Building The Best Delver Of Secrets

Team SCG Blue put four members into the Top 8 of the Standard Open in Nashville with their U/W Delver deck, and GerryT brought home the trophy. Find out why he thinks he finally has "the perfect list" and will probably play it again in Columbus.

I took down the SCG Standard Open in Nashville with U/W Delver. Nine hours later, I was pacing around the Gaylord Opryland, eagerly awaiting my Top 4 match against the winner of Todd Anderson versus Justin Geary. My entire body was radiating nervous energy, but it was a positive thing. I couldn’t wait to fight my next opponent and make the seemingly impossible happen again.

It felt like the bottom of the ninth and I was pitching a no-hitter, which I relayed to Josh Cho.

"You never talk about a no-hitter!" he told me, and stormed off.


It’s always disappointing to end a tournament with a loss. It can also be sad when you set your sights on something nearly unreachable and come up short. However, I couldn’t exactly complain about my performance last weekend and knew that I’d feel better in a day or two. I really wanted to win both Opens (again), but should the fact that I won the Standard Open really make my finals finish in the Legacy Open make me feel bad?

Magic is kinda messed up that way.

At the end of the day, Team #SCGBlue put four people in the Top 8 and three in the Top 4. How was that possible? It was easy—we had the best deck in the format.

I never feel like I did everything right. I can, and probably will, point out all the mistakes I made when playing and building Dredge, but whatever. It was my first time playing the deck, and I learned a million different things. However, in Standard I didn’t have an excuse. I’ve made a career out of changing ten cards of a known archetype in order to perfect it, and I knew what needed to be done and did it.

This might be the first time that I can say, "My list is perfect." It did everything I wanted it to do and performed admirably. There has probably been no other time that I have been willing to play the exact 75 the next week, but that’s the case here.

Here are the decks I actively want to play against:

Wolf Run Ramp (and its variants)
Esper Control (not Solar Flare)
G/R Aggro (and its variants, like Birthing Pod)
Any non-U/W Delver

Here are the decks I don’t mind playing against but would rather not:

U/W Delver
Solar Flare
Anything with Lingering Souls

Here are the decks I could lose to consistently:


If Patrick Chapin is right and Restoration Angel gave Delver decks the missing angle that kept them from Caw-Blade dominance, things are going to get awkward. At first, Cavern of Souls looked good, and it still does what it promised. Just stopping Mana Leak isn’t the end all be all for the Wolf Run versus Delver matchup, though, especially with my new sideboard plan.

Since we’re here, let’s talk about the Wolf Run Ramp matchup.

Wolf Run Ramp

You want to stop Primeval Titan from resolving, while they want to not die to your fliers. Cavern of Souls helps, but so does Glimmerpost. However, the real problem cards are Restoration Angel and Sword of Feast and Famine. To some extent, Delver of Secrets and Geist of Saint Traft are issues, but Wolf Run Ramp can kill or block those most of the time.

Postboard, everything changes. Wolf Run is on the same game plan while Delver gets to adapt, which is why it gets so tricky. None of my opponents in Nashville could kill my Consecrated Sphinxes. Meanwhile, if they ever landed a Primeval Titan, I could Phantasmal Image it, get two Ghost Quarters, and kill their Kessig Wolf Runs.

Assuming I had a way to beat Primeval Titan doing a Kindercatch impression, say with my two Dismembers (plus a block), then we were back on parity except they no longer had Kessig Wolf Runs in their deck. A third Kessig Wolf Run in the sideboard might be all it takes to put the matchup back on parity.

I know you all want to know how to sideboard with Delver. Just the act of asking me how to sideboard tells me that you probably aren’t going to do well anyway. I don’t mean that as an insult, but if you can’t identify what cards are good or bad in certain matchups, how are you going to play well?

All I ask is that if you want to ask me how to sideboard in any given matchup, try to reason it out. Send me an email, tweet, Facebook message, or comment here with how you would sideboard and why and I’ll happily chime in. Sideboarding is an art, as you probably never sideboard the same way twice, and you won’t learn how to do it on your own unless you try.

