📅 July 29, 2022•
⏱️16 min read
Hey everyone! This is going to be a comprehensive guide for Legacy UR Delverless (or as I like to call it, Deleuzean Control). I'll go over theoretical aspects of deckbuilding, outlines and sideboarding for specific matchups, and general points to keep in mind when playing the deck. Before we get into the article, here's a link for the decklist if you need one, and here's a link for the printable SB guide without matchup notes.
I wrote an article around three months ago voicing my concerns with the dichotomous nature of the Delver archetype and detailing the first draft of Deleuzean Control. I would highly recommend reading that article before this one as it introduces the deck in a few theoretical hypotheses that set the groundwork for why the deck is built as it is and prove to be valuable heuristics when it comes to decision making in game. I will strive to be slightly more concrete in this guide as I now have more experience and higher conviction, but the points I make in the linked article hold true.
Reading suggestions aside, I'll be describing two concepts that I think are greatly important to understanding, building, and playing the deck, and the first one is knowing what to look for.
This concept as a generality was first introduced to me in the context of chess endgames (often theoretically decided positions). Strong chess players know the specific endgames that are winning, drawn, and lost. The knowledge of these endgames is instinctual for these players and it greatly affects how they play the game, as they know the implications of certain moves and how those implications translate to the theoretical status of the endgame.
The intersection of this concept has always been known in Magic as 'always having a plan of how you're going to win the game.' However, Magic possesses inherently less information and agency that thus prevents Magic players' winning plans from approaching the deterministicality present in theoretical chess endgames. While there is no way to remove those inherent aspects of less information and agency, you can try to minimize them, and Deleuzean Control is my attempt at doing so.
One of the traditional problems with most decks when it comes to having a reliable plan in a matchup is that you don't always draw the cards you need to execute that plan. This was one of my main problems with Delver, despite the fact that Delver still played many cantrips. I found that instead of deckbuilding and theorized matchup plans dictating your in-game plan, your opening hand decided how you would play the game. I attempted to fix this problem by generalizing the UR deck's gameplan into a more controlling, and thus more consistent, strategy. This is why I feel Deleuzean Control gives you a high degree of agency I've never experienced before in Magic; the level of consistency when it comes to constructing and executing a specific gameplan is unparalleled.
One quality of the deck should be clear just from looking at it: the deck sees a lot of cards every game. The deck plays 18 cantrips (yes, Mishra's Bauble counts), and those combined with 4 Dragon's Rage Channeler and 3 Ledger Shredder means the cards are always flowing, both in terms of selection and advantage. You can take advantage of this quality by knowing what to prioritize when you're casting cantrips, and this is where knowing what to look for comes in. It becomes abundantly easier to cast cantrips and trigger Dragon's Rage Channeler/Shredder when you have an idea in mind of how games in the matchup usually go, what you need to play around, and how you plan to get an advantage. This knowledge comes easier with experience, but I will try to unpack what to look for in each matchup later in this article.
It is important to note what knowing what to look for does not mean. If you need lands, then don't surveil away lands because you read in this article that you should only cantrip for specific cards in x matchup. Basically what I'm saying is to use common sense when cantripping but also keep the characteristics of a winning game in mind. In order to enhance this and as is obvious with a very interactive deck, you must also pay attention to how your opponent plays the game and what weaknesses they might struggle with in executing their gameplan.
Now, I know we all have very short attention spans, so if you read all that (don't forget to think about and digest it too!), give yourself a pat on the back! Anyway, I'll now move on to the next concept, which is centering a gameplan around your sideboard cards.
I talked about 'maximizing sideboard cards' in the other article, but that was on a more theoretical basis so I'll make it more concrete now. What I mean by gameplanning your sideboard cards is almost literally making them your entire gameplan. The theory basically goes like this: because you have so many ways to manipulate cards, you can reasonably rely on finding sideboard cards in most postboard matchups, and because your sideboard cards are individually incredibly strong in their respective matchups, trying to find them is a very powerful plan.
The availability of this concept in this deck is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons to play it over UR Delver. While Delver's sideboard cards are generally used supplementally to the main gameplan, Deleuzean Control is built to emphasize the sideboard cards. It is often argued that the general weakness of cutting on your tempo-y cards like Delver, Wasteland, and Daze makes your matchup against “random decks'' worse, but I argue that the advantageous nature of Deleuzean Control to gameplan its sideboard cards is stronger against 'random decks' than Delver's 'cheese' qualities.
