Taking Desperate Delver to the Top 8 of States

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Editor's note: Oklahoma ringers Trey Ballew and Eric Centauri brewed up the following deck, which took Trey to the Top 8 of Oklahoma States. Enjoy the article!


Thursday night, 9:00 PM, after another night of poor testing results and giving up on my BG Heartless Pod list:

Me: “I have no idea what I’m playing now.”
Eric: “Me neither.”
Me: “Let me take another look at your UR deck. How many instants and sorceries were you running?”
Eric: “Like, Twenty-six.”
Me: “Can we try Delver of Secrets?”

The UR CounterBurn list Eric Centauri had been testing the previous week showed some promise, but wasn’t quite good enough. It lacked an aggressive early play and had a bad tendency to stall out in a race. Adding four Delver of Secrets // Delver of Secrets changed all that.

This is the list I top-8’ed with at Oklahoma States (156 players):

Desperate Delver, by Eric Centauri and Trey Ballew:

Untitled Deck


4 Ponder4 Mana Leak4 Desperate Ravings4 Incinerate4 Brimstone Volley4 Arc Trail2 Devils Play

I skewed the basic land count toward Islands because Delver of Secrets is the best possible turn one play. In this deck, Delver is basically a flying Wild Nacatl. Which is fair, you know, ‘cause usually blue only gets the best instants, sorceries, and planeswalkers.  Thanks, WotC, for finally showing blue some love and printing not one but two incredibly efficient blue creatures in one set. Snapcaster Mage and Delver of Secrets make this deck work.

Not just a Legacy staple

Aerial Responder is good for setting up an existing Delver’s metamorphosis, and is great when it shows you Delver plus one of your 26 instants and sorceries.

Desperate Ravings is really good in this deck, and I feel it’s not getting the attention it should.  Holding onto unneeded lands and emptying your grip of as much burn as possible before casting it nets sick value. The card is basically Fact or Fiction meets Gamble. It is also really, really fun to cast.

It is almost always right to throw all your burn at your opponent’s facehole.  Even Arc Trail usually domes the opponent for two while killing something small, even if there is another creature available for the killing. Flashing in Snapcaster Mage for the chump block and flashing back Brimstone Volley or even Incinerate is key to getting there.

Arc Trail is the card I was least happy with in the maindeck. I wish I had gone with the 2-2 split between those and Slagstorms for the maindeck, as Eric advocates. The option to dome players and planewalkers is nice to have.

As for the sideboard, Dissipates are obviously quite good against Solar Flare, but they also come in against anything mid-range, ramp or control. Twisted Image was for Spellskite and Tree of Redemption, but I never actually brought it in. Ancient Grudges come in for Shrine of Loyal Legions, Blinkmoth Nexus, Tempered Steel decks, Wurmcoil Engine, etc.  Flashfreezes help to make sure you can counter a turn three Dungrove Elder even on the draw. Phantasmal Images are for Thrun and Geist of Saint Traft.

Round One – UB Infect

Game one I have two Arc Trails to answer his first two creatures, shocking him twice in the process. Once he stops playing creatures, I Incinerate him twice with a Snapcaster assist, reload with Desperate Ravings, and finish him off with the 2/1 and a Brimstone Volley.

I board in Slagstorms and Ancient Grudges since most of his guys are artifacts.

Game two I keep a hand with an Arc Trail and a Snapcaster, but he just beats me with Inkmoth Nexus until he casts Phyrexian Crusader and poisons me to death.

Game three I keep a hand with Mountain, Rootbound Crag, Incinerate, Ancient Grudge and some blue spells.  He never plays one of his many artifacts or activates Inkmoth Nexus. I die to his turn three Phyrexian Crusader and Skithryx having never drawn a blue source.


Now I just have to win seven in a row to top 8, no big.

Round Two – UW Control

We have to play sideways on a round table as punishment for losing round one of an overcrowded tournament. Luckily, this match took all of ten minutes.

The two games we played were almost identical. Game one I am on the play. We each start with Island, go. Turn two I cast Ponder and see Incinerate, Delver of Secrets, Desperate Ravings. I draw the Delver and flip an Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration the next turn.  After bugging him for four turns and Mana Leaking his Timely Reinforcements I am able to burn him out.

Game two was similar except I cast Delver turn one and got the lucky flip on turn two. I have a Mana Leak, a Dissipate, and a Snapcaster to counter his plays while I three him to death.


Round Three – Rb Vampires

Did you know that Delver is still a human after he grows wings? I didn’t, until I got hit for 12 game one when my opponent cast Vampiric Fury. Luckily, Team Edward was already in burn range thanks to the bugman and died before getting another attack step after that one.

For game two I board in the Slagstorms. This game was pretty boring as I drew two Arc Trails and a Snapcaster mage while my opponent repeatedly played two guys a turn.


Round Four – BUG (no pod)

I hate playing against a friend at a large tournament – especially when he is one of four people in the room who know my list. Game one he takes four to Dismember a Delver. I play another. He kills that one a couple turns later, at which point I Volley him for five. When he swings at me with a fatty I flash in SCM for the block and Volley from the yard for the game.

Game two I stick a couple Delvers, but have trouble flipping them up (‘talk to your doctor about Insectile Dysfunction…’).  Once I do, I am able to kill him the turn before I would die to Grave Titan. He tries to save himself by casting Tribute to Hunger and sac’ing his Grave Titan but, uhh, that card – it does not do what he thinks it does.

Even better when played twice


Round Five – RG Kessig

Game one I have turn one Delver, turn two [card Grim Lavamancer]Lavamancer[/card]/Aerial Responder to set up a Delver flip. I hit him for four a turn until he is dead, dead, dead while Leaking or Snapcaster-Leaking all his relevant non-Thrun plays.

