RUGs (But Not All Delvers)

Posted in Top Decks on July 5, 2012

By Mike Flores

In Atlanta, Georgia, this past weekend, the Grand Prix circuit made one of its periodic stops in Legacy-land. Early intelligence going into the Grand Prix had Griselbrand as a potential Public Enemy Number One—a kind of Yawgmoth's Bargain that is also a huge creature and easier to get onto the battlefield (via Entomb, Careful Study, and any one several Reanimate variants)—plus, of course, the recent un-banning of Land Tax had players talking. Land Tax was the backbone of any number of card-advantageous decks in years past, a sort of recurring Ancestral Recall (for basic lands)...

Griselbrand | Art by Igor Kieryluk

And yet?

The Atlanta Top 8, while bringing us a couple of unexpected archetypes including one brand new one, had nary a Land Tax nor (even more surprising) Griselbrand in sight. Here's how Atlanta looked:

    RUG Delver

RUG Delver is one of the leading decks in the current Legacy format. It is the definition of "good stuff" playing the best creatures (Tarmogoyf as well as Standard's best, Delver of Secrets), efficient Counterspells like Force of Will and Spell Pierce, and the one-of-a-kind Lightning Bolt (plus other fast burn spells). RUG Delver is kind of non-specialist best-of-the-best that can take on all comers via a combination of card quality and speed.

Gaudenis Vidugiris's RUG Delver

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Grand Prix winner Gaudenis Vidugiris played a RUG Delver deck with a fair number of new customizations. Nimble Mongoose is at the forefront of this deck, a 3/3-for-one that is hard to deal with, a kind of slippery (if-non-flying) Delver of Secrets. While it doesn't play Snapcaster Mage, the deck's ability to leverage threshold gives it an angle on Thought Scour.

Gaudenis's deck is a counterspell monster. In addition to the format-defining and combo-stomping Force of Will, Vidugiris ran the full four copies of Spell Pierceand a couple of Spell Snares to interact with various Stoneforge Mystics, Umezawa's Jittes, Bitterblossoms, or Griselbrand Reanimator's Animate Dead or Exhume.

The "general" take-on-all-comers plan for RUG Delver is just to play a Tarmogoyf; Gaudenis cut the fourth Tarmogoyf in order to run a singleton Scavenging Ooze (trouble for any kind of Reanimator combo strategy).

In addition to both main deck and sideboard Scavenging Oozes, Vidugiris's RUG Delver could disrupt a proposed Griselbrand-from-the-graveyard via Surgical Extraction or steal it after it hit the table with Gilded Drake.

Daryl Ayers's RUG Delver

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Daryl Ayers also played a RUG Delver deck, but one with very different capabilities. Like Gau's deck, Ayers's build played tight threats, high-quality support cards, and lots of potential permission. Seven free counterspells, the same full four copies of Spell Pierce that the champ ran, but also four copies of Stifle.

In addition to playing a kind of permission spell (Stifle is actually better at stopping Empty the Warrens or Tendrils of Agony than a "real" counterspell), Stifle can also team up with Wasteland to lock down the opponent's mana. What could be worse than biting a Wasteland followed by a Stifle preventing you from your Flooded Strand? Ayers reinforced this land destruction sub-theme with a single Life from the Loam. This could potentially allow him to play Wasteland over and over again while building up the graveyard for Tarmogoyf and Nimble Mongoose.

Lightning Bolt is Lightning Bolt... but what's up with Fire // Ice and Forked Bolt in these builds? While we didn't necessarily see any in this Top 8, Elves combo is a legitimate deck in Legacy and anything that lets you take down two Llanowar Elves or Arbor Elves with a single strike can prove beneficial.

    StoneBlade Variants

Fred Edelkamp's VaporBlade

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Edelkamp called his deck "VaporBlade" and joked that he wanted to play both Delver and StoneBlade at the same time. So he did!

