Buggin’ Out

SCG Invitational finalist Nick Spagnolo returns to writing with an article about BUG Control in his new Legacy column. See if you should consider playing it at the SCG Legacy Open in Providence this weekend.

Sometimes, I think I’m crazy.

It’s been a while since I wrote my last article. The SCG Invitational in Atlanta recently (at which I placed an unspectacular 34th) inspired me to start writing again. Well, that’s not entirely true. The amount of people who have come up to me at various events asking me to write again was a big factor as well. Thank you all for the interest and input; it really means a lot.

This is actually the first article in my new Legacy column, which I’m very excited about. Legacy is by far my favorite format, and it’s not just because the card Brainstorm is legal. I’m a deckbuilder at heart, and Legacy has largest combination of competitive possibilities. Vintage technically has more legal cards, but due to the power of the format, significantly fewer of them can be reasonably considered. The printing of Abrupt Decay is something that I believe will revitalize my favorite archetype in Legacy, BUG Control.

Despite this deck being from a tournament that took place in March, the format changes slowly enough that porting the core strategy of this deck into the current metagame will work. This is true for most Legacy decks, excluding the banning of a card or the printing of a card which can shut down an entire archetype. For example, Survival of the Fittest decks no longer exist in any form with Survival banned, while the printing of Mental Misstep pushed Zoo out of the format entirely.

Let’s take a small step back to the SCG Invitational in Atlanta.

Deck Selection

What I usually do before a tournament is start building the best BUG list for the event. I do this because I am most familiar with the archetype and greatly enjoy playing it, two factors which are a big part of winning. This doesn’t mean I always play BUG—I ended up playing U/W Control in Atlanta, and the process of getting there is what I want to talk about.

When I built BUG before SCG Invitational: Atlanta, I identified two problems. First, its poor Counterbalance matchup. Earlier in the year, Counterbalance was largely a non-factor. The Counterbalance matchup was close due to BUG’s ability to clear Counterbalance off the table with Pernicious Deed. Counterbalance decks used to play very few three-drops, but with the need to counter the card Show and Tell, that’s no longer the case now.

I thought the two most popular decks in Atlanta would be RUG Delver and U/W Control, and against both decks I would prefer to be playing Engineered Explosives rather than Pernicious Deed. This, combined with the fact that Life from the Loam is poor against U/W Control due to its high basic land count, meant the biggest reasons to play BUG were no longer there.

Wait—let me take a step back again.

Why You Should Play BUG Control

Something I hope to do with each article about a Legacy deck is to explain the reasons why you should play it. What makes BUG Control a better deck than any other? For one, it plays the three best card advantage engines in the format:

Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Life from the Loam

Each of these cards over the course of the game will do better than drawing three cards for just the one, giving you a huge advantage. One way of turning this card advantage into winning a game is by trading cards one for one with your opponent as much as possible. If you trade cards with your opponent until you both have none and then you draw three more, you’re a massive favorite to win. If you don’t trade much at all and then start drawing extra cards, the effective value of each card is worth a lot less.

Brainstorm doesn’t technically draw you extra cards until you start factoring in fetchlands and Life from the Loam. Putting two lands back on top of your library and then dredging them into your graveyard is a great way of essentially drawing five cards a turn. You don’t need to do this too many times before you bury your opponent under your resource advantage. This is one of the reasons why utilizing manlands is so important—you often have many extra lands and want to be able to win the game with them.

Why You Shouldn’t Play BUG Control

One thing that can go severely wrong when playing a deck like BUG Control is running out of time in a round. You often have a plethora of options to choose from, many of which function similarly. You have very few ways (read: none) of winning a game quickly, and that can be a limiting factor, especially if you lose a long game 1. It’s important to be able to identify the positions from which you are extremely unlikely to win so you can consider scooping in order to have enough time to win the match.

Merfolk is another reason not to play this deck (at least in its previous incarnation—more on that later). Generally, Merfolk presents as many threats as you have answers for, and all of their cards do essentially the same thing. This means that drawing your cards in the wrong order will cause you to lose if they apply pressure correctly, and that’s not a position you want to be in.

Let’s back up again. Sometimes, I think I’m crazy. Wait—not that far.

Playing U/W Control at SCG Invitational: Atlanta

The credit for this list goes to Michael Hetrick, who won the SCG Legacy Open in Los Angeles the week before the event. I tried various builds of U/W decks with Stoneforge Mystic, and none of them had close to the raw power of the one with Terminus and Entreat the Angels. It’s very hard to fit Counterbalance and Stoneforge Mystic in the same deck, as they both take up a large number of slots and require a hefty portion of your deck to protect your combo—whether it’s Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance or Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull.

Terminus is a very real Magic card. The synergy it has with Sensei’s Divining Top is so good it’s almost disgusting. Wrath of God is a very reasonably costed effect at four mana sorcery speed. When you can consistently get the effect for just a single white mana at instant speed, it becomes the reason to play a deck. Terminus and Stoneforge Mystic don’t play as well together as I’d like, and thus the Kor that could got the axe. I do expect Stoneforge to once again rise to the top of the format when Nimble Mongoose stops being such a popular card.

