Temur Delver is the best deck in Legacy.
It might have not put up a Top 8 performance at SCG Syracuse, but it utterly dominated the Classic in addition to being the most represented deck on day two of competition.
Today I’m going to walk you through the deck. Where we’re at with the archetype now, where it’s been and where I believe it’s going. I’ve got Grand Prix Atlanta this weekend where I’ll be putting as many turn one Delvers on the stack as possible — so I’ve been putting the hours in.
Over the last few months the “stock” version of this deck has been aptly named: “No Bad Cards RUG’” due to the exclusion of the sometimes-mediocre Stifle and general raw power level of each card in the deck. This deck was popularized by Max Gilmore after he removed black from the original Four Colour Delver list. A stock RUG and four colour list are shown below:
Temur Delver – Dylan Hand
Four Colour Delver – Jay Wojciechowski
There are roughly five to ten cards different between a stock RUG list and a stock Four Colour list. It’s a small percentage difference in total quantity of cards, but Four Colour is a drastically more powerful deck in that it’s able to support Gurmag Angler, Abrupt Decay and a slew of sideboard cards. The cost is of course a much shakier manabase. Stretching your mana base in a format with Wasteland is generally too much of a cost to pay for an increased power level. If you all your cards can’t be cast off the lands you have in play then their power level is obviously zero.
Given the choice between these two decks at the start of my testing process I chose RUG for the reasons I stated above. And as many other Legacy grinders have already concluded I found that the deck was great. It felt smooth, it was powerful and I was winning a reasonable amount with it. My largest complaint was that at times it was much clunkier than traditional Legacy Delver decks. Wrenn was hard to deploy when you were behind and I found that trading efficiency for power made the archetype much worse at utilizing the actual card Delver of Secrets.The current iterations of RUG leaning on Wrenn felt like a midrange deck that was capable of applying pressure early with Delver, but relied too heavily on Wrenn as a control element and finished the opponent off with Tarmogoyf. The problem with this is that RUG generally has a hard time answering resolved permanents so you’ve got to establish this insurmountable advantage in order to keep control of the board.
Sometimes it feels like every threat is a must-counter.
Naturally, I was dissatisfied with this kind of gameplay. I have been playing Delver of Secrets decks off and on for nearly seven years to reasonable success, and have found that the best way to win with Delver is to either not allow your opponent to cast spells or counter them if they ever manage to put something on the stack. I started to work on a hybrid of two iterations of Delver. A combination of using the powerful, new cards, but also hearkening back to the glory days of Stifle to entirely dismantle my opponent’s ability to play.
— Daryl Ayers (@daryl_ayers) September 16, 2019
This was my first draft. There were a lot of things I liked and some that I didn’t. A 5-0 was a great way to start testing, but that didn’t come close to meaning I had a completed deck. The things I found in this deck that were most ineffective were Hexdrinker and Dismember. In a deck with so much counter-Magic I found it hard to invest mana during my mainphase without lowering my shields. Dismember could kill opposing Tarmogoyfs that resolved, but that was precarious as well. If it was necessary to counter or kill a planeswalker, like Wrenn, you’ll find that Tarmogoyfs have generally grown to be 5/6s making the entire reason to put Dismember into your deck ineffective. This coupled with the great cost of life that comes with it and how that affects you in racing situations lead to me remove it from my deck entirely.
The things I did like about my deck greatly outnumbered the things I didn’t. Everyone was clowning me for playing without Wrenn. This card is so good you have to play it right? In my opinion I see Wrenn as a card that is no longer the king of the metagame. Wrenn is a card that shines against very few decks while presenting a menial threat against others. It’s obviously good, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to build my entire deck around it. Looking at the top performing decks and analyzing how Wrenn stacks up against each will help paint this picture more clearly:
Some might say this is the best possible matchup for Wrenn. A deck that relies on using non-basic lands to combo while Wrenn can feed you an endless supply of Wasteland. The reality is that this deck is great at beating Wasteland because it has to be. That’s how the archetype was built in the first place. In order to use Wrenn you have to activate your Wasteland then return it, but often times the Depths strategies will be able to combo in response to your Wasteland rendering Wrenn’s recursion invalid. Wrenn can run away with games against clunky or slow draws, but often your Wasteland needs to stay in play and threaten their ability rather than enact it proactively.
