Pulling The RUG Out From Under Them

Building a good RUG deck is hard to do! With Birthing Pod you have to find the best curve and the right bullets. Fortunately, Jon Agley has this ready version of RUG TwinPod for your tournaments coming up, whether at Nats or FNM.

Our beloved Standard format has evolved, and, thanks to the recent bannings in Standard, we no longer see Caw-Blade at the top tables of every tournament.

And then our dream ends, echoing the oft-abused creative writer’s trope, and we find ourselves, once again, at the beck and call of a U/W Pseudo-Aggro deck named after a seagull.

But I agree with Patrick Chapin argument that this time, things can be different. That sentiment doesn’t mean that knocking Squadron Hawk from its lofty throne will be easy—it just means that they don’t have quite the same overwhelming advantage that they did before. Speaking in terms of a League of Legends metaphor: this time, their Singed has connection problems and will be gone for the first two minutes of the game. That’s our opportunity, minimal though it is, and we need to strike.

Prior to Australian Nationals, I had been tinkering with a RUG-style deck that was a little bit “too cute.” It was fundamentally an Eldrazi Green deck, with the usual trappings of Primeval Titan, some acceleration, Summoning Trap, and a few world-devouring game-enders, although I was splashing blue for Preordain and Mana Leak. I borrowed this concept from the evolution of Tooth and Nail decks during the original Mirrodin Block Constructed season (which are analogous to the modern Eldrazi Green decks). These decks initially were mono-green, and then splashed red for additional removal (i.e., Electrostatic Bolt), and then added blue for countermagic (i.e., Condescend) which, at the time, also functioned as a means of ensuring card quality.

The G/u Eldrazi deck was functioning on a reasonable level, though I found that control decks often were able to restrict my access to Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple through judicious application of Tectonic Edge and Spreading Seas. My solution was to include a few R/G dual lands in the main deck, with two Mountains, four Deceiver Exarchs, and four Splinter Twins in the board… and…

That worked out about as well as one might imagine, which is to say… not at all.

And then came Australian Nationals, which Aaron Nicoll won with a very sassy version of RUG Pod.

This was what I actually wanted to be doing when I was casting Primeval Titans. It isn’t purely a dedicated combo deck, but it has explosive potential. It isn’t a dedicated aggro deck, but it certainly can come out of the gates quickly.

I began playing with and tweaking the deck and came up with the following general principles for a Pod-style deck:

We need to identify what roles our singleton/tutor cards will play, and, in the case of the Pod deck, we also need to ensure that these cards’ casting costs are diverse. In Aaron’s deck, we see cards filling the following roles:

Artifact/Enchantment Removal:

In a format filled with Tempered Steel, Splinter Twin, and various other artifacts (Sword of Feast and Famine and nearly every card in the niche U/B Tezz deck), it is important to address these types of cards. Aaron runs a singleton Acidic Slime at the five spot, with a single copy of both Oxidda Scrapmelter and Sylvok Replica in his sideboard. While I like the Sylvok Replica a lot, I think that another card might better supplant Oxidda Scrapmelter: Master Thief. At first, I relegated him to the sideboard, but after stealing Birthing Pods, Swords of Feast and Famine, and sundry other artifacts, I think that he deserves a spot in the main deck. He is weak to removal, true, but many of the decks against which he is strong cannot easily address him.

Defense against Aggressive Decks:

Tuktuk the Explorer is by far the most impressive card in this slot. I played against Tuktuk in a Naya Birthing Pod list at the Louisville StarCityGames.com Open several months ago, and it was very effective. In addition to providing an excellent and irritating blocker, our errant Goblin can “work our way up the chain” (as the “cool Pod players” call it), and there aren’t many creatures outside of the Titan cycle that can deal with a 5/5 (note: Lightning Bolt and Go for the Throat don’t address him, though he is susceptible to Dismember). The other sideboarded options comprise the usual remedies for “Aggro Fever┢” at the four- and six-slots (Obstinate Baloth and Wurmcoil Engine).

This leaves us with Molten-Tail Masticore. Honestly, when I began testing the list, I cut the Masticore almost immediately, with a clichéd and misinformed “what is this, 1999?” I soon realized that this deck sometimes absolutely, positively needs to remove a creature (here’s looking at you, Hero of Bladehold), and the Masticore is one of the deck’s only ways to deal direct damage.

Utility/Coherence in the Pod Chain:

Although my initial impression of maindecking Spellskite in Standard wasn’t favorable, much has changed in the format since May, and I think that it’s a very reasonable card given the prevalence of Splinter Twin decks, and the fact that it can turn into a Deceiver Exarch puts it over the top. Solemn Simulacrum is a decent role-player (and obviously is a card that we don’t mind sacrificing to Birthing Pod), but I found that I never was “chomping at the bit” to search for a second copy, although it’s important to retain a number of cards that cost four mana. We might find Phyrexian Metamorph to be a reasonable replacement, as it is either the largest creature on the battlefield, a piece of equipment, or, in rare cases, a trump card to deal with a Legendary creature (though don’t copy Tuktuk the Explorer to get two 5/5 tokens—the tokens are legendary as well!).

