RUG Delver's Back on the Menu!
📅 April 16, 2020•
⏱️13 min read
2 weeks ago, Magic Online ran its first Legacy Super Qualifier. For those that don't know, in the wake of the world's situation surrounding the Coronavirus, the team at Magic Online decided to add a number of weekly Qualifier events where the top 2 players would qualify for the Player's Tour. Essentially, these were super PTQs, and they were definitely going to be filled with some incredible players. Not being one to pass up high-stakes Legacy tournaments, I knew that I would try to play in all of these that I could. However, in a moment of extremely good fortune, I somehow won the very first of these events! As an attempt to not get too far ahead of myself, let's talk a bit about what led me to choosing RUG Delver, how I ended up with my card choices, and what eventually led me to a Players Tour qualification.
A lot of people asked me why I chose RUG over the other variants. Initially, I chose to play it because I hadn't tried to play the deck since the banning of Wrenn and Six. I wanted a change and some of the new lists looked really fun. Once I started to get into the deck it was very clear that it wasn't just fun, it was really powerful.
It's no secret that green has been one of the best colors in Magic over the past few years, and the green options in Delver really help this deck have cohesive and effective game plans against many of the top strategies. Each of the green cards add a new angle to the Delver strategy, so let's go through them one at a time.
Oko, Thief of Crowns is the default reason people assume green is getting added to the deck and they wouldn't be wrong. Oko plays every role in this deck. It provides a clear, focused game plan against any deck trying to play fair by threatening to make a 3/3 every other turn. It answers just about every card that causes real issues, from Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, to Helm of Obedience, to Tarmogoyf. When all else fails, it's blue, which incidentally gives RUG enough blue cards to support 2 Force of Negation on top of the usual 4 Force of Will. At this point in time, Oko speaks for himself so I don't think I need to sing his praises ad nauseum.
While Oko makes the headlines these days as the green threat du jour, Tarmogoyf has been quietly lurking in the background ready to shine again. While it isn't quite the powerhouse threat it used to be in Legacy, I think it's a pretty big pull towards green in this deck. In terms of casting a creature for 2 mana on turn 2, the rate it provides is unmatched and requires very minimal additional work from the player.
RUG Delver has the ability to curve out in a way that is quite a bit more smooth than other Delver decks. This is a result of Tarmogoyf naturally growing larger throughout the early stages of a game. Dreadhorde Arcanist is a powerhouse of a card, but it requires a gap in board development in order to cast a cantrip.
The fact that it's so large as early as turn 2 makes a huge difference in this format driven by the textbox “gain 3 life.” Before, it might have been better to go wide with Young Pyromancer and pressure your opponents in a more resilient manner. These days, that can be too slow and you could be at risk of not applying enough pressure early enough to force your opponents to react in the way/at the time you want them to. Tarmogoyf beats down, and it does so extremely well. While the trade-off of resiliency does matter, that gets balanced out by the presence of Oko in the main deck (which, incidentally, makes Tarmogoyf larger).
For the most part, Hooting Mandrills is Tarmogoyf Lite, providing an additional large creature at a very cheap rate. It does a few specific things very well (being cast for 1 mana, trampling over True-Name Nemesis and Ice-Fang Coatl, dodging Abrupt Decay), and I think having access to at least 1 adds a lot to the deck. However, there's a real cost to drawing too many of these so any number beyond the first can have serious diminishing returns.
I always talk about the importance of diversifying sideboard answers in the face of opposing combo decks. Veil of Summer is the perfect addition to that roster, and I think that this adds more to certain combo matchups than just about any card, Thoughtseize included. In addition, Abrupt Decay has been a real presence in Legacy recently. Veil of Summer is one of the only pieces of disruption that actually interacts with it, which gives RUG Delver a lot of additional game against the midrange decks in this format.
I don't usually play the Challenges on Sundays, but knowing I had the Legacy Super Qualifier coming up, and considering that i've been having a blast playing the deck, I decided to jump in the queue.
Here's the decklist I played:
Rich Cali's RUG Delver, Top 8 3/22/2020 Legacy Challenge
|4 Delver of Secrets||4 Brainstorm||4 Flooded Strand||1 Abrade|
|3 Tarmogoyf||4 Ponder||4 Polluted Delta||1 Ancient Grudge|
|2 Dreadhorde Arcanist||2 Preordain||1 Wooded Foothills||1 Blazing Volley|
|1 Hooting Mandrills||4 Daze||3 Tropical Island||1 Blue Elemental Blast|
|4 Force of Will||3 Volcanic Island||1 Brazen Borrower|
|Planeswalkers||2 Force of Negation||4 Wasteland||1 Flusterstorm|
|3 Oko, Thief of Crowns||1 Spell Pierce||1 Grafdigger's Cage|
|2 Spell Snare||1 Null Rod|
|4 Lightning Bolt||2 Pyroblast|
|1 Chain Lightning||1 Red Elemental Blast|
|2 Surgical Extraction|
|1 Sylvan Library|
|1 Veil of Summer|
At this point, I was fairly convinced that Oko was the best element of the deck and wanted to lean into that. Running the 2nd Preordain was a nod towards making Dreadhorde Arcanist a little bit better and making sure my Force of Negations were going to be effective more often.
As for the sideboard, there were a few choices that raised some eyebrows. The first is Blue Elemental Blast, which admittedly doesn't look very effective in this metagame. It's pretty bad, honestly. While it does some things reasonably well, it isn't reliable and doesn't come in often. I tend to include it because I find that it makes me feel a bit more comfortable in Delver mirrors, especially with most Delver decks having 6-7 red threats.
Brazen Borrower is another weird sideboard inclusion. Having slightly weaker, more diverse answers in the sideboard of a deck like Delver is generally worse than just having some haymaker-style answers. However, the presence of Tarmogoyf changes that a little bit in my eyes. It applies so much pressure that gaining any kind of tempo can be a gamechanger, and Brazen Borrower is arguably the best card to play if there isn't a really defined card to be targeted.
Here's a quick summary of how the Challenge went:
Round 1 - Mono Red Prison (2-1) Win
Round 2 - Esper Vial (2-1) Win
Round 3 - Izzet Delver (2-0) Win
Round 4 - Sneak and Show (2-1) Win
Round 5 - Mono Blue Urza (2-0) Win
Round 6 - Eldrazi Stompy (1-2) Loss
Round 7 - Izzet Delver (2-0) Win
Round 8 - Maverick (1-2) Loss
Quarterfinals - BUG Zenith (0-2) Loss
I was pretty happy to make it to the top 8 here! It was a tough event, and there were a lot of really close games. I fell on the right side of variance in the 2 Delver mirrors, which I generally find to be one of the most volatile matchups in Legacy. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of decisions to be made and almost all of them need to be made correctly. However, most often that leaves the game at parity because almost every card has the ability to trade with every other card. This means a decent amount of Delver mirrors come down to topdeck battles, which isn't the most fulfilling place to be. RUG does tend to break that symmetry a bit by having threats that don't get answered quite so easily (Tarmogoyf, Hooting Mandrills, and Oko, Thief of Crowns), but the trade-off is never being completely invulnerable to Wasteland.
As for the 3 losses, I would generally say those can be slightly tougher matchups. While Eldrazi isn't necessarily bad, it is kind of high variance. Sometimes Chalice of the Void ends the game, sometimes it doesn't do much. Delver draws backed up by Wasteland can just race what they're doing, or not even come close to being good enough. Adding a Dismember to the deck would go a long way towards making it easier to manage their creatures. In fact, all 3 of the decks I lost to would probably get a bit better with a Dismember present in the deck, especially with Questing Beast in the mix. For the most part they don't represent large portions of the metagame, so I don't think it's a necessary change.
I was excited to get some high-stakes Magic in my life again. After the solid result in the Challenge event, and a good string of online results following it, I felt pretty comfortable running back RUG in the Super Qualifier.
Here is the list I settled on:
|4 Delver of Secrets||4 Brainstorm||4 Flooded Strand||1 Abrade|
|2 Dreadhorde Arcanist||4 Ponder||4 Polluted Delta||1 Aether Gust|
|4 Tarmogoyf||1 Preordain||3 Tropical Island||1 Ancient Grudge|
|2 Hooting Mandrills||1 Chain Lightning||3 Volcanic Island||1 Blazing Volley|
|1 Spell Pierce||4 Wasteland||1 Brazen Borrower|
|2 Spell Snare||1 Wooded Foothills||1 Collector Ouphe|
|4 Daze||1 Grafdigger's Cage|
|2 Force of Negation||2 Pyroblast|
|4 Force of Will||1 Red Elemental Blast|
|2 Surgical Extraction|
|1 Sylvan Library|
|2 Veil of Summer|
There are a couple of notable changes in this list. I trimmed down to 2 Oko, Thief of Crowns and 1 Preordain in order to fit in the 4th Tarmogoyf and 2nd Hooting Mandrills. Primarily, this was a shift in game-plan assessment. I started to realize that the element of the deck I wanted to lean into the most wasn't in the power of Oko or the ability to keep up with other decks in the midgame, it was the aggressive element. I was constantly impressed with how much pressure RUG Delver could apply and was happy to maximize that aspect of the deck. I tested this variant throughout the week and found that I could still somewhat comfortably support 2 copies of Force of Negation, so I kept that the same.
There were a few notable changes in the sideboard. The first was Collector Ouphe over Null Rod. I am still not at all convinced about this change, but the idea was to play a version of that effect that I would be able to bring in against Arcum's Astrolabe decks. The downside of Collector Ouphe is that sometimes the decks that Null Rod is good against bring in creature removal, thus adding a layer of inconsistency to the card. However, the flipside of that is that Collector Ouphe applies pressure on its own, which could be a pretty big deal.
I also cut the Flusterstorm for a 2nd Veil of Summer. While Veil of Summer is a serious haymaker in a lot of matchups, having too many of them can be really awkward at times. That's why I didn't have a 2nd copy the week prior. However, Abrupt Decay really started to pick up popularity and I wanted to have a card that interacts favorably with that.
The final change which raised even more eyebrows than the inclusion of Blue Elemental Blast was the inclusion of Aether Gust. This was a completely untested potential answer to Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath (suggested by Noah Walker). At first I thought Submerge would just be more effective, but the most I thought about it, the better Aether Gust sounded. Hitting Oko, Thief of Crowns on the draw step, hitting Escaped Uros to buying a lot of time, and still being decent against Delver and Red Prison decks. It sounded like it did a pretty solid Hydroblast + Submerge impression, and like I said regarding Brazen Borrower, when you're applying a lot of pressure, those kinds of tempo swings can be huge.
Round 1 - RUG Delver (0-2) Loss
Round 2 - Sneak and Show (2-0) Win
Round 3 - Mono Red Prison (2-1) Win
Round 4 - Sneak and Show (2-1) Win
Round 5 - Grixis Delver (2-1) Win
Round 6 - UG Omnishow (2-1) Win
Round 7 - 4c Snoko (2-0) Win
Round 8 - Bant Miracles (2-1) Win
Round 9 - Mono Green Titan (2-0)
Quarterfinals - RUG Delver (2-0)
Semifinals - Mono Green Titan (2-1)
Finals! - Doomsday (2-0)
I think I have a really solid mental game when it comes to long tournaments, and that really comes in handy when losing round 1. It can be really easy to let that get to me, but the truth is that I have to win a lot of Magic anyway, so in that regard nothing has changed.
In terms of the expected metagame, I faced a pretty good mix of the Legacy macro-archetypes. Outside of Mono Green Titan (which is a pretty good matchup) most of my pairings in this event were really close matchups, which is part of the reason I play Delver. Maybe it's silly of me, but I just trend towards decks that tend to not have any really good or bad matchups.
While this tournament was very difficult, and resulted in a lot of really close matches, there wasn't too much out of the norm. I was a bit taken aback to win 2-0 over the 4c Snoko deck, as I do think that's one of the more difficult matchups. However, my approach is to essentially lean fully into RUG's ability to be aggressive and try to make their clunky threats/answers as inefficient as I can. That's essentially how the match went, and they spent a lot of time trying to cantrip to find answers while I was bashing in.
While I have a lot of experience playing against decks like Sneak and Show, Mono Green Titan is essentially a whole new experience for me so I was figuring it out on the fly. Overall, it seems quite good for Delver. They take a while to get going, they don't play much in the way of removal, and don't have any flying blockers. Like most Chalice of the Void decks, sometimes they can just lock you out of the game early on, but Oko, Thief of Crowns is really helpful there. While I never drew it, Aether Gust would have been incredible in this matchup, so I was pretty happy to have it in my deck.
At the end of it all, I stood on top and I can still hardly believe it.
I have been playing Magic for 10 years at this point, and Legacy for around 8, and the Pro Tour always felt like it was on the other side of a wall with a locked door. I have had a decent amount of success, especially within the past year or 2, but I always wrote off the Pro Tour as an option. At some point, I turned my focus almost entirely to Legacy, which was a willing choice to place the Pro Tour on the backburner and just exclusively play the type of Magic I love.
Strangely, though, over the past few months I actually had several opportunities to catch a glance at the key. I top 8'd a couple of Premier-Level events online which boasted a Player's Tour qualification for the winner, and somehow also made top 4 of a paper Pioneer PTQ. Getting so close that many times made me realize how much it meant to me. It made me understand why it meant so much to other people, too.
The feeling was almost exactly the same when I won a SCG Open last year. It was something that I didn't know I wanted until it became a reality, and I don't really understand how I got here. Magic is really hard and the concept of actually achieving my goals is really foreign to me. It felt like there was a hurdle in my way the whole time, and just for this moment, it was taken away.
I don't think I can overstate my excitement enough to finally see what it's like to play on the big stage and I'm absolutely going to give it my all.