Delving Legacy 101

15-year-old Justin Uppal has made the Top 8 of three SCG Legacy Opens this year with RUG Delver. He provides you with insight into how you should build your 75 and some tips on the most common matchups for Columbus this weekend.

Hi there! I’m Justin Uppal, a 15-year-old Magic Online grinder who thinks he knows a thing or two about the RUG Delver deck in Legacy. I picked up this deck earlier this year and have used it for my biggest Magic finishes, including finishing in the Top 8 of three StarCityGames.com Open Series events. With my small biography out of the way, let’s get to the list!

I took this list to an undefeated record in the Swiss at SCG Legacy Open in Nashville, and I would play the exact same mainboard if I were to compete in a Legacy tournament tomorrow. Certain matchups could be improved by some alterations to the sideboard that I’ll cover in detail a little later. There is quite a bit of debate over how someone should build their RUG Delver deck; is Stifle better than Spell Pierce? Should one include a Taiga to mitigate the damage of Wasteland followed by Surgical Extraction? I’ll elaborate both arguments to help you make an informed decision on how to register your 75.

Stifle vs. Spell Pierce

Stifle and Spell Pierce each have distinct applications in RUG Delver. Stifle in particular has many applications, with the most common interaction being the Stifling of an opponent’s fetchland trigger. This play represents the RUG player trying to tax the resources of the opponent so they can’t efficiently deal with RUG’s variety of threats.

The power of this play lies in its aggression. When a RUG player is being aggressive, the power of many of the opponent’s cards increases. When the opponent is forced to react to RUG’s threats, they lose the option of playing around the cards RUG has that can become less effective with time: Daze, future Stifles, etc.

However, using Stifle on an opponent’s fetchland may not be the strongest possible play. A Stifle player should identify the Stifle targets in an opponent’s deck; the strongest targets are the abilities that an opponent uses to win on the spot or those used to stabilize the board state and shift to a longer game for which they are better prepared. These include a Knight of the Reliquary activation, a Batterskull living weapon trigger, a Jace, The Mind Sculptor unsummon effect, and more or less any storm trigger.

While Stifle can help protect from an opponent stabilizing, Spell Pierce stops their whole plan in a different way. Without Spell Pierce, when an opponent casts a non-creature spell with one mana open for Daze, the RUG player has to decide whether or not this spell will end the game. If the resolved spell would end the game for the RUG player, he has to dig for a Force of Will or two Dazes (provided the RUG player has the necessary lands)  to stop that spell from resolving. With Spell Pierce, the RUG player is no longer limited to hoping his opponent is not aware enough to play around Daze and is less often forced to two-for-one himself.

When choosing between the two, one should consider certain factors. First, consider the familiarity of the field with the format. Stifle can easily punish an unfamiliar player who absentmindedly assumes you barned last week’s winning decklist, but it can quickly become less of a blowout if the opponent is both prepared and aware. The next thing you should take into account is the metagame: of the applications of each spell listed above, which do you expect to come up most often and which presents more of a problem? If the players in a given field have an affinity (pun intended) for tempo decks and/or decks that rely on grinding you out, then Spell Pierce is your MVP. Just stopping one of their removal spells, Ponders, or Brainstorms can give you a huge advantage.

If you are uncomfortable playing either of the two spells… Well, get comfortable. Learning the intricacies of each not only helps you when casting it but also when playing against it.

Eye of the Taiga

It is common to see RUG Delver decks play a nineteenth land. What began as a way to interact with Path to Exile and avoid Wasteland with an Island has evolved into playing different non-basics merely to avoid a Surgical Extraction. I don’t advocate playing a Taiga over a Tropical Island.

My reasoning is as follows: imagine you’re on the draw in game 1, looking down at a one-land hand with a Delver of Secrets, permission spells, and, let’s say, a Thought Scour.

This hand is quite common, and I have no doubt in my mind I’d keep…if that one land is a Tropical Island. If it’s a Taiga, the hand is completely unreasonable and you’ve forced yourself into an unnecessary mulligan by its inclusion.

Did you notice the four Flooded Strands in the list above? Very rarely has someone been able to put me on RUG when I opened with a U/W fetchland. This is more important than people imagine; if a player is too quick to judge and puts you on Stoneblade, his line of play changes a lot. While it’s a simple trick, it’s another option denied to you if your fetchlands need to be able to grab a Taiga.

Yet another argument against Taiga involves looking more in depth at your opponent’s goals. People say they play the Taiga to beat the play of Surgical Extraction on Tropical Island, but it’s not at all clear that it’s beneficial for your opponent to run that strategy against you!

In the mirror, it is obligatory to board in three-to-four Submerges, Red Elemental Blasts / Pyroblasts, and sometimes people have a Scavenging Ooze. Now, after taking out the obvious cards such as Force of Will because it is the weakest card in the mirror, then what? You start cutting cards based on how you think the game will play out. Spell Pierce and Stifle are usually my next cards to get the axe because I believe the games go too long for these cards to maintain their relevance, but this can be debated.

