Fair & Balanced Brews

If you’re looking for a sweet deck to play at your next Modern event or the SCG Legacy Open in Dallas, Texas this weekend, check out Glenn’s latest article!

I make a habit of remaining vigilant week in and week out regarding sweet decks that are getting played in older formats. Over the last few weeks with Standard picking up and Pro Tour Qualifiers shifting over to Limited, pickings have been getting a little bit sparser. Fortunately, Magic Online and the occasional European Legacy event keep things relatively lively year round.

First let’s take a peek at a couple Modern decklists of note. This event in Italy pitted over 100 players against each other, with a relatively conventional U/R Twin deck coming out on top. The deck in second place however holds significantly more interest for anyone looking at the format.

At first glance, it’s what you’d expect to see from a RUG deck—in fact, it has several similarities to the very popular RUG Twin deck, which has been tearing up Modern events ever since Patrick Dickmann brought it back into style at Pro Tour Born of the Gods. So many of the best spells in that deck have made it into this one, but the divergences are interesting.

First off, let’s talk Noble Hierarch. I’ve always loved this creature—and I know I’m not alone—because mana advantage in the early turns of older formats is really huge. The proliferation of cheap high-impact threats and softer countermagic that works inside these windows add a lot of value to the little creature. It doesn’t stop there of course. Noble Hierarch’s exalted has never been nothing, but it’s especially influential in Tarmogoyf decks because exalted allows you to attack your Tarmogoyf into theirs, breaking a common stalemate in Modern and Legacy alike!

The removal of the combo from RUG here mostly calls for more spells and an increased reliance on winning through combat on the board. Vedalken Shackles is great at that, and Cryptic Command can excel as well. Vapor Snag is a flexible play in this deck, especially in conjunction with Snapcaster Mage. Spell Snare and Vendilion Clique fill in the remaining holes, offering a tempo-positive defense and a disruptive threat respectively.

I was initially surprised to see the reduction in Cryptic Command accompany the addition of Noble Hierarch. Not only has this deck’s curve slimmed from the heavy focus on three and four mana that RUG Twin holds, but it has more mana sources to improve its castability. I imagine that Vedalken Shackles in some ways is meant to yield a similar advantage, but a wise man once asked "why not both?"

Well, there’s a reason. The sideboard is where things get a lot more interesting. We saw the power of Blood Moon on display in the breakout deck of the Pro Tour, Blue Moon, and it’s been an incredible sideboard option in Modern for some time now. Splinter Twin, Living End, and Naya have always proved that many Modern decks are ripe for punishment. Why not RUG? Jamming Blood Moon into the board explains the deck’s numbers to some degree—after all, how many Islands can you get in play with Blood Moon active? Once those cards are sided out, Noble Hierarch and Mountain will be enough to cast pretty much everything, and two basics are there to help you along as well!

Switching gears, U/W/R has always been a deck I’m greedy to shoehorn some combos into because a deck filled to the gills with card advantage and removal tends to play some difficult protracted games . . . and I’m greedy. I like hybridization, and I like having access to a haymaker play that wins the game more often than not. I wrote an entire article about my efforts to make Gifts Ungiven work in the U/W/R shell, an ongoing effort that hasn’t yet yielded satisfactory fruit for me (though it did win a premier event recently).

As RUG Twin hybridizes RUG and Splinter Twin into a deck, so does U/W/R Twin combine Splinter Twin with a U/W/R frame. However, U/W/R exists on a much more robust spectrum, leaving you a lot of wiggle room for the final product. The above isn’t the first example of someone successfully sliding further from Twin, but it’s a pretty recent take.

Skewing more toward control sees this particular Magic player cutting out the creatures and Splinter Twin itself to make room for more control cards. It’s not a free roll by any stretch, but I can perceive metagames where something like the above decklist is more effective. Perhaps the most attractive perk it has to offer is the ability to side out the combo completely! You can wind up building a very serviceable U/W/R Control deck even with just fifteen sideboard slots available, so keep that in mind. They can mostly just be sideboard cards if chosen carefully because there are so many flexible options.

Let’s move over to Legacy.

I spotted this deck via Twitter and immediately was interested. I wrote about a Noble Hierarch enforced True-Name Nemesis tempo deck several weeks ago that I’d enjoyed a lot of success playing, and this deck features several similar weapons and a nearly identical suite of spells. But the differences in the creature base are intriguing.

Say what you will—Judge’s Familiar has everything it needs to be a very reasonable Legacy threat. It’s easy to cast, as all hybrid cards are. Flying lets it pick up Equipment and soar over True-Name Nemesis, which is very relevant in this day and age. It’s a blue card for Force of Will, which is never nothing. Plus there’s its actual ability, which is (literally) exactly as good as Cursecatcher’s! Against combo decks based around instants and sorceries, Familiar approaches a Time Walk and at a minimum throws a noticeable wrench into their plans.

Plus the card did win two Pro Tours in a row. I’m just saying!

