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By: zebhillard, Zebiriah Ray Hillard
Dec 24 2018 1:00pm
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So, how about those numbers!?

While there have only been two undefeated lists running Foil and Gush in the newest competitive league, 15 of the Top 32 in the most recent Pauper Challenge ran that combination.  An astounding fourteen of those decks were UB Delver with only one Mono Blue Delver list running both (and with a 3/4 Foil/Gush split, at that)! 19 decks overall ran Gush; two Tireless Tribe lists and two Skred Delver ran it without Foil in their list.  While this makes sense for Tribe, as they need to have all the cards that can have in their hand so their combo functions, I think even Skred Delver could benefit from the addition of at least two copies of Foil if room can be made for it.

Overwhelming Forces
Despite the high numbers (at least 21.8% of the field as we don’t have the full Challenge breakdown, and 43.75% of the decks represented) UB Delver only put three people into the Top 8 of the event and only one of those was in the top half of the standings.  Zelgian, Nasty, and Kanister all took very similar version of the build on hot runs to the elimination rounds with some of the more unusual cards in the queue to be discussed below.


Unlike the three previously mentioned participants, my first Challenge in almost a year ended anticlimactically after a promising 2-0 beginning, finalizing in a 3-3 finish with two losses to the mirror (once being to Zelgian on their run to an eventual top 4 finish) and to one to Dignitary Tron (Hellsau, 16th place) closing out my weekend.  It did, however, result in my next Challenge entry being free and give some fuel to use when fleshing out this article. So, if anything, that is a win from two different angles. It, in combination with a rather lucky run and Top 8 in a local paper magic 3K Invitational on Saturday, made for a rather enjoyable weekend.


Coalition Victory
Before I hop into my Challenge and a brief touch on the matches I had, I’d like to take a step back and discuss the typical build of UB Delver (or “Best Delver” as I refer to it in person).  You can look at this two ways, one being a build guide and card choice primer for the deck, and the second being a warning of what to generally expect in the coming weeks until it gets pushed back by Stompy and more vicious Tron builds.


Training Grounds
Anatomy of a Zombie-Fish-Human-Wizard-Insect-Merfolk-Wizard Thing


17 Lands: 8 Island, 2 Swamp, 3 Terramorphic Expanse, 3 Evolving Wilds, 1 Ash Barrens

It’s highly unusual to see a UB Delver list running anything other than 17 lands.  The count works out well with both your low threat-cost, and the high number of cantrips used to chew through your library and set up your draws.  You run more than the average number of fetch lands to both improve Brainstorm and shuffle your library after you have been forced to Scry cards to the bottom you will eventually want, that they also fuel Delve to cast Gurmag Angler is delicious icing on the cake.
Some people run Snow-Covered Islands to present the possibility of being on a Skred-based build, but that’s a fairly minimal percentage gain.  I personally prefer the foil Hour of Devastation full-art Islands (#186) and Swamps (#187), so go with what you like to see the most. The split between Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds is also up to personal choice (Amonkhet or Dark Ascension EW’s for this writer, though).


12 Creatures: 4 Delver of Secrets, 4 Gurmag Angler, 4 Augur of Bolas

This is where the magic starts to build.  Though, to be honest, Gurmag Angler has mostly supplanted Delver of Secrets as the primary threat in the deck.  Regardless, the deck runs eight “one mana” threats and four additional ways to find answers that can also act as sacrifice bait to edict effects, serviceable walls, and/or get in chip damage in the early game before your opponent establishes a boardstate.


Anyone who has played with the card before knows turn 1 Delver of Secrets automatically puts an opponent on the back foot, and now that Gurmag Angler can be cast more reliably in the early game due to Foil’s alternate casting cost, the ability to apply pressure even when your Delver of Secrets doesn’t flip remains constant.  Some decks have moved to cutting Augur of Bolas and running copies of Sultai Scavenger to have additional evasive threats, then filling in the additional card slots with self-mill like Thought Scour or Mental Note to fuel the extra delve costs.


