Fighting Hive Mind With NO RUG

Sean Ryan faced three Hive Mind decks in a row in the Top 8 of SCG Open: Seattle, losing in the finals to Ben Swartz. NO RUG took him pretty far however; it could be a solid choice for the upcoming Richmond Open.

So I lost in the finals of SCG Seattle to Hive Mind—but had a great time getting there. I’ve been playing eternal Magic for well… an eternity. I occasionally draft, but as a young professional with many obligations, I can’t keep up with Standard, but I still love competitive Magic, so Legacy is my format (although I have high hopes for Modern). From what I can tell, I’m not missing much, except for the shenanigans that many grinders enjoy. So the SCG Open is about as big as it gets for me.

For the past couple months since Mental Misstep has been released I’ve been playing variants of blue-based control, but I have had a lurking suspicion that I’ve been working too hard to achieve too little by continuing to play control. Sure, when Stoneblade first hit the scene, the metagame was ill-prepared for it, but no mas.

All the while NO RUG continued to rank up stellar finishes. Another local Legacy player and Natural Order aficionado Stephen Judnick kept harassing me for playing “bad Standard cards in Legacy” and would rib me every time he crushed me when we played, which was beginning to be more often than not. It got to the point where I was basically playing an updated Landstill version with the full set of Wraths between the maindeck and sideboard just to be competitive. I knew it was over after an epic game where I resolved two Ancestral Visions with like a dozen cards left in my deck and still lost to Natural Order Progenitus. Stephen was right—it was time to return to my roots and start casting the green “Tinker” in Legacy.

I played NO Bant back in the day but put it down after being unable to beat Merfolk, the most popular deck in the format and my teammate’s pet deck. Red overcomes that weakness, but even more importantly it provides REB/Pyroblast, which is one of the best answers in a format where Blue is king. Combined with Bolt you have eight ways of dealing with a resolved Jace. We are past the Jace Control bubble, but it’s still a defining card in the format. Those matchups generally come down to Natural Order vs. Jace, and NO usually trumps it unless Jace can activate multiple times. This is why the red splash is so powerful—for one mana you can answer the control player’s most powerful card and what the matchup often hinges on, whereas they need more situational answers like Wrath or Metamorph.

First, the tradeoff between RUG and Bant is meta dependent. For now RUG is superior. If Merfolk declined and matches involving green monsters increased then Bant would probably get the nod. On the forums I’ve noticed players arguing over which is best, as if their identity depended on it. If you want my advice, don’t get caught up in this nonsense; just analyze the metagame and take an honest look at the tradeoffs.

Once you decide on RUG, there are about six slots to work with main deck and of course the sideboard. I believe the following cards are all debatable main deck:

3rd Green Sun’s Zenith – Gives the deck more consistency and flexibility for mana ramp or beatdown.
2nd Dryad Arbor – I hear Wasteland is a popular card.
Basic lands – I hear Wasteland is a popular card. I recommend at least a Forest for Hierarch and a Mountain to keep your removal alive vs. Folk, but you can get away with skimping on the Island.
4th Vendilion Clique – looking increasingly better the more I play the deck.
4th Mental Misstep – It doesn’t protect Natural Order, but it’s still a four-of—that’s how good it is, at least until the format changes drastically.
Daze – It’s blue; it’s free and probably necessary.
Ponder – It’s blue and lets you play more like a combo deck
Jace – It’s blue, lets you fight attrition wars, and gives you an out to a resolved Bridge.
Sylvan Library – I wish it were blue.
Fire / Ice – It’s blue (starting to notice a theme?) and is great against tribal and the mirror, which is getting more popular.
Grim Lavamancer – It’s not blue. Depends how many Fish you have to fry on the way to the Top 8. I like mine in the sideboard.
Trygon Predator – It’s blue and can be searched by GSZ—other than that it’s probably not good enough.
Terastodon – You get to surprise players who think you are searching for Progenitus and believe they have already won the game—you then get to yell out, “NASTY TERASTY!” in response to their wide-eyed dismay.

I decided to maindeck a Trygon Predator because playing at a SCG Open, “you never know what you’re gonna to get,” and I didn’t want to lose to a random Ensnaring Bridge or Moat. The Predator is also blue, which matters.

In hindsight I didn’t need it and would have been much better off with Terastodon. Having the Nasty main deck lets your Natural Orders slow down the Hive Mind player’s mana development and interact. Otherwise, you don’t really want to be casting Natural Order in that match because it’s too slow. The downside is you start to have a critical mass of chunky cards you don’t want to draw, especially if you also play the second Dryad Arbor, which I did. There are just so many matches where you want to search up a Dryad Arbor with GSZ turn one only to have it Wastelanded and be unable to cast the turn 4/5 Natural Order after you have fetched the Dryad Arbor.

This leads me to believe that Reid Duke may be right about the fourth Clique. Boy does that card do work—and require some skill to play optimally. It’s an absolute boss against anything resembling combo or control. I definitely misplayed Clique a couple of times, most notably in the finals match by taking a card when I should have just left his hand alone.

