Pro Tour 25th Anniversary showcased Legacy a few weeks ago, and support for the format continues this weekend at Grand Prix Richmond. It's a rare opportunity to play my favorite Constructed format for high stakes against some of the best competition around, so I've been preparing by immersing myself in the format. There's a lot to consider because the recent bannings of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe shook up the metagame before the Pro Tour, but its results have helped shape the metagame in its wake and into this weekend's event.
The most popular deck at the Pro Tour was Grixis Control, the spiritual successor to the Four-Color Leovold deck that was gutted by the banning of Deathrite Shaman. It combines a wealth of disruption to stop what the opponent is doing with card advantage to inevitably bury the opponent. It's essentially the Jund deck of Legacy – except it has Brainstorm and Force of Will – and it has game against just about everything. What the deck lacks is great threats, and without the ability to adequately pressure opponents, its gameplan can be rather one-dimensional.
Grixis Control was on my short list of decks to play this weekend, but early in testing I realized that playing such a reactive deck in Legacy was not going to suit me. After really embracing and enjoying Grixis Delver before the bannings, not having proactive plans on turn one felt criminal in such a fast format. I missed Delver of Secrets and its ability to put a clock on the opponent while disruption worked its magic. Opponents can typically recover from disruption if given enough time, and Delver of Secrets makes sure they don't get it. A deck like Grixis Control makes sure they don't recover by just never running out of disruption, but I've found that is a taller order than killing them, especially because all disruption isn't made equal, as Eye of Ugin showed my Grixis deck in testing.
There's also a certain "free win" factor that I find is important in powerful formats like Modern and Legacy, the ability for your deck to have busted draws and beat just about anything the opponent has, and that requires the ability to be proactive. For decks with Delver of Secrets, I find its most common version of the "free win" is simply draws with multiple Delver of Secrets, and it's rare I lose games when I play two in the first two turns. So the question is, what is the best Delver of Secrets deck to play?
It's not a simple question to answer because Delver of Secrets decks come in different shapes and styles. Yes, they all play Delver of Secrets and a high spell count to support it, which includes all the typical staples like the card selection of Brainstorm and Ponder and the free Counterspells Force of Will and Daze, but from there things get interesting. There are variety of ways to fill out the rest of the deck, and a look at the current metagame shows that a few different styles are viable. Today I am going to go over the different Delver of Secrets decks in Legacy and how they operate to help inform the decision of which version to play this weekend or beyond.
The most classic and arguably basic version of the Delver of Secrets deck is Temur Delver, which has its roots in Legacy's first Threshold decks that played a similar style before Delver of Secrets was printed.
The distinguishing feature of Temur Delver decks is the green cards – which provides a holdover from the threshold era in Nimble Mongoose – which is notable for having shroud and thus being very difficult to kill. Tarmogoyf (and sometimes Hooting Mandrills) gives the deck a large battlefield presence and is also relatively hard to kill in a metagame where the most popular removal spell is Lightning Bolt.
Temur is also notable for typically including Stifle, which aimed at fetch lands supports the mana denial plan of Wasteland while supporting Daze and Spell Pierce. This sort of catch-all disruption is great against a large portion of the field and has some extra value for countering various abilities besides lands. It makes the deck more capable of free wins and blowing out the opponent, but it's also more volatile since it's a poor draw against some decks and late in the game.
The current metagame is one where Temur Delver is being pushed from the top. It had a lackluster Pro Tour performance and hasn't been popular in recent SCG events or online. Some possible reasons include the fact that Tarmogoyf is weak against the Fatal Push and especially Snuff Out of the Death's Shadow deck and doesn't match up well against Death's Shadow itself either. It's also poor against Baleful Strix from Grixis Control. There has also been an increase in the Swords to Plowshares-wielding Death and Taxes deck. It seems that there are better Delver options than Temur at the moment, but it's definitely still competitive.
The best Delver deck before the bannings of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe was Grixis Delver, which embraced black for Deathrite Shaman and used Young Pyromancer as its secondary threat behind Delver of Secrets. Young Pyromancer works well with the high spell count of Delver decks, especially the free counters. Compared to something like Tarmogoyf, it's rather flimsy against removal, but in practice it's very robust against removal because of its ability to generate tokens in play to be left after it has died, so it's a form of card advantage. The Young Pyromancer plan has gotten worse without Gitaxian Probe, but recently a post-ban version of the Grixis Delver deck has been performing very well.
The deck has made up for losing Deathrite Shaman by bolstering its number of Young Pyromancer and Gurmag Angler, along with adding some Preordain as an alternative turn-one play, but replacing Gitaxian Probe is a bit more tricky. The decks have added a land, which makes sense without the cantrip and especially without Deathrite Shaman as mana, but they have essentially replaced Gitaxian Probe with discard, usually some combination of Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek. It makes sense, because the discard fills in as a turn-one play without Deathrite Shaman, and it's a substitute for Gitaxian Probe's ability to see the opponent's hand. Strategically, the discard fits right into the plan of disrupting the opponent. Discard can be a bit awkward as disruption because it's a tempo negative play – spending mana to disrupt the opponent at no mana cost to them – compared to something like Force of Will that is a huge positive play, but targeting spells that disrupt the opponent's development and efficient use of mana can make up for this and sometimes even make it tempo positive. At worst, I figure spending a mana casting discard on the opponent is analogous to spending a mana casting a card draw spell of my own, and in practice the discard has felt like a great addition.
