Why We Love Legacy: Justin Brickman on Grixis Delver

For as long as I’ve been playing Legacy, Delver of Secrets has been by my side.

It’s not news to anyone how powerful Delver decks are in Legacy, as blue-based tempo strategies have been a fixture of Legacy since even before Delver of Secrets was printed. These strategies evolved into an assortment of decks that utilize this efficient 3/2 flyer to create a proactive game plan that is packed with the most efficient disruption and threats in the format.

While I’ve talked quite a bit about BUG Delver in the past, the banning of Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance almost entirely disappearing from the format has led to the stock of other Delver decks skyrocketing and the need for Abrupt Decay diminishing. Because of that, I’ve been focusing primarily on Grixis Delver.

The Deck

Grixis Delver, by Justin Brickman

Grixis Delver is not only the more popular version of Delver; it also is the most powerful. As you can see from the decklist, there are a lot of cards that are four-ofs, including the 12 cantrips. That is a scary amount of consistency in how the well the deck executes its game plan.

What also makes Grixis Delver such a difficult deck to play against is the multiple angles of attack it can come from. There are endless amounts of ways that you can customize Grixis Delver to fit whatever metagame that you want to tackle. This is simply the build I prefer to combat a metagame full of fair decks.

The Untouchables

As per usual, I like to break down the core of the deck into sub groups of Threats, Interaction and Filler.


4 Delver of Secrets
4 Deathrite Shaman
3 Young Pyromancer
2 Gurmag Angler
1 True-Name Nemesis

These 14 cards are how you are winning the game, plain and simple.

When deciding to play Grixis Delver over other Delver decks, the choice of your support color is based on what threats and disruption packages you want. The reason to play these threats is that they are either the most efficient and most powerful proactive cards in Legacy.

In most fair matchups, it is incredibly likely your Delver will die, as it’s the most fragile and least powerful threat that we have in the deck. Deathrite Shaman and True-Name Nemesis are by far two of the most powerful threats in Legacy. As we’ve seen in Modern, Gurmag Angler is just a superior Tarmogoyf. With Fatal Push making its way into Legacy and a lot of True-Name Nemesis running around, Tarmogoyf isn’t very good. While True-Name blanks Gurmag Angler as well, Angler being a one-mana threat that dodges Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay is huge.

The bread and butter threat in this deck is Young Pyromancer. I can’t even begin to describe how absurd this card can be. The interaction between Young Pyromancer and Cabal Therapy is the entire reason to play Grixis from the beginning, as opposed to Sultai or Temur strategies. Even without Therapy, Young Pyromancer in a deck that is filled with a ton of cheap interaction and cantrips is enough to put any game away quickly by making a lot of creatures for not a lot of mana.


For interaction, we get to go further into the sub groups of removal and disruption.


4 Lightning Bolt

As a tempo deck, it’s important to play Lightning Bolt over Fatal Push, as the reach that Lightning Bolt and Deathrite Shaman give is the difference between winning and losing games. While this means giving away some resiliency to Tarmogoyf, we still have multiple ways of keeping it in check. Lightning Bolt also means that we have can have all our removal spells be clean answers to Leovold.


4 Daze
4 Force of Will
2 Cabal Therapy

This is the part of the deck that lets us have those games where we play a Delver on turn 1, flip it, and just stop the opponent from doing anything until we win the game. Force of Will is a must have for any blue deck in Legacy, and Daze is an auto-include for Delver as the entire deck is so mana efficient that the cost of picking up a land is very minimal. There are also tricks to use Daze in response to something while an opponent has an untapped Wasteland to protect the mana source for a turn if you’re light on lands.

Cabal Therapy is a card that is either very easy to play with or can create some strange mind games between you and your opponent, especially when Brainstorms get thrown into the equations. Then there are the obvious times when you get to have either a Gitaxian Probe or a Young Pyromancer and it’s a guaranteed hit.


4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
4 Gitaxian Probe

These are the cards that let the deck be as lean and consistent as possible. They are also the reason that Delver of Secrets can be a powerful threat in Legacy while not even really being playable in Modern. These are all auto-include four-ofs, because they are the gears that let the deck be as powerful as it is.

The Flex Spots

Delver decks have a lot of customization available in the flex spots, as there is a wide assortment of cards that you can play to combat different expected metagames.