10-11 Counterspells: 4 Daze, 3 Counterspell, 3 Foil

Some lists have recently been trimming the fourth copy of actual-factual Counterspell to have an additional removal spell or cantrip, and this is absolutely fine.  Turn one Delver of Secrets with Daze as protection on the play can win games on its own. If it doesn’t, being able to protect your small threat-base with hard counterspells (as opposed to further ‘soft’ counters like Spell Pierce and Miscalculation, or conditional counterspells like Prohibit or Negate) as the game goes on becomes more and more valuable, as the responses an opponent could have grow.


Foil works so many different jobs in this deck, and wears so many hats, you could just call it Mike Rowe and give it a pass for the day.  In addition to being an early game free counterspell, a late game 4cc hard counterspell, and a way to have additional protection post-Daze on the early turns (by discarding the Island you’ve returned to your hand), it also allows you to dig more aggressively by providing a response in your hand when you cast Gush, as well as gives you another castable counterspell to find post-resolution when you’re in trouble and Gushing for answers.


Afterward, unless your opponent deals with your growing graveyard, it’s even an effective Dark Ritual toward casting your next Gurmag Angler.  Putting your graveyard count back to three so quickly after having your cards exiled by Nihil Spellbomb, Relic of Progenitus, or had it diminished by Faerie Macabre let’s you stay in the game when your opponent would otherwise expect you to be shut out for a few extra turns.


5 - 7 Removal Spells: 1 Disfigure, 2 Echoing Decay, 1 Ghastly Demise, 2 Snuff Out

The baker’s half-dozen of removal spells, following the maxim of ‘cheap is good, but free is better’ each of these costs one, nothing, but has the potential to remove several of your opponents threats at once.  The only downside this suite of cards has is that it is notoriously difficult to remove opposing black creatures with the best two (Ghastly Demise and Snuff Out) only targeting non-black creatures. This puts extra pressure on your other removal spells when you’re playing the mirror or against Black-based control.


Thankfully these cards aren’t just dead in UB Delver, as you have the option to get them out of your hand and shuffle them away with Brainstorm and your method of choice for fetching a basic land, or you hold them and pitch them as the additional card to cast Foil (another incidental hat for you to wear, Foil, un-deading otherwise basically uncastable cards).


In the mirror match, there is always the potential to use one of your removal spells in a last ditch effort to preserve a wide battlefield.  Killing your own Delver of Secrets with Disfigure or Snuff Out in response to Echoing Decay can be a game-winning play that I expect to see happen fairly frequently as the number of mirror-matches increases.


14 Cantrips, including Gush: 4 Brainstorm, 3 Gitaxian Probe, 3 Gush, 4 Preordain

UB Delver might be the best Brainstorm deck, and one of the few that actively wants to run Preordain instead of Ponder because of that fact.  Skred Delver variants run fewer fetch lands because they need their mana available in the early turns to cast their removal spells and aren’t worried about filling up the graveyard to reduce the casting cost of Gurmag Angler.  This allows UB Delver to monopolize on the power of Brainstorm by both reshuffling with lands or bottoming the unneeded cards with Preordain before drawing another card. Even though Ponder would let you look at the third card down, you’re still stuck with the other two that would be lingering in your hand, regardless.


This leaves us with Gitaxian Probe and Gush.  Recall what I said previously, cheap is good but free is better?  Well Gitaxian Probe gives you full information, draws you a card, and reduces the casting cost of your next Gurmag Angler by one for the paltry cost of two life.  This, as they say, is a value deal. Even if you pay for it, the benefit of Delve makes it mana neutral for Gurmag Angler, and if you leave it as your top card with Preordain, it’s just like drawing two for U (well, it is you drawing two, homophones are grand).  If Gitaxian Probe is a value deal at McDonald’s, being able to cast Gush is like walking into the bank and just having the cashier hand you a pile of money. It can do so many things, Stephen Menendian wrote a book about it! Granted, Gush without Fastbond isn’t supremely broken, but the advantages it provides completely mitigate the “drawback” of the alternate casting cost without the need for such a silly Enchantment.  


