Let's take a break from Modern for a little Legacy this week, mkay?
An interesting stage has been set for the Grand Prix Washington DC. Yes, Sneak and Show left the SCG Invitational as the Deck to Beat, but that's fine because the deck is eminently beatable. In fact, this would've just been another standard Legacy cycle, with a combo deck's success giving rise to a run of fair decks, if it weren't for one particular Merfolk Rogue wrench.
It's not that I think the Nemesis is broken or anything like that—but it is especially good against a lot of the decks that beat Sneak and Show, and it becomes even more powerful depending upon its supporting cast. Death and Taxes can race it, albeit with difficulty, but as soon as the 3/1 starts packing serious heat—Jitte, Batterskull, almost any Sword—the fight is all but over. RUG Delver, with its Nimble Mongooses and Tarmogoyfs? Please. The Nemesis can lock up the ground until its controller finds a game-breaking piece of Equipment.
I wanted to be casting True-Name Nemesis in DC, and I wanted to be doing so with a plan for beating players doing the same. The most interesting twist to this plan was that Magic Online—the primary tool I use to play Magic given my robust travel schedule and tendency to take off my pants when I'm thinking—wouldn't have Nemesis available until weeks after the Grand Prix was in the books.
I moved on.
After watching Jacob Wilson and Ricky Sidher tear open two different Legacy Opens with the same RUG Delver list, I found myself very interested in that deck. I examined it, played a ton of matches on Magic Online, and was really impressed. It was fun, interesting, and very powerful—it was a completely different kind of Magic for me, as I'd spent most of my time on Magic Online playing Maverick, Stoneblade, or piles of junk.
I wanted to play RUG Delver or something like it in DC.
Now, many of the smarter cookies in the audience are probably already scrolling down to post a treatise on why True-Name Nemesis, a three-mana pseudo Tarmogoyf, doesn't belong in the land-light RUG Delver deck with its Wastelands and Dazes and lots and lots of counterspells and Stifles.
I knew I couldn't jam Nemesis into my RUG Delver deck because it wouldn't fit. That deck already has cards for that job, and they operate much more effectively in the RUG Delver shell than Nemesis did. So I started looking for decks that are "like" RUG Delver but that can afford to play Nemesis. I started with U/R Delver, and I immediately took a shine to it. I've had some success with the deck before online and in real life, and Young Pyromancer was an excellent substitute for RUG's durable threats against many opposing fair decks.
When Osyp Lebedowicz made it to the finals of the Legacy Championship during Eternal Weekend with a U/R Delver list that trades in Chain Lightning, Price of Progress, and Snapcaster Mage for True-Name Nemesis, Stifles, and Wastelands, I knew I'd been on the right track. The decklist looked solid—almost exactly like what I had envisioned—and I figured my work was likely done. I started battling with the deck, using a similar list online and playing proxied-up games with players at home.
Sadly, I wasn't thrilled.
Don't get me wrong—Osyp built a good deck. However, I'd been doing the equivalent of hard liquor with my RUG Delver deck. This was like scaling back to a few light beers before bedtime. The deck was solid and played very fair Magic, but it was actually playing too fair. I didn't like my combo matchups with just Delver of Secrets for an aggressive one-drop, and while Stoneforge Mystic wasn't as scary, I felt that opposing Nemesis in conjunction with Stoneforge Mystic would be really bad for me. Worst of all, many of the cards that were good against True-Name Nemesis—Toxic Deluge, Golgari Charm, Supreme Verdict—would clean up Young Pyromancer and all of his tokens as well. I didn't like making cards that were improving within the metagame even better against me.
I did learn to respect the power of Volcanic Island plus Grim Lavamancer as a combination clock/counterspell representation, especially alongside an untapped True-Name Nemesis . . . and that's when I remembered a card that isn't so dissimilar and has a lot of additional upside.
If you've been following the Open Series for the past few months, you might have noticed some interesting four-color concoctions posting Top 8 finishes. I'd been keeping tabs on them for even longer than that, ever since I saw this article by Florian Koch about a new take on tempo.
For reference, a couple of more recent decklists:
I had tried to convince a few friends to play GRUB Delver in the occasional Legacy Open, but I never found any takers—I seemed to be the only interested party. That wasn't too surprising—I often like things that are more neat than good, and this deck seemed like the poster child for being cool while playing a slightly worse game of Magic. Amusingly, one of the knocks against the deck is that a lot of European RUG pilots switched to it . . . and started losing!
RUG Delver has seemed demonstrably better than GRUB Delver for the past few months, but that was before True-Name Nemesis. Now GRUB Delver can offer what RUG Delver can't—it can frequently cast the Merfolk because its ideal land situation is often three with a Deathrite Shaman and never less than two.
I liked how GRUB Delver matched up against other tempo decks because it has more mana than they do and the ability to control opposing graveyards, shrinking Nimble Mongoose and Tarmogoyf alike. Deathrite Shaman also provides splash value against matchups that use the graveyard, like Reanimator and anything with Snapcaster Mage. Expecting more of these decks to rise against Sneak and Show, I became very interested in Deathrite Shaman.
