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Deep in the Modern annals lies a deck called Boremandos. This deck was the format's first to feature Delver of Secrets, and was wildly successful in its heyday. It paired Delver with Steppe Lynx, Remand, and a hearty dose of burn spells to gently disrupt opponents and kill them quickly, and eventually inspired the blueprint for Counter-Cat.
These days, Delver's all but completely vacated the competitive scene. Not true of Boremandos's spiritual big brother, Jeskai Tempo. So what would it take for Delver of Secrets to claw its way back into successful Jeskai shells? Today's article explores the two builds I've been working with, and how Spell Queller and Chart a Course revolutionize the archetype.
I started with the most vanilla shell possible---a 4-Snap, 4-Queller reactive deck à la Jeskai Tempo, but with Delver of Secrets over Celestial Colonnade. Ryan Overturf experimented with a similar build when Queller was spoiled, if working from a Grixis Delver vantage point. Reps and tuning led me here:
Queller Delver, by Jordan Boisvert
Spell Queller is the reason to play Jeskai Delver. The card is just amazing in Modern. It's a Thought-Knot Seer-plus against less interactive decks (flying and stealing tempo are major upgrades), and can overload damage-based removal with Delver and Snapcaster at its wings. Best of all, Queller lets Delver play the excellent reactive game it never had access to.
Modern Delver decks have always boasted awkward threat suites. Without a true Nimble Mongoose equivalent in the format, it's short the one drops necessary to go all-in on a thresh plan (without dipping into four colors). The accepted solution has historically been to dumb down the strategy with Snapcaster Mage, giving the deck a more reactive bent (see: Grixis Delver). Pre-Queller, that plan also found itself lacking; no "second Snapcaster" exists.
Enter the Spirit. Spell Queller plays well both proactively and reactively, making it an easy fit in a 4-Snap Delver pile. We've now got plenty to do on an opponent's turn, as our open mana represents proactive plays like Snap-Bolt should they do nothing and reactive plays like Queller otherwise. Since Delver of Secrets only costs one mana, plopping him down to force an opponent's hand into our reactive creature plays is also an option as of the mid-game. Compare with a Colonnade plan, which asks pilots to extend the game significantly so that they can afford to tap down and animate the bulky land.
Perhaps we should ask not what Queller can do for Delver, but what Delver can do for Jeskai. In short, the transforming Wizard improves Jeskai Tempo's matchups against decks that prove challenging to interact with, such as Tron and Dredge.
It also stirs the pot in fair mirrors. A turn one Delver puts opponents on the back foot immediately, which changes the flow of the game. As for the argument that Delver weakens the deck to Fatal Push, I'd sure rather my Delver eat the removal spell than my Colonnade. And on a good day, Delver teams up with Snap to gobble down the precious Bolts that potentially make Queller a liability in these matchups.
I also want to touch on Vendilion Clique. The 3/1 might not seem like much on the surface, but I think it's still one of Modern's hallmark creatures. Clique's problems are twofold: it's legendary, complicating building a deck around it, and it's expensive as a flex choice at three mana. Decks can only run Clique if their mid-to-high-end isn't occupied by something else. The biggest strike against the card is that it lacks a home.
But it's as flexible as ever and comfortable in Jeskai Delver, where it slots into the curve as Queller #5. Fatal Push slicing into Lightning Bolt's shares has incidentally improved the card, as has the general aggro-control trajectory of invalidating grounded combat via Eldrazi and Death's Shadow.
One big departure from Boremandos, and from many Jeskai Tempo lists: this build doesn't play Geist of Saint Traft in the mainboard. I have never been impressed with this card in Modern, and I think it's worse now than ever. Matter Reshaper and Death's Shadow can make getting through pretty challenging, and decks like Humans and Taxes block the 2/2 incidentally. Geist is better when the deck has more mana to throw around and is heavier on noncreature sources of damage. I think it has a place in our 75, but prefer Clique in the main.
Path to Exile is one of the main reasons to play white right now, so we naturally max out on those. The Bolt split proved a bit more challenging to figure out. I wanted to preserve Jeskai Tempo's burn-you-out plan to some degree, explaining the full set of Lightning Bolt and Snapcaster Mage. But I found Lightning Helix too inefficient to play in large quantities in a Delver deck. Besides, Delver itself compensates for dropping some reach spells by making our other burn all the more potent.
Boros Charm plays a few roles in the deck. Charm-Snap-Charm represents up to ten damage, which of course is ridiculous. Double strike mode never, ever comes up. The card's indestructible mode does, though; protecting Queller from removal to stop opponents from reclaiming their exiled spell, or saving Geist of Saint Traft post-board from a costly sweeper, are its primary uses. Oh, and one-shotting fresh Lilianas. Yum!
I considered rounding out the suite with Electrolyze, but eventually just opted for a pair of Pyroclasms in the sideboard. Lyze is too unlikely to impact the board to be worth three mana in this deck. It's more of a necessity in less proactive Jeskai decks, which can only do their requisite durdling if they clear opposing fields of incidental threats while pointing heavy-duty removal at the real ones.
The permission suite is simple and effective. I'm not a big fan of messing around with splits of stuff like Spell Snare or Deprive. Leak and Knot are great at stopping spells out of Queller's range, and both can help preserve an early lead from Delver; that's exactly what we want our costed counterspells to do. Why try harder?
