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June 23, 2014

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Delving into Modern

Modern PTQ season is upon us, and with this every Pro Tour hopeful will be looking for the best deck to take to every PTQ within reasonable distance. With a format as incredibly diverse as Modern, finding the “best” deck can be quite difficult. A much better approach to this format is to find a deck you enjoy and grind games until the end of time. Learning your deck completely inside and out is quite valuable in the Modern format, and if you’re looking to have success then this is the strategy you should employ.
But what deck do we choose?! With endless strategies to attack the format, choosing an archetype that you like and have experience playing is a great place to start. With that, I’m going to look into one of my favourite archetypes that has been relatively out of the Modern spotlight as of late: Delver of Secrets Tempo.

Delver of Secrets is one of the most powerful one-mana creatures ever printed. Delver strategies dominated the majority of Innistrad/Scars of Mirrodin standard, and they continue to have success in Legacy. An entire tempo strategy has been built around Delver of Secrets, and its results are incredible. Modern as of late has seen a decrease in Delver strategies, with only one or two decks popping up from time to time in major tournaments and having success. The strategy has been written off as a contender in the current format, and maybe now is the time to bring it back. I’ll begin by taking a look at what cards we have available to us and which we don’t, beginning with Serum Visions.

One of the biggest reasons why Delver hasn’t taken much of a footing among Modern’s top tier decks is because of Ponder and Preordain being currently banned. This means that Delver decks are forced to play Serum Visions in their one-mana slot, and let me tell you, Serum Visions is NOT Ponder or Preordain. Drawing your card before you scry is nowhere near as powerful as scrying first, but with no better options in the format we will settle.
Thankfully we have other powerful one-mana cards available to us:

I don’t think I need to explain why Lightning Bolt is absurd, or how Path to Exile is one of the best (if not the best) one-mana removal spell in the format currently. Anybody who has played Standard recently can attest to why Thoughtseize is quite good, and when combined with Inquisition of Kozilek things get much better. We also have the best one-mana bounce spell in Vapor Snag, as well as Gitaxian Probe, which basically to “free” information and a card.
Now we can’t just jam all of these good cards into one deck and expect things to turn out well. Delver decks are all about tempo and efficiency; if we play too many colours the result will be inefficient mana, which is not what we want.
Next we have the all-star of the Delver archetype:

Snapcaster Mage has been format defining since it was printed, and is very obviously one of the most powerful cards in Magic. I definitely don’t need to explain why getting a second use out of your spells and a 2/1 body can be broken and game changing. Snapcaster shines in Delver strategies, allowing you to gain incremental advantages through flashing back your spells as well as putting pressure on your opponent’s life total.
Let’s take a look at some various builds:

UR Delver – By Alex Battistelli

Creatures: (14)
Delver of Secrets
Grim Lavamancer
Snapcaster Mage
Young Pyromancer

Spells: (27)
Electrolyze
Gitaxian Probe
Lightning Bolt
Mana Leak
Pillar of Flame
Remand
Serum Visions
Spell Snare
Sword of Fire and Ice
Vapor Snag

Lands: (19)
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents
Sulfur Falls
Island
Mountain

Currently the most popular Delver list in modern, UR Delver has had varied success both on MTGO and at the Grand Prix level. This would be the safest list to go with if you’re looking to play a Delver strategy. The deck is pretty straightforward, with Young Pyromancer being the all-star of the list.

UWR Delver-Lynx – By Alex Battistelli

Creatures: (15)
Delver of Secrets
Geist of Saint Traft
Snapcaster Mage
Steppe Lynx

Spells: (23)
Lightning Bolt
Lightning Helix
Mana Leak
Path to Exile
Pillar of Flame
Remand
Serum Visions

Lands: (22)
Arid Mesa
Hallowed Fountain
Marsh Flats
Misty Rainforest
Moorland Haunt
Sacred Foundry
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents
Island
Mountain
Plains

This list takes advantage of the full 4 Lightning Bolt and 4 Path to Exile, as well as Steppe Lynx as another one-mana creature to put early pressure on your opponent. In combination with 12 fetchlands, Steppe Lynx can provide a whole lot of damage out of nowhere at any point in the game. This particular build is quite aggressive with 4 Lightning Helix and 2 Pillar of Flame rounding out the burn package.
Sticking with UWR, we can take another approach:

UWR Delver – By Alex Battistelli

Creatures: (13)
Delver of Secrets
Geist of Saint Traft
Snapcaster Mage
Young Pyromancer

Spells: (26)
Gitaxian Probe
Lightning Bolt
Lightning Helix
Path to Exile
Remand
Serum Visions
Vapor Snag

Lands: (21)
Arid Mesa
Glacial Fortress
Hallowed Fountain
Sacred Foundry
Seachrome Coast
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents
Sulfur Falls
Island
Mountain
Plains

Our strategy with this list is to push an advantage with value creatures like Young Pyromancer and Snapcaster Mage, ideally all the while beating down with our Delver of Secrets. We’re less on the aggressive plan here and more looking to tempo our opponents out and gain as much value as possible out of our spells. If you’re looking to go UWR with your Delver strategy, either of these lists would be a good place to start!
What about straight UW?

