BUG and I go way back.
In 2011 I spent most of my time traveling, attending as many StarCityGames.com Open Series events as I possibly could. The goal was to rack up points in their player’s club, but I also finally got to play some Legacy! I’d played and followed the format since it was known as Type 1.5 but hadn’t gotten to play it much until the Open Series started.
For most of those tournaments, I switched decks every week—there were too many cool things to try. While fun is great and everything, winning is also fun. Once I tried BUG and got a taste of victory, it became my old standby.
It started here:
Team America, the tempo version of BUG with Stifle and Hymn to Tourach, had resurged, but Stifle was a card I’d always disliked. So much has to go right in order for Stifle to be good. I decided that in order to play Stifle, it would have to be good on its own merit.
That was fine though; I preferred Fish strategies or control decks over tempo variants with high variance. For the above tournament, I played a mashup. I was mostly controlling but could definitely tempo opponents out with Dark Confidant, Wasteland, and Daze. For the most part, it’s good to give your deck that dual layering if possible as long as all the cards work well together.
For example, I’ve talked about how in Standard your Geist of Saint Traft decks shouldn’t have Sphinx’s Revelation and vice versa. The same is true in other formats, but in Legacy, you can splice two decks together because there are more options to choose from. Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant are both good with Wasteland and Daze, but they’re also good with removal and counterspells.
That said, I built a mashup mostly because I didn’t know what I wanted or what was important. Take a look at my archaic sideboard for example:
2 Maelstrom Pulse
3 Ghastly Demise
2 Llawan, Cephalid Empress
2 Spell Pierce
2 Krosan Grip
1 Life from the Loam
There’s so much wrong here, but I didn’t know any better! For starters, I had eight removal spells and two Llawans. That’s a ton of creature hate for no real reason. What could I possibly want to side all of that in against? I didn’t have much hate for combo, but I assumed I’d be good there. Krosan Grips were my answer to random permanents, but they weren’t enough. I didn’t have much of a plan for control either.
Surprisingly, I made it to the Top 4, where I lost to Affinity. Notice my removal suite maindeck? Yeah…
There was a lesson to be learned about diversifying your removal. Even if you think one is "strictly" better than the other one, you’re probably wrong.
I put down BUG for a while, but my next major finish with it was with this:
Hive Mind was the big deck on the scene, which is why I ended up playing BUG in the first place. Hymn to Tourach combined with Stifle and Daze were a huge problem for that deck. Awkwardly enough, I didn’t play against a single Hive Mind deck so my Stifles and Dazes were terrible all day long.
Despite having six semi-dead cards, it didn’t affect me much as this list was far more advanced than the one I played before. My removal was split between Diabolic Edict, Dismember, and Pernicious Deed. After the Open where I lost to Affinity, I decided there was no reason not to play with Pernicious Deed. Random things like Enchantress could be difficult at times as well, so Deed was the clear catchall.
I cut Dark Confidant and most of the discard. After playing some grindy matches against similar decks, I realized that I didn’t want a bunch of cards with diminishing returns. As the game goes longer, those cards make poor topdecks, and eventually I would lose because of it.
There are three ways I lose games with BUG:
1) My opponent plays something I can’t deal with (Dark Confidant, Counterbalance, Tendrils of Agony, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn).
The plan used to be stopping those cards from resolving either with discard or counterspells, but that doesn’t always work. Now we have Abrupt Decay so life is a little easier, but it can still be tough. Decks in Legacy are designed to cast their big spells even through disruption, so we can’t win every game.
2) My opponent out-tempos me with Wasteland / Stifle / Daze, and I can’t stabilize in time.
The more mana sources and cantrips you play, the easier it is to find lands when you need them. Against RUG Delver, making land drops is almost as important as killing every single creature they play.
3) My opponent grinds me out or draws better than me once we get into a topdeck war.
This was the reason I put BUG down in the first place. It always seemed like I would Hymn them down to nothing and they’d peel Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the one turn window I gave them. If I got to untap, I’d be able to play two Tarmogoyfs or my own Jace, but they’d beat me to the punch and ride that to victory.
