Food For Thought: RUG Control

“Izzet seems to have a plethora of win conditions, but it’s slow. Green seems to have a lot of mana acceleration, but not enough ways to win. It saddens me how long it took to figure this combination out.”

Bernie brings us an intriguing deck, working with a long-forgotten Standard tool that was much hyped on release… Thoughts of Ruin. Has it finally found a home?

Izzet seems to have a plethora of win conditions, but it’s slow. Green seems to have a lot of mana acceleration, but not enough ways to win. It saddens me how long it took to figure this combination out. This deck resembles Eminent Domain in some ways, except with Thoughts of Ruin and the addition of Green as an outlet for faster mana and Life From the Loam.

Birds of Paradise – Obviously, Birds of Paradise is good. But in this deck, he is specifically useful because he allows two more pieces of mana acceleration to come down on turn 2. This gives us three land and three other mana sources for turn 3. In short, Birds of Paradise make turn 3 Wildfires possible.

Llanowar Elves – Elves are in here because six copies of Birds of Paradise make your opponent complain. I can’t imagine why…

Gruul/Izzet Signet – Signets are plain incredible when you have turn 1 mana acceleration. Because the signets are able to tap the turn they come into play, with turn 1 Birds or Elves they only actually use one of your mana – you get the other back by tapping it.

Thoughts of Ruin – Nobody’s seen this card play in… well… ever. It was about a six-dollar card when the set came out, because everybody thought there needed to be something good to do with it. Everybody seemed to have forgotten this nuke by the time Life from the Loam came out. The other plus side to this card: it won’t kill Signets, Llanowar Elves, or Birds of Paradise. In other words, you can still have the mana you need to function, when aggro decks are choked and conventional Domain can’t even afford to play Annex!

Wildfire – Nuke. Wildfire is this deck’s response to the Weenie strategy. And the response to Zoo. And the response to Ghazi-Glare. And… yeah, Wildfire is the response to everything, and the biggest nuke in the deck.

Life From the Loam – Loam is in the deck because of the incredible synergy with Wildfire and Thoughts of Ruin. Playing Loam means I can never run out of lands to play when I’m low, and since it can be dredged back to my hand, Gifts Ungiven always fetches it. Because it’s only two mana, I can cast it solely with alternate mana sources if I need to.

Form of the Dragon/Verdant Force/Keiga/Meloku – This is fodder for Gifts Ungiven to fetch. After I’ve blown up the opposing resource base, I can drop any of these beaters for the win. Form of the Dragon is great, because only a few five-power flyers are actually playable. Verdant Force enables me to win by sitting still or beating with a huge body. Keiga is a big flyer that is golden when killed… and Meloku is, well, Meloku.

Gifts Ungiven – Searching for a bunch of bombs with this should win you the game, plain and simple. Because of the mana acceleration, you can usually cast this at the end of your turn 3, and hopefully drop your bomb on turn 4. There’s a very good reason that Gifts Ungiven is the most expensive Blue card in Standard.

Naturalize – Playing artifact hate is a must… but this has a dual purpose. A glaring dual purpose. Pun intended.

Land Base – In this deck, there are eighteen sources of Red mana (from ten land), sixteen sources of Green mana (from twelve land), and ten sources of Blue mana (from six land). This is a good balance, because you only need one Blue mana for any given card… but Form of the Dragon has a heavy Red commitment, and Verdant Force is similar in Green. I also tend to make Green more available through land, rather than Signets and the like, for the sake of turn 1 mana acceleration.

Mulligans – This is one of those things that most articles tend to not mention, but are very important if you actually plan on playing the deck or something similar. You should mulligan if:

You have zero, seven, or six lands in your hand (obviously)
You have nothing other than land and mana acceleration.
You have one land and only one (or less) piece of mana acceleration.
You have two land, one piece of mana acceleration or less, and no Thoughts of Ruin or Gifts Ungiven.
You draw more than two of the cards with single copies in the deck (Keiga, Meloku).

If you ever have Life from the Loan, Thoughts of Ruin, and a way to get at least two mana, keep the hand no matter what.

What Makes this Deck Fly?

The main goal of the deck is to cast Thoughts of Ruin or Wildfire and blow up a bunch of opposing lands. Then, you want to set up shop and find a win condition, via conventional drawing or fetching with Gifts Ungiven. Cast the bomb, and win.

The plan works because after you’ve dropped a land-nuke, decks shouldn’t ever be able to afford things costing over three mana. All the best bombs (including Loxodon Hierarch, Rumbling Slum, Ghost Council or Orzhova, and Gifts Ungiven) cost four or more, which means you can suppress the section of your deck that will cause you much damage. Also, if your nuke is Wildfire, you’ve cleared the board of pretty much any creature there is (assuming you played it turn 4). They’ve tapped out to play a Hierarch or Council, so they won’t have the mana to sacrifice the elephant or save the Orzhov beatstick.

Even if they somehow blow up two of your win conditions, you still have the power to stall out, with Life of the Loam and land-kill, until you draw another. This deck clicks because there is mass destruction, and it’s faster than the destruction everybody else can play.


