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#RUGLyf: The RUG Delver Primer – Part 4: Game Play

It’s been a long time coming and has been awaited for quite some time, and I can only say I’m incredibly sorry for the delay. This is probably the most difficult and ambitious piece of the RUG Delver primer I’ve been assembling (if you haven’t seen Part 1, 2 and 3 yet, I recommend clicking away on to those!), as this will outline something more interesting and nuanced than simple card choices, or matchup analysis, so it’s been difficult to have time to sit down and finish it off due to the usual business of life – as well as due to being stranded in a foreign country with terrible internet and a busted laptop! Nonetheless, here it is! This part will outline the variety of in-game decisions that are common within RUG Delver (I think it’s unlikely I’ll be able to cover them all, of course), giving reference to a multitude of coverage matches and Magic Online matches by some excellent players. Like everyone reading, I also am a disciple of the beast that is RUG, and although watching myself screw up over and over would certainly be educational (and who knows, maybe I’ll get down to this sometime in the future) learning from those with proven track records is probably more worthwhile, especially when contextualised within the sections of this article. Those are, in order:

• The Opening Hand
• The Opening Turn
• The Mid-Game
• The End Game
• Effective Cantripping

Anyway, let’s begin!

The Opening Hand

So you’ve shuffled up your newly bought (or newly proxied, however you want to play Legacy) RUG Delver list, excited to be jamming some Legacy with one of the sweetest tempo decks ever. You draw your opener and then look at it… And have no idea what to do. Opening hands are the first thing one has to look towards when starting a game of Magic, and determining whether to keep or mulligan is the first decision one will have to make with RUG Delver. So let’s go through some of these decisions.

Let’s start with some easy ones. Keep or mulligan this?

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This hand is basically perfect, especially if on the play. We get to deploy an early threat in Delver, Daze the opponent’s first play, have Force of Will for the next big play the opponent makes, Spell Pierce to defend our Delver and Lightning Bolt to finish the opponent off or remove any difficult creatures; a typical ‘Delver hand’. What is the most important thing about this hand is the fact that we have Ponder within it. This gives us a ‘safety valve’ given something difficult happens. For example, if our Delver is removed somehow (eg. via an uncounterable Abrupt Decay), we can cantrip into another threat or we can use the Ponder to press our advantage further if our Delver remains, perhaps finding additional disruption, mana denial or burn. The cantrips are truly, as I’ve mentioned before, what ties hands together and give you flexibility to shift your gameplan based on what occurs. They often make or break opening hands.

Let’s look at one a little more difficult.

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This hand really shows the power of cantrips. If either a Tarmogoyf or one of the red spells here were a Ponder or Brainstorm, this hand would be exceptionally keepable. As it is here, it’s a very marginal hand, and I’d be inclined to mulligan this on both the play and draw. There’re a variety of reasons for this. It’s very unlikely this hand hits its second land drop in a timely fashion (due to being unable to dig for land) and hence will be unable to deploy the Tarmogoyfs quickly. Due to this reason as well, this hand may colour screw itself, as it requires both green and red mana to be effective – if the next land is not a fetchland, for example, half this hand may be entirely turned off. Another reason that this hand is a likely mulligan is because it is very inflexible. This hand is forced to play as a ‘Goyf Sligh’ hand, with only Daze as light disruption, which is unlikely to be enough against any combo opponent. Keeping this hand in the dark may lead to a quick death by Tendrils. Cantrips smooth draws so that once matchups have been identified, specific cards can be dug for. This hand cannot achieve the flexibility that RUG typically prides itself on.

Let’s look at another interesting hand, again showing the defining power of cantrips.

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This hand is not exceptional. If there were a one-drop creature to deploy, this hand would be excellent, but as it is, it is fine. What this hand needs is to quickly find a threat to deploy – ideally a one-mana threat – but luckily Ponder is likely to allow this to occur. This hand does run the risk of ‘treading water’ if the Ponder whiffs, where the deck is forced to interact and disrupt with Daze and Wasteland without a threat on the table, which does not achieve much, as eventually the opponent can draw out of these forms of disruption. Nonetheless, I would keep this hand. You have to have faith in your cantrips, but don’t worry – they’ll very often pull through for you. They’re powerful cards in the deck for a reason.