The problem with discard is that you can’t stop the top of their deck. Also, if you’re the one playing discard and they aren’t, they are probably drawing live spells on turn 10 while you’re drawing useless Thoughtseizes or Hymn to Tourachs.
You need to be able to close games before that happens.
One of the things I liked about the BUG tempo decks was that when you’re doing your thing you feel unbeatable. Hymn to Tourach is a fine card, but it shouldn’t be used to grind them into the dust. It more of a resource denial card, much in the same vein as Wasteland. If you are able to Hymn a land out of their hand, your Dazes and Wastelands become more potent. If they wait around trying to play around Daze, their big spell is vulnerable to discard.
Ever untap with Dark Confidant when you have Daze, Force of Will, and Wasteland? It’s pretty nice.
That type of deck isn’t very good right now. Dark Confidant is awesome on turn 2 after you’ve Thoughtseized their removal spell, but sometimes you get run over by Goyfs anyway. Your life is actually a very vulnerable resource. Unlike other decks in the format, you’re starting at a much lower life than them due to Dark Confidant, Thoughtseize, and an abundance of fetchlands.
Now there’s Deathrite Shaman to offset that a bit, but you still need to be careful. I’ve seen games slip away because the BUG player wanted to protect its Dark Confidant by casting discard on turns 1 and 2, only to lose to a topdecked removal spell or growing creature horde later on.
You want ways to gain value without needing your creature to live. With Abrupt Decay legal and a dearth of creature decks out there, removal is heavily played. Something like Dark Confidant isn’t going to live most of the time regardless of how hard you try.
Enter Shardless Agent.
I can see how people might undervalue Shardless Agent. Most people would consider the body irrelevant, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with them. Sure, Shardless Agent allows you to cast a two mana (or less) spell for free, but if the body is mostly irrelevant then you’re wasting precious mana.
A Bloodbraid Elf comparison isn’t out of the question. Obviously, a 3/2 haste creature beats a 2/2, but keep in mind that Shardless Agent costs only three mana, is a blue card for Force of Will, and pumps Tarmogoyf. If it traded with Nimble Mongoose, it would probably be the perfect Magic card.
Part of the joke is that the body isn’t irrelevant. Shardless Agent into Tarmogoyf allows you to beat up on planeswalkers. The 2/2 protects your real creatures from Liliana of the Veil. Shardless Agent and Creeping Tar Pit can deal a lot of incremental damage.
The other part of the joke is this gem:
Since many don’t respect drawing three cards, I would like to point out the fact that this card is banned in Modern. That might not seem like it has much to do with Legacy, but do any of you remember Mono-Blue Faeries from Extended? They could routinely counter every single spell you cast in the early game and then gas up not long after.
It is tempo negative and can take a while to get value, but you’re drawing a lot of cards for not a lot of mana. There is a reason cards like Accumulated Knowledge and Fact or Fiction don’t see play in Legacy—they’re way too slow, but what I really mean is that they’re too expensive.
Most games in Legacy, at least ones involving "fair" decks, have both players trading one-for-one in the early turns until someone runs out of gas. The tension with Fact or Fiction is that you rarely get a good window to cast it and pull ahead because they’ll beat the tar out of you if you gave them a free turn.
Ancestral is something you can suspend in the early turns very easily. If you’re doing your job and trading one-for-one in the meantime, your Ancestral is going to come off suspend. At that point, they either Force of Will it (it’s like you drew two Thoughtseizes!), Stifle the second trigger (crappy, but at least they aren’t mana screwing you to death), or fall behind.
If Ancestral Vision were legal in Modern, I assure you no one would be having any fun. I would see to that. In Legacy, specifically when the format mostly consists of fair decks, Ancestral is one of the best cards you can have. In Modern, you have time to cast things like Gifts Ungiven in most of your matchups, so Ancestral would similarly be fantastic.
