Commander nights with Brion

I wanted to discusbrionstoutarm.hqs for a while my new favorite general in EDH: Brion Stoutarm. The deck I’ve built with him is currently in construction, so I won’t present a list just yet, but the deck is built around the general himself and contains a few elements: things that grant my creatures haste (Lightning Greaves, Fervor, Hammer of Purphoros, Anger), things that steal creatures from my opponent (Flash Conscription, Zealous Conscripts, Act of Treason etc.), and some strong control elements like board sweepers, Blood Moon, Magus of the Moon, topped off with some pin-point catch-alls like Oblivion Ring. The idea is that the control elements will allow me to play a diplomatic game in the early turns, and once people start ramping into big things, the deck allows me to steal them, swing back and toss them with Brion. It’s really straightforward as far as an EDH-strategy goes, and though I don’t like how it’s easy to disrupt through tucking Brion with Spin into Myth, Spell Crumple and so on, the deck is clearly leaned towards more casual games and groups.

EDH is such an inherently broken format, and even if it’s singleton, the format is so slow and full of tutors, it’s quite easy to construct linear decks with more or less the exact same path to victory every game it wins. I see two issues with this. One, it’s easier for people to adapt and counter your strategy should you always do the same things over and over, and two, it makes for a more boring deck to play. Variance means fun in all formats, and in a casual format such as EDH, where winning means less than in a competitive environment, variance is alright. This means I’m not worried about how there are so few playable tutors in Brion’s colours, I play just the single Enlightened Tutor. In other decks, I play a lot more because I like how it allows me to fetch silver bullets out of my deck, but I can’t say it brings more “fun” to my games.

I spent friday night with my old gaming group and Brion, and I also brought Sharuum in case people were doing too many unfair things, but I ran mostly Brion. We played a couple of free-for-all on three players, and I was up against Keranos, God of Storms and Varolz, the Scar Striped.

Flavour-wise, I regard Brion as an honest giant. He likes his beer cold and his steak red. He doesn’t meddle in strange things like tutoring, and prefers to throw goats on his problems. In this game, he was up against the Golgari maze runner and the freaking God of Storms! The games were all quite similar, Brion and Keranos worked together to make sure they weren’t two-shotted by a 14/14 Varolz and then Keranos took over the long-games at single-digit life. I won neither game, but they were great fun.

Later on, we played a three-headed giant game and randomized the teams. The enemy consisted of Varolz (combo), Keranos (control) and Marath, Will of the Wild (aggro). Our team was Brion (aggro), Radha, Heir to Keld (aggro) and Cromat (toolbox control). Three-headed giant works just like it’s two-headed counterpart, but each giant start with 60 life. Usually, the games are very chaotic, but a lot of fun and a sort-of fast way to play 6-man EDH games.

kalonianhydra.fullRadha and Brion worked well together, as our team was able to deal very large amounts of damage in just a few short turns. Cromat was a great team-player and offered up solutions to various problematic permanents. Our team won both games on equally awesome ways. In the first game, Marath cast Kalonian Hydra and cast Reckless Charge on it (7/4) and activated Xenagos, God of Revels on it (14/11). Keranos cast Dack’s Duplicate, copying the hydra and giving it Haste and Dethrone. The original hydra swung for 18, and the Dack’s Duplicated one for 9, but we just soaked up the damage. In our following turn, Radha cast Molten Primordial and stole both hydras, swinging for about a million.

In the second game, Obsidian Fireheart set fire to a couple of lands which kept their life total ticking down. Our opponents stabilized late in the game, but a flash-backed Devil’s Play from Radha took them to two, leaving them to burn out in their upkeep to their lands. I had a couple of creatures and an active Brion in play and a few creatures to fling at them if I needed to, but winning through the burning lands was way more fun.

All in all, even though I didn’t win a single non-team game all night, Brion was a blast to play and I’m looking forward to continuing working on the deck. I’ll post a work-in-progress list here once I’ve gotten most of the cards together.

Mulliganing RUG hands (RUG primer, part 2)

There are a few basic sentiments one has to understand about the RUG deck before he or she sits down to play even a single hand. First of all, although some (myself included) might put RUG in the “Aggro Control” file, there are rather few control elements in the deck. The deck’s countersuit is largely made up of counterspells that either are strict soft counters – making them poor in latere stages of the game, or are trading resources quite heavily for the opportunity to counter something – returning a land or pitching another card respectively, or are very situational – Spell Snare and Stifle namely.

Looking at classic control decks they usually have a few things in common; they have ways to generate card advantage – either through cards that allow them to draw more cards, or through cards that deal with multiple threats from the opponent at once, or both, and they tend to win later in the game after “stabilizing” the board. RUG does neither of these things very well. RUG wins quickly, or it likely does not win at all. The deck is therefore not very control, but rather more aggro.

However, RUG has two boons that most decks defined as “aggro” usually can’t compete with: Brainstorm and Ponder. These two means that RUG rarely has to mulligan, which is preferable, since RUG has almost no ways of recouping the card disadvantage inherent to mulliganing – bar a rare two-for-one Forked Bolt or the even rarer Sylvan Library.

