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By: stsung, Ren Stefanek
Jun 21 2016 8:14pm
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Little bit of history URx Delver archetype

In 2010 Gush became once again unrestricted. At that time there was a huge outburst of Gush decks. In 2011 Scars of Mirrodin block and Innistrad block came out. These two sets provided certain cards that changed the meta game a lot. Mental Misstep is a card that was deemed a huge misstep from Wizards of the Coast when it was spoiled. And not so surprisingly the card was soon banned in all formats except Vintage and Standard. Blightsteel Colossus was also a good card for Tinker/Gush decks. The same block also brought Phyrexian Metamorph which found home in Shops decks that needed to deal with Blightsteel Colossus. Innistrad brought us Snapcaster Mage. But not only that. In Innistrad there is another blue creature that changed all formats from Standard to Vintage. The card is Delver of Secrets. Because of this card a new deck type was born - named after this card 'Delver' (Delver decks do not necessarily play Delver of Secrets)

Vintage at that time was slower than it is nowadays and was less aggressive. Even though cards like (Lodestone Golem) and Slash Panther could close the game quickly there weren't really dedicated aggressive decks at that time. Fish decks (Null Rod decks) weren't built to beat the opponent in an aggressive way. Utility and disruption/taxation was the game plan (even though I admit Tarmogoyf can be big and fast). By doing this the decks needed to make a sacrifice - they couldn't play all the broken cards and enjoy Gush/Fastbond strategy. Rather they followed a curve and played cards one by one and couldn't out draw other decks (that wasn't their strategy anyway).

So all in all the metagame was rather 'slow'. There were Bazaar decks that were usually dealt with after sideboarding, Gush/Tinker control decks that weren't really fast, MUD that just started to turn aggressive (with the inclusion of Slash Panther and Phyrexian Metamorph) but wasn't quite yet there yet and other decks that weren't really that prevalent (Painter for example).

When Delver of Secrets was printed it first showed in Standard. There were decks built around this card alone and those decks were also the best decks. Modern was kind of strange at that time since it started to be a format at that time and players tried to cope with a second banlist changes so Delver wasn't a thing there yet. In Legacy though the players soon understood that this card is simply too good. For ONLY one mana this creature can be played on turn 1 and be flipped on turn 2. A 3/2 flyer is something that wins games alone and certainly earns the player some free wins in Legacy. But how about Vintage?

The meta game at that time in Vintage needed something to stop the Gush decks and still be able to win over MUD. It was an ideal time to see if dedicated aggressive strategy can possibly work to break the format and create a new balance. I'm not the author of Delver deck type in Vintage and I do not know who came up with it. But the author of this deck was well aware of the meta game and tried to find a way how to beat it.

Since Young Pyromancer did not exist at that time the best creature that could be teamed up with Delver of Secrets was Tarmogoyf. For 2 mana it is the most efficient beater there is. The same can be told about Delver of Secrets. To fight shops Trygon Predator was the card (already proven from BUG Fish decks). At that time many decks were running Dark Confidant and it wasn't rare that a player killed themselves with it (usually flipping something like Blightsteel Colossus).

In 2013 a card that many blue mages fell in love with was printed - Young Pyromancer. This card was incorporated into Vintage quite soon. One of the decks where it could be played is Delver. Young Pyromancer usually replaces Tarmogoyf because of its utility but that does not mean that Tarmogoyf is bad. Players started to play only Blue and Red variants. Trygon Predators ability was replaced by other spells and slots in the sideboard.

A year 2014 was a very important year. In June Vintage Masters was released on Magic Online and this meant the inception of Vintage format online. In September Khans of Tarkir was released. The set brought Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. These cards found their way fast into Vintage and it made the Delver deck one of the best decks of that time. With Treasure Cruise the Delver deck could never ran out of cards, it always had access to threats and permission and became rather dominant.

These cards being banned in Legacy and Modern were also restricted in Vintage and that meant a decline of the Delver deck.

