Delver in Modern!?

You might look at this headline and think, “Ah, this author is a fool. [Card]Delver of Secrets[/Card] is only playable in Legacy. I must now call him a soyboy on Twitter.” However, the fool would in fact be you, because I haven’t played Legacy in months, and Delver absolutely slaps in Modern right now. You’re right about the soy stuff though, I’ve been eating a lot of tofu lately. What can I say, it’s a great source of protein for this growing (soy)boy.

But wait, Modern? Delver? The last time Delver reared its head in Modern, things were, let’s say a little different. You wouldn’t get laughed out of the group chat for playing [Card]Remand[/Card] and [Card]Steppe Lynx[/Card] was a card that could qualify you for the Pro Tour. Somehow, these two facts coexisted in peace. It was a different time. In the current era of Modern, powerful linear decks alongside reactive decks chock full of efficient removal like [Card]Fatal Push[/Card] have all but removed Delver-like strategies from the metagame. Without sticking early threats, Delver decks were just bad control strategies with no sources of card advantage to carry them into the late game, where their cards were simply outclassed by new, powerful threats.

Once again, things have changed. Throne of Eldraine brought a bevy of absurd Magic cards to the table, and one of them, the inexplicably fetchable [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card], has given [Card]Delver of Secrets[/Card] new life. [Card]Deprive[/Card], a card featured in the Delver decks of yore, is all of a sudden an incredible late-game lock piece, and Modern Horizons saw the printing of [Card]Force of Negation[/Card] to let us tap out for threats on early turns without immediately dying to a turn three Karn. Hell, this deck is even playing a full playset of [Card]Archmage’s Charm[/Card], a card I spent months making fun of. With [Card]Death’s Shadow[/Card] playing a significant role in the metagame, the third mode on this [Card]Divination[/Card]/[Card]Cancel[/Card] hybrid is suddenly very relevant again.

Still, you might ask why a deck full of counterspells, something traditionally atrocious in Modern, is actually playable, and maybe even good. Much like how Mill was randomly quite good during Phoenix’s era of dominance, there are now a bunch of decks that consist of mostly air, a la [Card]Arcum’s Astrolabe[/Card] or [Card]Matter Reshaper[/Card], with maybe 10-20 actually relevant spells, either being played ahead of schedule or just being so impactful with their supporting cast that playing them on curve is acceptable. Being able to [Card]Force of Negation[/Card] a [Card]Karn, the Great Creator[/Card] is a game-ending play so long as your opponent is either under pressure or you have a lock to set up afterwards — and this deck is capable of doing both of these things.

Let’s get to the list:

[Deck Title= Izzet Delver – Daniel Fournier]
[Creatures]
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Young Pyromancer
4 Snapcaster Mage
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Opt
4 Serum Visions
2 Spell Snare
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Deprive
4 Force of Negation
4 Archmage’s Charm
2 Magmatic Sinkhole
[/Spells]
[Lands]
2 Flooded Strand
2 Misty Rainforest
2 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
2 Mystic Sanctuary
4 Island
3 Steam Vents
4 Spirebluff Canal
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Ceremonious Rejection
1 Spell Snare
2 Mystical Dispute
2 Dismember
3 Blood Moon
2 Abrade
2 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
2 Dragon’s Claw
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

A few notes about card selection before we move on to gameplay tips and the dreaded sideboard guide. There are two interesting things to talk about in regards to the manabase: first off, whenever possible, it’s wise to split up fetchlands. This deck plays no basic Mountain thanks to [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card] and [Card]Archmage’s Charm[/Card], so no blue fetchland is inherently better than the other. In a format where people still legitimately play [Card]Pithing Needle[/Card] and [Card]Surgical Extraction[/Card] for some reason, this split is a free roll, and it’s always a good idea to take advantage of those small margins in deckbuilding. There’s also the matter of [Card]Spirebluff Canal[/Card] to discuss. This is an extremely powerful [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card] deck. It might even be the best [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card] deck. Why then, are we playing a play-set of lands that aren’t Islands? The answer is pretty straightforward. So long as Burn and Prowess are popular decks, we can’t afford to be constantly shocking ourselves with our manabase in the early turns of every game. [Card]Spirebluff Canal[/Card] does a great [Card]Volcanic Island[/Card] impression in turns one to three, where our deck is at its weakest, with its engine inactive. These are crucial turns, and while replacing the Canals with more fetches and a fourth [Card]Steam Vents[/Card] would be preferable, I don’t think we can get away with it at this time. Be aware that when you’re stuck with a hand full of surplus lands, you can simply hold on to [Card]Spirebluff Canal[/Card]s in order to see if you draw three Islands and a fetchland or Sanctuary to be active on turn four. If you whiff, you can just play the Canal on turn three, then cry when you draw a second one on turn four. That’s a two-for-one.