RUG Delver is the "answer" deck to Stoneblade’s previous rule over Legacy. Nimble Mongoose is very difficult to deal with and will often win the game on its own. Keeping a Batterskull off the table is something all of RUG’s noncreature spells are effective at doing. Stoneblade has adopted a black splash, and it’s no accident. The effectiveness of Lingering Souls and Perish is the best fighting chance U/W Stoneblade has against the RUG menace. Maybe next week I’ll talk about what kind of effect Supreme Verdict might have on things.

This was my first sanctioned tournament playing Counterbalance, and it sure felt good when I won my die roll in round 3, played a turn 1 Top, and slammed turn 2 Counterbalance with Force of Will backup. Skill game.

Later in the event, my naivety punished me when I played a mirror match against Chi Hoi Yim and lost two games in a lightning fast fourteen minutes. His knowledge of the matchup and my lack thereof showed very clearly, which is why I emphasize how important it is to be very familiar with any deck you play.

Either way, SCG Invitational: Atlanta is long over. Return to Ravnica is the future, and along with it comes potentially the best Counterbalance hate ever printed. 

Abrupt Decay

Abrupt Decay is going to have a big impact on a variety of BUG Control’s matchups. The reason the deck plays a handful of singletons is because you need the ability to answer a wide variety of threats while not flooding out on a specific answer that doesn’t work. While Ghastly Demise is very often Terminate for B, things can go downhill very fast if it’s your only removal spell and your opponent plays a Dark Confidant.

Abrupt Decay’s ability to always take out a Counterbalance on the table while being live in almost every matchup is something I imagine will cause more people to want to play BUG. If I was to give a basic update to the deck, it would look like this:

The sideboard for this deck is a little different than before; it lets you transform into an aggro-control deck against the combo and control decks which are going to be boarding out all of their removal against you. While I’m not sure if this is better than sideboarding more specific answers to varied threats, Abrupt Decay answering nearly everything gives you more options to work with when it comes to games 2 and 3. 

It mostly depends on how comfortable you are with each matchup and if you feel you need to sideboard more cards in for the matchups you aren’t as sure of. I do believe this list is particularly weak against Merfolk. Not only this, but having so many slots in the sideboard dedicated to transforming means it has no graveyard hate. The Hydroblasts could easily be Surgical Extractions, but having only two slots means you’re probably an underdog to Dredge anyway.

One option I was experimenting with was sort of a BUG/Landstill hybrid. I believe Mox Diamond is incredibly well positioned at the moment, and it lets you get ahead faster in the Jace mirrors.

This list is to help show the different directions BUG can take. This version is weaker against Omni-Tell but has better Merfolk and Goblins matchups. Standstills are better when you can capitalize by playing nine "do something" lands (not including Academy Ruins). There are four copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor in this deck, as the Moxen help you get to four mana in a more relevant time frame. Engineered Explosives and Abrupt Decay really help take anything off the board before you land Standstill, while Pernicious Deed and Mox Diamond don’t play so well together. As an adorable aside, you can Explosives for X=5 with two Moxes in play.

The Crop Rotation Tutor package in the board was something I liked before the Show and Tell decks adopted Omniscience, as Karakas is no longer an answer to your problems in that matchup. However, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale is an incredibly powerful card that this deck gets to make full use of, and by including Crop Rotation for Bojuka Bog, you get to have an effective four slots for graveyard hate without giving up too much against the more popular decks. One trick with Life from the Loam and Wasteland is to get extra uses out of just a single Bojuka Bog, potentially Bogging them once every two turns or even once a turn if you already have some extra Wastelands sitting in play.

A Lack of Win Conditions

I don’t like playing win conditions outside of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and manlands in BUG Control. Often by the time any card that’s going to actually kill your opponent is good, you’ve basically already won. In the early turns, you really need every card you draw to be effective and to trade with your opponent’s spells. If you have just one Counterspell too few for your opponent’s Show and Tell, you’re going to lose. Post-board, I try to make sure every card in the deck trades favorably with what my opponent is doing, and then my Jaces and Life from the Loams will always take the game away.

In the U/W Control deck, I was a skeptic of Entreat the Angels. I was looking at the deck in the same way I look at BUG, and it seemed very "win more" to me, as in it would only be good when you’re already winning. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It could stabilize the board by creating a couple of 4/4 Angels in the same way that Terminus could take care of a Delver of Secrets and a Nimble Mongoose.

For Future Weeks

I would love to hear what you guys want me to write about in my upcoming articles. While I’m sticking to Legacy, there are so many different things in the format to cover. Drew Levin started a series a while ago on the basics of Legacy—the cards the format revolved around. For example, every deck needs to be built with Wasteland in mind, Lion’s Eye Diamond sets the line for "how fast you need to be" in the format, etc. Leave me a comment in the forums!

I think maybe, just maybe, everyone thinks they’re crazy—sometimes.

Nick Spagnolo