The leaves are changing, Labor Day weekend plans are made, and football is back on. This can only mean one thing…..yep! New cards and a Standard rotation!
Theros and its Greek Mythology flavor will be here at the end of September, giving us a few more weeks to play Innistrad block and M13 in Standard. That means there are only a couple more FNM’s and StarCityGames.com events in which to do Thragtusk + Restoration Angel shenanigans, make indestructible and hasty Falkenrath Aristocrats, double our spells with Snapcaster Mage, and easily access three colors thanks to lands like Woodland Cemetery and Dragonskull Summit.
But we’re forgetting a major player in the past two years of Standard Magic: our old friend Delver of Secrets!
Now Delver of Secrets was pretty annoying when it first came out, mostly because of it’s insane tempo-generating power when connected with Snapcaster Mage, Geist of Saint Traft, and Scars of Mirrodin cards like Vapor Snag, Gut Shot, and Gitaxian Probe. Most of us have forgotten about the little blue menace since all the midrange fatty creatures have outclassed him. Who cares about a little 3/2 flyer when you’ve got a 5/3 that gains you 5 life and leaves behind a 3/3?
But a couple weeks ago in Japan, the blue-white Delver deck of old found itself in a Grand Prix top 8. The list is here, second in the order. It plays pretty much the same cards that the archetype included way back when it was dominating the format, with just a few modern changes. Vapor Snag is gone, so Unsummon is in for similar results. Essence Scatter is the new Mana Leak in a creature-populated metagame, and Quicken serves as that extra cantrip without the bonus of seeing your opponent’s hand that Gitaxian Probe had. The deck plays the same way it did before, albeit a little more fair without the free Phyrexian mana spells and by not dealing an extra damage per Unsummon like Vapor Snag did.
I decided to have a little fun this past weekend at a Standard $1K event at Tap ‘N Atk games, a great local games store in Harrisburg, PA (it was also celebrating its first year anniversary, congrats guys!), so I ran the UW delver list. I added a third Tidebinder Mage and traded the two Righteous Blow for two Dispel, since I expected more control and green-red midrange decks.
How did this last-minute deck change work for me? Remarkably better than I expected!
I ended up winning the event! We split the prizes at top 4, but I won the top 4 and finals matches to determine pride points. I used my share of the prize to stock up on some post-rotation Standard goodies, and the random 4th Scalding Tarn I still needed for Modern.
Let’s talk about the matches! Here’s the Round by Round details:
Round 1: Jund, 2-0
Game one – Delver on turn 1, Delver on turn 2, both flip on turn 3. Need I say more? My opponent had a pair of Scavenging Ooze in play, but they didn’t really do anything against my flyers and he couldn’t get any removal going before it was too late.
Game two – Essence Scatter and Unsummon made my opponent’s play experience a nightmare, basically casting reoccurring Time Walks while I beat him down with a flipped Delver and then Geist of Saint Traft joined the fun.
Round 2: Jund, 0-2
Game one – I joked to my opponent after this match that it was the best send-off to Innistrad block we could ever give. I started out with some flipped Delvers and followed it up with some air support from a Restoration Angel. With my opponent at 5 life and basically dead to rights, he miracle’d a Bonfire of the Damned for 4, and I could never come back from that. Flipped Delvers and Miracle Bonfires – that’s Innistrad block in a nutshell.
Game two was EXTREMELY epic and close, with me having my opponent down to 1 life at a point before he chained some Huntmaster of the Fells and made a good comeback. I had sided out most of my Unsummon, thinking they weren’t as good in this matchup, and I lost because I couldn’t find a way to get Olivia Voldaren out of the way to hit him with spirit tokens from my Moorland Haunt. Unsummon is actually relevant in that matchup, if only to kill a thragtusk token, and if I could have drawn out in that game it would have been a winning out.
Round 3: Green-red midrange, 2-1
Game one – I was able to just keep Essence Scatter and Unsummon his threats, and Domri Rade never came out to serve as removal for my pesky Delvers.
Game two – the all-star of this matchup is definitively Tidebinder Mage. I froze a Flinthoof Boar the turn after it came out, and staved off any other threats while I’ll built up my board position. I was able to Restoration Angel blink the Tidebinder later in the game to freeze a threatening Thundermaw Hellkite before it could attack, and setting me up for a 2-0 victory. However, with my opponent at 2 and dead on the table, he overloaded a Mizzium Mortars and wiped my side of the board. I drew only land and irrelevant spells while my opponent beat me down.
