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UR Delver in Standard

October 28, 2012

Lately I have been fooling around the concept of UR Delver in Standard with much delight and thus I thought I would share my current list with you. After all, any sort of deck that doesn’t have Thragtusk in it at this point is interesting in my book.

Without further ado;

UR Delver

4 Delver of Secrets
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Augur of Bolas
2 Thundermaw Hellkite

4 Pillar of Flame
3 Mizzium Mortars
3 Syncopate
4 Thought Scour
4 Desperate Ravings
1 Cyclonic Rift
1 Searing Spear
1 Dissipate
1 Unsummon
2 Runechanter’s Pike

4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
1 Izzet Guildgate
2 Desolate Lighthouse
7 Island
4 Mountain

SB: 4 Fettergeist
SB: 2 Dungeon Geists
SB: 2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
SB: 1 Dissipate
SB: 1 Pithing Needle
SB: 1 Cyclonic Rift
SB: 1 Devil’s Play
SB: 1 Clone
SB: 1 Bonfire of the Damned
SB: 1 Negate

Before I start talking about the individual cards, let me first try to answer; Why is this deck interesting and why do I consider it a contender in the format?

To answer that we need a little context. Standard right now is a real midrange fest, which is spearheaded by the aforementioned Thragtusk. There are a couple of different approaches out there but they are all pretty much fighting on the same axis.

They try to grind out the opposition on just plain card quality. The idea is that both sides will play out their cards, trades will occur but in the end these midrange decks usually ends out on top because the quality of their cards are just a tad better than what the opposition have.

Given that the format looks like this, how do you attack it?

Generally, there are 3 different ways you could go about it. Firstly, you could simply steer into the skid and shuffle up a one of these midrange variants yourself and then try to find some kind of an edge in the mirror-esque matchups. Secondly, you could try to go bigger and try to do something even more powerful than what the midrange decks are doing. Lastly, you could try to be sleeker and quicker than the midrange decks and prey on the fact that those decks are, while very powerful, kind of clunky.

Personally I have fallen for the later approach, first and foremost because the following fact;

Counterspells are pretty awesome in this format.

I think playing with countermagic got a bad reputation already at the early days of the format because of how popular Zombies was initially and the fact that there is a card called Cavern of Souls in the format. However, the early popularity of Zombies have pretty much died out and because most deck these days tend to play 3 colors, there is not a lot of Cavern of Souls out there. Mana and color hungry decks like Jund simply can’t afford to squeeze in a bunch of lands into the deck that doesn’t tap for color.

Another thing that also have been holding countermagic back is the fact that the quality of the counterspells we have in Standard at the moment is fairly mediocre compared with counterspells we had previously, like Mana Leak. However, when it comes down to it, it’s how the counterspell stack up against the format that matters, and I think they do that quite well.

Against Jund for example, all their cards of significance cost at least 4 mana, which give a deck like UR Delver ample of time to play a guy and then sit back on countermagic or just play the waiting game and spend mana on drawing more cards or playing a Snapcaster Mage at end of turn if nothing scary happens.

I guess you could build a very over the top control deck with countermagic as well, but I think a more aggressive approach can utilize the countermagic much better. The prime example for this is Syncopate. I would say decks like Jund can fairly well play around Syncopate given enough time. The catch though is the later; “given enough time”. If you are just sitting back and not really threatening the midrange deck, they could simply wait and build up enough mana to make Syncopate really awkward or worse just dead completely. Much like Mana Leak, Syncopate gets a lot worse the longer the games goes on. Therefore, you would rather be in the driver seat with Syncopate and not be the one trying to hold on.

With that established, let take a closer look at the deck itself.

The maindeck probably doesn’t contain too many surprises as people have been fooling around with UR Delver long before I wrote this. People have been musing about UR Delver even before Return to Ravnica was released. What I do like to specially mention though are two things that I haven’t seen much of in previous iterations of UR Delver. The first one is Runechanter’s Pike.

Not only does the pike allow you to deal a bunch of damage seemingly out of nowhere, it’s really important to have in those games that didn’t go according to plan. It’s naive to think that something annoying like a Thragtusk will never resolve, because it will every now and then. If you have access to pike though, that is usually fine. Since pike easily is at least a +5/+0  if not (way) more, racing against a Thragtusk works surprisingly well. Also, pike allows you to favorably block a Thragtusk for example if your position is that bad.

The other thing that is somewhat different from previous attempts on UR Delver is the amount of card draw that is in the deck, which I have found to be critical. Most I have seen up to this point usually have no more than about 5-6 different card drawer and don’t really get why would settle for only that. They just do so much for you.

