After the October Power Nine Challenge I thought for quite a while if I wanted to write a report or not. I wanted to write the report because that usually helps me sort my thoughts and eases the tension. In the future I can come back to the report and see how my thinking process changed with time. The reason I did not want to write the report was because I was embarrassed of the decklist I produced for the tournament. Meanwhile some people commented on my finish (positively) and posted my decklist on other sites other than mtggoldfish and mtgtop8, including our own Czech portal and PureMTGO. It did not feel good seeing the decklist pop up at me on mtggoldfish as the 'Delver archetype' sample deck (at least it does not say whose decklist it is). I was thankful for all the mentions and congratulations I got but that did not change the way how I felt about my decklist. So I decided to write the report and let you read it. I wondered if anyone would mention that my deck was wrong. Wappla is the person who was the first to point out my card choices were bad. That is what I expected from the players and I wasn't looking forward to it. Wappla's articles and posts are always spot on and provoking and I recommend you to read them. After talking to Wappla for a bit I realized that I speak with someone with a sharp mind (I knew that already) and someone also having the same opinions about Blue-Red Delver archetype. He was actually the first person to acknowledge my experiences with the deck and card choices. There may be more people like that but he was the first person to actually tell me this.
Last Power Nine Challenge I played while being feverish and I couldn't see things clearly. Playing while being sick is not usually the best thing a Magic player can do (at least in my case). But I also did not want to miss that tournament and I decided to give it a try. Somehow, not entirely sure how, I managed to play with the deck I put together on the last minute (the report from the event can be found here -> Power Nine Challenge - Getting consistent; another Top10 with URw Delver). I had either plan A which was to be aggressive and efficient or plan B that consisted of me landing Jace, the Mind Sculptor, meaning I'd rather be playing the deck as a control deck. I played accordingly to what I saw or expected and it worked well with one exception - I totally forgot about playing safe at one critical moment and decided not to play Dig Through Time which cost me a match. 5-1 seemed good enough but as usual I lost the last round, ending up outside of the top8. There is always room for improvement.
When I finally recovered from my sickness a few days later and I could think clearly I decided to play few matches in the TP room with the deck from the P9C. Glancing at the deck I wondered how was I even capable piloting it and how it did manage to win 5 matches? I joined a few games in order to confirm my feeling when looking at the deck after the Power Nine Challenge. After those matches I just couldn't bear playing with the deck (I lost every single one of them). I expected something else from the deck but it did not provide it; during the P9C I knew that the outcome of the match would be decided by me as a pilot rather than the deck being good at what it was supposed to do. I was the one trying to make the deck work in a way I wanted. This time I wanted to see what the deck alone can do and observed lack of consistency and efficiency. After losing all my matches with this deck I switched to a big blue deck for a while and totally died to Null Rod - I forgot that when playing all Moxen, Black Lotus and other mana rocks I'm prone to Null Rod that I was used playing main deck in a different deck. At that moment I wondered if I wanted to tweak the Delver deck to something more streamlined to make it 'playable' again or switch decks completely (taking into account that I would have to get used to playing a different kind of deck - big blue deck). I wanted to try Pyro Grow deck but since I did not have time to test before two major paper tournaments in our city I decided to just tweak my Delver list. I realized that I forgot why I built the Delver deck in the first place. I even wrote an article about Delver in the past - URx Delver in Vintage. The games I played with this deck after the P9C were a good enough wake up call. I had to wake up from my slumber and recall why I started playing the deck. I built it in order to attack a field full of Shops and Tezzerator decks. In order to beat those the deck needed to be aggressive, consistent and efficient. The big blue decks weren't good enough for me due to not being consistent and efficient enough and for that reason I rather wanted to play hard control deck that did not suffer from inconsistency that much. Unfortunately neither of these two decks seemed favored in the meta I envisioned. So I ended up with Delver.
