Legacy Lessons: Tempo & The Best Delver Deck

by Philipp Schönegger on 02 September 2015, Wednesday

Philipp Schönegger




Welcome to yet another installment of Legacy Lessons! As you're reading this, I will be traveling in China and won’t be able to answer any comments or questions for some time. Apologies for that! However, my being away should never stand in the way of new content and I have prepared a two-part article on a rather big topic while I'm gone! This is the first part, and the second part will be posted in two week's time!


Delver of Secrets


This article is about Delver of Secrets. But first, we will tackle a couple of underlying strategic topics that are essential to the deck's existence before moving to what I consider to be the best variant of Delver in the current metagame.


I also talked to a couple of people whose opinion on the deck matters a lot. Similar to the article on Aggro Loam I will use quotations from our conversations to highlight other points of view or fortify a certain claim.




The "Definition" of Tempo in Legacy


If you talk about Delver of Secrets in a Legacy context, you will not be able to elude the word “tempo”.


Despite the term "tempo" being used in many ways and, despite its popularity across the spectrum, I haven’t found one that really fits the Legacy standards of tempo. I do not presume to have found the god given truth about what tempo is or what it means but I’ll try my best to find an elegant way to describe this term in the context of Legacy.


Most conventional depictions of tempo revolve around creatures. This depicts a problem as Legacy is not as creature centric as most other Magic: The Gathering formats.


Games of Legacy are not generally really defined by how creatures attack, block and trade when matched up against each other. So it appeared natural to me to take a look at what role creatures have in Legacy, with a nod to tempo.


Creatures are not a good point of reference to identify the true nature of tempo for Legacy due to reasons listed above. But all tempo decks play creatures. So how does this work out?


Well, as stated above, Legacy does not revolve around creatures. It does, however, utilize said cards to win the game in a very traditional way, which is the attack phase. And due to the fact that all decks across the tempo spectrum rely on creatures as their primary means to end the game it’s necessary to include that card type in the analysis, though it shouldn’t be the focus of attention, merely a mandatory point of observation.




Two Scenarios of Tempo


There are two scenarios of Tempo.


One is the classic one that all of us remember from playing against Canadian Threshold. Their deck is beating down on you with a minor creature and they are trading cards 1 for 1 until you are dead. This scenario does look at the match and tries to determine tempo that way.


The second possibility is quite different.


You can also look at cards in a vacuum, straying away from the big overarching context and trying to identify the value of a card simply by looking at it out of context. Both ways of looking at things have their up- and downsides and I believe it to be impossible to exclude either.




The Relationship Between Mana and Tempo


So what are the individual parts that the phrase tempo semantically consists of?


In my humble opinion the most important, the most important thing tied to tempo is mana.


Trying to understand the effect of a single card in a late game scenario with many cards and possibilities involved is hard, and evaluating the level of tempo a certain card might have created isn’t very obvious.


It’s rather easy to identify a certain degree of tempo based on mana (efficiency) though. A very simple way to measure tempo is the efficient usage of mana, acting on the assumption of that the match we are talking about is a Delver based Tempo deck playing versus any deck that worries about the battlefield. One of the key features of Delver Tempo decks is the incredibly low mana curve, best highlighted in the classic Canadian Threshold.


One way to look at Tempo is to measure the amount of mana used in any given timeframe.


If the Delver player starts with Delver of Secrets on turn 1, plays Ponder into Lightning Bolt on the second turn and casts Brainstorm into Tarmogoyf on the third turn then the player has maximized his mana usage, and, as these cards did affect the board in a fundamental way, created tempo.


If the opposing player started with a Deathrite Shaman on turn 1, skipping on plays on turn 2 and casting Lingering Souls on the third turn, he is now at the disadvantage of 2 mana, that he didn’t use while his opponent did.


You can look at this scenario of Canadian Threshold vs Esper Control as a match and analyze how the cards match against each other but you can also see both examples as individual scenarios, looking at the concept from an abstract point of view. Funnily enough, both ways to look at the very same topic adduce the very same conclusion.




Mana Efficiency


Another crucial point of the mana efficiency topic is the interaction of cards with each other.


This cannot really be looked at with the whole match in sense and has to be examined with a very specific scenario in mind. The underlying idea is how much mana you have to invest to get rid of a creature.


It’s not the absolute numbers that matter here but more relation between mana invested to create a threat (doesn’t necessarily have to be a creature, as we will discuss later) and the mana you need to raise in order to deal with said threat. If your Delver of Secrets gets exiled by Council's Judgment then the casting of Council's Judgment cannot be considered a tempo play and is therefore a tempo negative move.


Council's Judgment Swords to Plowshares


If you cast Swords to Plowshares it is a tempo neutral play, if you’re looking at the mana investment. And if you manage to take out Tarmogoyf with Swords to Plowshares you are performing a tempo positive play.


The strange thing about Legacy is that removal spells are insanely cheap.


