Pondering—Alive and Well

Delver of Secrets

When Ponder left Standard, I stashed away my Delvers like old mementos, eagerly awaiting the day when I can break them out again. Even as I struggled to do well in Return to Ravnica Standard, Delver was always at the back of my mind. The timing just wasn’t right. Who cares about an early, evasive threat when the tools to protect him just aren’t there anymore?

Right around the release of RTR, I got into Modern. The metagame was completely different back then. UWR Delver was still a deck, and one that I’d probably have played, if not for the fact that I fell in love with the Kibler/Finkel UW list (the list that got me interested in Modern in the first place). I proxied the deck and played some practice games. I was impressed with how aggressive it could get, but was ultimately turned off by how quickly it ran out of gas as well as its relative inability to come from behind. Around the same time, the advent of Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay in the format pretty much killed the deck, so I put it away and didn’t think about it much beyond that.

Fast forward to January. UWR catches the Modern metagame off guard and wins two PTQs and a GP in succession. Only this time, the deck is playing with some new toys. I wrote about it immediately after the two PTQs, before the GP Bilbao win, and was impressed to no end. The deck has enough removal to rival traditional Burn decks, but unlike Burn, its world wouldn’t come crashing down at the first sight of a lifegain spell like Kitchen Finks.

It just so happened that we were also in the midst of Gatecrash spoiler season. My immediate reaction upon seeing Boros Charm and Skullcrack was to make a port of the new hotness for Standard. I threw a bunch of cards together that somewhat resembled the UWR Flash archetype that was already in Standard, and began making changes from there. Sphinx’s Revelation—too durdly; 25 lands—way too high; 12 creatures—way too low. After much tweaking, I finally arrived at something I was satisfied with.

And then I added Delvers.

Deck: UWR Delver

Counts : 60 main / 15 sideboard

4 Delver of Secrets
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Restoration Angel

4 Thought Scour
1 Unsummon
2 Aurelia's Fury
3 Azorius Charm
4 Boros Charm
2 Mizzium Mortars
4 Searing Spear
2 Counterflux

3 Clifftop Retreat
3 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
3 Island
2 Sacred Foundry
4 Steam Vents
2 Sulfur Falls
1 Slayers' Stronghold

1 Dispel
2 Negate
2 Rest in Peace
3 Skullcrack
2 Paraselene
3 Supreme Verdict
2 Jace, Memory Adept

“Oh but you don’t have Ponder. Blah blah blah.”

“Where are your Mana Leaks, bro? Wah wah wah.”

Shut up.

I designed my deck to be a Burn deck. Delver is like a Rift Bolt. Play it, get three damage the next turn, everything else is gravy. But how do you flip Delver without Ponder, you ask? You do it the way the developers intended: by stocking your deck with instants and sorceries so that it flips consistently on its own without further assistance. The LSV Delver builds of old ran 16 creatures, 21 lands, two Swords and—most importantly—21 instants and sorceries. Yes, four of those were Ponder, but you didn’t always need Ponder to flip those damn things. Were that the case, there wouldn’t have been nearly as many people whining about “lucksacking” a T1 blind-flip.

The 22 instants and sorceries in my build is a good number to get Delver to transform consistently. There will obviously be some games where he just refuses to budge, but in testing, a T1 Delver almost always flipped in time to get in a concerted hit with your on-curve Geist of Saint Traft, if not sooner. We’re talking over 90% here—I took notes and shit.

Speaking of Geist, he too, should be treated as a burn spell. There is no obligation to protect him whatsoever (though obviously, if you can protect him, it’s typically in your best interest to do so). He is there to get in four damage. If he dies in the process, so be it. You have three more.

I took the list to TNM this week and was able to finish X-0, beating two copies of Red Deck Wins and Brayan’s signature UB Control. Delver did what Delver does, getting in one or two hits before leaving it to Geist and burn spells to clean things up. Boros Charms were awesome for me all night, as expected. Even against the red decks, where I’d typically side out two copies, they allowed me the flexibility of holding back a guy and eating an attacker, or go into full-on race mode with direct damage.

