Developing Delver For Des Moines *1st*

Ryan Overturf went undefeated at SCG Legacy Open in Des Moines with RUG Tempo. He goes through how he made certain card choices for his deck and how his matches played out. Consider RUG Tempo for this weekend in Birmingham!

I don’t exactly play a lot of Legacy. If my memory serves me correctly, the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in Des Moines was only my eighth sanctioned Legacy event. Nevertheless, the format is a blast to play, and I highly recommend trying it out to anybody who hasn’t. The card pool can be quite daunting to a newer player, and I’ll admit that I have to read some cards now and again, but if you play tightly with a good deck you should be able to post good numbers despite relative inexperience.

Of the eight Legacy events I’ve played, I have run the full set of Nimble Mongoose in five of them (two of these events with old Canadian Thresh, three with RUG Delver) , and of the events I was playing with Nimble Mongoose the worst record I have posted was a 5-2 showing at the SCG Invitational last December in Charlotte. As of the Des Moines SCG Legacy Open, my combined record with RUG Delver variants is 25-6-2. This is from playing in one SCG Invitational, one Grand Prix, and one SCG Legacy Open. I realize that this hardly makes me a Legacy aficionado, but I’d like to believe that these numbers are impressive.

Rather than deliver a tired account of the run goods and corner cases that make up a winning tournament report, for the purpose of this article I would like to break down the various versions of this deck that I have played and my opinions on specific cards that led me to the version of the deck that I piloted in Des Moines.

SCG Invitational in Charlotte

My story begins on a kitchen table in Winona, Minnesota. I had just qualified for the Charlotte SCG Invitational by way of a Super Invitational Qualifier in Minneapolis. I hadn’t played a single game of Legacy in at least a year, so I turned to coverage of various StarCityGames.com Open Series for ideas on what to play. As far as I could tell, RUG Delver was the deck in Legacy. I proxied it up and got to testing with Jens Erickson. At this point in time, the baseline for any RUG deck was David Thomas’s winning list from Kansas City in October.

It was no secret that the Temporal Spring was terrible, so that was an easy cut from the deck. Another thing that Jens and I quickly realized was that Force of Will was disgustingly bad in the mirror. You just can’t two-for-one yourself in a deck that has no way of making up that card disadvantage. It seems wrong to show up to play Legacy without any Forces, but given the relative popularity of so-called “fair” (see: non-combo) decks, having a 3-1 split between the maindeck and sideboard seemed logical.

One thing that Jens and I tried out for a bit was two copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It gave you outs to opposing Tarmogoyfs and generated card advantage, which was really cool, but we were generally only able to cast it when we drew Life from the Loam—a card that we ultimately decided was too slow and too cute.

Snapcaster Mage was more of a liability than anything. Spell Snare was rampant, playing your third land with RUG was often bad, and the 2/1 body left much to be desired. I trimmed down to two for the SCG Invitational, but this meant that I needed another monster to beat down with.

Cue Nimble Mongoose.

The card was historically good in Legacy, and with U/W Stoneforge decks being as popular as they were it seemed smart to be playing creatures that couldn’t be targeted by Swords to Plowshares. With the Goose in the deck I opted to play a pair of Mental Note over two of the Ponders. At the time I really hated Ponder (whereas now I only kind of hate Ponder). I argued that the card’s text should really just be: “Shuffle your library, draw a Tropical Island.” Later I would discover that the answer was just to play more fetchlands, as they allow you to keep suboptimal Ponders and shuffle them later. As things stood, I ended up with this decklist:

I was happy to see several other players at the Invitational independently come to the conclusion that Nimble Mongoose was the card for the deck. That said there were a few problems with this list.

Snapcaster Mage was even worse than I originally thought. I don’t remember doing anything worth doing with him even one time in seven matches. He more or less forces you to play your third land, which is one land more than you want to commit with this deck. Ideally you land one Tropical Island, one Volcanic Island, and sandbag a fetch either to Brainstorm + shuffle if needed or to replace whatever color you get Wastelanded off of. Alternatively, you play it sometimes to play around Daze, but I prefer just playing a Wasteland and activating it after I cast my spell in those situations. Clearly this isn’t always an option, but it’s a play that I make frequently.  

The basic Island was also pretty poor. I really only ever wanted to fetch for it if I wanted three mana and was playing against a Price of Progress deck. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense for a three-color deck that only has fourteen or fifteen lands that produce colors to try and play basics. It’s a very good way to end up off-color.

