Delver's Secrets

Posted in Top Decks on August 30, 2012

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome back to Perilous Research, a column where I take a look at the Magic Online metagame and do my best to offer up unique insights on card changes and performance variance. This week, we're going to discuss White-Blue Delver's reestablished dominance in Standard and then we will take a quick look at Magic Online's growing Legacy scene.

Blade Splicer | Art by Greg Staples


The current Standard metagame is Delver-centric, but there are a lot of tiny changes happening every day that sharpen the blades of Delver of Secrets decks everywhere. Last week, Zombies made a big push toward the top; Zombies had the second most 4–0 finishes of any archetype. The deck had an excellent Delver matchup and it enjoyed the declining popularity of Infect.

Things change quickly these days. This week, Zombies had terrible numbers. Delver pilots in the know started playing three or four copies of Blade Splicer in their main decks. Blade Splicer offers a unique defense against the Zombie deck that is difficult to race in either direction. This small change in Delver was enough to push Zombies out of the limelight and back into obscurity. When the dust settled, we were once again left with a metagame that's dominated by 3/2 flyers for one mana. Let's take a look at the decks that went 4–0 in last Saturday's Standard daily events:

Delver decks had a particularly strong week. Zombie decks were starting to be a real problem, but Delver players started including Blade Splicer and the matchup improved significantly. The number of Blade Splicers is on the decline now that Zombies is seeing less play, but many lists still have a few copies just to be safe. Gagatek managed to go undefeated in one of last Saturday's Standard Dailies playing a unique version of Delver that includes Gideon Jura as a powerful top end. Gagatek's mirror matchup is improved by the inclusion of Talrand, Sky Summoner over Restoration Angel. It might seem odd to play Blade Splicer and not have Restoration Angel, but sometimes you need to forego synergy in favor of cards that help particular matchups. Here's gagatek's list for reference:

Blade Splicer
Gideon Jura

gagatek's Delver

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Zombies had fallen out of favor by the time last Saturday's dailies had rolled around. DoctorPenick recognized Delver's dominance and built a version of the deck that is particularly strong in the mirror match. If you regularly follow Magic Online Daily events, you're sure to recognize DoctorPenick, who is a Magic Online guru whose lists often become the "stock" versions of a particular archetype. This week, DoctorPenick chose to forego any Equipment in the main deck of this Delver list. The mana base is improved by removing Moorland Haunt and Runechanter's Pike becomes unnecessary when you don't need to grind away with Spirit tokens. This lack of inevitability is made up for with three copies of Talrand, Sky Summoner. I strongly recommend this list if you're planning on attending a Standard event this weekend and you have experience with Delver strategies. This is one of the tightest lists I've seen in some time:

Talrand, Sky Summoner
Geist of Saint Traft

DoctorPenick's Delver

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One of the biggest surprises this week is the resurgence of Naya Pod. Most Delver decks are moving away from Restoration Angel and giving decks like Naya Pod a chance to reenter the fray of tier one. Naya Pod struggled to deal with a 4-toughness flier in most cases, usually just trying to wait for a big Bonfire of the Damned or block with their own Restoration Angels.

Naya Pod's success is another contributing factor to the downfall of Zombies; Huntmaster of the Fells and Blade Splicer are both played here and that's sure to put most Zombie players on their heels as long as you don't have an unlucky draw. Javersonlai's Naya Pod list has access to a powerful top end in the form of Inferno Titan. Cards like Zealous Conscripts ensure victory over decks like Ramp and Planeswalkers. Thragtusk seals the game up against the black-red aggro decks. Hellrider can steal a game out of nowhere. This could be the deck for you if you're looking to have all the angles and don't mind having occasionally schizophrenic draws.

Inferno Titan
Zealous Conscripts

javersonlai's Naya Pod

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White-Black Tokens has seen scattered success for almost a year now, but the deck hasn't really put up noteworthy numbers since the deck's inception. This week, White-Black Tokens managed to be undefeated multiple times. The deck's optimal draws are close to unbeatable (unless an opponent miracles a Bonfire of the Damned), but the deck suffers from the same problem that token decks have struggled with since the beginning of time—sometimes you draw anthems and no token production and sometimes you draw token production and no anthems. Playing six removal spells is necessary when there are so many high-impact creatures, but these cards exacerbate your chances of having sketchy draws. Even with its consistency issues, this is clearly a powerful and well-positioned archetype in the current Standard format. The deck should perform well against Delver and it does well against most other decks as long as they don't get lucky with a Bonfire. Here's a look at one of the lists that went undefeated last Saturday:

Gather the Townsfolk
Lingering Souls

Szach's White-Black Tokens

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Blue-Red-Green Birthing Pod decks are kind of a novelty. We never see them do well, except in the hands of _ShipItHolla, one of Magic Online's fiercest competitors. _ShipItHolla has been piloting some version of this deck to 4–0 finishes for the last few months. I was excited to see _ShipItHolla battling on a Saturday and I'm glad I get to include the latest version of Blue-Red-Green Birthing Pod in this week's column.