It wasn't the end of creature-centric decks though because in Fate Reforged another very potent creature was printed - Monastery Mentor.

What is the Delver deck?

Delver is a tempo deck that can attack with creatures dealing 20 damage relatively fast. The deck is very streamlined having cheap powerful creatures, removal and a permission suite. Delver of Secrets costing only 1 mana is a huge thing. While flipped it hits for 3. And this was very important since the biggest offender till April 2016 was Lodestone Golem. A creature that could trade with Golem was very important. Power 3 creatures are actually a relatively fast clock and in Vintage it is much easier to protect it than in other formats (Legacy or Modern). The card is way more potent in Vintage and does not require that much of a creature support. The creature that nowadays is played with Delver is Young Pyromancer that can put a lot of pressure on the opponent with its 1/1 Elementals and helps against Tangle Wire/Smokestack.

Delver in Vintage is different from its Legacy counterpart now even the KTK versions of both Vintage and Legacy deck were very similar. Nowadays Delver can be very aggressive but can also switch to a control role. The deck can win by outdrawing the opponent via Gush and Dack Fayden unlike dedicated Null Rod decks.

The validity of the deck can be questioned because a new deck arose when Fate Reforged came out when Monastery Mentor was printed. Mentor was trying to find its home for a while but in the end found its home in a more control shell. Even though some players play highly aggressive version of Mentor while being successful it is not the most widely played version of the deck. The Mentor decks can close out the game in one turn, have more virtual card advantage (for example chaining Tops) and have access to more disruption (mostly in form of Flusterstorm). All this surpasses Delver decks but can still be beaten by them.

I'd like to digress a bit and note that Mentor while being classified usually as aggro-control is a different beast than Delver decks. If the Delver style suits you, the Mentor deck may not be the deck to play. Mentor's home is very different one, a control shell usually. The deck likes to play Mentor when being ahead on resources (both cards and mana) and when Mentor can be well protected or produce a few Monks. Since Mentor's ability is triggered by non-creature spells rather than just instants and sorceries the deck plays off-color moxen. In Pyromacer decks the tokens that are left behind when Pyromancer dies are simply 1/1s and usually more of them is needed in order to win the game. In a Mentor deck though lone Monk token can win the game (even in a single turn).

Things can go really bad if Mentor resolves and creates one token. When there's bunch of tokens the deck is unstoppable.

Why play Delver?

Vintage nowadays is more about broken plays and one turn swings (I don't mean attacks this time) that usually lead to victory. A deck like Delver does not really fit well in such metagame unless it comes prepared for the outcome of such swings. A Delver deck plays a fair game. It has only access to 3 fast mana cards unlike other decks and is forced to play creatures and deal 20 damage with them and has no way of dealing that damage in one turn. Other decks no matter how tempo, control or combo they are can usually sculpt their hand, wait and then kill in one turn - be it by playing restricted cards or playing a card like Show and Tell with enough back up. This leaves the Delver player usually with just a lone 3/2 creature that can hardly fight with Marit Lage, Griselbrand or Blightsteel Colossus. On the other hand this deck is very consistent. With this what I mean is that it has a low resource count and can operate well on it. Thus there are less dead cards that can be drawn. This deck fares better in top deck mode than other decks (that does not mean it wants to be in that position, it certainly does not).

The deck is relatively simple to pilot and is played in a more similar fashion to other formats decks. The Delver strategy is still viable and powerful. It can keep up with tier 1 strategies and thus is a good entry point for Vintage. While being an aggro deck this deck also shows a player how powerful Vintage can be since the deck plays a fair amount of restricted cards and allows for brutal openings.

A new Vintage player might want to choose Delver also because of the price. The deck is rather cheap since it does not need more than 5 pieces of the Power Nine and many of the cards from this deck overlap with Legacy version. So a Legacy player might find it the easiest deck to put together. If a player wants a more interactive deck to play and learn what the Vintage meta game looks like I personally think that this is a good start. The card pool that one gets from buying this deck can be easily used in other decks (Big Blue or Mentor decks).

