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#RUGLyf: The RUG Delver Primer – Part 2: Card Choices

Alright, we’re back for some more RUGing, this time emphasising the current RUG Delver lists after our long history lesson. If you missed that, it’s here and I’ll be drawing on a lot of the ideas covered there.

Before we go over the card choices of the RUG Delver deck, let’s recall what the deck’s generic game plan can be broken down to. Firstly, the deck aims to establish a cheap, efficient threat to pressure the opponent. This threat is then backed up by free or very cheap countermagic to deny the opponent from progressing their game plan and protect said threat, while also denying the opponent’s mana via Stifle and Wasteland to prevent larger plays – effectively, the deck’s mana denial aims to prolong the early game, where it’s undercosted threats flourish. Once the opponent begins to stabilise, they’ve hopefully been dealt enough damage to be burnt out via a flurry of Lightning Bolts or fold to more aggressive creatures.

As I mentioned last time, the tempo decks of Magic: the Gathering have adapted a lot of important tools to employ this game plan that stem from the original Miracle Gro lists. In breaking down what is known as the ‘RUG 54’ ie. the 54 locked main deck slots of RUG Delver, I’ll separate these based on the pillars of tempo decks:

1) Cantrips
2) Counter Spells
3) Mana Denial
4) Threats
5) Removal/Reach

Cantrips

There are eight slots within RUG Delver dedicated to cantrips. These are full sets of Brainstorm and Ponder.

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I mention these first because these really are the backbone of your deck and allow RUG Delver to fluidly shift roles with ease and find the exact card required to destabilise the opponent. These provide intense amounts of consistency, allowing you to find threats when required, removal when required, mana denial when required, etc. And remember the Xerox principle. Since we have an abundance of cantrips, we can shave down on lands (RUG only plays fourteen mana-producing lands) and on average, we will be drawing more live spells than a generic midrange opponent playing twenty or more lands because of our ability to have cantrips smooth our draws and continually find action. Cantrips also allow the deck to have a large range of keepable hands (you often only mulligan no-landers with RUG), as cantrips can ‘fix’ a hand that looks quite bad.

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These cantrips are both incredibly powerful with fetchlands. In fact, I would group fetchlands together with cantrips as part of RUG’s suite of card selection, since you want them more for the shuffle effect than anything else. With Brainstorm you should generally be aiming to perfectly Brainstorm (that is, Brainstorm with a fetchland in play to shuffle away unneeded cards) unless certain situations call for it (eg. your mana is under attack, you’re about to die to combo, etc.). Also remember to keep cards in your hand to feed to Brainstorm! Generally after the second land drop additional lands only become useful for hardcasting Force of Will or playing around soft counters, so keep your excess lands in hand ready to Brainstorm away. It’s second nature to a lot of Legacy players, but for newer players it’s a strange habit to start doing. Ponder, in relation to fetchlands, is a bit more nuanced since you can fetch after or before you cast it, and what to do is very case-dependent. Do I need to flip a Delver with this Ponder? Can I afford to get two cards I need and have one dead draw? These are things that you should be pondering when you Ponder with a fetchland in play.

Counterspells

Again, we have sets of two cards within RUG Delver that are integral to its game plan. These are Daze and Force of Will.

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It’s important to notice that Daze and Force of Will are situationally powerful. In a lot of matchups and situations these cards can be actively bad. It is only due to the cohesive game plan of RUG Delver that both of these cards shine.

Let’s first look at one of Legacy’s staples, Force of Will. Force of Will is incredibly powerful, and is your best card when encountering combo decks, no doubt. It can be a huge liability in fair matchups, however, because these games can get attrition-based and the card disadvantage (remember, when you alternate cast Force of Will you essentially two-for-one yourself) can be a huge liability. But RUG Delver leverages Force of Will a lot better than a lot of other decks game one, and even games two and three. This is because of its ability to present undercosted threats very quickly and pressure the opponent. Midrange decks will often loathe utilising a Force of Will on something early in the game, since they won’t have a fast threat already pressuring the opponent. RUG Delver does not mind the card disadvantage as much, since the tempo advantage from being able to deploy a threat and then Force something that the deck cannot otherwise deal with is such a huge boon. You’ll often find yourself not boarding out all your Force of Wills in a variety of matchups because of how tempo positive they are.

