Constructed Criticism – Innistrad Limited And A Look At Legacy RUG

Todd put down Illusions and picked up 40-card decks this past weekend. Good thing he did. He won an SCG PTQ and will be on his way to Hawaii come February.

Hello everyone, and welcome back. A lot has happened for me over the last week, so let’s get started! Illusions has absolutely exploded in popularity on Magic Online, and I couldn’t be happier. Aside from bumping into the occasional mirror match, I’m still doing very well with the deck. I’ve been trying out a lot of new things in the sideboard, but I almost always come back to at least 72 of the same 75 cards. If you want to read more about Illusions, you can check out my article from last week here.

You can also watch some videos posted earlier this week on Illusions here.

But this week, we aren’t really focusing on Illusions. I know you don’t want to read more about the same deck three weeks in a row. The other “big news” in my life this week is that I won a PTQ for Pro Tour Dark Ascension in Hawaii! This past weekend, StarCityGames.com hosted a double PTQ weekend in Roanoke, and I decided to stay home from GP San Diego and play the hometown PTQs rather than spend a bunch of money flying to California. I wasn’t qualified for Worlds, so the trip didn’t really seem worth it to me. I felt bad after going 5-2 in Saturday’s PTQ, but at least my decision was justified when I won on Sunday!

The tournament was well-run, and my sealed pool was pretty good but nothing amazing. I only played with two rares: Charmbreaker Devils and Ludevic’s Test Subject. My overall card quality was strong, and I had a decent amount of removal and fliers. I coasted to a 5-0 start, drawing the last two rounds into Top 8. I drafted a G/W/r tempo deck based around Werewolves, splashing red solely for the activated ability on Daybreak Ranger. I beat a B/R Aggro deck, a G/W aggro mirror, and a U/R control deck in the finals to take home the envelope!

Not that I’m an expert on the format or anything, but this week I would like to start by talking a bit about Limited. To begin with, let me applaud Richard Garfield for making a truly spectacular Limited format. I’m sure he had a lot of help, but clearly the man knows what he is doing. The rares are powerful without being oppressively strong; there is plenty of accessible removal; and you even have flashback as a mechanic to help get out of mana-floods.

I would honestly rate Innistrad Limited as one of my Top 5 favorite Limited formats of all time, and I’m sure it will only get better as the rest of the sets for the block are released in the coming months. Innistrad just has it all, from the flavor to the mechanics to the overall card quality.

One thing that really stuck out to me about the set design occurred when I overheard a conversation that Sam Black was having with someone about Civilized Scholar.

So what makes this card so special? For one, its design is functionally sound for a game of Limited Magic. The “looter” card type is incredibly popular, and people really love drafting cards that have synergy with the rest of the set. Cards that have flashback are incredibly potent to discard to Scholar because they almost count as drawing a “free card,” though the mana cost is usually a bit higher. We also have various Zombies that really want to have other creatures in the graveyard so that we can cast them, as well as a slew of other graveyard-related abilities. The first half of Civilized Scholar is exactly what the format needs.

The second half is all flavor, and a lot of it. There is a real “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” vibe going on here, as he transforms into a beastly figure once you start tinkering with creatures. Additionally, he even “powers down” if you don’t attack, much like you would expect from someone transforming from The Hulk back to Bruce Banner. But, I’m not really here to harp about flavor. I wanted to point out how cool some of the cards are when you take a closer look at them.

This Limited format is actually just a lot of fun! Drafting has become a regular thing for me, which is not normal, though that is one of the biggest holes in my game. Kali and I regularly attend “Game Night” at our friend Josh’s house for drafting on Wednesday nights, and we always have a great time. We’ve even started playing a Dungeons and Dragons-esque campaign set in the world of Innistrad with our friend Jason Bouchard (we just call him Booshi), where we use games of Magic as the combat system. If you guys seem interested, I can go into further detail, but it is incredibly nerdy.

What I’m really trying to say, out of all of this, is “Thank you!” Amidst all the turmoil and cries of “the sky is falling,” it is good to know that there are still a lot of people who are trying to make this game as good as they can, and I think they are succeeding. I have no doubt that WotC is going to implement a new Pro Player Reward system, but the fact that they are still producing quality cards and sets helps me keep the dream alive that this game will outlast us all. I suppose that we can only hope.

As far as strategy goes for Innistrad Limited, I don’t have a ton of input, but I have a few pointers that might help.


