that goal. Even though it's not good against Vapor Snag or Gut Shot that should be ok. They've probably used Vapor Snag on an earlier creature and if you have anything else in play Gut Shot isn't going to do it.
Post-board you can side in things like Manic Vandal that make their equipment plan unreliable.
Overall I'd say that of the decks out there Zombies is the best equipped to deal with the Delver threat. Regardless you need to practice the matchup preferably against most of the different Delver builds to make sure you're where you want to be. The Esper Delver with tokens matchup can be tough but that's why you should play a lot of Ratchet Bombs.
Delver of Secrets and Geist of Saint Traft are the cards that allow them to race. Once you kill those they can still fall back on equipment. Barring that they still have Moorland Haunt to grind you out. If you have a decent board presence their Haunt will stem the bleeding but won't allow them to trade with your guys or race.
Remember—killing their threats is step one but it's just a piece of the puzzle. You still need pressure.
Of these Humans and W/B Tokens are the most prevalent. The biggest mistake I see players make with Humans is having the wrong game plan. They think that Mana Leak into Fiend Hunter into Hero of Bladehold will get it done but that's far from the case. As a Delver player I love fighting those draws.
Against Zombies Delver will typically have to burn Vapor Snags early to not fall behind on board. When Humans gets its "controlling" draws Vapor Snag is often left without a target. A Human deck relying on Hero of Bladehold to do most of the heavy lifting is going to be severely disappointed.
Before Grand Prix Orlando I was boarding in an Act of Aggression just punish those who relied on Hero too much. Imagine my disappointment when notable players Matt Costa and Ben Friedman who were in my bracket towards the end of the tournament were actually siding out Hero of Bladehold against Delver!
I think that's mostly become the norm now but I was impressed that they had figured out their "best" card was actually their worst card. They knew they had to take a Zombies-esque approach to beating Delver despite Zombies not even being a deck yet. Elite Vanguard previously hailed as "not good enough" or "unplayable" made their maindeck and didn't ever hit the bench despite the abundance of Gut Shots.
There's a trend developing and it's "be aggressive be able to deal with their threats and don't let their Vapor Snags be good against you."
Wait that's exactly what Tokens does! Going into Pro Tour Dark Ascension I knew that if I played any ol' Delver deck Lingering Souls was going to be my worst matchup. It didn't really matter what deck had Lingering Souls because if they had it it was going to be tough to win. In the end I ended up playing Lingering Souls myself to compensate.
Well you know what wins the Lingering Souls mirror? Anthems and lots of em.
Back when Mirrodin Besieged came out I was looking for a sweet deck to play in an SCG Open Series so I built and wrote about Kuldotha Red. It gained a lot from the new set and seemed worth writing about. When I got to the event site the StarCityGames.com booth was sold out of Pyroclasms and Ratchet Bombs. I played against opponent after opponent that had very hateful cards in their maindeck just because I wrote that article.
A similar thing happened with W/B Tokens. The deck was virtually pre-made in Dark Ascension so obviously it got a ton of hype. Players tend to shy away from the "best" deck especially if it's an unknown quantity like W/B was. What's the best build? How do we fight hate? Neither of those questions is easily answered so it might just be easier to stick with what you know.
Seeing as how W/B wasn't putting up many good finishes it was heralded as one of the biggest flops in Magic history. It's not the decks fault guys! W/B was being hated out because it was worth hating out. When every single opponent has sideboard Ratchet Bombs it's going to be a long day and I don't blame people for not playing Tokens.
A few weeks ago the hate was dying down but with Lingering Souls making a comeback as Corrosive Gale disappeared from sideboards the hate will likely return. The time was likely right for Tokens to make its strength known but that time has again passed. Ratchet Bombs and Corrosive Gales will be prevalent again.
That doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't play Tokens though. Your game 1 matchup is great against most decks and Hero of Bladehold and Sorin Lord of Innistrad are pretty good against the hate cards. The main selling point is that decks like Delver don't typically play Corrosive Gale or Ratchet Bomb because it will kill their own Delvers. That means that Lingering Souls plus an Anthem is going to be game over a lot of the time.
Find ways to dodge the hate against other decks and maybe sideboard Stony Silence against Delver decks. They definitely have equipment and if they have Ratchet Bomb it gets even better. If they don't you probably win anyway.
- 3 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Daybreak Ranger
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 1 Thrun, the Last Troll
This is one of those decks that should in theory beat up on Delver. They have removal for Delver Geist and equipment and even have four(!) Sword of War and Peace. It wouldn't surprise me if Hetrick defeated several Delver players on his way to Top 8 but I haven't minded playing against G/R while playing Delver.
Here's the problem: its threats are ineffectual. Delver might be able to control your side of the board better than you can control theirs especially post-board. Huntmaster is a 2/2 if they have a Vapor Snag. Trying to transform it against a deck full of Snapcasters and Thought Scours is a losing proposition.