For starters, having all these Thought Scours, Desperate Ravings and to a smaller extent Desolate Lighthouse makes your Snapcaster Mages so much better. They also allow you to skimp a lot on the amount of lands you have in the deck. If you take a look at what other people are playing you will notice that even the aggro decks are running at least 23 lands, and the midrange decks tends to run about 24-25 with additional acceleration in the deck. This will mean that you will have more life draws as the game progress against pretty much anyone. The amount of card draw also allows you to outdraw pretty much any opponent that are out there right now, allowing you to beat slower, generally more powerful decks even in a later stage of a game if it comes to that.

If we move on to the sideboard, the probably most standout card we find there is Fettergeist. What about that card?

The idea behind Fettergeist is that against opponents that are generally faster and more aggressive than you (which primarily means Zombies for the time being), it allows you to fully embrace the control role in the matchup. It has a big butt, it flies, is fairly hard to kill and the normal drawback is near non-existing due to that fact that there aren’t that many creatures in the deck in the first place. In those matchups I like to side out Delver of Secrets, which pretty much only does something if you are already winning, for said geist.

Moving on, Tamiyo, the Moon Sage and Dungeon Geist have been all-stars for me. They are very powerful tools to have mostly in the matchups where you are on the control route, as they are some of the best answers there are out there against many of the difficult-to-handle creatures that exist in the format, like Lotleth Troll, Thragtusk, Angel of Serenity, Geralf’s Messenger and Falkenrath Aristocrat among others. In the case of Tamiyo, I tend to board in that card against pretty much anyone as it allows you to win games on a different angle than attacking with creatures, which is very valuable feature to have.

Lastly I want mention the one-off Clone, which is for sure approximately infinitely worse than both Phantasmal Image and Phyrexian Metamorph but it does the trick working as a (very clunky) Hero’s Demise. Yes, it’s not exactly ideal, but it does allow you to deal with creatures that otherwise are difficult to handle, like Geist of Saint Thraft, Oliva Voldaren and Sigarda, Host of Herons, while also being decent against stuff like Thragtusk and Angel of Serenity.

Before wrapping it up for this post, I’d like also mention where this list might be going in the future. After all, this is the list I have compiled after my knowledge and experience with the format up to this point.

There are a couple of tiny things I’m contemplating, which are trying to fit a 5th counterspell, most likely a Essence Scatter, into the deck and also switching a Pillar of Flame for another Searing Spear, as the spear have been great for me. The Zombie matchup is basically the only matchup where you really want to have a bunch of Pillar of Flame in the deck for and as that matchup isn’t super popular at the moment, I’m enticed to shave a pillar from the main.

A much more significant change I’m pondering about is actually removing the namesake of the deck, Delver of Secrets, from the list entirely. It has been said over and over again by a bunch of people in the community that Delver of Secrets is not the card that it used to be and some would even go so far to say it’s downright bad. I personally do not want to go that far yet but I do have to admit that I feel like it’s one of the weaker cards in the deck.

Without Ponder to setup flips, it’s just a wee bit too inconsistent to be really good. If you do the math with my list above in consideration, at any given point in the game you have no more than approximately slightly less than 40% chance of flipping Delver on the first reveal, slightly above 60% to reveal it on the second reveal and just short of 80% on the third. Those aren’t particularly impressive percentages to boast with.

The problem though with potentially omitting Delver of Secrets from the deck entirely is; What do you replace it with?

There isn’t anything in blue or red that really floats my boat as a valid replacement in the current cardpool (moving Fettergeist to the main might be the exception), which means that you have to look into splashing another color to find something. The most obvious splash would be to dip into white to be able to recruit the ever venerable Geist of Saint Thraft to our team. Todd Anderson recently played with something similar along those lines to great success at a recent SCG Open, so that might be the route to take. There are a couple of iffy things I don’t like about Todd’s approach though, like playing 3 colors isn’t exactly where I’d like to be if I can help it and the fact that there is virtually no card draw in the entire list bugs me. That said, that might be sacrifices that one need to make to take the concept of UR Delver to the next level.

Questions, questions, questions… Questions that only can be answered, as usual, with more playtesting.

That’s what I had on UR Delver at the moment. If you are looking for some other angle to attack this Standard format, I highly recommend you to try out my list and experiment with suggested add-ons. If you have any thoughts or questions regarding the list, feel free to fire away in the comment section!

Until next time,


3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2013 08:38

    I just bought some Magic the Gathering cards with a Capitol D as the symbol, what set are they from?


  1. Thoughts about Standard leading up to GP Bochum « The Exploration

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