For the last few years, there’s been a constant in Standard; whenever Delver of Secrets is legal, there will be a tempo deck ready for competition.
During the last Standard rotation, many iterations of Delver decks got trophies (5-0 leagues) on MTGO. These decks are always trendy on paper Magic and Magic Online because of how easy they are to build.
This fact doesn’t mean that this archetype plays subpar or weak cards. On the contrary, Delver decks aim for the best tempo cards, which lets the deck seal games by attacking with one threat while we interact with our opponent’s plays, and at the same time, it allows us to dictate the tempo and the rhythm of the game.
Delver of Secrets is undoubtedly in a place where it can shine. However, two Dominaria United cards make this kind of deck possible.
Playing a high number of instants and sorceries is vital when playing Delver of Secrets. Haughty Djinn and Tolarian Terror also synergize well with this idea. While Djinn helps us reduce the cost of all our non-creature cards in our deck, it also lets us close games extremely fast because of how high its power can be.
On the other hand, Tolarian Terror passes from being a Limited premier card to a card to be feared in Constructed. This serpent is a powerhouse in the proper deck. It’s not a card we are not going to auto-include in any Blue deck, but here it could be a 5/5 body with ward 2 for just one or two mana most of the time.
Many similar builds of Mono Blue decks are getting extremely good results. Many 5-0 in MTGO and top finishes in paper tournaments prove that Delver is a force to be reckoned with.
The importance of sharing three more lists of this archetype resides in how crucial it is to understand how this archetype can adapt to the metagame and the preferences of the pilot.
These three Japanese players run similar lists to Doggert (our first list from our Mono U Tempo Deck Guide), but all of them have small differences from which we can learn.
Takumi plays a complete set of Faerie Vandal, which is very similar to Ledger Shredder, but with flash instead of letting us connive. That’s very useful for playing a draw-go style and adding Combat Research solves, on many occasions, the need for drawing cards, making this build come closer to the Mono-Blue Devotion style of play.
Masaru goes for six spells for protecting Delver of Secrets and Haughty Djinn. With four Slip Out the Back and two Shore Up, removing any threat becomes extremely hard for any opponent if we play correctly.
Finally, Daiki plays Syncopate, a very good option for adding a counterspell that can go bigger than Make Disappear, which is very useful during the late game. One Consuming Tide is fantastic against some decks that can go wide as well.
After all these examples, it’s clear that the idea of playing Delver of Secrets and a high amount of non-creature spells is good in this new Standard, and solid proof of how strong a deck based on this kind of strategy could be. However, the title of this article clearly says “Dimir”. The reason behind exploring this color pair is very similar to the one that makes other approaches as Izzet strong contenders. There are very good cards in Dimir that work extremely well in a Delver-Tempo shell, which makes playing a second color something to consider over playing Mono Blue.
Bbiondo92 climbed to Mythic using this strategy, and as we can see, some choices in this list are powerful cards in the current meta that justify playing Black as a second color.
Kaito Shizuki is one of the strongest planeswalkers available in Standard. The evolution of the metagame made this planeswalker go unnoticed for some time, however, many Esper and Grixis decks are now giving this planeswalker another chance.
In this archetype, Kaito does an amazing job. If we play it after having a Delver of Secrets or Haughty Djinn in play, it lets us draw a card every turn without having to discard. That’s something that lets us have answers at the moment we need to while attacking and exerting pressure on our opponents at the same time.
The -1 ability also works incredibly well in this deck. Letting us establish the tempo of the game and dictate the rhythm of the turns, putting a clock to our opponent’s life total is a key part of our plan. A 1/1 unblockable ninja token is most of the time reason enough to make our opponents start stumbling and force them to play a removal spell, something that opens us a lot of possibilities for turning the game in our favor.
This iteration of the archetype runs less Thirst for Discovery because of this, but cutting two instants and/or sorceries is worth it, since all the advantages that Kaito provides are strong, and on many occasions, are more relevant than playing more copies of
Ertai Resurrected does everything this deck asks for from a creature. Being a wildcard for removal or a counterspell when we need it is fantastic! It has flash, attacks for three just like Delver, and it also can counter triggered or activated abilities. Many Esper builds are also now playing two to three copies of this creature, making it clear that it is a card that many were sleeping on when DMU was released.
I tested this list a lot, and I played with two Ertai most of the time. It proves game after game how good it is, however, playing four mana cards with just 22 lands is something we don’t do often.
Cut Down is a card that many compare with Fatal Push. When DMU was released, playing this card was good, but now, it’s going to be necessary. With the recent ban of The Meathook Massacre, aggro decks are going to start becoming popular once again. Killing Bloodtithe Harvester, Ascendant Packleader, Hopeful Initiate, Reckless Stormseeker, Evolved Sleeper, and many others on the spot is mandatory. This card also reaches Raffine, Scheming Seer,
After a lot of testing with this list, I made some smaller changes to adapt the archetype to the current state of the metagame and my personal preferences taking all my experience with the deck into consideration:
Instead of playing four Negate, I decide to go with 2 Essence Scatter and 2 Negate. Essence Scatter is vital now. Even before the The Meathook Massacre ban, a lot of two mana creatures were problematic and I ended up sideboarding this creature counter in most of the time. Now, with the new banned and restricted announcement, being prepared for aggro is a very good idea.