Here's my list for the deck:
This is my current list; I'm currently considering a few slots. Basically everything in the sideboard might be negotiable, and the maindeck Fire // Ice, Abrupt Decay, and third Tropical Island are also optional adjustments. The third Trop is my nineteenth land to help facilitate the addition of some three-drops to the deck. I'm not sure if it should be there or if it should be the fourth Scalding Tarn instead. There's also the option of cutting it and Fire // Ice for two Gitaxian Probes to help slightly adjust that mana issue.
Before we go any further, I'll point out the primer on The Source. I happen to disagree with a lot of stuff that's being said, but I respect Sasan and his fellow Sourcers' work ethic. Like many posts in The Source, there's a lot of arguing about minutiae going on, but it's a good base of information to start with. I don't think there are too many hard and fast rules—the deck is flexible enough to let your preference take precedence and to adapt the flex slots for the metagame, so trust your instincts once you're familiar with the archetype.
I'm going to go over some specific elements of the deck that I like, and for each one I'll offer a unique interaction that can be easy to miss. If you think these are obvious, then congratulations! I'm noting them either because it's an interaction I once missed or have seen multiple players miss.
Allow me to extol his specific praises!
Deathrite Shaman really does go with True-Name Nemesis like chocolate goes with peanut butter. Not only is it a ramp spell, enabling turn 2 unbeatable 3/1, but True-Name Nemesis also has a habit of creating creature stalemates on the board when you're behind, forcing the opponent to start chump attacking or give up. Deathrite Shaman shines in both situations; he can clock them in a ceasefire and gain life against their alpha strikes as necessary.
Deathrite Shaman is a very powerful play on turn 1 in this deck because it enables you to cast an incredible variety of spells on turn 2. Beyond simply making you Wasteland resistant, it also makes opposing Dazes blank on the draw and lets you jam out cantrips and threats much faster.
Notice something about the deck? With the exception of Fire // Ice and True-Name Nemesis, virtually every card in the deck is one mana! This is a huge difference-maker in combo matchups. Note the difference in matchup for U/W/R Delver and RUG Delver against, say, Sneak and Show—a lot of that has to do with RUG's faster threats combining with a nearly identical suite of disruption! This deck can represent even more countermagic in the early turns than RUG Delver, and Deathrite Shaman is a very reasonable clock when the opponent declines to go for it.
He's also a handy man when fighting soft counters, which are growing in popularity and especially ineffective against a deck that has almost nothing but one-drops.
It will feel awful, but suck it up and fight the Jittes and Batterskulls on another level when possible. True-Name Nemesis is so deadly that being able to counter it is huge, and Daze should be very difficult for your opponent to get through considering the Stifles and Wastelands your deck is packed with. Every turn they have to hold back and every turn that the 3/1 goes unequipped is very important.
Against Sneak and Show, trading Dazes for Lotus Petals will usually be correct even if you might still die. After all, a resolved Petal effectively blanks your Daze anyway! I see people fail to make this exchange all the time to their detriment. Just last weekend I was chastised for casting Daze to break a Petal when my opponent's Show and Tell would still resolve, but not getting Sneak Attacked that turn was key to winning the game!
This becomes even more relevant after sideboarding, where just buying a turn to try and cantrip your way into a more durable answer is very important. Every turn matters.
Fun Tip: Alt-casting Daze against Show and Tell, even when they can pay, will give you an Island you can put into play untapped when the sorcery resolves; this can allow you to defend yourself with Stifle from the Sneak Attack they put into play or Emrakul's annihilator trigger.
I'm not Stifle's biggest fan. Proof?
That said, I've become something of a convert. As I noted in the Daze discussion, you can't afford to just Daze every turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic you see anymore. Stifle is an integral way in which you can fight Mystic, and its Sinkhole function is key to keeping opponents stranded on the mana they need to beat your board.
Because all of the threats are one mana, you can present pressure while representing Stifle easily, punishing most opponents who try to peel out of the vise.
I liked the work I saw Fire // Ice doing in RUG Delver, and the playstyle alteration necessitated by True-Name Nemesis often requires letting Stoneforge Mystic resolve. Fire is an additional answer to the Mystic on turn 2, and it has all the advantages of a Forked Bolt against decks like Elves, Maverick, and Death and Taxes despite its cost. Clearing out a pair of Baleful Strixes is solid value as well!
Most lists I've seen prefer to play Abrupt Decay in this slot, but I'm not a big fan of Decay in today's metagame. It's decent against fair decks, but so is Fire—they cover a lot of similar ground, but Fire pitches to Force and Decay is not so great against Wasteland decks because it's pretty easy to keep you off BG when they decide they want to. Fire creates the biggest blowout, but Abrupt Decay is a solid catchall that gives you outs to some specific situations, like Energy Field + Rest in Peace or Ensnaring Bridge.
Fun Tip: Yeah, I got nothing. Just playing with this card is almost a concession to my own definition of fun. You can tap Trinisphere, I guess?
I could talk about a lot more stuff, but I'd rather let you guys ask the questions you want answered in the comments. I'll be happy to discuss any aspects of the deck—and don't be shy about shipping the hot tech!
I hope you enjoyed this change of pace from me. If you happen to see me at Grand Prix Washington DC, feel free to drop by and say hi! I'm hoping to do well in the GP, but if I happen to punt a bunch and die horribly (as expected), then you'll probably find me Cubing my little heart out or playing some Commander on the sidelines.