Advice From The Fae – How To (Almost) Win An Open

Thursday, March 3 – Alex Bertoncini faced down Gerry Thompson in the finals of StarCityGames.com Open: DC with RUG. Could this deck be the answer to the SCG Open in Edison this weekend?

Hello again guys.

The StarCityGames.com Open Weekend in our nation’s capital has come and gone, and in the wake of two intense days of battling, almost reached 1,000
players! A few new decks and interesting tweaks on old decks for Standard popped up, but in the end, the feared Caw-Go menace was victorious. Gerry
Thompson himself slaughtered the field with his innovative, and in my opinion optimal, list of Caw-Go, splashing red for the always handy Lightning
Bolt. Need evidence that his decklist was a good choice? Well, he didn’t lose a single match on the day, and it wasn’t just because he was
arguably the best player in the room.

If you have an interest in attending the StarCityGames.com Open Weekend in Edison, which you should, I’d recommend playing either Squadron Hawk or
Lotus Cobra in your deck. They’re the best two cards in Standard and some of the most defining ones. Get on the bandwagon if you haven’t already
because there are few reasons to not play one of these cards.

To play Standard competitively and successfully, you need to understand almost every aspect of each Tier 1 and Tier 1.5 deck and the best cards they
play. The most popular archetype in Standard currently is Caw-Go. This deck relies on the stability of its mana base to cast its spells, which happen
to be some of the most powerful and versatile cards available. Gideon Jura and Jace, the Mind Sculptor are the two best planeswalkers hands down, and
Celestial Colonnade is most likely the best manland. If you combine the card advantage provided by Squadron Hawk and Stoneforge Mystic with the deck
manipulation of Preordain and the sheer power of Sword of Feast and Famine, you have the recipe for a monster of a deck. This deck can attack you from
multiple angles, including the direction of your mana via a quartet of Tectonic Edges.

Gerry’s deck is the best deck to abuse Squadron Hawk. However, if squawking all day isn’t your thing, play RUG!

RUG is a great deck choice for this metagame, as it always has been. It has game against literally every deck in the format, and its sideboard and
maindeck have a plan against every matchup you could face. Lotus Cobra requires an answer immediately, and with the recent surge in popularity of U/W
Caw-Go from Pro Tour Paris, untapping with your Snake becomes even easier. Decks like Caw-Go, G/W Quest, and Elves have no way to kill your Cobra
before you untap with it on turn 3, and even Boros and Valakut are cutting down on their number of Bolts. Any aficionado of RUG knows that the fewer
Bolts around, the better.

RUG can be a real blast to play, if a little complicated. Winning is often like trying to figure out a puzzle, and the deck has many ways to solve that
puzzle. You play cards like Preordain and Jace, the Mind Sculptor as well as the giant Inferno Titan. He’s as close to a one-shot robot as
you’re going to get. Sorry, Mr. Blightsteel Colossus.

Here are several of the key cards in the deck that are new players to the format and could use some spotlight:

Precursor Golem:

This guy is outstanding. All you need with Lotus Cobra is a single fetchland to make this guy a valid turn 3 drop. Against Caw-Go, they just plop down
a Stoneforge Mystic, and now you untap and play this monster. The rest is pretty self-explanatory. He’s a stand-alone threat that demands a Day of
Judgment by himself. Even without a Cobra, he just comes down a turn earlier than your Titans. Jace doesn’t bounce him well, and nothing resists
him with protection. He can even double-block a Titan to take it down. Precursor Golem avoids Spell Pierce, is hard to block, and can be cast with five
mana of any color. There’s little more to be said about such an easily castable, reliable threat. Again, the minimal use of Lightning Bolt plays
a big role in this guy’s usefulness.

Inferno Titan:

You have to play a Titan in this deck; that’s been a rule since its inception. Frost Titan was my buddy for a while, but now with the format
changing, I feel as though he has fallen out of favor. With so many Hawks and equipment running around, Arc Lightning is at its strongest, and tapping
down one permanent just can’t compare anymore. Furthermore, there are fewer Grave Titans and Sun Titans, which were the key threats that demanded
Frosty to keep them in check. My new best friend, Big Red, can punish any slow start or lack of answer by killing your opponent blisteringly fast.
Combined with a Bolt, he can take down any other Titan on a swing in or a Jace on five. Inferno Titan also deals most efficiently with Caw-Go’s
centerpiece strategy of equipping a Squadron Hawk with a sword of some kind. It turns out that birds of a feather burn together!