The single copy of Soul Transfer in the Bbiondo92 list tends to be just “ok”. It can exile recurring threats like Tenacious Underdog or kill Planeswalkers that we couldn’t counter. Returning one of our creatures from the graveyard could be also good, but in the end, this card was more or less just too slow, clunky, and something we don’t really like to draw. Having extra creatures in the form of Ertai Resurrected and Kaito Shizuki tokens made me think that the second part of the spell is most of the time not needed, and if we only want a removal that can deal with anything that surpasses our counter-magic, Hero's Downfall is the solution we need.
The rest of the changes were minor adjustments to the sideboard. Kotose, the Silent Spider does a fantastic job against Invoke Despair decks. Removing this sorcery from our opponents’ graveyard means that we can search for the other three and exile them, preventing this spell from resolving again, and letting us potentially cast the exiled copies, giving us a ton of value. The only problem with this plan is Kotose’s mana value. Playing a Delver deck most of the time means that we are playing a very low mana curve, and playing a five mana creature with just 22 lands is sometimes difficult. Kotose can also remove many threats from graveyards that can return on their own like Tenacious Underdog or problematic cards that can be returned to the battlefield with Invoke Justice or The Cruelty of Gix; keeping one in our sideboard is a good idea.
Making arrangements with our main deck counter-magic made me move two Negate to our sideboard. I also run the last two Essence Scatter in our sideboard because of how good this counter is right now. The final change is taking out Pilfer for a pair of Duress. It’s true that Pilfer can take from creature cards like Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, Raffine, Scheming Seer, Graveyard Trespasser, etc. However, it’s not likely that the best move on our turn two is tapping our lands for hand disruption instead of passing with our mana open for playing some counter-magic. Playing Duress can be played on turn one, or even on turn two holding Fading Hope or Rona's Vortex in our hand. This in combination with our main deck Essence Scatter made me decide to cut Pilfer for this one mana discard spell.
Notable Exclusions / Potential Inclusions
- Consider is probably the more notable absence in this deck. It’s clearly one of the best spells for helping Delver of Secrets transform early. I tried versions with this card and it’s certainly a good choice. Having other powerful one-mana interactive spells like Rona's Vortex and Cut Down made me decide to prefer interaction over this cantrip.
- Slip Out the Back and Shore Up are very good for protecting our creatures, and most of the time, it works as a one-mana counter for our opponents’ removal. Many Mono Blue variants play a combination of these cards. I prefer to play removal expecting more aggressive decks, nevertheless, playing some extra protection depending on how the metagame evolves is not a bad idea.
- Spell Pierce and Syncopate are other viable choices when deciding which and how many counterspells we want.
- Tolarian Terror could be in this deck if we want to present more threats. However, playing more creatures makes Delver of Secretsmore inconsistent.
- Out of the Way can be a very good bounce spell if the meta evolves to Green-centered strategies.
- Essence Capture could even be on our main board if Aggro becomes popular once again.
- Infernal Grasp is an amazing removal spell. This deck tends to play using our life total as a resource more than many other archetypes. The two damage this spell deals to us plus it not being able to kill Planeswalkers made me decide to go for Hero's Downfall.
- Ledger Shredder is in almost every Legacy Delver deck. Regardless of the power level comparison between formats, this bird starts taking its place in Mono U builds. Trying a Dimir variant with it is without a doubt an interesting option.
|+2 Sheoldred, the Apocalypse||-2 Ertai's Scorn|
|+1 Cut Down||-2 Make Disappear|
|+2 Essence Scatter||-1 Ertai Resurrected|
|+2 Negate||-2 Haughty Djinn|
Esper has many particularities that make this archetype something tricky to play against. We want the fourth Cut Down because of how important it is to kill Raffine, Scheming Seer on the spot. We have to know clearly which card we want to use to deal with their threats. Cut Down only misses
In the same way, we want to use our Essence Scatter against creatures that Cut Down can’t deal with. On the other hand, Negate becomes very important to deal with all the removal their gonna bring against our lower number of threats as well as the fact that they also play Duress.
Playing our own Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is very useful in many ways. It perfectly blocks any creature that avoids our one mana removal, gives us a big amount of time thanks to the life it gives to us while pressuring our opponents, and finally, it’s not something that many would expect for a Delver deck. Playing this with a backup counter is many times enough for closing games.
|+2 Graveyard Trespasser||-4 Haughty Djinn|
|+2 ||-2 Ertai's Scorn|
|+1 Kotose, the Silent Spider||-4 Cut Down|
|+3 Disdainful Stroke|
|+2 Essence Scatter|
Jund plays as a tap-out deck most of the time. Turn after turn, they’re going to play extremely good cards, curving out with many of the best cards available in Standard. The trick here is to know when we are going to let something resolve or not.
