The last article I wrote on Shardless BUG was in the beginning of 2013, and since then, many people have adopted the deck. It's done particularly well lately and was even my personal weapon of choice for the Season Three Invitational. I've received a lot of questions about the deck lately, so this is my official answer.
What Makes Shardless BUG Good?
You have a lot of options for customization, answers to most problems, are good against planeswalkers, and are good against the top tier Legacy decks. In a tournament like an Open, Shardless BUG can be dangerous because beating things like Blood Moon is difficult, but for something like an Invitational, Shardless BUG might be the best choice.
As we've seen in the last few months, Shardless BUG might only sneak one pilot into Top 8, but once there, their conversion rate is very impressive. There's a reason Shardless BUG has won plenty of trophies in the last few months, and that's because of how good it is against the "real" Legacy metagame.
With Ancestral Vision, you have the ability to grind out the top decks. Abrupt Decay gives you an answer to nearly every permanent. Planeswalkers give you a difficult to deal with endgame against decks like U/W Miracles. Tarmogoyf solves the problem of aggressive decks. Deathrite Shaman ties the room together.
Game 1s are often difficult to win since you might draw cards that aren't particularly good in certain matchups, but post-board you should have the tools to defeat whatever you're playing against. The resiliency is powerful, and there's no real way to hate out Shardless BUG aside from playing things like Blood Moon.
The Keys To Success
I think there are three keys to success with Shardless BUG. The first is to always use your mana efficiently. Even if your Delver opponent has an empty board, if your hand is two Shardless Agents and a Tarmogoyf when you have three mana in play, it might be best to play a Shardless Agent first. You never know when your opponent will Brainstorm into Wasteland and a threat, and if you don't draw that third land on time, you might be in a lot of trouble.
The second key is knowing which matchups you want discard, Force of Will, or both. There is no hard and fast rule, but generally Force of Will is only good against combo, decks where board control matters the most and card advantage matters the least, or decks that have unbeatable permanents or spells. Discard is generally used to disrupt combo, but things like Hymn to Tourach can be good in post-board games against certain opponents, such as the ones that try to load up on answers to your threats instead of fighting you on a different axis.
The final key is being able to deal with variance. You might find that Shardless BUG is particularly good at getting itself into favorable game states but isn't so great at winning top deck wars. That might be true, but that could also be a product of deck construction or sideboarding. For example, in matchups that go long, the discard is generally not good because those late game top decks will cost you.
"I got him down to nothing, but then he peeled Jace!" is a common complaint when playing something like Shardless BUG. Be happy that you are consistently getting it in good and the majority of the time you will come out ahead. Also know that if that's the case a large percentage of the time, it is probably an issue that is solvable.
What Is Shardless BUG Weak To?
Generally, there are three ways that I lose games with Shardless BUG:
Stopping these things with discard and/or counterspells is the plan, but decks are designed to be resilient, so it doesn't work every single time.
There are certain ways to get around this, but if it's happening a lot, there is likely some pilot error, deck building error, or sideboarding error. You generally want to keep in some Force of Wills, recognize the things that actually matter (against RUG Delver, it's usually Tarmogoyf since they have no good answer to it), and make sure you are lowering your mana curve during sideboarding.
3) My opponent draws better than me when we get into a topdeck war.
We play best of three for a reason. Similarly to the above paragraph, if it's happening a lot, you might want to reconsider how you're approaching the matchup.
Typically, the things that scare me the most are turn 1 Blood Moon, turn 1 combos, and four casting cost permanents. Still, those things can be worked around during deck construction if you expect a lot of them.
Shardless Agent Vs Delver of Secrets
With the success and adoption of Rich Shay's BUG Delver deck, one might wonder why they would choose Shardless Agent over Delver of Secrets. Delver offers a quick clock and allows you to play spells like Daze, which Shardless Agent does not. In short, I'd rather be playing a control deck than a deck that is confused about whether or not it's a tempo deck. Rich's deck is good but feels unfocused.
Shardless Agent gives you a late game push, is good against planeswalkers, and is the opposite of a bad topdeck.
Tarmogoyf Vs Stoneforge Mystic
With Shardless Bant recently having some success, I figured this might come up at some point. While I'm a big fan of Stoneforge Mystic in general, I tend to like it less in Legacy. It isn't the fast clock you need in Legacy, nor is it a brick wall against other creature decks. Shardless BUG is all about card advantage, real or virtual, and already has a pretty good end game. What you need is a clock and a wall, not a small creature that does what you already do well.
How To Beat Tempo
Make your land drops, deal with their threats when convenient, and play around their soft counters to the best of your ability. That said, sometimes playing right into their soft counters is your best strategy, as not casting spells also walks into their gameplan against you. Basically, you should aim to be hellbent as quickly as possible, as that probably means you're winning. To that end, lowering your mana curve as much as possible should be of the utmost importance.
