Delver decks have been on a rampage in the last couple weeks. A Delver variant has taken down two Grand Prix the Magic Online Championships (MOCS) and a StarCityGames.com Open. They have filled up over half of the Top 8 at the Invitational in both formats. This deck winning is nothing to be surprised about but the real shocker is that every list is extremely different. This week I am going to take a detailed look into all the variations of Delver which one you should be playing and how all of the different versions play out against each other. Tomorrow Gerry Thompson is going to step in and finish off this topic by talking about all the other decks in the format and how they want to equip themselves against all the different versions of the powerful archetype. I hope you guys enjoy!
Let's begin this journey with all of the different versions.
Equipment Based Delver Decks
Goobafish took down the Magic Online Championships piloting a version of the deck that has been doing very well on Magic Online. Four Invisible Stalkers combined with four Sword of War and Peace gives this deck a more combo approach to this very aggressive metagame. This deck is designed to have a better matchup in the mirror than most versions as well as a better chance of beating Naya Pod Humans and Zombies. Cutting down Geist of Saint Traft might not be the thing you want to do against control decks but this guy does not shine in some of the more aggressive matchups. Cutting all of the cute things a Delver deck can have Goobafish just wants to equip up an Invisible Stalker and ignore whatever his opponent is doing in game one.
I love this deck choice for the online metagame at the MOCS. Magic Online is a whole different animal when it comes to metagames. Humans Delver and Zombies are some of the most popular deck choices which makes this list a very good metagame call in the digital world.
Yuuya Watanabe's take on Delver is a bit different than all of the other equipment versions. This deck wants the ability to take games into the later turns. It plays Thought Scour over Gitaxian Probe to be able to not only fuel his Runechanter's Pikes but to fill the graveyard with cards for Snapcaster Mage and Moorland Haunt. This allows the pilot to “play” more Magic and get to situations where you have more control over the outcome since it is designed to survive a late game.
Delver mirrors do not play out the same way every time. Everyone knows how powerful of a start this deck can have which means one player will tend to be on the back foot early in the game. This version is better equipped to deal with those games since it is not relying so heavily on winning a game with Invisible Stalker and an equipment. Dungeon Geist not only is great on the offensive but can also play defense giving the deck a chance to catch up from a bad position.
The other benefit this version has is not being forced to go all-in in the early turns of a game. Many of the other versions of Delver Blade tend to be forced to keep hands that need an equipment on the Stalker to ride them to victory. If this is disrupted the whole game comes crashing down and a loss is inevitable.
This is the most “stock” version of Delver Blade. It runs both Runechanter's Pike and Sword of War and Peace as well as Gitaxian Probe and Thought Scour. It is exactly the middle ground from the previous two versions of Delver. It is not all in on trying to put an equipment on Invisible Stalker nor does it have the powerful late game of Yuuya's version.
The advantage to playing this version is you get a little bit of both worlds. Your Snapcaster Mages can cantrip on both your turn as well as theirs and you have access to the late game powerhouse that is Runechanter's Pike as well as the early game monster Sword of War and Peace. This deck does not have any amazing matchups nor does it have many bad ones.
The downside to these versions is that you are victim to your own opening sevens. This version does not have an amazing late game so it is important to always start aggressive but some of the spells are sometimes too slow to allow this. This means that this version has a higher chance of falling behind in the early turns to some of the faster decks in the format.
Lingering Souls Based Delver Decks
Esper Spirits takes the strategy of beating up on the creature decks to a whole new level. This version of Delver popped up in Honolulu a few months back and was the talk of the tournament. Humans was the popular deck for the tournament and this deck smashed them. It actually just smashed everything playing one-drop creatures.
Not everything is so great for this version of Delver. It has a very difficult time beating Frites U/B Control and Esper Control. Wrath effects are very good against it and it is very difficult to ever counter a spell since it only runs two-three Mana Leaks in the main. All of its permanents die to Day of Judgment which makes Moorland Haunt not even an effective card against control decks. This isn't even the biggest concern for the deck. The biggest problem this deck faced was the existence of Corrosive Gale.
Corrosive Gale's ability to be played in any colors makes playing this version of Delver a very risky move. People will have Corrosive Gale when Esper Spirits is on the radar but won't when it is not. Last week it was not on anyone's radar U/B / Esper Control are not being played by many people and most decks were only packing anti Delver Blade cards. All of these conditions made Tom's deck choice a perfect one and he walked away with third place.