UW Delver – By Alex Battistelli

Creatures: (15)
Delver of Secrets
Geist of Saint Traft
Restoration Angel
Snapcaster Mage
Vendilion Clique

Spells: (24)
Gitaxian Probe
Mana Leak
Path to Exile
Remand
Serum Visions
Spell Snare
Vapor Snag

Lands: (21)
Eiganjo Castle
Glacial Fortress
Hallowed Fountain
Moorland Haunt
Scalding Tarn
Seachrome Coast
Island
Plains

While this list does seem fine on paper, I don’t think it will be able to contend among the top dogs of the format. By cutting red we lose access to Lightning Bolt, and we don’t have anything we can replace it with that is even remotely close in power level. I wouldn’t automatically dismiss this list without testing, but I don’t think just playing UW is where you want to be.
Maybe UB?

UB Delver – By Alex Battistelli

Creatures: (14)
Dark Confidant
Delver of Secrets
Snapcaster Mage
Vendilion Clique

Spells: (25)
Cryptic Command
Gitaxian Probe
Inquisition of Kozilek
Mana Leak
Remand
Serum Visions
Thoughtseize
Vapor Snag

Lands: (21)
Creeping Tar Pit
Darkslick Shores
Scalding Tarn
Sunken Ruins
Watery Grave
Island

Bringing black into the mix gives us access to excellent hand disruption in Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize. We also get to play Dark Confidant, which allows us to gain considerable card advantage to grind out opponents. But perhaps my favourite card we can add by playing black is Creeping Tar Pit.

Creeping Tar Pit gives us an unblockable threat in the late game and gives us some reach that we previously didn’t have. Playing a land that also doubles as a solid threat is just the right amount of value that we’re looking for from a card in this deck.
So what other decks can we put together that play Creeping Tar Pit?

BUG Delver – By Alex Battistelli

Creatures: (16)
Dark Confidant
Delver of Secrets
Snapcaster Mage
Tarmogoyf

Spells: (23)
Abrupt Decay
Cryptic Command
Inquisition of Kozilek
Mana Leak
Remand
Serum Visions
Sword of Feast and Famine
Thoughtseize
Vapor Snag

Lands: (21)
Breeding Pool
Creeping Tar Pit
Darkslick Shores
Misty Rainforest
Overgrown Tomb
Verdant Catacombs
Watery Grave
Island
Swamp
Forest

Adding green to the mix means we get to play format all-stars in Tarmogoyf and Abrupt Decay. Both these cards add significant power to our deck, especially with how good Abrupt Decay is in the format right now. Tarmogoyf is as good as it gets for two mana, which is exactly what we’re looking for. We haven’t seen a list like this as of late in modern, and being able to catch some opponents off guard gives us an advantage.

What does Grixis give us?

Grixis Delver – By Alex Battistelli

Creatures: (15)
Dark Confidant
Delver of Secrets
Snapcaster Mage
Vendilion Clique
Young Pyromancer

Spells: (24)
Electrolyze
Gitaxian Probe
Inquisition of Kozilek
Lightning Bolt
Mana Leak
Remand
Serum Visions
Terminate
Thoughtseize

Lands:21 (21)
Blood Crypt
Creeping Tar Pit
Darkslick Shores
Misty Rainforest
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents
Verdant Catacombs
Watery Grave
Island
Swamp

We get to bring Lightning Bolt and Young Pyromancer back into the mix, as well as some number of Electrolyze. Terminate is an interesting idea, maybe we would want one or two. Pillar of Flame might just be a better option with how popular Birthing Pod decks are right now. Grixis is definitely an interesting route to take our strategy.
Finally we have what is my favourite choice for a Delver deck at the moment: Esper.

Grixis Delver – By Alex Battistelli

Creatures: (15)
Dark Confidant
Delver of Secrets
Geist of Saint Traft
Snapcaster Mage

Spells: (24)
Disfigure
Inquisition of Kozilek
Lingering Souls
Mana Leak
Path to Exile
Remand
Serum Visions
Sword of Feast and Famine
Thoughtseize

Lands: (21)
Darkslick Shores
Creeping Tar Pit
Hallowed Fountain
Scalding Tarn
Marsh Flats
Watery Grave
Island
Plains

Not only do we get to bring back Path to Exile and combine it with hand disruption, we also get to play Geist of Saint Traft and Lingering Souls.

Both of these cards are not only extremely powerful, but they are also currently criminally underplayed in the format at the moment. Lingering Souls adds creatures to the board as well as flips our Delver of Secrets, which is fantastic. Lingering Souls also provides excellent protection against cards that are generally very good against our strategy, like Liliana of the Veil. Sword of Feast and Famine makes an appearance in this list, as it is excellent when combined with both Geist of Saint Traft and Lingering Souls. The one-of Disfigure in the main deck is an open slot that will probably change with more testing. I feel like this list shows a lot of promise and I’m excited to see where it can go.
As we can see, there are multiple directions that we can take a Delver of Secrets strategy, all of which offer their own unique advantages and disadvantages. Do you think Delver can be a contender in the current Modern format? Or is the strategy doomed without access to Ponder or Preordain? Which direction would you go with a Delver deck right now?
Share your thoughts!
Until next time, I’ll be delving deeper into the secrets of the Modern format.