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#RUGLyf: The RUG Delver Primer – Part 1: History

RUG is love, RUG is life.

When I’m not casting Thalia, I like to be casting Gooses. And Stifles. And still Wastelanding and mana screwing people. But in a different way.

A very blue way.

RUG Delver is easily my favourite blue deck in all of Legacy. Its’ aggressive and pure-tempo orientated strategy is one of my favourite ways to approach a game of Magic: the Gathering. It leaves me panting for breath at the end of the game, like I’ve exerted every possible card to claim the win within the tightest of margins.

Or my opponent had no lands and I killed them with a blind-flipped Delver.

But anyway… I know quite a few people who have been looking to get into Legacy and have been looking towards one of the most traditional Legacy decks as an entry point. And I think RUG is excellent as an introduction to the format and what it’s all about. Not because the deck is easy per se (in fact, I’d say the deck is one of the more challenging decks to play), but more so because most of the fundamental tools of Legacy are within RUG, and learning how to leverage these tools into a win is a great experience to familiarise oneself with the format.

So what I’m going to attempt in this monster of a blog post is a primer on RUG Delver. I’m not the best RUG Delver player in anyone’s opinion, but what I’ll be aiming to do is utilise a variety of resources to give everyone an understanding of how the beautiful machine of RUG Delver evolved and adapted in order to execute its game plan.

So first, some history!

Lets harken back 1997, when a very important deck was created. This deck was known as Turbo-Xerox, and was created by Alan Comer. We can think of this as the first ancestor of modern day tempo decks.

Alan Comer's Turbo-Xerox

Creatures: (12)
Man-o'-War
Suq'Ata Firewalker
Waterspout Djinn

Non-Creature Spells: (32)
Counterspell
Dissipate
Dream Tides
Force of Will
Foreshadow
Impulse
Memory Lapse
Portent
Power Sink
Lands: (17)
17 Island

Sideboard: (16)
Dandan
Dissipate
Dream Tides
Hydroblast
Knight of the Mists
Sleight of Mind

To those playing modern day Legacy this list looks…. Bizarre. But there’s an important concept we take for granted that this deck list leaves behind – that for every two cantrips you add to your deck, you can shave a land. Compared to Alan’s other control opponent’s, his draws were much more live, as rather than flood out he was drawing cards like Portent, that allowed him to control his next draws and ensure he had relevant cards as the games dragged on. As we’ll see, this is an important facet of modern era tempo decks, which use powerful cantrips and a low land counts to just do more than the opponent, which is exactly what Alan Comer was aiming for as well.

Now Alan’s creatures were very, very embarrassing. But in a few years creatures appeared that could take advantage of all this cantripping. The next generation of decks that utilised what is seen in Turbo-Xerox was the first true precursor to modern day tempo decks. In those days, the best creature for the job was Quirion Dryad.

Quirion Dryad was the original hallmark tempo creature in the blue-green deck known as Miracle Gro, that debuted in 2001 at GP Las Vegas, an Extended GP, created by Alan Comer.

Alan Comer's Miracle Gro

Lands: (10)
Island
Tropical Island

Creatures: (15)
Quirion Dryad
Merfolk Looter
Lord of Atlantis
Gaea's Skyfolk

Non-Creature Spells: (35)
Brainstorm
Curiosity
Daze
Foil
Force of Will
Gush
Land Grant
Sleight of Hand
Winter Orb
Sideboard: (15)
Boomerang
Chill
Emerald Charm
Misdirection
Submerge

There is so much technology within this deck that is imprinted in modern day tempo decks. Firstly, the ability to counter spells while tapped out, after you’ve established a threat, is present, with the eight pack of our well-known free counter spells, Daze and Force of Will, present, along with Foil which has a hefty cost of discarding both a land and another card. This isn’t much of a problem though, when you get to play…

Gush. Of course, we don’t get access to this in Legacy, but the power of a low curve, capping out at two, where the ‘downsides’ of Gush and Daze are negligible, is something that’s well known in modern Delver shells. The ability to use these returned lands is also well documented. Comer could pitch them to Foil, loot them away with Merfolk Looter or do a trick many a Delver player should know of…

We can Brainstorm them away! Extended then didn’t have any fetchlands printed, other than the slow fetches like Flood Plain, which were somewhat clunky. The answer lied with Land Grant.

