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.

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