So, my first foray into Vintage didn’t exactly go as planned. Workshop decks were dramatically over-represented at the event, and Storm doesn’t matchup particularly well with this style of deck. I played one game where my Shop opponent not only killed me on turn three, but did so with three Thorn of Amethyst in play. Next time I play Vintage I plan to prepare more for the event and to play something that isn’t so bad against Shop. I’m not really sure why somebody would willingly play Shop when the tournament allows unlimited proxies, but it’s not my place to say what people should want to do. The deck is among the easiest Vintage decks to play, even if it is easily the most boring.
With the Invitational in Vegas right around the corner, it’s time for me to look back into more popular formats. I’ve been a fan of the red cards and Nykthos in Standard, and for the first time since my first Invitational in Charlotte I feel like I have some brushing up to do with regard to all things Legacy. The format has done a good amount of shifting lately, and there is some pretty real danger out there for a RUG Delver player.
Death and Taxes
The most dramatic change to Legacy, at least from my perspective, is that a lot of players are starting to respect Death and Taxes. A number of decks have been heralded as “designed to beat RUG”, but D&T is the only deck that I’ve ever felt really accomplished this goal effectively. I have lost to D&T with RUG more than any other deck, and the margin isn’t even close. Every other deck that’s “supposed” to beat RUG tends to have vulnerability to Wasteland and/or Spell Pierce. D&T is a pile of basic Plains and creatures.
For the purposes of the Legacy metagame, D&T is more or less a weaker version of Maverick that plays better in the metagame. Knight of the Reliquary lost a lot of steam with the printing of Deathrite Shaman and Savannah is considerably more Waste-able than Aether Vial. Both decks have the same tools against combo decks (Karakas, Thalia and just dying to Storm) but D&T gets access to Waste and Rishadan Port for combatting other fair decks, which have been filled almost exclusively with nonbasics as of late.
While Wasteland isn’t generally especially potent against a mana-light deck like RUG, having functionally 8 copies along with “free” spells off of Vial is. RUG may only need 1-2 mana to operate, but D&T has a lot of draws that are can keep you at zero.
While I would say that D&T is easily RUG’s worst matchup, it’s definitely not unwinnable and the games are often very close. On the RUG side there are a few things we can do to hedge.
Much like against Maverick, Stifle is one of RUG’s most relevant cards against D&T. It combats their Wastelands, their equipment and their Aether Vials. By timing your Stifles well you dramatically impact the way the game plays out.
If you’re choked on lands it’s usually right to use Stifle to counter a Wasteland, but when you have more lands to play you can generally just let them have it. Stifle is at its best when you mess up their Batterskull by Stifling the Germ trigger or when you mess up their turn’s mana production/combat by Stifling either the equip cost or trigger to get counters on Umezawa's Jitte. These actions eat far more resources than a singular Wasteland.
When and when not to Stifle Aether Vial is a bit trickier. To do this well, experience with the matchup is invaluable. You need to know when you can afford to let them Vial in Flickerwisp more than anything. Know how relevant your attack is on this turn and pay close attention to what they Vial in, when they elect not to Vial something in and which turns they declined to cast any spells on. This information will help you determine how many 3-drops they have and helps you determine whether or not they have a Swords to Plowshares.
Playing an extra land gave an edge in the mirror when it was popular and it also comes in handy here. If they aggressively Waste you and you keep playing lands you can find yourself completely in control of the tempo of the game.
This also helps you cast your ace in the hole in post-board games:
Sulfur Elemental tends to jump in and out of RUG sideboards, but I personally have the unfortunate luck of literally ALWAYS playing against the Death and Taxes player at every Legacy event I attend. Even before its recent upswing, I would also be paired against the one guy in the room playing the deck. Not having Sulfur Elemental in this matchup makes life pretty miserable. Casting it usually makes things pretty easy, as 3/2 Plague Winds are want to do.
That said, you still have to play smart even when you have Sulfur Elemental. If your opponent leads on Mother of Runes and you decline to Bolt it because you’ll get it later and they follow up with Stoneforge Mystic you’d better hope you have the Stifle for their Batterskull. Stifle smart and Sulfur smart and you’ll be alright.
I played a Grim Lavamancer in my maindeck and one in the sideboard for the last two Legacy events I played and posted a 6-2 record at the Indy Invitational and a 7-2 record at the Milwaukee Open, but I’m planning on dropping it from the main and possibly the sideboard as well. I included the card at Caleb Durward’s suggestion to combat Baleful Strix in addition to splash damage that it has against decks like D&T. I found that my matchup against Strix decks was already better than forecasted and that Lavaman performed less than great against D&T. It’s bad on the draw against a Mother of Runes, weak to Swords to Plowshares (and let’s be real, this deck doesn’t play enough threats to overload even a deck with only four removal spells), and much too slow of a topdeck in many situations. Lavaman is okay, but I definitely wouldn’t leave home without Sulfur Elemental.
And now for the big reason I’m moving away from Grim Lavamancer...
True-Name Nemesis is a far cry from format defining, but the card is obviously potent in Legacy. Thus far it has mostly served as an upgrade to Geist of Saint Traft in decks that would normally play the legendary spirit, but I think we’ll start to see it in more strategies as time passes. It shoehorned itself admirably into UWR Delver and Deathblade. Personally I think its best home is likely in a reimagined BUG shell, but I don’t see me being the person perfecting it. For now, I’m content to play the side of the opposition.
True-Name Nemesis, while clearly powerful, doesn’t bother me as a RUG player nearly as much as people say it should. It has the oft overlooked drawback of costing three, so when somebody makes the audacious claim that it “single-handedly beats RUG” I can’t help but feel that they’re missing the bigger picture. UWR Delver and Deathblade are both driven by lands that are vulnerable to Stifle and Wasteland. Three mana is a decidedly vulnerable slot on the mana curve to Daze.
I will grant that TNN is likely the three drop which can’t be Spell Pierced that is most threatening to RUG, but it is slow, can’t block Insectile Aberration // Insectile Aberration and doesn’t really race Tarmogoyf so much as just block it.
What’s interesting to me is that the more popular TNN gets, the less effective Baleful Strix becomes. I’m of the opinion that Baleful Strix is, in most cases, more impactful against RUG than TNN, and that this shift will benefit RUG more than most people seem to believe.
With an anticipated decline in Strix and rise in TNN, the aforementioned Grim Lavamancer is on the chopping block from my RUG list. In it’s place I will commit what I have long considered a sin and include the fourth Daze in my list. I really don’t think I can afford not to given how powerful it is both against three drops in general and against Aether Vial when I’m on the play. I foresee boarding it out rather aggressively, but it seems much more appropriate than it ever has to include it now.
Odds are high that I’ll be battling the “Big Legacy” at the Monster Den this weekend with this maindeck:
And I’ll do so without fear. I don’t know how many people would advocate RUG right now, but I remain a believer. As always though, I recommend that everybody see for themselves.
Thanks for reading.