Daze on the other hand is somewhat good against combo, but can sometimes feel like the worst card in the deck when you rip it off the top. It really is the most situational counterspell in the deck. However, you have to remember that RUG Delver is the best Daze deck in all of Magic, because of the deck’s ability to leverage mana denial the best and make Daze into a hard counter very often. Nonetheless, do not feel afraid to snap off Daze early on a simple cantrip, especially when you have a threat already on board, as trading resources early and often with your opponent is great when you’re beating them down with one of your threats. This is especially pertinent against combo, with a lot of players feeling they need to keep their Dazes in hand for when the combo player ‘goes off’. Sometimes this is correct when you can see the opponent is really choked on mana, but if you’ve given the combo player enough time, Daze is pretty easy to play through, and it’s likely more wise to spend it on a cantrip, especially if you have backup countermagic. Like most things in RUG, however, don’t take these as rules, take when to Daze on a case-by-case basis, but try to do it in the early stages of the game, as the card loses a lot of power as the game drags on.

Mana Denial

The mana denial suite of RUG Delver is Stifle and Wasteland. Essentially what these aim to do is prolong the early game, as I mentioned before, where RUG Delver’s undercosted threats shine and beat up on the competition. Also, Stifle and Wasteland make your soft counters much more powerful, and contribute to the reason why RUG Delver is the best Daze deck, as the mana denial suite ensures that taxing counters can’t be paid for.

Firstly, let’s look at the easy one – Wasteland. What this essentially allows RUG Delver is the ability to give up an excessive land drop in order to deny the opponent’s mana. Simple, but oh so powerful, as one can see from its ability to warp Legacy mana bases. Wasteland works excellently in conjunction with the deck’s ability to operate off one or two mana, as giving up land drops is of very little cost. However, one of the worst things you can do with RUG Delver is Wasteland when you’re behind on board. Again, the mana denial suite is powerful when you have threats on the table because it forces your opponent to spend time digging themselves out of mana screw – which means you’re getting in hits with your creature and forcing your opponent to play into your taxing counters. Again, sometimes you’ll Wasteland without a threat on board and it can very, very occasionally be correct, but ideally you want pressure on your opponent. And remember, Wasteland is primarily used as an uncounterable Stone Rain that gives up your land drop (which is why you shouldn’t usually play out your Wastelands as a land drop – think of it more like a spell) but also has a secondary ability to cast Tarmogoyfs.

Stifle is primarily another Stone Rain in disguise. Its ability to counter fetchlands will really be its primary usage, and furthers the strength of your mana denial and really separates RUG Delver’s from the other Delver decks in Legacy. Now, a lot of people like to leave up turn one Stifles to hope the opponent happily walks into them, especially instead of deploying a seemingly innocuous threat like a Nimble Mongoose. But again, remember, RUG’s spells get much more powerful when you have a threat on the table and although you’ll get some random free wins when you leave up Stifle turn one, Stifle your opponents fetch and mana screw them, you’ll lose a lot more games because you held up Stifle while your opponent did something off a non-fetchland on turn one, while you sat there not progressing your gameplan. Just have confidence that your Stifles will do something past turn one, and don’t forget you also have Brainstorm and Force to ensure they have some kind of usage anyway. Stifle, in relation to fetchlands, can be somewhat high-variance and look somewhat lacklustre when you ‘miss out’ on cashing in your Stifle, but seriously, if your game plan goes well it will be live and it will often be the card that allows you to just win the game.