Anyway, against Wolf Run Ramp I definitely want to go big if I can. Out of the five Wolf Run opponents I defeated in Nashville, only one (Daniel Samson) kept in Beast Withins. There was one other (Eric Chu) who was actively trying to get me dead by jamming Primeval Titans.

The rest of the time, they were super happy keeping hands with Pillar of Flames, Slagstorms, and Whipflares, but that’s the wrong way to go about things. Granted, you can’t really mulligan those hands, but if you build your deck to be more proactive you’ll have fewer hands like that.

Against opponents that were aiming to kill all my stuff and eventually kill me with a Titan, I would sideboard like this:

+ 2 Consecrated Sphinx, 3 Phantasmal Image, 1 Phyrexian Metamorph, 2 Ghost Quarter, 1 Amass the Components

– 1 Divine Offering, 1 Gut Shot, 2 Mana Leak, 2 Vapor Snag, 1 Moorland Haunt, 1 Geist of Saint Traft, 1 something

The something was a Vapor Snag, but after playing those matches, I realized I needed something to interact with the board. Initially, I figured I wouldn’t need the Snags because I wasn’t trying to tempo them out and basically couldn’t ever tempo them out because of all their removal.

Even once you start drawing cards with Consecrated Sphinx, you still need something to keep their board clear. Dismember is the real card you want, but you don’t always draw those and sometimes your life is too low after some Huntmaster beats.

If they were being super aggressive, I would board in both Sphinxes on the play and try to keep all my Mana Leaks to hit their ramp spells but shave those cards on the draw. Geist was suddenly my best card, and I’d want all the Vapor Snags I could get my hands on.

From the Wolf Run side of things, I’m scared of two things:

1) A proactive opponent: I can’t play my long game plan against you if you are jamming Titans. That means I could have sideboarded improperly or just don’t have the tools to beat a quick Titan. After all, I can only draw so many Clones and Dismembers.

2) A sideboard plan that trumps my sideboard plan: Either you can keep in Beast Within to deal with Sword of Feast and Famine, Restoration Angel, and Consecrated Sphinx, or you board in a third Kessig Wolf Run, or both.

The Mirror Match

From my article last week:

"There are several sub-games in the Delver mirror. First, you need to beat their Delver, then you need to beat their Geist, then their Sword, then their Moorland Haunt. If you ever draw the wrong part of your deck in the sub-game, you are going to lose. Most of my losses in Delver mirrors came down to me having Gut Shot and Divine Offering to their Geist of Saint Traft, so I wanted to skimp on answers to all of their different threats and play versatile ones like Ratchet Bomb."

Restoration Angel fits in there somewhere, after Geist but before Moorland Haunt. One of the reasons Delver is so effective is that there isn’t a card that deals with all of their threats. If Chaos Orb were legal, we probably wouldn’t have these problems. As it is, you want Phantasmal Image, Shock, Doom Blade, and Disenchant all in your deck and you have to have the right one at the right time.

This is why control and Wolf Run don’t beat Delver the majority of the time and why being reactive is a bad strategy in Magic right now. In the mirror, you want to be aggressive.

Take Brian Eason for example. He’s a kid that I’ve known for a long time, and while I don’t get along with him, I certainly respect him. He doesn’t want to mess around with six-drops, especially in the mirror match, and generally plays as a tight, aggressive player.

Trust me when I say those are the players to be feared.

I knew he would keep in some Mana Leaks and all of his Gut Shots, Vapor Snags, and Dismember. His "late game" would be Sword of War and Peace. He would probably only touch his Timely Reinforcements if he was on the draw, but he would probably use them to sculpt a situation where he wins a race. He was not in the market for defensive cards.

Against him, I probably sideboarded (on the draw):

+ 2 Timely Reinforcements, 1 Amass the Components, 2 Ratchet Bomb, 2 Phantasmal Image, 1 Phyrexian Metamorph, 1 Divine Offering

– 3 Mana Leak, 3 Vapor Snag, 2 Sword of Feast and Famine, 1 Gitaxian Probe

He can sniff out a bluff a mile away, he’ll play around Leak only if he can afford to, and he’ll be aggressively Probe-ing me. This meant that Leak would lose a ton of value, but I needed to keep 1-2 in to keep him honest. On the play, I was much more comfortable with a Leak and/or a Snag over some Timely Reinforcements.