Playing this deck well and tuning it requires a good knowledge of the meta game and one should be prepared more for Mentor match ups rather than the mirror match.

Since Delver archetype is not that favored playing against mirror is more of a rarity. But when it does happen it can look like this.

How does URx Delver look like?

A Delver deck is usually Blue-Red based with White splash. It can also play Green or Black. White brings primarily sideboard cards like Containment Priest, Rest in Peace, Stony Silence and Wear/Tear. All these cards though have a replacement. The card that is hard to replace though is Swords to Plowshares/Path to Exile. The closest removal to that card is Lightning Bolt. Green gives access to Ancient Grudge, Nature's Claim and Trygon Predator. Black has access to Cabal Therapy and black restricted cards. The deck can be only Blue-Red though since the cards have replacements in artifacts or other cards.

The deck usually runs 15 lands. Some of those lands are dual lands and basics (in total usually 6-7). Strip Mine often sees play. It is a card that can stop Library of Alexandria from becoming a serious problem and helps fight Dredge game 1. The rest of the lands are usually fetchlands being also able to fetch non-blue basic land (RUG for example will play Misty Rainforest so it can find Forest).

15 lands
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Ruby
0 or 4 Delver of Secrets
4 Young Pyromancer
0-3 other creature
3-4 Gush
4 Preordain
1-4 Lightning Bolt
0-1 Artifact hate
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Ponder
1 Time Walk
1 Brainstorm
1 Treasure Cruise
1 Dig Through Time
0-2 Flusterstorm
4 Force of Will
3-4 Mental Misstep
0-4 Gitaxian Probe
0-2 Sudden Shock
1-2 Dack Fayden

Sample decklist

Card choices - Main deck

A list of some cards that can find their way into a Delver deck follows with a little commentary.


Delver of Secrets - a best aggressive creature there is. It can be flipped pretty easily since this deck plays many instants and sorceries.
Young Pyromancer - a creature that replaced Tarmogoyf. Since this deck plays many instant/sorceries it can create tokens easily. This strategy is less prone to lose to spot removal.
Tarmogoyf - in more green dedicated decks Tarmogoyf is still the creature accompanying Delver of Secrets.
Snapcaster Mage - some players like to play Snapcaster Mage. This creature gives even bigger card advantage in midgame usually targeting Lightning Bolt.
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy - plays a similar role like Snapcaster Mage. Even though this card does not allow for instant tricks it is very strong. It loots usually once and then allows us to play spells we already played earlier in the game. Unlike Snapcaster Mage that cannot reliable flashback Gush, Jace can since Gush can be cast for its alternative cost.
Deathrite Shaman - some decks that have access to green/black choose to play Deathrite Shaman as well. This creature can be used in many ways and is not bad in general. Unlike in Legacy though this card does not usually accelerate the deck but rather slows it down since this card goes against the aggressive plan this deck type usually tries to achieve.
Trygon Predator - in RUG decks this card is often used to fight Shops. The card can hit Oath of Druids or some mana rocks which is not bad. It also has evasion and can block and kill opposing Insectile Aberration or Young Pyromancer.

