Terr Up the Playbook: Brewing RUG Saga

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In Unmuddle Modern with Pillar Thinking, I proposed a theory about how five cards—Lurrus of the Dream-Den, Omnath, Locus of Creation, Expressive Iteration, Urza's Saga, and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer—seemed to be dominating the Modern metagame. Indeed, the top decks leading into 2022 all ran not one, but two of these pillar cards. We closed things off by mentioning how Grixis Shadow and Jund Saga each employ three pillars, discussed the pros and cons to each list, and hinted at the possibility of designing decks top-down to include as many pillars as possible.

I've been doing just that, and with Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty spoilers well underway, my brewing bone (you know the one) has been especially stimulated of late. Today, I'll unveil my latest brew, which not only features the maximum amount of possible pillar cards but gets the most from some brand new tech out of NEO.

The Joy of Flexible Answers

The latest card to firmly grab my attention is Boseiju, Who Endures. This legendary land has pundits like StarCityGames's Dom Harvey claiming every format is about to be warped around it. While I might not drop the w-bomb, I do agree the land provides a huge amount of utility and is sure to become a ubiquitous constructed staple.

Truth be told, this whole cycle of channeling pseudo-basics (Channelands?) is great for Modern deckbuilding. It incentivizes players to reel in their manabases and craft decks that don't get too greedy with fetches and shocks, something there simply isn't much an incentive to do currently (explaining Burn's constant status as a top deck despite its eschewing of format pillars). But Boseiju specifically is great for Modern health in the same way as Fatal Push, which ended up making plenty more creatures playable, and Prismatic Ending, which helps players not "just lose" to random permanents like Solemnity.

Since the format's inception, it's been starved for cheap, flexible answers to proactive plays from across the table, pushing Lightning Bolt to around and above 50% usage. The problem was so pronounced early on in Modern's lifespan that I was stealing games with Isochron Scepter; once upon a time, we didn't even have Kolaghan's Command, and the only way to deal with this card was to naturally draw Maelstrom Pulse!

Wizards has done well in responding to this crisis over the last few years, not only with the Modern Horizons sets but with Standard entries like Abrade. Well, Boseiju is Abrade on crack. Here's a main-playable, can't-be-countered Naturalize that also doubles as a sort of Field of Ruin against players looking to do something unfair with their lands and is, at very worst, an unfetchable Forest.

I just love this kind of broadly applicable design. But I also knew I couldn't simply jam Boseiju into the deck I've been spending the most time on lately, which is an updated build of Counter-Cat that also respects the pillars. When you've got domains to tend and Wild Nacatls to raise, unfetchable Forest is a floor you might not feel like sitting on.

Finding a Core

So I set off on a quest to figure out a 60-card pile that a) made great use of Boseiju and b) I genuinely liked playing. Deciding on a core was easy. I wouldn't be caught dead not playing red right now; not only is Lightning Bolt the best card in Modern, I stand by my claim that Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is the best creature of all time, and it's no secret that Tarmogoyf is my personal favorite. Finally, the color unlocks Wrenn and Six, a superb compliment to Boseiju. With Wrenn in the picture, we can reuse the Channel effect at will to totally dominate anyone relying on artifacts, enchantments, or nonbasic lands.

Early Draft: Naya Boseiju

As for filling out the list, I found myself with a slew of options. I very much appreciate the pushed Delver of Secrets that is A-Dragon's Rage Channeler, a route which included Mishra's Bauble and A-Unholy Heat. Same deal for Expressive Iteration, a card that I agree with Adam would be favored by Izzet mages even over Preordain if my prayers for its unban were ever answered (Earth to Wizards...). But Iteration would require dipping into blue and potentially make that Boseiju we'd love to use as a land drop a lot worse.

Then there's black and white, my least favorite colors, but ones which enable the all-important Lurrus pillar. As we know from Jund Saga, using Lurrus to return massive Goyfs and Wrenns in your land-synergy deck is some heat. Black seemed a bit obvious; of course Jund Saga will be running Boseiju. I'm not here to recreate that deck! So I looked instead to white, which features among other things Prismatic Ending, Esper Sentinel, and Leonin Arbiter. And if we're going with the Arbiter plan, it only made sense to double up on excellent land disruption with Cleasing Wildfire.

Arbiter combines with Boseiju, Wildfire, Quarter, and Path to attack enemy mana while preventing them from searching up lands. I took a page out of the Jeskai Control handbook with Flagstones of Trokair, something we can target with Wildfire for a cantripping rampant growth effect. Esper Sentinel helps protect Arbiter and Ragavan, plus it grows Goyf. The 1/1 isn't so impressive by itself, so I added the Urza's Saga engine to take extra advantage of its artifact status. Shortly after suggesting a top-down Naya Saga build in my last article, a deck just like that went 5-0 in a league. I was anxious to try something similar myself.

I actually did put this together and run some tests. Arbiter yielded some nutty draws, as it can alongside Ghost Quarter and similar effects. But man, is it a terrible card! Without support it's a literal Grizzly Bearss. And without Arbiter, the cards we run to support the Cat Cleric become underwhelming.

Then there was tension between Arbiter and my other components. We need fetchlands for Wrenn, and would be foolish to pass up the benefits of Saga; Arbiter, though, forces us to pay for our searches, hampering both. Finally, Sentinel proved a bit anemic even with the Saga engine. It's simply Bad at Combat, something my own prejudices prevent me from excusing in a Stage 1 creature.

Gotta Go Fast!

On the bright side, the good cards were good. Ragavan was good. Saga was good. Lurrus was good. Wrenn was good. And Boseiju was good! So I had a Great Idea: instead of playing bad cards like Leonin Arbiter, why not fill the deck with good cards?