Now that we’ve seamlessly segued into gameplay tips, we might as well continue down that path. Canal is not the only card that it’s often wise to hold — when presented with a hand containing both Delver and [Card]Serum Visions[/Card], but, say, lacking in early interaction, missing lands, or just containing a [Card]Magmatic Sinkhole[/Card] that you’ll need to cast early on in the matchup, you should probably wait to jam Delver. You don’t have the tempo-centric supporting cast that you do in Legacy. Most of your counterspells aren’t free, and you don’t have [Card]Wasteland[/Card]s in your deck to [Card]Time Walk[/Card] your opponent. Your only aggressive potential outside of that card comes from [Card]Lightning Bolt[/Card], so don’t be afraid to either hold Delver until you can play it with shields up, or even just hold it indefinitely as [Card]Force of Negation[/Card] fodder.

Similarly, don’t be afraid to simply board them out in attrition-heavy matchups. Your opponent will likely overboard in favour of removal upon seeing Delver, since that’s really just a heuristic upon which Magic players operate, but you’re really not much of a creature deck. This can allow you to grind them out with looping [Card]Archmage’s Charms[/Card] and [Card]Snapcaster Mage[/Card]s, forcing them to use valuable removal spells on Elemental tokens and what not.

Mulligans with this deck are quite complicated. Unlike a lot of other blue decks currently running around, it’s hard to just keep lands and spells with this deck, especially blind. Many of our spells are just air, and while I love nothing more than to keep three lands and four cantrips, the low power of this format’s cantrips can quickly turn that hand into five lands and two mediocre threats. I won’t mulligan aggressively into the engine, but take a look at the hand and think about the game it presents on turn three. Are you holding up a counterspell with a threat in play or the ability to start a [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card] chain, or are you jamming a mainphase [Card]Opt[/Card], desperately looking for a catch-up card that exists neither in this deck nor in Izzet colours in general? Just remember, your deck is slower than it looks, and it’s easy to fall behind on board.

Sideboard Guide

Let’s move on to sideboarding, and individual matchups. Here’s a link to the sideboard guide in printable form.

vs Grixis Shadow
IN
2 Mystical Dispute
2 Dismember
3 Blood Moon
2 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
OUT
4 Force of Negation
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Spell Snare

This deck is built to have a reasonable game against Shadow, with eight answers to the eponymous card in post-board games, and additional threats in [Card]Blood Moon[/Card] and Saheeli. We even have a pseudo-[Card]Dispel[/Card] for the most threatening card in our opponent’s deck: [Card]Stubborn Denial[/Card]. That said, nothing in this cursed world beat’s Shadow’s most egregious draws, especially when it’s on the play, so be aware that no matter how far we push things, getting overrun is not necessarily evidence that the matchup is somehow bad.

Be aware while making mulligan decisions that Delver is absolutely not a premium card in this matchup. Pressuring Shadow’s life total is always an awkward dance, and their density of removal post-cantrips makes it unlikely that they won’t have an answer to Insectile Aberration once you’ve pushed their life total to exactly where they want it. Only send when you’re confident that you have a supporting cast to mitigate this problem.

vs 4c Shadow
IN
1 Spell Snare
2 Dismember
3 Blood Moon
2 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
OUT
4 Force of Negation
4 Lightning Bolt

This matchup is largely identical to Grixis, except instead of a bunch of unbeatable Gurmags, we get to [Card]Spell Snare[/Card] their [Card]Tarmogoyf[/Card]s. That rules. We don’t bring in [Card]Mystical Dispute[/Card], because losing Snapcaster as a target really cramps our style.

vs Eldrazi Tron
IN
1 Ceremonious Rejection
2 Abrade
2 Dismember
2 Blood Moon
OUT
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Spell Snare
1 Serum Visions

Ah, the deck that everyone is convinced is good. And is actually good. But is also bad, because [Card]Matter Reshaper[/Card]. Luckily for us, we have a reasonable matchup here, with Delver actually being a bit of an all-star. E-Tron relies on [Card]Karn, the Great Creator[/Card] for its current high power level, but it would be an understatement to say that the creature deck full of counterspells considers planeswalkers that hardly affect the board to be a bit of a joke.

Hold up countermagic to deal with their mana-intensive cards, and sneak in a board position when you can. Empty your hand of ones as soon as possible to mitigate the impact of Chalice, and try to mulligan hands that fold to it.

vs Simic Urza
IN
2 Mystical Dispute
2 Dismember
OUT
2 Spell Snare
2 Lightning Bolt

Urza is the reason to play this deck. They have at most twelve cards that matter, and we have a deck full of answers, not to mention threats so mediocre that Elking them is pretty much an upgrade. Be wary on the draw of the threat of turn two Oko, and play cautiously due to the sheer power level of their threats.

vs Burn
IN
1 Spell Snare
2 Abrade
2 Dragon’s Claw
OUT
2 Young Pyromancer
2 Archmage’s Charm
1 Magmatic Sinkhole

Surprisingly, this matchup has been quite excellent for me so far. I’m used to playing control deck that are full of planeswalkers and other assorted nonsense that might as well not have any text against Burn decks, but all of a sudden, I get to actually have cheap threats and a late-game lock that stops them from being able to kill me with top-deck Bolts? Damn, that’s sick. [Card]Lightning Bolt[/Card] and the [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card] chains are the important pieces here, so mulligan with that in mind.

vs Amulet Titan
IN
3 Blood Moon
2 Abrade
OUT
2 Spell Snare
2 Magmatic Sinkhole
1 Snapcaster Mage