Mana is the resource most players don’t have early in Legacy, mostly because the decks are too fast and too focused. There is time to cast Fact or Fiction (or Jace) in Legacy, but it can be difficult to also play around Spell Pierce or Daze.
Jace is mostly used to kill your opponent and doesn’t provide a quick burst of cards you can use right away. When you first cast Jace, you typically have to bounce something or fate seal your opponent to keep it alive. Even then, it isn’t going to live most of the time. Obviously Jace is much more powerful than Ancestral, but if you want a way to get ahead in cards, Ancestral is basically the only playable option.
That brings us to the most recent StarCityGames.com Invitational, where I played the following list:
Deathrite Shaman is obviously a good card. It’s innocuous things like Deathrite Shaman that don’t show up much in Standard because their abilities get much better in Eternal formats. Birds of Paradise isn’t something I would necessarily be interested in, but having a threat and disruption with a Birds of Paradise tacked on? Sign me up.
If the format wasn’t where it is now, with midrange decks everywhere and combo rarely appearing, this would not be the right BUG deck to play. However, since that’s the format we’ve got, Force of Will is a pretty bad Magic card. The disruption, while solid catchalls, aren’t very good in topdeck wars, and I side most of them out. If it weren’t for the existence of combo, I’d probably play a RUG cascade deck with Punishing Fire.
I value my land drops more than theirs, hence me not playing many Wastelands. RUG Delver uses Wasteland as a zero mana spell that Stone Rains them, as they don’t typically care about making land drops past a certain point. My deck has no such luxury and instead uses Wasteland to kill utility lands like Maze of Ith and Creeping Tar Pit. If they are stuck on lands, I might use it to put them in a deeper hole, but even then sometimes I don’t. Casting Jace on time is far more important.
Since then I’ve learned a few things, such as how to fight Esper Stoneblade correctly. That’s a deck that plenty of grinders love, and you have to get through them if you want to win a tournament. I still think that deck is pretty bad, but it’s got a lot of threatening cards against us.
Lingering Souls, Stoneforge Mystic into Batterskull, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor represent different angles of attack that BUG isn’t prepared to deal with. You can sideboard in Krosan Grip and Engineered Plague like I was, but both of those look stupid when they cast Jace.
Instead of sideboarding very specific answers, I’m now playing this card:
While a lot slower than the Dismembers I was playing, Maelstrom Pulse does wonders for your ability to beat the things that they topdeck later. They draw a Jace when you have a Dismember? Sorry, you’re dead. Maelstrom Pulse to the rescue!
Other than that not much has changed since then. I liked most of the things going on in the maindeck, so when I played in the Legacy side event at Grand Prix Indy, I mostly focused on the sideboard. I decided to play three Chills to help against the fringe decks I could face that would likely be bad matchups such as Goblins and Burn. Chill is also fine against Charbelcher, some Storm decks, and some Show and Tell decks. I’ve been very happy with it.
I also tried out Sower of Temptation, which was my answer to Show and Tell while also being a card I could sideboard in for the mirror matches. It can’t get Abrupt Decayed like Threads of Disloyalty, and it creates two bodies to attack planeswalkers. Liliana of the Veil might have been better because it’s great against the non-Shardless BUG decks and passable versus combo.
My plan against them is to curve Thoughtseize, Hymn to Tourach, Liliana and keep them locked at a low hand size. At that point, it’s very difficult for any combo deck to set up what they’re trying to do. It’s also a much-needed answer to Nimble Mongoose and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.
Submerge was also a card I wanted against both RUG Delver and the mirror match. RUG often attacks your mana, so Submerge is basically the perfect card against them.
I’m finishing this article during Grand Prix Denver, and this is the list I just submitted:
- 4 Brainstorm
- 2 Hymn to Tourach
- 2 Force of Will
- 4 Ancestral Vision
- 4 Thoughtseize
- 2 Maelstrom Pulse
- 4 Abrupt Decay
The biggest changes are the minor swap of disruption and the addition of a land. I found that most games I lost were to not having enough mana, and I rarely lost to getting flooded. Coming from behind is very difficult for decks like BUG and even harder in Legacy where the decks are very powerful.