Ad Nauseam Tendrils, Sneak and Show, Rakdos Reanimator
I grouped these decks together because the level of Wrenn’s threat is the same. It’s zero. Literally zero. Decks that put Griselbrand into play within the first two turns or decks that put ten copies of Tendrils of Agony onto stack generally don’t care if you have two more lands in your hand.
Moon Stompy, Bomberman
Gone are the days of Cloudpost and here are the days of Blood Moon or Auriok Salvagers each accompanied with ten copies of their appropriate basic land. Stompy decks in today’s metagame no larger are true big mana strategies that multiple Wastelands can devastate. These decks each try and present unbeatable board states within the first few turns. Playing a Crucible of Worlds to dismantle these strategies is not how I would approach deckbuilding.
This is a matchup that I believe Wrenn can truly shine. In Delver mirrors both players have very few lands and an abundance of soft permission. Wrenn being on the battlefield can lock an opponent out of the game or put them in a position so the cards in their hand are completely ineffective.
Another matchup where Wrenn can be backbreaking. This deck usually has three to four basics, but often times will need to search for non-basic lands to cast their spells. This is also a match up where the -1 on Wrenn can shine in order to remove Snapcaster Mage or a Baleful Strix holding back your Tarmogoyf.
If you weigh all these decks together then you see by my analysis that Wrenn is only actively great against two. Out of the entire metagame I want Wrenn against too few strategies to have it be the focal point of my deck.
As for the rest of my changes, I think it’s important to outline the history of RUG Delver to see how the deck accomplished its goal in the past and how we can translate that to today. That’s where I got a lot of the ideas I used to build this version.
The first list I think worth sharing is what many considered “stock” RUG Delver for years. This is the list I piloted to a Top 4 finish at Grand Prix Atlanta in 2012.
Temur Delver – Daryl Ayers
This was the best deck in Legacy for years and it was not close. At the time Nimble Mongoose was a force to be reckoned with as a 3/3 was relatively large and Shroud meant that control decks often had to sit back with stranded removal spells. This format was also full of triggered abilities that Stifle could find useful targets for beyond just fetchlands. At the time this deck had a full clip of Spell Pierce to counter anything your opponent had the audacity of putting onto the stack.
This next list shares many of the same properties of the one above in function, even if the format was radically different.
Temur Delver – Daryl Ayers
I know, I know. This was a Treasure Cruise deck and that card was completely busted. You can do anything you want and still win with a card that broken, but I believe there is value to be gained by analyzing the components of a deck like this. Kird Ape is practically a meme at this point, but at the time it was relatively hard to remove. The other delver decks played three or four Forked Bolt meaning that Kird Ape was immune to half the removal they had to offer. My decklist packed three Spell Pierce and one Pyroblast in order to interact on the stack, something the other delver decks were lacking. This greatly increased my win percentage against both control and combo which proved crucial throughout the event.
Both these lists are years old, but in my eyes offer the same fundamental lessons. Threats that are effective against the common removal spells and large amounts of stack-based interaction is the key to Delver of Secrets dominating the format. For Grand Prix Atlanta this year I have taken these philosophies and adapted the current iterations of RUG Delver to my liking. After nearly 100 matches with this deck in online leagues I feel like I’m in a place that it’s truly ready to succeed.
Temur Delver – Daryl Ayers
As you can see in my list I have moved away from Hexdrinker to make my counter-Magic more effective while removing some of the vulnerability I had to opposing Wrenns. Hooting Mandrills is a card that is extremely difficult to remove in Lightning Bolt mirrors and costs a single mana to deploy. I have kept the one-cost counterspells in their same numbers as both had been performing admirably. Stifle is the card that catches the most flack, but I think it’s secretly an all-star in this style of deck. Stifle might look stupid on turn three, but empowering Daze, Wasteland and Spell Pierce into the later turns of the game is extremely powerful. Stifle also defends against opposing Wastelands in a way that creates a huge swing in tempo. And of course Stifle can sometimes completely mana screw someone out of the game making a hand full of powerful spells useless. This is an avenue of victory new Delver decks don’t have access to. Sometimes, Stifle and Wasteland just offer you free wins which can pay off over a long tournament.
Wrenn and Six might look a little awkward in my final decklist after all of my criticisms, but a completed Magic deck is 75 cards. It’s not a 60 card maindeck supported by a 15 card sideboard. I’ve decided that Wrenn and Six plays a vital role in a number of matchups and is generally a powerful tool. Having access to Wrenn in game one is important, but it’s role in my deck is as a supporting piece rather than the star. Which I think is an essential conclusion to building this deck properly.