Strangleroot Geist is a fine brawler much like Geralf's Messenger but it's much worse against Phantasmal Image. Depending on how many cards I have to bring in I could see not bringing in Phantasmal Image against Zombies. Copying a Messenger means that their Messenger is going to deal you seven points of damage minimum. At least when you copy a Strangleroot Geist it's not hitting you that hard and you can block immediately.
Past those two what does G/R have for threats? Zenith for more mediocre cards? Daybreak Ranger is a fine man most of the time but he can't do it on his own. I feel bad whenever I lose to a Daybreak Ranger but whenever I draw a single Vapor Snag next to a single Snapcaster Mage and they can't win because of it? I laugh.
If Daybreak Ranger were the be-all end-all of Delver we would all know it by now. That just isn't the case and the fact that Daybreak Ranger can't guarantee victory even if it lives should be a testament to how bad Diregraf Captain is. Three-drops that don't give you any value if they get bounced or killed or don't automatically win you the game when they live (like Geist of Saint Traft) probably aren't worth playing.
So how do you make G/R better? Thankfully we have Brian Kibler for that!
- 2 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 3 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Blade Splicer
- 1 Daybreak Ranger
- 1 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 1 Inferno Titan
- 1 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 1 Vorapede
- 2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
The three major things I want to touch on are Gavony Township Blade Splicer and Thalia Guardian of Thraben. Each of these three plays an important role in fighting Delver. First we have Township which I touched on earlier. Given enough time Township will take over no matter how meager your creatures are to begin with. G/R is effectively thirty mana sources and incredibly threat-light but Township fixes that. The only issue I have with Kibler's list is that you don't necessarily have time. You need some removal for Delver and Geist.
Thalia helps give you time but not in a great way. You might slow down their development but it won't stop them from casting threats. Again removal would help.
Blade Splicer might seem "bad" because Vapor Snag is fine against it. If your token doesn't get Snagged immediately you know they probably don't have one. Even if it does it means that's one less Snag for any future Daybreak Rangers or Huntmasters and you still have a three-drop around to Pod away.
If I were playing Kibler's deck and wanted to hate on Delver I'd find room for some removal. Gut Shot might be better than Galvanic Blast because of the mana constraints and another Metamorph wouldn't be the worst idea either.
That said I'm sure Kibler can and will refute this.
Another thing that could help the Delver matchup at least in the G/R deck is the addition of Faithless Looting. Once your cards trade off in the early turns it's highly probable for G/R to just flood out. Looting should keep the gas coming. In Kibler's case he has plenty to use his mana on with Birthing Pod and Gavony Township so he probably doesn't need or want it.
- 2 Wurmcoil Engine
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Inferno Titan
- 1 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Archer or Akira Asahara as he's known in the real world expanded on Daniel Unwin's Frites update with a crazy sideboard. I'm not sold on the idea though. From my experience Frites needs help in the control matchup and I'm not sure Primeval Titan does that well enough. However Garruk Primal Hunter is great against those decks.
It's probably more important to talk about the Delver matchup though eh?
Much like Kibler's deck Asahara uses Gavony Township this time in conjunction with Lingering Souls to give him board presence and a backup plan. Unfortunately he had to cut one for a Kessig Wolf Run in order to save a sideboard slot which I don't agree with.
You'd think that a tempo deck with counterspells would crush a Reanimator deck but in practice that isn't quite the case. Turn 1 mana guy into turn 2 mana guy plus spell openings are very powerful. Lingering Souls is also very good especially in combination with Gavony Township.
The correct play from the Frites side is often trying to cast a fatty then cast Unburial Rites and then finally flash it back while playing around Mana Leak. Once an Inferno Titan or Elesh Norn Grand Cenobite is in play for a turn it shouldn't matter if it gets Vapor Snagged—you'll just put it back into play the next turn.
Seeing as how I want to hard cast my boom booms first I started to think that maybe four Elesh Norns is overkill. You really want that first threat you cast to cost six instead of seven as a turn is usually all they'll need to beat you.
As for the sideboard it seemed like Raph Levy was unhappy with his Delver plan but ultimately fixed that by playing Swords Strangleroot Geists and Thrun the Last Trolls. Other people I know didn't seem to like that plan very much either. Larry Swasey just posted an article here about his sideboard plan which includes Grim Lavamancer and Huntmaster of the Fells. I'd say that while Lavamancer is fine it's far from solving all the problems and Huntmaster doesn't seem very good at all.
This is a deck that I want to work more on in the near future.
- 4 Solemn Simulacrum
- 2 Acidic Slime
- 4 Grave Titan
- 2 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 3 Primeval Titan
- 1 Glissa, the Traitor
- 1 Thrun, the Last Troll
Gold Queues were back on Magic Online for a few days so obviously I had to get my fix. I thought Delver would make short work of my opponents but I kept running up against a similar deck to the one posted above piloted by Lewis Laskin. He stomped me repeatedly.
