The Best Standard Shells for Delver of Secrets

Delver of Secrets Art by Matt Stewart
Delver of Secrets Art by Matt Stewart

Hello everyone! Today I’m going to be brewing with one of my most beloved cards ever, Delver of Secrets! Delver was introduced right around when I started playing Standard (OG Innistrad) and I absolutely loved the play patterns the deck had to offer. So to say I’m excited for a Delver reprint would be a pretty substantial understatement.

Even better though, Delver felt too good back when it was printed, but the surrounding power level of Standard is lower than it was back then leading me to believe that Delver will be strong, but far from overbearing! Nothing better than building around a strong, but sweet card!

So the first thing I did when brewing the Delver lists is try to establish a baseline of what Delver decks did back when they were Standard legal. Let’s take a look at a few different takes on it.

2012 UW Delver 

Creatures (16)
4
Delver of Secrets
2
Invisible Stalker
4
Snapcaster Mage
4
Geist of Saint Traft
2
Dungeon Geists
Spells (20)
3
Gut Shot
1
Mutagenic Growth
4
Ponder
4
Thought Scour
4
Vapor Snag
4
Mana Leak
Artifacts (3)
3
Runechanter's Pike
Lands (21)
4
Glacial Fortress
9
Island
3
Moorland Haunt
1
Plains
4
Seachrome Coast
Cards (60)

2012 Jeskai Delver 

Creatures (16)
4
Delver of Secrets
4
Snapcaster Mage
4
Blade Splicer
4
Restoration Angel
Spells (23)
4
Bonfire of the Damned
4
Gitaxian Probe
1
Gut Shot
2
Pillar of Flame
4
Ponder
2
Thought Scour
4
Vapor Snag
2
Mana Leak
Lands (21)
3
Cavern of Souls
1
Clifftop Retreat
1
Evolving Wilds
1
Glacial Fortress
5
Island
1
Mountain
1
Plains
4
Seachrome Coast
4
Sulfur Falls
Cards (60)

So the exact cards the deck is playing doesn’t matter particularly much (but do you see the power level of these decks), but the ratios of the threats/spells and the average CMC of the deck. Since Delver was so popular, it was more or less solved at this point in the format so these ratios are tried and true in a format that was significantly stronger than this one so they should still transfer reasonably well. So the golden ratio seems to be 16 threats, 21 lands, then 20-23 spells.

The threats and spells ratio should be easy enough to keep, but we have an advantage that the old decks didn’t, MDFCs. We can pack more spells AND lands in our decks because we have cards that are both! That will heavily influence our deck building and allow the decks to play more lands without having to sacrifice the ratio.

So the second thing to figure out is what color combination you want your Delver deck to be. Instead of just talking about them, I’ll provide at least one list per two color combination and talk about what I like and dislike about it. Let’s get into it.

MONO BLUE

Demilich Art by Daniel Zrom
Demilich Art by Daniel Zrom
Monoblue Snow Delver
by DoggertQBones
Standard
Tribal
best of 3
5 mythic
10 rare
14 uncommon
31 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+

I was pretty against the idea of a Monoblue Delver before I built it, but as I put the list together, I became somewhat impressed. You have a good amount of interaction and your threat base is rather good. The most glaring hole is that there is a lack of creature interaction, but you do have some bounce spells and you can counter them as they come down. I doubt this is the best option, but probably not a bad one either.

AZORIUS

Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset Art by Heonhwa Choe
Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset Art by Heonhwa Choe
Azorius Delver
by DoggertQBones
Standard
Tempo
best of 3
7 mythic
18 rare
15 uncommon
20 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+

Although the Delver decks were historically Azorius or Jeskai, I don’t think this is where we want to be either. They played UW mostly for the threats: Geist of Saint Traft, Blade Splicer, or Restoration Angel, not for the spells. We don’t have threats that are quite as strong as those (thankfully), but we still have some reasonable options. This list is still lacking good creature interaction beyond Fading Hope and Skyclave Apparition and the mana is a tad clunky, but this still looks reasonable.