Lesson 1: RUG has almost no ways of regaining lost cards

 

Another interesting difference between RUG and other tier 1 Legacy decks is its mana curve and number of mana sources the deck runs. Let’s do a quick comparison between RUG and the a few other fair DTB’s:

RUG: 18 mana sources (4 Wasteland) – Around 30 1-mana spells, 4 2-mana spells, 8 “free” spells.

Team America: 20 mana sources (4 Wasteland) – Around 20 1-mana spells, 15 2-mana spells, 2-3 3+-mana spells, 8 “free” spells.

Patriot: 20 mana sources (4 Wasteland) – Around 24 1-mana spells, 10 2-mana spells, 2 3-mana spells, 8 “free” spells.

Death and Taxes: 23 mana sources (4 Wasteland) and 4 Aether Vial – 12 1-mana spells, 16 2-mana spells, 8 3-mana spells.

 

It’s hard to do these comparisons fairly, because both Patriot and Death and Taxes runs Stoneforge Mystic which means both decks are deceptively mana-hungry. The point of the exercise is, however, that RUG has a very low mana curve, even for a Legacy deck – more than half of the deck consists of spells which can be cast with just one mana in play. This fact leads to another part of the deck’s design- RUG runs very few mana sources, only 14 coloured ones in fact, and the 4 Wastelands which in other decks could help cast spells, can only help with casting Tarmogoyf, since all other spells cost 1 (coloured) mana! In effect, this means that RUG topdecks more spells, on average, than most other decks in the format.

Lesson 2: RUG topdecks better than most decks in the format

 

That lesson might need some explaining though. While RUG tends to draw more spells than most other decks, it contains few blow-out spells like the ones in other popular Legacy decks. RUG is in essence a deck full of small synergies and intricacies which needs to be handled by the pilot.

Drew Levin writes in his RUG primer on StarCityGames that either of the following must be true for him to mulligan a hand when playing RUG:

  • I don’t have a land that produces blue mana.
  • I have exactly one land no Ponder and no one-drop.
  • I have five or more lands with no one-drop and no cantrip.

These rules are, of course, applicable only to unknown opponents. Against very fast and fragile combo decks like Oops, All Spells or Belcher, a hand consisting of Force of Will+blue card could be a keep almost no matter what the rest of the contents are, as long as there’s at least one mana-producing land there. Again, the better topdecks, as well as Brainstorm, will keep RUG’s head above the water against some decks.

The rest of Levin’s primer is worth a read. It’s a bit outdated, and he hilariously talks down Stifle in the essential RUG build, but lists it anyway in another primer about a year later.

 

I used the following RUG Delver list and drew s0me opening hands, for the sake of discussion:

4 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
4 Wasteland
3 Tropical Island
3 Volcanic Island

4 Delver of Secrets
4 Nimble Mongoose
4 Tarmogoyf

4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
4 Stifle
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Spell Pierce
2 Spell Snare
2 Forked Bolt

 

This is the quintessential RUG build – the last 6 cards are up for debate, and are ususally considered “flex slots”, but running exactly this configuration has been proven to work in many metagames.

 

Hand 1: Brainstorm, Ponder, Ponder, Spell Snare, Flooded Strand, Volcanic Island, Tropical Island.

Keep? Yes.

This hand is not one of the stronger RUG could produce, but it does contain three cantrips. It has no threats and only the quite narrow Spell Snare to interact with the opponent, but regardless I’d keep against unknown opponents whether or the play or on the draw. If on the play, a turn one Ponder is the right call (unless you really want to feign Stifle), if on the draw, land+pass is better to keep mana up for Stoneforge Mystic, Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant etc.

 

Hand 2: Ponder, Stifle, Flooded Strand, Flooded Strand, Polluted Delta, Polluted Delta, Tropical Island

Keep? Yes.

Strangely enough, this is a keep, every time on the play, and against all but known opponents on the draw. It is very land-heavy, and unfortunately contains Ponder instead of Brainstorm to fix that issue, but it comes with Stifle, which can be used to good effect on turns 1 and 2, and it does have Ponder to find more action.

 

Hand 3: Delver of Secrets, Nimble Mongoose, Tarmogoyf, Stifle, Forked Bolt, Volcanic Island, Volcanic Island

Keep? Yes.

This hand is very sketchy. It does come with a turn one threat in Delver of Secrets, and it does have cards to interact with both the opponent’s mana and the opponent’s creatures, but it has no way of casting two of the cards. On the play, it is easily a keep, with a turn one Delver of Secrets. On the draw, it is a sketchy keep and not one I’d be very happy with, but as is stated above, RUG doesn’t mulligan that well.

 

I hope you took something away from this lesson in mulliganing with RUG. A lot of it comes down to experience, playtesting the deck is the most important thing for any pilot piloting any deck, but maybe moreso with RUG, since it’s a deck of small effects that needs to work together in order to grab the win.

