The Return of Delver?

Posted in Reconstructed on January 29, 2013

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

The gates have been crashed open, and it looks like the other side holds a whole new world of possibilities.

Not only are all the mechanics and cards from all ten guilds available now, but all ten Ravnica dual lands are in the mix. This means all kinds of crazy things are possible. Farseek and Ranger's Path become more powerful than before, decks can dip into even crazier mana bases, and all kinds of cross-synergies have opened up. If my inbox is any indication, Standard's future is going to be a crazy one.

Breeding Pool | Art by Mike Bierek

There were a lot of great, original decks sent in this week. (Don't miss honorable mentions at the end where I show off a bunch of them!) However, one deck in particular caught my eye.

Simic decks were fairly popular, but this one stands out from many of the rest. It's an aggressive Simic deck that uses Hands of Binding as a good way to push through. And as if that wasn't enough, to complement this Simic deck backed by a Dimir mechanic, it also has a key card that has gone under the radar: Quirion Dryad.

The Dryad works especially well with cipher cards, picking up an extra counter each time you cast the spell. Since you cast the spell each time the encoded creature hits your opponent, that can quickly get out of hand!

The resulting deck is something that combines old and new. Let's take a look!

Emm Drey's Simic Hands of Binding

Download Arena Decklist

The Battle Plan

At its core, this is very much an aggro-control deck.

You're going to want to keep attacking while simultaneously using elements that control the game and buy you time to push through with your creatures. Countermagic and bounce are both effective tools for this goal. While you can win a long game, with your best draws you ideally produce some threats early and then disrupt your opponent from doing too much to interact with you.

To paraphrase something Magic writer Richard Feldman once said about aggro-control decks, "It looks like all they have is a 2/2 and then suddenly, a couple Mystic Snakes later, you're dead." This deck is very much in that vein. Don't blink! You might miss it killing you.

How does this deck accomplish all of that? Well, it uses a Delver of Secrets engine alongside cards like Quirion Dryad to quickly create strong, repeatable sources of damage. Once those creatures are in place, Hands of Binding prevents the opponent's creatures from blocking turn after turn. If your opponent plays multiple creatures, you can always Unsummon past them and keep attacking.

Quirion Dryad
Hands of Binding

Aggro-control decks typically prey upon control decks, which is particularly nice in this format right now. If your opponent is planning to Sphinx's Revelation for four, this is not the deck he or she wants to see across the table. Of course, its flexible nature as both an aggressive and a controlling deck means it has plenty of game against beatdown decks as well.

If you're interested in reading more on the topic of aggro-control and what makes them tick, I recommend checking out this article I once wrote on the topic of building and playing them, called "Aggro-Control in Every Format Ever."

Card Breakdown

Let's take a look at each card in this deck and see how it fits into the greater picture.

Delver of Secrets

Delver of Secrets is definitely one of the crucial pieces of this deck's puzzle. The one-mana creature was once reviled by Standard players as it dominated the format, but without Ponder around it's practically dropped off the map entirely. Now, with Sphinx's Revelation everywhere and not a Delver of Secrets in sight, the human Wizard finally has an opportunity to be the hero of the story for once!

Delver of Secrets aspires to be a one-mana 3/2... the trick is getting him there. The original list only features sixteen instants and sorceries, which is pretty ambitious. The floor for me playing with Delver of Secrets is around twenty instants and sorceries, and ideally I would like to have upwards of twenty-five. Fortunately, there are plenty of instants and sorceries I would like to add—and plenty of ways to cheat the creature count with token makers. This is a card that will definitely stick as a four-of, and the number of instants and sorceries will go up to accommodate that shift.

Invisible Stalker

Stalker is in kind of a strange spot. Clearly, it's quite good with cipher cards and Auras. (As we saw quite evidently in the Grand Prix a few weekends ago. However, it's not really something I want to draw on its own. I feel like you either need to be all-in on Invisible Stalker or go for a more robust plan.

I'd prefer, in this case, to shift the deck away from this spot. The power of aggro-control is to have versatile cards, and while you will inevitability run some narrow ones, I like to cut away from that when I can. If we continue down the path of Invisible Stalker, we're just going to end up at the Bant Aura deck—and that's no good. So instead, I'd rather build something new and eschew these.

Now, I would still be interested in a hexproof creature if it was good on its own. And while there isn't one in Simic, there is one if you dip into white: Geist of Saint Traft. I want to go white anyway for Call of the Conclave and Selesnya Charm (I'll get more into that later) and Geist is a much stronger fit than Stalker. Geist is strong on its own, unlike Stalker, which needs help. This change will help the deck a lot.

Quirion Dryad

Somewhere, Brian David-Marshall's ears just perked up and he doesn't know why.

Growing up, I heard many tales from BDM about his favorite Quirion Dryad deck, a deck called Black Thumb. Although the card has been reprinted a couple times, it hasn't done much in Standard—but with all of these strong multicolored spells around, it might finally have a chance.

