Back to Nonbasics – RUG Delver

Around 9 months ago, a bomb dropped on the world of Legacy: True-Name Nemesis. Very rarely are there cards that have an immediate impact on Legacy, and even more rarely do they fundamentally affect the way that “fair” decks interact with each other.

True-Name Nemesis was particularly devastating to my favorite Legacy deck—RUG Delver. True-Name is exceptionally good at shutting down ground creatures, and at winning grindy games. Without Nimble Mongoose and Tarmogoyfs as reliable threats, a True-Name player simply has to answer Delver of Secrets. From there, Nemesis is capable of winning the game by itself.

For the most part, True-Name has been confined to seeing play in decks like UWR Delver and Deathblade—which take advantage of the protection ability by playing equipment. However, the Legacy metagame has slowly but surely adjusted to the three-mana menace.

UWR Delver, by Owen Turtenwald

Esper Deathblade, by Erik Smith

The most obvious reaction to the printing of a card that excels in fair deck vs. fair deck is to play a combo deck that simply doesn’t care about Nemesis, something like Sneak and Show or Elves. These decks were particularly good choices given the decline in RUG Delver, a natural predator of combo decks.

However, other fair decks reacted to True-Name as well. We’ve seen Death and Taxes maindeck cards like Sword of Fire and Ice, and adjust its creature base to include more fliers, shaving Mirran Crusaders for more Serra Avengers.

Perhaps the biggest reaction has been the upsurge of Miracles and BUG Delver. Both are decks that would function within a normal Legacy metagame—but also conveniently have easy answers to True-Name, in the form of Terminus, Liliana of the Veil, and Golgari Charm. Both of these decks are also very well set up to answer the equipment package that comes with True-Name, and have a reasonable amount of game against combo decks.

Miracles, by Reid Duke

BUG Delver, by Rich Shay

The deck that loses the most from Legacy adapting to True-Name is Deathblade. Deathblade is in many ways the most “all-in” True-Name deck, typically playing four copies of the card and focusing on accelerating it out early with Deathrite Shaman. Deathblade decks usually play answers to an opposing Nemesis in the form of Liliana and Zealous Persecution. When Nemesis was the defining card of Legacy, Deathblade was a great choice, but it is also extremely weak to any combo deck, and much worse against opponents who are prepared for your Nemesis.

This is a fairly accurate representation of how Legacy has transformed over the past nine months. After Owen Turtenwald’s victory at GP DC, the most popular fair decks in the format were UWR Delver, Deathblade, and Shardless BUG, but now I would argue that they are BUG Delver and Miracles. Just as importantly, there has been a notable uptick in unfair decks, spearheaded by the enormous popularity of Sneak and Show and Elves.

This brings me back to RUG Delver, a deck which functions on the slimmest of margins of any deck in Legacy. RUG is extraordinarily low to the ground and tempo-oriented, making it great against combo decks or anything that takes a while to get set up. In a format plagued by midrange Abrupt Decay decks like Deathblade, Shardless BUG, and Jund, RUG struggles to apply early pressure and gets easily outclassed as the game goes on.

That said, I feel that RUG is a good choice for Legacy at the moment because of both the prevalence of combo decks (that it preys on) and decline in midrange fair decks that have been pushed out by combo and Miracles.

The RUG deck list I played this past weekend at the Legacy Open in Worcester is as follows:

It’s difficult to talk about card choices when it comes to RUG because so much of the deck is set in stone—there are really only six slots left to play with, where I’ve chosen 2 Spell Pierce, 2 Forked Bolt, 1 Thought Scour, and 1 Vendilion Clique.

I feel pretty strongly that Thought Scour is a better card than Gitaxian Probe if you are in the market for an extra cantrip. Scour is simply too good with Mongoose, ‘Goyf, Brainstorm, and Delver, and has the added bonus of being an instant on turns where you need to leave mana up but still generate velocity.

Forked Bolt is a concession to Elves and Death and Taxes in particular, though I think playing six removal spells is generally right in a format with Deathrite Shaman and Stoneforge Mystic running rampant.

Vendilion Clique is a reaction to True-Name Nemesis and looking for an additional threat that does get blanked by ground defenders. Tarmogoyf is certainly the weakest card here, but also a necessity to have a high enough threat density.

As with many Legacy decks, sideboard cards for RUG should be high impact and broadly applicable. In this deck in particular, you have so many cantrips to dig to your sideboard cards that when you draw them, they should be extremely effective. Sulfur Elemental, Rough//Tumble and Sulfuric Vortex are probably the strongest examples of this.

Grafdigger’s Cage and Pithing Needle are two cards that I would play in almost any Legacy sideboard. Cage is graveyard hate that doubles as a card against Elves, which is hugely relevant right now. Needle is also reasonable against Elves, but is really there to shut down Sensei’s Divining Top, Sneak Attack, and Liliana of the Veil.

One of the things to realize when playing RUG is that there are a number of situations and cards that you simply can’t beat. I felt this firsthand at the Open last weekend, where I lost my win-and-in match to a turn one Magus of the Moon—after he had Simian Spirit Guide + Pyroblast to fight through my Force of Will. There are some other cards, like Chalice of the Void and Trinisphere that will similarly lock you out of the game.

Hopefully this gives you a little bit of insight into the process of choosing a deck for a wide format like Legacy (or Modern!), and also deck choice in general. It’s one thing to understand that a certain deck has become more or less popular in recent weeks, but finding the underlying cause for that shift is also more important. I was certainly very aware of the popularity of BUG Delver and Miracles in Legacy, but it took a bit of thinking for me to realize that RUG Delver was well positioned, at least for a brief period of time. Luckily for me, Legacy moves slow enough that I might get another chance to play it soon before the window closes.

Thanks for reading,

Matt Costa


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