— Sealed is a much different animal from draft. Everyone is going to build their decks around their bombs, so cards like Smite the Monstrous become much better. The format is generally slower than draft and will usually allow you to get your more costly spells online. However, if your pool allows for a busted aggressive deck, take advantage of this conception about the format. Most “good” players will opt to draw at the beginning of the game, and that will leave you with an opening to steamroll them before they get a chance to do anything.

— Since people build their decks around their bombs, you should probably do the same if you want a chance to compete. But Innistrad isn’t exactly loaded with bombs that are impossible to deal with or devastate the game if they hit play. Most bombs can be killed, countered, or removed in some way with little effect on the game if dealt with in a timely manner. There are a few exceptions, but I have found this mostly to be the case. Most people will also be playing most of the removal in their pool. This usually means that utility creatures aren’t long for this world. If your pool has no big threats and just a bunch of small dorks, you will probably get rolled. Everyone needs solid win conditions, and Kindercatch just isn’t one of them.

— Creatures with three or more toughness are huge and very hard for a lot of decks to deal with. Riot Devils is one of the most underrated creatures I’ve ever played with, and people still leave him in the sideboard all the time. He isn’t the greatest card to have in an aggressive deck, but he will almost always make the cut for me in sealed. For me, the formula for Limited games goes like this:

Grizzly Bears get trumped by 2/3s get trumped by fliers get trumped by bombs or more fliers.

Removal spells will often factor into this equation, but that is usually a variable similar to bombs. I always want to be the person playing the 2/3s instead of the 2/2s because that’s where you really start to gain control of the game. From there, your fliers and bombs can take over, but you need the Riot Devils and Selhoff Occultist to buy you the time necessary to get to that point. Without them, you will get run over by most of the good aggressive decks.


— I’ve found that I love drafting white. It might be because Slayer of the Wicked is my favorite non-rare in the format. It may be because I’ve opened an absurd number of Geist-Honored Monks. Either way, I think white presents you with efficient removal, versatile threats, and solid uncommons and rares to steal games from people that you really have no business of winning. You also have the best tempo-oriented cards in Moment of Heroism and Travel Preparations if you’re also in green.

— Green/white is my favorite color combination, but only when you aren’t fighting over it. If other people to your right are picking up Villagers of Estwald, then you are probably in trouble. Travel Preparations is easily the best card in the archetype, but there are a lot of supporting characters that you need to remember when drafting it. Moment of Heroism is just bonkers at almost every point in the game, since it can 2-for-1 your opponent while gaining life or just put you infinitely far ahead in a race. It is even okay on defense most of the time, trading for their creature and stopping the bleeding.

— Playing aggressive decks is much easier in Draft than in Sealed. While people will generally tell you that their draft decks are better than their sealed decks, I don’t really find that to be the case when you’ve made it to the Top 8 of a PTQ. I would wager that the average Top 8 competitor’s sealed deck is much better than their draft deck and not just because they’re “bad at drafting.” A lot of the time, people open a ton of rares and removal and they just cakewalk to the top. However, once you get to the top, you are usually on a much more even playing field. This will leave you to figure out what the people around you are playing and how to best fall into the colors that are open. This, in turn, allows people to draft better aggressive decks because they have a chance to value certain cards higher than others.

— Drafting aggressive decks is a solid strategy for multiple reasons, but mostly because sometimes the person on defense just won’t have the time to set up their big plays. If you open with a Werewolf on turns 2 or 3, it is very difficult for many control decks to catch up if you just pass the turn to flip it. Villagers of Estwald is very important in this scenario, but cards like Gatstaf Shepherd are just as strong. While bombs are still important to this archetype, they are often less important than establishing pressure in the early turns to put your opponent on the back foot. The further they are behind, the better the rest of your tempo-based cards become. Silent Departure is just backbreaking if you are ahead on board, but much less impressive if you are just trying to buy time for your Sturmgeist to hit play.

This Limited format is pretty skill-intensive, but I definitely prefer drafting live than drafting on Magic Online. There is no way for them to show what cards the person to your right or left took, which makes you feel pretty disconnected in general. You can generally discern what cards are taken early if a flip card is missing, but you can’t see them take the fourth-pick Reckless Waif. Unfortunately, there isn’t much they can do to fix it, but drafting the set on Magic Online is still a lot of fun. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do a drafting video in the near future for your viewing pleasure.

