Rising to the Legacy Challenge with Grixis Delver
When the first Legacy Challenge was announced on Magic Online more than a year ago, I was excited. I play online more often than I play in paper and I have a strong preference towards Legacy. Somehow, though, I was never able to play in the event, even though it happened monthly. I overestimated my availability on a Saturday afternoon at 2 PM and I often had plans on weekends. Even though it should be treated in a similar manner to a more traditional tournament, I couldn’t think of it like that. Dedicating up to 6 hours on a Saturday to play Magic with little to no social interaction was a difficult task to convince myself of. Luckily for me, 2 weekends ago I had no plans and a free Saturday. I did have to decide between the Legacy Challenge and a local Modern 5k, but this was not a difficult decision, even with the SCG Invitational coming up.
I knew right away that I was going to play Grixis Delver. Those who have been following this article series might recall that I have been trying to learn how to play the Delver archetype. At the moment, I think Grixis Delver is the frontrunner of the archetype. I think it’s powerful, has a lot of angles of attack, and, as I mentioned in my last article, can switch roles freely and easily. Not only do I tend to play the best fair deck in the format, I don’t think most other Delver decks are as strong in the metagame. I think the most important card for fair decks to play right now is Deathrite Shaman. Because of this, I don’t think Jeskai or RUG Delver are the optimal choices, as they risk falling too far behind against Deathrite Shaman starts. Sultai Delver is certainly a strong deck, but the addition of green doesn’t add as much as it used to. Tarmogoyf, Abrupt Decay, and Leovold are powerful cards, but they not objectively more powerful than the cards Grixis gets to play. The reach and speed of Lightning Bolt is impossible to match, and Gurmag Angler is often more impactful than Tarmogoyf, while often costing less mana. This allows the Grixis player to play a more efficient game more often. In addition, I initially thought that not playing Gitaxian Probe would be a benefit of playing Sultai due to an increased density of disruption, but I think I was mistaken. Probe is an incredible card, and being able to perfectly sculpt one’s game plan is incredible.
This is the list I played:
This is a little different than a stock version of Grixis Delver but overall it’s not a novel deck list. This variant has been around for a few months and I want to discuss the reason for some of the differences, and why I gravitated towards it. The first distinction is that the deck is only running 2 Young Pyromancers. Not only is Young Pyromancer somewhat clunky, it is also not blue, which means that it can be difficult to convert extra copies into an advantage. In cutting down to 2, space opens for 2 copies of True-Name Nemesis, which is particularly effective in this metagame. Despite costing an additional mana, True-Name tends to be less clunky both due to its color, and the immediate impact on the board.
With this change, Cabal Therapy is less appealing in the main deck and Gitaxian Probe loses some of its impact. To fill the gap, blue disruption, like Stifle and Spell Pierce, is a strong addition to the deck. While some of the mid-game power is lost with Cabal Therapy and Young Pyromancer, Stifle adds a new early-game dimension that allows the player to keep opponents guessing and gives the player some unorthodox utility in disrupting Planeswalkers and triggered abilities. Traditionally, these lists have split copies of Stifle and Spell Pierce 3-1, but here, I opt for 2-2. I think Spell Pierce is very strong in this metagame and allows the deck a wider range of disruption. It becomes more difficult for opponents to play around the variety of spells represented with a more diverse spell base. In addition, Spell Pierce is more effective against a larger range of decks, but some ability to steal games is sacrificed in losing a copy of Stifle. The second Spell Pierce has performed adequately in testing, so I am going to keep the 2-2 split for now.
Beyond the main deck, these choices influence the way that the sideboard is constructed. The most apparent change is that the 2 Cabal Therapies are now in the sideboard. Even with only 2 Young Pyromancers, they are worth including because the combination of these 2 cards is so powerful. In addition, having discard spells allow this deck to disrupt opponents on a different axis, which is important because often times, opponents are prepared to fight counter wars. Another, more subtle, adjustment is the mana cost of all of the sideboard cards. Outside of Electrickery, which sometimes costs 2, every card in the sideboard costs 1 or 0 mana. I made this choice mainly because of the main deck True-Name Nemeses. While Grixis Delver can probably support a few more 2 or 3 drops in the sideboard, I had concerns that this might hurt the efficiency of the deck more often than I would like. By keeping the average converted mana cost of the sideboard so low, i’m attempting to maximize the advantage that Delver decks gain from having a low average CMC per card and low land count.
As for the individual card choices in the sideboard, Submerge is the only relatively non-traditional card I have chosen to play. It is my attempt to help the Lands matchup as much as possible. Diabolic Edict has more uses, and it arguably more powerful, but it doesn’t meet the standards I outlined regarding CMC. Overall, I have been impressed with it against Lands, but it has been slightly underwhelming against other strategies. Pithing Needle is a relatively low-power catch-all, which I haven’t been impressed with. It helps against certain problems, like Lands, but it’s not versatile or powerful enough in this deck to warrant including, going forward. The Surgical Extraction and Grafdigger’s Cage split is mostly to make the deck’s gameplan more diverse. It’s possible that having 3 Surgical Extractions is better, but having Cage allows the deck to hedge more.
