This Saturday morning I awoke to jam what I was sure was going to be a massively over-crowded Modern Masters MTGO PTQ. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the event hit capacity at 1,024, but it ended up being a scant 800 players. My pool was neither exceptional nor worth anywhere near the 45 ticket entry. Adarkar Valkyrie alone could cover neither my deck or the check. I ended up getting savaged by Blinding Beam two of three games in round one and dropping promptly. It was high time for a nap.
Around noon I got a text from Mike Hawthorne asking if I was playing the “Big Legacy” event at the Monster Den. The Big Legacy is a tournament with Legacy staples (generally dual lands) paid as prizes to top finishers (usually top two or four) based on attendance. I couldn’t remember the last time I had played the event, but I definitely had nothing better going on. I grabbed RUG Delver and was on my way.
En route to the Den I intended to pick up some lunch but I sort of forgot. Nobody else was too stupid to miss lunch, so I found myself with nobody with whom to order food. It looked like I’d be toughing it out with Chex Mix and Dr. Pepper.
For the record, this is my current RUG list:
The Izzet Charm has been playing nicely but I’m absolutely locked in on one at this point. In this Deathrite Shaman infested world it is most commonly a Shock, secondarily a Spell Pierce, with looting being the tertiary mode. I considered playing a Thought Scour over the second copy that I had due to a large frequency of games where I Wastelanded myself to get threshold in recent memory, but opted for a Fire/Ice to, again, ensure adequate answers to Deathrite Shamans.
With 24 players (a bit smaller than the MTGO PTQ) the event was to be five rounds with a cut to top 8. Here’s how that all went for me:
Round 1 Versus Nic Fit
I say that I played against Nic Fit, but really I played against 3 basic lands, a Bayou, a Sensei’s Divining Top, and a Cabal Therapy which hit a Brainstorm. My opponent’s Top wasn’t good to him and his land light hand didn’t come close to working out.
More generally I rather loathe playing against Nic Fit. The matchup is incredibly close and largely boils down to the success of RUG’s mana denial plan. It’s sort of frustrating when they win because they do so with cards and a strategy which are rather underwhelming against the format at large but that match up pretty well against RUG. Fortunately I didn’t have to deal with any of that this go ’round.
Round 2 Versus Joe Kaufmann’s BW Cards
Joe’s an old school player who can be found casually slinging non-proxy Vintage between rounds. His BW list is a bit out of the ordinary and I really wasn’t sure what he was playing when he led on Ancient Den into Sensei’s Divining Top. Whatever it was I assumed it wasn’t a Brainstorm deck. With Sensei’s Divining Top being at least in strong contention for best card in such decks, I went ahead and met it with a Spell Pierce. From there we had some back and forth between my creatures/counters and his discard, Rest in Peace and removal spells which ultimately ended in me aggressively digging for lethal Lightning Bolts.
In game two Joe cast an early Enlightened Tutor for Chains of Mephistopheles. After a refresher course in “What the hell does Chains of Mephistopheles do?” I cast the Brainstorm in my hand and let it resolve despite the Force of Will in my hand. I had pretty good pressure and no other cantrips at this point, and in that position Chains didn’t concern me too much. From there I did the standard “kill your Stoneforge Mystic, attack you” line that tends to come up against these type decks and took it down. After the match Joe and I agreed that I probably would have won anyway but that Rest in Peace would’ve been a stronger tutor target for him.
Round 3 Versus Shardless BUG
I’m of the belief that this matchup is somewhere in the range of a coin toss. I think that my mulligan on the play and my drawing of Stifle the turn after Ancestral Vision came off suspend from my opponent more or less locked me out of game one and some similarly below average draws in game two did me in for this match. Abrupt Decay and Ancestral Vision are no joke when it comes to Tarmogoyf mirrors like this but for the most part I think that the two decks operate on much the same level with BUG being completely weak to RUG’s mana denial while RUG is mostly only weak to drawing its cards in the wrong order. I’ll admit that this analysis is coming from a pretty biased source though.
Round 4 Versus RUG Cascade
So, Bloodbraid Elf and Shardless Agent are possibly the coolest things that fair decks in Legacy are playing these days, but they’re really not all that impressive. RUG Cascade, unlike Shardless BUG, doesn’t have good answers to Tarmogoyf, so RUG Delver can easily ignore much of what the deck does while generating theoretical card advantage due to playing fewer lands and fewer creatures which are outclassed by the matchup defining two-drop.