On Brainstorm (and variance)

Note: A portion of this post is copy-pasted from my RUG primer on the Source: LINK. I don’t consider it theft, since I wrote that part too. I’ve adapted the copied part to be more general.

Recently, an SCG-open regular by the name of Jeff Hoogland wrote an article on a site known as The Meadery. The article is entitled “Leaving Legacy for a Modern Mistress” and essentially makes the argument that Legacy as a format is degenerate, and because Hoogland’s pet deck, Aggro Loam, was no longer a viable strategy in the metagame, he was dropping Legacy for Modern.brainstorm.hq

Aside from the obvious downsides to this switch (since Modern is shit), I won’t comment much on the article in question. The user “sdematt” on The Source wrote an excellent rebuttal on the article and posted it here, and it very competently addresses most of the points in Hoogland’s article and largely echoes my own opinions. Instead I’m going to use this space to discuss how to make the most out of this indeed broken card. Brainstorm is the most ubiquous card in Legacy, and while it does take some delving and some Magic theory, in the end it’s easy to see why.

Magic as a game, by its definition, with it’s shuffled deck and random starting hand, a game full of variance and chance. A player may find him- or herself out of a game before the first turn starts, due to the random nature of the game. This is inherently not a flaw in Magic as a game, in fact, I’d argue that variance and a random element makes for a more exciting game. On the other hand, more randomness and higher variance could in theory put a dent in a tournament player’s win percentage, as any master of Magic could, in theory, well lose to any new player.

On the other side of the spectrum – a Grandmaster in chess (a player with an ELO rating of 2500 or higher, the title is the highest achievement for a chess player) would never, ever lose a game to a new chess player, barring outright throwing the game, since chess is a game of effectively no chance and no hidden information.

Yours truly have won matches of Magic against players of proven skill way beyond this writer’s – I won a tight round of Legacy against Hall of Famer Olle Råde a couple of years ago – my match-up was extremely positive (RUG vs. Belcher), I’ve won against Bertil Elfgren, who at one point had the highest constructed rating in the world – he died twice to his own Ad Nauseam, and I’ve won against Kenny Öberg, famous for T8:ing GP Berlin with his team’s own deck, The Tezzerator, and for being a resident Vintage and Legacy expert – he mulliganed to four in two out of the three duels.

My point with these anecdotes is not to boast – I do not claim to be a better Magician than either of these gentlemen. I claim the opposite, and have nothing but utmost respect for these players and though these victories are forever engraved in my DCI record, I do not hope to repeat them. These players did not lose to a superior opponent (for none was to be found in these games), they lost to variance. Olle Råde played a deck with a high level of variance to begin with, and he happened to end up facing one of his worst match-ups. Bertil Elfgren lost to his own spell, a spell which means assured victory for him if he resolves it, most of the times. Kenny Öberg lost to his opening hands, and he was also facing an uphill battle since he was on Bant CounterTop, while I played Mono-U Merfolk. My point with these anecdotes is to demonstrate that Magic is undeniably a game of high variance, even in Legacy.

What Brainstorm, and to a lesser extent, Ponder, does is it minimizes variance and makes the deck that plays them more consistent, which is highly-sought after by tournament players. It is therefor a shame that so many people make grave mistakes when playing with it. Newer players might get stuck at the card type line and play it exclusively at the end of the opponent’s turn, only to untap and immediately draw one of the cards he or she put back. This is far from the optimal way of playing Brainstorm because then it might as well read:
Bad Brainstorm
Instant
Draw three cards then put to cards from your hand on the top of your library in any order. Skip your next two turns.

End of turn, Brainstorm, take my turn.
This is hyperbole, but it is at least an indicator of what happens when one plays Legacy’s best card in the way described above. For context, a well-played Brainstorm is the equivalent of an Ancestral Recall.

What many newer players fail to realise is that by waiting until your own main phase, Brainstorm digs a card deeper, and therefore lets you see more cards in the end, trading a blue mana for this fact. This trade is well worth it in RUG and similar aggressive decks, which can easily operate with just one or two mana open.

AJ Sacher has written an article about this phenomenon. The article as a whole is well worth the read, but I’ve found I could condense most of it into these three questions when playing RUG, Team America, or Patriot:

1. Do I have a way to shuffle my library after casting the Brainstorm?

2. Do I have two dead cards to put back on top of my library?

3. Do I need to play a threat, or find the answer to a threat now?

If the answer to at least one of these questions above is “no”, then it’s usually better to wait a turn. Save the Brainstorm, see more cards and work with more information. It should be noted that these rules are far from set in stone, and even the most experienced pilot could get Brainstorm-locked (i.e. be forced to put back two bad cards and draw them again naturally over the course of two agonising turns), but it should serve well as a guideline.

Ponder operates a different space as a cantrip, since it is sorcery speed and comes with a built-in shuffle effect. Its synergy with fetch lands should be noted, however, because it allows the RUG pilot to grab one or two good cards from a Ponder, while shuffling away the bad ones.

 

 

My hope with this post is that the next time anyone who’s read this casts a Brainstorm, he or she takes another moment before doing so. Playing Legacy on auto-pilot is never a good idea, especially not when playing a card with such a varied power-level as Brainstorm.

