My Love-Hate Relationship With Delver

Although GerryT wanted to play Sun Titans at GP Minneapolis, time constraints caused him to continue his love-hate relationship with Delver. Find out how he Delver treated him and what you should play at SCG Open Series: Nashville.

When I left for Grand Prix Minneapolis, I packed light and did it with purpose. Sun Titans were to be my weapons, as Delver of Secrets and I had a falling out. It’s one of those things, like from 500 Days of Summer, where you think back on the relationship and remember it as super good or super bad depending on how good the relationship is in that moment.

Right before the Grand Prix, I tried to remember what Delver had ever done for me. Did I ever win a tournament with Delver of Secrets? How could I realistically call Delver the new Caw-Blade when Caw-Blade and I got along so well and Delver and I struggled endlessly? Did I even ever Top 8 a tournament with Delver?

That was it. We were done, and I was leaving those Delver cards at home. Delver had given me nothing but an SCG IQ Top 8 and a lot of near misses, excepting the mountain of Magic Online tickets it won me. I sent some speculative Sun Titan decklists to a few notables, but no one was willing to take the plunge with me.

I built the new list and goldfished a few games, mostly imagining how I would deal with aggressive Delver and G/R Aggro draws. It didn’t seem very good, despite how good it looked when Brad was thrashing me with it. Due to the rise of G/R and the fact that Ratchet Bomb wasn’t a stone cold killer like it used to be, I had to change the removal suite around, which made my Sun Titans much worse.

I was having my doubts.

Thankfully (I think?) Charles Gindy gave me a call.

Gindy: I think I broke it.

Me: Uh oh, I bet it has Delver in it…

Gindy: Obviously! Check your Facebook messages.

This is what he sent me:

I briefly considered playing Wolf Run Ramp. Thanks to my playtesting series with Brad I’ve become comfortable with most of the decks in Standard, and Wolf Run was among them. I had a list that I thought was good, and it even ended up making Top 8 in the hands of Stephen Bishop.

Once I put that crazy thought out of my mind, I committed to Delver. I thought about all my near misses with Delver—I lost two win and ins at Grand Prix Orlando with a terrible version of the Delver deck that Gindy previously broke the format with, I lost a win and in at the SCG Standard Open in DC (where Todd won with Delver and Cho made Top 4, also with Delver), and I had a successful run at the SCG Invitational in Baltimore, which could have translated into another Top 8 had my Legacy deck not been unplayable.

Suddenly, the relationship didn’t seem as bad as I was making it out to be. Before I knew it, Delver and I were back in the honeymoon phase.

I sleeved up this:

Going in, I knew a few things:

Restoration Angel was going to be good.

What I didn’t know was that Restoration Angel was going to be the best card in my deck. Over the course of the tournament, I became more and more impressed by the Angel. Even aside from the occasional Snapcaster shenanigans, the flash, flying, and huge body were amazing. Going forward, I can’t imagine designing a Delver deck without Restoration Angel.

Having Angel creates one of those situations Faeries was known for, which is putting them in spots where they can’t play around both Cryptic Command and Mistbind Clique. The "normal" play was to Clique them in their upkeep, but savvy players soon figured out it was better to wait. Since you didn’t cast it upkeep, they assumed you didn’t have it. They also didn’t want to walk their main phase spell into your Cryptic Command so they’d move right to attackers, only to get ambushed.

In Delver, four untapped mana represents Snapcaster Mage on Mana Leak, so it creates the same type of tension. Do they run into Snapcaster/Leak or should they play around it? At the GP, several players opted to "play around it," and I punished them by playing Angel and then equipping it with Sword of Feast and Famine.

Sword of Feast and Famine was going to be better than Sword of War and Peace.

If Restoration Angel was the best card in my deck, Feast and Famine was the second best. Honestly, part of that was because of Restoration Angel. Turn 4 Angel into turn 5 Sword was great, but so was just having a big, relevant thing to cast to take advantage of Sword’s untap ability.

Green decks were more popular than white decks, and it wasn’t particularly close. While Sword of War and Peace might fit the game plan better, you can’t exactly sideboard Sword of Feast and Famine. Postboard, the Swords become much worse since everyone has Ancient Grudge, so it’s not even worth sideboarding.

For now, play them maindeck and beat up on G/R Aggro.

The Negate/Mana Leak split was likely ambitious.

In hindsight, the Negate should have been another Mana Leak. Sword of Feast and Famine was better than War and Peace because of the abundance of green decks, but that meant that I would need Mana Leak to counter powerful creatures and Negate would be dead a lot of the time. By the second match, the Negate had screwed me more than once, and I wish I just played Mana Leak. There weren’t enough spell-based decks in the metagame to justify it.

Geist of Saint Traft, as I mentioned in my SCG Invitational deck tech, was either going to be a 3 or a 9.

Most of the time, it was a 3, and I was happy that I had a sideboard plan where I could sideboard them out. Blade Splicer might actually be better, and not only because of its synergy with Restoration Angel.

The maindeck Divine Offering was a gamble.

In the end, it was a gamble that paid off. It was dead against only a couple different decks, but the likelihood of drawing it wasn’t high. At least when I was playing against Delver or G/R Aggro, I would have an out to a maindeck Sword.

Despite the maindeck Divine Offering, I was a little light on Disenchant effects.

Typically, I’d play three Disenchants between Revoke Existence, Steel Sabotage, and Divine Offering. This was the first tournament where I was running a little light, but I also had Ratchet Bombs to compensate. While I knew that I wouldn’t always have the immediate answer, it was nice to have a split card that killed Delver and Swords.

