How to Succeed in Modern by Only Getting Unlucky: A Stubborn Delver Story


MTGO: “Mishra’s Bauble enters the revealed zone.”

It is just another day in the life of a Modern Delver player.  How many times do I need to call “one time” before it flips?  Was it a strategic choice to play only 26 instants and sorceries in my Delver of Secrets deck?  Did I even count them before registering for the league?  Can you imagine how much better this hand would be if this Opt was a Brainstorm?  What can I afford to play around here?   Am I just dead to any spell?  

Yet, throughout this internal monologue and a series of increasingly unfortunate events, the world’s saddest air force of humanoid insects and pixie dragons still has a dominating position on board.  Instead of providing two extra power on a Delver flip, Mishra’s Bauble produces a single extra power with a Sprite Dragon trigger. 

Your opener:


The Bauble, in turn, gives Delver an extra look at the top of the library when resolving the next flip trigger.  The ability to stack the delayed Bauble trigger and the flip trigger in either order dramatically increases the odds of a successful flip.  The Opt finds a second Lightning Bolt, reducing the clock by a full turn.  Force of Negation means that any line can play around the most impactful of the opponent’s spells.

Delver is the only deck in the Modern format that can turn garbage into gold.  Every turn that does not lead to a perfect outcome means that the following turn actually allows for more powerful plays.  An uncooperative Delver usually means that you are drawing a perfect mix of lands and creatures off the top.  This stubborn Delver actually makes most positions significantly more resilient to spot removal than a perfect blind flip.  Drawing too many cantrips in the mid-game just means you can deploy threats and pitch these relatively unimpactful spells to Force of Negation.  Flooding out just increases the card velocity that your trusty Lurrus of the Dream Den companion can provide each turn by replaying threats and Baubles.

The natural question to ask about a deck that does not have a singularly optimal start or a particularly optimal mid-game strategy is: “Well, maybe you are not turning garbage into gold.  Maybe the deck is just actually garbage?”

Richard’s Grixis Delver [05/2020]

Creatures (10)
Delver of Secrets
Sprite Dragon
Snapcaster Mage

Spells (26)
Spell Snare
Force of Negation
Inquisition of Kozilek
Lightning Bolt
Kolaghan’s Command
Serum Visions

Enchantments (1)
Seal of Fire

Artifacts (4)
Mishra’s Bauble
Lands (19)
Darkslick Shores
Spirebluff Canal
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents
Blood Crypt
Watery Grave

Sideboard (15)
Grim Lavamancer
Fatal Push
Nihil Spellbomb
Surgical Extraction
Collective Brutality
Lurrus of the Dream Den
Kolaghan’s Command

There is not an easy way to answer this question.  The best answer I can give is “You might be right.”  Nothing that Grixis Delver does is particularly powerful or broken.  In a format that is usually the most degenerate of all constructed formats, playing something that is neither overpowered or broken seems like a deck registration error.  Rather than trying to go overtop of other strategies (such as Tron) or under other strategies (like Burn), Delver is trying to go around whatever the opponent is doing. 

Grixis Delver does not really have the tools to meaningfully remove a resolved Reality Smasher or Primeval Titan.   It does, however, have the tools to navigate an Ensnaring Bridge or a Summoner’s Pact on the stack.   Grixis Delver is not trying to counter or kill every single thing that an opponent does.  It wants to pick opportune spots and create situations that buy extra turns for the air force to succeed.  The combination of hasty fliers, seven pieces of reach, and two Snapcaster Mages means that virtually any amount of  life can be eliminated over the course of only a couple of turns.   Unless an opponent can set up its game and then close quickly, a Delver deck has a more than reasonable chance to come out on top.

Another strength of the deck is how hard it is for an opponent to hate out the strategy.   Despite playing Lurrus and Snapcaster Mage, Delver is not really a graveyard deck.  If an opponent is mulliganing to find hate pieces like Relic of Progenitus or Tormod’s Crypt, they are going to be extra susceptible to the main gameplan of tempo.  If instead, the opponent elects to rely on spot removal or board wipes, they become liable to lose to the value engines of Lurrus, Snapcaster and Kolaghan’s Command.  The addition of Lurrus really highlights this alternate angle of attack. 

Previously, consecutive pieces of spot removal could prove catastrophic to the Delver strategy.  Without a source of tempo, the deck would easily fold to any reasonable gameplan.  With a ‘free’ value engine ready to go every single game, Lurrus drastically reduces the viability of trading resources for Delver’s threats.  Once again, the best plan to beat Delver is to execute the main gameplan and shorten the game.  Only a perfect sequence of removal into graveyard hate will let you win a mid to late game struggle against a delver deck.

So why play Delver?  Is it the best deck in Modern?  No.   Does it do anything special?  No.  Is it the best Lurrus Deck?  No (that is still probably Burn).  Does it beat up on Lurrus decks?  Yes!  Does it beat up on Yorion Decks?  Also yes!   Registering Delver is not for the faint of heart.  It will frustrate you to no end.  Nothing will ever seem to sequence itself perfectly and most turns will end in you wishing you did something different;  but if you play to your outs, and avoid being greedy, you might just see the rag-tag air force knocking on the door of another trophy.