Ratchet Bomb:

A great utility sideboard card that comes in for a lot of matchups, Ratchet Bomb always trades with something. I brought it in against Boros, Quest,
and even Caw-Go all day, and it was awesome sauce. It serves too many uses to discuss here, but it can kill a Hawk or Mystic at a critical time before
they have their sword equipped and can even kill the sword itself.

With all that jazz aside, I’ll move onto the actual weekend itself. Aiming for a second StarCityGames.com Player of the Year title as well as
Level 8 status in the StarCityGames.com Player’s Club, I intend to travel to every single Open Weekend I can. East coast or West coast makes no
difference to me aside from costs, but having Opens within driving distance always makes me smile. The minimal transportation costs were only the
beginning of the run-goods, though. My plan was to stay with the always awesome Drew Levin at his place in Arlington, Virginia, which was in very close
proximity to the event site. I was able to get driven door to door by a friend of mine, who was going down to alter some cards, and the ride down was
good times. Drew had managed to gather quite a good crew, which consisted of Ben Hayes, AJ Sacher, Chris Andersen, Gerry Thompson, and Megan Holland.
For those of you who are unaware, if you look up “good peoples” in the dictionary, you can find a picture of these individuals.

We all had a pretty relaxing evening, which consisted of some Magic Online, some testing, and some always funny Bertoncini jabs. The house would’ve
been a pretty good sitcom. In the morning, I borrowed a scarf from Drew Levin because apparently if you wear one, you do better at Magic: The
Gathering. We all packed into Drew’s very spacious car, and I was ready to enjoy my two byes. Okay, 693 players?!?!? WOW, that’s pretty
impressive. The Grand Prix-sized Open would certainly be quite the spectacle, and I had my eyes on the prize of being the winner of the largest Open
Series event ever held.

The decks my opponents played in the Swiss were Caw-Go (loss), Caw-Go, Caw-Go, Caw-Go, Boros, Valakut, Caw-Go, G/W Quest. In the Top 8, I played
against Ali Aintrazi mono-blue Grand Architect deck, Caw-Go, and finally Gerry Thompson with his red-splash version of Caw-Go.

Caw-Go ended up being the most popular deck by far, and was seen all over the top tables. It put nine players in the Top 16, five players in the Top 8,
three in the Top 4, and eventually won the whole event. You’d have to be crazy if you aren’t well prepared for it going forward.

I would still advocate RUG, as it’s still very consistent and has many great nut-draws that are simply devastating. I mulliganed very little on the
day, only to five once ( :[ in the finals), and the mana base was solid as always. Halimar Depths was my MVP of the day because it allowed my looser
keeps to be more rational and helped them out immensely. It was just another way to maximize a turn 2 Lotus Cobra. Jace didn’t go over five
loyalty all day, but as far as RUG is concerned, he only has three abilities. How underwhelming.

There are no changes I would make to my list going ahead. Personal preference is a big thing with this deck though, so there are changes that would be
fine. Garruk Wildspeaker is a fine card, but double green is hard to do on turn 3 reliably, so I wouldn’t recommend more than one. It’s also
susceptible to Spell Pierce, which is all over the place now. The Oracle of Mul Daya was fine but certainly cut-able. One Avenger of Zendikar can be
replaced with an Acidic Slime if desired, and even a Precursor Golem can be cut. There’s certainly room to be flexible, but don’t go overboard
and get too cute. You’re playing three colors, and although there are many options across the colors to choose from, cards like Tumble Magnet and
Twisted Image are far too narrow to justify making it in over the select premium spells. Trust me.

For sideboarding I have the following guide:


In: 2 Obstinate Baloth, 2 Ratchet Bomb, 4 Pyroclasm, 2 Acidic Slime, 1 Burst Lightning.

Out: 4 Lotus Cobra, 1 Oracle of Mul Daya, 3 Precursor Golem, 4 Mana Leak.

Keep your life total high, and Pyroclasm away whatever you can. Be wary of Koth of the Hammer and Hero of Oxid Ridge coming out of nowhere. Very few
lists are playing Mark of Mutiny.


In: 2 Ratchet Bomb, 4 Pyroclasm, 1 Burst Lightning, 2 Flashfreeze.

Out: 1 Oracle of Mul Daya, 3 Precursor Golem, 4 Mana Leak, 1 Island.