Another aspect that carries on into modern tempo decks is mana denial. Stifle did not yet exist (and nor did the fetchlands it would destroy), and mana bases were nowhere near as greedy in Extended during this era as they are now in Legacy. As such, Wasteland was a pretty junky card. Instead, Comer utilised Winter Orb, which again was highly synergistic with Daze. Not only did it choke your opponent’s mana so that Daze was turned on, but Daze essentially allowed you to get around the Winter Orb!

It’s safe to say that the original Miracle Gro list provided modern tempo decks with so many interactions that are carried on to this day – free countermagic, cantrips (especially Brainstorm and shuffle effects to get rid of excess land), mana denial (to complement Daze, primarily) and cheap, evasive or incredibly efficient threats.

Soon, the threat base would change… Odyssey would come, rebranding the Miracle Gro decks as what would soon be known as Threshold. Cantrip-laden decks abused the Threshold creatures the best, as cantrips and free countermagic filled up the graveyard incredibly quickly. And these Threshold creatures were indeed powerful, with everyone’s favourite Mongoose incredibly still Legacy playable to this very day. In the first few days of Threshold though, a few friends superseded him.

Image Image

Werebear, specifically, was the first threshold creature to see play in Miracle Gro, since his mana ramp utility was very nice in a deck with so few mana sources. Think of him as the ultra old-school Deathrite Shaman. Versions soon began to splash white, dubbing themselves Super Gro, and Ben Rubin and a young Brian Kibler took these to Top 8 GP Houston in 2002.

Ben Rubin's Super Gro

Lands: (16)
Tropical Island
Tundra
Flood Plain
Grassland
Island
Savannah

Creatures: (19)
Meddling Mage
Werebear
Merfolk Looter
Quirion Dryad
Mystic Enforcer

Non-Creature Spells: (25)
Land Grant
Force of Will
Winter Orb
Brainstorm
Gush
Swords to Plowshares
Foil
Sideboard: (15)
Winter Orb
Mind Harness
Legacy's Allure
Annul
Wax // Wane
Hiddon Gibbons
Submerge

Notice that the higher land count and more expensive threat (Mystic Enforcer, who is awesome) pushed this into the realm of more aggro-control than a true aggressive tempo deck like what Comer’s original Miracle Gro list resembled.

We now look away from Extended, which got shaken up completely by the rotation of Ice Age and Mirage block (and therefore the rotation of Force of Will) and the domination of Psychatog, towards a format that until 2005 had next to no support, with only a few brave souls brewing on the legendary The Source. The first Legacy GP ever, GP Philadephia, in 2005 was an impressive debut for the Threshold archetype, with Lam Phan and Ben Goodman reaching the Top 8 with an essentially Legacy port of Super Gro.

Lam Phan's UGw Threshold

Lands: (18)
Flooded Strand
Forest
Island
Plains
Tropical Island
Tundra
Windswept Heath

Creatures: (13)
Meddling Mage
Mystic Enforcer
Nimble Mongoose
Werebear

Non-Creature Spells: (29)
Accumulated Knowledge
Brainstorm
Counterspell
Daze
Force of Will
Predict
Serum Visions
Swords to Plowshares
Sideboard: (15)
Blue Elemental Blast
Disenchant
Hydroblast
Meddling Mage
Misdirection
Naturalize
Pithing Needle
Seal of Cleansing
Sphere of Law

More important to our RUG history lesson, Pat McGregor made Top 8 with a RUG Threshold list. This looks similar, but also very different, to what modern RUG lists look like.

Pat McGregor's RUG Threshold

Lands: (18)
Flooded Strand
Island
Polluted Delta
Tropical Island
Volcanic Island

Creatures: (10)
Fledgling Dragon
Nimble Mongoose
Werebear

Non-Creature Spells: (32)
Brainstorm
Counterspell
Daze
Fire // Ice
Force of Will
Lightning Bolt
Mental Note
Serum Visions
Sideboard: (15)
Naturalize
Pyroclasm
Pyroblast
Red Elemental Blast
Tormod’s Crypt
Winter Orb

There are a few upgrades we can see from our original Miracle Gro lists. The deck is now sporting a better cantrip suite thanks to having access to the new Serum Visions and Mental Note (which happily feeds Threshold). Nimble Mongoose has also become standard issue in the Threshold decks, finally, right next to his buddy Werebear. One of the larger impacts on legacy as a whole was the introduction of these:

Image Image Image

No longer did decks need to go through hoops of using something like Land Grant to obtain shuffle effects. Fetchlands were the new standard for shuffle effects, and with them Brainstorm reached its maximum potential as a card selection device. Furthermore, fetchlands’ synergy with the graveyard can be exhibited here via its ability to fuel Threshold. Notice the RUG list has a suite of eight burn spells in Fire // Ice and Lightning Bolt, as well as the haymaker Fledgling Dragon, all of which provide reach to close out the game when the deck’s threats get outclassed, a theme that continues in modern RUG Delver lists. McGregor’s list also eschewed any form of mana denial that we’d expect in modern tempo decks, not even utilising Wasteland. Indeed, the tempo archetype hadn’t really found an efficient way to deny mana, because mana bases hadn’t gotten greedy enough yet.

2006 showed off players with an even greedier version, however, 4-colour Threshold, that blended both the Super Gro and RUG Threshold lists together.

Jason Mayes' 4-colour Threshold

Lands: (18)
Flooded Strand
Island
Polluted Delta
Tropical Island
Tundra
Volcanic Island

Creatures: (12)
Meddling Mage
Nimble Mongoose
Werebear

Non-Creature Spells: (30)
Brainstorm
Counterspell
Daze
Fire // Ice
Force of Will
Lightning Bolt
Mental Note
Pithing Needle
Portent
Sideboard: (15)
Blue Elemental Blast
Chill
Divert
Naturalize
Tormod’s Crypt

Only one basic Island? It looks like the metagame’s getting to place where this card is good…

In 2007 Future Sight was released, and with it came the printing of the biggest, dumbest, most efficient green idiot Magic: the Gathering had ever seen. Werebear and Quirion Dryad, eat your hearts out. Tarmogoyf has come to town.

With this, GenCon 2007 Legacy Championships debuted the father of RUG Delver. The winner was this list by Peter Olszewski.

Peter Olszewski's UG Threshold

Lands: (18)
Breeding Pool
Flooded Strand
Island
Polluted Delta
Tropical Island
Wasteland
Wooded Foothills

Creatures: (12)
Nimble Mongoose
Tarmogoyf
Werebear

Non-Creature Spells: (30)
Brainstorm
Daze
Force of Will
Portent
Predict
Rushing River
Snapback
Spell Snare
Stifle
Sideboard: (15)
Counterbalance
Hail Storm
Krosan Grip
Sensei’s Divining Top
Umezawa’s Jitte

This is a pure UG Threshold list, eschewing any splash colour for the stability of a two-colour mana base – you can see that Wasteland is now really making a mark on the format. The deck did have problems with resolved permanents, with only Snapback and Rushing River as pseudo-answers, but nonetheless the lists in GenCon provided one of the final pieces of the puzzle for what we’d see in RUG Delver.

Stifle. In combination with Wasteland, Stifle choked your opponent’s mana thanks to the format’s now deep reliance on fetchlands, similar to what Winter Orb in Miracle Gro did, but also acted as a powerful, flexible answer to a variety of other problems. And of course, when your opponent’s mana is choked, Daze became much more powerful. Wasteland also provided an answer to the question of “What to do with excess lands?”. Original Miracle Gro lists utilised Foil and Merfolk Looter, but 2007 Threshold lists let their excess land drops turn into Stone Rains. This perfect combination of mana denial, free counter spells, cantrips and undercosted threats is for the first time perfectly exhibited in Olzewski’s list. One thing it is missing, though, is what David Caplan and Lam Phan incorporated into their Threshold lists, with Caplan Top 8ing GenCon 2007 as well:

David Caplan's RUG Threshold

Lands: (18)
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Tropical Island
Volcanic Island
Wasteland

Creatures: (8)
Nimble Mongoose
Tarmogoyf

Non-Creature Spells: (34)
Brainstorm
Daze
Fire // Ice
Force of Will
Lightning Bolt
Mental Note
Opt
Spell Snare
Stifle
Sideboard: (15)
Engineered Explosives
Krosan Grip
Pyroblast
Pyroclasm
Red Elemental Blast
Tormod’s Crypt

Burn. Being able to close out the game when the opponent had outclassed your creatures was seen in McGregor’s list from 2005, but no one had yet combined the suite of burn spells with the mana denial of Stifle and Wasteland. David Caplan and Lam Phan, from Ontario, Canada, founded what would be the soon stock RUG Threshold lists – or, due to where they were from – what people would call the first Canadian Threshold lists.

