Grixis Delver in Legacy

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Grixis way of delving

People play legacy for a variety of reasons. Some like killing people on turn one with non-interactive combo, others like the diverse format with dozens of competitive decks. I belong to the category of players who love legacy because of lower variance comparing to other formats. The format is defined by powerful library manipulation and free spells. Brainstorm and Ponder allow players to fix their bad draws and reduce chances of mana screw and mana flood, which means that there’s always a game of magic. In addition, free spells like Force of Will and Daze provide a way to interact with opponent at every stage of the game.

The only decks in legacy that allow playing four of every card that are mentioned above are Delver tempo decks. No surprise that this was exactly what I was doing for the last four years in Legacy. Since 2011 I had some success playing my lovely flying 3/2s: with RUG Delver I made top 64 of GP Altanta and top 16 SCG Open LA, BUG Delver put me to top 8 of SCG Opens in LA and Las Vegas, whereas with UR Delver I X-3ed the largest Legacy GP in New Jersey. While I have a lot of emotional attachments to these decks, I don’t believe they are the best Delver decks for current Legacy metagame. Let me introduce you the new king of aggro-control: Grixis Delver!

Here is my current list. Let me provide you with some insights about card selections, game plans and sideboard strategies against popular legacy decks and summarize why I believe it is the best tempo deck right now.

Card choices

Creatures:

4 Delver of Secrets – flying Wild Nacatl, can be pitched to Force. The best tempo creature for 1 mana. Always 4 of.

4 Deathrite Shaman – one of the reasons to play black in UR shell. Shaman serves as mana accelerant during turns 1 through 3 and enables truly unfair starts when combined with Young Pyromancer. In mid and late game, it is decent finisher, it ensures we can win races against other tempo decks. Maindeck graveyard hate is just icing on cake.

4 Young Pyromancer – the most important creature of this deck by huge margin. First, it allows Grixis Delver to go wide and beat decks that rely on 1-on-1 removal spells (UWRs I’m looking at you). Second, it also saves the deck from “sacrifice” type of removal. Without pyromancer that kind of removal was the most efficient way to stop tempo, now you play Pyro and laugh at all these poor Pox decks. Third, pyromancer has very nice synergy with Cabal Therapy which allows us to flashback it for free. Some people play less than 4, I think the card is too important and should be 4 of.

2 Gurmag Angler – zombie fish is surprisingly good against other creatures in Legacy, it is just bigger than most of them! Most importantly, it usually stops 4/5 goyfs and tasigurs, and kills unprotected opponents in 4 turns. All for 1 mana. I do not recommend to play more than 2 because you don’t want to have 3 of these stuck in your hand.

0 Monastery Swiftspear – the best friend of this card is no longer legal in Legacy. Without Treasure Cruise, Taylor Swiftspear is a fair beatdown creature, it can hardly grow bigger than 3/4. I prefer the versatility of Deathrite Shaman than the raw power of Swiftspear, the power is simply not there anymore.

0 Tasigur, the Golden Fang – zombie fish has better power/toughness ratio and also kills faster. You will activate the ability only once in a blue moon, and even if that happens, you’ll get that Daze back to your hand. No to banana king here.

0 True-Name Nemesis – the card doesn’t seem good enough for its cost. 3 mana is a lot for tempo deck, and here you get only 7 turns clock and option to block Tarmogoyfs till the end of time. After sideboard, it will also die to a variety of -1/-1 effects that will be sided in against pyromancers. The only viable reason to play it instead of Angler is to reduce delve spell count.

Spells

4 Brainstorm – no comments

4 Ponder – well, no comments here as well

3 Gitaxian Probe – this card provides quite a few nice synergies here. First, it is the best enabler for Cabal Therapy, you don’t need to guess when you know exactly what they have. Second, it gives free fuel for both delve spells and Young Pyromancer. Finally, knowing the contents of your opponent’s hand allows you to select the best line of play. 3 seems like the best number, you don’t really want too many of these in your starting hand and also life loss matters.