They can’t deal with your Lotus Cobra, so drawing one increases your chances immensely. They can bring in Leatherback Baloth and Leyline of
Vitality, so be warned that Pyroclasm may not be enough unless it’s in multiples. Pesky cards can also be Oran-Rief, the Vastwood and Ezuri,
Renegade Leader as ways of fighting Pyroclasm. However, unless this deck becomes more popular, Slagstorm isn’t needed.

G/W Quest:

In: 2 Ratchet Bomb, 4 Pyroclasm, 2 Acidic Slime, 1 Burst Lightning.

Out: 1 Oracle of Mul Daya, 2 Precursor Golem, 4 Mana Leak, 2 Avenger of Zendikar.

Games where they don’t have a turn-1 Quest for the Holy Relic will feel like a breeze. Vengevine is often too slow, but you should still
prioritize killing any Fauna Shamans. Acidic Slime is an all-star for this matchup as well as the always handy four-of Pyroclasm.


In: 2 Ratchet Bomb, 2 Acidic Slime, 2 Spell Pierce.

Out: 1 Oracle of Mul Daya, 3 Precursor Golem, 2 Mana Leak.

I don’t like Mana Leak against them, especially on the draw. Feel free to board out all of them if you see fit. This is not a control
mirror. There are so many huge haymakers in this matchup that fighting a counter war is often futile, especially when their biggest threats cost two
mana or are lands. There aren’t enough Wrath effects in their decks to handle all your threats, and either Avenger of Zendikar or Inferno Titan
will usually get the job done, even through an equipped Squadron Hawk.


In: 2 Flashfreeze.

Out: 1 Oracle Of Mul Daya, 1 Precursor Golem.

I don’t like sideboarding for the mirror. All of your cards are good against them, and there’s little in the board geared towards beating your
own deck. Just shave a few cards for Flashfreeze because most are on the Inferno Titan plan, and it counters anything from Bolts to Avenger.

Mono Red:

In: 2 Obstinate Baloth, 2 Ratchet Bomb, 4 Pyroclasm, 2 Acidic Slime, 1 Burst Lightning.

Out: 4 Lotus Cobra, 1 Oracle of Mul Daya, 3 Precursor Golem, 4 Mana Leak.

Similar to Boros. Use your Pyroclasms and Lightning Bolts in a timely fashion.


In: 2 Flashfreeze, 2 Spell Pierce, 2 Acidic Slime.

Out: 3 Precursor Golem, 1 Oracle of Mul Daya, 1 Lightning Bolt, 1 Lotus Cobra, 1 Avenger of Zendikar.

This matchup becomes a little easier with the fall of Summoning Trap and the addition of Green Sun’s Zenith. Yummy Spell Pierce food. This is a
fairly straightforward matchup.

Vampires: most efficiently

In: 2 Obstinate Baloth, 2 Ratchet Bomb, 4 Pyroclasm, 1 Burst Lightning.

Out: 4 Lotus Cobra, 1 Oracle of Mul Daya, 4 Mana Leak.

This matchup is usually favored for us. Inferno Titan is a house, and Pyroclasm and Obstinate Baloth all pull their weight here. Just don’t play
too much into Arc Trail or Gatekeeper of Malakir.

U/B and Tezz:

In: 2 Spell Pierce, 2 Acidic Slime.

Out: 1 Oracle of Mul Daya, 1 Precursor Golem, 2 Lotus Cobra.

This deck has fallen very far out of popularity. Not much to say here. Just watch out for the Black Sun’s Zenith, as it’s a new answer for
Avenger of Zendikar.

I ended up getting second place at StarCityGames.com Open: Washington D.C., and it felt really good. Gerry got the better of me once again, but
I’m sure I’ll get my vengeance on him eventually. It’s about time that he got an Open Series trophy of his own. He’s a great
player and even a role model of sorts for how I play Magic and approach formats. I wouldn’t rather lose to anyone else.

A reason why RUG is considered so difficult to play is because it needs to be able to play different roles depending on its matchup. Against Boros, it
needs to be able to deal with early threats as well as keep a reasonable life total before it can stick a game-ending threat like Avenger of Zendikar
or Big Red. Against Caw-Go, it’s a race to establish a favorable board state before their Squadron Hawks become swordsmen or their Colonnade
becomes active and makes your Jace, the Mind Sculptor miserable. Valakut is also a race; while against G/W Quest, it comes down to pinpoint removal and
timing. Lots of testing and practice is required to understand these matchups in and out, but once you do, you can live the RUG life too!