Which Flavor of Delver is Right for you?
“Which Delver deck should I play?” This is a common question that I see circulating around Legacy circles and one I have been asked many times. There are a lot of personal factors that play into the question: Is this your first Legacy deck? First Delver deck? Do you have experience with similar archetypes in the past? Is cost a concern? What does the metagame look like where you'll be playing Legacy?
Seeing as most people won't be able to answer those sorts of questions for you, the decision of which Delver deck to play can be a difficult one to find help with. However, there are some specific qualities of each variant that can be quantified which should make the overall question a bit easier to answer.
In today's article, I'm going to define and explicate some characteristics of the 3 major Delver variants: Izzet, Temur, and Grixis. My focus will be on traditional Wasteland/Daze/Delver variants, as opposed to alternative approaches, like Prowess decks. My goal is to have this serve as a reference point for players who are asking themselves the same type of questions I outlined in the first paragraph. I will be working under the assumption that cost is not a factor (if it is, choose Izzet), but will otherwise try to address a relatively wide-range of concerns that a player might have.
I'm starting with Izzet because a decent amount of people seem to view this as the introductory Delver deck. This seems to directly reflect it's relatively low monetary cost. While there are some features of how the deck functions that might contribute to this as well, this isn't necessarily the variant I would personally recommend to someone who is just starting to play the archetype. First, I want to try to debunk the myth that this is the best Delver variant for newer players. Then, I'll explore the reasons and situations one would choose to play Izzet.
The number one reason I don't think Izzet is the best for newer players is that pound for pound, its cards are less powerful than other Delver variants. Not having access to a 3rd color limits not only the threats it has access to, but the answers as well. This generally translates to 3 in-game issues:
- The threats are easier to answer with removal.
- The removal in the deck tends to be narrow.
- The disruptive suite is more limited to countermagic.
Each of these factors result in the Izzet Delver player being incentivized to take a more aggressive stance relative to other Delver decks. Due to the fact that the threats die more easily, it can be challenging to keep up with other decks in a longer game. In addition, a number of the threats in Izzet require work to become truly threatening. Young Pyromancer, Sprite Dragon, and Stormwing Entity all require some mindful spell sequencing in order to maximize how effective they are. This means that a player newer to the archetype might not extract all of the power out of the cards mid-game and thus have a more difficult time winning games.
Because the removal suite cannot answer everything, the Izzet player might have to ignore threats and cast their Bolts at the opponent. The same goes for the disruptive suite, as most decks can be navigated into a situation where their spells will resolve through some countermagic. This, in addition to the relatively fragile threat base, incentivizes the Izzet player to use countermagic to protect their threats more often than other Delver decks.
None of this is necessarily a bad thing, but it does limit your tactical options. Limiting tactical options could be viewed as a benefit to a newer player, as Legacy can be a bit intricate at times. However, to the player that exclusively cares about winning above all else, Izzet's limitations might make it a bit worse in an open metagame.
This isn't to say that Izzet isn't a good choice. In fact, Izzet tends to be my personal choice more than other versions of Delver. While I do think that Izzet Delver needs to be played a bit more aggressively, I think it's the best suited Delver deck to execute an aggressive gameplan. Specifically, Young Pyromancer and Sprite Dragon make it a lot easier to ignore your opponent's gameplan and play a sort of solitaire-style game. This makes tempo elements, like Brazen Borrower, really effective in this deck as opponents probably won't have enough time to re-develop their board.
Being limited to 2 colors comes with benefits as well. It's really wonderful to be able to play 3-4 basic lands in your Delver decks. Being able to completely ignore Wasteland, Blood Moon, and Back to Basics is a huge benefit to the archetype. As a result, Izzet Delver probably gets to play Magic more consistently than other Delver decks. In addition, Izzet gains the ability to play cards like Blood Moon itself, giving it an edge over other non-basic heavy decks.
For those looking for a metagame spread that Izzet is good against, I think a metagame that is high on Delver and Red Prison while being low on combo is preferable for Izzet. I'd also prefer to be playing Izzet against decks that the Delver archetype as a whole can't really interact with, like Hogaak and Dredge. Uro as a card can be difficult to deal with, but cards like Narset and Sulfuric Vortex out of the board do help a decent amount in those situations.
- A very stable manabase - Great for those who don't want to lose to Wasteland and Blood Moon.
- Best able to play aggressively and ignore some problematic cards.
- Best able to punish players for playing non-basic lands.
- A lower overall power - You need to play more aggressively.
- The threats require more protection and thoughtful sequencing to maximize.
- The disruptive suite is limited, thus making the deck weaker to combo.
This is the most straightforward and powerful version of Delver, which makes it my recommendation to newer players of the archetype. I have written about Temur Delver quite a bit before, so this will mostly be a summation of those ideas.
In contrast to Izzet, Temur's cards have the highest power level pound for pound. This translates to the deck having the most powerful curve, which puts the opponent under a lot of pressure to have some very specific answers on time. This works in conjunction with Temur having the most diverse threatbase, which can make it more difficult for opponents to actually have the right answers.
While the removal suite isn't technically more diverse than Izzet, having access to Oko means that most permanents that matter can be dealt with. The disruption suite isn't that much more diverse than Izzet either, but getting access to Veil of Summer goes a long way towards helping against certain combo decks.
