With Eternal Weekend and Legacy Championships on the horizon, I’d like to walk you through my favorite deck and weapon of choice in Legacy: Sultai Delver.
Sultai Delver saw a resurgence last summer at Grand Prix Columbus and Grand Prix Prague due to the resilience the deck shows against Miracles and Eldrazi strategies, which are well-established as two of the biggest threats in Legacy.
In recent months, Sultai Delver has existed in two distinct variations. The first is a more Blue-centered version that operates along the typical Delver theme, with an added card advantage engine in Dark Confidant and a game plan that focuses on “protect the queen” and mana denial. This version presents a quick clock, usually with an Insectile Aberration or Tarmogoyf, and uses the various counter spells to either protect that one threat or to prevent the opponent from doing anything meaningful until it’s too late.
The more commonly seen version plays very similarly to a Rock-style deck that uses powerful card advantage tools like Dark Confidant, Hymn to Tourach and Liliana of the Veil to great effectiveness while Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf, and Delver of Secrets put the opponent under the gun quickly and effectively.
Jim Davis’s Sultai Delver, SCG Indianapolis, 5/16/16
Sideboard2 x Baleful Strix2 x Surgical Extraction – Buy-a-Box Promo2 x Thoughtseize1 x Null Rod1 x Pithing Needle1 x Winter Orb1 x Dread of Night1 x Dismember1 x Force of Will1 x Vendilion Clique1 x Maelstrom Pulse1 x Marsh Casualties
I prefer the more midrange version of the deck due to its ability to play an effective long game as well as present an effective clock against combo; decks like Shardless Sultai often struggle to apply early pressure against combo decks.
One of the biggest reasons to pick up Sultai Delver is that the deck is consistent and has sufficient game against everything. In Legacy, there are a fair amount of 80/20 and 90/10 matchups, and while Sultai Delver is not without its bad matchups, it has tools to handle them. In these matchups, having a Turn 1 Delver can steal Game 1. Then, if built correctly, your sideboard can give you the tools to answer almost any matchup without having to commit too much hate to a specific deck.
Justin Brickman’s Sultai Delver, GP Columbus, June 2016
Planeswalkers2 x Liliana of the Veil
Sideboard2 x Surgical Extraction – Buy-a-Box Promo2 x Grafdigger’s Cage2 x Flusterstorm2 x Golgari Charm1 x Disfigure1 x Dismember1 x Null Rod1 x Sylvan Library1 x Toxic Deluge1 x Vendillion Clique1 x Krosan Grip
This is the 75 that I used to Top 4 the Sunday Super Series at GP Columbus. While I was fortunate enough to make Top 4 of the event, I still felt like the deck needed some work, mainly in the sideboard, where a lot of the cards didn’t exactly fit the rest of what the deck was trying to accomplish.
Many of the sideboard cards had very specific matchups in mind, but fit the deck as if I was on a more tempo-oriented plan, which in specific matchups is what we want to stay away from. In matchups such as other Delver decks, Death and Taxes, and Infect, grinding out your 2-for-1’s and filling up on as much removal as possible is where you want to be, and this sideboard did that. Where it fell short was against Miracles and Shardless Sultai, where the tempo plan is quickly halted by cards such as Terminus and Abrupt Decay. It was trivial for them to win the game at their leisure by whatever means they wanted, whether it be a Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Monastery Mentor; Entreat the Angels; or just by burying me in card advantage. Thankfully the combination of Dark Confidant and Liliana of the Veil provided enough advantage to combat the Miracles decks I had faced that weekend.
With the release of Conspiracy: Take the Crown, Sultai players across Legacy, whether it be Shardless or Delver, got a very interesting new toy to play with.
Leovold fills a role that is very potent in matchups across the board. Blue-based combo decks often spend their first few turns trying to sculpt the perfect hand by using the various cantrips they have access to. Being able to play Leovold on Turn 2 off a Deathrite Shaman puts a huge damper on their game plan by putting them under the gun to either go off much sooner then they’d like to, or leaving themselves at the mercy of their draw steps to build up a hand capable of winning the game.
In many of the fair matchups every part of this card is relevant, most notably being able to cantrip every time you or a permanent you control is targeted by a spell or an ability your opponent controls. This ability is especially potent against strategies such as Death and Taxes trying to use Rishadan Port, or against other midrange strategies where targeted removal requires them to deal with Leovold first. By doing so, they face other potent threats such as Tarmogoyf or Dark Confidant, which quickly causes them to fall behind on card advantage. While there have been very few results for Leovold, mostly due to it not yet being available on Magic Online, I expect it to be one of the breakout cards at Eternal Weekend.