Back to Basics
After I finally woke up, I noticed that I wasn't the only person to fall asleep. There are Vintage players that take a long time to adapt to a meta and that is why my Delver deck started winning with ease. Mostly when I was losing it was because of me not being able to play well. When Mentor decks started to flood the metagame with Shops starting to be played again we all tried to adapt somehow. Many new decks were built and tried. But some players forgot about one thing. Whatever deck that we built should work on its own in any metagame. Just then when the deck works we should tweak the deck to make it better against the current metagame. I build UR Delver at first but due to being annoyed with certain cards (namely Hurkyl's Recall) I added white to the deck. While many people were telling me that I'm crazy since my deck will be worse against Shops I knew that it wasn't really the case. All I just needed was a fetchland or Tundra to play my Stony Silence and then I did not care about not having a white source. It wasn't the Shops matchup that bothered me. Playing white I gained access to Rest in Peace, Containment Priest and Stony Silence - I needed these cards against decks that do not attack mana bases. I could also play Path to Exile that I put in the deck to deal with Blightsteel Colossus and Marit Lage. Dark Depths/Thespian's Stage was a concern for me, I couldn't deal with it except for a singleton Strip Mine (I even considered running Wastelands). Path to Exile seemed like a good choice because it also worked against other decks, I did not consider the card too narrow at that point. Swords to Plowshares wasn't an option, it was the first card I cut from my deck. After one game in which I exiled 4 Marit Lages and I had 3 minutes to finish the game with Young Pyromancer I decided not to play the card ever again. Early Blightsteel Colossus was another card that started to annoy me a bit too so the Path to Exile wasn't that bad. It paid off actually. I had problems outdrawing Landstill decks and for that I put 2 copies of Dack Fayden in my deck while still keeping the core of the deck intact. Even though it may not seem like it, Dack was capable of dealing with both Blightsteel Colossus (second ability) and Marit Lage (thanks to its ultimate ability and Pyroblast, a bit of a stretch but it worked!). These changes were well thought out and tested. But then suddenly the metagame changed. I became rather frustrated with Monastery Mentor and my deck did not fare that well in over 60% Mentor meta. After one P9C in which I played against 6 Mentor decks and a mirror match I started trying anything that could possibly deal with this white pest - from Sulfur Elemental to Sudden Shock. Next month I came to the conclusion that Lightning Bolt was all I needed. I tried too hard to fight something I did not need to fight at all. What I did for the P9C was similar - I forgot what my deck was supposed to do and how it wins the game. That is the reason why I'd like to point this out.
The next time you will brew a deck start from the beginning. Build the deck in a vacuum. If you find that your deck works while goldfishing or playing against some decks you are doing fine. Do not add meta cards just yet. Make the deck truly work first and just after you are satisfied with what the deck does start tweaking it for the current metagame. This is actually something relatively easy and usually comes naturally to us, because we built our decks after all, we know what the cards do and we know when the cards won't be as good. We shouldn't be too immersed in what is going on now, looking for really strange solutions. We should start right at the beginning - with a solid deck.
There are many strange decks that people play but sometimes when you look at the deck you can start to wonder. Why did the player decided to play this or that when these cards seemingly do not really work or are misplaced in a deck? For example if you look at my decklist from Power Nine Challenge, you'll see that there is Jace, the Mind Sculptor. That is obviously a card that does not belong there and it is something many people will see at a first glance. Players will be like 'Who would play Jace in such a deck?'. While I had a reason why I put the card there, it was because I lacked something in the deck and I needed something to give it to me (ironically the card I was missing has also 'Jace' in its name). But since I wasn't looking at the deck as a whole at that time I picked the wrong card. It did not matter because I knew what all cards in my deck were doing and thanks to that I could choose parts of the deck to work with while I was switching roles while playing the deck. This meant that I had the means to win all matches but my deck was less efficient and less consistent because I was dependent on certain cards while having dead cards in my deck. This is what many of us do. Many of you are better players than deck builders (not really my case, usually). You play so well that you can even take decks that are not optimal to the top. This unfortunately is something that sometimes blinds us. We are blind to what is going on or we try too hard to attack a certain metagame. Sometimes we deviate too much and that makes our decks less powerful.
Blue-Red Delver revisited
I think the biggest problem players have with a Delver deck is that they misunderstand how the deck should be played and many players think the deck is bad or some card choices are bad. While some card choices are indeed bad we all have different playstyles and 'tastes'. I'm a control player at heart but I also very much like 'switch decks' (in other games this term is used to describe a deck that can either be aggressive but can also play on defensive or it can be a deck that either uses one win condition or another - when playing a switch deck a player needs to know when to change roles during a game). Blue-Red Delver archetype is not obviously a control deck but it falls in the second category of switch decks. In Magic terms we speak about a tempo deck when talking about Delver but I would like to pinpoint the fact that in order to play this deck well a player needs to understand the roles this deck can take. The roles are dependent on the flow of a game and matchup and that is why it is very difficult to describe this. I will talk about the tempo part of this deck in the following text (I will talk about roles in one of my following articles).
A Delver deck is a tempo deck and as such it should aim for consistency and efficiency. In order to reach that Delver decks usually play as low CMC cards as possible. They play versatile cards that are good against as many decks as possible. Too narrow cards are not good enough since they can become dead in a matchup and that is something the deck should really avoid. This deck can be fast and can take advantage of people undervalueing life as a resource. This deck can race other aggressive decks like Car Shops, Eldrazi or Humans. Many players trying to play a Delver deck or Pyromancer deck are afraid of these matchups but there is no need. Consistency and efficiency of this deck is what wins more games against these decks. The matchups are not bad. One just needs to be proactive - play a role that is unfamiliar to many Vintage players. Proactivity was not something that was favored many years ago, we have less experience with being proactive than reactive (this applies to blue players, MUD player might have less problems with this role).