Now, if you bring in Surgical Extraction you have to cut more cards, which can just make your plan worse. If they have a tempo advantage, Surgical Extraction can be a dead card. If you have the advantage, Surgical Extraction on Tropical Island, very awkwardly, turns off your Submerges.

The above should not completely discourage you from choosing to play a Taiga. Obviously a monetary issue is very convincing, but the idea that you cannot be Wastelanded out of a color with three lands in play is very relevant. Having five green sources in RUG Delver is also helpful, allowing the RUG player to more efficiently cast threats and use Scavenging Ooze.

There are more card choices than just the ones I have highlighted. Forked Bolt or Chain Lightning, more Pyroblast or Hydroblast. For both of these choices, you should consider the surrounding metagame. To do well with RUG you should know your field, know your opponents and what level a majority of them are on, and—most of all—know your deck.



Your game 1 opening hand has to have the ability to open on pressure; the long game is dominated by them and your ability to slow them down involves killing one of your own creatures to remove Bridge from Below. Make sure you have full knowledge of their clock and of your clock to be sure you kill your creature at the correct time. Even if they have multiple Ichorids, going on the defense will only hurt you; play to your outs heavily in this game and make sure to maximize your Brainstorms.

Games 2 and 3 are just as dependent on your ability to use your choice of hate. Right now, I believe Surgical Extraction is the lowest rung on the ladder of Dredge hate. Aggressive decks take best advantage of Tormod’s Crypt, and I believe that is where I want to be.

Sneak and Show

I think this is by far the most difficult combo matchup for RUG Delver right now, with Sol Ring lands, an extensive counter suite, and new creatures to put into play that are very hard for the RUG deck to deal with *cough* Griselbrand *cough.* If you are on the draw, this matchup changes drastically. The idea is to lay a turn 1 threat and ride it to victory (as it is in most combo matchups). In practice, they can take three a lot of times while developing their mana base to go through Pierce, Daze, and Stifle.

Games 2 and 3 are also difficult due to them having more board cards than you. Red Elemental Blast is the MVP, but other than that there is really nothing else you want here. Just like the Dredge matchup, make sure you have an opening hand that can actually win the game. Realize that in game 1 making Goyf as large as possible is very important, so Forked Bolting your opponent when you’ve got the mana is perfectly acceptable.


Game 1 is all about the Knight of the Reliquary and her Mother of Runes. Forked Bolt is amazing here, as is identifying the correct targets for it. After a certain point, stopping their mana acceleration is irrelevant; keep in mind that a Green Sun’s Zenith for two is important because of Ooze as well as Scryb Ranger to block Delver. Also keep in mind that their utility lands (Maze of Ith, Horizon Canopy, Gaea’s Cradle) hold a lot of value and if given the option, killing their Savannah might not be correct considering all of their mana-fixing creatures.

Games 2 and 3 are night and day from the first. Submerge is easily the strongest card in the board, and I have played a miser’s Mind Harness, which has always been excellent. Many Maverick players will read your Sulfur Elemental plays—three open mana and nothing happening on your turn? Seems legit—but killing Mother of Runes and Thalia as well as weakening Knights are all great reasons to board this card. I think this matchup is very even after boards; it just requires knowing which threats are the most important.

Esper Stoneblade

One thing I like to see on the other side of the table is a turn 1 Flooded Strand (unless it’s the mirror, in which case props to you for being clever). I have always felt that in order for the Esper player to win he has to play nearly perfect, whereas the RUG player has room for mistakes (but that’s not an excuse to forgive the RUG player, just an observation). Spell Pierce and Stifle both shine here, with Stifle hitting fetchlands, Stoneforge triggers, Batterskull, and Jace, while Spell Pierce hits Lingering Souls and Swords to Plowshares.

A majority of the preboard games I have lost involved getting my cantrip taken by a turn 1 Thoughtseize and flooding out, so a postboard Life from the Loam, Ancient Grudge, Sulfur Elemental, and Sulfuric Vortex are all superstars. Make sure to be aware of Intangible Virtue. Virtue can hurt Elemental and Vortex and turn into a liability. Loam is great but less focused on Wasteland recursion and more on fetching out all of the lands in your deck to liven your draws, since you want all of your spells against Esper.


I just went through some matchups and pretty much described that it is a struggle. So why play RUG? As has been said many times, RUG casts the best Brainstorm. With such a low number of lands, finding the right answer is very doable. It also has some very difficult-to-beat draws, which is important for success with any deck in Legacy. Even outside of these unbeatable draws, there are also very grindy games where the consistency of RUG really shines. Playing this kind of deck can also help further a person’s knowledge of every format, and if I had to say what the best deck is to register going into a tournament with zero knowledge of the field, there would be no doubt in my mind that I’d start scrambling to find Innistrad checklists.


juppal on Magic Online


Ryan Overturf, Stifle advocate and general awesome guy, really enjoyed my use of Spell Pierce. Well played.