RUG In The New Standard

Here to break open Daybreak Ranger’s potential in Standard is the DailyMTG Building on a Budget columnist and SCGLive commentator, Jacob Van Lunen. This deck is designed to take down SCG Open: Nashville this weekend.

I’ve been playing a good amount of new Standard matches lately, and I believe that I’ve stumbled upon one of the better decks. It all started when I played a few matches against Brad Nelson Naya deck. I was piloting my current Humans build, but Daybreak Ranger was proving herself to be an impossible hurdle to overcome. However, I was able to gain a big advantage in games where I slowrolled a Dismember for Brad’s end step after he had passed the turn with no play in hopes of flipping his Daybreak Ranger.

A few games of getting stomped by Daybreak Ranger were enough for the new Innistrad rare to win my heart. I’m fully convinced that an unmolested Daybreak Ranger will dominate U/W Blade, Puresteel, Tempered Steel, W/X Humans, and Illusions. I began evaluating my decks by their ability to most effectively transform and protect Daybreak Ranger. The card dominates most matchups to such an extent that you want to build your deck in such a way that you utilize the card to its fullest potential.

Daybreak Ranger was powerful enough to make appearances in G/W decks that splash red, G/R aggro decks, and even some Jund colored lists. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that Daybreak Ranger fits most effectively in blue decks.

I wanted to build a RUG list that played a lot of countermagic. I imagined passing the turn with a Daybreak Ranger in play, flipping the Ranger, killing one of my opponent’s creatures, and countering the spell they try to play. After a bit of playtesting it becomes clear that Daybreak Ranger is most effective when played in a deck with a lot of instants. You want to get full value out of your fight mechanic. In order to do so, you’re going to be passing the turn with no play a lot of the time. We’re obviously going to end up in a rough spot if we keep passing the turn with no play and we don’t have any spells for our opponents’ turns. We can help mitigate this problem by playing a healthy dose of instant-speed removal, countermagic, or burn.

Werewolves are strange in Constructed play. Daybreak Ranger is probably the most playable of all the Werewolves. Even if your opponent is able to cast two spells in a single turn, they’re still going to end up behind. Remember, you can still use the fight mechanic during your upkeep before the Daybreak Ranger becomes Human again.

Let’s get on to the decklist:


The first RUG deck I put together had a few problems. I was playing five six-mana creatures (three Consecrated Sphinx and two Inferno Titan). Brad suggested that I try to play with a few copies of Sword of Feast and Famine, and I was instantly impressed with the sword’s strength when it played alongside cards like Daybreak Ranger, Snapcaster Mage, and Thrun, the Last Troll. After a few matches, I had decided on the above decklist.

Thrun has an obvious strength in the Sword-carrying business, but Snapcaster Mage shouldn’t be underestimated. I won a lot of games in the old Extended format by flashing in a Spellstutter Sprite when my opponent was tapped out; I’d equip an Umezawa’s Jitte and get in for some free card/life/tempo advantage.

Daybreak Ranger is also very good at carrying a sword. A Sword of Feast and Famine on a Daybreak Ranger allows her to fight a Grave Titan and emerge unscathed. Consecrated Sphinx meets the same demise. It’s actually quite relevant for a deck like RUG to have an effective answer to Grave Titan and Consecrated Sphinx. In the past, those cards have been KOs for any RUG deck. Sure, assembling a Nightfall Predator with a Sword of Feast and Famine isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish, but it’s a lot better than auto-losing.

Originally, I had a combination of Galvanic Blast and Shock where I now have the Geistflames. Geistflame is quickly proving itself to be very powerful in the new Standard metagame. It effectively mitigates the card advantage granted by Snapcaster Mage when drawn in the correct ratios. The burn spell is most effective against decks that play cards like Llanowar Elves, Birds of Paradise, or Avacyn’s Pilgrim. Geistflame is even good against Tempered Steel decks.

The one major issue with Geistflame is that it’s pretty bad against Puresteel/Mentor hybrid decks. This wouldn’t have been much of an issue, but Puresteel/Mentor of the Meek hybrid decks were some of the most talked about decks in Standard prior to SCG Open: Indianapolis last weekend. Luckily, decks built around Puresteel Paladin didn’t perform very well, and the Geistflames look really tight.

Azure Mage was a late addition. I found that I wanted more sword targets in my deck, and I felt that previous incarnations of the deck were a bit soft in the control matchups.

The recent Standard Open event in Indianapolis helps us paint a clearer picture of the metagame. At first glance it looks like aggressive strategies dominated the field. The success of Mono-Red is a huge problem for the above decklist. Shrine of Burning Rage is particularly deadly if we only have a single copy of Ancient Grudge in the maindeck.

Control decks are also more defined. We now have solid decklists for Solar Flare, U/W Control, and U/B Control which we can use to refine our strategy against a random field.

Sword of Feast and Famine is weaker in the format than expected. Everyone seems to be playing a lot of instant-speed removal. Geistflame in particular is more popular than I expected. This makes it extremely difficult to suit up a Snapcaster Mage.

Removing the Sword of Feast and Famine allows us to take out a lot of the creatures that might have otherwise been necessary.