Instants and Sorceries

Gush - the best real card draw engine
Preordain - cheap cantrip that can also help flip Delver of Secrets.
Lightning Bolt - everyone knows what the card does and inclusion of this card sounds like no brainer. This card was the number 1 card against Shops. If Shops won't be a big part of the meta game this card can actually be omitted or the number can be reduced.
Ancestral Recall - no comment needed
Time Walk - in this deck this card can give a player a second attack that can become lethal but otherwise the card is not that powerful as in Tinker or Mentor decks and often can be pitched to Force of Will.
Brainstorm - no comment needed
Treasure Cruise- no comment needed
Dig Through Time - no comment needed
Flusterstorm - when blue decks are prevalent this card can be very potent. This card creates can be a really big blow-out for the opponent if it hits Gush and counterspell on the stack for example. This card does not counter Spheres/Wires, Oath or Time Vault etc. though but can win a counter war over such cards.
Force of Will - a disadvantageous counterspell that is simply necessary.
Mental Misstep - this card often either targets spells that want to get rid of Young Pyromancer/Delver of Secrets or discard.
Gitaxian Probe - this card is often played in Pyromancer decks but can be replaced by other cards. There is a plethora of cards that can be played. Gitaxian Probe isn't a bad card. It helps the deck be more consistent, gives one information about what your opponent plays and also triggers Pyromancer. A player not knowing Vintage much can start playing 4 of these and after they figure out how the field looks like can then choose different cards to replace some or all of the Probes.
Swords to Plowshares/Path to Exile - is the best spot removal there is, unlike Lightning Bolt it can deal with Marit Lage, Blightsteel Colossus or Consecrated Sphinx.
Sudden Shock - for 2 mana Sudden Shock can deal with Monastery Mentor without the player needing to fear counterspells. The cost of the card though is actually hampering the deck's game plan and it does not kill Lodestone Golem.
Mystical Tutor/Vampiric Tutor/Demonic Tutor - this card even though not creating a card advantage can help find the one-of the player needs
Pyroblast - can counter blue spells for one mana which is both its upside and downside (can be Misstep'ed). It can also hit blue permanents in play - Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Consecrated Sphinx, Dack Fayden etc. This card against decks not running blue can still target a permanent to create a token. Sometimes a player does not want his 'Counter target blue spell/Destroy target blue permanent' effect redirected and for that purpose there is Red Elemental Blast.
Spell Pierce - even if this card does not look that awesome at first glance with many decks running all moxen this card can still win a counter war or counter a noncreature spell played either early or when opponent is forced to play their Jace/Dack when falling behind on resources.
Steel Sabotage - a card that counters artifacts or bounces them. This can also help fight Vault/Key combo or Blightsteel Colossus.
Spell Snare - this card can look a bit awkward in Vintage but it does counter the spells one really needs to counter including Sphere of Resistance, Thorn of Amethyst, Chalice of the Void for 1, Oath of Druids, Time Vault, Young Pyromancer, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Demonic Tutor etc. Since Dark Confidant and Mana Drain does not see that much of play anymore the card is not that strong as it used to be but for some can still be a viable choice.
Cabal Therapy - is a very powerful discard spell. In Pyromancer decks this card gets even better and can be a choice for a Vintage Pyromancer deck.

Other cards
This deck does not want to play too many non-instant/non-sorcery spells but some are too powerful to be ignored.

Stony Silence/Null Rod- since many decks are dependent on fast mana and some decks rely on a combination of cards that require artifact activation some players tend to play Null Rod effect main deck. Since this deck plays only 3-4 fast mana and usually needs them on t1 the Null Rod effect does not really affect the deck. If Oath or Dredge would start to see more and more play this card could be dropped and replaced with Grafdigger's Cage for example
Dack Fayden - not only does this card deals with some artifacts nicely it also allows the player to stay in play during midgame. The looting ability is very powerful in Vintage and against certain decks it is the only way how to keep up.

Card choices - Sideboard

This deck needs a way to stop Dredge and Shops. Should be prepared for Oath which is not a good match up and have a plan against mirror and Mentor decks. I don't think this deck needs too much sideboard plan for combo decks like Storm but if these decks are prevalent in your area it is a good thing to prepare against them as well. This deck has a good match up against big blue decks with its main deck 60 cards, there is usually no need to sideboard much against these decks.

