Advice from the Fae – Getting Under the RUG for the SCG Invitational

Thursday, November 25th – SCG Player of the Year Alex Bertoncini’s debut article on StarCityGames.com talks about RUG, the deck he thinks is at the top of the food chain in Standard. But he has some modifications…

Hey guys! For those of you who don’t know already know me, my name is Alex Bertoncini, recent winner of the StarCityGames.com Player of the Year race. I’m a second-year student studying in upstate New York, and Magic is not only my hobby, but my passion. While I’m new to writing articles, I have a great deal of experience playing Magic and innovating tech for Standard and Legacy, and that’s what I’ll share with you in this column. With introductions now out of the way, it’s time to talk about the good stuff!

I find that we’re all currently taking part in an incredibly diverse and developed metagame. Just a short while ago, it seemed that Ramp was the place to be; the Eldrazi and Primeval Titans roamed freely over the battlefield. However, as the meta has had time to develop, control has caught up again, and now we’re faced with an environment littered with many decks that people consider to be the “best deck,” with no clear-cut winner. However, I feel that at this point, one deck has inched ahead of the rest. That deck is the R/U/G deck tweaked by Dan Jordan, which is able to compete with all the heavy hitter control decks like U/R, U/B, and U/W and is also equipped with the tools necessary to battle Ramp decks.

Alas, one of the biggest weaknesses of the R/U/G deck right now is the vulnerability it has to straight-up aggro. Yet, have no fear. Today I intend to Explore (haha) how we can turn R/U/G into an aggro-fighting machine. The trick now is to tune this deck so that it still has good game against the various control decks and as deckbuilders, to find a balance of cards that will allow us to dominate the field in tournaments to come.

Dan Jordan is a good friend of mine, and I have great respect for him as a player. I’m pretty sure I can say without a shadow of a doubt that he’s single-handedly responsible for putting R/U/G out there as one of the top decks – if not the top deck at the moment. He put a tremendous amount of time and testing into making this list, and it truly is a stand-out list. However, through my own testing of this deck, I’ve found some changes need to be made to make this list optimal against more aggressive decks, which you can expect to see plenty of at any upcoming Standard events, including the StarCityGames.com Invitational and Open Weekend in Richmond.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand how the R/U/G deck works. It has many cheap spells that play specific roles throughout a match. The deck is littered with early drops that are intended to get you into the late game as quickly as possible, while keeping your life total high and your opponent’s board clear.

Cards such as Mana Leak and Lightning Bolt allow you to keep your opponent off of his/her game plan while Explore and Lotus Cobra make landing a turn 3 Oracle of Mul Daya or Jace, the Mind Sculptor a very real possibility. The acceleration and hand manipulation allow you to control the pace of the game until you’re able to set up a Frost Titan or protect a Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It’s important to realize that R/U/G’s late game isn’t that much more powerful than other decks, but R/U/G enters its late game a few turns earlier than other decks.

The problem this deck faces is that when the game is sped up a turn or two by a fast Boros deck or Mono-Red burn deck, it can be hard to manage your life total and keep your head above water. Against quick starts from these decks (turn 1 Goblin Guide >:-o ), the best possible hand you can keep is turn 1 Copperline Gorge into Lightning Bolt, followed by a turn 2 Island into Explore into Copperline Gorge into Lightning Bolt number two, and then a turn 3 Island into Jace. Unfortunately, the chances of that happening are not high enough to just bank on getting the perfect draw every game. While this deck does have a ton of manipulation in the form of Oracle and Preordain, those cards usually take one turn too long to set up, and by then a good aggressive player will have disrupted your early game enough that you aren’t able to stabilize before they burn you out. Improving this deck’s matchup against the faster red decks in Standard is the most important tweak you can make right now. After all, I’m getting tired of losing to that obnoxious, little turn 1 Goblin waving a lantern around.

So how do we fix up this deck to improve its bad matchups? Lowering the curve is one possible idea. The biggest standout card in this list is the three Goblin Ruinblasters in the maindeck. The idea behind these is to improve your U/B Control matchup as well as the mirror. Goblin Ruinblaster provides tempo as well as a body to attack Jace. It can be a real backbreaker in the control matchups, especially when you’re on the play.

However, this four-mana spell does little more than chump block a Plated Geopede against the aggressive decks. So my first suggestion would be to either cut the Ruinblasters entirely or move them to the sideboard. The deck needs to trim its four-drop spells in order to combat the decks full of one- and two-drops. Oracle of Mul-Daya is a three-of creature that’s easily removable and can oftentimes lead to some awkward turns where you don’t have another land to play or reveal. However, the amount of hand and library manipulation this deck offers with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Preordain creates such a huge card advantage engine most games with the Oracle that it becomes a key card in control matchups. It’s really a matter of card advantage versus tempo when comparing Oracle of Mul Daya to Goblin Ruinblaster. I believe one of these needs to be cut in order to improve against the tougher matchups of Boros and Mono-Red, and I tend to lean towards cutting the red card. Maybe I just hate Goblins.

Now as we discuss cuts, we should also mention cards that are good additions.

When playing with R/U/G against red decks the most important card to draw is Lightning Bolt. It throws them off their early pressure. It kills Goblin Guide, Plated Geopede, Steppe Lynx, Kiln Fiend, and Kargan Dragonlord. After sideboard, you have cards to bring in such as Obstinate Baloth, Flashfreeze, and Pyroclasm. But the red decks also come prepared to deal with your deck and sideboard hate. Koth of the Hammer is great resistance to Lightning Bolt and Pyroclasm and if it doesn’t meet a counterspell can really just end the game by himself. So as for an addition to the maindeck, I suggest adding Burst Lightning. The right number to add is probably two, and it is just a great removal spell to deal with a variety of things. It really shines against Dragonlord, Geopede, and Goblin Guide, but it also is a relevant draw against other decks. It can kill both Jaces, as well as Creeping Tar Pit and Lotus Cobra.