 

BUGing out at local tournament

Most mondays, our LGC hosts short, monday-night tournaments, either drafts with three rounds of swiss or various constructed formats with four rounds of swiss. This monday, it was time for everyone’s favorite format, Legacy. Our local scene is quite small, but hosts hardcore players of the format, playing mostly tier 1-2 decks with a competitive mindset, though some pet decks show up occasionally. I chose to play this deck for the occasion:

 

4 Polluted Deltadeathriteshaman.hq
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Verdant Catacombs
4 Wasteland
4 Underground Sea
2 Bayou
1 Tropical Island

4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Tarmogoyf
2 True-Name Nemesis

4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
4 Daze
3 Force of Will
3 Hymn to Tourach
4 Abrupt Decay
2 Disfigure
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Sylvan Library

Sideboard:
3 Spell Pierce
2 Golgari Charm
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Force of Will
1 Disfigure
1 Surgical Extraction
1 Dismember
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Pithing Needle
1 Null Rod
1 Creeping Tar Pit

 

In general, I call the deck Team America for nostalgia reasons, although it has few relations to the original deck in terms of playstyle and game plan. I feel BUG Delver is actually a pretty bad and a pretty non-descriptive name for the deck, the deck is quite bad at being a “Delver” deck in the same way as RUG Delver or UWR Delver, Delver of Secrets is a pretty bad creature in the deck, and the most important creature to the deck is by far Deathrite Shaman. Deathrite Shaman should always come down before Delver of Secrets against an unknown opponent, only against really fast combo decks where you need a quick clock, Delver of Secret outshines Deathrite Shaman.

Let me just briefly comment on some of the card choices. The metagame hosts all variants of decks, but with a slight skew towards the fairer side. There’s an abundance of Delver decks, but rather few of the very unfair decks with little interactions. As such, I felt that Force of Will was a weaker card than in some other Legacy metagames, and also that I wanted some more removal. The maindeck Disfigure might seem like a strange choice, but it is one of the best bad cards available to the deck, and when I don’t run a couple in the maindeck, I run a couple in the sideboard. The sideboard itself is quite standard, but if I was to play the deck again today I would cut something for Krosan Grip, most likely Creeping Tar Pit. Creeping Tar Pit was, along with Surgical Extraction, the cards I didn’t bring in in any game over the course of the tournament.

Present at the tournament were, among other things, Reanimator, Elves, Miracles, Tezzerator, Affinity and BW Blade, meaning a quite open field, but with many creatures weak to Disfigure.

 

Round 1 vs. Bye

I have a nack for getting the first-round bye in these short tournaments, which on paper is a great thing, since it’s such an advantage over the other players. That said, I was there to play Magic and not to watch others play Magic, so getting the bye isn’t always so great. The entry fee was almost free, and first prize was a Jace, the Living Guildpact, and I’m already doing well in the yearly standings, so the free win didn’t matter that much. I got to scout the other decks though, which is always nice.

1-0 (2-0)

 

Round 2 vs. Rw Imperial Painterimperialrecruiter.hq

Speaking of pet decks. Imperial Painter is one of those decks that would surely have a more solid presence in the metagame if Imperial Recruiter wasn’t so expensive. The match-up is supposed to be a horrible one, according to other BUG pilots, but I’ve found it quite manageable as long as they don’t get a very early (turn one or two at the latest) Blood Moon down. In game one, I was on the play and led with a Delver of Secrets, which flipped immediately and flew over his Painter’s Servant which was cast off of an Ancient Tomb. On turn two, he casts an Imperial Painter for a Jaya Ballard, Task Mage meaning I’m a 100% sure he already has a Magus of the Moon in hand. He swings with the Painter’s Servant and I Abrupt Decay it anyway, to prevent a blowout on the following turn in case he had the Grindstone. I have a second copy of Abrupt Decay for his Magus of the Moon on the following turn and since Ancient Tomb kept taking huge chunks from his life total, my Tarmogoyf on the following turn closes the game shortly.

Sideboarding: -1 Liliana of the Veil, -1 Sylvan Library, -2 Hymn to Tourach, +1 Force of Will, +1 Dismember, +1 Vendilion Clique, +1 Pithing Needle

I didn’t want Spell Pierce, since I want to use my mana to play Abrupt Decay etc. I didn’t take in the third Disfigure since they’re not that great in the match-up, they do kill Magus of the Moon, but they don’t kill Painter’s Servant. Magus of the Moon is a very important card, however, so I chose to leave in the two. Hymn to Tourach is a great card against decks with no way to create card-advantage, but on the draw they are very slow. Meanwhile, the “targeted discard” of Vendilion Clique can mess with his Imperial Recruiters and I saw an Enlightened Tutor when he playtested the deck before the tournament, so I wanted something for that. It also kills an attacking Painter’s Servant out of nowhere and is a quick clock.