SIMIC

Blizzard Brawl Art by Manuel Castañón
Blizzard Brawl Art by Manuel Castañón
Simic Delver
by DoggertQBones
Standard
Tempo
best of 3
1 mythic
12 rare
17 uncommon
30 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+

Simic was a tough nut to crack as it’s not known for it’s spell quality for the most part. The best I could think of is going the Snow route to get access to Ascendant Spirit and Blizzard Brawl, but it’s not like Brawl is that good in this deck. Realistically, this is probably the worst color combination for Delver as you don’t get access to any better threats nor really any better spells.

DIMIR

Siphon Insight Art by Livia Prima
Siphon Insight Art by Livia Prima
Dimir Delver
by DoggertQBones
Standard
Tempo
best of 3
7 mythic
18 rare
17 uncommon
18 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+

Now this I can get behind! This deck feels pretty streamlined and has a super nice mix of threats that work well with the deck’s theme and solid interaction that Black unsurprisingly gives us access to. The curve of this deck is a bit higher so I wanted to play more lands/MDFCs, but flooding out should still rarely be an issue. My main contention is that the threat density of the deck is still a tad low, but considering Sedgemoor Witch and Poppet Stitcher create additional (albeit small) threats and Ebondeath, Dracolich is hard to keep down forever, it should still be enough. You could always play some Iymrith, Desert Doom as well if we’re concerned about threat density. I think this is going to be one of the better shells for Delver, but still probably not the best one.

IZZET

How to Build Around Expressive Iteration | TCGplayer Infinite
Expressive Iteration Art by Anastasia Ovchinnikova

I think out of all the 2 color combinations, Izzet is almost certainly the best. You get access to solid threats and spells, exactly what you want in your Delver deck. With that, I don’t have just one potential list for Delver, but 3!

Izzet Delver
by DoggertQBones
Standard
Tempo
best of 3
9 mythic
12 rare
24 uncommon
15 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+

The first version of Izzet Delver we have is the most classic interpretation of the deck I could think of. All of the threats like seeing instants and sorceries, we play a solid 23 instants and sorceries, and “25” lands with MDFCs. You have a slew of proactive plays and nice refueling capabilities with Expressive Iteration, one of the best cards in Standard.

Ascendant Spirit
Ascendant Spirit Art by Lie Setiawan
Izzet Snow Delver
by DoggertQBones
Standard
Tempo
best of 3
0 mythic
13 rare
19 uncommon
28 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+

A slight alteration to the other Izzet deck, this version goes for the Snow package to get Ascendant Spirit and Frost Bite. Although this version will be better in mirrors and against small creature decks since we play 8 Shock effects, it does have a worse mana base as we can’t really justify playing MDFCs or the AFR creature lands. This is probably a slightly worse version than the previous list, but could be better depending on the exact meta.

Alrund's Epiphany Art by Kieran Yanner
Alrund’s Epiphany Art by Kieran Yanner
Big Izzet Delver
by DoggertQBones
Standard
Tempo
best of 3
10 mythic
12 rare
16 uncommon
22 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+

The final version for this article is a blend between Izzet Dragons and the tempo Delver plan that’s more common to the archetype. I’m a little suspect of this version as you’re playing significantly fewer threats than the other versions, but Smoldering Egg seems absolutely nuts with Alrund’s Epiphany. I feel like there could defiitely be something here and would likely need some play testing to flesh out the exact issues with the deck.

Now that we covered all the 2 color combinations, let’s put the various versions in order from what I believe are the worst to the best versions of Delver.

  1. Simic Delver
  2. Azorius Delver
  3. Mono Blue Delver
  4. Big Izzet Delver
  5. Dimir Delver
  6. Izzet Snow Delver
  7. Izzet Delver

As I said before, I think Izzet is simply the best color combination for Delver. You could hypothetically go 3 color as well, but the mana in Standard doesn’t support it that well and there are very few incentives to go outside two colors, so I don’t think it’s a great idea right now.