How To Beat Combo
Some choose to build their deck in such a way that you cannot beat combo in game one, but I don't recommend it. One of the strengths of the deck is that it's able to beat anything. By ignoring the combo matchup in game one, you significantly hinder your ability to win the match.
In general, I play unusual card numbers because I want to draw some number of most things, but not a ton of one thing I might not need. Playing something like four maindeck Baleful Strix does not excite me, as that card is weak in several matchups. If you had some inside info on the metagame, you should probably be able to use that in order to pick a deck with more polarizing matchups.
Thoughtseize into Hymn to Tourach into Liliana of the Veil is your best way to win against combo decks, but even a Tarmogoyf with some light disruption will get you there on occasion. You won't have a lot of cards that are amazing against combo, even post-board, so feel free to mulligan if your hand can't win. These matchups don't come down to care advantage.
How Does True-Name Nemesis Change Things?
As I've come to learn, the answer is "not by much." Sure, you might sideboard some stuff like Golgari Charm, Night of Souls' Betrayal, or Toxic Deluge, but you do so because those cards are also good against other things. Sideboarding strictly for True-Name Nemesis or over-sideboarding in general is not recommended.
I think the biggest change that True-Name Nemesis made was to lower the reliance on Jace, the Mind Sculptor as an end game plan. Liliana of the Veil does a lot of fantastic things, such as answering True-Name Nemesis itself but also effectively locking people out of the game once their hand is empty. Going forward, I'm playing a 2/2 split of Jace and Liliana and I've been very pleased by it.
The Mana Base
Most people seem to take offense at my use of two Wasteland, one or two Creeping Tar Pit, and no basic land. I would prefer to not play Wasteland, but it's the best out to something like Maze of Ith, Creeping Tar Pit, and Grove of the Burnwillows. It's rare that I use my Wasteland aggressively, as your land in play is generally more important to you than theirs is for them. I basically use it to kill utility lands and that's it.
Creeping Tar Pit is a fine card, especially for fighting planeswalkers and control decks. If you want to play 23 land, I'd recommend a second Creeping Tar Pit, but as is, 22 land with Creeping Tar Pit is where I'm going to stay for now.
Some say that basic lands fight cards like Wasteland, Back to Basics, and Blood Moon, but that's not entirely true. If you have a two-lander against RUG Delver, you fetch a basic and a dual, and they Wasteland you, you are more mana screwed than if you had simply fetched two duals. If you fetched two basics, you'd be mana screwed even in the face of a Wasteland.
Against Blood Moon and Back to Basics, the same principle applies, as you don't have nearly enough basics to fight those cards. A reconfiguration of the deck could be used to fight those cards, but if you plan on playing Hymn to Tourach (and you should), then it's nearly impossible.
You should want your sideboard to be versatile, yet have plenty of cards for each matchup so you can sideboard a lot. Configuring your deck to be the best 60 it can be post-board is one of the best aspects of Shardless BUG. When you play narrow cards like Chill, Engineered Plague, Submerge, and Mindbreak Trap, it lowers your win percentages against the field by slightly increasing your win percentage against certain archetypes. Overall, it's not worth it.
I sideboard against decks, then cards, then players. Some RUG Delver players side in a lot of reactive cards like Submerge and Pyroblast that are both weak to Hymn to Tourach, a card I wouldn't typically sideboard in against them. If they are playing a more passive game, you have the tools to punish them.
Cards like Nihil Spellbomb might seem narrow, but have a wide variety of uses. For example, several decks in Legacy lightly use their graveyard, such as anything with Deathrite Shaman, Snapcaster Mage, or Nimble Mongoose. Other cards, like Golgari Charm, have a wide variety of uses and should be played over more narrow answers like Krosan Grip.
What List Should I Play?
That depends on what you expect to play against. However, if you need a starting point, consider this:
The weirdest thing about this list is the shaving of Ancestral Vision. It wasn't like I thought I was drawing too many of them, but I did think the deck could be improved upon by cutting down on the amount of cards that are dead mid-game. Four Ancestral Vision is likely correct though.
I could take or leave the Swamp, but I want to stress the importance of having a lot of fetchlands. Having Deathrite Shaman active can be the difference between winning and losing. The same also goes with having a shuffler to go with your Brainstorm. I'd like to play the full twelve fetchlands, so cutting the Swamp may be correct.
Should I Play Shardless BUG?
If you like Rock-style grindy decks, then absolutely. If you play it as such and have familiarity with that sort of deck, it should be easy to pick up and start winning with.
If you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer in the comments section. If you're looking for hard information on how to play the deck, you can check out this article I did a while back, but I should also have some feature matches that can be found via Google.