“Conventional” Eminent Domain – This deck wins because it is simply faster. Using a Naturalize to stop a Signet or Annex makes them unable to get going. You having Life from the Loam, meaning you win after Wildfires. Even if they can play Wildfire first, you should still win because of Loam. Also, you can use the Legend rule to negate their Keiga or Meloku and then drop your own bomb for the win… if they somehow come across enough mana to cast theirs in the first place.

-2 Llanowar Elves
+2 Mana Leak

Llanowar Elf won’t be as important here, because you should still be faster with Signets and Birds of Paradise. Mana Leaks are useful for dealing with Annex, or their bombs (if they get enough mana).

This should be a relatively solid win, about 60-40 to 65-35 in your favor, depending on the exact build you’re facing.

Ghazi-Glare – Another good reason I have Naturalize. This is going to be one of your worst matchups, depending on the build you’re facing. If the build is more a G/W Aggro with Glare and a few tokens, you’ll have more trouble than against a more controlling mass token strategy. Mass token builds tend to rely on waiting, which plays into your hands. If they take five turns getting set up with tokens, you can freely cast Wildfire (hell, you’ve even had time to fetch it with Gifts Ungiven!) and clear out those tokens. Otherwise, you can play Thoughts of Ruin and make them unable to cast large spells like Yosei (or Doubling Season) etc. Your Naturalizes kill their Glares, and as their tokens don’t fly, this makes Form of the Dragon a complete win condition… just beware the big dragons if you think they’ll hit play.


You don’t need sideboard in this matchup, as you’ll need the maindeck cards exclusively. In all honesty, this deck has the most useful tools against Ghazi-Glare already in it. Naturalize, to kill their win condition, and Wildfire, to kill everything else, means that much of this matchup will depend on the draw. Thoughts of Ruin won’t win this matchup, unfortunately… but Wildfire will.

About 50-50 to 55-45 in your favor (just barely).

The Zoo (weenie version) – There are a bunch of different builds of the Zoo, but they appear to have two main approaches. One is more weenie-based, the other more Hierarch/Slum oriented. For the weenie deck, you need to throw down as much mana as you can, as fast as you can, to cast a Wildfire or a win condition.

-4 Thoughts of Ruin
+4 Tin Street Hooligan

Hooligan will kill Umezawa’s Jitte with alacrity, allowing a tempo swing in your favor. The card advantage given by destroying a Jitte and a making a creature with just one card is incredible… especially since you can make him and a signet on turn 2, giving five mana for the next turn. Thoughts of Ruin won’t really help enough against a deck where two land can play most of the cards, so it can be spared for this match. Either Wildfire wins, or playing a win condition by turn 4 or 5 wins… both of which are doable.

This should be about 50-50 to 55-45 your favor.

The Zoo (Bigger Beats version) – This build is a much better matchup for the RUG, because you can hopefully drop a land killer before they can drop anything too big. The only real problem is if the Zoo goes first and has a turn four Rumbling Slum. When this happens, don’t bother with Wildfire – skip straight to playing a win condition, namely Form of the Dragon or Verdant Force. Loxodon Hierarch is Wildfire fodder when they tap out, along with everything else in the deck except the Slum.

-4 Naturalize
+4 Tin-Street Hooligan

In this matchup, enchantments aren’t played, so artifact destruction for Jittes and Signets will be far better. There’s also the little matter of the “free” 2/1 creature. Hooligan is good for eliminating those pesky Isamarus and Savannah Lions at card advantage, just like in the weenie version. However, this matchup gives even more time for Wildfire and other nukes, making it far easier than the one-drop heavy version.

Overall, 65-35 in your favor.

Chaos Theory by Michael Grubb– This shouldn’t be too hard a match for the RUG, because of the absence of one-drops and the lack of two-drops. During this time, you can be dumping down acceleration for a turn 3 Thoughts of Ruin or a turn 4 Wildfire. Blowing up land against a deck with just seven cards under three mana – two of which are Otherworldly Journeys – is simply devastating.


No sideboarding is required, because the only real problems you can have are not getting turn 3 Thoughts of Ruin or turn 4 Wildfire. Of course, this is not changed by the sideboard. There aren’t any artifacts to kill, so Hooligan and Spree won’t really help, and you’ll never need to counter anything if you blow it all up instead. [Is Shattering Spree strictly necessary in the sideboard, with Naturalize and Hooligan available? — Craig] Even with twenty-four land (two-fifths of the deck), you shouldn’t see them with more than six before around fifteen cards have passed through their hands… otherwise known as turn 9! Blowing up three lands tends to end this game in a hurry.

Overall, 70-30. A solid matchup.

This whole deck was made to beat “normal” Eminent Domain in the beginning, because figuring out the metagame is critically important. Obtaining the knowledge to beat your opponents is half the battle. The other half is beating them. Now you’ve seen how to beat the “best deck in Standard,” so go out and do it!

Bernie Makino