Sometimes certain decks can go unnoticed. Maybe because nobody has taken them to win a tournament or they aren’t at the top of the ladder. However, in the many decks that can fly under the radar, there are some true hidden gems in there.
Perhaps, it’s simply the lack of popularity or the flashiness to build a deck around new cards that can cause them to be overlooked, but without a doubt, Delver of Secrets is a card that should be taken into consideration whenever it’s present in a format.
It’s the same case with tempo decks, which tend to come and go since they often appear in response to a specific metagame. Although the metagame of the new NEO Standard is still in constant evolution, many of the decks that are becoming the pillars of Standard are strategies tempo decks would love to face.
UR Delver/Izzet Tempo has achieved remarkable results lately on MTGO, a platform that we should take more into consideration. 14 5-0s so far this year in the Standard Challenges that Magic Online runs on a regular basis.
While Kamigawa came out a couple of weeks ago, it doesn’t detract from this archetype. In the last few days, the deck has come back twice, two 5-0 results against decks that are already including Kamigawa cards.
Although the deck has trophied 14 different times in the hands of many different players, the list is pretty much the same, even on the sideboard (the only difference is 1 Faceless Haven that appeared before it was banned). If the list is that consistently good, there must be something to it.
As we can see, the list turns out to be a classic construction of a Delver deck. Some additional creatures that allow us to put added pressure in case the Delver doesn’t appear or falls prey to some removal, some drawing and hand sculpting to always have something to do, and a few counters to check our opponents’ biggest threats.
At first glance, the deck may seem simple. We don’t have a big spell that wins the game by itself. We’re not terribly aggressive or have tools to take full control of a game; but dear readers, that’s the heart of a tempo deck. Tempo operates on the premise that any type of disruption spell can be converted into damage.
Think about tempo decks like music.
Each action you take in a turn is one beat, same for your opponents. Assuming the beats are relatively equal in power, the key to pulling ahead in the race is by finding ways to get more beats than your opponent.-MY SYSTEM – A GUIDE TO TEMPO by Scott Johns
This does not mean to play a song faster than the opponent (we are not an aggro deck), but to finish our tune before them (win the race.) To achieve this, tempo decks rely on being able to play more than one spell per turn or leave mana open in case it’s necessary to respond an opponent’s move. We first play a note that dictates the rhythm like Delver of Secrets, Ascendant Spirit, Magmatic Channeler or Thermo-Alchemist, and from there, compose our piece (the game) as a result of our opponent’s moves (or lack of them).
The original list has many good tools to carry out this plan. Cards like Consider, Expressive Iteration, and Behold the Multiverse keep the gas flowing while cards like Frost Bite, Play with Fire, and Saw it Coming let us control the pace of the game.
After playing and testing the deck enough, I started thinking that even if the original formula is functional, it can be improved based on what the new meta is dictating. With these changes, I’ve been able to win against decks like Orzhov Control, Jeska,i or the new Naya Runes, all packed with extremely powerful cards. Despite it’s consistency, reworking the deck has already been paying off well.
While the formula is fairly similar, adaptations are key to making our matchups against current tier 1 decks even better. The existence of Spell Pierce in the format is extremely crucial to this strategy. Not only is it a great card for our deck, allowing us to protect early threats like Delver of Secrets or Ascendant Spirit efficiently, but the card is so little played in Standard that it can certainly take more than one opponent by surprise.
From protecting our creatures to being able to counter powerful plays like Reckoner Bankbuster on turn 2, without a doubt it’s a card that drastically improves our deck. Due to the inclusion of this counter, I reduced the number of Consider. While it’s clear that their function is certainly not the same, both cost one blue mana, and we need to keep the functional structure of our curve consistent.
Despite this cut, we have more than enough ways to draw cards in the deck. 4 Expressive Iteration, one of the best cards in the last years, 2 Behold the Multiverse and 4 Magmatic Channeler all help keep the spells flowing and the pressure on.
