#RUGLyf: The RUG Delver Primer – Part 3: Flex Slots and Sideboard Choices

We’re back for our third part of the RUG Delver primer. After looking at the ‘RUG 54’ we can now look towards the flex slots in the main deck, as well as common sideboard options, and how they cover gaps in our gameplan.

In case you missed it –
Part 1
Part 2
Otherwise, on with the show!

Flex Slots

More Counter Magic

Eight counterspells seem like a lot of disruption against combo, but it really isn’t when Daze is conditional and Force of Will can be played through. Remember, Legacy combo decks are designed to be able to beat countermagic, and therefore more slots need to be dedicated. The best card for the job is Spell Pierce

Unlike Daze or Force of Will, Spell Pierce actually costs mana, but holding up mana is already common due to Stifle. Thanks to the low curve of Legacy though, Spell Pierce is often a hard counter for most non-creature spells, and again combines well with your mana denial. Like Daze, don’t feel afraid to snap it off early on things like cantrips, as smart players can play through Pierces.

Two Spell Pierces are essentially part of the core of RUG Delver (some people know of the ‘RUG 56’, which is essentially the 54 I’ve mentioned plus two Pierces), but I list it here in the flex slots due to the wide variability in the numbers played main deck. Although two in the main is the lowest most go, it’s not crazy to go up to a full four Spell Pierces in the main, especially in combo-heavy metagames. In metagames where Abrupt Decay rules supreme, however, RUG with only one or zero Pierces can be reasonable. Assess what your metagame looks like and make a choice on the number of Pierces you see fit. There will often be, however, four Pierces split somewhere within the 75 cards of a typical RUG Delver deck.

Another counterspell that is played uncommonly in Legacy, despite the card’s powerful applications, is Spell Snare. David Caplan’s original Canadian Threshold list played a full set of Spell Snares, but this was, of course, before the printing of cards like Spell Pierce and with completely different metagame considerations. Snares are still a good choice in RUG Delver specifically, however, because its lack of answers to threats such as Tarmogoyf. Spell Snare allows Tarmogoyfs to be cleanly dealt with on the stack , as well as also answer another of RUG’s sworn enemies, Counterbalance, which can lock out the deck. Although these are its main applications, threats such as Stoneforge Mystic, Young Pyromancer, Dark Confidant and Baleful Strix, which are Boltable, are also covered. Despite this, it can often feel like a very dead card in other matchups, especially against some combo decks – for example, most OmniTell decks run only a single two-mana spell in Impulse. Again, Snare is a great consideration if Goyfs are running wild in your metagame, but I wouldn’t go above two copies due to its situational power.

More Removal

There are quite a few considerations for removal spells within RUG Delver, such as the following:

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Looking towards the red removal, Forked Bolt and Chain Lightning are essentially extra copies of Lightning Bolt that no longer have the utility of instant speed. Forked Bolt sacrifices the additional reach of Chain Lightning for more utility. It’s a good choice in metagames where Death & Taxes, Elves and other small creature decks are prominent, where the two-for-one is often assured, and is also quite reasonable at cleaning up Young Pyromancer. Chain, on the other hand, has no added versatility and can backfire on you against other red decks (but often won’t), but increases the reach your burn spells have. As such, Chain is good in metagames where although you want six removal spells main (ie. most metagames), you want them all to have the maximum possible applications against combo. Notice how these are both sorceries as well, which helps in ensuring Tarmogoyf is a 4/5 a lot of the time as you won’t always draw your Ponders.

Dismember is a more current trend in RUG’s removal suite that has been adopted due to the prominence of Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler, who cannot be dealt with via Snare or any of the red removal. Dismember is great in fair matchups where fat black (or green) idiots are staring at each other, but causes your removal suite to suffer against combo decks (though I have Dismembered a Griselbrand so my Goyf could beat it, that was awesome) due to it doing essentially nothing. The life loss is also something that can’t be disregarded.

Fire // Ice is an old consideration that was once a staple of RUG Delver, thanks to its ability to further the mana denial plan (while cycling), have the flexibility of Forked Bolt (at instant speed!) and pitch to Force of Will, for the meagre cost of one additional mana. Turns out that one mana is a lot when this guy can completely ruin your day.

Deathrite Shaman is hell for RUG Delver due to his ability to accelerate the opponent through your soft countermagic and chew up your graveyard so that Nimble Mongoose and Tarmogoyf are less effective. Due to Deathrite all of RUG’s current removal has been tailored to kill a turn one Deathrite Shaman on sight. Fire // Ice unfortunately doesn’t have this utility, despite it being a powerful card. If you don’t fear the Deathrite Shaman, Fire // Ice is a nice consideration with a lot of utility, and really is never dead in any matchup due to its ability to at least cycle.

Other older considerations are generic bounce spells; remember that Wipe Away used to be a staple of RUG’s flex slots, and in modern day we get efficient bounce spells like Vapor Snag. These are very handy at answering Delve threats like Tasigur and Angler, but aren’t very strong at answering much else.

More Cantrips

The most common cantrip incorporated into recent RUG Delver is the contentious Gitaxian Probe.

It’s commonly argued against due to it taking up slots and adding ‘air’ to the deck, but it’s a reasonable choice for a few reasons. Firstly, RUG Delver is a deck that leverages information very well since so many of its cards are situationally powerful. If you know that you can get them with a Stifle, or play so that you force them into a Daze, the RUG Delver player will be well on their way to a win. Furthermore, adding a sorcery that can easily cycle is great for Nimble Mongoose and Tamogoyf, as it allows the deck to quickly get Threshold and get Goyf into a 4/5.

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Other more gutsy choices are things such as Thought Scour and Mental Note, which truly do add air to the deck (all they do is cycle) but they do quickly make Goose loose and are a consideration if you’re looking to accelerate your Goose as fast as possible.

More Spice

There’s a few other, more bizarre, choices that people have incorporated in their RUG lists, with most of them falling into the utility spell category due to their flexibility. To offset their flexibility though, most are very inefficient mana-wise.

Izzet Charm is incredibly inefficient (it suffers from the same problems as Fire // Ice) but all three modes are valuable in RUG’s gameplan, with the Spell Pierce mode being strong, the Shock a creature mode is okay and the loot mode can get Goose Thresholded pretty quickly.

Simic Charm is also a consideration since again, its modes are all pretty relevant. Being useful as reach via its pump mode or being able to win Goyf wars (we can’t help out a Goose though because of Shroud, sadly) is pretty strong, and bouncing opposing creatures is pretty good again thanks to the Delve creatures being so prominent. The hexproof mode is also great at defending your creatures against removal (especially Abrupt Decay) but it can also act as a pseudo-Stifle by countering Wasteland activations! In the end though, Simic Charm is two mana, which is very inefficient in a format as fast a Legacy and in a deck as lean as RUG Delver.

Dead // Gone is another interesting option. Its first mode is a bad Shock, which is fine since it can at least answer turn one threats like Deathrite Shaman and Mother of Runes, which is so crucial for our removal. Its second mode is very, very inefficient (three mana is a lot) and is just a bounce spell. But notice that this card is removal that can answer turn one Deathrite while also answering the Delve creatures well via its bounce mode. A very interesting choice indeed.

Some old RUG Delver lists used to run a package of Green Sun’s Zenith in the main rather than maxing out on numbers of Nimble Mongoose and Tarmogoyf, and these lists also ran some number of Scavenging Ooze in the main. This is handy because it increases our blind Delver flips, but deploying our green threats becomes much more cumbersome as Goyfs now cost three mana (!) and Mongoose costs two. They’re also answerable via Spell Pierce and other counters that our threats wouldn’t usually turn on. I would not recommend using Green Sun’s Zenith at all. It’s just too inefficient; you want to deploy your threats as quickly as possible.

So there’s a run down of a few of the options for RUG Delver’s six flex slots. Although I’ve listed some spicy ones, the most tried-and-true flex slot options are:

Spell Pierce
Spell Snare
Forked Bolt
Chain Lightning
Gitaxian Probe

In general two of your flex slots will be accommodated by additional removal, two more will be accommodated by additional counterspells and the other two will be whatever other cards you wish to choose, be they more removal, counterspells, cantrips or maybe some of the spicy utility cards I mentioned.


Legacy sideboards can look very daunting to the uninitiated due to the huge amount of one-ofs that are played. This is due to Brainstorm and Ponder finding your silver bullets when needed – we don’t need to play too many redundant multiples, and hence we can have pretty diverse sideboards. However, a lot of the cards in Legacy sideboards have very similar effects, and I’m going to group each of our sideboard slots into a few sections. Most RUG Delver sideboards will be smattered with cards from a bunch of these sections.

Artifact/Enchantment Hate

Ancient Grudge is the best pure artifact destruction we have in RUG Delver due to its ability to be a two-for-one in most circumstances. This card is excellent in matchups against Stoneforge Mystic, where you can nab two pieces of equipment with this if required, or, if against D&T, Grudge can be utilized to blow up an early Aether Vial and any equipment obtained later. Against decks where Chalice of the Void is prominent, Grudge is again excellent due to its ability to be destruction that gets around a Chalice set to one and can also clean up frustrating permanents like Trinisphere, Metalworker and really any other card in the MUD deck. Despite how awesome Grudge is at getting a two-for-one, it lacks the versatility that our other artifact destruction has due to its inability to destroy enchantments as well.

Destructive Revelry is a nice little package from Theros block that is essentially a Naturalize that also deals damage. This fits perfectly into RUG’s game plan as any additional burn is much appreciated for our aggressively bent deck. However, Revelry is only a one-time effect (unlike Grudge) and also doesn’t have any added versatility like our other Naturalize effect. One of the main enchantments that needs to be promptly destroyed by RUG is Counterbalance, and Revelry can only really catch it if the opponent is already tapped out or have no Sensei’s Divining Top to accompany it.

Hence Krosan Grip is a common choice in RUG Delver sideboards. Acting as artifact and enchantment destruction that cannot be responded to is very important to break up the CounterTop lock, and can also help at breaking up an Omniscience before an OmniTell player can get full value out of it. Costing a whole three mana is its greatest downside, and although this is fine for the Miracles matchup (they never pressure your mana) this hinders its usefulness in matchups such as Death & Taxes, where Thalia can make the card practically uncastable. Note that Grip can be popped off on a lone Top, however, since they can’t flip it in order to save it from destruction thanks to Split Second.

A permanent-based peace of pure artifact hate is Null Rod, which is great at answering Sensei’s Divining Top, Umezawa’s Jitte and Swords, MUD and also has some handy utility against Storm combo decks by cutting off their artifact mana sources. Unfortunately it doesn’t flip Delver and can’t answer lock pieces like Chalice or Trinisphere, but it’s a handy effect nonetheless.

I generally try to find room for two or three pieces of artifact/enchantment destruction in my sideboard. I wouldn’t only exclusively play Grudges, however, as enchantment destruction is much appreciated when cards like Counterbalance and Rest in Peace can be incredibly problematic.

Graveyard Hate

RUG’s game one matchup against Reanimator is okay, but not great, since we at least have permission to stop their reanimation spell from resolving. The Dredge matchup, however, is basically unwinnable game one as the sea of Zombies will overwhelm our creatures and we can’t interact with most of their spells (especially Manaless Dredge, which we can’t interact with at all). As such we need to dedicate a few slots in our sideboard to dedicated graveyard hate. Two slots is the minimum amount of graveyard hate I’d look towards.

The most basic of these is Grafdigger’s Cage, which also has some splash damage against Elves and Past in Flames-based combo decks, but primarily shuts down any creature-based graveyard strategies. Cage is great because it comes down turn one, under the opponent’s discard, but slot-wise is pretty inefficient, because it’s quite a narrow effect.

Scavenging Ooze is a piece of graveyard hate I’m quite fond of, mainly because its also great against green-based Delver decks, where it can shrink down opposing Gooses, Tarmogoyfs and prevent the effectiveness of Deathrite Shaman, as well as just be an additional threat to board in when required, acting almost like a fifth Tarmogoyf. Scooze is, however, very slow, and may not provide enough resistance against Reanimator and Dredge’s incredibly fast hands.

Surgical Extraction is also an option that is flexible enough that I’d be happy to run it. Exiling a fatty in response to a reanimation spell is great due to Surgical being hard to predict, but some people also swear by its ability to cut off people’s mana by exiling Wastelanded nonbasics or its ability to counter Miracle triggers by Surgical Extracting away an already-used Terminus. Some of these uses are pretty suspect, but each to their own, I suppose. Point being, the card is primarily graveyard hate but also has other flexible uses. Being an instant is also nice for flipping our Delver.

Additional Countermagic

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The amount of additional counterspells should be a reflection of how much combo you expect within your metagame, as well as how much is already in your main deck. Nonetheless, as mentioned in my flex slots section, Spell Pierces that aren’t in the main are often found in the sideboard, with a full four commonly spread somewhere in the seventy-five. Flusterstorm is also a common addition to sideboards, being a very powerful counterspell against combo and even against opposing Delver decks. Often you can think of Flusterstorm as being a fifth Force of Will that doesn’t require pitching a card, due to how brilliant it can be in certain matchups, and it can even counter actual Storm cards like Tendrils of Agony in certain scenarios. Another common option found in sideboards is Envelop, which is a great answer to cards like Terminus in addition to our main deck Stifles, as well as being a hard counter against Show and Tell, Reanimate and Infernal Tutor, so it has a lot of uses in combo matchups too. If not found in the main, Spell Snare can sometimes be found in the sideboard, coming in against Goyf matchups as well as against combo matchups where their key cards have a converted mana cost of two (for example, Infernal Tutor).

More Removal/Sweepers

The most common sweeper in the RUG Delver sideboard is Rough // Tumble, which is only really used for its Rough side, which is essentially a Pyroclasm that doesn’t hit your flipped Delver. You’ll want this for matchups against Elves, Infect and Death & Taxes, who really rely on having their creatures stick around on the battlefield. If you’re afraid of opposing fliers (for example, the fliers like Mindcensor and Wingmare from D&T) Pyroclasm is still a reasonable choice, just be aware that you’ll be sacrificing your Delvers too.

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Other sweeper options are can range from a bit more expensive, including things like Firespout (which doesn’t have to kill fliers if you don’t want it to – just add blue mana instead of green!), Volcanic Fallout and Sudden Demise, to options with similar mana costs to Rough // Tumble like Electrikery.

You’ll generally only want two of these effects in your sideboard (they do have diminishing returns), and don’t forget having some Forked Bolts in your sideboard is also not a bad option if you don’t want to overload the main deck with them.

Control Haymakers

RUG Delver is a deck designed to prolong the early game and exhaust all its resources to defeat its opponent before the late game even begins. But some decks are very, very good at reaching the late game, and have been designed to do so with us in mind, via having a heavily basic mana base or creating insurmountable amounts of value and card advantage. Therefore we need some powerful haymakers in our sideboard in order to have some late game staying power.

Sylvan Library is one of the more flexible options for fulfilling this role, and has been a main deck consideration for some players who have metagames saturated with Miracles. In matchups where our life total isn’t pressured we can use Library to aggressively dig for threats or countermagic to defend threats already on board. The card is also excellent against decks that lean on Swords to Plowshares – any Plowed Goyfs or Delvers essentially equal a freshly drawn card. I also don’t mind bringing in Library against combo too, especially if you’re on the play. If you can find a window to resolve it, the card can allow you to obtain streams of countermagic to defend yourself with. Just be wary about tapping out for it. Also remember that Library interacts with fetchlands in a similar way to Sensei’s Divining Top, so keep those ready to shuffle away the garbage. Another card that has been tried as a card advantage engine is the big daddy himself, Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Four mana is a lot for RUG Delver, but can be handy against Miracles as he jumps Counterbalance and can be an additional wincon. Nonetheless, Jace is a pretty antiquated and slow option, especially with Miracles adopting Mentor, and I’d look towards Library before him.

Sulfuric Vortex takes a different approach, and has utility only against Miracles or slow controlling Stoneblade decks who are leaning on Batterskull to win. Vortex is much more simple compared to Library. You can just set-it-and-forget-it and force your opponent to answer the Vortex or win the game quickly, which decks like Miracles are not really designed to do. The card is also hard for Counterbalance to counter (they have only a few three drops), and Council’s Judgment is usually the Miracles or Stoneblade player’s only out, unless they next levelled you and brought their Disenchant effect.

Price of Progress has also sometimes found slots in the sideboard as a trump against greedy midrange decks. Although Wasteland and Price look a little counterintuitive, the matchups against BUG decks like Shardless BUG usually end up as a long grind where Goyfs can’t punch through opposing Goyfs and Baleful Strixes. Price fixes this by not caring about the board stall – it just kills them.

Additional Creatures

Additional creatures are sometimes included in the sideboard, primarily due to them having some kind of particular utility. Scavenging Ooze falls under this category thanks to his graveyard hate utility, but so do a few other threats.

One of the most popular additional threats is Vendilion Clique. Most Legacy players should be well versed in the versatility of the Clique, with it beating down incredibly effectively, flashing in at opportune times and acting as hand disruption, valuable against combo and control decks alike. I especially like it in sideboards at the moment due to the omnipresence of OmniTell – flashing in a Clique in response to Show and Tell can often nab the OmniTell player’s Omniscience and make the resolved Show and Tell useless.

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Other possible threats are uncounterable threats such as Blurred Mongoose and Vexing Shusher. Blurred Mongoose is a pretty awful clock, but is very powerful against Miracles as a card that can resolve through CounterTop and demand a Terminus all on its own. Vexing Shusher is another card that is great against Counterbalance, pushing through itself and any other threats if needed and also has utility against combo decks relying on counterspell protection by making RUG’s counterspells uncounterable. Unfortunately Shusher itself is prone to spot removal.

A card that is definitely not prone to spot removal is True-Name Nemesis, who was all the rage some time ago. Acting as a very expensive fifth Nimble Mongoose is handy against control, and is also handy against decks that are leaning on Goyfs gumming up the ground as True-Name can easily cut through these. True-Name is also resistant to gravehate, unlike Goose and Goyf, which is handy when hosers like Rest in Peace often come in. That being said, True-Name costs a huge three mana, which is hard for RUG to reach.

Grim Lavamancer is another threat often kept in the board, primarily due to his lack of synergy with our graveyard-centric threats. However, when he’s good he’s really good, shooting down all the threats of Death & Taxes and Elves while also being an uninteractive clock. The upside of Lavamancer, despite him eating up our graveyard, makes him a pretty viable choice.

Colour Hosers

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Staples of essentially every deck that can cast them, Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast are powerful spells in the blue-dominated Legacy format, where they can often be one-mana Counterspells. These will be some of your most used sideboard slots, brought in against almost every blue deck in the format, even if they just hit cantrips, because they’re so incredibly efficient. Red blasts especially shine against Miracles (where Counterbalance ruins your day), Stoneblade decks (where True-Name can ruin you) and OmniTell (the deck is entirely mono-blue, so take your pick). In general I will choose Pyroblast over Red Elemental Blast, as it has fringe scenarios where you can throw it away to feed Nimble Mongoose or Goyf, but having a split between the two is also fine if you want to hedge against cards like Meddling Mage and Surgical Extraction. The choice is pretty minor – just make sure you include two or three of these effects, as they’re incredibly good.

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Hydroblast and Blue Elemental Blast, on the other hand, aren’t as impressive due to the most potent red card in Magic, Lightning Bolt, being pretty unimpressive against our green threats. The card does have some incredibly utility against Burn, which is where you really want it, and can often be brought in against decks loading up on Red Elemental Blasts too, especially if there’s alternative targets (for example, I won’t feel too bad bringing it in for the RUG mirror, since it can hit Blasts and Bolts). Blue Blasts are fine, but I wouldn’t load up on too many unless you really expect the Burn matchup. I’d run a maximum of one.

Submerge is a colour hoser that can make or break games. Against opposing Tarmogoyf decks, especially BUG decks, the more Submerges you draw the more likely you are to win the game, as RUG Delver leverages this card so incredibly well. It can often act as a free Time Walk when you push past a Goyf and smash in with your team, with your opponent sadly having to redraw and recast their threat. It’s also incredible against Delver (your opponent has to redraw the Delver and reflip it!) and is also insane against Infect due to its surprise factor and ability to play through soft countermagic. Also note that you can save Submerge for when your opponent cracks their fetch to permanently get rid of their creature, and in weird scenarios you can use Submerge to save your own creature. It’s not recommended due to the card disadvantage, but sometimes you have to do weird things to save your creatures from Abrupt Decay. I’d run two minimum, but could easily see more if there’s heaps of Forests in your metagame.

Sulfur Elemental was incorporated into RUG Delver after one of its more difficult matchups came to prominence – Death & Taxes. RUG Delver works on being incredibly mana-efficient with its spell-casting, but Thalia and opposing Wastelands make that very tough. Sulfur Elemental is the most hateful creature printed to hose Death & Taxes, eliminating the majority of their board, not being hosed by Thalia and his Split Second makes his effect something that Death & Taxes can’t do anything about. Unfortunately Sulfur Elemental’s three mana is pretty tough when they’re aggressively Porting and Wastelanding you, however, but it’s the best chance RUG has. He can also do wonders against the recently minted Mentor Miracles lists, pushing through Counterbalance and other countermagic, as well as destroying all of Mentor’s friends.

More Mana Denial

There are a few other pieces of additional mana denial that we can abuse in our sideboard. To start with, we can use a fifth Wasteland for certain matchups, if desired, in the form of Ghost Quarter. Delver matchups become increasingly based on who draws the most Wastelands, and having a fifth one can be much appreciated. Or we could draw three more, via this:

Life from the Loam breaks open a lot of Delver mirrors by allowing the RUG deck to pull ahead in the early stages of the game where mana denial rules supreme. Simply getting back used fetchlands is fine as it allows you to establish a solid mana base that can play through soft countermagic, but a more backbreaking play is to revive used Wastelands – which can completely destroy your Delver opponent’s ability to play Magic. Also note that Loam can be Dredged to get past cards Brainstormed back, as well as fuel Nimble Mongoose. I’d only run one, but it’s the true definition of a high-impact one-of.

Another, more classic, mana denial option is Winter Orb, which we saw being played in the classic Miracle Gro lists. It’s excellent against mana intensive decks who favour non-basics (like Miracles or slow Stoneblade lists) who are otherwise immune to Wasteland. Somewhat uncommon, but it’s been seeing a bit of a resurgence recently.

Flexible Answers

The card I place here is Pithing Needle, primarily, which is a card we can bring in for some problematic activated abilities. Importantly, it answers Sensei’s Divining Top, but can also be handy against Stoneforge Mystic and co. Don’t be tempted to bring it in against Deathrite Shaman and Liliana, since you have other answers to these that aren’t destroyed by Abrupt Decay.

Whew! That was a lot of cards to go through! Hopefully we’re well filled-in on the possible options for RUG’s main deck flex slots and sideboard options. Next time we’ll look at some actual game play and go step-by-step about how to pilot the deck to its full capacity.

‘Til next time,


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