What also adds to the consistency and efficiency is mana base. At first when I put together my deck I played 2 basic lands. I was very afraid of my lands being destroyed. Way more Wastelands saw play at that time. That is the reason I played basic lands and that is also the reason I still have an Island main deck and Mountain in the sideboard. Times changed though. Looking at these lands now though makes me ask the question 'Is this still necessary?'. In Legacy Delver decks I never played a single basic land and in order to make Grixis Therapy work I also had to cut all basics even though I tried finding space for them. Playing a single basic land though hurt the deck a lot. Shouldn't that mean that this deck, which strives for more aggression and efficiency, should play just dual lands and fetchlands? My brain says yes, but I'm not willing to cut those basics just yet. This means sometimes my deck is slower, sometimes it can lose to a Mountain or Island being the only lands one has in hand, but it can also keep a land against Wasteland. Not Strip Mine though. I traded speed and efficiency for the ability to be able to keep one land in play. If you are going to play a Delver deck it is up to you to decide what is more important to you.
When Jace, Vryn's Prodigy wasn't in print yet I used to try playing Snapcaster Mage everywhere I could in order to gain some card advantage of it. In this deck the card most of the time flashbacked Lightning Bolt, Mental Misstep or Flusterstorm. While I love the card it never really helped the deck's original plan and often resulted in negative tempo. The reason was simple, it was too expensive. Most of the time Snapcaster Mage turned into a chump blocker and there wasn't a single game I would have won with Snapcaster Mage attacking. Having 2/1 body in play simply wasn't good enough to keep the card in the deck. At best it managed to buy me a turn in a situation in which I usually couldn't turn the game in my favor.
This deck in order to be very efficient needs to gain tempo (that's why it's called tempo in the first place). Tempo is usually gained in trades of low CMC cards for higher CMC cards but it can be gained in other various ways. In Magic, gaining tempo means to be ahead on a resource - mana, cards or life. All are relevant to 'time'. With time I mean the fact that we always trade certain resources for other resources and it is the result we are interested in. When this trade of resources happens is important. Tempo decks can take advantage of only some of these resources usually. Snapcaster Mage might be a card advantage but one that costs usually 3 or more mana which is usually a tempo loss in another resource (mana) and totals in negative tempo for this deck. The deck is better off playing its cheap spells.
Since the introduction of planeswalker type to Magic we have permanents that gain a lot of tempo in various ways. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is such a card as well even though it comes into play as creature. The card gains tempo on all axes unlike Snapcaster Mage. Jace saves us mana (it is permanent that stays in play), gains life (it's plus ability), and gives us card advantage either virtual or real ('flashback', loot). It creates huge tempo swings and when paired with Time Walk it becomes deadly.
Apart from Jace there are other cards that can gain tempo in more resources than one. Gush is a very good draw engine because it also gains tempo in mana (if you use the alternate casting cost). This kind of cards are important in this deck to make it as efficient as possible. That is the reason why cards like Snuff Out or Gut Shot should not be laughed at. Those are cards that exactly help the deck being efficient! You may decide to trade the efficiency for something else as I did with my basic lands, but that does not mean that cards like Snuff Out or Gut Shot are bad.
Delver decks should be favored in the current metagame no matter if one splashes white (or any other color) or plays just blue-red Delver. I decided to go with white because it allows me to play Containment Priests, Rest in Peace and Stony Silence. These are cards that are simply better than Grafdigger's Cage, Ravenous Trap and Null Rod, but even those do their job since I had to play with them for quite a while as well. None of these though can attack! Containment Priest is a very good attacker and blocker, it can come out of nowhere and block Young Pyromancer, Mishra's Factory or Monastery Mentor (while another creature joins the block) or just comes out at the end of a turn and deal with a Planeswalker. Containment Priest is a very good card with many uses. It far surpasses cards like Grafdigger's Cage. Stony Silence requiring W to be cast is simply better than Null Rod because it is an Enchantment. It gets hit by less cards (especially Hurkyl's Recall) even though it can still be bounced by other cards (Chain of Vapor, Echoing Truth). Fragmentize is a card now, but still preboard the card can usually be just countered. Now is the time to play a Null Rod effect main deck and maybe running two main deck may not be a bad call. It partly stops Shops and it stops Paradoxical Outcome decks. Big blue decks won't be happy about a Null Rod effect and some Mentor decks will be also sad facing it. Shops are less prone to Null Rod effects now but it still hurts them a lot (see Porcelain Legionnaire, Foundry Inspector etc).
Now after I wrote down an overview of what the deck should strive for, I will provide you a decklist in a text form that went 3-1 in two tournaments I played this weekend. The two losses were due to me misplaying rather than the deck not being able to deal with the opposing deck (I lost against Shops because I underestimated my opponent's start and EmraOath where I couldn't top deck a Lightning Bolt and couldn't stop Oath on turn 1). I also played some test games (60ish) against different matchups. I was content with this build unlike with my P9C one.
My following article will be a report from the aforementioned Vintage Daily event.
Thank you for reading.
- STsung (stsung on modo/stsungjp on twitter).