TES Matchup Battles: UR Delver II

UR Delver is obviously a blue-red deck that combines Aggro-elements of Burn, with Tempo-elements of RUG Delver. Utilizing its red cards to be aggressive and kill the opponent quickly, and the blue cards for interaction and to be tempo based with counterspells. It can be described as a counter-burn deck. Trying to put the opponent on the back of their heels with aggression, while slowing the opponent deck for a couple of turns to be able to finish them off. UR Delver hasn't been as popular the past couple of years, but with the recent printings of Pteramander and Light Up the Stage it appears to be on the incline with a 1st place finishing at SCG Open Syracuse. With the deck increasing back in popularity and taking on a new direction we need to be prepared.

How does UR Delver matchup against TES?

Chain Lightning
Wasteland
Delver of Secrets

Delver of Secrets, Pteramander, Young Pyromancer - These are the creature threats that UR Delver uses to put fast pressure on the opponent. Their ultimate goal is to use these threats along with burn spells to try to end the game early. We should be fairly familiar playing against Young Pyromancer and Delver of Secrets from other popular Legacy decks, but Pteramander is a new one. It is one of the reasons for the resurgence of UR Delver. So, how does it affect us? It gives UR Delver higher quality of cards over like Stormchaser Mage or Monastery Swiftspear. Those cards are at their prime on exactly turn 1 or turn 2, where Pteramander can still be a great threat on turns 4 or 5. This means even if the game gets into the mid game the opponent can just top deck 5 power. That's pretty rare for an aggressive deck. Also, the flying mechanic can become huge here. It means even if we make a dozen goblins the ability to just fly over the horde can help them win the race. We can no longer just chump with one goblin and keep attacking.

Chain Lightning, Lightning Bolt - Because UR Delver is the most aggressive on the Delver of Secrets spectrum of decks it would only make sense they would be packing burn spells. Lightning Bolt isn't that rare of a Legacy card, but Chain Lightning? That's usually unique to just Burn. By playing Chain Lightning in your Legacy deck it shows your commitment to aggression and that your deck has one goal in mind: to end the game quickly. These types of cards force us to have fast opening hands. We can't be spending the time to cantrip four times and use tutors to sculpt our hand for several turns. The longer the game goes the worse our Ad Nauseam becomes with a lower life total to play with. Empty the Warrens also gets worse as the game goes, because they can get us to a low enough life to just burn us out.

Force of Will, Daze, Flusterstorm, Spell Pierce - UR Delver plays the typical counterspell suite that we see out of many other decks. We should be fairly familiar with playing against these cards. But they only play Force of Will, Daze, and sometimes Spell Pierce in the main deck with Flusterstorm in the sideboard. The main difference with playing against these cards in UR compared to against Grixis or Miracles is the time you have to try and beat the counters. UR Delver is going to be trying to kill us several turns before those other decks. That means we don't get the luxury to just "wait another turn". Waiting to play around cards like Daze or just sitting until you find a discard spell is a lot harder to do against UR Delver. The amount of time we get is shortened significantly, and that just makes their counters that much more effective. Sometimes you just have to play into them and hope they don't have it.

Wasteland - Recently, I've learned my lesson playing against UR Delver and being tagged by a Wasteland. The deck UR Delver has been around, in different variations, for several years, but never played Wasteland. Now all of a sudden they are. Unless you've been reading decklists online you wouldn't know they've been adopting it. I was playing against UR Delver like they didn't have Wasteland and then all of a sudden I lost because of it. It's important to realize it is now popular in their deck, and we have to adjust our play to consider it. Other decks in the format are evolving and decklists may change, so it's important to not get in the mindset that just because you knew what a decklist looked like in the past then that means you know what it looks like now.

Deck List

Ways to win this matchup

Thoughtseize
Empty The Warrens
Ponder
Killing Them and Our Game Plan

The key turns for this matchup are going to be 3-4. We aren't under any real pressure to combo off on the first or second turn. The opponent can't kill us that early in the game and won't have any lock pieces. There is still some concern for speed, however, because the opponent will still be coming for us fast. Like previously mentioned, both Ad Nauseam and Empty the Warrens are going to get worse the later the game goes due to our life total shrinking and the opponent being able to race Empty the Warrens with fliers and burn spells. We want to increase our speed because if we make 12-14 goblins on turn 5-6 it's very likely it won't matter since the opponent could just use fliers and burn spells to try to kill us before we can attack a few times. There's also the danger of Young Pyromancer getting out of control to put up enough blockers to survive. We need to try to be quick here and put the aggressive deck on their heels.