VaporBlade is a straight white-blue deck (so needs a few more bodies to carry around those Swords and Jittes). He could get the super-fast jump with first-turn Delver of Secretsor one-card-combo on turn two just by playing Stoneforge Mystic. Geist of Saint Traft is no less powerful a card here than we have seen in Standard. In fact, armored up with a Stoneforge Mystic-driven Sword of Feast and Famine or Umezawa's Jitte, the Geist is potentially hairier than ever.

The biggest wrinkle in this build is around its namesake, Vapor Snag. Geist of Saint Traft isn't universally agreed upon or anything, but even the super-low land count is understandable... Vapor Snag really stands out, as does the absence of the (bounce) card whose spot it takes up here.

No Jace, the Mind Sculptor! Not even in the sideboard!

Michael Majors's Esper StoneBlade

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Michael Majors also played a StoneBlade variant, but as you can see his Esper StoneBlade deck was quite a bit different from Fred's VaporBlade. For one thing, Majors played three colors. I don't know about you, but the first thing I looked for with the black splash was Lingering Souls... Okay, it's "only" in the sideboard, but Lingering Souls is there.

So what is the black for?

Among other things, Inquisition of Kozilek. Inquisition of Kozilek joins Spell Pierce, a solo Counterspell, Force of Will, and Daze to create a super disruptive deck. This deck can go proactive with the Inquisition for an easy buyback with Snapcaster Mage, or sit back and use its blue cards to hold the lead that Stoneforge Mystic sets up on turn two.

Some notes on the Majors sideboard:

  1. Perish—Another reason for black mana and a bomb-smash against decks like Maverick that are trying to play a fair game.
  2. Humility—For when a Show and Tell player tries to drop Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. "I will Show you a 15-cost [almost] untargetable Annihilator!" Um, okay... I'll Show you Humility.
    Green-White Maverick

Green-white has become one of the pillars of the Legacy format in recent years. Maverick has evolved from a primarily "Hate Bears" strategy to the king of the fair decks. Maverick excels because of its ability to fight and beat the other fair decks. And in the hands of a superstar Pro Tour champion...?

Ben Stark's Green-White Maverick

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Mother of Runes has a job: Never attack. Never ever attack (unless you are coming in for the last point or something). Mother of Runes is like Maverick's pre-emptive and recurring Counterspell. This little one-drop keeps all the nasty Lightning Bolts and Swords to Plowshares from killing Maverick's excellent creatures.

Green Sun's Zenith—The backbone of this deck's tutor engines. For a single mana, Green Sun's Zenith can play Llanowar Elves and find Dryad Arbor. At higher amounts of mana, it can do basically anything... find Scavenging Ooze to battle the opponent's graveyard or find Fauna Shaman or Knight of the Reliquary for even more tutoring!

Knight of the Reliquary—Possibly the card that makes Maverick as a whole tick. Knight of the Reliquary can get huge to play Tarmogoyf, or go for any of several different unique lands to take control of the game. Maze of Ith can keep gigantic monsters off your back and Karakas can keep even the mighty Emrakul, the Aeons Torn off the table. Wasteland after Wasteland can help lock down an opponent (especially once you have a sizable clock in play), and Wasteland after Wasteland (potentially backed up by that Life from the Loam in the graveyard) can make Knight of the Reliquary bigger and bigger.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben—Maverick has moved away from tons of different "Hate Bears" to configurations like Ben's. This deck might have no copies of Tarmogoyf, but it does have four copies of this new two-drop. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben puts a severe tax on fair decks that are reliant on fast one- and two-mana cantrips. For example, say you kept a one-land hand on the draw on the basis of having a ton of Ponders, Brainstorms, and Thought Scours? If Ben dropped Thalia on the second turn, you might have big problems keeping pace in the game at all. Thalia is even worse for unfair decks. Goblin Charbelcher or other storm combination? Really annoying for those kinds of decks. In case you didn't notice, Maverick is largely creatures, and the support spells are all super cheap, topping out on the often-cheap Green Sun's Zenith and the oh-so-profligate Sylvan Library at two.

Maverick is a deck that doesn't do anything outlandishly powerful. It doesn't make a turn-two 15/15, let alone kill you on that second turn. What it does is slow down "broken" decks with Thalia or tutor up Gaddock Teeg... but can grind out other fair decks with its constant stream of small and incremental advantages.