Because Stifle has so many other uses! A lot of activated abilities can be game ending, and being able to counter them, even just to stop them for one turn, can be enough thanks to the pressure and reach that RUG Delver exerts. Here are a few common activated abilities that Stifle can stop:

The same can be said for triggered abilities, with many of these being incredibly powerful. For example…

  • Stoneforge Mystic search triggers
  • Miracle triggers (this ones a bit weird – when a card is Miracled a trigger goes on the stack allowing the alternate cost payment – you can Stifle this trigger)
  • A final suspend trigger (another weird one – when the final counter of a suspend card is removed, a trigger goes on the stack allowing it to be cast from exile – you can Stifle this, forcing the suspended card to remain in exile. Don’t Stifle the counter removal trigger!)
  • Cascade triggers
  • Batterskull’s living weapon trigger
  • Jitte’s charge counter trigger
  • An Emrakul Annihilator trigger
  • Tendrils of Agony/Brain Freeze/Empty the Warrens Storm triggers

There’s a billion other possibilities I’ve missed. In fact, I’ll probably run through a list of Stifle targets in a post one day for the popular Legacy decks.

In the end, Stifle is another situationally powerful and somewhat high-variance card within RUG Delver that complements our mana denial of Wasteland, but also has powerful utility in a variety of other matchups. It can often be very dead (be ready to board it out in a lot of matchups), but it can also randomly win you the game. Learn how to use your Stifles well.

Threats

Now we get to our guys! One of the best things about RUG Delver’s threat base, in my opinion, is how its scales so beautifully and each threat demands a specific set of answers in order to be neutralised effectively. This makes certain threats shine more than the others in certain matchups, but overall the threat base is diversified so well that it can be very challenging for many Legacy decks to answer.

Let’s look at our least resilient, but most efficient threat, Delver of Secrets.

Delver revolutionised tempo archetypes as being so incredibly efficient, and created what was known as the ‘Delver draws’. These draws involve casting a Delver turn 1, Dazing the opponent’s first play, blind flipping your Delver, Wastelanding your opponent (possibly multiple times) and Stifling their fetches all while your opponent dies to the lone Insectile Aberration very, very quickly. So while Delver is involved in your nut draws, he can often be the poorest of your threats in fair matchups since he dies to every commonly played removal spell in the format. He does, however, at least trade at parity mana-wise, and if they don’t have removal your opponent can be in big, big trouble. Since Delver shines against opponents with no removal, he is most definitely the best threat against combo decks, as he clocks the opponent way faster than Nimble Mongoose and does not force you to tap out on your second turn like Tarmogoyf does. Generally, combo matchups best play out with you making a turn one Delver, countering relevant things and riding it to victory.

Also, a few points about setting up your Delver. Pondering to set up your Delver is perfectly fine, but one thing you should not be doing very often is Brainstorming on upkeep in order to flip your Delver, unless the situation really calls for it. You don’t want to do this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Delver of Secrets blind flips a lot in RUG Delver, so much so that you’ll often get very salty opponents, but RUG does have the highest instant and sorcery count of all the Delver decks. Furthermore, the additional damage you’ll get from flipping your Delver will generally not be worth the drop in card selection that you have sacrificed by firing off your Brainstorm on upkeep. You’ll also have to redraw one of the cards you put back with it, ew! Again, some situations, where you have to get very aggressive (often against combo) are when you’ll do this, but these are pretty uncommon. You can also effectively scry 1 with an unflipped Delver when you have a fetchland in play on your upkeep – just look at the top card with your Delver trigger, if you don’t want it, activate your fetchland and shuffle it away.

Next we have Tarmogoyf! As much as I’d like to be casting Quirion Dryad and Werebear, Tarmogoyf is the most efficient green creature ever printed, especially in a blue deck filled with ways to easily get instants, sorceries, creatures and land into the graveyard. Tarmogoyf dies to a different subset of removal compared to Delver of Secrets, being able to resist Lightning Bolts (don’t have 2/3 Goyfs walk into Lightning Bolts, please…) and similar removal like Disfigure, but not resisting cards like Swords to Plowshares and Abrupt Decay. Tarmogoyf can deal the most damage (he is generally a 4/5) of your threats but can have problems with pushing through ground creatures, especially opposing Goyfs. He can also be a bit too slow in combo matchups, and you’ll find yourself shaving some number of them due to this. In general, Goyf shines in fair matchups, especially against opponents leaning on Bolt, or where you can keep the board clear and the Goyf can truck on through.

Delver and Tarmogoyf are seen in many tempo decks, but this guy is the signature of RUG Delver. The Goose is loose!