Game two he plays a turn one Nihil Spellbomb, so I start using my Lavamancer early to get max value out of my instants. A lucky Desperate Ravings traded a SCM from my hand for a Leak and a Volley. I finally block the Viridian Emissary that was two’ing me to turn on morbid for Volley, which put him in easy burn range for my next turn.


Round Six – Solar Flare

Game one I almost make the misplay of the tournament by Mana Leaking his Liliana on turn four. I remember before announcing the spell that the most expensive card in standard does nothing against me. We each discard (he pitches Unburial Rites) and I Incinerate his face. I guess he didn’t get the read on my Leak because he flashes back Rites with two mana open next turn.  I make a 2/1 at end of turn with no bonus to speed up the clock. When he untaps with Liliana at 6 he uses her third ability. I float all my mana, and he lets me choose between my 2/1 and three Mountains, or three Islands.  I keep Mountains and Mage. I drop another Mage and flashback Incinerate with the floating mana, and he is dead the next turn.

Game two I kept a hand without counterspells and got beat down by a reanimated fatty on his turn four. Sometimes Solar Flare does that.

Game three was pretty boring as I burned him to death with Incinerates, Volleys, and SCM’s while he looked on in horror at the failure of his three-color manabase.


Round 7 – UBR Burning Vengeance

This was probably the tensest match of the tournament for me.  Game one I stuck a Delver, which flipped and got in there for four turns before he could kill it by casting Geistflame and flashing it back. Lavamancer did some work while we took turns casting three copies of Desperate Ravings each. I got him down to one, and then stalled out for several turns while he set up multiple Burning Vengeances. I eventually cast a burn spell he couldn’t answer. Despite the 20-0 final life total, this game was really close.

I side out the Arc Trails for Dissipates and two Slagstorms, since they can hit players and I didn’t really have anything else for this matchup.

Game two he won on the back of an early Vengeance, while I drew all my one-toughness creatures.

We had only seven minutes for game three. I got a fast start with a Delver and a Lavamancer, but he drew a Geistflame to deal with them. I stuck a second Lavamancer and starting chucking burn spells at him. When he tapped out turn five for Jace, I took the opportunity to cast Devil’s Play for a guaranteed five damage on my turn. He starts milling me and countering my burn. The turn he mills the last of my library, I take him down to two and kill him with Lavamancer on my upkeep.


My tiebreakers are atrocious due to losing in round one, so I have the luxury of getting to play another round of Magic: The Gathering collectible trading card game before cutting to top 8.

Round 8 – RG Kessig

Game one I had Leak and Snapcaster-Leak for his first two non-Rampant Growth plays. I get in there a couple times with SCM while burning him a bit.  I kill him from nine by casting Arc Trail to clear away an Emissary and shock him, getting in for two more with SCM, then spiking a Volley for exactsies.

Game two I play Delver, Flashfreeze a Dungrove Elder, have Phantasmal Image for Thrun, Snap-Freeze another Elder, and then he was dead. Delver did 15 damage this game while I was countering his spells.


Quarterfinals – RG Kessig

Game one I got two Aberrations online early and raced him. He died the turn before he could swing with Wurmcoil Engine.

Game two I have Image for Thrun, but can’t find enough damage to kill him before dying to the Dungrove Elder he sneaked in the turn after I dealt with Thrun.

Game three I mulligan to six and keep a hand with Image but no counters and can’t deal with all his Dungrove Elders. It was a bad keep and I got punished for not going to five like I should have. My opponent went on to win the tournament.
This deck is competitive, can race almost anything, and is really fun to play. That said, I would make a few changes for Star City Games Open: Kansas City.  I would go with the 2-2 split between Arc Trails and Slagstorms in the main. Also, the Twisted Images were a waste of sideboard space. I feel like Steel Sabotage is good here and is sometimes favorable to Ancient Grudge, especially against Wurmcoil Engine. Also, Frost Titan is pretty good against Kessig and Solar Flare, but I wouldn’t want more than one due to the cost. I recommend the following list:

Updated Desperate Delver by Eric Centauri and Trey Ballew

Untitled Deck


4 Snapcaster Mage3 Grim Lavamancer4 Delver of Secrets


4 Ponder4 Mana Leak4 Desperate Ravings4 Incinerate4 Brimstone Volley2 Arc Trail2 Slagstorm2 Devils Play


3 Dissipate2 Ancient Grudge1 Steel Sabotage2 Arc Trail2 Slagstorm2 Flashfreeze2 Phantasmal Image1 Frost Titan

Good luck, and I hope you have as much fun piloting this deck as I do.

- Trey Ballew

8 thoughts on “Taking Desperate Delver to the Top 8 of States

  1. Built something like this online recently. I had shrine of burning rage main an cut a land fr gitaxian probe, and had a couple Geist flames main. I really liked the deck, but it think it has some real problems in th current meta.

    1. It’s hard to beat infect right now. They can remove your early guys and then drop things that are pro your deck as well as giant germs.

    2. Though mono red is not as popular as before beating it is pretty hard due to them having a trump in Chandra’s Phoenix and refugees post board.

    3. A lot of the wolfrun decks are staring to run gutshot in the board which is a pretty big blowout when they can just drop a dungrove and beat you.

    4. All the blue decks have flashfreeze now.

  2. Call me a newb, but i dont understand the use of lavamancer over goblin fireslinger here. GL requires exiling two at a time from the GY for damage. By removing your GY cards arent you seriously limiting your snapcaster targets to the point of it being a hinderance? Yes GL is player/creature, but at the cost of a mana and exiling two cards. Is it really that much better?

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