One of the biggest debates is between Stifle and Cabal Therapy. The answer to which is correct to play is dependent on play style and expected metagame. I personally like to take a proactive approach with my Young Pyromancers in a control-heavy metagame with decks such as 4-color Leovold and Stoneblade. Their card quality is much higher than ours, and it is critical to get ahead of them on both board presence and card advantage.

Stifle is better against combo decks and other Delver decks, as they are generally fairly land light and aren’t well equipped to play long games. The reason I don’t opt for this is that the cost of holding up extra mana, especially when facing other Deathrite Shaman decks, can often be a setback and can cost you games. Stifle is also an incredibly easy card to play around once you’re aware of it. This creates a lot of scenarios where your opponent is aware of Stifle, and it becomes a dead card for the remainder of the game or until you can shuffle it away with a Brainstorm and a fetch.

For this list, the flex spots include

1 True-Name Nemesis
1 Dismember

As the Chicago metagame is very heavy on fair decks such as 4-color Leovold, Stoneblade and Death and Taxes, I really wanted another copy of True-Name as it’s the most powerful card in fair matchups.

Dismember is what I like to call “the fifth Bolt,” as it is there primarily for Sanctum Prelate, which is prevalent in my meta and can just lock you out of the game. Kolaghan’s Command is a card I’ve tried in the deck, but between Wasteland and Rishadan Port shutting off lands, Phyrexian Revoker turning off Deathrite Shaman, and Thalia adding an extra mana onto the cost, a three-mana spell is hard to cast. Dismember is our solution, as it is still a one-mana answer that gets around Prelate’s restriction. Dismember is also a fantastic answer to Gurmag Angler, Reality Smasher and Thought-Knot Seer, which can be somewhat problematic.


4 Scalding Tarn
4 Flooded Strand
4 Wasteland
3 Volcanic Island
2 Underground Sea
1 Tropical Island

This is the generic 18-land manabase that most Delver decks have been using for years. The fetch land choice doesn’t require any specific fetches other than those that fetch Islands, as all of our dual lands produce blue mana. Wasteland is our “spell land” that allows us to play a proactive, disruptive game plan; when Wasteland is following up a Deathrite Shaman, it puts us incredibly far ahead. Sometimes you get free wins from Wasteland, other times It does nothing but provide colorless mana. Regardless, these free tempo plays are a huge part of what makes Grixis Delver as powerful as it is.


2 Surgical Extraction

This is one of the most important sideboard cards in Legacy. Surgical pulls the most weight out of any sideboard card in Legacy, as it not only acts as graveyard hate against decks like Reanimator and Lands, but is also fantastic against combo decks when you can hit one of their combo pieces with a Cabal Therapy or a counter spell, then Surgical it. That can win the game on its own against a lot of decks.

Surgical Extraction is yet another card that proves Phyrexian mana was one of the most broken Magic mechanics ever. Against B/R Reanimator, Surgical acts as Force of Will 5-6, as having another free piece of interaction and being able to even cast through a Chancellor of the Annex is the difference between winning and losing often enough.

1 Grafdigger’s Cage

Cage is another piece of graveyard hate that is also pulling double-duty against decks such as Elves or other Green Sun’s Zenith/Natural Order decks. Cage is a card that is usually only brought in for GSZ decks and dedicated graveyard decks such as Reanimator and Dredge. The reason it doesn’t come in against Snapcaster decks is that Deathrite Shaman already keeps Snapcaster in check and Surgical Extraction is usually a reasonable card to bring in. Cage can be a liability, as Snapcaster Mage has been popularly paired with Kolaghan’s Command as of late.

2 Flusterstorm

Flusterstorm is another piece of disruption that is incredibly effective against spell-based combo decks and the control decks of the format.

1 Pithing Needle

This is one of our catch-all cards that can help answer troublesome cards such as Mother of Runes, Umezawa’s Jitte or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Needle is incredibly flexible, but requires a good knowledge of what could be in your opponent’s deck for maximum effectiveness.

1 Dread of Night

This is just for Death and Taxes which can be a difficult matchup. Two of the biggest pains in this matchup are Mother of Runes and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and this enchantment just makes them complete blanks. This card isn’t a slam-dunk free win, but it makes games a lot easier to win.

1 Forked Bolt

Forked Bolt is an extra removal spell to board in against creature decks, as it is often able to be a 2-for-1 against Delver, Elves, Infect and Death and Taxes.