2 Dig Through Time – this is your card advantage engine. You can dig for more creatures, removal or disruption. Oftentimes it is the best topdeck in mid and late game. Nevertheless, this deck cannot afford too many delve spells, even 4 (2 Anglers and 2 Digs) is aggressive. You cannot just sit with more than one delve card and wait until later stage of the game. Lack of early-game plays can easily leave you behind, and tempo decks are not the best at playing from that position. 2/2 split between Anglers and Digs is ok, cutting one of them may also be correct.

4 Force of Will – trading cards for tempo is exactly what Delver decks are looking for. There are metagames where you can leave 4th copy in sideboard, but I wouldn’t do so. Force is force.

4 Daze – trading tempo for a land drop in early game. Grixis Delver doesn’t really need more than 2 lands in the battlefield, so bouncing a land is rarely an issue. There are also quite a few tricks with this card like getting rid of your islands when playing against merfolks or Carpet of Flowers, or playing a spell and dazing it in response to Wasteland trigger. This card can be sided out if your opponent clearly plays around it all the times.

2 Cabal Therapy – third piece of disruption besides Force and Daze. Therapy is better than Thoughtseize here because of Young Pyromancer and Gitaxian Probe. It is one of the most difficult cards in Magic to play correctly, I highly recommend reading the following articles before playing the card: http://www.channelfireball.com/home/legacy-weapon-therapy-session/ and http://www.starcitygames.com/article/30815_Single-Card-Primer-Cabal-Therapy.html

4 Lightning Bolt – the best removal and burn spell that exist in grixis colors.

1 Forked Bolt – good versus most of the creature decks in Legacy, often gives you sweet 2-for-1s and also put you ahead on tempo.

0 Chain Lightning, 0 Price of Progress – this is not a burn deck. Grixis usually kills with creatures, burn serves only as a reach and not as a primary win condition.

0 Pyroblast in maindeck – Legacy is full of blue decks, I always say that there are only 4 colors in Legacy since you always play blue by default. Regardless, there are powerful non-blue decks as well, and I don’t want dead cards against them.

0 Spell Pierce – Cabal Therapy is a better way to disrupt your opponent’s plan.

0 Thought Scour – you don’t really have time to play spells that don’t affect battlefield and cost mana. Brainstorm and Ponder are exceptions since they provide you with card selection and allow you to get the right tools when you need them. Paying mana only to play delve spells faster is not what this deck wants.

Game plans and sideboarding

Versus Miracles

Surprisingly, you need to play a midrange game here. The aggro plan folds to Terminus, and you’d better not to play a long grindy game against a control deck. The best plan is to minimize the impact of Terminus and do not allow Counterbalance ever enter the battlefield. Your best threats here are Pyromancers, play them as conservatively as possible. Pyromancer with 2 tokens usually requires Terminus as an answer, so please make sure you can produce these tokens before Pyromancer dies.

-3 Deathrite Shaman, -2 Daze, -1 Forked Bolt, -3 Lightning Bolt

+2 Pyroblast, +1 Cabal Therapy, +1 Null Rod, +1 Seal of Primordium, +2 Sulfuric Vortex, +2 Flusterstorm

Shamans are weak; they don’t apply enough pressure and force you to overcommit. I recommend leaving 1-2 Bolts in, they are good at finishing players/Jaces off and also killing random Monastery Mentors and Vendillion Cliques. After sideboard you have access to Sulfuric Vortex, it is hard for them to get rid of it in time. Legit plan is to deal first 10-12 damage with Delvers/Pyromancers and then lay Vortex and let them die.

Versus OnmiTell

Fairly good match up, please don’t keep risky hands without pressure or disruption. Let you delvers enter the battlefield, counter their cantrips with Daze whenever you can and fight for Show and Tell. Please, please don’t ever scoop to a resolved Onmiscience and let them actually kill you.

-4 Lightning Bolt, -1 Forked Bolt, -1 Gurmag Angler

+2 Pyroblast, +1 Cabal Therapy, +2 Flusterstorm, +1 Seal of Primordium

After sideboard you have more disruption and less dead cards. Just do your thing.

Versus Grixis Control

Your opponent’s deck has more card advantage spells than yours, so you should be a little bit faster and also try to stop their advantage. Young Pyromancer and Cabal Therapy are the most important cards in the matchup. Keep your Pyromancer alive, kill theirs and discard their Dig Through Times before they have a chance to resolve them.

