Tying The Room Together: RUG Delver In Atlanta

Prepare for the SCG Legacy Open in Cincinnati this weekend by reading about Ryan Overturf’s RUG Delver deck that he took to a 7-1 finish at the SCG Invitational in Atlanta.

I’ve been playing quite a bit of Legacy lately. I try to make it out to the Thursday night event at Monster Den in Minneapolis every week at the very least. On top of that, you can usually find me playing in at least one SCG Open Series every month.

Most Legacy players praise the format for its diversity and openness, but I’m an advocate of finding which deck fits your play style best and sticking with it. I play RUG Delver almost exclusively. I do appreciate the diversity of what I play against in the format, but what I like about Legacy, particularly about playing RUG, is that I never feel like I’m playing in an unwinnable matchup.

Given that my desire is to be able to compete against a very wide range of decks, I try to maintain a list featuring cards with very wide applications, making as few concessions to specific matchups as possible. The following is the list that I played to a 7-1 finish in the Legacy portion of the SCG Invitational in Atlanta:

Tormod’s Crypt was far and away the card that I was least happy with in this list. It’s very important to have when playing against Reanimator, Dredge, or Lands, but these decks tend to teeter on the fringe of playability and are not something that you will play against in every tournament. Currently, I am experimenting with a miser’s copy of Surgical Extraction over the third Crypt, which I heard is pretty good against U/W Control with miracles. Games in that matchup tend to go very long, and I must say that not having to worry about further Terminus or Counterbalance after the first finds its way to the graveyard seems quite strong.

For the record, I am firmly against bringing Surgical Extraction in against the mirror. I would consider expecting to Wasteland a Tropical Island and Extracting it in a way that actually locks your opponent out of the game to be…let’s say ambitious. I can certainly point to matches where my opponent brought it in and had it sit dead in their hand while I killed them very easily.

The maindeck configuration is about exactly where I want to be. There are a few card choices that I see other players make that differ from my list that I would like to address.

Four Stifle for Life

I’m finding it harder and harder to respect the Stifle-less build of RUG Delver. The card dramatically improves a number of matchups, and I’m not even referring to the times when you just Stifle their fetches and stop them from playing Magic. Stifle is insanely powerful against a lot of strategies right now.

Goblins has been seeing a lot of play lately, and Stifle just embarrasses the deck. Nearly every card in their deck is only playable because of some triggered ability. Goblin Matron, Goblin Ringleader, and Siege-Gang Commander are all just lousy without their triggers resolving, not to mention that Stifle can functionally Time Walk either ability on an Aether Vial. You even get to counter their only good removal spell by Stifling Gempalm Incinerator. Knowing what to Stifle and when to do it against Goblins makes the matchup extremely favorable.

Then there’s Maverick, which is basically activated ability.dec. We all know that Mother of Runes is a major problem that must be answered. That’s mostly why you see lists with Forked Bolt over Fire / Ice. Being able to just Stifle the ability makes it so that you don’t have to have the turn 1 kill for Mom every time, which in turn makes more of your opening hands better against a wider range of matchups. Stifling Umezawa’s Jitte can also just be an insane blowout.

And don’t even get me started on U/W Control. How can you possibly beat this deck playing RUG without Stifle? If they just draw lands, then in all likelihood all of their miracle spells will be Daze and Spell Pierce proof. Do you really want to need to have the Force for every miracle? Not to mention that Stifling Top is one of very few outs that you have to an active Counterbalance.


If this card isn’t in your Delver list, I think that you’re doing something wrong. It’s not good against most combo decks and is pretty miserable against Burn, but it’s an all-star against creature-based decks. Winning Tarmogoyf mirrors and killing Knight of the Reliquary is awesome.

The other thing that I like about Dismember is that it’s going to be better than Lightning Bolt in many of the odd situations that you encounter in Legacy. I have used it a number of times to kill creatures when my opponent had Counterbalance-Top or Chalice of the Void on one. It’s also great when your opponent plays some obnoxiously large creature like Jotun Grunt. Dismember constantly finds new ways to impress me.

Three Daze

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Daze is a miserable Magic card. If your opponent draws reasonably, they will be able to play around it most of the time. It is the card that I pitch to Force of Will more than any other. Most of the time you just don’t want to draw it. You can’t cut it because you need your opponent to play with the fear of Daze which generates you tempo, but you definitely need to be ready to shuffle a lot of them away with Brainstorm.