Grixis Delver felt amazing before the bannings, so it makes sense the deck continues to perform now that it has been able to adjust. The strategy is clearly sound, and the cards in the colors are all very strong, so it's just a matter of finding the right combination. Porting the old version of the deck to the post-ban world might not be the best way forward, as there is another variation performing that has removed Young Pyromancer in favor of Bitterblossom as its token-generator of choice.
Instead of Young Pyromancer, this deck plays a pair of Bitterblossom, which creates a steady flow of tokens. It's much slower than Young Pyromancer, but it's also more reliable because it doesn't require fuel and is essentially immune to removal. It's the sort of card that is a nightmare for control decks like Grixis or Miracles to combat, and it can be perfect for grinding out a mirror match. The deck also adds a third True-Name Nemesis, which shows how the deck is interested in robust and reliable threats compared to the explosiveness of Young Pyromancer. This deck plays a full set of Inquisition of Kozilek as disruption as an alternative to Thoughtseize because it saves on life that Bitterblossom already pressures.
Based on the results, this version of Grixis Delver looks very promising. It was the highest-finishing Grixis Delver deck of the Pro Tour in the hands of Jonathan Sukenik, nearly reaching the Top 4, and then it made it to the finals of the Eternal Weekend Asia Legacy event that had over 600 players.
The breakout deck of the Pro Tour was Blue-Black Death's Shadow, which builds off of the typical Delver of Secrets shell with Death's Shadow and cards to support it like Street Wraith and Thoughtseize.
The deck plays just like a normal Delver deck, except its secondary threat is the impressive Death's Shadow, which stands taller than Tarmogoyf at half the cost and presents a faster clock than any other threat like Young Pyromancer can provide. The deck isn't really isn't much more complicated than that except for the special considerations it makes for Death's Shadow like playing Watery Grave. It does add Stubborn Denial to the Delver strategy, which is a good fit as a sort of Spell Pierce-light, but becomes really strong when Death's Shadow or Gurmag Angler enable ferocious.
The big piece of technology is Reanimate, which as a life-loss spell is right at home in the strategy. It can be used to target Street Wraith on turn-one as a sort of built-your-own Delver of Secrets, which is actually quite a strong play because it survives Lightning Bolt and goes a long way towards setting up Death's Shadow on turn two. It can also be used to return dead Death's Shadow or Delver of Secrets for the Bargain price of one life. It can even be used on the opponent's creatures, which is especially great with Thoughtseize potentially setting up some big hits like Griselbrand or even just True-Name Nemesis.
Death's Shadow does have a big weakness to Chalice of the Void, which is pretty much lights-out if it resolves and even drove the designer Josh Utter-Leyton to include a pair of Throne of Geth in the sideboard. Not only can it bump up the Charge counters past one to unlock spells, it can be used to lock the opponent out! That said, it all seems way too narrow for me, especially when the deck has Counterspells anyways. I'm a huge fan of the innovation made by the Death's Shadow deck in the Eternal Weekend Asia event, which simply replaced Throne of Geth with Abrade. It does the same great job of beating Chalice of the Void, but with the upside of being an artifact hoser with other applications. It's specifically strong against Death and Taxes, which I imagine is a tricky matchup because of Swords to Plowshares and one where the extra help from Abrade will make a very significant impact. Dipping into red also provides access to Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast, which are probably the best sideboard cards in the format.
Most would agree that the Death's Shadow deck was the best deck of the Pro Tour, and many argue that it's now the best deck in Legacy. As a Delver deck it's a not a big stretch to believe it's true, and this weekend is going to do a lot to prove it or not.
An up and coming Delver deck – although it's actually a reboot of the old version with Treasure Cruise – is Blue-Red Delver.
The key feature here is Monastery Swiftspear, which with Deathrite Shaman gone might be the best supplement to Delver of Secrets as far as aggressive one-drops are concerned. Death's Shadow isn't realistically a turn-one play, and Nimble Mongoose is very weak early in the game, but Monastery Swiftspear excels on turn one and can present a very fast clock. This deck attempts to make the most of it by building a burn-style deck around Delver of Secrets, complete with Price of Progress to K.O. opponents for a huge chunk of damage. A nice piece of technology is Chart the Course, which is just solid card advantage and a good fit into the strategy when it has the additional one-drop to support it. The deck finished in the Top 8 of the Eternal Weekend Asia event and put another copy in the Top 16, so it looks like the real deal and could be the next big Delver deck.
What's your favorite Legacy Delver of Secrets deck?