This hand, on the other hand, is not keepable, though it looks like it would perform in a similar way to the previous one:

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This hand truly is just about ‘treading water’. This hand will counter some of the opponent’s plays, kill a creature, maybe even Stifle and Wasteland them, and you’ll feel good about yourself, but it doesn’t matter too much, because a threat is not being established quickly – and may not even appear at all, as blind draw steps are being relied on! The opponent is likely to eventually draw out of their mana screw, have a lot of cards in hand to deploy while meanwhile, the RUG Delver player, who kept this hand, has exhausted all their resources while the opponent’s life total has not budged at all. Being able to establish a threat in a timely fashion, or at least have the tools to dig for one, is probably one of the most important things in RUG Delver. Hands like these are some of the most notorious keeps for beginner Delver players, as they look like they ‘do’ something, but in actuality achieve very little.

If you’re looking for more ‘Keep or Mulligans’ involving RUG Delver, Jacob Wilson put up a pretty recent article involving these as well, which you can find on Channel Fireball. Similar to what I’ve said, cantrips and/or threats are probably the most import things to be looking for within openers. If both are there, the hand is usually keepable, especially if accompanied by some form of disruption.

The Opening Turn

So we’ve decided to keep our opener. What are going to be our typical turn one plays?

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These should be number one on your list of turn one plays to make, with Delver being the best of these, of course. As aforementioned, establishing a threat early is probably one of the most important things to do with RUG Delver. Even an innocuous-looking Mongoose is a very worthwhile threat to deploy on turn one usually.

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If we do not have a turn one threat to deploy we typically want to begin the game by casting a turn one Ponder to find a threat to deploy on turn two. Or, perhaps say we have a hand flush with Tarmogoyfs. If we don’t have any countermagic or disruption on turn one we want to hold up, Pondering is also fine, although less impressive than in the previous case we mentioned, as on turn one we are somewhat unlikely to be able to exactly identify what cards we need to find with our cantrips (this is less likely on the draw). Generally though, if you have a hand flush with Goyfs as your threats, your turn one Ponder will likely be looking for countermagic to defend them or some other forms of disruption. Note that even Nimble Mongoose is an acceptable turn one threat over simply casting a Ponder, most of the time, no matter how innocuous he may seem initially:

Here we see a Ponder being used instead of a Goose though:

What gives?

Notice the hand in question here is flush with cantrips that are likely the clunk up the hand unless timely deployed. Being able to quickly filter through these and make sure all the cards in our hand are exhausted is very important for RUG (remember, we want to exhaust all our resources in a timely manner, before the opponent can deploy all of theirs) and hence deploying the Mongoose on turn two is a perfectly fine cost here. Also note that digging for lands is important with this hand since its quite land-light and can lose to a timely Wasteland. If this were a Delver though, the cost of deploying it on turn two is much higher, and it is unlikely that a turn one Delver should ever be sacrificed for Pondering (especially since the Ponder can set the Delver up).

Note that I’m not putting Brainstorm as one of your turn one plays! Only under very, very, very exceptional circumstances will you want to cast your Brainstorm on turn one but otherwise Brainstorm is a card you will likely want to preserve for the mid- to late-game, since it is the most powerful of your cantrips and, like Ponder, but perhaps more so, is much more powerful as the game has progressed and you know which cards your cantrips need to dig for. You also can’t partner Brainstorm with a fetchland if you cast it on turn one as well, of course. AJ Sacher goes through this pretty thoroughly in his Brainstorm video:

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On the play, holding up Spell Pierce or Lightning Bolt instead of deploying a threat is typically not what you want to be doing, but is often fine if you can only deploy a Tarmogoyf on turn two or something of the sort. The only problem is you can only do these with certainty, and not have your turn one entirely wasted (which is basically heresy for a RUG Delver player) usually in sideboard matches or when you’re well aware of the matchup beforehand. For example, against Miracles I may be happy to hold up a Spell Pierce in Game 2, rather than Ponder, for a potential Turn 1 Sensei’s Divining Top, or if I’m against Death & Taxes, for example, being able to Turn 1 Bolt a Mother of Runes and then Turn 2 deploy a Tarmogoyf is a pretty good sequence of plays; the same can be said for killing a Turn 1 mana dork against Elves. But these things can only be predicted if you are aware of the matchup. Otherwise, given the option, it’s probably more valuable Pondering or deploying a Mongoose or something of the sort. A turn one wasted for RUG Delver is not a very good one at all.