Mental Note was fine. I was able to get to threshold with Nimble Mongoose a couple times with it a few turns before I would have without. It was also nice to Brainstorm and bin some cards you didn’t want or do the same with a Ponder, but it was never really worthwhile to cast on its own. One mana for this deck is generally 50-100% of your turnly output, and using that percentage of your mana to cycle “for value” isn’t ideal.

I didn’t play against a single graveyard-based strategy in Charlotte, so I couldn’t tell you how the Leylines are, but I’m assuming that they’re not very good. You’re almost forced to mulligan into them, and you can’t cast them if you draw them later. On top of that, they almost necessarily eat up four sideboard slots, which is quite a lot. Further, I’m of the belief that if you’re truly prepared to play against Dredge then you will never get that pairing. Players that have enough hate to consider Dredge a “bye” never seem to play against it, and players who are unprepared seem to get paired against it and eaten alive by it. There has to be a name for this phenomenon…

Grand Prix Indianapolis

A few months passed, and I found myself traveling to Indianapolis for the Legacy Grand Prix. In the interim I had noticed that a number of RUG players had adopted a mana base that played more fetches and fewer mana-producing lands. I liked this change, as it technically increased the number of red and green sources. I would also like to add that since making this change, I have yet to play a game where my opponent has destroyed all three of either of my dual lands.  

In building my deck for Indy, I considered both my experience in Charlotte and also the rise in popularity of green/white Maverick decks on the StarCityGames.com Open Series circuit. I cut the cards that were underperforming and added a couple copies of Fire / Ice to the deck to combat Mother of Runes and Noble Hierarchs. Here’s the list I landed on:

I had heard murmurs of builds that cut the Stifles for Spell Peirce and some other business, but that change didn’t appeal to me at all. It seemed to me that Stifle was essential to stopping your opponent from getting to enough mana to cast their haymakers and was also very important to keep your Dazes live beyond the early game. Further, without Stifle RUG Delver is just a good “fair” deck. With Stifle, it becomes a fair deck that gains free wins from attacking the opponent’s mana base. I’ve also found it pretty important to counter opposing Wastelands under certain conditions. Additionally, contrary to popular belief Stifle is not a dead card or even necessarily a bad one in the mid-late game. I’ve won plenty of games by Stifling planeswalkers, Knight of the Reliquaries, Umezawa’s Jittes… The list goes on and on.

I went 11-4 in this event and was much happier with this list than the one I ran at the SCG Invitational. The Ponders were much better with the extra fetches and the mana was much easier to manage without clunky cards like Snapcaster Mage.

It was never relevant that Thought Scour could target my opponent where Mental Note couldn’t, though this is something to remember post-board in matches where you’re bringing in Submerge. Either way, the Mental Note effect played much better as a misers copy, because as I stated above it’s rare that you just want to cast it for value.

The Chain Lightnings really underperformed. It was nice to have more removal spells, but at sorcery speed Lightning Bolt is really underwhelming. It can’t be used to deal with Mishra’s Factory and it can’t be used to kill a creature in response to equipment. Both of these things are relevant in multiple matchups.

Fire / Ice was generally good, but two mana is a surprisingly prohibitive cost. A number of pros that were in the know were playing Forked Bolt in Indy, and I will readily concede that it is just better than Fire / Ice for this deck. Being sorcery speed can be somewhat awkward, but the ability to kill a Mother of Runes on the draw is very important.

I played against and beat both Reanimator and Dredge in Indy, but both of these opponents got rather unlucky. It’s possible that the Tormod’s Crypts aren’t the best sideboard strategy, but they were satisfactory. A lot of people run Surgical Extraction, but that type of effect is almost never enough against Dredge—especially if you’re not Snapcastering. Surgical is certainly better in some situations against Reanimator, but you have Spell Pierces and Pyroblasts to hedge your bets against them so I’d rather have the card that’s better against Dredge.

SCG Legacy Open: Des Moines

And that brings us to my most recent exploit with the deck: my undefeated run in Iowa. For this tournament it was clear that I needed to be prepared to beat Lingering Souls. Dazing the front end and being able to Forked Bolt the backside seemed solid, but it seemed pretty foolish to me not to implement the Sulfur Elemental technology. Sulfur Elemental also happened to kill Mother of Runes and Thalias out of Maverick, so it was a pretty easy sell. Here’s the list:

The biggest change to the list was returning one Dismember back to the main, which is very strong against both Maverick (kills Mother of Runes and sometimes Knight of the Reliquary) and the mirror (kills Tarmogoyf, who is crazy strong in the mirror).

Now for a brief synopsis of the tournament. I’ll touch a little on who is favored in each matchup and what my general strategy was for each.