Now that we mention Behold the Multiverse, it’s important to talk a bit about foretell spells. During my live stream on twitch.tv/boheimnida, someone asked why we’re not including Memory Deluge instead of Behold. While Memory Deluge‘s effect is more powerful per say, the reason is simple. While they both cost four mana, the general idea is that we aim to foretell Behold the Multiverse, Saw it Coming, and Crush the Weak. First of all, having something to do with our mana at all times is key, so foretelling these spells adds more options. Second, it makes them cheaper, so that at the right time we can play it for a reduced amount of mana.
For example, this allows us to play Crush the Weak for a single red mana, which is why we prefer it over Cinderclasm, plus it exiles creatures that died the turn we cast it making cards like Shambling Ghast, Eyetwitch, and Malevolent Hermit (among others) much less effective against us. Winning a game against Orzhov Control by removing their infinite tokens created by Wedding Announcement plus many other creatures like the ones mentioned above, while leaving an Ascendant Spirit, a Magmatic Channeler (both 4/4) and a Thermo-Alchemist alive in the process feels great.
Returning to the topic of changes to the original list, the rest is just a matter of adapting the sideboard. While Burning Hands is a great card against the right deck, it seems to me that recently it’s just leftover from previous lists and lack of innovation. Certainly Mono Green was a very popular and strong deck in the pre-Kamigawa meta, and although it could well return like Mono White is doing, it seems to me that playing the card in the current meta is not very efficient with Mono Green being unpopular. The card is just not very efficient in matchups like Naya or Selesnya.
Furthermore, I cut the two copies as well as the two Cathartic Pyre, and while they are certainly good in general terms dealing damage to planeswalkers and being flexible allowing us to fix our hand, the current Standard meta is starting to take shape and more specific answers are necessary.
To build off that idea, we added cards like Annul and Abrade to the sideboard. If I were to start mentioning all of Annul‘s possible targets it would take too long, but it’s enough be good against decks like Naya Runes, UW Artifacts, Selesnya Enchantments or even Orzhov Control to be clear on just how useful this counter is. On the other hand, Abrade answers the need for flexible removal instead of Cathartic Pyre. Same 3 damage, and even though we lose the power to target planeswalkers (something we cover already with Play with Fire and Frost Bite) breaking an artifact is more efficient than rummaging two cards in the current meta.
The last card I removed from the sideboard was Fading Hope. I certainly had a hard time doing it and even wanted to try playing 4 on the main board, but it wasn’t worth it in the end. The card is extremely good for what we try to accomplish in a deck that is based on dictating the pace of the game, and even if it’s very good at helping Delver of Secrets transform (just like Consider), I think it’s not necessary for this strategy at the moment. This is mainly due to the large number of cards that work more efficiently for the same amount of mana in certain matches (such as the aforementioned Annul).
In those two slots I had to think of a direct way to deal with a big issue, the trusty and well known Goldspan Dragon. This weekend a combo-based deck that relies on having this creature in play made its appearance again, winning in a very large tournament and we will certainly see it more frequently thanks to that and the fact that Jeskai Hinata still uses four copies of it.
While we play two Thundering Rebuke which allows us to deal with Goldspan for just two mana (and any other sizable creature), this card has the downside of being sorcery. With that, the best possible answer in my opinion is Heated Debate. It’s an instant, it does 4 damage to a creature or planeswalker (which is often relevant), and most importantly, it’s uncounterable. Even though it costs three mana, it’s a card that pays big dividends when played properly. Unlike a conventional Izzet or Jeskai deck, we have to be more careful versus Jeskai combo as instead of counterspells, they use cards like Sejiri Shelter or Valorous Stance to protect Goldspan, but if they don’t take the proper precautions, this removal plus any counterspell will get the job done.
Potential Inclusions / Notable Exclusions
Certainly rediscovering the archetype and beginning to adapt it to improve its functionality in the current meta is a job that still has room to develop. The basis of success in Magic is often adaptability. That is why I will allow myself to mention some cards that, although they are not in my final list, they could be considered to adapt the archetype to changes in the meta or to better adjust to a specific play style.