-4 Force of Will, -1 Daze, -1 Lightning Bolt

+1 Flusterstorm, +2 Pyroblast, +1 Cabal Therapy, +1 Grim Lavamancer, +1 Dismember

Dismember is better than Bolt here since it can answer Tasigurs and opposing Anglers. After sideboard you have more ways to stop Dig Through Times and Snapcasters, Grim Lavamancer is awesome at killing Pyromancers and random Baleful Strixes.

Versus Death and Taxes

You are not favored here. Kill Mother of Runes immediately, force their Vial, have enough early pressure and try to kill them before they start doing their pesky business. An easy way to lose is to get your lands wastelanded and rishadan ported with Thalia in battlefield, so prioritize lands with Brainstorms/Ponders accordingly.

-1 Deathrite Shaman, -1 Gurmag Angler, -1 Dig Through Time, -2 Daze/Force of Will(Force on play, Daze on draw), -1 Gitaxian Probe

+1 Grim Lavamancer, +1 Dismember, +1 Null Rod, +1 Ancient Grudge, +1 Seal of Primordium, +1 Dread of Night

After sideboard you get few tools to make things better, but it is still tough. They will bring their Rest in Pieces in, so you need to side out some delve spells to counter that.

Versus Elves

There are 2 good plans against little green men and women. If you can, kill every mana-producing creature they play and don’t let them have Elvish Visionary + Wirewood Symbiote combo online. If you do so, both Natural Order and Glimpse of Nature become much less dangerous and barely playable. If you don’t have enough removal, then play your creatures first, kill only Symbiotes and Heritages and hope you have enough pressure and Forces to kill them before they resolve their game breaking spell.

-3 Daze, -1 Gurmag Angler,

+2 Grafdigger’s Cage, +1 Grim Lavamancer, +1 Dismember

You get more removals and ways to stop big spells after sideboard. I actually like Cabal Therapy here since it stops their big spells nicely. Prioritize your control game plan, it is easier to execute it after sideboard.

Versus other Delver decks

There are different Delver variants, but they can be divided into 2 categories: the ones that try to be faster than you (RUG Devler, UR Delver) and ones that have the same pace (Mirror, BUG Delver, UWR Delver).

Against fast ones, make sure you have enough lands to be in the game and to pay for their Dazes. Then lay down your big threats (Pyro and/or Fish) and let them handle the match. Your opponent will eventually get more dead cards than you and lose. Deathrite Shaman is extremely important here. Keep all Force of Wills in, you don’t really care about card advantage: when you lose, you usually lose with a hand full of good cards.

-2 Cabal Therapy, -1 Dig Through Time, -3 Gitaxian Probe

+2 Pyroblast, +1 Grim Lavamancer, +1 Dismember, +2 Flusterstorm

Against slower delver decks, the rule is simple: whoever has the last unopposed threat wins. Of course, you can still win/lose to manabase, but that happens less often. Prioritize your creatures and play around their counters, it is ok to wait and let them do some damage to you in order to resolve your threat and protect it. The exact sideboard plan should be based on the deck type and specific cards they play, but generally you side out Forces and bring in removal and Pyroblasts/Flusterstorms.

Versus ANT/TES

The matchup is similar to OmniTell. ANT and TES can go off faster and have different disruption, but our game plan is the same.

-4 Lightning Bolt, -1 Forked Bolt, -2 Gurmag Angler, -1 Dig Through Time

+2 Pyroblast, +1 Cabal Therapy, +2 Flusterstorm, +2 Grafdigger’s Cage, +1 Null Rod

Conclusion

The deck is powerful because it has so many different angles of attack. It can be aggressive and be control and change roles depending on matchup. The deck can attack with high P/T creatures and go wide with Elemental tokens. Your disruption is diverse enough so a single Defense Grid or Leyline of Sanctity doesn’t completely stop it. You also have enough card advantage to win against other aggro-control decks and usually have perfect information thanks to Probes and Therapies. The only unfavorable matchup among top decks is Death and Taxes, and you still have chances to win if you get lucky enough.

I highly recommend the deck to all Legacy players who love playing Delver of Secrets. The deck is fast and powerful and has all the tools you need to win as many matches as you wish!

Thanks!

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Denis Ulanov

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