I decided to give Leovold a test run in the Legacy Classic at SCG Milwaukee and I was quite impressed.
Justin Brickman’s Sultai Delver, SCG Milwaukee Classic, 10/23/16
Planeswalkers2 x Liliana of the Veil
Sideboard2 x Thoughtseize2 x Flusterstorm1 x Surgical Extraction – Buy-a-Box Promo1 x Grafdigger’s Cage1 x Disfigure1 x Pithing Needle1 x Bitterblossom1 x Sylvan Library1 x Umezawa’s Jitte1 x Golgari Charm1 x Toxic Deluge1 x Vendillion Clique1 x Krosan Grip
This 75 is very close to what I want my deck to look like for Legacy Championships. The main deck is almost identical to the list I played at GP Columbus, with a few exceptions:
These changes were made to make the deck as fluid and consistent in Game 1 as possible. The Thoughtseizes are now in the sideboard to bring in against the combo decks, Stoneforge Mystic decks and decks that play spells such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor, that we have a difficult time dealing with once they are in play. I wanted a fifth main deck removal spell, and this left me with the decision of Dismember, Disfigure, or Murderous Cut as the three most optimal removal spells to fill this slot. Due to the inclusion of Dark Confidant we don’t want to add another 5- drop to the deck, and with the prevalence of Eldrazi decks I wanted another way to kill Thought-Knot Seers and Reality Smashers, so Dismember was an easy choice for the slot.
The sideboard was where I wanted to make the most changes. Sultai Delver typically has favorable combo matchups Game 1, and the addition of Surgical Extraction, Grafdigger’s Cage, Pithing Needle, Thoughtseize, Flusterstorm and Vendilion Clique make sideboarded games even better. Due to that fact, I wanted to make my midrange and control matchups better, and I’d like to spotlight a few cards that do that.
Bitterblossom is a card that was once so dominant it was banned in Modern, but since then it has been relatively dormant. But this card is the real deal. While it is mostly there to be another grindy card against other blue decks, it is potent against Infect, virtually blanking Glistener Elf and Inkmoth Nexus, which are Infect’s best threats against fair decks.
Bitterblossom is also an effective way to combat Lands, whether it protects you from a surprise Marit Lage by making a 1/1 flier every turn to chump block, or allowing you to go wide to beat Maze of Ith. This plan is weak to The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. Lands is a particularly bad matchup, so this plan won’t work every time, but it is enough to possibly steal a game if left unanswered.
Umezawa’s Jitte is a card that is typically paired with Stoneforge Mystic or True-Name Nemesis. I have included Jitte in previous versions of the deck, but those also included copies of TNN. I made the decision to give Jitte another shot without TNN because Jitte just wins games on the spot in creature-based matchups and gives you some extra card advantage against both Mentor and Legends Miracles. Jitte also interacts very well with Bitterblossom, giving you a nearly endless stream of 1/1 fliers to suit up to gain life and produce more tokens as the game goes longer. It can also simply put your opponent under more pressure by pumping the evasive creatures and moving the Jitte over to the fresh token, making attacking even more difficult for your opponent.
If you choose to pick up Sultai Delver, whether it’s for Legacy Championships or just a local Legacy event, there are a few things to be aware of when you play the deck. Most important is the debate of Deathrite or Delver on turn 1. This is usually pretty matchup dependent, as Delver is your preferred clock against most combo decks. In fair matchups, Deathrite helps give you a quick mana advantage as well as preparing you to play a long game as soon as Turn 1.
However, there are a few combo matchups where Deathrite is the Turn 1 play they are the most concerned about — mostly Reanimator and Dredge, as these decks rely on having specific cards in their graveyard to go off. Against every fair matchup it is important to get your mana advantage as soon as possible (especially if your opponent has Deathrite Shamans of their own); this allows you to cast a cantrip or another 1-drop plus a Hymn to Tourach on Turn 2 with the help of a fetch land.
While the deck has many other tips and tricks that I could go on for days about, I’ll let you ponder that on your own while you get to battle with what I feel is the best positioned Blue deck in Legacy heading into Legacy Championships.
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.