A scratching at the window. A fluttering of tiny wings. A grating of jagged teeth. Does anyone else hear what I hear? Perhaps 2020 is Delver's year!
Okay, so maybe I'm jumping the gun a bit. But there sure is a lot of Delver in the recent dumps. Today, we'll look at the different varieties and see how the archetype is evolving without Oko to fall back on.
We'll begin with UR, historically among the most aggressive of Delver builds.
This iteration of UR Delver has been around in some capacity since Modern Horizons, but finally appears to be out in force. Its main draw is the high reversibility enjoyed by melding the aggressive potential of Delver and Pyromancer with the mid-game applications of Snapcaster Mage. That threat suite is complimented by Archmage's Charm, the deck's lynchpin.
With Oko Urza gone from Modern, UR Delver is positioning itself to be Charm's premier utilizer. The card does quite a bit for protect-the-queen strategies: it double-cantrips, offering an answer to attrition plans; it steals nasty creatures, including Death's Shadow and Giver of Runes; and it counters spells, securing a lead while ahead. In other words, it's good at all stages of the game, something a deck as role-restless as Delver appreciates greatly.
Archmage Charm's main drawback is its manacost, which can, of course, be accommodated for. But not by all strategies, which is why we don't see much more of it; the spell is narrow in terms of which decks supports, as many can't swing the triple blue.
As a bonus, being locked into UR doesn't mean the deck fails to utilize its graveyard. Magmatic Sinkhole is a grave-sink so potent even Temur builds accommodate it from time to time, as we'll soon see!
What About Swinging?
Charm's reactive nature prevents the deck from being too aggressive, which is why we don't see Monastery Swiftspear & co. make the cut. Such cheap, red threats proved popular in the blitz-focused, Wizard's Lightning-reliant UR Delver builds from 2018, but UR now prefers to utilize Archmage's Charm and assume the more controlling role shared by equally outdated Spellstutter Sprite variants.
Indeed, the aggressive niche once championed by UR Delver now seems monopolized by Mono-Red Prowess, a deck that's abandoned Arclight Phoenix in light of the Faithless Looting ban but nonetheless retains its power.
Which brings us to another friend of Insectile Aberration // Insectile Aberration and Young Pyromancer: Inquisition of Kozilek. This combination, too, seems to have become extinct. As far as I can tell, the black spells aren't worth giving up Archmage's Charm when it comes to permission-based decks, and discard-fueled starts are better suited to Mardu Pyromancer or other midrange-leaning strategies.
Let's shift gears and explore Temur Delver, which we'll focus on for the remainder of the article. I noticed a couple of interesting pre-ban builds from this month while perusing the 5-0 dumps, as well as a juicy updated version from one of the shard's veteran brewers.
Casting a Hex
For starters, here's Temur Hex Delver, which doubles up on one-drops via Hexdrinker. The idea of supplementing Delver with pushed green one-drops dates back to Canadian Threshold, but never exactly took off in Modern; the closest I came myself was with Counter-Cat, which splashed white to enable Wild Nacatl. Rather than run Hooting Mandrills, the deck fills out its top-end with planeswalkers, a strategy I tried (and briefly enjoyed) in Six Shadow (a Delver deck at its theoretical origin).
I've picked up on some dissent in the Delver community regarding whether Hexdrinker is even worthwhile in a format crawling with Wrenn and Six, but the consensus among diehards appears to be to treat Hex as a four-drop when faced with these decks. It's mostly slower strategies such as Jund that employ the walker, giving Temur more time to make its land drops and a reasonable mid- to late-game threat they can peel as a topdeck.
True to its Modern origins, Temur Hex Delver features a light midrange package in the sideboard to overwhelm opposing creature decks and gain equity against other disruption-heavy aggro decks.
We Hardly Knew Ye
As rapidly as it materialized, Temur Oko Delver has now folded back into aether; without its namesake planeswalker, this particular build becomes defunct. But I still want to draw attention to it, as it nonetheless was putting up results earlier this month as the format struggled under the oppressive force of Simic Urza.
To make the most of Oko, Temur Oko Delver runs the off-plan Noble Hierarch; while less reliable than the full package of Gilded Goose, Mox Opal, and Once Upon a Time, the dork nevertheless ensures Oko comes down ahead of curve some of the time, which as we now know categorically puts an enormous strain on opponents.
Once itself does make the cut here, too, which increases the odds of starting with Hierarch while also lowering the chances of drawing it later (with Once in the picture, the dork only needs to appear at 3 copies but still has a high likelihood of being opened). Beyond helping with fast Okos, it makes Delver much better at its Plan A by drastically upping the odds of beginning with an Aberration. Once is also an instant, so it transforms the creature as well; as a free spell, it's even fast juice for Hooting Mandrills or Tarmogoyf. Going forward, Once seems especially potent for the archetype.
On Borrowed Time
In truth, it was Oko who was living on borrowed time, but there are only so many idioms featuring "borrow!" Temur Borrower Delveris the latest Delver list we've seen succeed online, and it comes to us from none other than CHAUGHEY---the guy behind Temur Oko Delver above, and countless other Temur iterations dating back at least a year.
Without Oko, the deck gets a makeover, immediately trading Noble Hierarch for Brazen Borrower // Petty Theft. Delver decks of Modern's past have traditionally appreciated Vendilion Clique primarily for its status as a pre-flipped Insectile Aberration with flash, no joke in a permission-based thresh deck. While the additional effect was icing on the cake, it pales in comparison to Borrower's benefits: the flashy new Faerie doubles as a critical mode of Simic Charm, bouncing not just creatures but any opposing nonland permanent to disrupt a myriad of possible combos. What's more, its adventure typeline negates the card disadvantage of running bounce effects and gives the deck a reliable late-game mana sink: Once finding Borrower being cast as an adventure and then again from exile taxes pilots a whopping 7 mana! All that late-game energy makes it justifiable to skip out on running dedicated midrange cards in the sideboard, further playing to the deck's bottom line.
That Once can find Borrower also greatly improves the card. Strong openers that feature land and threats can functionally pick up a bounce spell by casting Once, rounding out their plan and helping the card look more like an all-purpose cantrip than its text box suggests. After the game starts, Once can be cast on an opponent's end step should they elect to play around Mana Leak, and then let pilots choose from a variety of potential options. After all, Borrower itself offers three possible modes: the bounce line, the creature line, and both!
Also making the cut is Flame Slash, a card that looks extremely appealing in the current metagame. With Thought-Knot Seer, Urza, Lord High Artificer, and other x/4s running around, not to mention the weaker enablers that have formed Modern's backbone forever, Slash has a ton of high-value targets.
Flipping the Script
Oko, Oko, Oko---that's all the Magic community has been hearing about since the planeswalker showed up and decimated a bunch of constructed formats. But the message I'm getting the most from the January dumps is Delver, Delver, Delver. While I doubt the Insect comes to dominate the format in any capacity resembling Oko's, I'm excited to see new developments surrounding one of my all-time favorite creatures and hope Delver's string of successes stretches into the future!