This concept is incredibly important to keep in mind during deckbuilding. Gameplanning sideboard cards means playing cards that are incredibly impactful in their matchups (which is why you see one-ofs of Meltdown, Null Rod, Price of Progress, Court of Ire/Maddening Hex, Counterbalance, I also count Brazen Borrower even though it's in the maindeck) prioritized over cards that may be applicable over more matchups but less potent in general. You do still want these cards (think Pyroblast, Force of Negation), but just understand how valuable the bullets are when you have so much card selection available to you.
Okay, I think that should give you a decent overview of how to play and build the deck, so let's move on to the sideboarding and matchup guide. Before you read it though, know that nothing I'm saying is meant to be absolute truth all the time, it's more of an attempt to establish heuristics/matchup dynamics to know of but not to follow religiously. Every game of Magic is different so always be thinking about the differences and how they impact these dynamics.
-4 Force of Will -2 Wasteland
+2 Pyroblast +1 Red Elemental Blast +2 Counterbalance +1 Hydroblast
There are a few things to keep in mind when playing game 1 against Delver. Firstly, understand the dynamic of your deck being fundamentally stronger when the game goes long. You want to be the 'control deck' in almost every game, so don't be too aggressive with counterspells when your opponent is interacting with your gameplan, save Force of Will for opposing Murktide Regents/Expressive Iterations.
Murktide is the defining factor of Game 1 in UR mirrors, so understand the dynamics of Murktide sizing battles, Mystic Sanctuary and additional Murktide Regents pumping existing ones, and maindeck Pyroblast being the only concrete answer to Murktide in game 1. In addition to Murktide, allowing your life total to become too low that you are vulnerable to Lightning Bolt (and potentially Sanctuary for Bolt) is one of the main ways you can lose, so you have to prioritize stabilizing the board before you take too much damage.
It can be ok to take risks resolving Murktide Regent if not doing so makes you take too much damage. While you do want to eventually find Expressive Iteration, the early turns are more about stabilizing the board and developing your mana to fight against Wasteland and Daze. Therefore, Pyroblast, Lightning Bolt, and Murktide Regent are the main cards to look for in Game 1 against Delver.
Postboard games are generally quite different from Game 1. Because both players have access to 4-5 Pyroblasts, the Murktide Regent dynamic becomes less important than the Expressive Iteration dynamic. Because Iteration grants card advantage immediately when it resolves, it forces the defending player to have Pyroblast (or Daze, if applicable) in hand when it is cast. Murktide Regent, on the other hand, can resolve and still be killed by a Pyroblast that was Sanctuary'd or cantripped into.
In addition to stabilizing the board and developing your mana (these themes are present in postboard games as well), you must prioritize countering iteration and/or resolving your own Expressive Iterations, as card advantage becomes a more significant Predictor of actual advantage than life total and board presence, a dynamic that tends to be the opposite in Game 1. Both players (stock Delver lists tend to) gain the dynamic of Counterbalance existing, which is a lot like Expressive Iteration but even more exceptionally hard to come back from if it resolves, so keep that in mind as a possibility and prioritize resolving it if you find it.
-2 Lightning Bolt -2 Daze -1 Brazen Borrower -2 Wasteland -2 Force of Will
+2 Pyroblast +1 Red Elemental Blast +2 Counterbalance +1 Court of Ire/Maddening Hex +1 Hydroblast +2 Force of Negation
The main gameplan for Deleuzean Control against Jeskai is essentially to draw more and better cards than your opponent. You want to be maximizing all your Expressive Iterations and Predicts to get the most value possible out of them and eventually win the game by utilizing your card advantage to protect your threats (usually Murktide) from your opponent's removal.
This means not spewing Brainstorm and Ponder as well; it is important to utilize these cantrips in an effective manner to advance your gameplan rather than always casting them when you have the mana to. It's also very important to utilize the two maindeck Pyroblasts in this matchup as your opponent also has very powerful blue cards like their own Expressive Iterations, Narset, Parter of Veils, Teferi, Time Raveler, and even Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
I'm mainly focusing on the Expressive Iteration + Monastery Mentor and Planeswalkers version of Jeskai (something like this), but there are other versions such as Jeskai Displacer Kitten or UW splashing red for Blasts and no Expressive Iterations. You will mostly play and sideboard similarly against those versions of Jeskai, so I won't go into too much detail about those specific matchups. However, do be wary of the Hullbreacher/Narset, Parter of Veils + Day's Undoing combo that many of these decks employ. Generally, you are looking for Expressive Iteration, Predict, and Pyroblast in Game 1 of these Jeskai Control matchups.