Aurelia’s Fury was probably the most suspect card of the bunch. 22 lands is not sufficient to get enough value out of it. I’d typically be on four to five lands, never reaching seven unless the game went long. This is also “old Delver” knowledge—there’s a reason Delver decks back in the day only boarded in fatties like Consecrated Sphinx against control, because they expected the game to go long— but in this case, I failed to carry it over during deck construction. Overall, Feeling of Dread might just get the job done more efficiently. That said, I didn’t get to play control all night, so I’ve yet to evaluate the card’s utility as a poor man’s Silence. The most use I got out of it in the games I played was a three mana Electrickery on a Stromkirk Noble. Less than exciting, to say the least.

Moving forward, I also want to experiment with Boros Reckoners. I went over how great that guy is on offense in my last article, but he’s just as good holding things down on the ground. Simply put: aggro decks, especially RDW, cannot attack through that guy without opening themselves up to a two-for-one. Being able to comfortably block a whole turn sooner than Angel and without fear of eating damage based removal is pretty big against aggro.

I’m also planning on changing the board to include some number of Izzet Staticasters. As much as I dislike the card, they are handy for the increased amount of Lingering Souls that I expect to see in the meta, especially with decks like Esper having real manabases now. I’ll tinker the build and try it out at FNM again this week.

Real Delver players flip in the dark, naysayers be damned.

24 Responses to “Pondering—Alive and Well”
  1. Tim says:

    Interestingly, if you were able to find room for Reckoner, you get an infinite combo when you combine him with your charms (indestructible mode + lifelink mode + redirect damage to himself forever).

  2. DMG says:

    Hm, staticaster over electrickery?

    • Li Xu says:

      Oh duh. Much better choice since it’s a spell, and also because you get it the turn you want instead of next turn when a Blind Obedience is out. I’m bad at this game.

      • Justin says:

        Also Flames of the Firebrand

      • Li Xu says:

        Flames is perhaps not so good. Staticaster and Electrickery kill all the souls in one shot at instant speed, Flames is a .75-for-1 at sorcery speed.

      • Tim says:

        Electrickery is a .5-for-1 against a competent player, unless they’re trying to aggro you with spirits rather than wait you out, but I think the latter is a better use of souls in this matchup. It is also resoundingly mehhhh with Snapcaster. This is also sorcery speed, and a bit costlier than Electrickery (unless you miracle it), but how about Bonfire? As a former Snagger of Vapors, surely you can appreciate the relevance of the 1-3 damage you might also hit their dome with.

      • Li Xu says:

        It’s a consideration for sure, but maybe Staticaster is just the best choice overall. It’s kill all Lingering Souls on-demand. As for the damage, Vapor Snag was awesome for squeezing in the last point or so, but that was when the deck didn’t have red.

  3. zil says:

    still thinking about esper delver. li, i’ll show you my list?

    • Li Xu says:

      Please to post Delver Esper list below comrade.

      • zil says:

        consdier this a draft for a list. comrade.

        Esper Delver:
        (with commentary)

        4 delver
        4 snap
        4 geist
        (3 gravecrawler? resto? reckoner? decisions to be made)

        4 dimir charm
        4 orzhov charm
        1 dissipate
        1 unburial rites
        3 spell rupture
        2 silent departure
        3 feeling of dread
        3 lingering souls
        (Cut some spells to make room for reap the seagraf if running gravecrawler)

        23 land (maybe it should be 24 land?)

        Not much room to deal with running out of gas here. Would like to have more unburial rites to rescue geists. I feel like there’s some decisions I’m not making, but will hopefully avoid running out of gas in the late game through self-mill and flashback. Right now, it feels like a couple decks smushed together, and i’m tempted to only run the 12 creatures to put in more countermagic or unburial rites or azorius charm.

        anyway, that was my durdle on the train to work this morning.

