Verge of Greatness: Delver of Secrets

Delver is a long running archetype in some of Magic’s oldest formats, but what’s keeping it from finding Pioneer success?

Hello everyone, and welcome to another article where I take you on a journey through the depths of bad pioneer decks. Today we look at an archetype that has long been the scourge of Magic’s premier eternal format: Delver. But, how can a card that has failed to make any sort of meaningful splash in Pioneer manage to haunt the hallowed halls of Legacy? A question to be answered in due time, but first a bit of history. 

A Tragic Backstory 

Across the Magic’s 30 year history there have been many decks that reflected the tempo strategy that has become eponymous with Delver of Secrets. However, Delver’s direct history begins with its initial printing in 2011’s Innistrad. Right out of the gate it started seeing standard play in big events like the 2012’s GP Orlando where Palo Vitor Damo de Rosas piloted his Azorious Delver deck to a Top 8 finish. This deck had tons of spicy cards that powered up the Delver strategy from Runechanter’s Pike pushing its stat line to the max, Sword of War and Peace dealing direct damage and protecting Delver from red removal,  to Ponder really making sure Delver flipped on schedule; this deck was awesome. Delver would continue to be an impactful strategy during the Mirrodin Besieged/Innistrad Standard format, and begin working its way into older formats with even stronger spell bases. 

Delver saw a fair bit of play in Modern, being featured in all kinds of color combinations from Temur, to Grixis, to Izzet. Delver was primarily active around 2013-2018 and slowly phased out with the advent of Modern Horizons,  with the release of Modern Horizons 2 which would see Delver replaced by Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Murktide Regent. Of course, Modern wouldn’t be the end of Delver as we still have the peak Delver format, Legacy! This format has it all to really make a Delver shine, with plenty of deck manipulation in the form of Ponder and Brainstorm, free counter spells like Daze and Force of Will, and some of the best supporting creatures in Dragon's Rage Channeler and, ironically, Murktide Regent.  These staples all add together to really help Delver stay the top dog in Legacy still to this day,  although many lists have slowly started dropping Delver of Secrets as Magic continues to print more and more powerful replacements, but they keep the name in honor of this revolutionary card. 

Life In Pioneer

So how does Delver play in Pioneer? Generally described as an aggro control or midrange deck to some. The deck tends to play a very tempo focused game; playing a lot of counter magic and removal so they can protect their early threat, while also slowing down their opponent’s game plan. In essence, the deck is a prime example of a protect the queen style deck. Play Delver / Ledger Shredder / Young Pyromancer, remove opponent’s threats, counter their interaction, rinse and repeat it’s just that easy.

So what makes this format’s version different from other formats? The answer is the delve spells. Specifically, Treasure Cruise. This spell is one of the best ways to get value in pioneer, and is banned in just about every other format. It utilizes the powerful delve mechanic to turn itself from an 8 mana spell to usually a one to two mana spell. This can give a player an overwhelming amount of card advantage, usually enough to end games outright after the first copy. This advantageous card draw spell combined with powerful cantrips like Opt and Consider, powerful cheap threats like Delver and Ledger Shredder, and efficient counter magic like Spell Pierce and Make Disappear can combine to become a powerful deck that can make foes tremble in their boots. 

Powerful Friends in Low Cost Places

Some of the newest additions to the deck are from magic’s latest Pioneer legal set, The Streets of New Capena. They come in the form of Ledger Shredder and Make Disappear, these cards are very powerful for their cheap mana cost of just 1 U. Ledger Shredder is a value machine, allowing players to sometimes loot up to four times in a given turn cycle. The other new card, Make Disappear, is a very potent counterspell that if paired with the proper cards like Young Pyromancer can make for some very backbreaking gameplay. Another card that changed the deck up, although predated Delver’s reprint, was Expressive Iteration.  Iteration was one of the most powerful draw spells in pioneer, and due to its powerful card selection and raw card advantage was summarily banned earlier this year.

Pioneer’s Missing Pieces

So what is holding it back? In my honest opinion, the thing that is holding Delver back the most in Pioneer is the lack of brewing, lack of easy ways to stack your deck in pioneer,  and bad Dimir mana. I think that Izzet Delver is mostly just a worse phoenix deck currently, and it will need a lot to make it better than that deck. But, change the red out for black and I think the deck has a much better shot. Gaining better removal with Fatal Push and better disruption in the form of Thoughtseize but with Pioneers’ lack of fast lands in those colors, it is a bit tricky to build an aggro deck in those colors without stumbling on mana. I know that the solution this time is a little more open ended than I have provided in the last, but the deck is much more niche than the other decks I have discussed and has more broad stroke problems than an extra card or two can fix. 

Anyways thanks for tuning in again. Have a great day and may your draws be good.

  • Briger Smith


    Briger has been losing games of Magic since Gatecrash. On a good day, he can be found huddled up in his cave playing Elden Ring, and the rest of the time he can be found listening to and making Pioneer podcasts!

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