There are a lot of Delver decks out there. It turns out when blue has access to a Wild Nacatl that rewards you for playing instants and sorceries, you can build around it easily. There are different approaches to the deck, from the falls-over-the-finish-line tempo builds in RUG, the basically-a-control-deck-so-why-even-play-delver UWR, and the grindy BUG lists with big threats and efficient removal. I’m here today to talk about the better BUG, Grixis.
Grixis Delver by Noah Walker
The deck capitalizes on the versatile mana bases in Legacy to essentially play four colors. The green splash off one Tropical Island allows us to gain life against Burn, to exile creatures from the yard against Reanimator and Dredge, and to maybe play a green sideboard card. Outside of a few specific matchups, Trop is basically a waste-able Island. We play our own Wastelands to punish mirrored greedy manabases, but more so as a pseudo-spell to interact with things like Rishadan Port, Dark Depths combo, and Miracles’ Blood Moon-enabling Volcanic Island.
Grixis’s creatures are very comparable to BUG’s. Gurmag Angler is basically a better Tarmogoyf that doesn’t come down on turn two. When that card was released, Noah and I tried a one-one split with True-Name Nemesis. By round two we wished we had cut TNN entirely and upped our total creature count for a vanilla 5/5. It’s that good.
Deathrite Shaman is a one mana planeswalker that does anything you ask of it. It’s a maindeck way to disrupt Dredge, a way stall your Storm opponent’s Past in Flames kill, mana to cast Vendilion Clique on turn two, and a steady clock that beats Moat, Elephant Grass, and Glacial Chasm.
Young Pyromancer is lackluster against fair, requiring you to have another threat to push damage through while you power up for the alpha or block their Nimble Mongoose and Tarmogoyf attacks. Against combo though, Pyromancer is the best card in your deck. Peezy lets you leave up all of your mana every turn while end step Brainstorms increment your clock. “End step Bolt you, retain priority, Daze my Bolt, pay for Daze” is not an outlandish play when you want to surprise your opponent with 5 damage.
Lightning Bolt is one of the biggest reasons to play Grixis over any other Deathrite Shaman build. It is never dead in any matchup unlike cards like Disfigure and Dismember. Against combo and control, it gets boarded out not because it’s dead but because there are better things coming in.
The usual cantrips with Force of Will and Daze counter suite allow you to control the game while applying pressure. Daze is also the explanation for why every land in the deck must tap for blue. You’ll look at the list and want to jam a Bayou or Badlands. Don’t. Cast your cantrips effectively and you will “always have it always.”
The combination of Gitaxian Probe and Cabal Therapy is abusive, especially with a Young Pyromancer in play. Therapy alone is a powerful tool, especially against combo, and you should learn to cast it the fair way effectively. It is one of the the most skill-testing cards in Legacy and having the contextual and format knowledge to cast it well is rare and powerful. But then sometimes you get the easy mode draw and Probe your opponent first, see a hand full of Swords to Plowshares, and three-for-one them. If you’ve never “Probe you (token), Therapy you (token), flashback Therapy saccing a token (token),” that’s reason enough to jam this deck some time.
We’re weak to a few things. Wastelands can be rough on our mana base. You may consider fetching conservatively in the early turns against Death and Taxes and RUG Delver in order to save your Underground Seas for example. You only get two black sources; use them wisely. I actually boarded a Crucible of Worlds in Lands-heavy metas as Life from the Loam can be hard to cast when your Tropical Island is in the bin. It also helps against the Pasta decks to have repeatable Wasteland.
Similarly, Blood Moon decks can really get us. Even if you board a Krosan Grip or Abrupt Decay, it can be very hard to cast. Players who know a Blood Moon is coming will also go after your Deathrite Shamans aggressively to be sure that you have no way of casting anything but Pyroblast, Young Pyromancer, and Lightning Bolt when it comes down. I actually board into Engineered Explosives against most Blood Moon decks as most of them play permanents you want to deal with anyway. Obviously a proactive EE on 3 is rough against artifact removal, but sometimes you don’t have the Force and can’t beat a Blood Moon if they have it.
Don’t overextend against Miracles. Every creature in the deck is a huge threat to Miracles, so make them one-for-one you while keeping them off Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance. Never lay out for board control thinking you can stop a Terminus with one Force of Will. If they win that counter battle, you’re now likely hellbent and without a followup play. Sandbag a creature if you can.
Delver mirrors are all about picking your battles. Maybe save that Force of Will for a Tarmogoyf when you could run it out against turn one Bolt-your-Delver. Card advantage is everything since your cards match up so evenly, so only give it away against things you can’t beat. Daze is one exception. The card is so narrow that unless you’re giving up too much tempo by bouncing the land, run it out against anything that gets it value. One-for-oneing any threat with Daze is big.
Combo is a pretty good matchup for us, which is why there are so many cards for fair in the board. Painful Truths is, as the kids say, the truth against anyone not putting pressure on your life total. Basically, you want to represent counters at all times, Therapy smart, Clique on draw steps, and draw more cards than they do. All while applying pressure.
Some fun tricks in the list:
-Clique can take Life from the Loam. That’s a terrible matchup so watch out for that play.
-Clique is also a way to ambush an attacking Delver or to surprise your opponent with 3 damage they didn’t plan for.
-You can cast Engineered Explosives for any X you want to get past a Counterbalance. Just be sure to pay the right colors.
-”Retain priority, Daze my own spell, pay” is a good trick for generating Elemental tokens, as is “Pyroblast your Top” when there are no blue permanents and you really need a token.
-”Darkblast on upkeep, dredge Darkblast, cast Darkblast” kills X/2s.
-”Darkblast on upkeep, retain priority, Daze it bouncing Sea, pay for Daze, dredge Darkblast, play Sea, cast Darkblast” kills X/2s when you only have one black source. Happened.
Grixis is a deck I have spent a lot of time with and I’m super glad every time Noah Walker spikes another tournament with it. It got some of the attention it deserved during the Dig Through Time days, but was under respected before then and has been since. The best thing you can do with Delver of Secrets is pair him with Deathrite Shaman, so why not bring Lightning Bolt for the ride?
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