At the end of our four matches I couldn't help but wonder if he was a bad U/B Control deck or a good one. After all he was mainly using U/B's arsenal against me and I could beat them so what gives? Granted I was running below expectation and he seemed to always have the perfect draw to brick wall mine but he was crushing me.
I think the main thing to consider is which is better vs. Delver—green and red cards or blue ones? Think Twice and Forbidden Alchemy should keep the gas flowing and are good with Liliana but are those actually better than Huntmaster of the Fells and Rampant Growth?
Based on prior experiences I would've chosen the blue cards as being more threatening but maybe I was wrong. U/B doesn't have any problems with siding out Mana Leak leaving us with more or less a straight comparison—card drawing or threats and acceleration?
Cedric Phillips played this Conley Woods concoction at Grand Prix Salt Lake City and didn't fare too well. I think the reason for his downfall was not enough removal. Consider Team CFB's Wolf Run list from Pro Tour Dark Ascension with five sweepers four Galvanic Blasts and Huntmaster of the Fells. Cedric had some Day of Judgments and Go for the Throats but that wasn't enough even when backed up by Lingering Souls.
I feel like his deck is taking a step in the right direction but I'd be far more inclined to play the Wolf Run Black list above than touch this one. Ramp needs to kill everything and then close the door quickly and Cedric couldn't do either of those particularly well.
At first this looks like a normal U/B Control deck but something seems out of place...
Is solving the Delver matchup really as easy as playing four Shimmering Grottos and three Ancient Grudges? As a Delver player I'd like to think not. You could point out that some Delver lists don't even play equipment but traditionally those versions are much easier for U/B Control to defeat.
Ultimately your options are either play an aggro deck with removal and cheap threats or play a control deck with removal and inevitability. That's the problem with U/B Control—you can keep killing their stuff but have no way to actually lock up the game. Grave Titan is actually pretty good against the Geist versions of Delver.
You can't just sit back and trade especially in a post-board game. Delver will side in Celestial Purge Dissipate and Jace Memory Adept and suddenly they're a better control deck than you. It doesn't seem fair but it's reality.
If you're looking for a true control deck you should check out this "masterpiece":
There are a few game plans at work here. First and foremost is kill everything. If that doesn't seem plausible Faithless Looting away a fatty and an Unburial Rites. At the very least they'll have to keep Mana Leak mana open for the rest of the game. If neither of those works out we have Lingering Souls as a removal spell triple Time Walk or win condition.
Post-board against most decks I'll morph into a pseudo Tokens strategy with Intangible Virtues. When staring down a Geist of Saint Traft or Insectile Aberration Lingering Souls or Timely Reinforcements still might not be enough to stop them. Intangible Virtue is huge in those situations. It also counters a Curse of Death's Hold and attacks opponents at an angle they might not have been ready for.
Counterspells aren't great right now. Titans are at all an all-time low and control decks aren't exactly popular either. Even if they were Sun Titan one-ups most of those decks anyway. I used the slots that would otherwise be devoted to Ramp and Control to shore up soft spots with cards like Nihil Spellbomb.
You can maindeck Ancient Grudge and probably play a second because Faithless Looting is just that good but Spellbomb oddly enough solves some of the same problems. If they're building a giant Runechanter's Pike Spellbomb is just as good as a Grudge if not better. Gravecrawler and Geralf's Messenger can also be problematic at least in game 1 so having an answer is nice.
I built this deck because I liked the Five-Color Control deck Michael Jacob and I built a while back I like Sun Titan and I like Faithless Looting. Regardless of "pet" cards I actually thought the deck might be fine again and I wasn't entirely disappointed.
Phantasmal Image and Whipflare do a good job at keeping Geist in check while the Reanimation package gives you free wins against non-blue decks. In some of my games the mana was a little weird or I felt a turn or so behind but I was winning most of my matches.
Popularized by MarthaJones on Magic Online and Caleb Durward at Grand Prix Orlando it's hard to say what this deck actually is. Perhaps PV could explain whether this is aggro aggro-control control or midrange...
EdB is a man I trust and he says it's good so who am I to judge? I wouldn't guess that it has what it takes to compete with Delver but maybe once you add up all those crazy cards it works.
As I said earlier this isn't an article about decks that beat Delver. It was more of a look at some of the decks that tend to perform better against Delver than anything else and the reasons why. Right now Delver is by far the most advanced deck in the field all because it has the most people working on it by far. You can tell that's true by the large amount of different versions of Delver out there and how each has a plan for the mirror. Can you say the same about any other deck out there besides Wolf Run Ramp?
Between my and Brad's articles hopefully we've given you some direction to take.