1 Cabal Therapy

The third copy of Cabal Therapy is there for both combo decks and control decks, where we need to answer specific cards before they hit play. This includes Jace, True-Name Nemesis and equipment tutored up via Stoneforge Mystic. The third Therapy is a card that frequently is in the main deck; however, I’ve moved it to the sideboard in favor of the second True-Name Nemesis, which is a more effective mid-game trump card.

2 Pyroblast

Pyroblast is an extra piece of both permission and removal for blue spells. The decision to play two copies of Pyroblast over a 1-1 split with Red Elemental Blast is that if we are in a top-deck war and just need to get board presence with a Pyromancer or get an extra card in the graveyard for Grim Lavamancer, we can just fire off the Pyroblast on any permanent, even if it won’t have any effect. This is because Pyroblast has a clause that an effect will only take place if the target of Pyroblast is blue, while Red Elemental Blast can only target blue permanents.

2 Ancient Grudge

With the heavy Midwest presence of Death and Taxes and the recent resurgence of various Stoneblade decks, I’ve decided to go up to two copies of Ancient Grudge. It’s critical to be able to answer any of the common equipment, whether it be Sword of Fire and Ice, Batterskull or Umezawa’s Jitte, almost immediately or you will lose the game.

1 Diabolic Edict

This is another removal spell that is mostly intended to deal with True-Name Nemesis, Marit Laige or a big Reanimator target. Against Lands and Reanimator, is incredibly difficult to win unless we can keep a big creature off the battlefield, so it’s a huge deal being able to have an out to draw. This is especially helpful on the draw against reanimator, when we could be unable to put up any amount of a fight due to a discard spell or a Chancellor trigger.

1 Grim Lavamancer

Grim Lavamancer is a reusable source of damage and removal. With an entire deck flushed with cheap spells and fetch lands, it’s incredibly easy to have enough fuel for the fire.


Grixis Delver has similar play patterns to other Delver decks, but there are some key differences in how spells should be sequenced in this build of Delver. Ideally the first turn should be spent playing either a Delver or a Deathrite Shaman. Deathrite is the ideal turn 1 play as it gives the highest upside if we must use a Daze that turn.

Without getting too deep into it, Daze should not just be fired off just because your opponent taps out. This is a critical mistake I see a lot of people make, especially after spending their first turn casting a cantrip or a spell that doesn’t promote a proactive game plan. This is how you lose games; tempo decks like Delver aren’t built to play from behind, and Dazing a spell while setting yourself back a land drop is the easiest way to fall behind.

Another key to this deck is how you use Gitaxian Probe more effectively than almost any other deck in Legacy. Since Legacy is currently the only format where four copies of Probe is still legal, I’m not going to beat the dead horse on how and why this card is powerful. People tend to fire off Gitaxian Probe at the first opportunity they get, but it’s often worth saving them to cast until turn 2 at the earliest. That way you have another chance to get Young Pyromancer in play to start making tokens and putting pressure on your opponent.

One last trick that is available to blue decks that play Deathrite Shaman is that only with Deathrite Shaman and a fetch land you are able to cast a “perfect” Brainstorm:

Step 1: Have an active Deathrite Shaman

Step 2: Play and sacrifice your fetch land, while holding priority.

Step 3: With the fetch land activation on the stack, activate your Deathrite, exiling the fetch land to add a blue mana to cast Brainstorm. After the Brainstorm resolves, the fetch land will resolve, shuffling your library.

Step 4:  Profit!

This doesn’t come up too often, but there are times where you find yourself without lands in play either because of Wasteland or an early Daze, and this neat trick is of some use.

Other than specific tricks, Delver has an ideal game plan of getting an early board presence and using several layers of disruption to make sure we stay ahead. Sometimes we must adjust and become a pseudo-control deck. The flexibility to do so makes all the difference in the power level of Grixis Delver compared to something such as RUG Delver.


Since Legacy is such a wide format, there will always be some curve balls that people will fit into their deck. This means sideboarding will change from person to person, but here are some general ideas.