Gerry's take on Delver is a very interesting one. Lingering Souls can be a very powerful card in this deck but playing Drogskol Captain is a very big investment. Intangible Virtue might not be able to attack or block and you sure can't Phantasmal Image it but it does not die to Day of Judgment or Corrosive Gale. This is a huge advantage to playing this card when you are in a more controlling/hateful environment.
This deck is still on the "beating aggressive decks" side of the spectrum but hedges its bets against control compared to Esper Spirits. Not playing Phantasmal Image and Drogskol Captain allows this deck to play all four copies of Mana Leak and have much better Snapcaster Mages.
The sideboard also has a much better game plan against more controlling decks with over half of the cards dedicated to them.
Josh Utter-Leyton combined Geist of Saint Traft/Sword of War Peace from Delver Blade and with Lingering Souls and a way to pump them from Esper Spirits. Just like every child born from the same family tree this deck is a bit on the deformed side.
This version of Delver in theory has the ability to have multiple different nut draws which can be very powerful in any given match. Game one you could Sword of War and Peace your Delver of Secrets and then follow that up with Honor of the Pure into Lingering Souls for the second game. This of course is all in theory.
The reality of this deck is that the cards do not work that well together making for some very schizophrenic draws. Not playing Invisible Stalker while playing equipment leaves out many of the free wins this deck could get. Honor of the Pure is just like Intangible Virtue in the sense that they do not pump up the blue creatures but Gerry's list runs more than eight cards to interact with the enchantment. The lack of Thought Scour even lessens the percentage of games where Honor of the Pure will interact with your cards.
I am going to eliminate the versions of the deck that I would not even consider playing right now. I have learned while testing all of these decks that it is very important to have a very specific plan and stick to it. Stock Delver and Inbred Delver don't really have this and that is why I think they are inferior to the other lists. It seems very important to have the highest concentration of spells that interact well together than to have flexible cards for multiple situations. It is an aggressive world right now and hedging your bets is not what you want to be doing.
How the Matchups Play Out
I am going to go over some of the things that I have noticed while playtesting all of these decks. It is important to keep in mind that these are still Delver mirror matches. It is public information that turn one Delver of Secrets can lead to very easy wins even in a mirror match. I just want to talk about the games where Delver of Secrets is not the main route to victory since it is important to know how things play out when 3/2s are not dominating the board.
Stalker Blade Vs. Stalker Blade
This is the highest variance Delver mirror match there is. Both decks are equipped with four Sword of War and Peace and eight hexproof guys to put them on. This results in both decks just trying to find spots to resolve Swords and start attacking. Having the combo in play by turn three on the play is almost always game over in game one. Post sideboard games can be a bit trickier.
Mana Leak is by far the weakest card in this matchup since reacting to your opponent with counterspells is at its weakest against Stalker Blade. There are no Dungeon Geists to counter and even if there were it is not that powerful of a spell against this version. The only things that matter in this matchup is keeping Geist of Saint Traft Sword or War and Peace and Insectile Abomination from attacking you too many times. Revoke Existence and Phantasmal Image are the best cards against this deck.
Stalker Blade Vs. Yuuya Blade
Stalker Blade will tend to have a higher percentage of the aggressive starts since it has the full package of Swords and Stalkers. This means that Yuuya Blade will want to take a more controlling approach when on the draw. Mana Leak is Yuuya Blade's only answer to a game one Sword of War and Peace so it is important to not get greedy in the early turns. You don't have to go crazy and hold Mana Leak up when you can resolve a Geist of Saint Traft safely but I would much rather keep a Runechanter's Pike in my hand and hold up the counterspell.
This matchup post sideboard really depends on how equipped the Yuuya Blade player is for this matchup. Three answers to Sword of War and Peace is the bare minimum I would be playing right now since it is the most important card in this matchup. Mana Leak and Dungeon Geist lose a ton of value since so many cards are hexproof. I would replace these cards for Phantasmal Images Timely Reinforcements and the rest of the good cards you have in the sideboard for this matchup.
It is important to not keep an “all in” hand with Stalker Blade post sideboard. Revoke Existence is a card in all Delver sideboards these days and you do not want to get blown out by one and have nothing else to do.