- I think Fading Hope can definitely be in the list. Whether in the main deck or in the sideboard, it all depends on the metagame. As I said before, cards like Annul are better only because of the current meta of Standard.
- Likewise, Burning Hands was in the original lists. It remained there due to the lack of updating despite it’s recent results. If Mono Green or a deck with similar creatures positions itself as a Tier 1, playing this is certainly possible.
- I seriously thought about varying our threats using Malevolent Hermit. I think it’s a great card for our purposes when played against the right deck. Playing 2-4 copies between the main and sideboard is an option.
- Without a doubt, one of the cards that has surprised me the most from Kamigawa is March of Swirling Mist. A single turn where we can stop a crucial attack from the opponent with little investment of mana sometimes is enough to win the game the next turn.
- If what we’re looking for is pressure and card advantage, Suspicious Stowaway is an incredible card. Sometimes we want to pass without playing spells on our turn, we want to foretell a card, or use Ascendant Spirit ability so we can pretty easily manipulate Day/Night. Seafaring Werewolf not only allows us to hit harder but we will be drawing cards without having to discard a card from our hand.
- While the current meta isn’t characterized for having many spot removal spells, in the right circumstances, protecting our creatures by countering the opponent’s removal for only one mana with You See a Guard Approach could be a strong option.
- Speaking a bit about the cards that I don’t think are good options in this deck, lands like Stormcarved Coast, Sea Gate Restoration, Shatterskull Smashing, Otawara, Soaring City, Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance, Den of the Bugbear or Hall of Storm Giants are certainly something you could like to play in any Izzet deck.
However, after playing the deck long enough to understand the importance of being able to use Ascendant Spirit‘s abilities efficiently, maximizing our snow lands is an extremely high priority. That’s why the only non snow land we use is Riverglide Pathway only to help our colors a bit.
|+2 Annul||-2 Spell Pierce|
|+2 Abrade||-2 Consider|
|+2 Negate||-2 Saw it Coming|
|+2 Thundering Rebuke||-2 Behold the Multiverse|
|+2 Heated Debate||-2 Play with Fire|
We reconfigured our lineup of instants and sorceries to be able to respond to each and every one of their creatures. The most optimized version of this archetype plays 15 creatures (+2 Katilda, Dawnhart Martyr post sideboard) while we play 12 direct removals + 2 Annul which helps us to respond effectively 1 for 1 whenever it’s possible.
If we manage to remove their threats from the field at the right time, only the Runeforge Champion and Katilda are going to have 3 or more toughness. Don’t hesitate to use removal on any creature that works to make their threats bigger, such as Generous Visitor or the self-growing Kami of Transience.
During games 2 and 3, they are likely to increase their number of removal by adding Rip Apart and Circle of Confinement (this in addition to the possible Touch the Spirit Realm they play in the main board). While Spell Pierce could be good, they use a sizable number of creatures and their non-creature spells tend to be cheap. Using Negate becomes important as it allows us to respond not only to their removal, but to any Runes they play as well as powerful spells like Showdown of the Skalds, Hallowed Haunting, or Brilliant Restoration.
Adaptability is very important. They’re probably going to add Wedding Announcement so using Crush the Weak for dealing with swarms could be crucial. Some lists play 1 Hallowed Haunting while others play 2 and Most play 2 Wedding Announcement in their sideboard. Most of the time Crush the Weak is not needed (we also have Annul), but don’t forget about it if the alternate win condition of swarming the board becomes more popular.
|+2 Negate||-4 Play With Fire|
|+1 Test of Talents||-2 Consider|
|+2 Crush the Weak||-1 Spell Pierce|
I know that removing Play with Fire when it can technically take 80% of its creature might seem strange, however, we have to be very careful when killing their creatures. We don’t want them to get cards with Eyetwitch, Shambling Ghast killing our Ascendant Spirit or Delver of Secrets before they get out of range, or them getting value with Deadly Dispute. Killing their Malevolent Hermit can also complicate the situation, so how should we play?