On the draw, these again change. The option of Lightning Bolt or Delver of Secrets, who is typically an automatic turn one play, can err more in favor of Lightning Bolt if the opposing creature is something incredibly damaging to our game plan, such as a Mother of Runes or a Deathrite Shaman. These creatures can throw wrenches in our mana denial plan or future forms of disruption, and must be killed on the spot. Identify these and make the correct turn one play accordingly. We may also want to hold up Spell Pierce if we’re on the draw too, if we fear or have seen (maybe with Probe or something of the sort) a game-ending card such as Blood Moon, Chalice of the Void or Counterbalance, which may soon make its appearance. However, if these alarm-bell spells are not around, we can just happily follow our usual sequence of playing a creature on turn one.

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Now, the question of holding up the turn one Stifle is probably the biggest question about the card. So often players decide to, instead of deploying something such as a Delver, instead hold up their Stifle – which is something that should not become a habit. Remember, the name of the game of RUG Delver is deploy a threat then disrupt – and Stifle most definitely falls into the disruption camp. In the case of Nimble Mongoose, however, things become a little less clear-cut – the power of Mongoose is very lackluster in the opening stages of the game, and instead being able to ‘get them’ with Stifle on turn one seems great. So let’s instead look towards a match to find what their opening play is in the case of Mongoose vs. Stifle.

Danny Jessup here chooses to deploy Mongoose rather than Stifle when he’s on the play in the RUG Delver mirror, despite how potent the Stifle in his hand can possibly be against Costa. Admittedly, Mongoose is also one of the most potent threats in the mirror as well.

Here we see, even for Mongoose, deploy a threat then disrupt.

Now what about Pondering vs. Stifling when we have no turn one threat? This becomes a bit more difficult, and again, knowledge of the matchup is key here. Essentially we’re looking at some risk vs. reward logic. The risk being – our opponent plays a non-fetchland and casts something on turn one, while we do nothing – while the reward is they fetch, we Stifle, they’re a land down and we’re slamming Goyfs next turn while they’re mana screwed. In the dark game one, I’m much more likely to simply Ponder on turn one – the risk is too high that we end up doing nothing on turn one if we’re playing against a fetch-light deck, and importantly the opportunity cost is not too high. Stifle, although it may of missed being ‘cashed in’ has a lot of other uses, which allow it to still be worth a card. On the other hand, if I’m knowledgeable of the matchup already and a turn one fetch is more likely to appear, holding up Stifle can be valuable. Not Pondering early also has merits too – as I’ve mentioned before, cantrips are stronger the more information you have.

We can see that you can prevent being ‘in the dark’ via Gitaxian Probe, which Jacob Wilson uses excellently here to see that turn one Stifle is ready to destroy some lands. Here it’s obvious we should be holding it up.

What about play or draw? If my opponent is on the play and deploys a threat on turn one then I’m much more unlikely to try to hold up Stifle – I need to ‘catch up’ and get on the board or deal with their creature and Pondering should hopefully allow me to find a threat or removal to do that.

You can see here that Jacob Wilson has no hesitation Pondering after his opponent is on the play and deploys a Nettle Sentinel, rather than holding up Stifle:

If your opponent instead Ponders or something of the sort, then I may be more inclined to hold up Stifle over Ponder, though even this can be a bit skeptical – since they’ve cantripped they’ve dug a bit deeper into their deck and may hit lands more easily, so the ‘free win’ that Stifle can give is less likely. Check whether they shuffle or not with Ponder and gauge how powerful Stifle is to be – if they shuffle they may be desperately looking for lands and Stifle can get them!

If you’re on the draw and see an exposed fetchland as your opponent’s only play turn one though, well of course, feel free to have that Stifle at the ready as your play on the draw instead of deploying the Goose or Pondering. Times like these are when Stifle can really get your opponent.

Of course, all this talk of turn one Stifle changes completely if you get to matchup specifics. For example, against Miracles I’m barely ever going to worry about turn one Stifle or not, I’m just going to Ponder, as Stifle is much more powerful in the matchup as an anti-Terminus measure and Miracles is also very likely to simply play off non-fetchlands. More on matchup specific Stifling in Part 5.

A lot of intuition and knowledge of the Legacy format occurs even within RUG’s turn one plays, so it can be pretty daunting! In short though, when thinking about ‘holding up’ one of our instants weigh how likely you are to waste your turn one doing nothing vs. the power of holding up the card. If the chance of wasting turn one is high, or the impact of your potential turn one play is relatively low (ie. your Spell Pierce will be hitting a Ponder instead of a crucial piece of the opponent’s deck or a lock piece; you’re Stifling the fetchland of a Lands opponent, who has six more lands in their hand anyway) instead simply cast a creature or cantrip. Also be well aware of creatures that have to be killed instead of deploying a threat due to the damage they can cause on future turns.