      • Li Xu says:

        Oh damn it I had such a great response typed up too, but then WordPress decided to kill my window before I could submit it for no reason. So here are the main bullet points, might look disorganized.

        You want Angel in the last slot. It blocks for you, nothing in your deck blocks (except Lingering Souls, which we’ll talk about in a minute). Reckoner is bad in Esper, you need WWW to cast him. Crawler does nothing if he’s not in an all-out Zombie deck.

        Angel also protects Geist. I say this because I don’t like Unburial Rites here if it’s just getting back Geist. For 5 mana we should be getting fatties back, but then we’re moving into (NOTICE I DIDN’T SAYING DELVING YESSSS) Reanimator territory.

        Lingering Souls: great card, not what you want. You don’t have ways to make them bigger, and as an aggressive deck you don’t want to sit behind blockers all day instead of attacking.

        Azorius Charm is great for refilling your hand and for semi- Time Walking your opponent when they block your Geist.

        23 lands and 16 creatures max if you want your Delvers to flip, although you do have Dimir Charm to help.

        Unsummon over Silent Departure. Instant speed lets you save your guys, and Snapcaster can flash things back.

      • Tim says:

        Agree with ALMOST everything Li said.

        I’ve probably been this guy’s biggest proponent, but maybe you want Seer at the top of your curve? I could also get behind some sort of split of Seers and Angels, maybe even cutting a Snap.

      • Li Xu says:

        Yeah I brainfarted a little and forgot Seer was a 4 drop. He gets you cards, doesn’t hurt you much, and helps dwindle your opponent’s life total. But the biggest problem, as I mentioned to Zil, is tapping out on T4 in a Delver deck that should be holding up mana for countermagic or answers to threats.

        That said, Seer is probably not bad, it’s just hard to argue with defaulting to Resto as the 4-drop in a deck that can play it. He does attack through her though.

  4. zil says:

    ok, so you don’t like the reanimator sub-theme (look at three, pitch creature and unburial rights, reveal charm to flip delver, flash back unburial rites to retrieve pitched reature)? that is what i was hoping to do to get the esper delver to work with dimir charm – throw away some flashback cards with the charm to get an early delver flip, then still get value off those cards. but stick to retrieve delver with charm, flashback charm to flip delver as a late game strategy? that is what i’m hearing.

    i have a bad habit of trying to cram multiple decks together to make one new deck that does both things, but then it turns out it doesn’t really do anything.

    my other dream was attack with geist, let it die, then second main bring back geist of a flashed back unburial rites. maybe there’s not a ton of synnergy there

    • zil says:

      oops. this should have been a reply. and synergy is the correct spelling.

    • Li Xu says:

      My main concern is that, as a Delver deck, you generally are holding up mana all the time to protect your threats. You usually only ever tap out for a Geist, then you never play anything on your turn ever again. Rites requires you to tap out on T4 or T5, making it easy for your opponent to kill your Delver, wrath your board, or just slam a threat that you just can’t deal with.

      • zil says:

        i think part of the problem is that i am also asking too many things from the charms – i want to use them to reanimate, remove threats, rescue geists (in the worst of all possible circumstances). i think i just like the esper colors better and am trying to find value in being in black. plus, i traded you the sacred foundry for the godless shrine 😉

      • Li Xu says:

        Blind Obedience is a card to consider. Tempo spells become full on time walks when that thing is out, and time walks are good to have when you play Geists.

      • zil says:

        but they don’t flip delver is why i decided against. i may playtest it at some point, but will likely end up running american colors instead

      • Li Xu says:

        Depends on if you want hard removal or damage based removal. Devour Flesh and Ultimate Price kill things that Searing Spear can’t, though obviously the inverse is true too. Orzhov Charm kills everything. Red can race better. Dimir Charm lets you flip more often. Etc etc

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