Again, I retooled the sideboard. It feels strange since most of the BUG decks I’ve played in the past had somewhat underwhelming sideboard cards that were good in different matchups. As the format has shifted, it’s become more polarized in what the various decks are trying to do. Because of that general sideboard cards are rarely good.
If you want to beat people who are doing very linear things, you need direct answers. Things like Chill and Mindbreak Trap aren’t good in many matchups, but they are stone-cold killers when you want them.
Reluctantly, I cut the Nihil Spellbombs. I wasn’t particularly scared of any graveyard deck, but I liked having them against Esper Stoneblade and RUG Delver. Since then I’ve figured out the matchups (play Maelstrom Pulse, make land drops respectively) so I no longer need the value from Spellbombs.
By now hopefully you understand why I built the deck the way I did. Obviously, the next question is: "How do I sideboard?" It’s a difficult question for me to answer since I tend to sideboard differently in different situations. That’s just something you have to get a feel for yourself.
In the meantime, I have these mini-guides:
The games are going to be long and grindy, so Thoughtseize is going to be a very poor topdeck in the mid-to-late game. While taking their Batterskull after they cast Stoneforge Mystic is awesome, you really don’t want to draw it on turn 10 when you both have no hand and no board. Ideally, these would all come out. With the above list, I don’t have enough cards to cut though.
+ 1 Maelstrom Pulse, 2 Engineered Plague, 2 Hymn to Tourach
– 2 Force of Will, 1 Thoughtseize, 2 Abrupt Decay
Hymn to Tourach obviously has the same problem as Thoughtseize, but it has a much higher impact game 1 unless you are specifically trying to snipe Batterskull. Similarly, Force of Will is almost always bad in these grindy matchups.
Abrupt Decay kills little of note, but you do need to kill Stoneforge Mystic (or Batterskull) ASAP. If I had Nihil Spellbombs, I would board in those for some amount of Thoughtseizes / Abrupt Decays.
Destroy their hand and put pressure on them. Note that resolving Ancestral Vision will likely draw you into enough disruption to KO them, so sometimes it’s a faster clock than Tarmogoyf. However, they do rely on Ad Nauseam a lot, so any damage you deal them is going to add up.
+ 2 Mindbreak Trap, 2 Liliana of the Veil, 2 Hymn to Tourach
– 4 Abrupt Decay, 2 Maelstrom Pulse
It’s possible they might side in Dark Confidant, Xantid Swarm, or be more willing to shove on an early Empty the Warrens than others. If that’s the case, keeping in some removal might be necessary. Also, depending on their version, Chill might be good against them.
This matchup is more of the same grindy, blue matchup you’d expect. Their threats aren’t as diversified as Esper Stoneblade’s, so you should have an easier time. Ancestral Vision will carry you to victory here.
+ 2 Submerge, 2 Hymn to Tourach, 1 Maelstrom Pulse, 1 Perish
– 2 Force of Will, 4 Thoughtseize
Perish may seem counterintuitive, but I really like having something I can dig for that will get me out of tight spots.
If you like, you can board in Liliana here as well. Should they be one of those clever folks with Shardless Agent, it’s almost certainly not worth it though. Take out some Hymns if you want them since they are the next worst cards.
Show and Tell
Thankfully, this deck is on the decline. My BUG decks used to be able to beat a resolved Show and Tell, but Griselbrand and Omniscience have changed things dramatically. Right now the only out is resolving a planeswalker after they Show and Tell.
+ 2 Hymn to Tourach, 2 Liliana of the Veil
– 4 Abrupt Decay
Depending on their version, Chill becomes playable. They could have Grim Monolith or Defense Grid that you may need Decays for.
I’m very happy with where my BUG deck is at right now. Obviously there are things that are well positioned against it, but if the format remains the same, BUG is going to stay on top. There are way more matchups than the ones I talked about above, so if you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments. I’ll try to get to all of them.