Imagine a card that was a 1/1 that picked up a counter every time you cast a spell. That would be playable, right? Well, it's not that far off in this deck. In fact, in my final version, every single non-Quirion Dryad spell triggers Quirion Dryad. You can get some pretty large Dryads in this deck, and it does exactly what an aggro-control deck wants: builds up as a threat over time while you tempo out your opponent. Let's play with four.

Snapcaster Mage

Snapcaster Mage's ability to reuse your instants and sorceries is quite powerful and goes hand in hand with Delver of Secrets's love of instants and sorceries. I don't want to run the full four, because you can't afford to draw too many early on if you don't have an aggressive draw.

However, there are so many spells you really want to flash back in this deck that Snapcaster Mage is a fantastic draw at most points in the game. It's two spells for the purposes of pumping your Dryad, and it can both work well offensively and defensively since you now have token makers to flash back. Sign me up for three copies!

Talrand, Sky Summoner

Talrand is generally a good consideration for aggro-control. However, in this deck, by the time you hit four mana, you often want to be leaving mana up or disrupting your opponent, not casting a four-mana threat. In this deck, there's only so much room for non-instant and non-sorcery cards, and Talrand is one of the cuts you can safely make.

Hands of Binding

The newcomer Hands of Binding does a lot of fantastic things in a deck like this. Your creatures either have evasion or need evasion—and Hands provides both.

Once cast on something like a Delver of Secrets, it locks down your opponent's best creature each turn. This is a fantastic tempo swing for a deck like this, locking down two creatures right away and then threatening a new one each turn.

With cards like Geist of Saint Traft and Quirion Dryad, you just want to get them through. Hands of Binding pushes a blocker out of the way—and keeps it that way.

On top of all that, Hands of Binding has great synergy with the rest of the deck. It triggers Quirion Dryad each time it's cast off of cipher, and when you Snapcaster Mage one it still encodes onto a creature.

Although it is fragile to removal spells (unless it's on a Geist, of course) and weak against control decks, your control matchup is strong enough that I'm willing enough to play the full four. And even against control decks you can lock down Thragtusk or Augur of Bolas! I could see yanking one copy for the fourth Selesnya Charm depending on how badly you need a way to lock down creatures, but I would definitely start by trying this deck with at least three.

Essence Scatter

This deck definitely wants access to countermagic. So, what are the right pieces?

The card that Emm didn't know about when the decklist went out was Spell Rupture. This new card out of Gatecrash is practically custom-made for a deck like this. Mana Leak was incredible in aggro-control decks, and in a deck like this, Spell Rupture is often on the same level. I want to play the full four copies.

However, I would also like a fifth, "larger" counterspell. The perfect fit for this is Mystic Genesis. Mystic Snake was always ideal for a deck like this, and Mystic Genesis is close to Mystic Snake. Five mana is getting a little expensive for a deck like this, and it's hard to realistically Snapcaster Mage it back, but as a one-of it can do some serious damage and you can craft your draw around it.


Rancor is strong when you're on the enchanting plan with Invisible Stalker, but its value certainly drops once the Stalker goes away. While Rancor may have still had a chance in this deck without Stalker (it's still nice with Hands of Binding around), the fact that we really need a critical mass for Delver of Secrets substantially hurts its playability in this deck. Since it's not an instant or sorcery, and it's not mind-blowingly good in this deck, Rancor should go.


I definitely want an Unsummon-style effect in this deck—and, fortunately, Simic has a fantastic one. Simic Charm not only Unsummons, but it can also pump your creatures and give them hexproof. The hexproof clause is especially relevant when you have a Hands of Binding encoded on a Delver of Secrets your opponent is trying to get off the table, or a huge Quirion Dryad threatening to crunch your opponent if he or she doesn't have a removal spell. All three modes of Simic Charm are fantastic, and it's definitely a card I want to play a couple of.

Think Twice

Think Twice is cute with Quirion Dryad, giving you two uses out of a spell in one card. However, two mana is a big commitment for a deck that is trying to play creatures early on and will often be tight on mana. Instead, I would opt for Thought Scour. It works well with Snapcaster Mage, is still a cheap cantrip for Quirion Dryad, and also only costs one mana—a huge difference.


While the effect of Downpour is nice for getting through, it's generally a fairly weak effect. Between Hands of Binding, Simic Charm, and the combat trick of Selesnya Charm, you can force your opponent into a rough spot with blocking already. Downpour isn't really necessary, and I'd much rather just have a more powerful card.

Growing Changes

With several cards cut and moved around, there are several new additions I'd like for the deck. Some of them I've already talked about, but let me recap all of them again for you.

Call of the Conclave
Selesnya Charm

As a deck that aims to win by attacking, you need some number of creatures. However, Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage really want you to play with instants and sorceries. This poses a tricky deck-building question.

Fortunately, there is a kind of card that bridges the gap: token makers! Call of the Conclave keeps up the pressure on turn two while also triggering Delver of Secrets. Imagine a start of turn-one Delver of Secrets followed by turn-two reveal Call of the Conclave, transform Delver of Secrets, and then play a land and cast Call. That's going to be tough to recover from—and that's not even noting the potential of a Spell Rupture in your hand!