There are so many things to be said about Nimble Mongoose. Thinking towards the removal he dies to, no point removal can stop the Mongoose, the only cards that can are large ground blockers (Tarmogoyf, mainly), Edict effects (Liliana of the Veil, mainly) and sweepers (Terminus, mainly). The Goose wreaks havoc on control opponents leaning on spot removal and these are the matchups where a lone Mongoose can go all the way, while the opponent’s removal is stranded in their hand. He can have a hard time against blockers though, like Tarmogoyf, so being able to answer these efficiently is important. He can be a bit slow against combo too, despite him being fast to deploy, so make sure to cantrip and Daze aggressively to make him a sizeable clock. Also remember that there are a variety of tricks you can do in order to get to Threshold. Wastelanding yourself can sometimes be a winning play, but leaving up fetchlands to catch unaware opponents is also something nice. You can also do some sick bluffs with a graveyard of six cards and some untapped mana. Mongoose also encourages something else that initially looks strange – you should often do most of your spell casting during your first main phase when you have a Mongoose out. This may seem unintuitive, but what this ensures is that if a counter-war occurs during your first main phase over whatever you cast, you’re more likely to use up cards and feed your Threshold, hence making Mongoose a 3/3 during combat. Keep this in mind, as it’s a strange thing to get used to, especially if you’ve been playing other formats. This also applies to Tarmogoyf when there aren’t certain card types in the graveyards.

Removal/Reach

The primary reason for splashing red in our base blue-green tempo deck, Lightning Bolt is one of the reasons RUG has a more aggressively bent game plan than its other Delver cousins, thanks to its ability to capitalise on the reach that Lightning Bolt provides.

Although Lightning Bolt is a great removal spell, and this will be its primary usage, killing Deathrite Shamans, Stoneforge Mystics and other small creatures, it also means that RUG Delver cannot deal with opposing Tarmogoyfs and other large creatures like the Delve fatties Tasigur and Angler – these need to be countered or you’ll need to get pretty scrappy about pushing through them. However, the reach that Lightning Bolt provides is incredibly powerful, meaning that the deck’s primary removal spell is not dead against combo and control matchups, and you’ll often find yourself not boarding it out against combo due to its ability to be a instant Lava Spike – or, when it finishes off the opponent, essentially a Time Walk. The reach gives RUG some incredible outs to otherwise unwinnable situations. Although it forces some limitations, Lightning Bolt complements RUG’s aggressive game plan so well that its part of our core deck list.

Okay, so we’ve gone through the ‘RUG 54’, next time I’ll run through some flex slots and the staple sideboard cards!

Further Reading

Fishing Lessons – Pondering Brainstorm by AJ Sacher
AJTV #2: Basic Brainstorming by AJ Sacher

These are both great walkthroughs on utilizing Brainstorm to its greatest potential. AJ Sacher goes through a lot of common mistakes of fledgling Brainstormers, as well as more nuanced things that experienced Legacy players still fall victim to.

Learning Legacy – You Probably Shouldn’t Stifle That by Ryan Archer
FINAL JUDGEMENT: What Can You Stifle? by Sheldon Menery
How to Stifle for Value by Michael Caffrey
Legacy Weapon – The Perfect Stifle by Caleb Durwald

Some handy clarifications on how Stifle works in a variety of situations, and how to leverage this strange card, with some of these being quite dated, and others not.

The Ultimate RUG Delver Primer by Drew Levin
Canadian Threshold: A Primer by Alexander Hayne
All Sun’s Dawn – It’s a RUG Life by Mark Sun
Delver of Secrets in Legacy Part 1: RUG & Deckbuilding Theory by Jonathan Alexander
The Road to DC: Your Delver Primer by Drew Levin

Somewhat dated RUG Delver primers, but a lot of them are still very applicable (RUG doesn’t change that much) to our current metagame. A few of these expand upon the actual game play of RUG Delver further than I have, so certainly worth a look.

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

Again, I mention the RUG Delver thread on The Source, which has an excellent section in their opening primer about the card choices that I’ve just gone through.

I’ll be back soon for #RUGlyf Part #3 so tune in again soon!

Sean.

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