The other notable play against Hive Mind is holding the Clique until they cast Show and Tell or Hive Mind and taking their other combo piece. The proper use of Clique is a true skill tester that is dependent on the match and game state. You really have to analyze whether the end of turn, draw step, or in response to a crucial spell on the stack is the right time to flash Clique. The fourth Clique should also help to mitigate the cost of running a maindeck Terastodon or second Dryad Arbor.

The last few slots usually need to be blue cards to reach sufficient mass for Force of Will. I’m now leaning toward the fourth Clique and the fourth Misstep, but Ponder is certainly a worthy pick. It’s also the first thing I tend to cut from a list.

I went with a singleton Sylvan Library because that card has been amazing since I started playing Magic in my R/G aggro deck back in Revised. It seems like Legacy aggro players are only now coming around to the idea that you want one in play against anything that isn’t simply a race to the dome; god I wish that card were blue. Speaking of blue again…

Mental Misstep also forces us to play Daze because we need more counters beyond Force of Will to force through Natural Order—how many forces is that in one sentence?

Some people have been playing fewer Force of Wills in their Natural Order decks, which is just flat wrong. Let me tell you why. We are in a format where counterspells abound and combo kills before we do (it doesn’t matter if it’s Storm, Hive Mind, or Dredge; they can all outrace NO Pro). But that’s only part of it. When you are on the Natural Order plan, everything you do from running cards like Noble Hierarch to battling over resources is building up to resolving that four-mana spell that forces your opponent to react and react fast or die. So unless the format is defined by redundant aggro, please don’t hinder yourself with fewer than four Force of Wills; otherwise you have invested all those resources for nothing.

Now where were we? Oh yes, Daze. When you are on the aggressive plan of turn three or four Natural Order, Daze is golden. Combo—especially Hive Mind—golden. Daze gets you into trouble when your opponent takes the tempo and you start setting yourself back by Dazing their creatures or relevant threats.

An argument can certainly be made for Spell Pierce, but I think there are just too many Missteps to make that profitable. Going down to two Daze is probably acceptable; just make sure your blue count is sufficient.

Flusterstorm is another interesting option I would like to try out. Cast NO; opponent Forces: you Force back; they counterspell back; storm at four; you Flusterstorm—seems good.

On the topic of Flusterstorm, in the first round of Top 8 against my third Hive Mind opponent of the day—I think I may have scooped unnecessarily in a counter war that ended with him casting Flusterstorm—copies were flying everywhere. Someone told me I could have won if I had directed my copies correctly, but I still don’t really understand how. I guess I just got a little flustered. If anyone wants to chime in here please do.

My memory is a little foggy, but here is my attempt at a tournament report based on the notes I took.

My number one testing partner and wingman, “Big J” aka Seattle’s Fish Lord informed me the night before that he wasn’t going to attend the tournament and was taking a leave of absence from the game to focus on his classes to get a job at Boeing. As disappointed as I was, I didn’t let Josh know because I supported him in his attempt at growing up and getting off the dole.

This actually ended up being a bonus for me. You see, as competitive as I can be, I approach the game and community as more of a hobby and good time rather than something really serious. So getting up and driving to the tournament solo and not being concerned with my friends’ results or what cards they needed to borrow helped me focus more on what I needed to do each round, each game, each play. I was more focused and less detracted than usual.

R1: Hive Mind—Joe Mabbet

I did let one local player, Joe “the back stabber” Mabbet (just kidding, Joe, you know I love ya ;), borrow my Hive Mind deck, and wouldn’t you know it. Out of 182 people we got paired round one, and Joe proceeded to beat me in a close match. We did the math on it, and it was about half a percentage chance that we got paired together.

Little did I know this would be the first of six matches against Hive Mind, three of which were in the Top 8. What the other Hive Mind players did not know was that this was my first time playing against the deck, and I was learning on the fly. In fact, this was the first time I had played the RUG version of Natural Order in anything resembling a real tournament.

Granted I previously had played NO Bant extensively and am a bit of a Legacy veteran; yet the intricacies of the matchups were still unknown to me. This caused me to slow down my play a bit and make me think through the lines more diligently.

After our match, Joe proceeded to bring me up to speed on how to play against it better, but it really wasn’t until the end of the Swiss when I sat down with another local ringer James Nguyen that he helped me optimize my sideboarding—good thing because I played three Hive Mind matches in the Top 8 before losing in the finals.

Because of that first round loss, I ended up having to play out the rest of my matches for the day. My notes were minimal, and I forgot what one of my opponents played, but here is what I do recall. Please don’t hesitate to correct the record and add any notable plays in the posts.

R2: Hive Mind

The match went to three games. I believe he mulliganed game one, and I Cliqued him with Force backup, winning shortly thereafter. Game two he won easily. Game three I drew all of my disruption, and he had a slow hand.


I can’t remember this one, although it could have been a different round. All I know is I won. Chime in if you can.