Round 1: 2-0 vs. BUG Life from the Loam

I believe that this matchup is supposed to be very bad, despite winning game 1 on a mulligan to five. The BUG deck has cards like Innocent Blood and Diabolic Edict that kill all of your creatures along with Life from the Loam to mitigate your land destruction plan. Basically, what you need to do is get a strong aggressive start with the ability to counter their removal spells. I won game 1 largely because my opponent kept a two lander with Loam but no fetches. When he cast Loam on turn 2 with no targets, it was very obvious that I just needed to counter it when he dredged for it and this allowed me to kill him before he could really get set up. Had he had a single fetch the first time he cast it, I believe I would have very easily lost that game.

Round 2: 2-0 vs. Goblins

My opponent had a turn 1 Aether Vial on the play in game 1 and still the game wasn’t very close. I don’t think this matchup is very hard at all. The deck is really shy on removal, so all you need to do is develop an offense and Bolt any Goblin Warchiefs. Stifle is really good in this matchup, as you can either use it to counter the relevant part of Goblin Matron and Goblin Ringleader, or if you’re ahead you can just use it to counter Aether Vial activations so that they can’t develop their board.

Round 3: 2-1 vs. RUG Delver without Stifle

My opponent was on the play in game 1, and the way the game played out allowed him to resolve a pair of Tarmogoyfs. He cast a Spell Pierce or two in game 1, which led me to the conclusion that he was not playing Stifle. This information allowed me to fetch whenever I so desired, which is a nice edge to have. This also allowed me to completely Wasteland him out in game 3. I’m of the belief that the Stifle build is favored in the mirror, but you have to identify that your opponent doesn’t have them before the full advantage can really be pressed.

Round 4: 2-1 vs. U/W Stoneblade

RUG’s best card in this matchup is far and away Nimble Mongoose. So much so that my opponent Force of Willed my turn 1 Goose. Fortunately for me I kept a hand with two of them. The most important thing in this matchup is to be able to deal with their Stoneforge Mystics. This is not an unreasonable objective. You have counterspells, removal for the Mystic, or Stifle for the trigger. Stifling the trigger is easily the worst of the three, as it opens you up to them naturally drawing Batterskull, but it’s still a fine play.

They generally only play one copy, but Crucible of Worlds is a nightmare if they resolve it. It gives them both the ability to Wasteland you out and to rebuy their Mishra’s Factory. Considering that Factory is one of their few outs to Nimble Mongoose, this is very bad news. If the Stoneforges, Crucible, and Batterskull can be handled, this matchup is pretty easy. I see a lot of people playing Ancient Grudge in their board, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Clearly they are good to board in if you have them, but I’m quite happy with my current board configuration.

Round 5: 2-0 vs. Esper Stoneblade

This matchup is all about developing early pressure and just tempoing them out. Lingering Souls can be rather oppressive in game 1, but if you have an early beater and can counter half of it you can probably tempo them out. Sulfur Elemental is completely insane out of the board, and makes it so that you don’t need as much early pressure in post-board games. With four Ponder and four Brainstorm, it’s relatively easy to find. Much like against straight U/W Stoneblade, your priority is dealing with Stoneforge Mystic. Accomplish this and find a Sulfur Elemental, and this matchup feels pretty favorable.

Round 6: 2-1 vs. Aggro Loam

This match was a text feature, and can be found here. Gene is a friend of mine and an all-around nice guy. You’ll notice from the coverage that in game 2 he mulliganed to five and the game was still very close. Further, I believe that if he played slightly differently he could have won it. Life from the Loam is just a tough card for RUG to deal with. This is a matchup where their cards are just better than yours and you have to have an aggressive start in addition to disruption for their game plan in order to win. A very important thing to note is that Gene was playing both Mox Diamond and Chalice of the Void, which means that if he draws both on the play and I don’t have a Force of Will I most likely just lose.

Round 7: ID with Joe Bernal

Mike Hawthorne told me that when he played against Bernal, Bernal completely savaged him. The matchup definitely looked rough, but I didn’t have to play it so mise.

Round 8: ID with Joshua Snider

There was another Minnesota guy who could Top 8 had I decided to dreamcrush Josh here if I won, but I didn’t really know him well enough to just end Josh’s day. Further, I was a lock for first seed with a draw. With the new rules change that meant that I would get the option to play or draw in all of my Top 8 matches. That sounded pretty good to me, especially with four other RUG Delver decks in the Top 8.