Taking out Snags might have been a mistake, but I figured with Bombs, Dismember, and Gut Shot for hard removal I wouldn’t need the Snags. Obviously, that’s kind of backwards thinking since Snag is still good regardless. I didn’t want to get flooded with those effects, but if I was he wasn’t exactly killing me. If I had a threat, he might just die.

In two of our games, his Sword of War and Peace rotted in his hand and he never had a chance to cast it without getting blown out. In my opinion, the games don’t come down to those grind-fests, at least postboard. In game 1 you might get someone with a Sword, but postboard I’d rather side them out.

Josh Cho is a different kind of maniac. I knew he was going to want Sphinx, so I wanted to keep Mana Leaks in. In a slower, grindy game I didn’t want Vapor Snags, but what I should have done was take the Brian E approach and just get him dead.

Amass the Components might be like Sword of War and Peace in that it’s too slow, but I don’t think so. If you ever have a turn of reprieve, you should probably win with the components you’ve amassed. The easiest way to get ahead is by playing multiple spells in a turn. Even though you fell behind by casting a draw spell, you’ll make up for it in the coming turns.

It’s tough to explain the mirror. I’m not sure I fully grasp it even now. Up until last weekend, the mirror was the only deck I was losing to with relative consistency. I feel like I’ve leveled up in my understanding, but before I go to the SCG Open Series in Columbus this weekend I want to play several games of the mirror.

G/R Aggro

This matchup used to be tough, but Timely and Sphinxes do a lot of work. While your G/R opponent is trying to beat your Geists and Delvers, postboard you don’t care. The only thing that matters is Sphinx. Just like in the Wolf Run matchup, if they had Beast Withins you’d be in a lot of trouble.

This is how I was sideboarding (again, most of the time; it’s different against everyone):

+ 3 Timely Reinforcements, 2 Consecrated Sphinx, 1 Amass the Components, 1 Divine Offering, 1 Phantasmal Image (or Phyrexian Metamorph if you think copying their Sword is a realistic possibility)

– 4 Geist of Saint Traft, 2 Mana Leak, 2 Vapor Snag,

Amass the Components is what pulls it all together. When you have Timely Reinforcements to stall and Sphinx to close, you need something to fill the space in between. Amass gives you more resources to use against them, and you get to get rid of one that you have excess of. Amass is as close to a "draw 3" as you’re going to get, and it’s exactly what you want with your sideboard plan.

I used to have a Celestial Purge for Huntmaster of the Fells and Hellrider, but you don’t need it. You also don’t need it versus Zombies, so don’t bother. Maybe if there were Curse of Death’s Holds and Liliana of the Veils in the format, it would be different. When it comes down to actually playing the games, Mana Leak functions like a bad Celestial Purge, so keeping a couple of those is fine.

Vapor Snag is not very good postboard. You are interested in buying time in some capacity, but having only cards that do that is going to lose you the game. For example, try winning when you draw three Vapor Snags postboard when they are killing all of your creatures. It just won’t happen.

Day of Judgment is not where you want to be. Timely Reinforcements buys you way more time than Day of Judgment ever would. If anything, you are in a worse position when you cast Day than before. They have Strangleroot Geists that come back, Wolfir Avengers that regenerate, and get the first untap step.

Even if Delver decks all move to Sword of Feast and Famine, you still probably want the Divine Offering maindeck for decks like G/R who still play Sword of War and Peace. Divine is passable against Wolf Run Ramp, so it’s still not that bad if you draw it there. They have Sphere of the Suns that you want to kill and sometimes a Solemn or Inkmoth Nexus.


Obviously there are other decks out there, but those are the big three. Once you understand those, you should be able to understand the rest as well. For example, Pod and Zombie decks are very similar to G/R Aggro.

Delver is clearly the best deck in Standard, and anyone who disputes that is just kidding themselves. Wolf Run Ramp had its time in the sun, but Delver has adapted and Wolf Run must adapt to it. I’ve got plenty of brews in my mind, and maybe I’ll try one this weekend in Columbus in order to test it for the upcoming SCG Invitational in Indianapolis.

Chances are I’ll just play Delver again though. There’s basically no reason not to.