Phantasmal Image is a “must include” two-cost card, as it turns all of your Birds of Paradise into the best creature on the battlefield, and if we copy something that has a comes-into-play or leaves-play ability, then we don’t feel the “illusion” drawback as keenly. Finally, Urabrask the Hidden lets us win with a Deceiver Exarch on the turn that we play it, and prevents other Twin players from winning on the turn that they cast Splinter Twin, though it only stalls them for a turn (they can create copies on our end step).

Mana-Producers and Finishers:

Aside from the obvious inclusion of four copies of Deceiver Exarch, Aaron uses Frost Titan as a finisher (over competitors such as Consecrated Sphinx and Inferno Titan). Given the slight resurgence in planeswalker activity and three-toughness threats (here’s looking at you, Emeria Angel), it may be the case that a choice between Inferno Titan and Frost Titan is warranted when one activates Birthing Pod on a 5cc creature.

Aaron’s deck uses four Birds of Paradise and four Overgrown Battlement as means of acceleration in addition to low-casting-cost fuel for Birthing Pod. While Overgrown Battlement is a fine card against aggressive strategies like Vampires and Goblins, it is fairly weak against Caw-Blade and Splinter Twin, which seem to be the two dominant strategies in the current format. In addition, it only has the capability to produce green mana in a deck with a variety of mana requirements (i.e., double red on Splinter Twin). As such, and given the deck’s mana base (which includes eight “fetchlands”), I have found Lotus Cobra to be an excellent replacement that provides increased utility.

With the addition of the other mana-producing creatures and this revised list of targets, our list of creatures looks like this:

4 Birds of Paradise

2 Spellskite
4 Lotus Cobra
1 Phantasmal Image

4 Deceiver Exarch
1 Tuktuk the Explorer

1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Molten-Tail Masticore
1 Master Thief

1 Acidic Slime
1 Urabrask the Hidden

1 Frost Titan
1 Inferno Titan

With the addition of the deck’s shell (four copies of Splinter Twin, three of Birthing Pod, four of Preordain, and one of Ponder), we have ourselves a revised main deck.

I think that Aaron developed a very strong sideboard, although we might consider a few changes. First, given the current metagame preference for Caw-Blade over U/W Control or U/B Control, Thrun, the Last Troll isn’t really where we want to be right now. In addition, given that Tempered Steel arguably is the most-played and fastest aggressive deck in the format, we might consider a card like Creeping Corrosion to act as a pseudo-Day of Judgment. Because we now have a four-cost answer to artifacts in our main deck, we can cut Oxidda Scrapmelter as well. This leaves us with the following deck:

Typically, I have struggled to sideboard properly with a deck like this one because there are so many choices (i.e., if we’re bringing in three cards, there is a lot more variability in terms of what we can remove than there would be in a deck like Vampires, where most cards appear as a three- or four-of). As such, though I’ll share my sideboarding plans here, they are tentative—in many cases, sideboarding should depend on your experiences within a match (Hero Blade is a much different deck from Caw-Blade in terms of sideboarding, for example).

Versus Tempered Steel:

+3 Creeping Corrosion, +3 Pyroclasm, +2 Nature’s Claim, +1 Sylvok Replica, +1 Wurmcoil Engine

– 2 Spellskite, -1 Frost Titan, -1 Urabrask the Hidden, -1 Solemn Simulacrum, -1 Phyrexian Metamorph, -2 Deceiver Exarch, -1 Ponder, -1 Splinter Twin

Versus U/R Twin:

+1 Spellskite, +1 Sylvok Replica, +3 Mana Leak, +2 Nature’s Claim

– 1 Master Thief, -1 Tuktuk the Explorer, -1 Solemn Simulacrum, -1 Inferno Titan, -1 Phantasmal Image, -1 Acidic Slime, -1 Lotus Cobra

Versus Vampires or Mono-Red:

+1 Spellskite, +1 Wurmcoil Engine, +1 Obstinate Baloth, +3 Pyroclasm (situational)

-1 Master Thief, -1 Frost Titan, -1 Acidic Slime, -1 Deceiver Exarch, -1 Splinter Twin, -1 Phantasmal Image

Versus Caw-Blade:

+3 Mana Leak, +2 Nature’s Claim (very situational)

-1 Tuktuk the Explorer, -2 Spellskite, -2 Other (situational, depending on their build)

While I expect the five decks noted above to be the most prevalent decks at Standard tournaments in the next few weeks, including US Nationals, it is important for us to understand that there is a tremendous amount of variety within archetypes at the moment, and that the way in which we prepare for games two and three with our sideboard depends not only on a prescribed game plan, but also on the way that our opponent has been playing (i.e., is he overly aggressive? Extremely conservative?), the specific card choices that he has in his deck and that he might have in his sideboard, and our own comfort with a matchup.

I don’t think that RUG-Pod is the “best deck,” but it has the power and potential to beat the other decks in the format, and the ability to run a number of tutorable creatures means that it often is a difficult deck against which to play. Because of the immediacy of the Deceiver Exarch/Splinter Twin combo, it also has a stronger matchup against some of the format’s heavy-hitters than might a RUG-style deck without Deceiver Exarch.

Whether you pick up the list for a Nationals grinder, for Nationals itself, or for an FNM next week—enjoy! This is an incredibly fun deck to pilot, and it was a fun deck to test.