In game two, I mulligan to six, keeping a pretty mediocre hand with a Force of Will but no other blue card, Tarmogoyf, Pithing Needle, two fetches and a Wasteland, and I chose to keep that, since he went down to five. And then to four. He plays a fetch land, fetches a Mountain and passes. I cast Pithing Needle naming Grindstone and pass back. He plays a Sensei’s Divining Top, tops and pass back. I draw and cast a Deathrite Shaman. He draws, tops and passes. I draw a blue card (Brainstorm?), cast Tarmogoyf and pass. He untaps, draws and plays a land, draws with the top and windmillslam Blood Moon. I Force of Will and the game is over.

2-0 (4-0)

 

Round 3 vs. Affinityetchedchampion.hq

Game one is a bit of a grind where he empties his hand resulting in two Ornithopters and a Cranial Plating. I Abrupt Decay the Cranial Plating as the Ornithopters fly in, and cast a Deathrite Shaman in my following turn, and the turn after that I Hymn to Tourach his last two cards, a Mox Opal and a Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. He lands a Master of Etherium a couple of turns later, who’s a 6/6. My Tarmogoyf is by then a 6/7, but as he attacks the following turn I notice his Inkmoth Nexus and decide not to block and take the damage, going to 6. The following turn, I Disfigure his Master of Etherium before blocking with Tarmogoyf and there’s nothing he can do about that. A couple of turns later he taps most of his lands for an Etched Champion, leaving only Inkmoth Nexus untapped. I Daze, he pays for it with Inkmoth Nexus, I Daze again and he pays for it with Ornothipter + Springleaf Drum, which I didn’t see under the card. Complete facepalm. I’m able to present lethal on the board with two Deathrite Shamans while he has two Etched Champions in play, but he could draw numerous outs, either another Cranial Plating, or a Tezzeret, of which he has three left of each in his deck. He draws his card and doesn’t look two excited, but goes “I wonder if it’s enough” after a couple of seconds. He casts an Arcbound Ravager, one of his other outs, sacrifices most of his other artifacts to put four +1/+1 counters on one of his two Etched Champions while still retaining Metalcraft, hitting me for 8, exactly lethal even with me removing a creature with Deathrite Shaman.

Sideboarding: -1 Daze, -3 Force of Will, -1 Sylvan Library, +1 Disfigure, +1 Dismember, +1 Maelstrom Pulse, +1 Pithing Needle, +1 Null Rod

I wanted fewer card-disadvantage countermagic, and a lot of the match-up is about board presence, meaning Daze isn’t always that great either. Pithing Needle was solely to shut down Cranial Plating.

Games two and three were very similar. I managed to draw Null Rod in my opening hand in game two, and I drew it on turn one of the third game. Null Rod completely shuts down his entire manabase, sans the Inkmoth Nexi, and completely ruins his chances of playing fair Magic. I won both games quite quickly on the backs of a couple of enoromous Tarmogoyfs.

3-0 (6-1)

 

Round 4 vs. BW Bladelilianaoftheveil.hq

His deck is almost specifically designed to beat Delver decks, and I was happy to win the first game. I lost the roll for playing first, which matters a lot since, aside from Wasteland and Swords to Plowshares on my Deathrite Shaman plays at least 3 Vindicate (!) to mess with my mana. Further, his decklist is more or less the short hand of “What you can’t let resolve if you play BUG Delver, RUG Delver or UWR Delver”, i.e. Liliana of the Veil, Batterskull, Dark Confidant, Hymn to Tourach, Elspeth, Knight Errant, along with Lingering Souls to mess with my tempo plan, and two maindeck (!) Zealous Persecution to pump his spirits and kill my unflipped Delver of Secrets and True-Name Nemesis. We’re the only ones left on 3-0, meaning this is effectively the finals.

In game one I mull to six and keep a hand with double Tarmogoyf, Abrup Decay and three lands. He mulligans to six and opens with Inquisition of Kozilek and takes the Abrupt Decay. A couple of turns into the game we Hymn to Tourach each other and I luckily grab his newly-fetched Batterskull as one of the two cards in his three-card hand, which eventually sealed the deal. One game-breaking mistake which he admitted to after the match was that with me having Liliana of the Veil with just one coutner on it against his Deathrite and three lands in play, he elected to attack my Liliana before casting his own Liliana post-combat. Since he was tapped out, I was able to Daze it, continuing the grind. Eventually, we have empty hands but some lands on the board, he’s at 18 with a Deathrite Shaman in play, I’m at 8 with no creatures in play. I Ponder and look at True-Name Nemesis, Polluted Delta, Wasteland. Grabbing True-Name Nemesis would lose me the game, my plan is to find an answer to his Deathrite Shaman and win the topdeck war with my cantrips. I shuffle and after he cuts my deck, I draw the Disfigure. I kill the Deathrite Shaman, go to 6 from his activation, and pass the turn. He draws a land. I draw a Tarmogoyf and slam it, but he draws a Vindicate to kill it, and not netting me any life like Swords to Plowshares would (how rude!). Eventually, after more turns of topdecking, I’m able to land a True-Name Nemesis and follow it up with a Deathrite Shaman. He can’t find an out, and dies to my two threats.