Sideboarding Graveyard Trespasser, Kotose, the Silent Spider, and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse serves two purposes. First, having some sort of graveyard hate is key against Jund. Olivia, Crimson Bride, Shigeki, Jukai Visionary, and The Cruelty of Gix can do some problematic shenanigans, so having a way to prevent this is extremely useful. The second reason is how strong Jund’s late game is. There’s probably not a better deck during the later turns of the game in Standard than this one. Having creatures that can hit strong during the early and mid stages of the game lets us play the aggressive role, impeding this deck from hitting it’s best cards.
|+2 Graveyard Trespasser||-2 Ertai's Scorn|
|+2 Sheoldred, the Apocalypse||-4 Haughty Djinn|
|+2 Negate||-2 Make Disappear|
|+2 Essence Scatter|
The main reason for taking out two Make Disappear, one of the best counterspells in Standard, is how many cheap interaction spells Grixis tends to play. It’s clearly a midrange deck, however, they play Voltage Surge, Fires of Victory, and Rona's Vortex, cards that, during the mid and late stages of the game, can be played without worrying about paying two more mana.
Taking out Haughty Djinn could seem strange, nevertheless, Grixis is probably going to use Unlicensed Hearse during games two and three. Making all our threats creatures that don’t worry about their interaction is great – Sheoldred, the Apocalypse doesn’t die to Voltage Surge or Cut Down, while Graveyard Trespasser is going to require a card from our opponent’s hand if they want to get rid of it. Graveyard Trespasser also removes cards from the graveyard, making Corpse Appraiser struggle to find a target and removes Tenacious Underdog from the equation whenever possible.
Mono Black Aggro
|+2 Graveyard Trespasser||-4 Haughty Djinn|
|+2 Sheoldred, the Apocalypse||-1 Ertai Resurrected|
|+1 Kotose, the Silent Spider||-2 Ertai's Scorn|
|+3 Disdainful Stroke||-4 Make Disappear|
|+2 Essence Scatter||-1 Kaito Shizuki|
Mono Black has many iterations, and its the aggro version that makes us play in a very particular way that differs from other aggressive strategies.
First of all, taking aside any other three-colored attempt at playing Invoke Despair, this deck is clearly the best for playing this card. This is why our three Disdainful Stroke and Duress become extremely important; cards that we probably are not going to sideboard in against other Aggro decks. We take out Make Disappear for a very similar reason to Grixis. They play a lot of low cost spells that Make Disappear can’t easily hit during later instances of the game. However, the extra Essence Scatter helps us against early creatures (and against Sheoldred, the Apocalypse) while Duress can take out Liliana of the Veil, Sorin the Mirthless, and the aforementioned Invoke Despair.
Mono Black also tends to use Unlicensed Hearse against Mono Blue, making it extremely likely for us to face this vehicle. Taking out Haughty Djinn makes us not only stop caring about Hearse, but also raises our defenses against Cut Down, thanks to how Graveyard Trespasser and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse are immune to this removal spell.
Tips and Tricks
- Having a wide variety of counterspells doesn’t mean that we have to counter every single card our opponent plays. Think twice before countering a card, and evaluate how relevant it is for our opponents’ plan.
- Playing Delver decks is an art. Sequencing our spells in the right order according to the flow of the game is not easy, but playing this deck a lot and knowing what our opponents are trying to accomplish surely helps.
- Kaito Shizuki can win games on its own. This is the reason we decide to play this card even if it’s not an instant or sorcery. Slamming it on turn three is, on many occasions. not the right play. Nevertheless, if you have an answer for what your opponent could play the turn after, going for it could give us enough advantage to win any match.
- Rona's Vortex is key because against many Planeswalkers since it could mean a lot of extra time for us for just one mana. Always have in mind that this can bounce walkers and go for it on any occasion our opponent taps out playing a planeswalker. Remember this spell basically gets rid of any creature or walker forever if kicked.
- Taking a land with Impulse is more common than many might think, and is on many occasions the right play.
- Against certain decks, Ertai's Scorn could be played as a Counterspell for 1U. Taking this into consideration helps us time how we spend our resources.
- Takenuma, Abandoned Mire could buff Haughty Djinn‘s power, throwing some spells to the graveyard and letting us go for lethal in many unexpected scenarios.
It’s a pleasure to be back. After an almost two-month trip, I’m finally back home. During this time I played a lot of Delver, had amazing experiences, and most importantly, learned a lot about myself.
Just as in this Tempo deck, learning how to successfully manage our resources and play them correctly, is going to reward us vastly. It’s not an easy task, but without a doubt, practice makes the master.
In what this new non-Meathook meta matters, surely many old and new aggressive strategies will rise and fall. This Dimir Delver deck is prepared for facing it. Midrange decks are going to be around. Esper, Jund, and Grixis have amazing tools to fight against each other and possible new decks. The The Meathook Massacre ban is without a doubt shaking the meta, making this format more diverse, but the tier 1 decks are not going anywhere.
While the new meta starts shaping into its new form, let’s keep crushing our opponents with Dimir Delver; clearly, a very adaptable deck that can dictate the rhythm of the game against anyone.
Until next time, dear readers, let me know what you think about this deck on my social media (links below), and don’t forget to smile every day; it will certainly make a difference.