The matchup changes quite a bit postboard. Both players have access to more copies of Pyro/Hydroblast so resolving card advantage spells becomes less reliable. Therefore, it is even more important to pay attention to how your opponent is playing and pick your spots to cast Iteration/Predict or hold up mana for Pyroblast on your opponent's cards.
You have to strike a balance between casting your own card advantage spells and countering your opponent's because if you let them draw too many cards they will be able to overwhelm you with Monastery Mentor and a bunch of resources. However, the theme of Game 1 that is drawing as many cards as possible is still true, and with the addition of either Court of Ire (online) or Maddening Hex (paper) as one-ofs to draw in the matchup, drawing a bunch of cards means more concrete actions than it does in game one because these threats are so individually powerful and hard to deal with. Meanwhile, you're still looking for the same cards (with the addition of Court/Hex), but you have to sequence them in a way that makes sense given the context of the game rather than mostly just casting them when you could.
-2 Pyroblast -1 Mishra's Bauble
+1 Null Rod +1 Pyroclasm +1 Meltdown
Against D&T in Game 1, you're mostly looking to play a longer game in which you outcard your opponent and eventually win with Murktide + protection. The main cards you have to be wary about are Aether Vial and Stoneforge Mystic, so you usually want to counter a turn 1 Vial if you can as well as never letting your opponent untap with Stoneforge. Be wary if they have a Vial on 2 (also because of Spirit of the Labyrinth), because they can Vial in Stoneforge at the end of your turn and untap with it if you're tapped out of removal.
It's also important to know about the interaction of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben + Karakas, which is very strong if you allow it to occur. There are some games in which you'll have a fast draw with multiple Dragon's Rage Channelers and you will want to be forcing their removal, but you mostly want to save force for their scary cards in the matchup. You'll eventually play one or two huge Murktide Regents and win once all their resources are exhausted.
Additionally, Pyroblast is not completely dead because of Yorion, so there are some situations where you want access to that card instead of automatically rejecting it by binning or Brainstorming it away as one normally would in a non-blue matchup. Removal spells and ways to garner card advantage are premiums in this matchup and are what you're usually looking for.
Not too much changes postboard in this matchup besides you gaining a few bullets and your opponent gaining Rest in Peace. RIP is a pretty big threat so you definitely want to counter it if you can, but you are not absolutely dead to it because of Ledger Shredder. The addition of Pyroclasm, Null Rod, and Meltdown are quite strong though because of your ability to reliably draw them. Because of Pyroclasm you have more breathing room when it comes to managing your opponent's board, and Null Rod + Meltdown are both quite strong against the Death and Taxes deck, even though they are both somewhat conditional. Just as a generality though, your gameplan stays similar to that of Game 1.
-2 Pyroblast -1 Brazen Borrower -2 Predict
+2 Force of Negation +1 Pyroclasm +2 Counterbalance
In order to have a functional gameplan against Elves in Game 1, you need to figure out what your opponent's bottleneck is and do your best to constrict that vulnerability. Elves as a deck has a variety of gameplans and you have to act accordingly to each one. Early in the game you have to worry about Glimpse of Nature and Natural Order, so play accordingly to try to counter these cards (this means trying to save Bolt for a possible Allosaurus Shepherd that makes their spells uncounterable).
However, Elves isn't a one-dimensional combo deck. You also have to worry about their value draws with Wirewood Symbiote + Elvish Visionary as well as Green Sun's Zenith into Grist, the Hunger Tide. It's usually tough to disrupt these gameplans effectively so when your opponent is going for value you usually want to prioritize getting threats on the board.
Generally, you're looking for Lightning Bolt, Dragon's Rage Channeler, Force of Will, and Murktide Regent.
The matchup changes quite a bit postboard as your opponent likely sideboards out Natural Order and brings in Endurance (and maybe even Shriekmaw) and you gain additional interaction and a boardwipe. This means the general dynamic of the matchup slows down and your opponent's gameplan becomes slightly more interactive and less all-in.