Sideboarding: -4 Daze, +1 Vendilion Clique, +1 Disfigure, +1 Dismember, +1 Maelstrom Pulse

Game two is a lot less grindy and a lot less exciting for me as he begins again and draws a solid seven while I go to six and keep a fairly slow and, like in game one. He lands an early Deathrite Shaman which I can’t answer, so he’s able to destroy my lands and not lose any tempo from playing Wastelands over regular lands. I have a shot at the win since he’s taken a lot of damage from Dark Confidant, sitting at only 6 life with my active Deathrite Shaman and two lands in play. If he flips Elspeth, Knight-Errant (Batterskull was already in hand) with Dark Confidant, I win, but he has lethal, so otherwise I lose. He doesn’t, and we go to game three.

Sideboarding: -3 Force of Will, +3 Daze

Even though the games can get grindy, Daze is great on the play, and it can also in theory save an important land from a Vindicate later on.

Game three is also grindy, but I’m able to pull ahead when I Abrupt Decay his Stoneforge Mystic end-of-turn and land a Sylvan Library on my turn. The Sylvan Library takes me to 5, but I have all the aggro in the world in the match, and he’s never able to recover.

4-0 (8-2)

 

In total, three wins against three very different decks and a bye meant a solid victory to the good team this monday evening. I lost in the finals of last week’s tournament (the M15 draft detailed below), so a pinch of revenge was just what I needed. The maindeck of the deck is pretty perfect for the expected metagame, Disfigure was damn good all night, and the only thing I missed from the sideboard was another more reliable answer to Batterskull in the form of Krosan Grip.

My first M15 draft experience

I have previously read about how the M15 Limited experience is quite good, and much better than M14. Historically, I’ve never taken Limited very seriously, though I’ve won the occasional prerelease. I really like drafting, which is why I jumped at the opportunity to draft M15 for the first time at the LGC. We were 8 people drafting, followed by three rounds of swiss, meaning 3-0 would take first place barring unintentional draws. Very nice and casual.

In the draft I tried to stay as open as possible in the first pack. I read Melissa DeTora‘s article on archetypes and imagined I could draft Ur Artifacts pretty undisturbed, so that was the original plan. The first decent card, a Scrapyard Mongrel, didn’t show up until the middle of the first pack, not a single Aeronaut Tinkerer, no Ensoul Artifacts and no Shrapnel Blasts. I had picked up two Welkin Terns instead, and by the time we rolled into pack two, I was deep into Uw Fliers, an archetype not mentioned by DeTora in her article, but I had enough fliers for 1U or 1W to justify it, in my opinion. I picked up a Triplicate Spirits in the second pack, a Paragon of Gathering Mists and a pair of Sungrace Pegasus. The third pack yielded my only rares, Mass Calcify and Chasm Skulker.

The deck I sleeved up:

1 Geist of the Moorwelkintern.full
1 Raise the Alarm
1 Razorfoot Griffin
2 Sungrace Pegasus
1 Tireless Missionaries
1 Triplicate Spirits
1 Chasm Skulker
1 Coral Barrier
1 Frost Lynx
2 Kaprsho Kitefins
2 Research Assistant
1 Paragon of the Gatherings Mists
2 Welkin Tern

2 Oppresive Rays
1 Encrust
1 Into the Void
2 Void Snare

9 Plains
8 Island

 

Sideboard cards that mattered:
1 Mass Calcify
1 Oppresive Rays
1 Peel from Reality
1 Tyrant’s Machine

 

Overall, the deck is probably pretty bad. There are no bombs at all to be found, every creature it plays dies to Lightning Strike and the removals in the deck are situational or temporary. I was all-in on the tempo plan therefore.

 

Round 1 vs. GB Reanimator

My opponent kept milling himself for the first turns of the first game, shaming me as I had to read many of the cards he milled. I played a bunch of fliers and attacked meanwhile. On turn six or seven, he dropped his bomb: Nissa, Worldwaker, animated a land and passed the turn. I cast Into the Void, targeting the land and a five-drop, killed Nissa and attacked him to 8. He scooped, as he had no way of stopping me from swinging for lethal in the air.

In game two, my opponent kept a pretty loose hand after a mulligan and I won very quickly with my fliers. Turn two Welkin Tern, turn three Raise the Alarm, turn four Triplicate Spirits, if I recall correctly.

 

1-0 (2-0)

 

Round 2 vs. Rg Beats

My opponent had drafted an aggressive red deck with a slight green splash, meaning I was scared of Lightning Strikes. My opponent wins the roll and starts the game with a turn two Borderland Marauder and turn three Krenko’s Enforcer. However, he stumbled a bit on mana, and my hand was very aggressive. I managed to gain some time with Tireless Missionaries and win with my fliers. In game two, he has a great hand against my mana-heeavy draw and wins very easily and quickly. In game three, I draw all three Oppresive Rays, to effectively make him choose between attacking or playing more threats. I win in the air after a rather grindy match.