The Mid-Game

So we’ve hopefully done something on turn one, and ideally this involves deploying a Delver, so what can we do as the midgame proceeds? The name of the game here is disrupt. Essentially we actually don’t want the midgame to proceed too far – we want the game to stay within the early stages of the game where our threats shine over others, and larger plays cannot be made. How do we do this?

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The mana suppression elements are key at ensuring the opponent cannot make larger plays, and therefore your creatures can beatdown unhindered. Mana screwing your opponent as early as possible is very important here, as ideally we’re the only one with a threat on the table while the opponent has nothing. Of course, sometimes your Stifles will be played around, sometimes your opponent will have basics. Things will slip through. You also need to ensure your threats are defended from removal too. So for that we have:

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The mid-game will typically involve not only mana suppression elements, but also using counter magic to foremost defend your threats, but also ensure anything that slips through the mana suppression can be dealt with.

Daze is a card, I’ve mentioned before, that you should be pretty liberal in casting. You want to exhaust all the cards in your hand as fast as possible while you have a threat in play. Don’t feel you should ‘hold on’ to your Dazes for a very long time, try and throw it at whatever seems feasible – even simple cantrips! We know from our side of the table how powerful cantrips are, so you shouldn’t feel too sad about countering something seemingly innocuous as a Ponder. This is especially the case against combo, where they are usually pretty happy to wait to cast their ‘big spell’ through the Daze. Deploying a Delver then Dazing the opponent’s turn one play is a great and common sequence of plays, especially since the Delver will force the opponent to get on the board as fast as possible, since it exerts a fair amount of pressure, and therefore causes playing into the Daze.

Daze also casts an ‘invisible hand’ on opponents who are afraid to play their cards into it and play behind curve as a result – you can capitalize on this by playing much more aggressively. Don’t expect this to work often though – good players know when they can afford to play around Daze and when they can’t, and usually this depends on the amount of pressure you’re exerting.

Now when shouldn’t you Daze, even when the spell will be countered? This is often when you need to curve into a Tarmogoyf on turn two, and Dazing a turn one play prevents you from getting on the board as fast as possible. In that case its fine just to wait then and counter the opponent’s turn two play. Dazing on turn one can also be detrimental when you want to cast a Brainstorm with a fetchland on turn two as well. So I guess importantly, and simply, plan your turn two beforehand, gauge whether Dazing the spell is whether the loss of mana, and therefore cast the spell accordingly.

Here we see a Daze not eating an Entomb due to the sequence of Wasteland + Grafdigger’s Cage being a much more powerful play next turn, which requires not being set behind a land drop.

Another reason to not Daze early is when you do not have a threat already on board. This is the ‘treading water’ I’ve talked about, essentially setting you back an entire turn. Sometimes you will follow a sequence of turn one Ponder, then Daze the opponents turn one play if the threat on turn one is incredibly detrimental to your game plan (eg. Deathrite Shaman etc.) and can be acceptable if your Ponder has found a turn one threat to follow-up with. But generally try not to Daze when behind on board. The card is excellent when a threat is already deployed (like most of RUG’s cards) but can be very detrimental when you’re essentially putting yourself quite far behind.

Other things about Daze, only in very rare circumstances will you actually hard cast Daze. Even in the mid- to late-game, when you easily have mana to pay for a hard cast Daze, it’s often much more beneficial to bounce a land into your hand. All we need is two mana to operate – and any extra cards in hand is great for when you draw a Brainstorm. Also be aware that Daze taxing the opponent’s mana can be relevant at times by stopping them from playing two spells in one turn (consider Dazing a Glimpse of Nature, for example), and simply throwing away a Daze to feed Mongoose’s Threshold can also sometimes be important.

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People love to clutch on to their Force of Wills until the end of the game – and usually this is actually imperative in combo matchups where you need to counter the big Natural Order or Show and Tell coming up. And sure, sometimes the best Force of Will is the one you never have to cast, since it meant that your opponent never cast an incredibly threatening spell. But with RUG Delver, you should be, again, pretty liberal with your countermagic, particularly in fair matchups where the card disadvantage is significant – in this case, you need to pick your spots where the tempo advantage the card provides can be capitalized on.