In Lorwyn, Magic: the Gathering would introduce the second-most powerful cantrip next to Brainstorm for tempo shells, Ponder. No longer would people have to make a choice between Portent, Opt and their ilk – the cantrip suite became incredibly standardised.

David Caplan's Canadian Threshold

Creatures: (8)
Nimble Mongoose
Tarmogoyf

Non-Creature Spells: (34)
Brainstorm
Daze
Fire // Ice
Force of Will
Lightning Bolt
Ponder
Rushing River
Spell Snare
Stifle
Wipe Away
Lands: (18)
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Tropical Island
Volcanic Island
Wasteland
Wooded Foothills

Sideboard: (15)
Engineered Explosives
Krosan Grip
Pithing Needle
Pyroblast
Pyroclasm
Red Elemental Blast
Trygon Predator

These lists would get small shakeups in the years to come, but would remain relatively stagnant and close to Caplan’s above list, with some people trying to incorporate additional threats into the deck (Lorescale Coatl, revisiting Quirion Dryad etc.) and new countermagic (Spell Pierce) appearing. Innistrad would be when the deck got a major shakeup, however, after the printing of a certain blue common that would revolutionize every tempo deck in Magic: the Gathering.

Delver of Secrets was quickly revealed as the most efficient threat printed in instant and sorcery-dense shells, and had excellent synergy with Brainstorm and Ponder. Canadian Threshold lists shaved down on burn, dismissed cards such as Rushing River and Wipe Away (especially now that cards such as Dismember fulfilled a similar role) decreased the number of situational Spell Snares and added four of the deck’s best new threat. With the addition of Delver of Secrets, tempo decks became known simply as Delver decks due to the rampant adoption of the blue man. As such, Canadian Threshold transformed into what we now call RUG Delver:

Sean Brown's RUG Delver

Creatures: (12)
Delver of Secrets
Tarmogoyf
Nimble Mongoose

Non-Creature Spells: (30)
Ponder
Brainstorm
Daze
Force of Will
Stifle
Lightning Bolt
Forked Bolt
Gitaxian Probe
Spell Pierce
Lands: (18)
Wasteland
Flooded Strand
Wooded Foothills
Tropical Island
Volcanic Island

Sideboard: (15)
Spell Pierce
Submerge
Pyroblast
Rough // Tumble
Grafdigger’s Cage
Vendilion Clique
Ancient Grudge
Sulfuric Vortex
Krosan Grip
Pithing Needle

We’ve come a long way, from Turbo-Xerox, to Miracle Gro, to Canadian Threshold to RUG Delver, but hopefully this history lesson has displayed why the current RUG Delver lists look they way they do and why each card has been incorporated into the deck. Next time I’ll unpackage the card choices in current RUG lists, go through sideboarding and all that other usual primer jazz.

Further Reading:

Top 10 Extended Decks of All Time by Mike Flores
The Evolution of Miracle Gro by Alex Shvartsman
Gro History and Current Legacy by Carsten Kotter

These are all articles that highlight the original Miracle Gro lists and their relevance to modern day Magic.

Grand Prix Philadephia 2005
2006 Legacy Championship
GenCon 2007 Legacy Championship

Deck lists of old Legacy tournaments, highlighting the pre-Canadian Threshold era tempo lists.

UGr Threshold Primer by David Caplan
Legacy’s Allure – Canadian Threshold with Ben Wienburg by Doug Linn

These articles highlight the original Canadian Threshold lists and still have heaps of relevance to current day RUG Delver.

Canadian Threshold (aka RUG Delver, Tempo Thresh) on The Source
Canadian Thresh (a.k.a. RUG Tempo, Tempo Thresh) on The Source

The newest and older RUG Delver threads on The Source, both of these have excellent history sections in their opening posts and have information from people with a lot more credibility than me. However, if you like what you’re reading and want more, Part 2 will be published tomorrow!

Bye for now!

Sean

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