Quarterfinals: 2-0 vs. RUG Delver

If you compare my list to Jeff Rasmussen’s (found here) and factor in that I was on the play, I believe that I was pretty favored in this match. His one-of Sensei’s Divining Top is both a mana sink and a do-nothing in the mirror. This coupled with his Snapcasters and his Green Sun’s Zenith meant that he was playing to get to three mana—something that I was very capable of keeping him off of. Further, if I’m only playing to get to two mana and he plays a third mana source, this generates me theoretical card advantage. Seeing as I only need two lands and can Ponder or Brainstorm away any extras, it’s almost as if he’s discarding a card when he plays his third land. Further, he had fewer Tarmogoyfs, no answer to a resolved Tarmogoyf, and had more Force of Wills—a card that doesn’t quite cut it in the mirror.

Post-board he brought in the Counterbalance plan, which in my testing was not very good. It can be Spell Pierced, Spell Snared, Dazed, and Red Blasted. It also does nothing to deal with any Delvers, Mongeese, and Tarmogoyfs that landed before it was cast. It’s just a bit too fragile and slow in my experience. He also left in two copies of Force of Will against me, which I think you almost have to do if you want to resolve a Counterbalance. The Counterbalance plan is definitely very powerful against combo decks, but these are good matchups anyhow. I don’t mean to beat up on Jeff; after all, he did very well in this tournament. I just feel that his build was not very well positioned for the mirror.

Semifinals: 2-1 vs. RUG Delver

This matchup was against another friend of mine, Mike Hawthorne. He was playing very close to my list (his list can be found here). The only difference in the maindeck is that the morning of the event I cut the second Thought Scour for another fetchland. When I sent him the list, I thought that eighteen lands were probably fine with the full four Ponder. While it’s true that you only need two lands, you do very much need both of them. I think it’s easier to deal with drawing an extra land than it is to try to win with a one lander. He made some changes to the sideboard that I wouldn’t make myself but are probably fine.

Anyway, this match was a text feature and can be found here. With the lists being as close as they were, being on the play and drawing well were very important. I boarded in my Pyroblast and my Red Elemental Blast, which Mike didn’t have. They’re not super exciting in the mirror, but they kill Delver and counter Submerge—a very good combination of things to be doing in my opinion.

Finals: 2-1 vs. Maverick

This match was both on camera and a text feature (which can be found here). Game 1 pretty much went exactly my way. I was able to keep him off of his mana and destroy all of his relevant creatures. I misplayed game 2 pretty badly, and I’m pretty sure I would have won it had I done a few things differently. I probably should’ve just let the Mother of Runes that I Dismembered live and tried to Stifle it out of existence later. I also think that my Brainstorm was extremely premature, but these things happen this late in the weekend. In game 3 I got very lucky, in that I got Choked and won anyway.

A lot of people say that Maverick is a pretty rough matchup, but I don’t think it’s really that bad. Awkward, sure, but close to a coin flip…perhaps slightly favorable. My goal in the matchup is to make sure I can deal with any and all Knight of the Reliquary and Mother of Runes. The lists with Stoneforge Mystic have been harder to beat in my experience, but Josh’s list clearly gains edges in other matchups by cutting them.

The awkward thing about Maverick is that while it is a fair deck, it still plays enough cards that are strong enough against RUG that I feel you need to leave some number of Force of Wills in against them. There are a number of board states where Knight of the Reliquary is close to unbeatable and situations where Choke completely locks you out that I think you need them—especially seeing as the deck plays enough mana sources to make Daze a pretty sketchy call to keep in on the draw.

Between Indy and Des Moines I’m 3-0 against Maverick, but I’ll reiterate that the match is close. The Maverick deck has a lot of play for a non-blue deck and continues to be a very strong contender in Legacy.

As for the deck I played, one thing that I would change were I to play it again would be to play a different suite of fetchlands. The reason that I play four Misty Rainforest and four Scalding Tarn is simply that these are the blue fetches I own. Seeing as all of the fetchable lands are Islands, there is no reason that the mana base needs to be this way. I suggested to Mike Hawthorne that he should play Polluted Deltas and Flooded Strands instead. People are far less likely to put you on RUG Delver when you play these lands, which makes them less likely to play around Stifle. I originally got this idea from Jesse Westphal, and I think he was spot on.

The only other slot I’d think about changing is the Thought Scour. The card continues to be fine but unimpressive. I’d consider a miser’s Spell Pierce or another removal spell in its place.

I hope that this article has adequately explained my card choices as well as covered the reasons that I’m not playing some of the cards have been popular in other lists. I would be more than happy to answer any questions that anybody might have in the comments section. Until next time, may your Ponders never shuffle and your Delvers always flip.