For example, doing things like this…

Jessy immediately throws his Force at Deathrite Shaman, which he is rewarded for greatly thanks to his follow-up Wasteland that completely mana screws his opponent – he could likely sense the fragility in his opponent’s mana base due to the lead of Tropical Island, Deathrite, which is not ideal for DeathBlade. Patrick Sullivan’s follow-up comments about using Force on ‘reasonable’ targets are very pertinent to RUG Delver. You should be happy to be simply casting more spells than your opponent, and Force of Will allows you to simultaneously deploy threats and counter threats or removal within the same turn. You should also be happy to Force even though you apparently have the tools in hand to deal with a threat. For example, a turn two Stoneforge Mystic deployed against you on the draw should be happily Forced most of the time even if you have Brainstorm and a fetch ready to go next turn, which is likely to find you the Bolt you need, if you have threats ready to be deployed next turn, perhaps a Tarmogoyf. Force gave you a substantial advantage by allowing you to gain a tempo advantage in this case (ie. a time advantage – instead of looking for the Bolt you were slamming more threats that turn) despite the card disadvantage it incurs, and this is what you should always have in mind when leveraging the card.

Force also gives you a lot of uses for cards that have lost their utility. Dead Stifles and dead Dazes are perfect fodder for your Force of Wills, giving situational cards broader utility as the game moves through. Force of Will is a card you will also often Brainstorm away, due to either having a low blue count in hand, little need for the card (if possible, you’d prefer to use removal or generic counters as long as it doesn’t detriment your threat deployment, the card disadvantage is still substantial) or being flooded on multiple Force of Wills – casting multiple Force of Wills within a game is likely to lead you to substantially deplete your resources in hand (remember, especially when you pitch cantrips, you’re pitching potential other cards the cantrips could find), so either pitching one Force to the other or Brainstorming surplus Forces away is a common thing.

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Other counters that fall into this category are cards such as Spell Snare. These cards are great at disrupting combo opponents as well as defending your threats, but again, feel happy to throw these at the first card you see as reasonable. You don’t want the Pierce to eventually be played through and rot in your hand, nor do you want to pass up countering the first two-drop your opponent casts, to ‘save’ your Snare for something more worthwhile in future, which your opponent may or may not draw. Again, your counterspells are situational – so use them when the situations for them to shine occurs! For Spell Pierce this can even mean just countering simple things such as cantrips, in the same way I talked about Daze. This can be especially pertinent when fighting against decks abusing Abrupt Decay, which is a removal spell you cannot defend your creatures with via Pierce, so preventing the opponent from finding the Decay in the first place is much appreciated.

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Ponder somewhat falls into this camp as well, but really, Brainstorm is the mid- to late-game all-star of most Legacy decks. In the mid-game you should be well-aware now of what you’re playing against, you should have a reasonable amount of cards in hand and you should have a fetchland – a perfect time to Brainstorm. Note that Brainstorm is primarily a reactive card – you’re generally using Brainstorm to find a particular answer – a Bolt for an opposing threat, more countermagic to defend yourself against combo, find a timely Wasteland or Stifle to further mana suppression when viable or find additional threats or Bolts to increase your clock. We’ll cover Brainstorm a bit more in the “Effective Cantripping” section.

The End Game

The ideal end game is one that is reached relatively quickly. We have begun the game by deploying a threat. We have disrupted the opponent via countermagic and mana denial, and we have been able to answer any threats they have imposed on us in the early stages of the game. What do we generally want to do to close the game out? There’re a few things:

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A RUG end game can often involve just enough disruption and beatdown to get the opponent’s life total quite low. You’ve got your Mongoose and Goyfs going, but then suddenly your opponent has found a way out of mana screw and have been able to push some Tarmogoyfs through your countermagic as blockers. What do you do?

You burn them out. This is the reason why RUG is the most aggressively bent tempo deck in Legacy, because its access to reach in the form of Lightning Bolt allows the opponent’s stabilization to be taken away in a flurry of red spells. In the end game, your cantrips will often be looking for Bolts to close out the game or kill the last blockers of your opponent. Sometimes sacrificing your creatures just to get through damage and then burning out the opponent is what you’ll need to do.

Go wide

Other than Bolt, just finding more threats with your cantrips is also a good plan to push through opposing blockers or removal. Sometimes, especially in Tarmogoyf stare-offs, just having more dudes can allow you to get just enough damage through.