R4: U/W Stoneblade

I was knocked out of Top 8 contention against this local Legacy player, whose name I’m embarrassingly forgetting, last time he played after getting triple Stifled. Once I realized he was on U/W Stoneblade, I relaxed, as game one is really hard to lose; Natural Order is a trump in the match. Game 2 I had to play more conservatively, as he may have Wrath or Phyrexian Metamorph. Clique was MVP here, clearing the hate for Natural Order.

R5: Merfolk

This matchup is closer than many believe. Game 1 is in their favor if you don’t have Grim Lavamancer or Fire / Ice maindeck, which I did not. If they gain the tempo, they can often win the race, and Natural Order is really clunky against them. Fortunately for me my opponent missed a Vial trigger, and my Natural Order resolved. I killed him one turn before I was dead on the board to his islandwalking alpha strike. Game 2 I resolved an early Grim Lavamancer and proceeded to destroy his board. He tried for the Metamorph, but I had the Force.

R6: Joe Bono with Aluren

Joe has been making a name for himself as one of the best players in the Northwest, winning States and catching the gravy train. I put him on Hive Mind, as he generally likes to play degenerate combo decks with Force of Will. I was so sure of this that I mulliganed down to four game one only to discover he was on Aluren—insert face slap. My first seven would have lost to either deck, but my six would have given me a better chance to fight it than the four I kept.

Game 2 he faltered, and I had a disruptive hand that gave me the win. I can’t remember much about the details of game 3 other than to say it was one of the best games all day. We fought over resources back and forth. I had to cast Natural Order for Terastodon at one point, but it was neck and neck until he had no choice but to go for the combo unprotected, and I was able to Force. If Joe is out there and you recall any details, let us know.

R7: NO Bant

This one was a nail biter. Game one he rolled me with superior creatures and Jace, just gaining value on me all over the place. Game 2 I managed to win the Natural Order battle and Progenitus did his thing. Game 3 was epic. We battled back and forth with my Submerges against his Bant creatures. I was setting up a Natural Order and Cliqued him; he Brainstormed in response, and I took his countermagic. What it came down to was he Brainstormed Progenitus back to cast Natural Order to Legend rule my Progenitus and gain superior board position. Of course what does he topdeck…? PROGENITUS! Sometimes it’s just better to be lucky than good.

R8: Junk with the “chef”

Game 1 an early Progenitus did his thing. Game 2 he kept me off mana and beat me with green dudes while ruining my hand. Game 3 he stuck an early Teeg while I was holding a hand full of Submerges and Natural Order. It was not looking good until I managed to Brainstorm into Bolt for his Teeg. We then battled back and forth over resources while his Confidant drew him cards, getting into a creature battle, which usually favors Junk.

However, I had triple Submerge and set up the perfect kill, six damage to end his day—Bolt you, Submerge Knight with the Confidant trigger on the stack.

Free spells are sooooo good! NO RUG really requires Submerge to be competitive against Junk and Zoo.

Top 8—or how I managed to get paired against Hive Mind…three times in a row!

The Top 8 was a blur of Hive Minds—but thankfully I figured out how to optimally sideboard against it by then.

Game one they are favored pretty strongly unless they have to mulligan or run bad or if you happen to resolve both Clique and Force on their mediocre hand. Post sideboard you have the advantage with REBs and Extractions, and possibly Jace or the fourth Clique as well. However, as you can observe from game 3 of the finals, they can also draw the nut flush and push their combo through before you can set up.

Ben wrote a good report so I won’t belabor the details, but I made a couple of mistakes in the first game that may have cost me the match. He’s also a very good player who understood the intricacies of the deck. I will say that on that day, I believe the two best decks made it to the finals.

The format was not prepared for Hive Mind and has underestimated NO RUG. Both decks are able to force the opponent to react to spells which end the game very quickly, while simultaneously packing a fair amount of disruption. They also can attack from multiple angles.

Natural Order can cast its namesake or play a beatdown tempo game. Hive Mind can combo off or cast Show and Tell Emrakul. On the subject of Show and Tell, many have already started calling for its banning. I agree that if any card deserves to be on a watch list, Show and Tell fits the bill, but Legacy is a complex system that moves slower than other formats in its evolution.

There wasn’t a single copy of Show and Tell in the main deck of any of the top 16 decks last week, which should be enough to at least question this kneejerk reaction. The real problem, and the beauty of the format as well, is that it’s simply too diverse to hate out all of the competitive strategies. This is the fundamental reason why a new combo deck like Hive Mind, which finds a gap in the metagame and is both powerful and consistent, will crush until players adapt.

As someone who does not regularly play eleven rounds of Magic, I was certainly mentally exhausted by the finals. Game 3 I don’t think I could have played any differently. And there you have it; my run was over—so close!

Winning would have been sweet and so would the extra cash, but it still feels great finally make it to the finals of what for me is about the closest it gets to a championship.

After the event, Gavin asked me if I was attending the Invitational… Well, no, I mean, I haven’t given it any thought. It’s half Legacy, half Standard, right? What’s December like in North Carolina? Can’t be worse than Seattle. It turns out my $600 in prize money covers flight and hotel to North Carolina. While I’m no Brad Nelson, I think I may just have to learn Standard for the first time since Homelands. I’ll see you there!