Color is another big draw to Queller in a Delver strategy over, say, Hooting Mandrills. Disrupting Shoal is already fantastic in Counter-Cat, which runs 23 blue spells; this deck packs a whopping 29 blue spells. That's almost half the deck!
With its higher curve, Jeskai is likelier to hardcast Shoal in the late-game, and even to flash it back with Snapcaster Mage. But Shoal also plays an important role in the deck's design when it comes to balancing the curve. Minus the arcane instant, I think 20 lands is too few for a deck maxing out on Queller, Snap, and Chart. Since these cards can be pitched to Shoal, though, irksome mana-light early-games can be smoothly navigated into favorable board positions. We've also got too much card advantage, a mechanic notoriously overrated in Modern; Shoal's card disadvantage contributes positively to the balance, letting us benefit from those spells in grindy matchups and turn them into mana against faster decks.
Chart a Course
We touched above on the effect of including Delver of Secrets in Jeskai for fair mirrors. It's true that removal-heavy decks get a boost against us when some of our burn and two-for-one spells are 3/2s instead. But I've found Chart a Course to help offset that disadvantage.
Chart has seen steady play in Vintage and Legacy since its release, but it's obvious why more decks don't play it in Modern: like Clique, the card lacks a true home. It's obviously great in Delver decks, but like, there are no Delver decks.
I expect that to change, if slowly. Backed up by some burn or another creature, Delver really is best-of-breed when it comes to pressuring uninteractive opponents. And Chart a Course neatly greases the engine as well as Serum Visions.
The sideboard is the other major draw to Jeskai Delver. Stony Silence and Rest in Peace can both be had relatively pain-free, giving the deck a potent prison dimension in post-board games against large chunks of the field. Geist of Saint Traft is simply a tough-to-kill threat that covers for Spell Queller in removal-heavy matchups, and Celestial Purge is anti-Lili tech that also removes Death's Shadow and a host of other random stuff. The counterspells here are all geared to fight big mana.
Playing a better reactive game is all fun and dandy, but Modern has never really rewarded reactiveness as it has proactiveness. My next order of business was to sleeve up an old friend and test an 8-Delver strategy without Wild Nacatl.
Jeskai Lynx, by Jordan Boisvert
Steppe Lynx's inclusion changes the deck in a couple ways. Less-efficient reactive spells like Lightning Helix and Logic Knot get the axe right away. Chart a Course improves and is likelier to be cast earlier, putting a premium on cheap permission---I love Spell Pierce in this kind of shell.
One of the issues with Chart's blind draws is that it sometimes just digs into a bunch of lands, overall having little impact on a game. Steppe Lynx gives us a use for these whiffs. Running and finding more fetches also makes Blood Moon an appealing candidate for the sideboard, further bolstering the Rest in Peace-Stony prison dimension.
Nothin's free, of course. This build is pushed into three conflicting directions.
- High instant/sorcery count. Necessary for Delver.
- High land count. Necessary for Lynx.
- High creature count. The 8-Delver approach needs us to keep the pressure on, and running more lands facilitates maxing out on Snapcaster and Queller.
It's impossible to fulfill all three requirements, so I've been working on striking the correct balance. So far I've bounced around between 20-land builds, 21-land builds, and 22-land builds, filling the extra slots with Quellers or Deltas. Right now, I like this one. The Boremandos decks of old would sometimes go as low as 20 instants and sorceries, but we're a civilized people now.
Quell 'Em All
If I had to say which of these decks is better, I'd put my money on the first, if only because it's so similar to an existing Tier 1 deck. That said, I'm not totally convinced the proactivity bump from Delver is worth giving up Cryptic Command and the late-game Colonnade engine. Although I do know I would never go near the Command deck, so at least it's worth it for me. Modern's about playing what you love, after all. On that note, good luck to all the Modern-lovers attending the SCG Invitational this weekend---we'll be watching!
3 thoughts on “Boremandos Enraged: Brewing Jeskai Delver”
I have to say that I like the look of that first Delver list you posted. I’m kind of skeptical about the Boros Charm, but I guess it’s at least worth experimenting with. This may truly be the deck to give that delicious Chart-Shoal synergy its time in the sun.
I’ve been playing Jeskai Geist for a while now, as well as nearly a year with various forms of Delver. I don’t see Jeskai gaining much from Delver because of the high variance of the card itself and how utterly bad it is when it’s bad. Sure, you could land one T1, flip it T2, and bash in for 3 in the air every turn, crunching some basic probabilities, that only happens about 16% of the time. Much of the time, you either don’t have an early Delver, or it doesn’t flip, or it dies before doing anything. Delver has always only been “just OK” in Modern, but has felt really, really, really bad all around ever since Push was printed and Probe was banned. I would honestly run Mantis Riders before Delver these days.
For Geist though, even in the worst case scenario, the threat of an attack from Geist usually requires the other player to hold back attackers to leave up blockers. In the best of cases, it’s clocking in for 6 a turn and can’t be removed, while the rest of the deck plays at instant speed, can tap opponent’s team, counter stuff, and bolt-snap-bolt.
Jeskai Geist indeed seems much better than either of these decks right now. After all, Delver is doing nothing while various Jeskai Queller builds (including ones with Geist) are firmly Tier 1! But I think adding Delver improves enough matchups on its own (Valakut and Gx Tron, for instance) to merit consideration in some metagames, and as a devotee of the little guy, I was interested in trying to find functional builds in these colors.