1 - 2 Flex Spots:

Overall, the list has become somewhat homogenized, with the pieces in each category being fairly consistent.  The last two card slots typically default to another counterspell of some form and an additional removal spell of one type or another.  A few common choices include the 4th copy of Counterspell and an additional removal spell, be it more copies of Echoing Decay or Snuff Out.  Diabolic Edict and Spell Pierce aren’t unusual choices, and I have recently been playing with a single copy of Sultai Scavenger.


If you want additional cards for the match against Tireless Tribe Combo and the mirror, kanister took a copy of Narcolepsy to their recent Challenge Top 8 (with a Curse of Chains in the sideboard, even) and Zelgian was running two copies of (Chainer’s Edict) with a single Dead Weight to pull double-duty.  I’ve been back and forth on cards like Cartouche of Knowledge, Vampiric Link, and Vapor Snag for a little while now and all of them (save the Cartouche) have shown up previously so you can’t go entirely wrong by picking one of them over the other.


Pit Fight

Pauper Challenge: 12/16/18, 30th Place

The outline and primer went slightly longer than I originally expected, so my overview of the Challenge matches will be slightly more brief.  I had several match-ups in the Challenge I have yet to play in the leagues I have participated in, so my sideboarding may be slightly questionable or inconsistent.


Round 1: Bogles (2-0)

Round 2: Boros Monarch (2-0)

Round 3: UB Delver (1-2)

Round 4: Rakdos Monarch Control (2-0)

Round 5: UB Delver (0-2)

Round 6: Dignitary Tron (1-2)


In several of the games I won, I definitely “Legacy’d Out” my opponent.  It’s a phrase one of my playtest buddies used recently that gives a good summary of most non-interactive Legacy games where the Delver players progression is something along the lines of “Land, Delver, Daze your kill spell, blind flip Delver, counter any following spells that matter while attacking you for three damage in the air each turn.”  My opponents kept land light hands or hands with only singular pieces of interaction, and I played a threat then proceeded to counter every card of note that could change the game after that point.


Evil Twin

The mirror is an interesting dance, between deciding when to chump-block with Augur of Bolas against Gurmag Angler and when to crash your unflipped Delver of Secrets into their just cast Delver of Secrets.  Things become even more interesting after sideboarding when Stormbound Geist decisions begin to matter, and either Nihil Spellbomb or Relic of Progenitus starts chewing away graveyards. Single card main deck decisions can also have a large impact, like Kanister’s Narcolepsy or Zelgian’s Dead Weight being able to shrink opposing Gurmag Angler’s or remove Delver of Secrets.


Stonehorn DignitaryCapsizeGhostly Flicker

The match against Tron remains terrible, with my final game ended with a “quality of life concession” while facing down Circle of Protection: Blue and the threat of Capsize with Buyback multiple times in a turn.  There is the chance I could have hit running Counterspells to stop the Capsize and continue attacks with Gurmag Angler, but the chances were slim as it was already fairly late into the game and several has been used to stop copies of Stonehorn Dignitary and Pulse of Murasa.  


After the Challenge was complete, it put my win percentage with the deck to 65% and change, which is fairly decent with all things being considered.  I still feel confident with the deck, but it does have a few sticking points that are difficult for me to look past (which are common with most Delver decks).  It plays very poorly from behind, with only Gurmag Angler as a real way to get back into the fight or stem the bleeding once your opponent starts to overwhelm your board.  You run a lot number of threats, so are exceptionally reliant on your counterspells to defend them, and while Gurmag Angler is big, it only takes a strong showing by something like BW Pestilence with its Guardian of the Guildpact to brick wall it into oblivion while your opponent picks off all of your other creatures with copies of Journey to Nowhere and Pestilence.


Unknown Shores

I’m likely going to take a week off from Best Delver and try out something new, potentially a build of Skred Delver I have been floating around in my mind for a little while using both Foil and Fire/Ice to see if they can weather the storm that has cropped up which doesn’t seem to be abating any time in the near future.  I’ll post mid-week league updates over on my Twitter account (@zeb_hillard) and have another article on my thoughts about what I decided on some point in the latter half of next week. But for now, thanks for reading (and hopefully enjoying), and feel free to drop me a line with questions or your own thoughts/comments.