You should thus play the matchup more conservatively and prioritize trying to interact with your opponent with the addition of your sideboard cards. Dragon's Rage Channeler becomes incredibly strong in these postboard games especially because they tend to go longer than preboard games (which means you'll get surveil triggers and card selection over the course of the entire game, which you utilize better postboard with more interaction), so prioritize playing Dragon's Rage Channeler as early as possible.
Just be wary of Endurance and you'll be fine. Counterbalance is somewhat unreliable in this matchup given the presence of Allosaurus Shepherd, but it's a very strong piece of interaction when combined with other interaction or the accessible instant speed filtering of the top of your library via Dragon's Rage Channeler or Brainstorm.
-4 Lightning Bolt -1 Brazen Borrower -1 Island -2 Wasteland
+2 Force of Negation +2 Counterbalance +1 Null Rod +2 Surgical Extraction +1 Pyroblast
Against ANT in Game 1, you're basically just looking for counterspells while putting as much pressure as possible on your opponent. Dragon's Rage Channeler is your best non-counterspell card because it facilitates both of these goals. Once you find the counterspells, you need to determine what your opponent's bottleneck is. Sometimes this is easy, like when they go casting a ton of rituals and then cast Infernal Tutor with it being their last card in hand, but it can be tricky at certain points as well.
There is always information about your opponent's hand to be derived by the way your opponent is playing the game, so try to utilize this information when you're deciding how to use your counterspells. Another thing to be wary of is discard spells, so just know that you can sometimes play around them using Brainstorm to put back your counterspells (though if your opponent is using discard on the turn they play to combo there's no real way to play around).
Postboard games are generally quite similar to preboard games in terms of how you play the matchup (trying to find as much interaction as possible), you just have access to a lot more interaction so the matchup improves greatly. Counterbalance is super strong in the matchup, prioritize finding it with cantrips as much as you would counterspells. Null Rod is somewhat similar but it's slightly worse as your opponent is not always reliant on artifacts to win. Surgical is an additional piece of interaction that just tends to be able to put a defining wrinkle in your opponent's gameplan.
I think Pyroblast is okay because they do play the blue cantrips, but it really doesn't counter anything else and that's why I only want three postboard. The reason Wasteland is being boarded out is because the game slows down postboard and Wasteland is rarely going to be effective at disrupting your opponent enough that it's worth not playing a regular land to activate it. You want to be spending all your mana on finding interaction and Wasteland is just not very strong interaction (and your opponent often fetches basics to play around Waste anyway).
-3 Lightning Bolt -2 Daze -1 Brazen Borrower -2 Wasteland -1 Mishra's Bauble
+2 Pyroblast +1 Red Elemental Blast +2 Surgical Extraction +1 Court of Ire/Maddening Hex +2 Force of Negation +1 Price of Progress
Against Blue Zenith in Game 1 you are usually trying to end the game sooner rather than later. Because they have access to Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Green Sun's Zenith, trying to win with card advantage is rarely an option. Therefore, you often will want to use counterspells aggressively to protect your creatures (especially Murktide).
It is still important to utilize your card advantage spells, but you need to turn them into concrete action in Game 1 of this matchup because your opponent has a ton of grindy elements that are hard for you to interact with permanently.
Postboard games are quite different from Game 1s, of course. You gain access to a bunch of Pyroblasts and Force of Negations, which are efficient answers for their non-recursive threats, as well as Surgical Extraction which answers Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. You also importantly get a Court of Ire or Maddening Hex as well as Price of Progress, all of which can single-handedly win you the game; you will find these cards quite reliably given the way the deck is constructed.
Therefore, you can slow down quite a bit and look more for card advantage rather than concrete threats, as you have gained the requisite amount and type of interaction to deal with your opponent while patiently waiting to find your most potent threats.
That's the end of the matchup guide, I wanted to complete more matchups but it's more important that I get this out before the weekend's events. I have a link for a doc that just has the sideboarding in case you need to print it to take to a tournament.
I had a lot of fun writing this article, I hope you learned something from or at least enjoyed reading it. Feel free to ask any questions about the article/deck on Twitter, and say hi if you're going to the NRG event this weekend (7/30 for those reading after the fact). I'm trying to go to more of these tournaments, and while I will never paywall my articles I would still greatly appreciate any monetary generosity if you feel like extending it, so here's my paypal link. Anyway, thanks for reading and I wish you success in all your MTG ventures!