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.

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