MKM Series 2018 Prague: The Death of Delver

Shorty after the groundbreaking ban of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe, the MKM Series visited Prague, eagerly awaiting a brand new Legacy format and the new brews it would entail. Miracles ended up the best-performing deck and carried the once mighty Delver to its grave.

"Faster Than a Cobra's Bite"

Nimble Mongoose

Now you might say: "Wait, what? R/U/G Delver was the most played deck. How can it be dead?" And you're right, at least insofar that there were a lot of Delver decks at MKMS Prague. It is a fact that 21 among the 227 players chose to battle with the by now iconic definition of a tempo deck: R/U/G Delver. There are some good and easy reasons to play this deck though.

  1. It's fun to play. There are few decks that reward tight play while combining a brutal mana denial package with strong tempo-oriented interaction. Tempo strategies, in general, provide exciting games since they usually do not have many bad or good match ups but have game against the entire field.
  2. It's a fan favorite. Nimble Mongoose has always had its fan boys and rightly so. It is a great Magic card that fought alongside Werebear before Tarmogoyf was printed.
  3. It's a natural choice. People like to come back to and remember great things from the past. Now that Deathrite is gone it looks like R/U/G Delver is a decent choice again.

These are good reasons to play this deck, but they mostly come from an emotional level rather than from looking at its place in the meta. R/U/G Delver truly woke up faster than a cobra's bite after the bans and it's no surprise that players in Prague were similarly wooed by its explosion onto the scene. Admittedly, in the hands of capable players, any tempo deck can be a true nightmare for most Legacy decks and a tough contender for a Top 8 spot. The biggest problem, however, is that six years of Legacy have happened since R/U/G delver was anything more than a fun fringe deck. The format has been changing significantly since Return to Ravnica, but R/U/G Delver, at least for the most part, has not.

Like Aragorn on Coruscant

Umezawa's Jitte
Something between an ancient sword and a lightsaber?

Tomas Mar assessed the position of R/U/G Delver in his interview at MKMS Prague and his assessment was, unsurprisingly that Legacy in 2018 looks nothing like Legacy in 2011 or 2012. While R/U/G Delver has been a fringe contender over the last six years, the forefront of Meta has changed in the wake of powerful midrange options like Baleful Strix, Stoneforge Mystic, Kolaghan's Command, True-Name Nemesis, and Monastery Mentor, all of which were printed during or after 2013.

Looking at recent R/U/G Delver lists they do not deviate from its old and established core of 54 or 50 cards respectively. Almost every R/U/G Delver needs to play:

8 Fetchlands

3 Volcanic Island

3 Tropical Island

4 Wasteland

4 Nimble Mongoose

4 Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration

4 Ponder

4 Brainstorm

4 Stifle

4 Daze

4 Force of Will

4 Lightning Bolt

(4 Tarmogoyf)

The Lhurgoyf has fallen out of favor somewhat, with some players looking elsewhere in the wake of its newfound vulnerability to Abrupt Decay and Fatal Push. With the number of abrupt decay in the field decreasing, however, the powerful green two-drop should find its way back to the core of R/U/G Delver. A combination of Spell Pierce, Spell Snare, Forked Bolt, Tarfire, or Dismember usually takes up the remaining slots. At its core, R/U/G Delver wants to trade resources one for one, blow for blow with its counter spells and Lightning Bolt, while turning an insect, mongoose, or fatty sideways.

This strategy is tuned to the meta it emerged in, as most tempo decks are, and in the face of newer threats like Miracles deck, a difficult to stop lands combo, the BR reanimation menace, a reworked Moon Stompy, and various abominations of the Eldrazi tribe, it can't help but falter. Just like Aragorn is bound to his beloved sword, R/U/G Delver's spell set up is somehow set in stone and therefore will most likely end up in decline without new technology.

What about the other Delvers?

Better at delving than Delver.

Grixis Delver, B/U/G Delver, U/R Delver, and W/U/R Delver didn't see much play at the MKM Series in Prague. Five players chose to keep on fighting with a version of Grixis Delver; presumably by adding Bomat Courier. Unfortunately for the tempo maniacs, many Delvers were demoted to lower table numbers after a couple of rounds. Among the remaining options, BUG Delver should be the best choice because it has better combo match ups and attacks its opponents from multiple angles with huge beaters, counter spells, mana denial, and discard. I could see midrange lists like Patrick F.'s from Berlin, who piloted BUG Delver to a 5-3 drop in Prague, still doing well in the future:

I am not really convinced that Grixis will manage to keep up with R/U/G and B/U/G lists though, because threats like Bomat Courier and Young Pyromancer may not be able to seal the deal in critical situations. Additionally, U/R Delver looks to unplayable right now. Its prowess creatures are bad without the extra fuel probe provided. Stormchaser Mage gets blocked by owls all day long and its burn suite is not heavy enough to fire off lethal damage without being supported by its footmen. U/W/R or Patriot, however, could be able to achieve better results. It can play a tempo game with fast Delvers and counter spell backup and it can control the board with True-Name Nemesis holding Umezawa's favorite blade.

Key Take-Away from Prague  

Key to the City

A lot is possible in Legacy in 2018, but Miracles seems to be on top of the mountain once again. Let us keep in mind that many Miracles players had accumulated some byes before the tournament and were able to shorten their path to the Top 8. Nonetheless, it was not too hard to predict that Miracles with Counterbalance or Back to Basics will be a strong force in this new meta. Eldrazi Stompy also looks strong right now because it runs over decks like a tank over stacked cars, provided that they do not stall it when starting the engine. The other three decks that looked strong were Sneak & Show, B/R Reanimator, and Aggro Loam. To my surprise, Death and Taxes did not make it into the Top 8, even though it was the second most played deck and ultimately one of the top decks to beat. All of the aforementioned decks have good match ups against R/U/G Delver or at least meet it on an equal footing, which makes it extremely difficult for the mongoose to bite its way to glory.

Summer 2018 marks the death of Deathrite and it seems to be accelerating the decline of that pesky Insectile Aberration. In the end, they will have to adapt or they will fall victim to Legacy's merciless taxes, rituals, and cantripping fliers.

Bonus: What did "CabalTherapy" do?

Karakas in Prague
The Czech "Karakas" in Liberec: Ještěd, TV tower, hotel, and restaurant.

I kind of struggled to find a suitable Storm list for Prague but decided to go with the following 75 cards:

Having won a bye the day before I faced Death and Taxes 2:0, Tezzerator 2:1, BR Reanimator 1:2, OmniSneak 2:1, BR Reanimator 1:2, Turbo Depths 2:0, R/U/G Delver 2:0, Steel Stompy 1:2, which was certainly not the best result but good enough for a Top 32 finish. ANT feels differently without Probe and in many situations the lack of its digging power left my other cantrips hitting air instead of business spells. One of my highlights was to blindly hit a Tendrils of Agony on one life in the second game against R/U/G Delver with my one and only cantrip after I went for a Past in Flames loop… good times.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

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