Gitaxian Probe was going to be awesome, but I was going to want more Thought Scours.

I wouldn’t play without Probes, but as I thought, Thought Scour was awesome. While playing Snapcaster Mage as SIlvergill Adept on turn 2 is a fantastic option to have, so is being able to play Snapcaster at instant speed and get value from it. On top of that, Thought Scour fills your graveyard for Moorland Haunt and more Snapcaster action.

Timely Reinforcements was going to do nothing except buy me time.

When a Zombie deck curves Gravecrawler, two-drop, Geralf’s Messenger, you’re going to need more than Timely Reinforcements to beat them. Sure, you gain some life and block a few times, but unless you have an end game you’re going to die to what they still have in play.

This isn’t like a Limited game where your Soldiers trade off with a Grizzly Bears and Llanowar Elves. Creatures in Standard are far more resilient, which is why I’ve always wanted Intangible Virtue in my Timely decks. At least then your Soldier tokens can trade off with some of their cards.

In this deck, Timely was serving the purpose of a double Time Walk. All I wanted to do was get to six mana and drop a fatty. Most of the time that should be good enough.

My six-drops were going to be indestructible.

What can a G/R deck do against a Consecrated Sphinx? Unless they have some teched out version with Beast Within or double Combust, I knew that six toughness might as well have been a sideways eight. Not only did they help me stabilize, but they also won the game for me where no other card could have done it. I wrote about going over the top of Zombies and G/R Aggro here, and it worked well for this tournament.

It certainly helped that both of my sixes were significantly better versus Zealous Conscripts than most sixes. If I untapped with a six-drop, the game ended.

Mutagenic Growth was going to be proportionately good to however many Wolf Run decks I played against.

It was mostly true. I played against one Wolf Run deck, but he had Day of Judgment so it mostly sat on the bench. If they are playing Caverns, Geist plus Growth is your best chance to beat them, so you should keep them if that’s a concern.

I was light on ways to interact with Geist of Saint Traft.

Geist, if unanswered, should dominate the mirror. I figured with Restoration Angels, Geists of my own, and Phantasmal Images that I’d be alright, but it was sometimes a struggle.

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.

It might seem counterproductive, but I didn’t want to get Gut Shot and Vapor Snag flooded when facing a Geist, nor did I want a bunch of Divine Offerings when they didn’t have a Sword.


My rounds went like this:

Round 4: U/W Delver, 2-0

Round 5: B/U Zombies, 2-1

Typically you’ll lose the games where they flood the board with one-drops, so Ratchet Bomb is a necessity. You’ll beat their all three-drop draws, and Bomb is still fine against those.

Round 6: G/R Aggro, 0-2

He mulliganed to five in game 1 and had an awesome draw while I was flooded. Still, the threat of Restoration Angel kept him from attacking. Just when he convinced himself I didn’t have it, I had just drawn it. I managed to stabilize at four life, but he drew a Daybreak Ranger to break the stalemate.

Round 7: Block Boros, 2-0

Coverage of this match can be found here.

Round 8: Wolf Run White, 2-1

Round 9: G/R Aggro, 2-0

Round 10: G/R Aggro, 2-0

My sideboard plans were coming together, and the matchup didn’t seem very hard at all.

Round 11: Zombie Pod, 2-1

Coverage of this match can be found here.

Round 12: U/W Delver, 2-1

Round 13: U/R Delver, 1-2

Thanks to the coverage team putting up Calcano’s list, I got to see exactly what was in his deck. The matchup seemed great for me, as maindeck he had little to beat Geist of Saint of Traft, Sword of War and Peace, and Restoration Angel. Postboard he didn’t get much help either.

We got deck checked, and I asked what I could use that time for. The judge was confused by my question, but I didn’t want to elaborate as it would give away my intentions of getting further acquainted with Calcano’s decklist. Still, I told him what I wanted to do was to use my phone to look up my opponent’s decklist, and he said no. I asked if I could go to the bathroom, and he said yes.

Then I asked what, exactly, could I do in the bathroom. He sent me to the head judge, who told me to return to my seat.

I mulliganed to five in game 1 and six game 2. The first game wasn’t close, but in game 2 I stuck a Geist and while the game lasted for a while, he was behind the entire time. In the third game I was stuck on lands, and Frost Titan ended what was otherwise a close, good game.

Round 14: U/W Delver, 0-2

My opponent this round played for close to forty of the fifty minutes in the round. After he won game 1, there was a judge watching for most of the time who told him he should speed up his pace but never gave any official penalties. I would have lost 1-0-1 if I didn’t make some risky attacks trying to get the draw, but I ended up losing instead.

Round 15: U/W Delver, 1-2

I won game 1 and was in a commanding position game 2, but I couldn’t beat a Restoration Angel. We were going to time before starting game 3, so I offered to concede to my opponent, Shahar Shenhar, who ended up in 9th place.


In the end, I was in the same position as at Grand Prix Orlando. I had two win-and-ins, and I lost them both. Gone are the days when I could limp into Top 8 at x-3, so apparently I need to step my game up.

Delver was a good choice for the tournament, and the list that Gindy came up with was definitely good. I still think Sun Titan is where I want to be, but I didn’t have a chance to hash out a great list. Now that AVR is on Magic Online, you can bet that I’ll be working on that archetype.

The main reason I didn’t play it was because I didn’t like my list. However, I have some ideas and hopefully those will fix the problems that I had. I’ll be at the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Nashville this weekend, and I’ll probably play Delver again. There just isn’t enough time for me to work on something else.