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Under the Hood – Standard Monoblue Delver

Since The Meathook Massacre was banned, Magic the Gathering players have been recalculating their decks to fit the changed metagame. A week later, Esper, Grixis, Rakdos and Jund are still on top of the heap by most measures.  This could just be because players are standing by the decks they sunk hundreds of dollars into after rotation, but I think it speaks to the power behind the synergies that really drive black decks.  Other archetypes are on the move, however, and one of those is Delver.

Delver… in Standard?

Legacy and Modern players are already familiar with Delver decks. Originally dropped in the original Innistrad set, Delver of Secrets is a one drop who can easily turn into a 3/2 evasive threat on turn two in an instant/sorcery heavy shell. And if there’s one thing blue decks like, it’s instant and sorceries.

Delver is a deck that I’ve been wanting to try since Delver of Secrets was first spoiled for Midnight Hunt. It provides a solid early threat for blue decks, but it didn’t have the support it needed until Dominaria United.  Dominaria gave us Tolarian Terror and Haughty Djinn, both of which benefit from the instants and sorceries that power Delver.  Before rotation though, it was just too hard to keep up with monogreen and monowhite aggro decks.  Blue decks did not have access to synergistic top end threats then, and splashed with other colors there were just better cards to play in the one drop slot.


In a typical Delver mainboard you only run 10-15 creatures: 4x Delver of Secrets and some combination of Haughty Djinn, Tolarian Terror and Ledger Shredder.  Some variants opt for more control and drop the Terrors, but I like having them for the midrange/control matchups.  Make Disappear is a great counter for early game, and Spell Pierce helps protect you from problematic planeswalkers.  Bounce spells like Fading Hope slow down the opponent’s ability to swing big, and Shore Up/Slip Out the Back protect your Delver and Djinn.  The rest of the mainboard is cheap instants to fill up your hand: Consider, Impulse and Thirst for Discovery.

Piloting Standard Monoblue Delver

Playing tempo decks can be hard to wrap your head around.  The most common mistake I’ve seen first-time Delver pilots make is tapping out on their own turn.  Unless you’re dropping a turn 1 Delver, going into an opponent’s turn with no mana untapped leaves you way too open.  Either they remove your Delver or get their own early threat on the board.  It’s hard to resist the temptation to dig for cards you want on your turn, but everything in Delver other than the creatures is instant speed.  You have plenty of chances to cast those spells in response to whatever your opponent is doing.  Playing monoblue Delver means playing patiently.  Sometimes it means holding off on dropping a Djinn or a Terror for a turn or two to be sure you can keep your opponent in check.

The other big mistake is keeping a bad hand.  You don’t need a lot of mana to pilot Standard Delver.  What you do more or less need is a turn 1 Delver.  With a few Spell Pierce or Slip Out the Back in hand you can settle for starting with Haughty Djinn, but it’s hard to get a decisive victory out of Delver without having one out on turn one and flipped on turn two.  A slower start gives your opponent more opportunities to catch up with and ultimately outpace your control.  If you have to mulligan to 5 to get a hand with a Delver 2-3 lands and a Spell Pierce, Consider or Fading Hope in it, that’s okay.  Delver runs enough card draw in its mainboard to make up for a small loss in hand size early on.

About that Sideboard…

The cheapest sideboards skip on more expensive cards like Unlicensed Hearse and Reckoner Bankbuster and stick with alternative control options.  Essence Scatter for dealing with more creature heavy decks, one or two Pithing Needles, Slip Out the Back or Shore Up to protect creatures, and Out of the Way to deal with wolves, Fight Rigging and other green shenanigans.  With how inexpensive the deck is overall, it’s not hard to fit a Hearse in to spoil the mirror or a couple of Bankbusters for the extra card draw.

A bit of local spice from the decks being played at my home FLGS is Witness Protection.  I’ve seen it as a 2 of main board/sideboard, but my version of the deck only runs it as a 2 of in sideboard.  On its face, Witness Protection seems like a silly little common enchant.  It doesn’t remove a body from the board, but what it DOES do is strip all of the abilities from a card.  For one mana, you can make Sheoldred the Apocalypse or Titan of Industry a 1/1 Legitimate Businessperson.  Iit also changes the name of the card itself, which means that any card that checks for a specific card (like Urza and Mishra in The Brothers’ War) will not see it as whatever the original name was.

Boarding for specific matchups

Sideboarding in and out is an art, and how you go about it will depend heavily on your own FLGS metagame.  Don’t be afraid to take out a couple of Terrors to put in more removal, or even a few Thirsts. 

Against the mirror remember that Delver’s only a serious threat when he flips, and that if you bounce him you buy yourself however many turns it takes to get him flipped again.  Also remember that your deck likes spells in the graveyard, so Unlicensed Hearse or other graveyard hate is a good option.

Against monored aggro, look for ways to slow down their board.  They hit fast with Phoenix Chick, Rabbit Battery and Reinforced Ronin.  Just remember that Phoenix Chick can’t block, so even if it’s untapped you can still swing in with a Djinn or Delver just fine.  The haste makes bouncing these creatures less effective, so hard counters like Essence Scatter, Essence Capture, or even Syncopate are good board-ins.  This is a race, so think speed and don’t be afraid to board out your Terrors for good answers.

TL;DR = Here’s my current decklist

About the Author
Silver has been playing Magic: The Gathering and other trading card games off and on since 1999, and is a lifelong roleplayer. They believe in Rule 0 and The Rule of Cool, and that the gaming table should be a safe space for everyone.

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