Being a 3 color deck does make the mana falter at times. A pair of Wastelands can pretty easily cut you off of a color in the early game. The more diverse you make the threatbase, the more torn your mana can be in the early game. Playing Oko also means the deck has a higher curve, which might lead to the amount of mana you have being just as problematic as the color of the mana.
As for metagame considerations, I think Temur is the most well-rounded version of Delver, which makes it the best choice for an open field. I think more than any other Delver variant, Temur has the least amount of good/bad match ups. Whether to choose Temur depends less on the metagame-at-large and more on specific cards that people are playing.
If people are trending towards Black-based removal, Temur will shine more than other Delver decks. Veil of Summer, Klothys, and Hooting Mandrills gives the deck a robust plan to play through Abrupt Decay. If Eldrazi is really popular, Tarmogoyf is one of the best cards around to handle that deck. I'd also rather be playing Temur against Snow than the other Delver decks because it's sideboard cards are really effective in the match up.
On the flip side, Temur struggles a lot more against Blood Moon decks, and cards like Rest in Peace can be a huge pain. In my experience, Temur also has the worst match up against Hogaak and Dredge of all the Delver variants.
- The highest overall power and the best curve.
- The most diverse suite of threats - Can really be molded to the expected metagame.
- Veil of Summer is fabulous against Thoughtseize (big news!)
- Very susceptible to any kind of non-basic land hate.
- Not a lot of overwhelmingly good match ups.
- Reliance on attacking on the ground - Worse against decks that gum up the board.
Grixis tends to be the most nuanced version of Delver, and the best choice for players who really know the metagame they are going into.
The cards that Black adds can be really devastating in the right situation. Plague Engineer is one of the best cards ever printed against small creatures, and tends to swing those matchups to Grixis' favor. Fatal Push and Eliminate complement this, and this allows Grixis to deal with a large swath of the creatures that are commonly played.
Thoughtseize has fallen off the radar quite a bit as a result of Veil of Summer's popularity. However, in a relatively Veil-light metagame, Thoughtseize is still one of the best ways to diversify your disruption suite. In fact, I think Grixis has the best options available to it when it comes to combating combo decks.
Another easy-to-overlook card that adds a lot out of the board is Cling to Dust. It isn't the most effective card at dealing with dedicated graveyard decks, like Dredge or Hogaak. However, it's versatile and has the potential to function as a card advantage engine which makes it perfect for managing cards like Uro and Snapcaster Mage.
Grixis comes with its fair share of issues, as well. Gurmag Angler has become a lot worse over the past year or 2 than it used to be. With the addition of Ice-Fang Coatl as an extra Baleful Strix, Brazen Borrower, and Oko decks that didn't have that many answers to it before can deal with it far more easily these days. Because Gurmag isn't as reliable in modern-day Legacy, Grixis' threat base tends to look a lot like Izzet's. This makes it have a lot of the same vulnerabilities that Izzet has.
Grixis also has by far the worst manabase of any Delver variant discussed in this article. A lot of the cards that Black adds tend to require heavy mana commitments early. Thoughtseize on turn 1 into Arcanist on turn 2 requires 2 different non-Blue colors in the first 2 turns, and that can be a tough ask. Adding a card like Badlands helps to some extent, but the card itself isn't a very good land to have in play. One solution I have taken is to rely on the Black cards in the sideboard and have the main deck function like an Izzet deck with 2-3 Underground Seas in it. The problem with that is that the mana issues that come up in the pre-board games might be more detrimental than the sideboard cards are beneficial.
The metagame that Grixis is most suited for is when there are a lot of non-Green combo decks, like Sneak and Show, and heavy creature-based decks, like Goblins and Elves. The Black cards pull a lot of weight in those matchups and drastically influence the way the games play out. Grixis tends to be a bit weaker to some of the top decks of Legacy. Snow can easily out grind Grixis' mid-game and has the tools to manage the early game pretty effectively (Painful Truths does help, but i'm not a buyer of that card in the deck). Having the weaknesses of Izzet's threats with a shaky mana base also makes it worse against other Delver decks (even if the additional removal spells do help a bit).
- Well-positioned against creature decks - Black removal adds a lot.
- Most well-rounded disruption suite - Thoughtseize pairs well with pressure.
- The worst manabase of these 3 variants.
- Similar weaknesses in threats as Izzet.
- Veil of Summer is very effective as a countermeasure against Grixis.
Don't Stress About It
Of course, this isn't the full picture. There are a lot of elements that go into the decision, and it would be very difficult for me to effectively illustrate every benefit and cost that comes along with each deck.
Speaking personally, these are the two factors that lead me to play a certain version of the deck any given day:
- What kind of hate are people packing for Delver?
- What am I having fun with?
I value personal preference a lot in my choice. This is mostly a result of my experience with the archetype, but also a result of me looking to get the most enjoyment out of the Magic I play.
I tend to think that at any one moment most Delver variants are pretty close to each other in viability. While I tried to break down some of the factors that go into the decision-making process to make the choice a bit easier, any variant you choose is going to be just fine. It's very rare that there's a strictly correct version of Delver and even if there is, the best version tends to rotate often enough.
Whatever you choose, Delver is a very fun archetype to play. Hopefully this article could help provide some useful information for anyone choosing between the Delver decks. If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to ask and I'd be happy to answer!