Having six burn spells in your arsenal makes it harder for your opponent to play around them and provides a surprise factor as well. Rather than just playing around Lightning Bolt, they also have to play around an additional card that can blow up their Jace. Of course Red Deck Wins can hardly play around such spells since they need to cast Goblin Guide on turn 1 regardless.

In addition, another finisher should probably make its way into the maindeck. In Dan Jordan old list, he included single copies of both Avenger of Zendikar and Volition Reins. Both of these served as a miser’s win conditions and simply allowed for another means of finishing off your opponent. The two singletons, along with the lone Deprive, were recently cut for the Ruinblasters, and I believe that this still leaves the deck short of one or two win conditions.

So, because we lose to it all the time, I suggest adding Goblin Guide

No… Not really. I suggest adding an Inferno Titan as the last filler spot for a late game finisher. It can come into play and kill a Jace, which would otherwise simply bounce a Frost Titan, and more importantly can really give you the edge as a creature removal spell. Even though this deck can’t pump up Inferno Titan as well as a deck like Valakut Ramp, being able to kill off anything but an opposing titan is huge. Killing off Lotus Cobra, Oracle of Mul Daya, and Plated Geopede simply as an enter-the-battlefield trigger can be the difference between losing a match and winning it, and provides you with extra value that won’t be expected by your opponent. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy making things burn?

Having a diverse spread of threats and spells can make it harder for your opponent to predict your game plan, even though you’re playing a mainstream deck that people have played against and tested for. Every small edge can help. In fact, many times playing slight variations from the “normal list” gives you enough space to make plays that your opponent simply won’t think you can make. Playing Inferno Titan in the main is a perfect example. Let’s assume you are on the draw in the mirror, and your opponent goes turn 2 Lotus Cobra into turn 3 Oracle of Mul Daya, followed by playing any non-fetchland. On your second turn, you played your own Cobra.

What’s the worst possible play your opponent could expect from you? Maybe fetchland into Explore into fetchland into Frost Titan. In that scenario, you have a Frost Titan, and your opponent has two creatures and three lands, but your opponent could theoretically get out of that, despite the bad board position. However, if you drop an Inferno Titan, your board consists of four lands, a Lotus Cobra, and an Inferno Titan, and all your opponent has is three lands. This is the point when you get to smirk a little and wait for your opponent to extend his hand in defeat. Good game, sir, good game.

Lastly, I want to discuss this deck’s sideboard options.

Pyroclasm is an auto-include. It provides a cheap board sweeper that gives decks like Kuldotha Red and Elves a headache. Obstinate Baloth is also good against aggro because it simply blocks and gains life. Ideally you can drop it on turn 3 to stop any early game beats from aggressive decks. Another good option is Flashfreeze. It is cheap on mana and is basically a hard counter versus Valakut Ramp, Eldrazi Ramp, and Mono Red. Keeping this deck’s answers cheap are essential. So now we want some sideboard cards against control.

The most important thing to keep in mind that I see many people forget when building boards is that your opponent is boarding as well. So if you have a good idea about what your opponents will be bringing in against your deck, your sideboard should really only include cards that work against their sideboards. For instance, when I was playing Valakut Ramp, I would board Wurmcoil Engine in against Mono-Red obviously because that’s what they were in the board for, but also against U/W control. They were all sideboarding Flashfreeze, and Wurmcoil Engine provided a decent threat that couldn’t be answered with Flashfreeze. Preparing against your opponent’s sideboard is very important in constructed, and especially in Standard with its limited cardpool, and is a key part to making a successful sideboard.

Anyway, back to this deck’s sideboard against control.

Popular cards boarded in from U/W Control and U/B Control are Jace Beleren, Duress, and Spell Pierce. Spell Pierce has never been a favorite of mine. Good players just play around it and it’s always a terrible late game topdeck. In control matchups it doesn’t really hurt to play around Spell Pierce or Mana Leak by waiting a turn or two to cast your spells. They are seldom applying pressure to you.

Jace Beleren is pretty good, but with the extra Bolts you shouldn’t have too much difficulty dealing with Baby Jace.

I mentioned how I dislike Goblin Ruinblaster in the mainboard. I do, however, feel he warrants a slot in the sideboard as a three-of. He can’t be taken by Duress and he avoids Spell Pierce. He gives you value even is he’s killed by Doom Blade or Disfigure or just blocked by Wall of Omens.

Lastly, I would like to include a few sideboard slots for individual control decks. One Gaea’s Revenge, because it is so powerful against U/B Control. They have no way to answer it aside from a Titan, and they never see it coming from this deck.

Volition Reins is one of my favorite cards to steal Sun Titan and other planeswalkers. You can also feel free to do a fist pump whenever you play it on an Eldrazi creature.

My final list for R/U/G, what I would play if the StarCityGames.com Invitational were tomorrow is as follows:

In closing, I would like to thank everyone who supported me as I worked towards becoming StarCityGames.com Player of the Year. It feels pretty good to know that all the hard work and traveling paid off. I suggest you take the time off and travel to a few of the StarCityGames.com Opens near you. They’re always a blast and are run smoothly and professionally.

If you have any questions or suggestions for me, feel free to add them in the forum or message me on Facebook.

Thank you all for reading and I’ll see you next week!

Alex Bertoncini