I was distracted from my Magic Online match on Sunday when I heard Adrian Sullivan's voice emanating from my open Internet Explorer tab asking why Eternal Witness doesn't deserve a slot in NO RUG. Mr. Sullivan was commentating on the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in Boston where four Natural Order decks made the top 8 . Alex Bertoncini Bobby Sullivan Matt Boccio and Jonathan Sukenik are among the dozens who have brought the deck to strong finishes over the past few months. NO RUG has a recognizable core that rarely changes but there's little agreement about the deck beyond that. The number of decklists out there is as great as the number of people playing RUG.
Adrian Sullivan's question is as good a place as any for me to begin a discussion of NO RUG because it calls upon one of my primary philosophies of deckbuilding: Always use the best tool for every job.
What I look for in a deck is consistency and efficiency. Toolbox packages and silver bullets are anathema to me because I only want to put cards in my deck if I'm actually happy to draw them. This is strange thing for me to say as Green Sun's Zenith is one of my absolute favorite magic cards. I treat the card more like a Preordain than like a Demonic Tutor; it finds mana when you need mana and a threat when you need a threat. It provides extra ways to hit three mana on turn 2 in Legacy (and four mana on turn 3 in Standard) without overloading on low-impact mana creatures and therefore increases the consistency of the deck rather than the other way around.
Personally consistency and efficiency are my primary concerns whenever I build a deck in any format. There's a reason though that I insist on waving this preference of mine in front of your face right now: It's the only way to survive in Legacy.
Why did Gifts Ungiven get so much play in Standard and Extended but so little in Legacy? Why do successful Goblins players restrict themselves to only a handful of essential Matron targets? Game-winning threats come as cheap as two mana (or one while we're on the topic of Goblins) and good answers cost one or are free. Anything that requires more setup than that causes you to fall behind and falling behind means losing in Legacy more so than in any other format.
Legacy is too fast and brutal to play utility cards. What's more the abundance of permission in Legacy provides even more incentive for redundancy. You could wait the whole tournament for the moment when your one-of Terravore is finally going to shine — and then it could get Dazed! It's a mistake to play cards that are second-best most of the time because in those cases where they are best you may not find them they may get answered or what's most likely you could win anyway with the more streamlined card choice. Tarmogoyf is the only threatening Green Sun's Zenith target that I recommend for NO RUG because when you fan out your opening seven against an unknown opponent you will wish your Scavenging Ooze Terravore or Eternal Witness is a 'Goyf instead.
After all my preaching I do have to admit that Eternal Witness is one of the best suggestions I've heard for a one-of Zenith target. It's slow and can't be maindecked for the reasons above but the ability to single-handedly rebuy the whole Natural Order combo is intriguing (green creature+return Natural Order+Progenitus gets shuffled in when he dies). A defining interaction of the mirror match in particular is legend ruling Progenitus. One copy of Eternal Witness could give a leg up in the Natural Order fight. I'll try one in my sideboard the next time I play the deck.
The same argument goes for alternative Natural Order targets: you need a specific excellent reason to devote another slot. Bobby Sullivan sideboarded an Empyrial Archangel this past weekend presumably against Zoo and Burn while Matt Boccio and Jonathan Sukenik had a Terastodon. Way back in StarCityGames.com Open: Edison where Alex Hatfield unveiled the most recent iteration of High Tide combo Natural Order Bant and I lost a top eight pin because Progenitus doesn't have protection from Blue Sun's Zenith for sixty-nine. I resolved Natural Order in game three but died the following turn because I couldn't disrupt his combo in any way. For quite a long time after that I sideboarded a Terastodon. It had some fringe uses against Goblins and Prison decks but the biggest reason for his presence was always High Tide. Now that the combo deck has fallen out of favor (partly thanks to Mental Misstep) I no longer feel that Terastodon deserves his slot.
For the most part Alex Bertoncini seems to share my sentiments about always having the best tool for any job. His list is solid and well-balanced with very few frivolous tutor targets. He sideboarded a Kitchen Finks — which is a fine option because it's a good card to draw in the matchups where you bring him in — and an Edric Spymaster of Trest which he explained was experimental and “wasn't very good.” Aside from that there's only a single thing in his maindeck with which I disagree: his removal suite.
For reference here's Alex Bertoncini's deck. He split the finals of the Starcitygames.com Legacy Open in Boston.
The presence of Fire / Ice doesn't bother me; it kills a utility creature when you need it to cycles when you need it to and it's a blue card for Force of Will. The absence of the third and fourth Lightning Bolt however is a big mistake in my opinion. In the majority of cases Fire / Ice does the same thing that Lightning Bolt does except worse. Five is a great number of removal spells for RUG in the current metagame but the first four should always be Lightning Bolt.
In his post-tournament interview Alex Bertoncini made the claim that “two mana is better than one mana for some spells” because of the format-defining Mental Misstep. In my mind there are two cases where this is true:
a) Your deck has no other targets for Misstep or:
b) Your deck revolves around the spell to such a degree that you can absolutely never let it be countered.
Two mana is never better than one mana for Natural Order RUG. The deck does not revolve around its removal spells because even if the opponent is protecting something annoying like Gaddock Teeg there's always another route to victory. If they can't counter Fire / Ice they'll find an equally good target for their Misstep with just a tiny bit of patience.