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Against control opponents, Nimble Mongoose is the perfect endgame threat. Often the opponent will be stranded with Abrupt Decays and Swords to Plowshares in their hand while the Mongoose gets to work on their life total and there is nothing they can do about it. Although Delver and Tarmogoyf can shine when the opponent is disrupted via countermagic and mana denial, which ensures they can’t cast removal, in the end game, where their mana may be back online and they have exhausted your countermagic, Mongoose is the greatest counterplay.

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Stifle is a good card to search for to counter the opponent’s end game – though identifying when this is the case is very important. Against Stoneblade decks, for example, finding Stifles can be very valuable at countering Batterskulls, against Miracles, putting them into positions where it is Terminus-or-bust makes Stifle a game-winner, and against Sneak & Show Stifling an Emrakul Annihilator trigger can be incredibly powerful. Identify where Stifle’s utility is high in the opponent’s end game and then use it to your advantage!

More countermagic is also viable as cards to find for your end game. Typically this will be to ensure that your threats will not die in the final turns (as long as not fighting Abrupt Decay), or you’ll have a enough countermagic to fight on the stack against the combo opponent’s big play. In the end game though, Force of Will is definitely the best of your counters, as Daze and Spell Pierce’s utility often wavers at the final turns of the game.

Effective Cantripping

Ponder and Brainstorm are perhaps some of the most powerful cards in he Legacy format, giving blue decks amazing forms of consistency and the ability to find exactly what is required for whatever situation – they’re also one of the most difficult cards to utilize correctly, with many subtle decision points pinned on cantrips making or breaking games. These are the backbone of your deck, allowing RUG Delver to shift fluidly between whatever role is required of it – whether it needs to be pressuring a combo deck and backing this up with countermagic or whether it needs to be killing creatures left and right with Bolts. Let’s look deeper into these two cantrips and understand the best ways to effectively utilize them.

Firstly, cantrips are more powerful the longer the game has progressed. Since cantrips allow you to search for pinpoint answers contingent on whatever role the deck needs to play, casting them after more information has been revealed to you is recommended. Casting a turn one Ponder after the opponent has only played a Polluted Delta, with you seeing:

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Might leave you a bit lost about what to do – should we shuffle? If they’re on a combo deck that’s definitely the case, as these cards do little but be Lava Spikes, but if the opponent is on a fair deck then we likely want some number of Lightning Bolts to deal with an upcoming Young Pyromancer or etc. If the opponent Duresses you next turn though, your Ponder will be much better informed about what decision to make.

In the same respect, cantrips are more powerful the more cards you have in hand. Again, this is due to the power of information – but not about your opponent’s deck, but rather the answers you have in your hand. Perhaps you already have that Lightning Bolt ready to go for the Young Pyromancer, but you want to make sure you can also Spell Pierce or Daze a Force of Will that is likely to defend it. You can use your cantrips to find that counterspell and make that happen. Cards in hand are also relevant for Brainstorm – we’ll talk about that once we get to that cantrip specifically.

Although I’ve spouted on how cantrips are more powerful the longer the game goes, as our opponent’s deck is further revealed to us and the cards in our hand accumulate, at the same time there is an interesting conflict that comes about. With RUG Delver, we want to exhaust all the cards in our hand quickly, before the opponent has been able to make larger plays. This means casting our cantrips promptly to find tangible threats or disruption that we can pressure our opponent with. Also note we can keep cantrips in our hand if we’re aiming to utilize them for casting Force of Will. The long and short of this is though – wait for information to cast your cantrips, but don’t wait too long. Make sure within the game they are converted into something, rather than not being utilised at all.

Ok, next let’s look specifically at Ponder.

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Ponder is a bit more straightforward than Brainstorm, and its value compared to Brainstorm may be more or less depending on the state of the game. Ponder is a Sorcery, which other than being relevant for Tarmogoyf, means that it will typically be one of your opening plays of the turn (or even the game) during your first main phase. One thing that’s difficult for most beginning RUG Delver players to grasp is that when Pondering weigh the expected value of the card you draw plus the two cards you are forced to draw in the next two turns against that of a random card and random draws. Although one of the cards you draw may be something that you are sort of looking for, whether its worth bricking on two draw steps in a row may not be feasible, especially when we want to make sure that RUG Delver exhausts as many cards as possible – having dead draws is not something we’re looking for. So shuffle liberally.