The difficult control matchup is also troublesome. Solar Flare decks can play a draw-go game and wait until they’re out of Mana Leak range to start applying pressure. I wanted to have a better draw-go plan against control opponents.

I found a few RUG decklists that had top 32’ed the event. I was particularly impressed with Michael Pozsgay’s take on the RUG archetype. Pozsgay may not be the most savory personality, but his decklists are usually well-developed and powerful.

I was surprised to see Desperate Ravings in a deck that didn’t play Burning Vengeance, but a few games with the deck were enough to make me a believer. Desperate Ravings may be more powerful than Think Twice with four copies of Snapcaster Mage and a healthy dose of flashback spells. However, I wanted seven of these spells in my list, and I felt that I’d rather play four copies of Think Twice to avoid awkward scenarios where I’m unable to use an instant-speed card draw spell in the early game because I fear losing my only land or only counterspell.

I decided to play two copies of Ancient Grudge in the main. If you’re lucky enough to have one of these in your opening hand against Tempered Steel, then the game becomes very difficult to lose. Shrine of Burning Rage is the biggest threat from the red decks; having two copies of Ancient Grudge makes the Shrines look comical, though.

I’m able to play draw-go against virtually anyone with four copies of Think Twice and three copies of Desperate Ravings. Mana Leak and Dissipate ensure that once I get into a draw-go battle, I’m able to out-counter my opponent.

Slagstorm seems like a necessary inclusion now. Indianapolis showcased a lot of swarm-based aggressive strategies at the top tables. A timely Slagstorm will usually be enough to put these decks on their heels.

We’re already playing Slagstorm and Thrun, the Last Troll. Beast Within looks a lot better when you’re able to deal with the tokens very easily. I was also worried that the deck may be light on win conditions. Beast Within allows us to trade our lands in for 3/3s at instant speed in the late game.

Here’s my current decklist:

RUG 10/03/2011

Sideboarding plans:

Against Mono-Red:

-3 Beast Within
-4 Dissipate
-3 Desperate Ravings
+4 Tree of Redemption
+2 Galvanic Blast
+1 Incinerate
+2 Daybreak Ranger
+1 Surgical Extraction

Red decks have a lot of longevity in the new Standard. Chandra’s Phoenix can turn into a problem in the late game. It’s important to have access to a single copy of Surgical Extraction to deal with the Phoenixes once you find yourself in the late game.

Tree of Redemption is the strongest sideboard card available here. It blocks like a champ, and the lifegain becomes really obnoxious for them when they’re trying to squeak in the last few points of damage. Daybreak Ranger can punish opponents who choose to sideboard out all of their Shock effects. Adding a bunch of cheap burn lets us stave off the early beats so we can outmaneuver our opponents in the late game.

Against Tempered Steel:

-4 Dissipate
+2 Ancient Grudge
+2 Daybreak Ranger

Tempered Steel shouldn’t pose much of a problem once you’ve gone up to four copies of Ancient Grudge. Slagstorm is also a nightmare for them, so the matchup goes from being very good in game one to downright awesome in games two and three.

Against Puresteel Paladin:

-3 Geistflame
-4 Slagstorm
+2 Ancient Grudge
+2 Daybreak Ranger
+2 Galvanic Blast
+1 Incinerate

Geistflame isn’t very impressive against most builds of the Puresteel deck. Slagstorm is also very weak here. A strong Puresteel player will never pass the turn with a Paladin at three or less toughness when they’ve already seen Slagstorm in the first game. Going up to four copies of Ancient Grudge makes things very difficult for your opponent.

They’re likely to side out all their copies of Oblivion Ring because your only maindeck targets are Snapcaster Mage and Beast Within tokens. If they don’t have Oblivion Ring, then Daybreak Ranger will make the game unwinnable for them. Just play tight, and this should be a very easy matchup.

Against Humans:

-2 Ancient Grudge
-3 Desperate Ravings
+2 Daybreak Ranger
+2 Galvanic Blast
+1 Incinerate

Humans shouldn’t be a problem as long as you draw a copy of Slagstorm. Geistflame will cause your opponent nightmares. Adding extra cheap burn makes it really difficult for the Human deck to quickly kill you. The deck doesn’t have access to reach like the red deck does, and it’s not unreasonable to take a few hits without using burn spells if you’ve got a Slagstorm in hand. There is one exception, however; Champion of the Parish can get out of burn range quickly, and it’s important that you use a burn spell on him right away.

Against control:

-4 Slagstorm
+1 Negate
+3 Surgical Extraction

Control decks will have nightmares trying to play a draw-go game against you. Geistflame should ensure that you win the Snapcaster Mage war, and you should be able to grind your opponent out of the game without too much trouble. Surgical Extraction is especially strong against Solar Flare decks. Extracting a Sun Titan will often leave their deck neutered and unable to function properly.

RUG control is, in my opinion, one of the most powerful strategies available in the current Standard. Daybreak Ranger’s full potential surely hasn’t been tapped yet. The combination of card advantage, countermagic, and cheap removal is a great answer to anything the current Standard format can throw at you. The versatility of Beast Within allows the deck to compete very favorably against a random field. Try out the above decklist! I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.