In my first article talking about Grixis Delver, we looked at the different cards that are typically found in the archetype. Today we are going to take a specific decklist and talk about the choices it makes. Then we can look at about how I typically sideboard with it and talk about how some of the more common matchups in Legacy tend to play. Finally we will examine some of the more common sequencing decisions you will have to make with the deck.
Before we dive in, let's take a look at my current iteration of the archetype as a reference point:
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
- 4 Delver of Secrets
- 1 Gurmag Angler
- 1 Snapcaster Mage
- 1 True-Name Nemesis
- 3 Young Pyromancer
Specifics About This Configuration
In general Grixis Delver lines up well against the combo decks that exist in Legacy, while struggling a bit against the more fair midrange decks in the format that are trying to generate value. I have tried to skew a few of the card decisions in this particular decklist I have been playing to keep the combo matchups strong while giving us a bit more game against the traditionally hard matchups.
This is why I am playing disruption like Cabal Therapy, which tends to retain utility in longer games, as opposed to something like Stifle that often becomes useless once the opponent has developed their mana a bit. I have also trimmed the fourth copy of Daze because I am a bit less excited about the mana denial plan against fair decks.
True-Name Nemesis is a card I have seen absent in a number of Grixis Delver lists and it is a card I cannot imagine playing without. It is exceptionally powerful in all of our matchups that tend to be difficult, often being able to steal a game entirely on its own when it resolves. If you expect any amount of fair Magic to be played, True-Name Nemesis is the best card you can have in Delver.
Legacy is a format with a lot of different decks. So many, in fact, that I could probably write an entire book about all of them and how Grixis Delver plays against each. For this section, I am going to cover the most popular archetypes in the current format. If you run into something not included here, you should be able to reference a similar deck to get a baseline of what you should be trying to do.
Spell-based combo decks like Storm are good matchups for Grixis Delver. We have a good amount of disruption and can apply pressure while disrupting. One of the most important things we can be doing in a matchup like this is using our "soft" counters like Daze to stop their setup. Our opponent will often have an extra mana the turn they are comboing off, so the best thing to do with Daze is to counter things like Ponders and Brainstorms in the early turns of the game. If we know our opponent's hand is especially bad, it is not unreasonable to Daze a Brainstorm simply to make them crack a fetchland so they are forced to keep some of their bad cards.
With our current decklist, we generally want to sideboard as follows:
Cards like True-Name, Kolaghan's Command, and Gurmag Angler are often too slow to be relevant for us. Lightning Bolt can sometimes shave a turn off the clock, but otherwise it's not great unless we expect a sideboard creature plan from our opponent.
Flusterstorm is one of our best cards in this matchup and is essentially a hard counter. Pyroblast does not counter any of our opponent's combo pieces, but it can be used to stop their cantrips, again, slowing their setup while we apply pressure. Null Rod stops all artifact abilities including mana abilities, turning off our opponent's Lotus Petals and Lion's Eye Diamonds.
Surgical Extraction is not the ace it is in some matchups, but it has some utility. If we can Surgically Extract our opponent's Infernal Tutors, they will often have a hard time winning the game. We can also use Surgical to simply look at their hand to know what to name with Cabal Therapy. Speaking of Cabal Therapy, sometimes our opponent will respond to a discard spell with a Brainstorm. Not only does Surgical let us look at their new hand before our Therapy resolves, but it also shuffles away the two good cards they hid on top of their deck.
This is another good matchup for Grixis Delver. Unless they have some insane start that involves Chancellor of the Annex, they generally are not resilient enough to win through the piles of disruption we bring to the table.
Sneak and Show
Another reasonable matchup for us that plays out similarly to Storm. Again, we want to be aggressive with our soft counters, because the turn they go off, they generally have an extra mana thanks to things like Lotus Petal and Ancient Tomb.
Our goal with Surgical Extraction in this match is generally to take away their Show and Tells and Sneak Attacks after we have Cabal Therapied or countered the first copy. Bringing in a second copy of Kolaghan's Command is not awful if we expect to see Defense Grid from our opponent.
Death and Taxes
This is a matchup that can be difficult for Grixis Delver if we are not prepared. Thankfully the decklist that we are playing is especially hateful towards fair decks leaning on artifacts like Death and Taxes. The fact that we are playing nineteen lands also reduces the number of free Wasteland wins Death and Taxes can sometimes get in this matchup.
Not only are our counterspells awful because of their copies of Aether Vial and sometimes Cavern of Souls, but in general, we just want as many cards as possible that play to the battlefield. This matchup often comes down to running each other out of resources, so having our topdecks be live when we end up slightly behind is very important. In general we do not want to use our Wastelands aggressively in this matchup. Not only do they make colorless mana for cards like True-Name Nemesis, but they also pay for the tax Thalia puts on our spells.
Top or no Top, people are still playing U/W Control decks powered by Terminus. The most important thing in this matchup is to try and minimize the impact Terminus can have against us. Even a single Deathrite Shaman can demand an answer, as it drains away their life total and makes their Snapcaster Mages worse. Should we spend mana to resolve a True-Name, we generally do not want to commit anything else to the battlefield until they deal with it. We want to use our Dazes as aggressively as possible in this matchup; as the game goes long, they will become dead cards.