I am a big fan of turning Snapcaster Mage into Silvergill Adept when piloting Stalker Blade in this matchup. They do not have that much of an early game to punish you and it is important to get on the board before your opponent. You cannot give them time to gain too much value off of their Thought Scours.
Stalker Blade Vs. Esper Spirits
Both decks are trying to combo each other out but Stalker Blade has a slight edge game one because of its two-card combo. Esper Spirits also has a combo in Drogskol Captain and Lingering Souls but it is much slower and deals less damage than Sword/Stalker. Esper Spirits is very good at winning the games when Invisible Stalker is holding nothing since it becomes very difficult for Stalker Blade to get anything past an army of Spirit tokens.
Post sideboard the Esper Spirit deck needs as many ways to deal with equipment as possible. Without Sword of War and Peace the matchup is very easy for a decent draw from Esper Spirits to just demolish the Equipment based Delver deck. Four Phantasmal Images also makes it very difficult to even get varianced out by Geist of Saint Traft.
Stalker Blade Vs. Gerry Spirits
Gerry Spirits has a reasonable chance of racing Stalker/Sword because of the two-drop anthem as well as maindeck Timely Reinforcements. These are the heavy hitters that Gerry Spirits is trying to dig for when Pondering. It is still important to hold up Mana Leak in opportunities where you can to stop your opponent from casting any of the deadly three-drops.
Sideboarded games play out close to the same as the Stalker Blade/Esper Spirits matchup except for the fact that there are less Phantasmal Images to legend out Geist of Saint Traft. Sword of War and Peace is not a sideboard card to bring in from the Gerry Spirits side. It is very slow and there are zero creatures to put it on with hexproof.
Yuuya Blade Vs. Esper Spirits
This is by far Esper Spirits best matchup when it comes to Delver mirrors. Both decks have a decent late game except Esper Spirits has the ability to have multiple anthems in play which produces an army of hexproof 3/3's. This results in Yuuya Blade being forced to take the aggressive role and try to stick Invisible Stalker/ Runechanter's Pike sometime in the early turns of the game. It is very difficult to deal damage if this does not occur and Esper Spirits has time to set up a decent board position.
Yuuya Blade Vs. Gerry Spirits
This matchup plays out similar to that last one mentioned. The only difference is Gerry Spirits does not have the ability to gain hexproof. This is important to take note of since Dungeon Geist is a much more powerful spell as a result. Not only will it always have targets but there will not be opposing Phantasmal Images to copy a freshly played Dungeon Geist.
Gerry Spirits Vs. Esper Spirits
Esper Spirits has the slight edge when it comes to this matchup since it has the ability to produce more anthems over time. This makes it very important that Gerry Spirits boards in Sword of War and Peace and keeps in Mana Leak. Both of these cards help the deck with an army of anthemed creatures whether it is attacking by them or never letting them resolve in the first place.
It is very important to pick your spots with each version of this deck. Tom Martell chose wisely when he played Esper Spirits in both Pro Tour Honolulu as well as Grand Prix Salt Lake City. These were simply metagame choices that do not reflect on the longevity of the deck. Because he did well more people will both want to play the deck as well has hate on the deck.
If Esper Spirits picks up this could mean many things.
-Yuuya Blade will become weaker because more people will play Esper Spirits which is its worst matchup.
-It will also mean that some people will start picking up control decks that Yuuya Blade can prey upon.
-If both of these things happen in the same percentages Yuuya Blade is still a decent choice except for the fact that more matches will be dependent on matchups.
-Corrosive Gale will once again become a card in a decent number of sideboards.
-This will have a huge impact on how good both Esper Spirits and Gerry Spirits will perform.
-It will also mean that less dedicated slots for Delver will be focused on Equipment
All of these things make Stalker Blade the next best choice when playing Delver. It has a good matchup against Esper Spirits as well as control decks. This is the version of the deck I would be playing if I was competing this next weekend. This is the current list I am working on and having great results with it.
That's all I have for you guys this week. I hope you guys enjoyed this look into the best deck in the format and be sure to tune in tomorrow when Gerry tells you how to beat up on these decks. I honestly don't know how he is going to do it since there is no way to keep a Delver from getting his wings. See you guys later!