    Goblin Charbelcher

Gerardo Fedon's Goblin Charbelcher

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One land?

And it's a nonbasic? How are you supposed to not get blown out by Wasteland?

You're not.

Belcher is the epitome of the all-in deck. If your opponent doesn't have Force of Will? Probably just dead.

Instead of playing lands, you just play Land Grant, which allows you to grab a Forest (Taiga is a Forest that can tap for red mana). Belcher—based on the conditions of Goblin Charbelcher itself—doesn't want to play too many lands. You want to find your one to get it out of the deck... And when you go for the Empty the Warrens side of the deck, Land Grant builds storm as well.

So how does this deck work?

Almost every card in the Belcher deck makes mana or draws a card; so the vast majority of hands with either Charbelcher or Empty the Warrens can "get there" immediately...

For example:

Lion's Eye Diamond
Land Grant
Elvish Spirit Guide
Tinder Wall
Rite of Flame
Seething Song
Goblin Charbelcher

You can Land Grant for your Taiga (which hopefully resolves), and remove Elvish Spirit Guide for .

You can lay down Tinder Wall and make .

Rite of Flame turns into , and Seething Song can turn that into .

You can play Goblin Charbelcher and drop Lion's Eye Diamond to activate it.

You don't have any Mountains or other lands in your deck at this point, but that doesn't matter. Finding a land is only the stop condition on Goblin Charbelcher. You can go ahead and reveal a gazillion cards in your deck to kill the opponent.

I am sure you can imagine any number of hands that can, if you replace Goblin Charbelcher with Empty the Warrens, result in ten goblins on the first turn. While that is theoretically answer-able, the opponent is now on a two-turn clock and had better find an answer in a hurry.

I know what you're thinking:

The Charbelcher deck really has a lot of "make mana now cards" so it wants a Goblin Charbelcher or Empty the Warrens in its opening hand... why only three Warrens?

I'm glad you asked!

Burning Wish allows you to "store" an extra Empty the Warrens in your sideboard; so it's really like you have seven copies of Empty the Warrens main deck. Plus you can get some bullets like Shattering Spree or Reverent Silence even in Game 1. Goblin War Strike? With a Burning Wish, ten Goblins off of a fast Empty the Warrens can be even more lethal!

Now on the subject of decks with the word "Goblin" in the title...


J. Sawyer Lucy's Goblins!

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Goblins is of course one of the most celebrated archetypes in the history of Legacy Grand Prix... New Jersey State Champion Jon Sonne took out Chris Pikula's White-Black Deadguy Ale in the finals of a long-ago Grand Prix Philadelphia, and the reigning Player of the Year put himself on the map with a Goblins finals appearance in the Flash-Hulk Columbus.

J. Sawyer Lucy took Goblins to new and different places while keeping the incentives that have made Goblins, you know, Goblins for so long.

Goblins opens on one of two super-powerful one-mana cards: Æther Vial and Goblin Lackey.

Either of these cards can play the first domino in a line to eventual domination.

Goblin Lackey ? Siege-Gang Commander—Yes, this is a thing.

Æther Vial ? All kinds of stuff. Æther Vial simply activates the kinds of draws that would have been awesome anyway, but turns all your creatures into uncounterable instants.

Some Highlights...

Goblin Matron—Finds any Goblin (usually Goblin Ringleader, but often bullets like Stingscourger). Matron-into-Warchief (especially riding Æther Vial) can build tremendous momentum.

Goblin PiledriverGoblin Warchief into multiple Piledrivers can create a lethal attack out of nowhere. By the way, you can actually just tap four lands for Siege-Gang Commander, which gives each of your Piledrivers an offensive boost.

Stingscourger—A one-of (quite find-able with Goblin Matron)... for Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben—How did that get in here? Goblins is powerful—and fast for a creature deck—but not unfair in the same way as an insta-Griselbrand or turn-one Charbelcher kill. Thalia provides resistance to fast kills and combinations. You can access it via the one Plateau or any Æther Vial draw.