I find it very strange that people have been playing four copies of Daze. Is it to have more counterspells against combo? Because Ancient Tomb sure makes a joke of that strategy. It’s going to be good when fighting an actual drawn-out counter war, but playing a card that’s only good when it backs up other cards is pretty loose. For the most part, your opponent will have the time and mana to play around it.

Speaking of cards that are pretty loose…

Cut Thought Scour

Thought Scour is adorable. I mean, I love Mental Note, I really do, but its time has passed. Thought Scour was really good in Standard Delver because you had cards that helped you play out of the graveyard and the mana to cast it along with other spells on the same turn. In RUG Delver, it’s just a random card that sometimes provides you some synergy.

The thing that really gets me about Thought Scour is that with mana being as tight as it is in RUG Delver, you will frequently have to choose between casting Thought Scour and another spell. Specifically, you will have to decide whether to Spell Pierce something or Thought Scour to get more information about what you’ll be able to do on future turns.

Yes, I understand that Thought Scour plays well with Ponder and Brainstorm, but this requires you to tie up two mana for these spells some portion of the time. This may sound like a minor issue, but when your deck is a grip of undercosted spells trying to win before your opponent can go over the top, it’s really a big deal.

Not to mention that having fewer "cantrips" gives you room for more business. Back when I played Scour, it was always the first card that I boarded out, and I’m extremely confused about the trend of people playing MORE copies. Playing three mere cantrips is an invitation for greater variance.

Cut Forked Bolt, Too

When I was relatively inexperienced with the Maverick matchup, I played two copies of Forked Bolt. I believed this to be a necessary concession, but over time I’ve found the Maverick matchup to be very favorable. In my early experience with the matchup, I would make stupid mistakes like Lightning Bolting a turn 1 Hierarch, and this was just wrong most of the time.

I’m honestly not sure what has led the community at large to the conclusion that Maverick is favored against RUG, but I have found this is not the case. If I am correct in saying that Maverick is a favorable matchup, then there is not much reason to play Forked Bolt (or god forbid Chain Lightning) over Fire / Ice, which pitches to Force of Will and cantrips when it isn’t needed. 

Aside on Sylvan Library

This week Todd Anderson wrote that Sylvan Library was clutch in his victory. I’m not really convinced. I will grant that I haven’t played the card extensively in RUG, but that is because it performs a role that I feel is unnecessary. Mostly it’s good in matchups that are already favorable.

I think that U/W Control is a close matchup, and I will concede that Library is quite good against it. The reason that I don’t advocate Library is that, as I said early on in this article, I prefer to play cards with wider applications. If you expect to play against U/W Control a lot, which isn’t a terribly unreasonable expectation, then I will not fault you for packing a Library or two.

A Brief Tournament Report

I’m going to be honest: most of my weekend just kind of blended together. I was sharing a room with six other people, and at least two of them snored like it was their job. That in mind, I’m just going to list my record against the various decks that I played against at the SCG Invitational in Atlanta.

Maverick: 3-0 in matches; 6-2 in games

U/W Control: 1-1 in matches; 3-3 in games

RUG mirror: 1-0 in matches; 2-0 in games

Elves: 2-0 in matches; 4-2 in games

Thoughts and Possible Changes

Outside of the U/W Control matchup being closer than I would like, I don’t really have any other complaints about the deck. Like I said, RUG is very strong against most of the popular decks and is capable of competing with all of the fringe decks.

I’m not really sure what the best way to go about beating U/W Control is, but I have a feeling that a Spell Snare or two would go a long way. The majority of the games that they win involve them resolving Counterbalance in my experience, and as far as I can tell it doesn’t really matter if they do this on turn 2 or turn 12. Having access to a hard counter that hits it as well as random Snapcaster Mages seems strong.

As far as what to cut, I’m not entirely certain. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t miss the second Fire / Ice, so that’s something to look at. Spell Snare is pretty good in most of the matchups that Fire is, though it is pretty stinky against Elves. I’m not entirely convinced that a second copy is needed, but time and testing will tell.

While I do find it fun to experiment with the multitude of possible Legacy decks in my free time, I’m of the belief that RUG Delver is where the smart money is at when it comes to high-level competition. I certainly have no intention of putting it down anytime soon.

If you’re not qualified for SCG Invitationals, then you should really do something to change that *cough*JENS ERICKSON *cough.* Traveling the country is a blast, and the weekend is such high EV. The main event is insane, and playing in the Opens is a great fallback plan considering that if you’re qualified for an Invitational you’ve probably traveled specifically for Opens anyway.

To all you young grinders out there, good luck; high five!

Ryan Overturf