Next up, I wanted to talk a little bit about Legacy, and specifically the RUG Tempo deck that has been crushing everyone lately. While I’ve been doing well with BUG Snapcaster Control, it has had problems against RUG Decks. Delver of Secrets is particularly annoying, since there aren’t a lot of efficient ways to deal with it since Mental Misstep is out of the format. Sure, it dies to a lot of removal spells, but playing too many removal spells hurts your overall game against control and combo decks.

So what’s the answer? Honestly, I’m just completely on board with playing RUG Tempo myself. Until someone can prove that they’re better, I’m just going to plan on playing the deck until something gets banned, or the next set is released. Daze, Stifle, Wasteland, and Force of Will are just my favorite cards in the format, and this deck makes incredible use out of them.

My biggest concern with the deck is that I’m not sure people really “get it” yet. I don’t think the deck has very many bad matchups and definitely has game against anything it plays against. Lightning Bolt and Snapcaster Mage give you a lot of reach against the linear aggro decks like Zoo, Merfolk, and Goblins, while Daze and Force of Will combine with Stifle and Wasteland to help out against the control and combo decks. You have all of the tools at your disposal necessary to beat most decks, along with cards like Brainstorm and Sylvan Library for deck manipulation and virtual card advantage.

One card I’m starting to see less of is Grim Lavamancer. With so many Delver of Secrets hitting the scene, I would expect the playability of this guy to increase dramatically. With mirrors abound, I’ve seen plenty in the sideboard, but I expect to see many more in the maindeck for upcoming events. He doesn’t play nicely with Tarmogoyf or Snapcaster Mage, so I’m not suggesting the full amount, but having a few in the maindeck just has to be good!

If I were playing a Legacy event tomorrow, here is the list I would play:

As most of you know from my ranting in other articles, Leyline of the Void should usually be your go-to sideboard card against Dredge and Reanimator if you actually want to beat a competent opponent. While everyone seems to be set on Surgical Extraction, I just can’t get behind a card that Reanimator decks force you to discard and Dredge decks Cabal Therapy from your hand; it just generally doesn’t win you the game on its own. With Force of Will, Daze, and Spell Snare, it shouldn’t be hard to protect Leyline while it is in play. Echoing Truth has no chance, and Spell Pierce combined with the rest should keep you safe from things like Show and Tell.

My biggest concern with the sideboard is that Krosan Grip is a necessary evil for enchantment/artifact removal. With Counterbalance performing well in the hands of Calosso Fuentes a few weeks ago, expect people to start picking up their Sensei’s Divining Tops once again. If you don’t expect to play against a lot of Counterbalance, then Nature’s Claim should take that slot. It works incredibly well with Snapcaster Mage and costs less mana to boot. You aren’t running that many lands in the deck, after all.

Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast help combat the control strategies in the format but double up against decks like High Tide. I’m a huge fan of this type of card right now, since it is a cheap, versatile answer that is potent against decks that better players like to play. Spell Pierce fits into this category as well but is also strong against non-blue decks with problematic non-creature permanents.

Submerge has been a sweet answer to cards like Tarmogoyf and Knight of the Reliquary, but I’ve often found that people have trouble getting to three mana to even cast their Knights. Submerge is really awesome in the matchups where you want it, doing exactly what you need it to do. It buys you enough time to set up your clock and allows you to do it for free.

As you can tell, I’ve been on a bit of a “tempo kick” lately, but I think it is justified. People just aren’t used to playing games that revolve around this mindset because people are moving farther and farther away from it. RUG Delver and Illusions both present the opponent with a significant, efficient threat and back up that threat with plenty of disruption and removal. Until people learn how to effectively combat these strategies, I’m going to continue to play them in each event I go to. Once people realize that something needs to change for them to have a chance, perhaps then I’ll switch to a different archetype.

With Worlds coming up this weekend, I’m hoping that Illusions will have its breakout performance at a live event. Magic Online victories are nice and all, but there is no stage like Worlds, and I hope that Wizards will wise up and see that for themselves. They shouldn’t take it away from us. I’ll be rooting for all of my friends who are there because I didn’t make it this year, but winning a trip to Worlds through Nationals is really what gave me the fire and drive to get to where I am today. I’m a better person for it, and I hope WotC realizes this before it is too late.

Thanks for reading.


strong sad on MOL