I'm going to be honest with you. Before this weekend, I had no idea what I was going to write about. Then U/W Delver took down multiple tournaments over the course of this past weekend. And everyone wants to read more about the most dominant deck, right? Hell yeah they do!
Well, I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that there is some hope for combating U/W Delver. The bad news is that the hope is dwindling. Despite people's best efforts, both the Standard Open and the Invitational at StarCityGames.com Open Series: Indianapolis featuring the Invitational, as well as GP Manila, were all won by U/W Delver.
However, Yuuya Watanabe's Delver build is quite different from the classic Delver lists we've been seeing all in various Top 8s lately. Instead of playing the standard package of 22 lands and 16 creatures, Yuuya instead opted to play just 19 lands and 15 creatures, squeezing in quite a few Phyrexian mana cost cards as well as Runechanter's Pike. Here is his list for reference.
How awesome does this build look? I realize some of you are groaning that it's just another Delver deck, and on its surface it's just that. However, looking closer reveals that it has a lot more going on than a typical Delver deck. For one, Yuuya maxed out on the possible number of draw spells with four Gitaxian Probe, four Ponder, and four Thought Scour. This is so that his Runechanter's Pikes can be used for maximum damage while at the same time finding some of his few lands. Only running 19 lands, Yuuya also opted to only run three Restoration Angel and none of the typical control cards in his board that most Delver players currently run. Here's a deck that recognizes it's the beatdown through and through.
There is a distinct lack of Dismember in this list as well. In the Delver mirror match, I imagine that Yuuya wants to hit them harder than they can ever possibly hope to hit him. He may not have Dismembers for Angels, but does that really matter when they're on blocking duty from a large equipped creature? He can also go up to four Gut Shots and two Mental Missteps postboard, ensuring that he'll never lose to a Delver of Secrets or fast mana from all of the green-based decks popping up. This is a very streamlined aggressive Delver deck, quite the opposite of the recent trend in Delver.
If Delver of Secrets doesn't strike your fancy, I do have some advice for beating it as well as some useful sideboard cards against it.
Everyone Loves an Underdog
If you've decided not to play Delver, hopefully there is a very good reason for that. Maybe your deck is the Delver destroyer. Maybe you genuinely don't like playing the deck. Either way, you have to expect to play against Delver decks probably two to three times a tournament, if not more. So how do we beat the winged menace? By being aggressive! As soon as Delver uses its first Vapor Snag to avoid some damage, it's more than likely losing. This means Strangleroot Geist and the entirety of Zombies is very strong against Delver. As long as an opposing deck is curving out, it can be tough for Delver to catch up. It is very much a board state based deck.
Wolf Run Ramp is another solid choice against Delver decks. Preboard I would say it favors Wolf Run, while postboard it can go either way depending on each player's sideboard. Wolf Run Ramp has to be prepared for anything out of Delver. Are they boarding in Consecrated Sphinx? What if their plan is to bring in Phantasmal Images and Ghost Quarters? Bringing in Beast Within is always a safe bet, as well as sideboarding in Ancient Grudges in case your opponent didn't board out equipment. Either way, Wolf Run Ramp is a more powerful deck and on average should pull out ahead of Delver.
Frites is another great choice; it can cheat in a turn 3 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite with the best draws. Don't know what Frites is? Allow Brian Braun-Duin to elaborate with his great finish this weekend.
Unlike typical Frites decks, this build opts for Phantasmal Images and Sun Titans instead of Inferno Titans and Wurmcoil Engines. Do you have any idea how hard it is for decks to deal with Solar Flare's Sun Titan plan? Now imagine that happens more often and earlier. The nice thing about getting an Elesh Norn into play against Delver is that it will most likely wipe their board and force them to answer it right away. The maindeck Ancient Grudge is a nod to the fact that Sword of War and Peace is popular in the format. Game 1 Frites was extremely cold to that card; not so much with a maindeck Ancient Grudge.
