"Obv Omni-Tell wins. We're so smart for audibling." – Cedric Phillips
Last weekend was the Magic Online Champion Series (MOCS) and as you probably know already I did not win. In fact I barely got any match wins when my opponents decided to show up. My deck of choice was RUG Delver but how did I end up playing that deck when Cedric and I both agreed that Omni-Tell would be a good choice?
I started by jamming some games against Dr. John Penick wielding some of Legacy's finest decks. At the end of our session I determined that Tundra was a good matchup and Tropical Island was a bad matchup. The U/W Control decks didn't have enough permission to stop your combo (especially when I had Overmaster in my deck) and the long game didn't actually favor them because of Omniscience.
On the other hand RUG was a terrible matchup. Show and Tell needed three mana sources extra mana sources to play around Daze and/or Spell Pierce a Force of Will or Overmaster for every Force of Will or Red Elemental Blast their opponent had and something to put into play. Overall it was a tall order.
Against a deck like U/W Control that's not tough but RUG was a different animal. They could function off two lands Brainstorm the rest away and put you on a fast clock. There was virtually no way for your cards to line up profitably against theirs. You had two hopes. The first was them keeping a hand with no pressure and not being able to find any; the second was going for it early with minimal backup in the hopes of catching them off-guard.
Despite still having a shot I didn't want to be drawing very slim against every tempo deck in the virtual room so I went looking for other options. U/W Control was a deck that I wanted to try on the SCG Open Series. It looked like Terminus was great against Maverick and RUG while the Counterbalance part of the deck shored up the holes against combo.
At first I built a hybrid list with Stoneforge Mystic as the deck was light on two-drops for Counterbalance and having another way to win seemed helpful. Additionally Batterskull was one of the few cards you could use to leave aggro decks drawing dead.
I started with this list:
A few things to note about this list and U/W Control in general:
1) Snapcaster Mage was pretty terrible. Aside from Swords to Plowshares Brainstorm and the occasional Spell Pierce there was nothing of use to flash back. I could have gone further down the rabbit hole and played a miser's Ponder or Path to Exile as some of my fellow U/W mages were doing but that was the wrong way to go about things. If I wanted to alleviate the problem of drawing bad Snapcasters I was going to cut them entirely rather than try to make them better. The body wasn't worth it.
2) Stoneforge Mystic was slow and bad against everything that wasn't tribal. It did fill a gap for Counterbalance and provide me with a different angle of attack. I just assumed that my aggro matchups would be fine without it because of Terminus.
3) Without Stoneforge Mystics my aggro matchup wasn't all that good. Against a clever opponent who was attacking my Terminuses by disrupting my Brainstorms or Sensei's Divining Tops I was in a world of trouble. Surgical Extraction on Terminus proved tough to beat as well. Additional Engineered Explosives would have helped but it didn't solve the problem.
4) Drawing the wrong part of your deck in the wrong matchup was an auto-loss.
5) I didn't have enough shufflers. There were too many turns where I couldn't shuffle with Sensei's Divining Top in play which is unacceptable.
6) This deck didn't feel as well positioned as the previous Counterbalance decks I had played with. The format had gotten faster and more disruptive and I didn't feel comfortable with the deck.
7) I liked having access to the second Karakas versus decks like Maverick and Show and Tell but I agreed with my friends that I had too many sources that only made white. I assumed that Mystic Gate my anti-Choke technology would free roll all that white mana into blue.
Taking all that into consideration I built this list:
Predict was fantastic but there were a few things that led to me not playing that list either.
1) Even though I was more streamlined a lot of the same problems existed.
2) My sideboard plan of Lingering Souls + Humility was supposed to work wonders against aggressive decks but instead ended up being miserable. Humility had crossover applications against Show and Tell and Lingering Souls was good versus the other U/W decks. I wouldn't use this plan in the future because of how bad Humility actually was.
3) I still didn't feel ahead in any matchup. Getting into Stage 2 was difficult enough on its own. On top of that I was guaranteed to win if I entered Stage 3 so what was the point of playing a control deck? If I didn't have inevitability I was probably better off playing a tempo deck.
Enter Delver of Secrets.
I played RUG Delver in one SCG Legacy Open where I went 2-2. In both matches I lost I easily identified the reasons why I lost and how I could have built my deck to avoid such things. While I hadn't been playing RUG as of late I had been talking to a lot of RUG aficionados such as Brad Nelson so I was keeping up on the latest trends and technology.
After playing it in a couple queues (and dominating Maverick the one time I played against it) I was sold.
This is what I registered:
It was about as stock as it gets. The list was meant to be brutal and aggressive not impress anyone. Over the course of the tournament I did learn a few valuable lessons though.
1) I knew going in that the MOCS would be full of random decks and I wanted to build my deck accordingly. As it turns out Wasteland Spell Pierce and Daze are semi-dead against a lot of different decks out there.
When going into an open field be prepared to topdeck some cards in the midgame that you would normally expect to be good but aren't. That's exactly what happened to me over and over again.
2) Despite always losing to RUG on the U/W Control side the matchup can be pretty tough. Counterbalance on an open board basically wins the game and fighting through Terminus is no picnic either. Having cards like Spell Snare or Sylvan Library neither of which are very good right now would have dramatically increased my chances of winning.
3) I wanted a nineteenth land mainly because I feared/respected opposing Wastelands. When I played RUG before I liked having a Taiga so that when I had three land I could fetch up G/R U/G and U/R and they could never Wasteland me off any of your colors. However as John Penick pointed out "That means that sometimes you're going to draw Taiga."