It’s not like only removal spells are incredibly powerful as the format as a whole is a collection of very good cards but the fact that Swords to Plowshares and Lightning Bolt exist forces the format in a certain direction. That’s why creatures like Knight of the Reliquary aren’t widely played, as these cards kind of have to be tempo negative plays as quite literally all removal spells cost less than the card itself. This isn’t a problem if the threat card in question wins the game, but if it doesn’t then you need a very specific plan to justify playing such expensive threats.




Summing up, creatures are essential to a beat-down focused tempo plan and function as the primary focus of attention, no matter whether the opponent has creatures or not. Tempo can be viewed at in the form of individual cards or the match in general. Terminus may be a tempo card, despite Miracle very rarely getting to play the tempo role though. Non-tempo decks may pack tempo cards. Tempo decks should try to decrease the maximum amount of non-tempo cards. These established premises are essential to the rest of the article, so please keep them in mind.




The Best Delver Deck


What would be the best Delver deck? Is it the best tempo deck? Is it the Delver deck with the best cards or is it the Delver version that can kill the fastest? In my opinion it’s neither of those.


The best Delver Deck in Legacy seems to be the one that combines as many different aspects of other well-known Delver variants and combines them somewhat gracefully.


And as well know three colors is considered stable in Legacy so the combination of several Delver variants must therefore be at least four colors. But before we jump towards the list and its position in the current metagame it might be a good idea to take a look at the history of said deck.


To give you the best insight into the inception of this deck I virtually sat down with Tempo expert Carsten Linden from Germany, the driving force behind what should later become the best Delver deck. The initial point of construction was the best tempo Delver variant of the time, also known as Canadian Threshold, which has the lowest mana curve of them all and shines with an incredible versatility of cards.


Abrupt Decay


So what made him change towards what is later known as BURG Delver? (Burg is the german word for castle and makes exaggerated german pronunciation of it very entertaining) That’s what Carsten had to say:


"After Deathrite Shaman has risen in popularity it became apparent that this card was very good against traditional Canadian Threshold builds. This also came with a surge in Tarmogoyf prevalence, yet another factor that was not very easily dealt with.”


Deathrite Shaman was a pretty strong card and one of the best non-blue additions to the Legacy metagame in a long time. It’s also often described as a 1 mana planeswalker, which isn’t really far off.


Deathrite Shaman


Its ability to suppress the graveyard of the Canadian Threshold player, however was a real struggle as it often meant that Nimble Mongoose couldn’t attack profitably due to being constructed in the progress of growth. So the card was adopted. Coincidentally there was also a new card printed that could deal with Tarmogoyf, Abrupt Decay which fit quite nicely into this newly emerging deck.


This version of BURG Delver was basically an evolution, starting at Canadian Threshold, which means that it tried to keep as much tempo cards (cards that are very likely to perform tempo positive moves or fortify the pro-active creature based tempo approach) as possible in deck.




The deck features 11 creatures that only cost one mana and had the usual cards that are also prominent in Canadian Threshold like Stifle and Lightning Bolt. Deathrite Shaman came and so Tarmogoyf had to, partially, go.


This was one of the biggest weaknesses of this list, in my humble opinion. It did take away a creature that could close the game out fast as soon as the first creature has been dealt with, because let’s be realistic, how often does the first turn Delver actually win the game? But this wasn’t as much of a problem back then as it would be, as we’ll see next week.


This drop in velocity was made up for with the Shroud ability of Nimble Mongoose and different cards that are certainly falling on the control spectrum of cards just like Bitterblossom or various Planeswalkers that were introduced to the deck at a later point.


The deck itself was described as a “Shroud Control Deck” by Carsten which appears to be a perfectly fitting description. However it also highlights that it couldn’t really pursue the purely tempo oriented approach that its predecessor Canadian Threshold has been acting out so proficiently quite as much as it initially wanted to, a notion that it shares with its later inceptions.


Here’s the old list that was played back at GP Strasbourg by Carsten Linden.


This deck is close to what many considered optimal but it still has, or had, a couple of areas that I believe could’ve been worked around. But due to the advent of Dig Through Time we cannot really use this deck as a baseline for an up-to-date build any more as said Delve card doesn’t really have a good synergy with Nimble Mongoose.


Dig Through Time Nimble Mongoose


These two just won’t ever become friends.


But there’s still much that held true back then and can be used for our future discussion about the deck. When I asked Carsten what the inherit advantages of his deck over other Delver variants were he answered very card centric, though in a way that didn’t only concern his deck but also the BURG variants of now.


"The advantage of this deck is the option to have another 1 mana threat in Deathrite Shaman, which doesn’t only shore up bad match-ups like Dredge but also accelerates the deck and is unbelievably flexible. Additionally you have the best out to an opposing Deathrite Shaman in Lightning Bolt while still having access to all the good cards in the sideboard.”


That’s it for this week, I hope you enjoyed it!


Please let me know what you think in the comments, but keep in mind that I won’t be able to answer your comments for a couple of weeks. I will answer them eventually, though, promised. In two weeks we will focus on what BURG Delver has developed into and what position it holds in the current metagame.


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