The most important thing to watch out for in this matchup is Monastery Mentor from the sideboard. Outside of Mentor stealing a game, we are often ahead in this matchup. Surgical Extraction may seem like an odd inclusion against a fair deck. Not only can Surgical stop a Snapcaster Mage from flashing something back, but we can also Surgically Extract Terminus from their graveyard in response to a Miracle trigger, hitting our opponent one-for-one and taking away one of their best tools in the matchup.
U/W/X Stoneforge Mystic
There tends to be a good bit of variation in the blue-based Stoneforge Mystic decks still in a post-Top world. Some are splashing red for Lightning Bolts and Pyroblasts, while others are just straight U/W. Delver is a bit behind Game 1 in these matchups, but much like against Death and Taxes, we pick up a lot of good tools post-sideboard.
True-Name Nemesis is one of the most important cards on both sides of the table in these games. While the Stoneforge decks tend to not play as many sweepers as Miracles, some amount of Supreme Verdict is to be expected post-sideboard, so be careful not to overextend when possible.
Grixis Delver Mirror
There are two "stages" in the Grixis Delver mirror match from my experience. The first is a short, brutal stage where someone occasionally gets Wastelanded out of the game and just watches while the other person runs them over. In the early-game, we want to prioritize using our cantrips to find additional lands to make sure we are not the person getting got.
Once we make it past the "Wasteland them out" portion of the game, the mirror match generally becomes about the last threat alive. Delver tends to have more answers than actual threats, which means whoever is able to keep a battlefield presence will generally win the game. True-Name Nemesis is again the most important card; once it resolves, it is very difficult to remove. After True-Name, Young Pyromancer is our most important card because it can quickly go wide out of reach of spot removal.
We want to leave in some free counterspells as opposed to Cabal Therapy because having some cards to help us "get" our opponent on pivotal turns is often more powerful than taking a card out of their hand. The Delver mirror also often comes down to topdecking and discard is very poor when our opponent is often empty-handed.
This is a harder matchup for us, especially Game 1. Their deck is essentially pre-sideboarded for this matchup as it is geared to beat up on fair decks in the format. Our best chance to win Game 1 is generally to "Delver" them by being as aggressive as possible before they get their grindy elements set up.
After sideboarding we gain a number of powerful cards and swap out our poorly aligned counterspells. As with every fair matchup, True-Name is again our most important card. On their side of the table, we want to keep them off True-Name as well as Leovold at all costs.
This is one of the harder matchups for Grixis Delver in general and our current configuration does not have a lot of tools to make it better for us. Our best chance to win generally involves flipping a Delver quickly while we keep them off of their "big" plays. True-Name Nemesis can often gum up the ground for us while we win in the air.
Another tougher matchup for Delver. Once again we want to be as aggressive as possible in this matchup. The only thing we want to be conservative with is our Wastelands, especially Game 1, when they are our best way to interact with their combo elements.
Post-sideboard we have a better chance. Diabolic Edict can remove a 20/20 Marit Lage token from the battlefield and Surgical Extraction can pick apart their recurring combo and Punishing Fire. We should expect most Lands players to bring in some copies of Tireless Tracker post-sideboard against us as well.
Legacy is one of the most complicated formats in Magic because of all the sequencing decisions it offers. When almost all of our spells cost one or less mana, we often have a complex decision tree on what we could be doing, starting from the very first turn of the game. For example, let's consider the following opening hand:
On the play against an unknown opponent, our first turn is fairly straightforward: we fetch for an Underground Sea and cast our Deathrite Shaman. This way we have developed our battlefield and can likely play multiple cards on our second turn.
Our opponent starts their turn, cracks a fetchland, casts Preordain, and passes back to us. We draw a second Lightning Bolt for the turn and are staring at five one-mana spells that we can play in some combination.
Our goal is to maximize the number of cards we get to see to find our second land drop. If we Brainstorm first, we see three new cards and then put two cards from our hand back on top. If we follow that up with a Ponder, we see one more new card and an optional shuffle, giving us up to five looks to find our second land.
If we Ponder first, we get to see three cards and shuffle to see a fourth. Then, when we Brainstorm, we get to see three additional new cards for a total of seven chances to find a second land, as opposed to the five we get by playing Brainstorm before Ponder.
Next, consider the same starting hand as above, but instead we are on the draw in a Grixis Delver mirror. Our opponent plays a Volcanic Island and a Delver of Secrets and passes the turn to us. We start our first turn and draw a copy of Daze as our eighth card.
Our turn 1 play is no longer straightforward. If we cast Deathrite and pass, what is the worst thing that can happen? Well, our opponent could Wasteland our only land, Lightning Bolt our Deathrite Shaman, and leave us with literally nothing, while they get to continue playing Magic and we do not.
I think the optimal thing to do in this situation is to cast our Ponder to look for a second land. This way we can have a better chance against Wasteland and actually play a full game of Magic. If our opponent wants to be aggressive and fight over our cantrip, we have a Daze to protect ourselves as well.
Not only is Grixis Delver the best deck in Legacy as it stands, but it can be tuned to beat whatever specific metagame it needs to by accessing the right cards. The configuration I have shared here today is well-positioned against both unfair spell-based combo decks and fair decks trying to leverage the power of Stoneforge Mystic. If you are looking to play a deck in Legacy that allows you a plethora of sequencing decisions every game while also offering you the ability to do powerful things, then Grixis Delver is likely the deck for you.
Have question about my build of Grixis Delver or perhaps want some tips on a less common matchup that did not make it into my primer? Let me know in a comment below!