The deck might look like a strange version of Naya Pod that lacks some of the more powerful cards, but Phantasmal Image and Deceiver Exarch give _ShipItHolla's Birthing Pod powerful tools that can steal the game at a moment's notice. This deck is extremely difficult to play. I put it together on Magic Online and quickly went 0–3 in two-person queues. Afterward, I was pretty sure I should have won at least two of those matches. This deck is a lot of fun and it has a lot of power, but I recommend playing a lot with it before you decide to sleeve or load this one up for an event:

Phantasmal Image
Deceiver Exarch

_ShipItHolla's Blue-Red-Green Birthing Pod

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There always seems to be at least one oddity in the 4–0 decks from each Saturday. This week, we have yamademon's Heartless Summoning deck. This deck is absolutely absurd when it's able to resolve a turn-two Heartless Summoning. Mana Leak is getting less popular and most decks want to use their mana on turn two, so resolving a Heartless Summoning has never been easier.

Once you have Heartless Summoning online, an array of hard-to-deal-with fatties start clogging your side of the table. Rune-Scarred Demon functions as a gigantic Squadron Hawk when there's nothing particular going on in the game, but can also tutor up powerful silver bullets like Massacre Wurm and Wurmcoil Engine. Captain of the Mists makes an appearance, tapping down threats and working alongside the four copies of Frost Titan to tie up the opponent's mana. This is an awesome brew for anyone who picked up four Heartless Summoning when Innistrad first came out and never got a chance to play them in a tournament:

Heartless Summoning
Rune-Scarred Demon

yamademon's Heartless Summoning

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Standard is defined by Delver at this point. I recommend playing Talrand, Sky Summoner in your Delver list this weekend in an effort to stay in competition with the mirror. Naya Bonfire decks (popularized by Martin Juza) seem to be off the radar at this point, but I wouldn't be surprised if we saw these decks make a big comeback. Bonfire of the Damned is particularly well positioned right now in a world of Talrand, Sky Summoner. Red Delver might also be well positioned in the coming week. Having access to the Delver shell while being able to play Bonfire of the Damned seems like an incredible formula to solve the given format.

Rune-Scarred Demon | Art by Michael Komarck


Legacy is still in its infancy on Magic Online. The format seems to be dominated by combo at this point. Last Saturday, all three 4–0 decks were of the combo variety. The combo-centric nature of Magic Online Legacy leaves a huge space for someone to come in and play a powerful aggro-control strategy like RUG Delver or Merfolk. Here's a breakdown of the decks that went undefeated in last Saturday's Daily Events:

I've always been a combo player, and storm decks are probably my favorite kind of combo. Last Saturday, Alakai went undefeated with an Ad Nauseam/Tendrils of Agony Combo deck that's dedicated to ending the game as quickly as possible. This deck is capable of winning on the first turn. Alakai would use Rituals to get to five mana, cast Ad Nauseam, draw a huge swath of cards, play a few more rituals, and fire off a massive Tendrils of Agony for the win. This type of deck has more raw power than any other Legacy archetype, but it's susceptible to a lot of the format's hate. However, Magic Online seems to be dominated by combo decks that are more interested in protecting their own combo than preventing their opponents'. This was clearly a good choice for last Saturday's Daily Events. Here's Alakai's storm list:

Ad Nauseam
Tendrils of Agony

Alakai's ANT

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Lotus Petal | Art by April Lee


Magic Online's Legacy metagame is very focused on combo decks. I recommend playing a deck like Merfolk or a Delver of Secrets strategy with a lot of disruption, especially Spell Pierce.

Hit the forums or shoot me an email with any questions, comments, or suggestions. I have an exciting Return to Ravnica preview card for next week, so be sure to stop by and check it out. Also, tune in to the Magic Players Championship today and tomorrow to watch the best Magic players in the world battle for the title of the world's greatest Magic player.

Knowledge is Power!

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