I’m not sold on Looter il-Kor, but I guess we can’t run six Familiars. Its evasion is obviously very key for the real star of the show: Edric, Spymaster of Trest! Where my deck angled at evasive threats on three combined with removal, Bahra’s deck is pushing a smaller clock but a lot of card advantage. I like this direction considering the fair bend the metagame is currently taking.

It’ll be tough for most Swords to Plowshares / Lightning Bolt opponents to knock off Mother of Runes, Stoneforge Mystic, and Edric with Judge’s Familiar and a traditional suite of counterspells playing the support roles. Each of these creatures basically commands an immediate removal spell from the opponent, so that’s huge. Against combo decks, Edric is easy to establish and should let you bury them in soft counters while working to get two Forces together. Ideally you close it out before they can cover that spread, but things are way better post-board when you have no blanks!

The other touch I really enjoy is actually in the sideboard. The Enlightened Tutor plan was a popular strategy in Maverick style decks of the past, and it’s employed here reasonably well. Combining soft counters with tutorable hate cards is going to twist a lot of combo matchups in your favor.

As an additional side, we have the ever underappreciated Envelop. Envelop started to flare up a bit last year thanks to its efficiency against Show and Tell decks, which were at the height of their power in 2013. While it’s still decent there and in some other combo matchups, I imagine that Terminus is a true villain as well. My list focused on beating Miracles decks by preventing them from winning the game or stabilizing in a locked position, enabling me to eventually recover from even several sweepers, but you can’t effectively balance threat deployment in an Edric deck—you always have to commit at least two!

Bahra’s not the only one tricking out Edric however.

Eric didn’t have the same . . . dedication, but his singleton Edric is sly and works for many of the same reasons. The rest of this deck resembles a combination of various iterations of Four-Color Delver I’ve seen through the past year. Shifting to emphasize Young Pyromancer as a creature isn’t a huge change considering it and True-Name Nemesis both die to basically all of the same cards. Pyromancer is better in some spots and more mana efficient, so that’s not nothing.

Congrats to Eric, who finally dropped those dumb Rituals and returned to finding Secrets. We missed you buddy!

Another new twist on an older favorite:

Caesar1994 appears to have gotten to the point I was at before I stopped working on adapting Sam Black’s Zombies deck in Legacy. While I worked on this archetype prior to Young Pyromancer, the logic remains the same. Gravecrawler has stopped being worth it, and the "real" cards you’re giving up for the synergies are just not as good.

I was jamming Bobs, Shamans, and more "real creatures" too, but I never thought to try out Bloodbraid Elf! The Elf’s effective against non-combo decks, but I’m not really sold on it in this archetype specifically. With so many hand disruption spells, your opponent gets to dodge a real hit from the cascade trigger in the later turns or mitigate the damage with Brainstorm. Against something like Miracles, those discard spells will often work out, but is that worthwhile?

Also, check out Destructive Revelry. That’s the first time I’ve seen it in Legacy, but the story checks out. If Smash to Smithereens makes the cut sometimes, then all Revelry needs is a deck capable of casting it that also wants to.

Credit where it’s due: Maciej Fidzinski managed a Top 16 finish with almost this exact list at Grand Prix Paris, playing an additional Volcanic Island over the Polluted Delta and Forked Bolt over Dismember in the main. I was surprised to see that list at the time, as RUG Delver was clearly in the doghouse of the metagame. Since then it’s won an SCG Legacy Open and notched some additional Top 8s—I’m honestly not sure why it’s doing these things, but hey, there you go.

This deck plans to work a little more in the midgame than RUG Delver, but it can leverage many of the same free wins. RUG’s plan to deploy a threat and then kick you in the shins for the next few turns and hope you fail to walk has been getting worse and worse for the past few months, with True-Name Nemesis the latest thorn in the plan.

The heaviest selling point in this deck to me is Grim Lavamancer. As fair decks proliferate, it gets better, and Nimble Mongoose looks awful against Nemesis in general. In some ways I see this deck evolving in much the same way that BUG Delver has, playing a more well-rounded game and trying to win on the merits of grindier play than its predecessors.

I’m interested in examining the path this version of RUG Delver takes—will it just pop up from time to time or gain more widespread adoption?

Last but not least:

Our own Andrew Shrout covered this deck with designer John Cuvelier during the SCG Invitational in Charlotte, who is a good friend of mine. John’s much better at building decks than me, so I’ve learned to take his crazy ideas pretty seriously. He won’t say something is good unless he actually thinks it has potential, and this brew is the sort of thing he winds up with when he keeps pushing at a concept. I could go through everything that this deck has to offer, but the deck tech above should better serve your needs. I’m still trying to 20/20 people at the moment, but this deck is next on the list for me!

Whether you’re looking for something sweet to play at a local event or just in need of some incentive to brew, I hope this week’s offering has appeased you. Which deck is your favorite? Which has the potential to make a real impact on the metagame? Chime in below, or if you’re feeling particularly frisky, you can put your money where your comments are at an upcoming Legacy Open, like the one in Dallas, Texas this weekend!