In game one my opponent Bloodbraid Elf -> Shardless Agent -> Ancestral Vision as his cascade chain and I still won rather handily off the fact that Tarmogoyf profitably blocks everything while none of those creatures block Delver of Secrets.
All in all I’d said that RUG Cascade is generally just a worse choice than Shardless BUG for the style of Magic it’s trying to play. It has a pile of creatures that don’t match up well with played creatures in the format and the cascade mechanic leaves the deck counter light and makes it weak to combo, unlike BUG which has access to discard.
Round 5 ID With Burning Wish Nic Fit
I was paired up and my breakers were like 8 points up on any other 3-1. Hooray for small tournaments.
Quarterfinals Versus MUD
This is the type of deck that makes a lot of RUG players want trash like Ancient Grudge in their sideboard, but I hardly think this is necessary. Lightning Bolt kills Lodestone Golem, Wasteland rocks house against them and Stifle/Dismember deal with Kuldotha Forgemaster pretty well I’d say.
Game one went in my favor without a hitch but game two was only mine due to what I think was a deck-building error on my opponent’s part. He drew three Kuldotha Forgemasters and two Cavern of Souls to my zero Wasteland and I only drew Dismember after his second Forgemaster was active, the first succumbing the Lightning Bolt + Izzet Charm. When he activated his Forgemaster while being attacked by Insectile Aberration I feared a Platinum Emperion but all he had was a Steel Hellkite to attempt to block, which I promptly Dismembered. I was up a game, but if he had Emperion in his deck he’d at least have been able to tie things up.
Semifinals Versus Punishing Maverick
I’ve always said that Maverick is a good matchup and my opponent kept pretty loose hands. Interestingly, this was the one match on the day where Ice ending up being the difference.
In game two my opponent was on seven with a freshly cast 6/6 Knight of the Reliquary versus my thresh’d Mongoose and a 3/4 Tarmogoyf on Instant/Sorcery/Land. My hand was Fire/Ice, Force of Will, Daze and I tanked for a while on just Icing the Knight and dropping him to one, but decided that I’d see if I could maybe counter some creature on his turn and lethal him. On his turn he played a Dryad Arbor plus second Knight of the Reliquary, the latter meeting a counterspell. The Dryad Arbor meant that I had to draw another removal spell if I Iced the Knight but I just went for it at this point for fear of a third Knight and for the fact of being up a game. And obviously I got there.
Finals Versus SCG Minneapolis Legacy Open Champion Kyle Olson on Sneak and Show
I joked with Kyle the entire Top 8 that I wanted to be in his bracket. Sneak and Show is a really good matchup from all of my experience, though a good pilot can definitely make it a lot closer.
In game one Kyle was able to Show and Tell with more Force of Wills than I had. When I Brainstorm in response I found a Nimble Mongoose to Show him as well as a Dismember + Lightning Bolt to potentially wreck a Griselbrand. Griselbrand was his monster of choice and when I cast my removal “combo” his draw seven from 11 life yielded a Force of Will but no blue card in my new favorite bad beat story of all time.
We ended up going to three games but my Brainstorm in response to his Show and Tell in game three was a bit better than the one I had in game one and I took it down. When he extended his hand I took the opportunity for max rub-ins by placing the Taiga in his palm.
The State of RUG Delver
As I have felt for the last year my list is at least very close to what I firmly believe to be the best deck in Legacy. It operates on insane mana efficiency which enables it to abuse the most powerful spell in Legacy *cough*Brainstorm*cough*. I wasn’t even a little bit surprised to see a RUG Delver final in the SCG Open this weekend.
What I did find surprising was the three Gitaxian Probe in the winning list. This card does not belong in RUG Delver. What RUG needs to do is understand opposing game plans and play to having the appropriate outs on every turn, not try to mise with “free” information and random cards off the top. RUG doesn’t need to check your hand to see if Tarmogoyf resolves, it needs to play a game that revolves around leaving Stifle and Spell Pierce up at the right times and digging for removal spells for problem creatures. The coast isn’t clear when you cast Gitaxian Probe against Combo. They can always topdeck something and embarrass you for tapping out for your Tarmogoyf.
Sure, the deck won the tournament, and that’s nothing to scoff at, but your best bet is going to be to understand how your matchups play out and how to play without perfect information rather than crutching on Peek and hoping that a random card doesn’t make your decision not to mulligan into a poor one.
In sum, RUG Delver is hardly a thing of the past and Gitaxian Probe is not the way of the future.
Thanks for reading.
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter