Recently, I had the fortune of winning the August Manatrader Series. I don’t go into tournaments expecting anything, so i’m extremely grateful that I was able to participate in the event and be in this situation. Before I get into the details, let me explain the Manatraders Series.
The Manatrader Series
For those who aren’t familiar with it, this is a relatively new series that was introduced a few months ago and it has a pretty interesting structure. It takes place in 3 phases: The qualifier league, the swiss tournament, and the final round (the top 8).
The qualifier league runs through the middle of the month and participants can play matches to their leisure. Players that complete it with a certain win percentage (70% in 10-19 matches, 65% in 20-29 matches, 60% in 30+) qualify for the swiss portion of the series (as well as earn a spot on the leaderboard). Phases 2 and 3 are a 2 day affair, with the swiss portion playing on Saturday and the final round playing out on Sunday. For the most part this is a traditional Magic tournament, with rounds based on player attendance and a cut to the top 8. The event was free to play, however Manatrader subscribers received a substantially higher prize payout.
With that out of the way, today I want to talk about my preparation for the event, the deck list I ended up playing, and how the event played out.
While I have been playing a lot of Magic lately, I haven’t been exclusively playing Delver. However, I have been spending my free time coaching players on the various Delver shells. This has given me a different perspective than I usually have when i’m only playing the games myself. Sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint when specific cards aren’t performing in a given game. Watching over someone’s shoulder has made the relative performance of specific cards a lot clearer to me in the moment.
One thing that came up for me time and time again is that I was not impressed with Tarmogoyf. Having a large creature isn’t the way to beat Miracles and Snoko and it reached the point where I started suggesting sideboarding them out. Against combo, it doesn’t usually apply pressure fast enough, which gives opponents more time to develop. Although it is good in the mirror and against most Ancient Tomb decks, it kept underperforming in almost every other matchup.
I also noticed a tendency for opponents to rely on enchantments to combat Delver decks. In particular, Carpet of Flowers has gained popularity over the past few months, but Back to Basics, Blood Moon, and Rest in Peace have all been showing up in greater numbers as well.
This led me to lean towards Izzet Delver a bit more. Despite being a little weak to Tarmogoyf, I like that Izzet has the ability to sidestep the mana denial stage of the Delver mirror. While it is more resilient to some commonly played enchantments, Carpet of Flowers is still a huge pain to deal with. In addition, Snow seemed to be picking up in popularity a lot over the past few weeks, and Izzet struggles versus Uro. RUG’s sideboard cards are a lot more effective in that matchup and I wanted to make sure I was well-prepared for Snow.
I saw a deck list that Edgar Magalhaes did well with in the qualifier stage of the series and really liked the direction he was taking the archetype. I played with the list a bit, made some adjustments and ran with it. Here is the deck I submitted:
Legacy RUG Delver Deck List - Rich Cali
I liked the list I ended up on a lot. I am planning on writing a deep dive on this deck for this site very soon, so I won’t go into every card choice. Here are some of the standout choices that are either somewhat uncommon or controversial:
At this point, everybody knows that Dreadhorde Arcanist is incredible. While Tarmogoyf kept underperforming, Arcanist impresses me time and time again. It is relatively easy to remove, but it demands removal at all points of the game. This gives the Delver player a lot of control over the pacing of the game and impacts how your opponents have to spend their mana. Having access to the full set really helps against the various Snow decks of the format.
While Tarmogoyf is great in the mirror, it felt bad enough in other matchups where I didn’t want to include it in my list. While you do lose some edge in the mirror, I don’t think cutting it makes the matchup extremely unfavorable. In fact, reducing the reliance on green mana can be a benefit in the mirror. Being able to function off of red mana early on makes the impact of mana denial less pronounced.
In summation, I think what I lost in the Delver mirror by cutting Tarmogoyf wasn’t as much as what I gained against Snow and that was a worthwhile trade for me.
While I tend to split these 1 and 1 in general, I have noticed that Spell Snare hasn’t had enough meaningful targets lately. Spell Pierce gets a bit better in this list because Dreadhorde Arcanist is pretty fragile.
While I have played this card in the past, it wasn’t until I saw it in Edgar’s list that it clicked that this was an excellent solution to some issues I was having with RUG. Against the Snow decks, both Uro and Carpet of Flowers have been problematic for me. Return to Nature’s versatility has been extremely helpful at keeping both of those in check, while also still functioning as an answer to Chalice of the Void and even a Reanimator target.
0 Winter Orb:
Winter Orb can be an important card when it comes to forming a solid game plan against Snow decks, but there are a few reasons I moved away from it here. With Dreadhorde Arcanist as the centerpiece, you want to cast more spells on your turns. This means that Orb has a higher change of stifling your development. Especially with the popularity of Carpet of Flowers, Winter Orb has become a less reliable way to slow down your opponent’s development. Furthermore, the addition of Return to Nature as a more versatile sideboard card makes it more difficult to find space for the Orb, while also acting as a faux-mana denial card when Carpet of Flowers is in the mix.
Roughly 200 players qualified for the swiss, so it was an 8 round affair. The field had a lot of Legacy ringers so I knew it would be a difficult event.
My swiss ended up breaking down like this:
Jund Hogaak (2-0) Win
Mono Blue Urza (2-0) Win
Maverick (2-0) Win
UG Omnitell (2-1) Win
4c Snoko (2-0) Win
Bant Miracles (0-2) Loss
Sultai Zenith (1-2) Loss
UG Omnitell (2-1) Win
While RUG Delver was on everyone’s minds as the deck to beat this weekend, I didn’t get paired against it once. Considering how I built my deck, that worked out for me, but I still would have been happy to play the mirror.
Being paired against Hogaak was a difficult way to start the day. Despite being a tough matchup, I have a solid plan for it, so I don’t fear that matchup like I used to. In short, the goal is to make sure you slow them down at all costs. This often means Force of Willing every enabler you see and using Wasteland aggressively. Ideally, you can be backing that up with some pressure on board and hopefully get their life total low enough that a few Lightning Bolts can end it. You definitely need to get lucky but there are a lot of decisions to make that will maximize your luck. I could write a whole article on this matchup (and I probably will at some point) as it is fairly involved to sneak away with a victory.
After a few relatively uneventful matches, my round 5 match was against Michael Bonde and I knew that would be a tight match. While I do find Snow to be a difficult matchup, the deck is relatively clunky at times. I try to lean into the aggressive nature of Delver as much as I can. Some of their draws are going to be nigh-impossible to beat (when they draw all removal spells, backed up by an Uro, for instance), but they don’t always draw perfectly. My approach is generally to force them to have the right answers at the right time, rather than play conservatively, and that was true here.
My next match was against Stefano Garcia, a master of the Miracles archetype. This is a tough matchup and his list in particular added red this time around. The presence of Pyroblast as a clean answer for Oko makes the matchup worse overall. While game 1 was somewhat close, I wasn’t able to put up much of a fight in game 2 and I picked up my first loss.
After another close, but relatively uneventful, loss to Sultai Zenith and then winning against Omnitell, I ended the day at 6-2. Fortune was in my favor that weekend, because my tiebreakers were incredible and I was the only 6-2 to make it into the top 8. I was happy enough just to top 8, but I was still going to give it my all on the following day and try to do a bit better than falling out in the quarterfinals.
The Final Round
Quarterfinals – Bant Miracles (2-1)
This was the top 8 of rematches for me, and it would start against Stefano on Miracles. Game 1 was looking good for a while, but it can be really tough to close the game against Miracles. Eventually, they’ll Terminus away the creatures, and use their Oko to start overwhelming the board better than RUG can. This is exactly what happened and game 1 was in the books. Game 2, I was able to resolve a timely Surgical Extraction after they Brainstormed and presumably shuffled away a Terminus that was going to answer my Dreadhorde Arcanist. This not only allowed my Dreadhorde to live, but gave me perfect information about my opponent’s hand and I was able to carefully navigate my way to a victory.
Game 3 was extremely tight. My hand started out a bit awkwardly so I had to cantrip a lot in the early turns. This left me tapped out on a key turn early on but my opponent didn’t resolve anything game changing, thus leading me to suspect they had a reactive hand. I had a Return to Nature for a Carpet of Flowers, and eventually I was able to resolve a Klothys into an on-board Relic of Progenitus.
While I had plenty of spells to eat in my graveyard, which would make the Relic less effective at stopping Klothys, it felt like my opponent had a Snapcaster Mage and I didn’t want them to use a Swords to Plowshares in their graveyard on my Arcanist. I gave them the opportunity to save 2 life by eating their own Swords, but it felt worthwhile to me. It turned out they did have a Snapcaster Mage, but they also had another answer to Arcanist. However, they were never able to remove the Klothys, and I was able to keep them from applying too much pressure. As a result, I snuck away with the win many turns later.
Semifinals – 4c Snoko (2-1)
Another rematch, here against Michael Bonde’s Snow deck. What I really want to talk about was game 1, where I made an unconventional play very early.
I was on the draw and on turn 3 the board looked like this:
I know I have a Dreadhorde Arcanist on top from a Brainstorm. They started their 3rd turn with a Ponder before playing a land and I sensed weakness and snapped off the Force of Negation. This certainly was aggressive play but I am confident in the decision. There were a couple of key questions I was asking myself about the situation:
- Would they ever play the Underground Sea if they had access to a basic, since every land was a quad-land because of Astrolabe?
- Why would they start the turn with Ponder unless they needed a land or an answer to Dreadhorde Arcanist?
- Could the Ponder be a bait spell?
- What is my clearest line to victory in this game?
I didn’t think my opponent would play a dual against Delver if they had any other option. It’s possible that they had a 2nd dual in hand, and they wanted to use the Ponder to get more information before proceeding, but my intuition told me that wasn’t the case. If they had an Abrupt Decay but no land, Forcing the Ponder might get a Force of Will out of their hand or stop them from killing the Arcanist this turn. If they didn’t have a land, but had a Swords to Plowshares, Daze would still be effective. If they had a land and a Swords to Plowshares, I would lose my Arcanist, but still be able to Wasteland and cast Arcanist with Daze backup.
Going back to what I was saying earlier about this matchup, you can’t really beat their perfect draws a lot of the time. If you can use all of the information at your disposal to find a hint of weakness, it is often worth trying to exploit that weakness. Here, my opponent used a Swords to Plowshares and backed it up with a Force of Will, but did not have a land, so my Wasteland and Spell Pierce on the following turn kept them from hitting a 2nd land drop and Dreadhorde ran away with the game.
The end of game 2 and all of game 3 was featured, which can be found here. These games had a lot of action, but not a lot that was particularly notable. Game 2 was mostly decided by Uro, and game 3 was decided by Dreadhorde Arcanist.
Finals! – Stoneblade (2-0)
This match was featured in its entirety here. Stoneblade can be difficult if they draw a Swords to Plowshares, since Snapcaster Mage gives them more access to additional copies, but Oko can be difficult for them to overcome. That’s essentially what happened in game 1. Even though I started on a mulligan to 5, my early pressure was enough to force them to interact with me, which eventually set up a situation where Oko would resolve. Backed up by solid draws, Oko took over the game. There was a lot of nuance in that game, such as playing around Spell Pierce by Pondering instead of casting Oko on turn 3. This forced my opponent to keep up the Spell Pierce on a future turn, which slowed down their development a bit. When playing against slower decks, try to use the fact that Delver is more aggressive to get opponents to react in the way you want and play into your cards as much as possible.
Game 2 started out really well. A lot of this game was spent trying to sniff out what could be in their hand, and it really felt like they had the 1st Verdict for a while. It’s a delicate balance playing around the combination of Swords and Verdict, but I towed the line pretty well, forcing them to cast a Verdict when I had plenty of backup in hand. It’s difficult to play around 2 copies of the card though, and my plan started to come apart when they cast the 2nd copy. Fortunately, after the dust settled, I was able to find a trio of Bolts to end the game with and become the August Manatrader Series Champion!
Victory, RUG Going Forward and the Legacy Metagame
I was pretty excited to take home the crown. There were a lot of tough matchups along the way that made it a rewarding experience. It was nice to put my plans to action against the slower blue decks and see that pay off.
As for RUG Delver, it’s still one of the best decks you can play in the format. I do think there’s some counterplay against it, and looking at this top 8 you can see the workings of a relatively hostile field for RUG Delver to play in. If you want to build RUG Delver to have an edge against decks like Snow, I highly recommend leaning into Dreadhorde Arcanist as much as possible. Moving towards a 2nd copy of Klothys in the sideboard will also pay a lot of dividends in that matchup.
Since this week ended up being about playing RUG Delver, next week I want to spend some time talking about how to beat RUG Delver. There’s a fair amount of counterplay that can be effective against the deck and I want to hone in on some of the specifics. However, even though RUG is the most popular matchup, be wary in picking a deck to beat RUG alone. As we saw in my experience in this tournament, the Legacy metagame is quite diverse and fair at the moment.