What Delver deck are you most excited by? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

DoggertQBones

Robert "DoggertQBones" Lee is the content manager of MTGAZone and a high ranked Arena player. He has one GP Top 8 and pioneered popular archetypes like UB 8 Shark, UB Yorion, and GW Company in Historic. Beyond Magic, his passions are writing and coaching! Join our community on Twitch and Discord.

13 Responses

  1. Albel says:

    Very interesting, as I was actually kinda surprised you checked on all color combinations, as I kind of ruled out all but izzet in the first place. Still good someone did the in depth analysis.

    I think big izzet is dubious as delver does not add to the overall ramp into ‘big threats’ game plan. It seems very counter-intuitive and drawing a delver late game instead of a goldspan or alrund is probablyquite disappointing.

    There may be an even better mix / compromise in the regular izzet and snow version.

    Also, although poppet stitcher is strong and provides tons of value in mid and late game (if he sticks), Im also not sure this is a clear 4 of. It is rather easy to deal with it.

    Last comment. Your manabase in Izzet regular is obviously – and rightfully so – slightly skewed towards blue (not counting the shatterskull smashing). I imagine this will be a bit prohibitive in cases you actually want to play it as a spell instead of using it as a land mid-game, as you need a double red source.

    Anyways, curious to see if this will see play 🙂

    • DoggertQBones says:

      Excellent points! Big delver could definitely be suspect, hard to tell without playing it first.

      I don’t think Poppet is a slam dunk or anything, but it is one of the better threats the deck could have, especially doubled up.

      My theory for building the Mana was casting the spells were a bit less important than flipping delver as you’re going to want 4 ish lands a game anyway and by that point it shouldn’t be a problem. Obviously if I skewed too hard you can course correct.

      Thanks for the in depth comment!

  2. Mike Jensen says:

    1. What do you think about Delver being played in a Magecraft shell? Is it a better one-drop in Azorious than Symmetry Sage? I know those decks aren’t tier 1, but they’re so fun to play.

  3. Kalessin#33378 says:

    Hi Doggert! Great article. Just got one question: you point out the weak manabase in the incoming standard… won’t the new dual lands help at least a bit in that regard?

    • DoggertQBones says:

      Absolutely! The issue is for a 3 color deck to really work you need multiple duals that tap for 2 colors. Snarls are very bad in conjunction with other duals (and kind of in general) so they don’t really work, Pathways are great but tap for one color, and Vales are definitely solid. For 2 color, everyone is more or less happy, but 3 color seems to be a bit of a stretch right now. The shards that have new lands that are overlapping (Bant, Grixis, and Jund) will be more tenable than others and I’m sure you can go 3 color in other color combinations (I have a Temur deck brewed up), but for a tempo oriented deck like Delver this type of mana base just won’t cut it.

  4. Sligh says:

    At the end of the day I don’t think you want to miss on black removal on this economy. So, my money is on either Grixis or Sultai.

  5. j4ro says:

    “Generate Hand” don’t work too good here. But thanks for the article 🙂

  6. Nels says:

    Bind the Monster is very cheap creature interaction for MonoU, but not an instant/sorcery to flip Delver.

    Otherworldly Gaze isn’t a cantrip, but sets up Delver and feeds Demilich.

    • DoggertQBones says:

      I like Bind the Monster but not killing the creature and not flipping Delver is such an issue. I didn’t even know Otherworldly Gaze existed until yesterday. Card is cool but probably not good enough for this, maybe in Historic Phoenix though!

  7. Oremm says:

    UR Delver is the damn TRUTH. Been playing it a lot today, and it seems like the only bad matchup is mono white because of Paladin Class.

    I didn’t have the WC for Poppet, so I’m running the Adversary instead and oh BOY is that phase-out some heat!

    • DoggertQBones says:

      Glad it’s working out for you! I don’t think Poppet is necessary for the deck at all so that’s nbd. I’ve been running Suspicious Stowaway to try it out and it’s been working well for me.