Discard spells also play a huge role here, because the opponent is going to have access to several different kinds of counterspells as mentioned previously, this isn't just a straight-up race. During the first couple of turns, if we have the luxury, we will want to make sure the coast is clear and not run into a counter. It's always a tight balance between playing slow to play around counterspells but trying to win fast to outrace the opponent. That's one of the reasons that aggressive Delver of Secrets strategies are so powerful since they put you in that squeeze. It's all about making that judgment call and it'll take some gut instinct and experience to know when you should go for it and cross your fingers vs when you can afford to wait a couple of turns in search for a discard spell.

 

Sideboarding

Traditionally, Empty the Warrens is great against Delver of Secrets decks because it helps us get through counters, is faster to combo with, and they play so few sweepers. The same is true here, so we want to bring in our extra copies to increase our chances of naturally drawing them to combo quickly and through disruption. When bringing in more pay off cards we need to remove some. If we don't there just will be too many in the deck and having too many in hand just become dead cards and makes it hard to even function. This is pretty basic sideboarding here and we don't want to get too fancy. At first, you think "their only way of interaction is counterspells, so I want Hope of Ghirapur", but we don't. UR Delver plays at least 7 burn spells, and there's a good chance most of those will still be in their deck the last two games. We don't just want to throw cards away and trade with burn spells. That's not really a great plan. I'd much rather just try to focus on combo-ing off and using every card we have access to do that. It's always good when sideboarding to think what cards are good vs parts of your opponent's deck, but also are there parts where it's bad against? Like in this example. I would keep it simple here and just try to rely on discard spells to fight through the counters.

Game Play

I win the die roll, but unfortunately mulligan to 6 and keep one land. I lead off with a discard spell.

...and they reveal they are UR Delver with their Wasteland. That's not a good sign. I take their Daze because I'm low on mana and pass the turn to them. To no surprise, they use their Wasteland on my only land. Over the next two turns I miss on drawing lands and my opponent uses their copies of Ponder to filter their draws. On their second turn, they play the Young Pyromancer and end their turn. I then finally draw another land, but it's basic Island.

I can now cast Empty the Warrens here, but it would only be for 8 tokens. I'm not sure if that'll be good enough or not. The could make too many blockers here by chaining off some spells. If I wait I'm not sure what I am waiting for or if it gets any better? I think Empty the Warrens is off the table if I wait for any more turns because they will surely have enough blockers. That means I would be relying on this Burning Wish to Dark Petition for Ad Nauseam. I'm just so far off mana wise for that, and I think my life total will be too low by the time I even get there. I just go for 8 tokens and hopefully, it's good enough.

Unfortunately, the opponent had a Daze countering two of my tokens and giving them one. On their turn, they cast a Ponder and the game starts to look worse.

Nothing has really gone my way, and after a couple more draw steps I just concede. I'm not sure if I made the right decision there, but I can't imagine winning that game by waiting. Maybe the odds were higher though. What would you have done?

0-1

I sideboard like I mentioned above and am on the play for the second game. I keep my opening 7 and my opponent is on 6. My hand is pretty good I just need a "tutor" or a "pay off" card. I start us off with a Ponder seeing 3 lands and shuffle. I draw my card, and it's a Burning Wish. Good enough.

My opponent starts off the game the same way they did the first one. With a Wasteland. On my draw step, I draw the perfect card, Lotus Petal. Alright time to buckle up and weigh my options.

I can go for Empty the Warrens for 12 goblins here, and they don't have a land in play, so I don't need to worry about any counters outside of Force of Will. Empty the Warrens is fantastic in this matchup and that's why we bring in more copies, so it's very tempting. If I think they have Force of Will or a sweeper than I need to wait for a discard spell, and I have no cantrips or anything to be able to find one. I'm taking my chances here. If they don't have a Force of Will I probably win the game and if they do then I lose. My odds are definitely favored here, and we play this deck to play the odds

It's just not my day.

0-2

This last game showed a great Magic concept that's important to recognize. I 100% would make that same play over and over again in that situation. Just because I lost does that make it a poor decision? Definitely not. It's important to not be results oriented when reflecting on past decisions. I can't reflect on that last game and think "Alright, next time I'm in the scenario I will wait for a discard spell." You can't think that way. That will cause you to lose more games than just going for it there. Both games also showed that even a deck like UR Delver that has been around for 6-7 years now can evolve and play different cards like Wasteland. In years past I would never have considered playing around it if I knew my opponent was on UR Delver, but that oversight can no longer happen. We have to not only evolve our deck to the metagame but also how we play against other decks as they evolve. Keeping up with your own deck is equally important as knowing your opponents some of the time. Hopefully, I demonstrated that throughout this article, and until next time, I wish you the best of luck in your own testing!


Alex Poling

Alex, an information technology consultant who recently graduating with his bachelor's degree in systems analysis, is also a part-time high school teacher. When he is not studying or working, he spends his remaining free time playing Magic: The Gathering. He claims his favorite part of Magic is counting to 10.