[Card]Blood Moon[/Card]. Eat it, Edgar.

vs Humans
IN
2 Dismember
2 Abrade
3 Blood Moon
OUT
4 Force of Negation
3 Deprive

You haven’t lived until you’ve stolen an [Card]Aether Vial[/Card] with [Card]Archmage’s Charm[/Card] then slammed a [Card]Blood Moon[/Card]. Charm is a surprising all-star here, both thanks to that cheese game plan, but also in locking up the ground by stealing a large [Card]Champion of the Parish[/Card]. As usual, removal is king here, and be careful not to get stuck with a hand full of countermagic.

vs Tron
IN
1 Ceremonious Rejection
3 Blood Moon
2 Abrade
OUT
2 Spell Snare
2 Magmatic Sinkhole
2 Lightning Bolt

Ah, real Tron, where [Card]Blood Moon[/Card] is actually good. This matchup is quite easy, thanks to counterspells and [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card]. They have a hard time dealing with our threats, as well, so that’s neat.

vs Crabvine
IN
2 Dismember
2 Abrade
OUT
2 Spell Snare
2 Magmatic Sinkhole

Note that there is no graveyard hate in the sideboard. This is because this deck doesn’t beat graveyard decks, no matter how many Leylines you jam in there. This sideboard plan is gunning for your only way to win this matchup: your opponent keeping a sketchy hand that relies on the mill from a [Card]Hedron Crab[/Card], and you killing it with a removal spell. You’ll lose anyways, but at least you’ll feel smart for having tried to win.

vs UW Stoneblade
IN
1 Spell Snare
2 Mystical Dispute
2 Abrade
2 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
OUT
4 Force of Negation
2 Archmage’s Charm
1 Lightning Bolt

Magic as it was intended to be played. A classic matchup, of [Card]Stoneforge Mystic[/Card] fighting [Card]Delver of Secrets[/Card]. Ah, what a blessing. These matchups are fun as hell, until your opponent resolves a Teferi and you immediately suffer an existential crisis. Try not to let that happen.

vs Jund
IN
1 Spell Snare
2 Dismember
3 Blood Moon
2 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
OUT
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Force of Negation

Jund, while ostensibly a close matchup, can be an utter nightmare if your opponent is able to stick a [Card]Wrenn and Six[/Card]. We can’t afford to keep in [Card]Force of Negation[/Card] against a [Card]Thoughtseize[/Card] deck, so instead there’s a third [Card]Spell Snare[/Card] in the sideboard to give us as many chances to keep Wrenn in the graveyard as possible.

Otherwise, this matchup is very back-and-forth and an absolute blast to play. They have to respect [Card]Blood Moon[/Card] and play as though they were scared of [Card]Splinter Twin[/Card], and that tension leads to very dynamic gameplay.

vs Infect
IN
2 Dismember
2 Abrade
OUT
4 Archmage’s Charm

Not much to say here. If you’ve played Infect with a Snapcaster/Bolt deck before, then you’ve already mastered this matchup. Kill things on your own turn when possible, and remember that it can be wise to have [Card]Blood Moon[/Card] in on the play to deal with [Card]Inkmoth Nexus[/Card], especially if they’re being cute and splashing a third colour.

vs Dredge
IN
1 Spell Snare
OUT
1 Magmatic Sinkhole

Good luck. You’ll need it.

vs Druid
IN
1 Spell Snare
2 Dismember
2 Abrade
OUT
4 Archmage’s Charm
1 Force of Negation

Druid is a unique matchup, in that every single card in our deck is actually quite good against them. This, of course, leads to a fairly lopsided matchup. It’s nice. If they’re a Teferi build, of course be wary of that, and if you see Teferi, you can assume that there will be Oko, so it’s reasonable to bring in [Card]Mystical Dispute[/Card].

vs Titanshift
IN
1 Spell Snare
3 Blood Moon
OUT
4 Lightning Bolt

It’s normally the case that blue decks get rolled by Titanshift, but we are no mere blue deck. We have a clock! And [Card]Blood Moon[/Card]s, I suppose. This one’s pretty straightforward, and a matchup that I’m quite happy with.

vs Prowess
IN
2 Abrade
2 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
2 Dragon’s Claw
OUT
2 Spell Snare
4 Young Pyromancer

This is probably our most awkward matchup. You might have noticed that all our threats have one toughness, and that the Prowess deck contains four copies of the card [Card]Lava Dart[/Card]. This makes our threats absolutely worthless and pushes us deep into the control role — which surprisingly works out quite well for us.

The most consistent path to victory here is to kill our opponents with a mixture of Saheeli tokens and their own [Card]Monastery Swiftspear[/Card]s, by way of [Card]Archmage’s Charm[/Card]. Mulligan aggressively into removal, hold up countermagic for [Card]Bedlam Reveler[/Card], and be willing to counter burn spells a bit more aggressively than normal to keep your life total at a reasonable place.

Let me know if you choose to play this powerful rogue deck – I’d love to see some other [Card]Steam Vents[/Card] addicts take up the mantle of the noble Insectile Aberration!