So if those are some decks that are good against Delver, what cards can I build a deck around to have a chance against Delver? Good question!
Single Card Strategies Versus Delver
Birthing Pod is one hell of a card against Delver. With a Birthing Pod in play, any chain into Huntmaster of the Fells will flip it immediately. It is also very difficult to battle an active Birthing Pod because it forces Delver to be the aggressor instead of a strict tempo deck. Any creature in play immediately becomes threatening with a Birthing Pod in play. As an example for the kind of list to start with, Michael Hetrick's Standard deck from his second place finish at the SCG Invitational in Indianapolis is a great start. I really like being able to Pod from a two-drop into Huntmaster and have it flip that turn.
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Aether Adept
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Borderland Ranger
- 1 Daybreak Ranger
- 1 Deceiver Exarch
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 1 Inferno Titan
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 1 Wolfir Silverheart
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
Watching this deck play out against Delver was incredible. Delver really needs to have its best start in order to stand a chance against this deck. Otherwise it's going to have to use its Vapor Snags defensively, which means it's most likely losing.
Another card that's good against Delver is Cavern of Souls. Sure, some people are cutting down on Mana Leaks like Yuuya's list, but it's still in the deck lurking around and waiting for the perfect spell to counter. Cavern stops counters dead in their tracks. Even Solar Flare with a Cavern of Souls or two is a big problem because that means a Sun Titan is guaranteed to resolve and get value, oftentimes bringing back Phantasmal Image. No longer can Delver players just sit back behind Snapcaster Mages and Mana Leaks; now they have to try to win before Cavern becomes relevant. It also helps to resolve threats like Huntmaster of the Fells, Restoration Angel, and Geralf's Messenger, none of which Delver wants to see staring at them across the board.
Gideon Jura is another great one against U/W Delver decks. If it resolves, it can be very difficult for a Delver opponent to remove outside of Oblivion Ring. A lot of times their little creatures and Spirit tokens can't answer a Gideon Jura before their opponent (that's you!) draws some way to take advantage of the time given. Just make sure you don't run this card into a Mana Leak.
Mental Misstep is a good one to keep an eye on. It counters almost all of their relevant spells that blow you out. Afraid of them playing a turn 1 Delver of Secrets that will soon be doing its best Wild Nacatl impression? Counter it on the play and on the draw! Afraid that a Vapor Snag is about to ruin your day? Counter it! Are they going to Gut Shot your mana producer? Counter it! Obviously, Mental Misstep is an all-star against a good portion of their deck.
What about the cards that Mental Misstep can't answer? Well, Phantasmal Image is here to help there. It doesn't matter if they are playing Blade Splicer or Geist of Saint Traft; Phantasmal Image is going to be your best friend in this matchup. Worst-case scenario it's a 1U removal spell. Best-case scenario it lets you get two guys for the price one.
Some sideboard cards that are very good against Delver include Beast Within (if they are on the control plan), Stingerfling Spider (no joke, getting rid of their Angels is huge), Dismember (hitting Angel and turn 1 Delvers alike), Timely Reinforcements (provided you can make use of the time given), Divine Offering (no equipment gives decks a lot more time to handle the deck), and sometimes even cards like Consecrated Sphinx. In combination with Cavern of Souls and Mental Misstep, I can see Sphinx being the ultimate trump. They can't Mana Leak it, and with Missteps they can't Snag it either.
As far as possible bannings this time around, I'm not so sure anything needs to be banned. Yes Delver appears to be winning a lot of big events, but there are also other decks in these Top 8s. I expect it to be only a matter of time before someone finds a deck to beat Delver consistently. I know that Michael Hetrick and Brian Braun-Duin are on the right path and posted very positive records against Delver.
Clearly the tools exist to fight Delver of Secrets, but the question remains: which side are you on?
krazykirby AT gmail DOT com
@krazykirby4 on Twitter
krazykirby4 on Magic Online