Game three was so insane, I can’t even describe it, so I’ll just tell you turn-for-turn what happened:
I’m on the play with opening hand: Island, Island, Island, Moorland Haunt, Delver, Snapcaster Mage, Unsummon
Turn 1: Me – Island, Delver. Him – land, Arbor Elf
Turn 2: Me: (no Delver flip, draw 2nd Delver), Island, Delver, Unsummon Arbor Elf, attack for 1. Him: land, Strangleroot Geist, attack for 2. (life totals 18-19)
Turn 3: Me: (still no Delver flip, draw 3rd Delver), Moorland Haunt, Delver, attack for 2. Him: land, Strangleroot Geist #2, Arbor Elf, attack for 4. (14-17)
Turn 4: Me: (yet again no Delver flip, draw Snapcaster Mage) Island, Snapcaster Mage, Unsummon Arbor Elf, attack for 3. Him: Land, Hellrider, attack with Hellrider and 2 Geists (3 trigger damage from Hellrider), Snapcaster blocks a Geist, take 5 damage. (11-14)
Turn 5: Me: All three Delvers flip! (Unsummon revealed and drawn) Aattack for 9. Him: Flinthoof Board, give it haste. Before attacks, Unsummon Hellrider, then Snapcaster + Unsummon Boar. Opponent concedes. (6-5)
Wow, what a game.
Round 4: Jund 0-2
This deck was a variation on the normal Jund deck, playing a more black-based list with Liliana of the Dark Realms and Desecration Demon, and Victim of Night as the main removal piece. My opponent, a friend of mine, reminded me that in the “olden days” of Delver nobody ever flipped a turn 1 Delver on him. And that streak continued. I had turn 1 Delver both games and neither of them flipped for several turns. When they finally did, they were met with Victim of Night and Putrefy.
Game one wasn’t really close, but in game two my opponent kept a really sketchy six-card mulligan where he kept one land, a Farseek, and multiple Thragtusk. He missed several land drops, but I only had a pair of weak 1/1 Delvers and couldn’t capitalize on the early opportunity. Eventually my Delvers flipped, but the turn immediately after the flipping, my opponent ripped a Bonfire of the Damned he was able to miracle for 2. There’s that whole Miracled Bonfire thing again. He admitted that he was insanely lucky to not be dead, and that it was nice being him for that game. All those Thragtusks came down eventually and that was that.
Round 5: Black-white midrange, 2-0
In Game one I stalled his early Vampire Nighthawk and Desecration Demon with Essence Scatters and Unsummon, and landed a Geist of Saint Traft which brought on the beats.
Game two I used a couple Unsummons offensively to save my Geist of Saint Traft as I dealt 4 damage a turn. It was a much longer game than the first, but I was able to punch in with an angel token every turn while my opponent strugged to find a solid threat that didn’t just get countered by Essence Scatter. Some late-game Snapcaster Mage draws helped seal the deal when my opponent didn’t have any more flyers to stop two more turns of Geist-generated angel tokens.
3-2 overall in the swiss, 7th place.
Top 8: Jund, 2-0
I got my revenge from Round 2 with a little help from variance. I had double Delvers that flipped on turns 2 and 3 respectively in game one while my opponent failed to kill me with Scavenging Oozes. And then he was stuck on two lands in game two while I once again flipped my turn 1 Delver, and then I just Unsummoned anything he could play to try and stop the bleeding.
Top 4: Jund, 2-0
The 5th time facing Jund that day, Essence Scatter was a champ preventing anything from blocking my Geist of Saint Traft in game one. I got lucky with a turn 1 Delver flipping on turn 2 in Game two, and the beats ran on.
Finals: Green-red midrange, 2-1
I think this is a really good matchup for the UW delver deck. In Game one I tore him apart with Geist of Saint Traft while he tapped out every turn to attack with Strangleroot Geists.
Game two he had two mizzium mortars to deal with my flipped Delver and Tidebinder Mage, and I was basically screwed after that. I didn’t deal a point of damage the whole game.
In Game three, all-star Tidebinder Mage came out early to lock down a Ghor-Clan Rampager, and I cast Essence Scatter four times (thanks Snapcaster!) to make my opponent’s hand turn into a bunch of cards that do nothing. I used Restoration Angel to change Tidebinder’s frozen target late in the game to make way for the final points of damage.
I may have had some good variance late in the tournament with some key Delver flips, but it was really, really fun playing this old archetype. I’d recommend it for anyone who is looking for a bit of nostalgia before Standard rotates later this month, as the deck is definitely viable for a FNM or other small store tournament. It has a good matchup against Green-red midrange, has a change against Jund, and could probably do pretty good against some of the other creature-based decks like Naya midrange and monored aggro.
However, the deck probably doesn’t do that well against UWR control or Aristocrats, since the red-based burn and other control elements in UWR should prevent any damage from ever getting through, and Aristocrats makes tons of stupid blocker dudes that will certainly get in the way. As a result, I don’t think I’ll be changing my mind on UWR flash for next week’s SCG Open in Philadelphia, but I will definitely play this in at least one FNM before it’s totally dead. (Perhaps maybe some Win-a-Box side events at GP Detroit?)