The one place where Fire / Ice really shines is the mirror match. Hypothetically if I had to play a mirror where we had access to each other's decklists I would want at least two copies of Fire / Ice to keep them honest. In reality though it's the threat of Fire / Ice that really impacts the mirror so I can get the same benefits without actually having to put the card in my deck. A careful player won't run out two-mana creatures without protection after seeing how popular a card Fire / Ice is among winning RUG players. Thanks gentlemen!
For quite a while I played Natural Order in the Bant colors. My original reason for switching was that I wanted more than four removal spells (Merfolk Zoo and Goblins were top decks at the time) but wasn't happy with Path to Exile. I played four Lightning Bolts two Chain Lightnings and often more on my sideboard. Chain Lightning never did me wrong but with the rise of Stoneforge Mystic / Mishra's Factory decks sorcery speed is becoming more and more painful. I would recommend six Lightning Bolts for this deck… but since that's not allowed I recommend four Lightning Bolts and one Fire / Ice.
All four RUG players in Sunday's top eight maindecked at least one Grim Lavamancer. Generally speaking Lavamancer is insane against Merfolk and fine against everything else. There's a misconception that it's a good card for the Natural Order mirror when in reality it just makes you more vulnerable to Fire / Ice blowouts. Maindecking Lavamancer is a metagame call that I personally wouldn't make right now. I'd much prefer to play four Lightning Bolts and turn that Grim Lavamancer into a blue card like a fourth Vendilion Clique or a Ponder.
Bobby Sullivan stood out among the four as he made the bold choice of cutting a Tarmogoyf. I have mixed feelings about this move. I recommend that anyone interested in NO RUG play a session for academic purposes with a list containing Ponder and Chain Lightning — because those cards make Tarmogoyf absolutely insane. I can't count the number of times I Chain Lightninged a Cursecatcher or Goblin Lackey and ended up attacking on turn 3 with a Tarmogoyf that was 4/5 or bigger. I also had a critical mass of burn spells to make 'Goyf Vendilion Clique and Noble Hierarch a deadly team if Progenitus ever failed to show himself.
However I also remember that when I played NO Bant with no sorceries and no burn spells Tarmogoyf was relatively unexciting. If you make the choice like Mr. Sullivan did to cut Chain Lightning and Ponder then trimming a Tarmogoyf is a valid option — especially if you're worried about your blue card count.
This is what I would play if I had a Legacy tournament tomorrow:
Bonus Section: Overrun in M12 Limited
I've now read no fewer than five different esteemed writers bash Overrun. Far be it from me to challenge them on my own — but I've always felt that the best time to write is when I have an opinion that's different from the rest of the community. My opinion on the matter is this: Overrun is a first-pick card and a great way to start off a draft.
I could write an extensive argument for why Overrun is good but you need only read the card to know that it's game-breaking. What's more Overrun has been a huge bomb in every Limited format it's ever been in ever since Tempest. The burden of proof is on my opponents in this case. Their arguments against the card as I understand them are:
a) Green is relatively weak and
b) Creatures trade more often and there are fewer board stalls than in other Limited formats.
Argument “a” is the more compelling one. It's good to develop color preferences as you learn a Limited format. I can't fault someone for passing Overrun if they've found that drafting green just doesn't work for them. As for myself though I'm not scared to draft green in M12. It is relatively shallow in exciting commons but that can be a reason to draft it because it often means that the abundance of great uncommons are split between only two or three players at the table. You rarely see the premium removal of black and red after pick one anyway which is the pick when an Overrun or Stingflinger Spider would be putting me into Green. Beyond that it's a breeze to pick up twenty-three playable in this set no matter what colors you're in so jumping into a shallow color is less risky than it would be in another set.
The fact that Overrun is triple-green is hardly relevant. You should always be two colors in M12 unless something crazy happens during the draft. If Green is one of them you'll want enough Forests to play your Llanowar Elves and Garruk's Companions anyway so Overrun will fit right in as a late game spell.
In regard to argument “b” just because early trading is a trend of the format doesn't mean that you have no control over it! Right from the time you pick up Overrun you can plan to draft seventeen or eighteen creatures instead of fifteen or sixteen. You can put extra emphasis on cards like Giant Spider to improve the chances of a board stall. When the game starts you can decline to trade your Sacred Wolf for their Goblin Piker if that's what the situation calls for. If you walk past any random M12 match on turn 6 you might not think of Overrun as a good card but if you know that you have it in your deck (or your hand) you simply adjust your play accordingly.
It's not hard to set up a lethal Overrun. It steals games out of nowhere with three or four creatures on the board. With two it's a great finisher and even with only one it can be that little extra push that you need. People do play Mighty Leap after all.
A “combat trick” is generally not my idea of a first-pick card. Similarly seven-mana spells don't have a place in many winning M12 draft decks. However picking an Overrun is a great way to start a draft for the same reason that picking a Rune-Scarred Demon or a Sphinx of Uthuun is. Right from the start you know how you'll be winning a good portion of your games. More importantly your deck now has an invaluable passive trait; it wins if the game goes long. Once you ensure that your deck has that quality you can focus on defense and card advantage as much as you like which is generally an easier and safer way to win in limited.
The player who picks Incinerate over Overrun may end up with a beautiful deck and may win plenty of games. However the pressure will be on him to kill his opponent while the player who takes the Overrun simply has to survive.
For the sake of being thorough here's how I rate the best non-rare cards in M12:
1. Mind Control