4) Rough / Tumble was fantastic. Graveyard hate was probably unnecessary even though Surgical isn't that bad in other matchups. For example it can "counter" an Intuition that went for three Show and Tells. If they bait you with a Show and Tell suddenly their deck might not work anymore. U/W Control has a tough time beating you if they don't have Terminus in their deck. Also using Wasteland + Surgical Extraction in the mirror is a viable strategy if you think you are outclassed.
That said I could have used the help against decks I knew existed such as U/W Control and Show and Tell.
While it wasn't as egregious an error as playing Merfolk I would not recommend RUG right now at least online. Ultimately RUG is a metagame deck meant to prey on spell-heavy decks and the online metagame is not the place for it to flourish.
This is what I should have played knowing what I knew then:
Honestly I considered it but it never really jumped out at me. In hindsight it was the perfect tournament to return to Griselbrand and I failed.
This is the list that won:
This is what I would have played knowing what I know now:
Obviously I've been playing Standard as well as of late. With Standard being so full of crazy cool stuff and the fact that there was basically nothing else I could do with Delver I started here:
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 4 Blood Artist
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 2 Disciple of Bolas
- 2 Fume Spitter
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 1 Massacre Wurm
- 4 Phantasmal Image
- 1 Skinrender
- 1 Thragtusk
Brad was spot on with everything. Diregraf Ghoul is mopey against green decks Blood Artist doesn't trigger very much against Delver and Birthing Pod is awesome in Zombies. In fact several writers on this site had advocated as such. After a week or so playing with different variants of Zombie Pod I have a few things to share:
1) Diregraf Ghoul isn't good against many people. Once you put Pod in the deck you dilute the aggressive game plan so Diregraf Ghoul no longer fits. You are in the business of murdering things and Fume Spitter was already playable enough for inclusion. Especially on Magic Online where Delver and Infect are everywhere playing the full amount of Fume Spitters is correct.
2) Playing Zombies without Sign in Blood is like playing Delver without Ponder. You aren't so much interested in the quick two-for-one as much as you are interested in the velocity. Playing a draw two gives you a better shot of hitting your land drops and using all of your mana every turn even when you're flooded.
Sometimes drawing multiples is clunky but with the amount of removal you have you should have time to cast them. There's also the Cavern of Souls issue but honestly what is Cavern enabling outside of Geralf's Messenger? The rest of the creature types in the deck are split and Cavern was hindering me more than helping me. It helped cast the pseudo-splashed creatures like Thragtusk and Phantasmal Image but in that case it could have just been extra dual lands.
When you've played Delver for as long as I have you really notice the difference between playing a 21-land deck with ten cantrips to playing a 24-land deck with no control over its draws. While Sign in Blood in certainly no Ponder you'll greatly appreciate the effect Sign in Blood has in your matches.
I've also killed a lot of people with Sign in Blood in the last couple days.
3) For a while I was playing a four-color mana base for Manic Vandal and Zealous Conscripts. Grafdigger's Cage is a real sideboard card so I wanted to splash a couple Vandals in order to deal with those. Ratchet Bomb despite being versatile isn't something you necessary want to side in versus everyone. Then again neither was Manic Vandal so I quickly went back to playing "only" three colors. You have the option to play as many colors as you want though.
4) Blood Artist sucked. Green decks are a dying breed on Magic Online so the matchups left are Delver Zombies Infect Control and Ramp. Of those Blood Artist is only effective against the mirror. Also against green decks you destroy them with Massacre Wurm and Thragtusk anyway so who cares?
In order to have a replacement on curve I added this cute lil' guy:
Ravenous Rats obviously isn't on the same power level that Blood Artist is but he fits into the deck better and is better against the metagame as a whole. Nickel and diming decks like Wolf Run Ramp Infect and Delver is actually a pretty good strategy. The Rats have made me consider sideboarding Smallpox for those matchups or even trying out a dedicated Smallpox strategy.
Here's my list:
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Disciple of Bolas
- 4 Fume Spitter
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 1 Massacre Wurm
- 4 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Ravenous Rats
- 1 Skinrender
- 1 Thragtusk
Overall I'm pretty happy with the decklist at least for the Magic Online metagame. The maindeck is super tight and I wouldn't change anything but the sideboard could change depending on what you expect.
The Geth's Verdicts are mostly for Infect as that matchup is actually pretty tough despite all the removal you have. A second Ghost Quarter for that matchup (and Wolf Run Ramp) isn't out of the question. I have yet to be impressed by the Lifestaffs but they seem so good against the mirror in theory that I want to keep trying them.
Duress maindeck seems pretty good right now but I'd be worried about drawing too much air and not enough creatures.
Some other cards I've considered are:
This whole Zombie experiment has mostly gotten me thinking about Disciple of Bolas and Thragtusk and how best to abuse them together. You might spend a few turns durdling around but when you're gaining life and drawing cards you probably won't fall too far behind. Heartless Summoning seems like it would fit nicely in that shell but I don't have an exact decklist yet.
I've also been playing with Delver but don't have much spice to share. As you can see in our recent playtesting video Tamiyo was a house against Thragtusk so maybe you want to incorporate that somewhere. Other than that I've been trying to make fetch happen by putting Geist of Saint Traft and Quirion Dryad together but that hasn't been going well.
Oh well. When crunch time comes (i.e. StarCityGames Open Series: Atlanta featuring the Invitational) I will likely sleeve up Seachrome Coasts.
@G3RRYT on Twitter