 

2-0 (4-1)

 

Round 3 (effectively finals) vs. Wb Lifegain

My opponent was the only other one on white, aside myself, and he was sitting on the other side of the table, so he had an awesome deck. Ajani’s Pridemate backed up by multiple Sungrace Pegasus, Divine Favor, with a black splash for, among other things, Liliana. I manage to win game one thanks to Oppresive Rays shutting down his defenses, but in game two he opens with turn two Sungrace Pegasus, turn three Ajani’s Pridemate. I bounce the Pridemate, but he can easily recast it, along with a Divine Favor on the Pegasus. I can’t find an answer to his 2/5 Flying, Lifelink and 4/4 creature and lose quickly. Game three is very grindy, and it all ends up with me having a Tyrant’s Machine, a Frost Lynx and a Welkin Tern together with a Paragon of the Gathering Mists in play. He’s at 9, but with several creatures in play. I elect to just swing with the Welkin Tern, bringing him to 6, and pass the turn. He has double Oreskos Swiftclaw (one with Divine Favor), a Preeminent Captain, a Selfless Cathar, and an Accursed Spirit with Rouge’s Gloves equipped. He swings with the entire team, and I’m at 13. I elect to tap the Accursed Spirit with the Tyrant’s Machine, since I don’t want him to be able to draw an answer to my lethal damage. Then I tank, finally coming to the conclusion that he can at most hit me for 12 unless he has a trick, if he sacrifices the Selfless Cathar. I choose not to block, since if he kills even one of my creatures, I lose lethal damage. He has the Sanctified Charge, so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. On the top of my library was a land, the third one in a row for the final game, so the outcome was assured in any case. I didn’t feel bitter at all, though, since it was a very close and exciting game.

 

2-1 (5-3)

 

Second place meant I won a couple of Qasali Pridemates (I think number seven and eight in the collection, but nevermind), but more importantly – I had great fun drafting and playing the deck. Other players at the table suggested my deck wasn’t as a bad as I thought it was, but I think Ux Skies could be drafted way better. It was, for sure, not my last M15 draft, I encourage everyone to go out and try it!

On RUGs and Miracles (RUG Primer, part 1)

This is part one of a series of articles dealing with my favorite deck of all time, RUG Delver. In the inaugural post of this blog, I thought I’d go through some of the deck’s more common match-ups.

For reference, here’s a link to my primer on The Source: LINK. A lot of information here will be derived from information there, but with new things as well. This article, as well as future installments, assume rudimentary knowledge of the format as well as the deck itself.

 

Recent history, or “It’s a Miracle!”

RUG fell out of favor around new years this year, after being probably the most dominating deck for most of 2013. There are many reasons to his, but I’d like to attribute most of it to the surge of True Name-Nemesis based decks that we saw after the release of Commander 2013. RUG has no ways to deal with said Nemesis outside the stack, and even though it was certainly able to compete with these decks, another Delver deck was more suited to do so – namely Team America. Team America had the tools to disrupt and punish these slower, durdlier decks with Hymn to Tourach, Liliana of the Veil and other control cards that RUG doesn’t have access to.  In addition, Team America also has Golgari Charm which is both an answer to True-Name Nemesis as well as a very flexible sideboard card which can be brought in against Elves, Blade (to destroy Rest in Peace or effectively counter Supreme Verdict), Sneak and Show, Death and Taxes, Miracles and so on.

However, the existence of True-Name Nemesis in the format also pushed out some of the fair creature-based decks into the fringes, namely Maverick, Junk and their ilk. These are rather negative match-ups as far as RUG goes, meaning RUG benefitted from True-Name Nemesis as well. Further, in order to counter True-Name Nemesis based decks, some players returned to playing uninteractive combo decks, to render True-Name Nemesis into a 3/1 vanilla creature for 1UU, and uninteractive, fast combo decks are often positive match-ups for RUG, who gains another benefit.

Lastly, one deck in the metagame had all the tools to deal with the more combo-saturated but also more midrange metagame – Miracles. Miracles can handily beat most combo decks with just its integral CounterTop combo, along with permission in Force of Will etc., and it also has plenty of removal for the creature-based strategies, as long as it doesn’t get overrun.

While Miracles is hardly a positive match-up for RUG, it’s also not that negative. Let’s consider the qualities of the three premier “Delver” decks of the format for a moment, in light of their match-ups against UWx Miracles:

– Team America (BUG Delver): Team America is a decent deck against Miracles. It almost always packs at least 3, often 4, Abrupt Decay, which can deal with Counterbalance and Rest in Peace, the latter post-board, and it has plenty of creatures for the Miracle player to deal with. However, it lacks the really strong sideboard options against the deck, and it also hates seeing a resolved Jace on the other side of the table.

– Patriot (UWR Delver): Patriot is often the slowest of the three Delver decks, only packing around 10 creatures, though it has the built-in card advantage of Stoneforge Mystic which is handy in the match-up. It has True-Name Nemesis which the Miracles player has to use Terminus to get rid off. Post-board, it has red blasts to bring in, along with at least some enchantment-hate. It doesn’t care about Rest in Peace at all, which is a plus. However, UWR Delver usually can’t remove a resolved Counterbalance, and it will struggle with dealing 20 damage to the Miracles player before Miracles is able to stabilize, on account of the low threat-ratio of the deck.

