I’ve recently picked up Corey Burkhardt’s Dimir Inverter as a pet deck—I love Pioneer because it enables creative brews, but it’s nice to have a fully built tier deck to practice with and against. Every time I cast Dig Through Time, it feels like I’m crossing off a date until some dreaded appointment, like I can see the future, and that future is short. DTT does too much, too cheaply, and I expect it to get banned in Pioneer before too long. It’s not as aggressively broken as Once Upon a Time, but it is just as flexible.

Khans was only the second set to feature Delve. It was introduced in Future Sight with Logic Knot, Death Rattle, and Tombstalker, which was good enough back then for Legacy play in decks that churned cards into the yard, before exiling them to play the ‘Stalker plus interaction. Delve was later deployed as the Sultai clan mechanic in Khans and Fate Reforged. Wizards, having learned from the power of Tombstalker, believed they had adjusted it more appropriately in Khans block; their Ancestral Recall had a hefty seven generic tacked onto it, their Time Walk a full eight. Turns out there’s pretty much no cost to add to a Recall that won’t have someone cheating it out, and so Treasure Cruise was banned in Modern and Legacy in January and September 2015, less than a year after it was first printed.

In Pioneer, which is to say in a format with not fetchlands but Fabled Passage, and without Dredge, Faithless Looting, or Thought Scour, Dig Through Time appeared fair. Each of those Delve-enabling cards has to actually be cast or milled, setting a kind of self-regulatory valve on Dig. Even Grisly Salvage only gets you halfway to a Dig Through Time. Dig didn’t define Pioneer, and it didn’t see much play until a full combo deck appeared this winter: Inverter of Truth plus Thassa’s Oracle or Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. While I’ve been loving the deck, I recognize its Dig-enabled days are numbered, and I’ve started looking for ways to pivot.

If Dig gets banned, what are our backup options? If you’re looking for card selection: Drawn from Dreams, Dark Bargain, Growing Rites of Itlimoc, Shimmer of Possibility, Strategic Planning, Supreme Will, and Thassa’s Intervention. Supreme Will seems like the best of these options: it’s essentially replicating the benefits of Dig, as an Instant, and the counterplay of Dimir Inverter’s reactive spells.

If you’re looking for a tutor, you can try Scheming Symmetry, Mastermind’s Acquisition, or any of the Diabolic Tutor-style four or five mana tutors. I don’t see these as options, although my love of Symmetry is documented, and I’m pretty drawn to it in a combo deck that can draw the tutor target with Jace.

If you’re instead searching for a way to shape your graveyard while getting card advantage, Treasure Cruise is the only game in town. Dig scooping up a full 11% of your deck is huge, though, and allows Dimir Inverter to find its combo pieces; Cruise won’t allow you to do that. If we want to maintain the play style of Inverter and run Cruise, we’ll need to change the entire play style of the deck. Dig Through Time is instant speed, while none of our replacements are. This is the big one. Leaving up reactive spells—Fatal Push, Censor, etc.—while having Dig as an option if your opponent doesn’t pressure you to use them is huge. Outside of Quicken (not an option) or splashing Blue for Teferi (definitely an option), you don’t have a reasonable way to, say, turn Draw from Dreams into an Instant.

One strategy has brought me hope—a vastly different deck style that takes its hint from the 2002-era Cunning Wish decks, rather than the 2000-era Trix decks. Instead of building our deck around our combo, what if we built our sideboard around it? That is, what if we kept the Oracles in the maindeck, tossed two Inverters in the sideboard, and fused Lotus Field combo’s Fae of Wishes into Inverter as the method to find our own combo?

Fae of Wishes allows us to strip the combo from our deck and seed it in the sideboard; it also is a surprisingly resilient blocker and allows us to play a more traditional control list. It blocks mono-black aggro’s 2/1’s for value, and can theoretically block-and-bounce larger attackers (albeit at the cost of two cards) and trigger Revolt on Fatal Push. I’m still testing the little fairy, but so far, I’ve been impressed.

If—when—Dig Through Time gets murked, I expect Dimir Inverter to go from “Tier 1” to “dark horse periodic boogeyman,” similar to the tournament arc of Dredge decks. We might even take a lesson from Dredge decks and run more self-mill—Ashiok is a pretty paltry replacement for Dig Through Time, but they can get out of hand. This allows us to cut the Inverter entirely and go all-in on a self-mill gambit, with Creeping Chill as a backup.

Pioneer Turbo Mill

Creatures (6)
Thassa's Oracle
Doom Whisperer

Planeswalkers (7)
Ashiok, Dream Render
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries

Spells (22)
Mission Briefing
Creeping Chill
Fraying Sanity
Treasure Cruise
Lands (25)
Watery Grave
Fabled Passage
Drowned Catacomb
11 Island

One thing is clear: Delve is, sadly, broken, beyond repair. Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis—these have warped formats for years and have bitten bans in several formats, including, I’d expect Pioneer quite soon. Even the fair Delve cards, including Gurmag Angler, Logic Knot, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Become Immense, and Murderous Cut, are excellent options that have defined and altered metagames across formats.

I think, much like Storm, Wizards has finally internalized the lesson, and we won’t see Delve cards in the future outside of some Commander sets. Until then, I’d recommend shuffling up fully-powered Dimir Inverter one more time; while I expect the deck to stick around, it will require significant adaptation.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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