In went Channeler, Heat, and Bauble. I was now GR splashing white for Lurrus, and even started with under 60 cards while goldfishing to get a sense of what else I needed. I kept the Flagstones and Wildfire, which led me to an important realization: how critical that two-mana draw-a-card sorcery was for enabling DRC. Gotta get those mills, man! Still, I wished this sorcery would give me even more velocity. So in went Manamorphose. Sure, it's air, but in the velocity-focused world of today's Modern, who among us isn't a bit starved for oxygen?

Between the "free" instant and Bauble, Channeler was getting even better, but I would sometimes find myself in topdeck mode with nowhere to go. An older build of Counter-Cat ran Light Up the Stage; that was the kind of card I needed here, but I wasn't attacking enough to justify sleeving it up. In went... draft all-star Reckless Impulse!

Finding myself lacking beaters, I fell back on the Saga plan and trimmed Flagstones-Wildfire entirely. That meant just going GR, although since there still weren't any permanent cards with mana value 3 or more I wanted to run in the main, I opted to keep Lurrus in the sideboard and just cast it off Manamorphose when I happened to have the instant handy.

It only took a few games with this deck to fully grasp just how much worse Impulse is than Iteration. (Spoiler: unquantifiably.) But another thing I realized is that I often had access to Manamorphose when I needed to cast Lurrus or even Impulse itself. Why couldn't I lean on the instant a bit harder and splash blue for the better cantrip, in addition to using Manamorphose for Lurrus? Bilbo mode: why shouldn't I?

RUG You the Right Way

Easy, Bilbo. That's just getting greedy. I even said a couple weeks ago that you'd be hard-pressed to encounter a deck running Saga with Iteration because of the latter's stringent color requirements. That's okay, though; it's just brewing! Why even bother if not to break the rules we know so well? And need I remind old-school Modern players just how easy it is for RUG to splash? It's always been the three-color combination voted most likely to run Blood Moon out of the side.

Voilà. But there's still the Lurrus obstacle. That's what made my thought so greedy in the first place. I've got a solution for that, too. Bulk buyers, rejoice!

Repeat after me: Terrarion is not a bad card. Who am I trying to convince? Why you, of course! So here's 200 words in defense of the trinket.

  1. Saga tutors it. To wit, Terrarion is the glue that holds the pillars together. When you need it to, completing the Saga finds you a Manamorphose, essentially linking the colorless-producing Enchantment Land to the color-demanding Iteraetion and Lurrus.
  2. It replaces itself on sacrifice. The artifact isn't exactly a cantrip, which is why we'd never run more than one. But as a draw-a-card effect to find off Saga, it's more or less on par with the slow-tripping Mishra's Bauble. Terrarion enters tapped, but once it untaps, we get the card right away instead of having to wait until the next turn's upkeep. That promise of immediacy has its own benefits when it comes to library manipulation like the surveil from DRC and peeks from Bauble itself (i.e. check your top card somehow, decide it's a card you want this turn, and immediately cash in Terrarion for it).
  3. You can cast Terrarion from hand with a spare mana or a fresh Saga, so drawing it isn't the end of the world. In that case, it's a lot like a slightly clunky 5th copy ofManamorphose, which is still pretty passable when it can only happen at most once per game.
  4. Terrarion isn't only limited to Lurrus. Just as we use Manamorphose to play Wrenn or Iteration off a Boseiju and a Saga or good ol' off-color basic lands, Terrarion too enables these color-intensive plays. We can always draw into Manamorphose down the road if the idea is to cast Lurrus later.
  5. In a pinch, Terrarion just cycles into something else. Sometimes you really need, say, removal, and then we can trade it in for whatever's on top of the deck.

Final Draft: RUG Saga

Behold, the deck contained within a tiny jar:

I really like the upside of 1 Snapcaster Mage in this deck. It recasts all our important spells, and we have no problem making our land drops with 4 Wrenn. Snap's especially nasty with Lurrus, since we can cast it multiple times.

As far as how the deck plays, the gameplan is to deploy engines one at a time in the order that best supports the threats we've drawn. Let opponents totally deal with an engine (for instance, slog through a pair of Construct tokens), then deploy another one (cast EI, recur Saga with Wrenn, or slam Lurrus). This way, we can grind them out all while applying consistent pressure in the air with DRC, in the red zone with Goyf and big Constructs, or via the Splinter Twin effect with Ragavan.

Elephant in the room: the final product's striking resemblance to Jund Saga. Didn't we just say I'm not looking to recreate that deck? I mean, let's face facts; same beaters, same red removal. Same planeswalker. Why play Terrarion.dec over what's been a consistent high-performer since Modern Horizons 2? I'll answer that question with another one:

The year is 2022. We're getting an untapped land that elegantly deals with artifacts, enchantments, and nonbasics—you know, the kind of stuff that spooks you into packing Thoughtseize and two-mana removal spells. With card quality trending upwards, the format's most defining spells are those that cheaply put you up on cards. Would you rather be casting these...

...or this?

Time to liquidate those clunky Kolaghan's Commands!

Pour Out the Baubly

Between its maximum pillar density, wealth of spells I love slinging, and access to permission from the sideboard, I'm very excited about RUG Saga's prospects in Modern. I also wonder if Terrarion is worth trying out in a four-color shell swapping Lurrus for Modern's final pillar, Omnath, Locus of Creation.

As the 61 proposed above represents the first time four Modern pillars have come together, Omnath and Saga have never featured in the same deck before. But the fixing power of Manamorphose and Terrarion must be seen to be believed. I'm way less excited about turning Ignoble Hierarch sideways than I am Channeler, though, so I might leave that experiment up to you readers.

In the meantime, enjoy the final Kamigawa spoilers and definitely reach out if you end up taking out RUG Saga for a spin!

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