– Canadian Threshold (RUG Delver): Out of the three Delver decks, the one I prefer to play in a Miracles meta is RUG. RUG can’t beat the CounterTop lock most of the times, without serious abuse of the stack and some Jedi Mind Tricks, but it has a few upsides that the other Delver decks can’t compete with. Most notably, it has access to Nimble Mongoose, a threat that Miracles, like True-Name Nemesis, must use Terminus to get rid of, but it comes at a third of the latter’s price, while still swinging equally hard (equipments not withstanding).  Further, RUG also employs Stifle most of the time, a very useful tool against Miracles. Aside from stunting the deck’s mana growth, Stifle can be used on Miracle triggers (meaning the Miracles player gets to draw the card, but can’t cast it for it’s Miracle cost), Jace activations, Top activations (the draw, specifically), Engineered Explosives activations and so on. It’s an extremely versatile and quite powerful card in the match-up and should not be underestimated. Post-board, RUG Delver has access to the same red blasts as UWR, but also enchantment hate in Krosan Grip or Destructive Revelry.

My opinions on RUG in the Miracles match-ups are echoed in Philipp Shöneggers primer on Miracles on StarCityGames: LINK

 

Why is all of this important? Simply because Miracles is the best-performing deck in the international metagame as of the time of writing this, according to TCdecks.net. Thus, having a fair shot at beating it both before and after sideboard is imperative to any Legacy deck, not just RUG. Let’s have a quick look at the rest of the top 5 decks at TCdecks, for the sake of argument. I will evaluate these match-ups in three different tiers, unfavorable, even and favorable, since I don’t believe Magic is a static and non-random game enough to justify putting percentages or similar scores on match-ups. A lot of RUG’s matches will come down to playskill, both its own pilot and the opponent, since the deck rarely has any auto-wins or auto-losses in a given metagame.

 

#2: RUG mirror – even. Naturally, the mirror is even, though most games might feel very uneven. The match-up itself is rather draw-dependent, and a lot of the post-board games are decided on Submerge. The omnipresence of Submerge and its importance in the match-up means that sometimes plays like Tarmogoyf -> Daze your own Tarmogoyf with the only Tropical Island on the board, pay 1, are good ideas, especially since Tarmogoyf is generally hard to remove for RUG.

#3: Team America – even. Though some pilots of especially Team America might argue that the match-up is in their favor, I do not concur. Their deck is very mana-hungry compared to ours, and as long as we can prevent them from properly playing Magic, a thing RUG is specifically designed to do, the match-up is very winnable. Abrupt Decay is a big plus for them, as is Hymn to Tourach since RUG can’t recoup lost card advantage most of the time, but their curve is higher and their deck is slower, assuming RUG killed the Deathrite Shaman, something which should always be a priority.

#4: Shardless BUG – unfavorable. Shardless BUG is another BUG-colored deck which happens to be slower than RUG, though by quite a bit. They play cards to generate huge amounts of card advantage and bury their opponents in incremental values over the course of a duel. RUG can quite readily attack their mana base, however, and Tarmogoyf is huge, meaning it can close out games quickly for either side. The match-up is far from unwinnable, however. As long as RUG keeps Jace off the board and the beats coming with especially Nimble Mongoose, it can very well win.

#5: Patriot – even. Patriot sacrifices some of the explosiveness of RUG and BUG in order to have a stronger late-game plan, with Stoneforge Mystic generating card advantage by itself and True-Name Nemesis posing as a hard-to-remove threat. The rest of the deck is very linear, with more removals than RUG, and often more soft counters since they tend to play the full set of Spell Pierces, and of course Batterskull to pose a serious threat to RUG, since it’s so difficult to remove or race. That said, Patriot is deceptively mana-hungry, since it really wants to play Stoneforge Mystic and activate it, along with the usual cantrips and removals and so on, meaning the mana-denial plan of RUG is very effective against them. They also lack Deathrite Shaman or any similar cards to ramp into bigger spells, unlike BUG. True-Name Nemesis is most of the times a must-counter, although there are cases where it simply can’t attack because the back-swing of a Tarmogoyf hits harder, while RUG just wins in the air with a flipped Delver of Secrets, but 4 Lightning Bolts and 3-4 Swords to Plowshares makes that scenario quite rare. Nimble Mongoose shines in the match-up as long as True-Name Nemesis and Batterskull are kept off the board.

 

In total, out of the five top decks from the month of July, as reported to TCdecks, only one constitutes a negative match-up. I will cover the other decks further down the list in future installments, though I will say now it contains some positive match-ups as well, such as Storm and Sneak and Show. RUG, as it stands today, is well-positioned in the metagame. The ever-present Brainstorm and Ponder form the core of a very consistent deck, making up for the lack of raw card power in incremental value. If piloted by a skilled pilot, it will have a shot at the champion seat in almost any given tournament.