The tournament itself had about 75 players, which was good for a 7 round event. Here is how the matches broke down in the Challenge:
2-1 - Grixis Delver
2-0 - Burn
1-2 - Maverick
2-1 - Sultai Delver
2-1 - Reanimator
2-1 - Storm
0-2 - Elves
For those keeping track, that left me at 5-2 and that left me in 9th place, with three 5-2 records above me in the standings. Losing the last round of an event is difficult, and it wasn’t much less frustrating here. Furthermore, at the time of the Challenge there wasn’t a difference in prizes for 9th-16th and 17th-32nd, so this left me with just making my entry back for my troubles (as they just announced weekly Challenges, this was changed, and the prizes were adjusted to be a little less top-heavy and accommodate those in the top 16). Once the initial disappointment subsided, though, I was relatively pleased with how I played and the deck overall. Instead of breaking down each round, play-by-play, I want to broadly review the matchups I played against, as well as some implications and concerns I had throughout the event. There were some interesting plays that I will note and discuss, but in general, I find breakdowns of each round tedious to read and not as helpful as they may seem. As such, I would rather discuss my thoughts on the deck, my play, and the event overall.
Going into the event, the matchup I was least comfortable with was the mirror match. I am relatively new to the archetype, and it’s a very intricate matchup. There are so many stages to the matchup, and a lot of different avenues the games can take. Overall, I think this list might be slightly more well suited to handle the mirror, primarily because Stifle helps leverage the power of Daze and mitigates the effectiveness of Wasteland to some degree. This helps me navigate through the mana denial stage more easily. In addition, True-Name Nemesis is an excellent threat which allows the deck to keep pulling ahead using cards like Delver and Deathrite, while managing the combat step very well. It might appear to be difficult to resolve, and it is to some degree, but Dazes seem to trade off in the early game often, which opens more windows for it to resolve.
In the event, I played against two different variants, and i’d much rather play against Sultai than Grixis. Gitaxian Probe is very good, and it allows me to manage my threats and answers through the variety of answers that Delver decks play. In addition, Abrupt Decay and Fatal Push don’t do a great job at dealing with the larger threats in the deck. For the most part, these matches played out as one would expect. As for sideboarding, this is still a new concept to me. I have noticed that Spell Pierce isn’t very effective on the draw, so I have been sideboarding those out. While Daze does lose value, it seems like I still want a lot of them, regardless of being on the play or draw. Free counterspells really help generate tempo, and allow one deck to pull ahead. I want to practice these matchups as much as I can going forward but I don’t think I need to adjust the deck for the mirror too much, if at all.
Reanimator and Storm are clearly very powerful decks, but if I had to pick two decks to get paired against, it would be these. Navigating through their disruption is a lot of fun, and I personally think Grixis is a slight favorite in this type of combo matchup. The deck has a lot of really powerful and disruptive cards, and can apply a lot of pressure very early. Sideboarding against Storm can be a challenge, however. Despite bringing in Cabal Therapies, I often find myself wanting to take out Young Pyromancer. In general, I have been bringing out all of my threats that cost more than 1 mana and most of my Lightning Bolts, just leaving in 1 or 2 in order to deal with Hope of Ghirapur or Xantid Swarm. I think I want to keep working on my plan, though, because i want to keep in both Young Pyromancers, if possible.
My two losses were to non-blue Deathrite Shaman decks, and I can definitely see this being a problem in the future. More than Maverick, which I think this deck can manage as it is currently built, Elves seems problematic. The only threat that seems to matter in game 1 is Delver of Secrets, and there’s not enough relevant disruption with how this variant is built. Adjusting my sideboard to manage smaller creatures more effectively will certainly help, but i’m not sure it will be enough. In this event, my game 2 loss was exacerbated by a suspect keep that did not pan out. My hand was very reactive, but didn’t have a threat. After a couple of cantrips, I was able to find some Deathrite Shamans, but not the mana to cast them, so by the time I was able to get on the board I was too far behind on board, and in my life total, in order to catch up. A mixture of removal and threats seems to be the most effective route, but that won’t happen every time. I want to add more impactful cards in this matchup into my sideboard, and try to identify what are the important factors in mulligan decisions.
Interestingly, Submerge wasn’t particularly good against either of these decks, despite them both being Forest-based creature decks. Submerge is only really effective when one is already ahead on board, and it was difficult to find myself in that position in these matchups. As I mentioned, I might have kept some suspect hands, so more data will allow me to more accurately understand how effective it is. If the card continues to be as un-impactful as it was in the challenge, I will have to look for other solutions to Marit Lage that are a bit more relevant in other matchups.
Finally, there’s Burn, which can be difficult. I don’t find this matchup too interesting, as it largely revolves around applying pressure, managing one’s mana base, and activating Deathrite Shaman as much as possible in order to gain life. I mention Burn here because the second game was responsible for my most hilariously bad misplay of the event, and I want to share that mistake. On turn 2, after my opponent deployed a Monastery Swiftspear and missing their 2nd land drop, I untapped with a Deathrite Shaman, and cast a True-Name Nemesis. I clicked through this much too quickly, however, and named myself. After cracking up for at least a minute, I had hoped my opponent might miss it, but alas, they played a 2nd Swiftspear and attacked right in. I sucked it up and blocked and was thoroughly entertained by how egregious of a mistake that was. Misplays like that have little-to-no effect on my emotional state or self-perception because they are so over-the-top awful, that I know i’ll never make it again. Sometimes errors happen and as long as I can learn from them and sometimes get a good laugh, I am alright with it.
I’m happy enough with this result, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. For the near future, I want to play the Delver mirror much more. I want to try to understand that matchup as much as possible. Knowing when to play into and around Daze is incredibly difficult, and sequencing and valuing specific spells more than others is bizarre when so many spells matter. I also want to get more insight into the Elves matchup. It seems difficult, but the tools to properly respond are there. As previously mentioned, mulligan decisions in this matchup seem particularly difficult because the set of threats that seem to matter are so small. Overall, though, I think Grixis Delver is an excellent choice and hopefully I can continue to improve with the deck as the metagame develops.
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