Death and Taxes

-4 Force of Will
-4 Daze
+2 Ancient Grudge
+1 Pithing Needle

+1 Forked Bolt
+1 Dread of Night
+1 Grim Lavamancer
+1 Diabolic Edict
+1 Cabal Therapy


-4 Force of Will
-1 Cabal Therapy

+2 Pyroblast
+1 Diabolic Edict
+1 Grim Lavamancer
+1 Forked Bolt


On the play:

-4 Force
-2 Gurmag Angler
-1 Dismember

+2 Ancient Grudge
+2 Pyroblast
+1 Therapy
+1 Flusterstorm
+1 Diabolic Edict

On the Draw:

-4 Daze
-2 Gurmag Angler
-1 Dismember

+2 Ancient Grudge
+2 Pyroblast
+1 Therapy
+1 Flusterstorm
+1 Diabolic Edict


-4 Lightning Bolt
-1 Dismember
-1 True-Name Nemesis

+2 Surgical Extraction
+2 Flusterstorm
+1 Therapy
+1 Grafdigger’s Cage

Sneak and Show

-4 Lightning Bolt
-2 True-Name Nemesis
-1 Dismember

+2 Surgical Extraction
+2 Flusterstorm
+2 Pyroblast
+1 Therapy


-4 Lightning Bolt
-2 True-Name Nemesis
-1 Dismember

+2 Surgical Extraction
+2 Flusterstorm
+1 Grafdigger’s Cage
+1 Pithing Needle
+1 Diabolic Edict

Good Matchups

Grixis Delver is strong against most combo decks, as multiple disruptive elements plus a quick clock gives them very little time to set up and spin their wheels with various cantrips trying to piece together a winning game plan.

The important thing to remember in these types of matchups, especially against Reanimator, is to evaluate your hand knowing that there is a strong possibility of a Griselbrand or some other fatty being in play on the first or second turn. In the case of Reanimator, since they have chancellor discard spells like Thoughtseize, Unmask and Collective Brutality, it can be difficult to put up enough defense on the first turn. This is the only combo matchup that I feel like I need to cross my fingers on.

The other fair tempo-based matchups, namely other Delver decks, can be pretty play/draw biased as cards like Daze, Wasteland and Deathrite Shaman are less effective on the draw. Usually this is where I like having the plan of more True-Name Nemesis and Dismember, as Gurmag Angler is such a huge threat in the matchup.

Another matchup you hope to see as Grixis Delver are the clunky midrange decks such as Aluren and Food Chain. These decks are trying to resolve expensive enchantments to try to combo off or just play a bunch of expensive creatures. This is the type of matchup that once you get ahead, it’s your game to lose.

Bad Matchups

The thing about Delver decks is that as long as your draw cooperates and your able to get ahead of your opponent quick enough, there are no absolute unwinnable match ups.

However, there are some seriously bad matchups. The worst matchups for Delver are Prison-style decks (Lands, Painter, Mono- Red Prison and Eldrazi), namely because they just have so many cards that are incredibly difficult to interact with.

Against Chalice of the Void, it is incredibly hard to win as most of the deck is turned off, but depending on the texture of your draw, the game can still be winnable, especially on the play. For cards such as Blood Moon and Trinisphere, you are usually on Force of Will or bust, as you have no basic lands and your deck is built around cheap efficient spells. If you’ve never paid three mana for a Delver of Secrets or a Brainstorm, know that it just feels miserable.

Against Lands, you are on the plan of trying to keep them honest. This means if you get the opportunity to counter Exploration/Manabond or completely answer a Life from the Loam or Punishing Fire, do it immediately. Post board, Surgical Extraction is your best friend. It’s also important to be very resourceful with your Wastelands. Don’t go firing it off on a green source and hoping it pays off; also, be wary of Crop Rotation, as it could result in a 20/20 in a moment’s notice.

Other matchups that Delver typically struggles with are the midrange/control decks that are trying to go bigger than them. This is simply that they have a higher card quality so the longer the game goes the more you’re going to fall behind. This is especially true in matchups like Jund and 4-color Leovold, as they have so many 2-for-1’s that it’s incredibly easy to fall behind.

Wrap Up

If you’re looking for something to play at your next Legacy event or are looking for a good starting point to get into the format, Grixis Delver is ideal. Not only is it incredibly powerful and consistent, but it also is a deck that has and will be a pillar of Legacy for a long time.

Justin Brickman is an SCG Tour grinder from suburban Chicago who began playing Magic during Innistrad block. His Magic accomplishments include an SCG Regionals Top 16 and a Super Sunday Series Top 4. He can be reached on Twitter @BrickerclawMyr.





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