As I mentioned at the beginning, playing patiently and taking care of the opponent’s field when it’s overcrowded using
Unlike the previous match, Spell Pierce is much better as we can take Kaito Shizuki or The Wandering Emperor put during the early game or at least delay them enough to make them less valuable. Furthermore, stalling or stopping Wedding Announcement or The Meathook Massacre is an excellent use of Pierce as well as preventing the rest of their removal. With all that in mind, we keep 2 Spell Pierce and add 2 Negate happily.
Annul might seem like a bit of over-sideboarding here, but having answers to the deck’s strongest cards make things a lot easier and being able to respond to a Wedding Announcement or The Meathook Massacre for one blue mana is an deal we have to take.
|+2 Disdainful Stroke||-4 Play with Fire|
|+2 Negate||-4 Frost Bite|
|+1 Test of Talents||-1 Consider|
|+2 Thundering Rebuke|
|+2 Heated Debate|
Our old friend, Goldspan Dragon, is back with it’s tricks. Now it looks like Izzet Turns and the old Naya Goldspan deck that tried to buff the dragon and then throw it in our face with Kazuul's Fury had a baby.
Certainly the deck is interesting and quite powerful, however it develops its game by focusing its chance of victory with a huge amount of emphasis on the aforementioned dragon. That’s why we add Disdainful Stroke, Thundering Rebuke and Heated Debate which can deal with both Dragon and Lier, Disciple of the Drowned.
If the deck can’t win with the dragon, the only card we have to watch out for is Hall of Storm Giants. Even though we don’t have a way to interact with it, they only have 1 in the deck so applying pressure asap before Hall can matter is always a good idea.
The best targets for our Test of Talents are Expressive Iteration as they have so little card advantage otherwise or Galvanic Iteration which is an important piece of their game winning combo. For those who don’t know, the two combos in the deck are multiple turns with Goldspan Dragon in play thanks to Alchemist's Gambit + Galvanic Iteration and/or Show of Confidence + Kazuul's Fury to kill in one turn.
Tips and Tricks
- Correctly deciding our first turn play between Ascendant Spirit, Delver of Secrets or passing with a mana open for Consider, Frost Bite,
or Spell Pierce is a matter of practice. This always depends on the opponent’s deck and the rest of the cards in our hand. Take the time to think about this decision and every move you make.
- As with Figure of Destiny or Warden of the First Tree, Ascendant Spirit has to go through its previous forms in order to get to subsequent ones. That is, we must first convert it to 2/3, then convert it to 4/4 and finally to 6/6.
- Speaking of Ascendant Spirit, don’t forget that it’s a snow creature, which means that if we have this spirit and two snow lands on the field, Frost Bite can do 3 damage on turn 2.
- Understanding the duality of Magmatic Channeler is key. At many times it’s a resource provider, and at other times it can be a two mana 4/4 that exerts the pressure we need to win the game. Let’s not forget that we can use its ability on the opponent’s turn and find an answer when the opponent least expects it.
- Remember, Expressive Iteration excels on turn 3, but is not bad on turn 2 in case we need it.
- Play with Fire and Frost Bite could deal damage to planeswalkers. Using Play with Fire for scrying is also good for transforming Delver and applying pressure to slower decks.
I’ve always been a fan of cards like Nimble Mongoose. Since I started playing magic I’ve been more of an aggro focused player, however my favorite deck in my playing history has always been the old UG Madness during the Odyssey block.
Being able to work with cards like Delver of Secrets for this article has certainly been a joy. I’ve always wanted a Legacy deck, and Delver decks always caught my eye. Without a doubt, understanding this style of play in Magic makes us better players. Most of the time these types of tempo decks resemble some eternal format decks where you don’t need to play tremendously powerful cards or cards that win the game in one turn; it’s also not necessary to win by playing aggro dealing 20 damage as soon as possible or based on pure and raw control.
Sometimes it’s only necessary to put together efficient and low-cost cards that allow us to keep the rhythm of the game and be the one who dictates the beat at which both players must play the game.
As always, I appreciate you reading this column and I look forward to read your opinions in the comments section. Knowing your opinion is very valuable to me. Oh! And don’t forget to smile at least once a day. ^ -^