Containment Priest - running white gives access to this hate bear. This card stops Dredge player from putting their Ichorids/Moebas from graveyard to play, stops Show and Tell and Oath. Since this card has Flash it can also sometimes surprise a player in combat and block and possibly trade with an important creature (Young Pyromancer). This is a card that is often sided against decks that cheat creatures into play but against strange home brew decks or decks heavy on planeswalkers this card can play also an important role (is not hit by Illness in the Ranks for example which can sometimes play a role, it is always better to have two 2 power creatures in play rather than 1 - Pyromancer).
Rest in Peace/Ravenous Trap - graveyard removal is needed and helps against Dredge and Storm primarily. Tormod's Crypt is also a choice and some decks even play Leyline of the Void.
Grafdigger's Cage - is an ambivalent card stopping both creatures coming from graveyard and stopping Storm from replaying its spells.
Pulverize - if MUDs are a big problem and a player prefers a total destruction of the deck Pulverize is the card that can achieve that.
Kataki, War's Wage - for some decks Kataki is bane as well. Not only the effect is a nightmare for MUD decks this creature also swings for 2
Ingot Chewer - this card started to see play because it avoids Chalice of the Void for 1 and is rather difficult to counter since it is a creature (costing 5 mana). The card can possibly be even sided against Dredge since it is a creature that dies on its own and thus can remove (Bridge from Bellow).
Ancient Grudge - decks running green and being able to keep green in play can rather play this card since it can destroy two artifacts rather than 1.
Flusterstorm - in some local meta games Flusterstorm is needed but is not a main deck card.
Pyroblast - similar to above.
Nature's Claim - decks running a Forest can play Nature's Claim thus being able to destroy enchantments (Oath of Druids).
Sulfur Elemental - Delver decks usually need to find a way how to deal with Mentor decks and Sulfur Elemental is one of the cards that can do it. The card cost 3 mana though which can be a problem against certain builds (running Wasteland).
Sudden Shock - another way how to deal with Mentor.
Wear//Tear/Annul - Oath is a problem.
Stony Silence/Null Rod - pretty straightforward.
Basic Land - against decks running Wastelands/Strip Mine/Ghost Quarter and often Crucible of Worlds this card is a must.
Wasteland - Delver deck can fight Dredge and other decks with the use of Wasteland as well.
Karakas - Is Oath really a problem?
Ethersworn Canonist/Arcane Laboratory - Against Gush/Fastbond or Storm decks these are very good cards. Ethersworn Canonist can be stolen by Dack though. This kind of effect affects Delver's game plan as well so side these with caution.
Shattering Spree - for some this is also the preferred artifact hate. It also avoids Chalice for 1 (the copies rather) and can destroy more artifacts at once.

How does this deck work?

This deck wants to play a threat early and put pressure on the opponent while disrupting his game plan with counterspells. Thus a hand with a creature is preferable. If creature is not present the deck needs a cantrip so it can dig for one.

When this deck reaches the state when it can play Dack Fayden and follow with Gush it becomes very hard for any deck to deal with it.

The aggressive approach might not work against combo decks or Oath. Sometimes this deck needs to give preference to try to stop opponent's combo which usually delays the deck by 1 turn since it needs to keep its "reactivity" online (for example suggesting that one has Flusterstorm). In some matchups Delver (Oath mostly) can be sided out since on turn 1 the deck needs to dig for counterspell or counter on that turn. If Delver stays it can be played when the deck has one mana open.

It is not rare to actually keep Delver in hand since it is card that can be pitched to Force. Other blue cards can be needed and Delver is certainly the least useless card when what one needs is a counterspell.

This deck usually needs two mana sources in order to function but one mana source hands are also keepable under certain circumstances. The deck usually plays 1-3 basics depending on how many colors it plays. This way it is less likely to lose to Wasteland or occasional Strip Mine.

Even though this deck is most probably the most aggressive one taking the safe route is what actually works. The pilot should do be aware that this deck sometimes need to be the aggressor and sometimes it plays a control role.

From time to time the deck is capable of really broken starts or crazy plays. It totally allows the player to experience how broken Vintage can sometimes be.

Dack Fayden not only loots and steals Blightsteel Colossi. Sometimes it can even steal Marit Lage!