Of course, Ponder becomes much more powerful with fetchlands. We can get the card we’re particularly looking for out of the three and then shuffle away the other dead draws with a fetchland – nice! But what if we want to keep all the cards from our Ponder? Well, things become a bit more complicated then – we can delay our spell casting by not cracking the fetchland if the cards we’d shuffle away are so valuable, or, what we could do is crack the fetchland prior to Pondering – which, although this limits our options somewhat, it can also be handy when we’re okay with having some number of dead draws because we can fix our hand with Brainstorm or we have another fetchland ready to shuffle at least the third card away.

Ok, next is Brainstorm.

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The defining card of the Legacy format, Brainstorm is perhaps one of the most difficult cards to cast in Magic: the Gathering. The number of decision trees which branch from the card are incredibly significant and Brainstorming can make or break games.

First, hopefully you had a look at AJ Sacher’s video I mentioned previously. This should lay the groundwork for generically good Brainstorming. In summary, hold on to your Brainstorms until they are required and don’t Brainstorm without a fetchland unless circumstances are exceptional. But let’s look now at the specifics for RUG Delver.

When casting Brainstorm the easiest decisions are when your hands are mana-heavy – all we need to do here is throw the lands on top, shuffle our deck with our fetchlands and we’re all good. We can also ensure we have lands to shuffle away by holding lands in hand probably after our third or second land drop, unless we want to play around soft countermagic or hard cast Force of Will.

The next easiest hands are those that have very polarising cards in them. For example, your hand is all Lightning Bolts and you’re playing against combo. Unless you’re burning them out you’ll instead want countermagic to disrupt their big turn, so shuffling away the useless Bolts is a pretty easy decision. The same can be said when playing against fair matchups where countermagic can be poor. Shuffling away Spell Pierces against Death & Taxes is a pretty easy choice, for example.

Then we get to the more difficult hands where it feels like you want everything. There are two ways to stop this from happening. Firstly don’t cast Brainstorm when you have a bunch of cards you like. This means you don’t need Brainstorm to “fix” your hand, you don’t have any dead-ish cards to shuffle away and your hand is perfectly equipped to fight the fight you need to fight. It’s better then to delay your casting of Brainstorm until your hand accumulates with cards you do not need. Sometimes though, you’ll still face these tough decisions even if we follow these thoughts – especially since we sometimes value simply “cycling” Brainstorm in RUG Delver so we can ensure we exhaust all our resources. What I like to do essentially rank everything in my hand on how powerful they will likely be in this game and then shuffle away the two lowest ranked. Sounds simple enough, but during game play this can be exceptionally hard and will require a fair bit of tanking – though experience and lots of practice of matchups can lead to some easy shortcutting of this and some quickly resolved Brainstorms. A nice shortcut is to Brainstorm away cards we have multiples of – for example, having multiple Bolts in hand isn’t that useful when playing against a Delver deck who presents threats one at a time typically. As I mentioned with Force of Will too, having multiple Force of Wills in hand can also be pretty unimpressive in a fair matchup where you’ll exhaust all the cards in your hand. And multiple Stifles may not be useful if you’ve already hit their only fetchland. Then again, this may not always be true. Matchup knowledge is key to understanding how the rankings of cards can shift and flex.

Another power of Brainstorm is its ability to be cast at instant speed. This allows your hand to become very fluid, especially in response to discard where you can “hide” cards at the top of your library. Another thing you can do is use Brainstorm in response to a certain threatening spell – transforming it into a timely Daze or Force of Will if you hit your outs. In most circumstances though, you’ll be casting Brainstorm like a Sorcery with a fetchland, but its power as an Instant again emphasizes its ability to become more powerful with more information – going so far as being usable right when a spell hits the stack.

Conclusion

Watch this piece of beauty:

Playing against and with your own Stifles can be very precarious, and this Delver mirror involved a lot of bizarre staring at uncracked fetchlands and a few other weird interactions with mana. Nonetheless this game gives a taste of how bizarre certain matchups can become – and that’s where we’ll look in our next Part – (because this one has become too damn long, sorry for the long rambling), just some generic matchup analysis, emphasising what cards are best, what your Stifle targets are and what threats to prioritise. Hopefully this part was nonetheless useful – we’ve gone pretty deep!

Until then everyone,

May your Stifles always hit those fetchlands, and may you always blind flip your Delvers.

Sean

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