This is the deck I plan on playing at GP Atlanta and I am very confident in both my list and ability to perform with it. My last piece of advice when playing a deck like this is to be aggressive. Killing your opponent is the best way to prevent them from peeling out on you. In a recent online league I played a turn one Delver while on the play that my opponent attempted to remove with a Lightning Bolt. Without a second thought I used Force of Will to save my Delver while staring at a Daze I could have cast instead. Being able to un-tap and deploy my Tarmogoyf was just too much damage too quickly to pass up on. Given the pressure I presented I knew my Daze would still find a great target as the game played on.
Edgar Magalhães was spectating this game at the time and was completely shocked I would take such a line. After explaining how things would play out over the next few turns and seeing them unfold was enough to convince him that in order to play a deck like RUG his mentality needed to change if he wanted to succeed with a similar strategy. If you choose to play RUG I encourage you to expand your normal methodology of approaching a game of Magic. RUG is a deck that provides some of the most unique, unintuitive lines of nearly any deck I’ve played and knowing when to take a line that will make you look absolutely foolish should it go awry is an important part of leveling up as a player.
I know you want it, so here you go: a sideboard guide. Don’t tie yourself down, but this is a great starting point. Decks like RUG need to adapt on the fly so keep that in mind. And as for play / draw sideboarding, I find that I basically never sideboard out Daze — it’s just too powerful. Generally speaking, I tend to think that the play or draw doesn’t change things as much as others believe. Matchups are more linear as your roles are defined within sideboarded games.
-2 Pierce, 4 Force
+2 Pyroblast, 3 Submerge, 1 Wrenn
-2 Stifle, 4 Force
+2 Pyroblast, 3 Submerge, 1 Wrenn
Stifle is powerful here. Snagging Wasteland, Hexmage, or a Reclaimer activation is ideal. Stifle on Dark Depths will not work as the ability will simply trigger again. Stifle can be used to disrupt them for a turn so Wrenn and Wasteland can take over.
-1 Bolt, 2 Snare, 2 Pierce
+3 Submerge, 1 Wrenn, 1 Grudge
Ad Nauseam Tendrils
-4 Bolt, 2 Wrenn, 1 Mandrills
+2 Negation, 1 Cage, 1 Pyroblast, 2 Fluster, 1 Surgical
Mulligan to good hands. They’re going to shove and you need to be ready.
-4 Bolt, 2 Wrenn
+2 Negation, 1 Cage, 2 Fluster, 1 Surgical
Sneak and Show
-4 Bolt, 2 Wrenn
+2 Negation, 2 Fluster, 2 Pyroblast
Don’t be afraid to play slow. Fight over their card advantage and win on your efficiency. Wrenn is critical to remove Strix without being disadvantaged in terms of resources. Lightning Bolt can finish off planeswalkers and remove Plague Engineer.
-2 Bolt, 4 Force
+1 Winter Orb, 1 Wrenn, 2 Fluster, 2 Pyroblast
Keep competitive hands. Tarmogoyf and Mandrills can overpower many of their draws so get them into play early.
-2 Stifle, 2 Wrenn
+2 Grudge, 2 Negation
Use Force of Will when you need to. Watch out for Mentor as it can snowball. Winter Orb is your best card here. Rest in Peace is very scary, but not played much atm. Stifle on Rest in Peace will keep Tarmogoyf large and essentially trade one for one if necessary.
-4 Wasteland, 2 Bolt
+2 Fluster, 2 Pyroblast, 1 Winter Orb, 1 Wrenn
True-Name and burn spells is how they cheese you. Play with these in mind and let your green creatures do the heavy lifting.
-2 Force, 2 Pierce
+2 Pyroblast, 2 Fluster
I think this version is harder than Golgari Depths, but Submerge is much better here, as is bolt.
-2 Snare, 2 Pierce
+3 Submerge, 1 Wrenn
Be wary of Back to Basics, True-Name and Rest in Peace. This matchup is likely unfavorable, but Grudge and Winter Orb can throw a wrench in those plans. Wrenn is less powerful as they have ways to pressure it.
-2 Bolt, 4 Wasteland
+2 Pyroblast, 2 Grudge, 1 Fluster, 1 Orb
Death & Taxes
-2 Pierce, 2 Stifle
+1 Wrenn, 2 Grudge, 1 Orb