Selesnya Charm not only works as a 2/2 for two, but its other effects are quite reasonable in a deck like this. It can exile Obzedat, Ghost Councils and Thundermaw Hellkites alike, and also makes combat difficult with its +2/+2 and trample. These two cards are perfect fits and are good reasons to play white alongside Geist of Saint Traft.

Geist of Saint Traft

And speaking of Geist of Saint Traft, here he is! This card is just so strong in a deck like this. Not only do you have numerous ways to get him through, but you have cards that enable you to simply ride him to victory. Every turn you buy with a card like Simic Charm or Spell Rupture is one more 6-point life swing from the Geist. Perfect!

Thought Scour

This deck wants some cantrips to help it cheat it on lands so it can transform its delvers more often, and also to help make Quirion Dryad big quickly. Thought Scour works well with those and other angles of the deck, like Snapcaster Mage.

Spell Rupture

This deck definitely wants countermagic. As mentioned before, Spell Rupture is a fantastic fit.

Simic Charm

All of the modes on this Charm are fantastic for this deck. I could see playing a third over a Hands or Selesnya Charm, provided you've played a little and there's something you would want to cut. As noted before, it's so wonderfully disruptive! Selesnya Charm gets a slight nod in the split of Charms right now since it also makes a creature while still pumping, but the bounce ability is strong enough that it could easily flip the other way.

Mystic Genesis

As a singleton, you're not going to see this that often—but it's a strong, Mystic Snake–quality card you can craft your game plan around when you draw it.

With all of those changes in mind, that brings the decklist to:

Gavin Verhey's Bant Thumb

Download Arena Decklist

This deck can be fast and brutal, with plenty of tools to trip up your opponent. With five solid combat tricks, your opponent is going to have a rough time blocking—if Hands of Binding even allows your opponent to get that far in the first place.

Something interesting to note about this deck is that there are no mana Elves. Not even the mana-fixing Avacyn's Pilgrim made the final cut! The problem I had is that you only have one three-drop and there are plenty of two-drops. Skipping ahead to three doesn't actually do that much. Plus, you often want to cast Delver of Secrets on the first turn. I very seldom build base-blue-green tempo decks without mana Elves, but this deck is a rare exception.

This deck really takes advantage of a lot of the control and midrange decks in the format, between its countermagic and fantastic answer to Thragtusk. Attack early, leave countermagic up, and you should be in fantastic shape. If I was building a sideboard for this, I would be sure to include some cards like Rhox Faithmender to help fend off Mono-Red—but even that matchup is quite winnable.

Rhox Faithmender

This deck is a lot of fun to play and puts some new Gatecrash cards to good use. Give it a try for yourself this week, as Gatecrash becomes legal in Standard. FNM right after a new set releases is always an incredibly fun time to play, and with five new guilds entering the mix that's more true than ever! If you do play this deck this weekend, be sure to let me know how you do.

Honorable Mentions

Is Bant aggro-control not your thing? Fear not! Plenty of exciting new Gatecrash decks were sent my way this week. Have a look at some of them, and see what inspiration you can draw!

Michael Gulick's Obzedat Flicker

Download Arena Decklist

John-Mark Mills's Tyrant of the Grimoire

Download Arena Decklist

Christopher Aaron's the Master Plan

Download Arena Decklist

Mark Ian Alloso's Domri Naya

Download Arena Decklist

Jonah H-A's Miracle-Gro

Download Arena Decklist

Ricky Bernet's Boros Firefighters

Download Arena Decklist

Abe's Squad A

Download Arena Decklist

Christopher Burrows's Bracers Midrange

Download Arena Decklist

Jack's Animal House

Download Arena Decklist

Shehzad Ahmed's Orzhov Stax

Download Arena Decklist

Canadian Standards

In just a little over two weeks, the focus of the Magic-playing world will shift onto Pro Tour Gatecrash . This Standard Pro Tour is bound to showcase plenty of new Gatecrash cards. Can you break the format before the pros do? We're going to find out!

Format: Standard
Restrictions: Your deck should be competitively focused, as though you were playing at the Pro Tour.
Deadline: Sunday, February 3, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Submit all decklists to " Please submit decklists in a format that looks like the following, except with your name and deck instead of mine."

Gavin Verhey's Awesome Deck for Awesome People

59 Island
1 Snapcaster Mage

Please keep in mind that for this week you should send all decklists to There's a technical issue that is keeping me from receiving your decklists as normal, so you'll need to send them there for now.

For that week, we're going to be looking at Standard from a competitive angle. What deck is right for the metagame? How should you sideboard? Which new Gatecrash card is going to be the card to play? All of these questions will be brought up two weeks from now.

In the meantime, feel free to send me any feedback you have! Either send me a tweet or post in the forums and I'll be sure to check it out.

I'll be back next week when the Boros legion comes to town for Boros Week. If you've been waiting to see a Boros deck, you won't want to miss it. Talk with you then!


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