Gilded Drake—The "Thalia" of the Goblins sideboard. Accessible via the one Volcanic Island, or again, Æther Vial. Gilded Drake's job is to steal a big threat after it has already hit (whereas Relic of Progenitus is meant to keep the opposing big win off the table to begin with).

I found Lucy's build of Goblins to be pretty exciting, breathing quite a bit of life into a well established archetype.

    White-Black-Red Zombies

Sam Black's White-Black-Red Zombies

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"Sam Black Strikes Again!" (or so the headline says).

Sam's deck is a snowball of synergistic interactions. There are tons of creatures that can come back and come back again (Gravecrawler and Bloodghast), which, like the many token producers (Bitterblossom and Lingering Souls), combine with sacrifice effects like Carrion Feeder and Goblin Bombardment to produce a scary amount of damage (all right, life loss) with Blood Artist.

Cabal Therapy is both combo resistance and another sacrifice outlet; Tidehollow Sculler is itself more resistance that has some cool synergies with the green-white or any of the sacrifice outlets. When Tidehollow Sculler hits the battlefield, you can put its ability on the stack and respond by sacrificing it; it will leave play (triggering the "leaves play" part and presumably returning the opponent's pilfered card, which hasn't been stolen yet); now you can get around to forcing the opponent to give up a card in hand... meaning your opponent is never going to get it back if Tidehollow Sculler dies!

Sam's deck, of course, also has a regular fast offense... Carrion Feeder on one as well as a 2-power one-drop in Gravecrawler... so it is doing all this cool stuff in a short window. By the time the opponent figures out what this "Zombies" deck is doing, it can already be too late.

Pretty great, very all over the place (yet Griselbrand- and Emrakul-free) Top 8... A great showing for Legacy!

But before we go... how about a great showing for Standard?

Josh Ravitz took down a Standard PTQ with a very different RUG deck than his FinkelDraft compatriot Gaudenis did in Legacy... and for a format where Delver of Secrets is king, a surprising take.

Josh spent week after week playing Delver variants, and as recently as the StarCityGames Invitational in Baltimore used an Esper Delver deck to make Top 8. So this RUG Wolf Ramp deck is a dramatic departure as well as being awesomely successful:

Josh Ravitz's RUG Wolf Ramp

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Some notes from the champ:

"I'd change the sideboard, assuming the metagame doesn't change at all (unlikely) to include two Surgical Extractions and zero Zealous Conscripts. You need to answer Phantasmal Image out of the 'Esper decks' and I don't think there is enough ramp being played to warrant two dead sideboard slots for a likely good matchup.

"I played against Delver variants three times, defeating all three relatively easily, though I did drop one game when my opponent Gut Shotted + Dismembered my Primeval Titan while I was holding only lands, and drew only lands afterwards (it happens).

"I played the deck because I was tired of grinding out a 1% (or less) edge vs the field with Delver. Regardless of the amount of mistakes my opponents would make before or during the match, the games are always close and there's definitely better things to be doing. Delver isn't Caw-Blade: It is beatable.

"While ordinarily I wouldn't think of or recommend playing a 'rogue deck' I do think there is a lot to be gained through 'deck advantage' (i.e. playing Spirit Delver when everyone else is on regular Delver and not playing Corrosive Gale, or playing a powerful deck that is actually good and unexpected—Alex West's Faerie Blade in Extended, my Fiery Justice deck). Sometimes you just need to take an alternate path. Credit to John Kassari for doing well enough with the deck that I saw the decklist, and to Eugene Khutorsky for losing in the Top 8 of the PTQ last weekend, so the deck was still unexpected this week."

Kudos to Josh for taking one down with a very unexpected—yet still quite powerful—strategy. Temporal Mastery in Ramp? Taking extra turns is pretty good with Titans and Karn both! Plus, having all that extra mana lets you cast your Time Walk if you need to.

Great finish, and a fine stack of decks to discuss this week, in both Legacy and Standard!

Soon... more M13!

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