Hi everyone, I’m back after lurking in the shadows for a couple of months. Turns out when you have to work and there’s less time for MTG, that you just wanna drink all your problems away on podcasts… just kidding! I think I’ve been unfairly labeled, KYT! Anyhow, during most of my time off, I still caught a lot of the Legacy buzz that was going around from following the SCG Open series, Jupiter Games tournaments, and The Source. The one shocker was that with my lack of time to travel, I had yet to play with a Blue (Mental Misstep) deck in the new Legacy metagame post-New Phyrexia.
Watching, Waiting in the New Format
I was a little torn on what to play post-New Phyrexia. Playing in SCG Indianapolis, it was apparent that Zoo, what I played for the event, was a lot less explosive when the blue decks had a lot more control over the critical first few turns of the game – something that Zoo has historically used to their advantage. In preparation, I did try a couple of control elements that would help the UW Stoneblade decks that were popping up, which included an obscure land from Mercadian Masques, Tower of the Magistrate.
I eventually asked Caleb Durward to play this in his Blue Zoo deck at SCG Cincinnati (only having a Chinese copy to ship him), and it worked out very well for him. I wanted to address the rationale on why I chose Tower of the Magistrate as a potential control piece for a GW/x Knight of the Reliquary deck. With the format slowing down because of Mental Misstep, the UW Stoneblade lists had a much easier time with their Plan A of resolving Stoneforge Mystic, putting in Batterskull, and controlling the board while battering away with a mini-Baneslayer Angel. With the addition of other bombs like Standstill (for some decks, Ancestral Visions for others) and Crucible of Worlds while protecting their card advantage machine in Jace, the Mind Sculptor with Mishra’s Factory, only playing 4 of our favorite Cat Wizard wasn’t enough, as there was an overload on targets. Even with Ancient Grudges allowing UW to untap with Batterskull and 3 mana open was a dangerous play.
Enter Tower of the Magistrate, a tutorable land via Knight of the Reliquary, which usually isn’t as threatening to UW when played in a deck that tends to not pack Wastelands. Tower was my shining star when a reusable way to answer Batterskull (or any creature wearing equipment) was needed. And, as Caleb found out at SCG Cincinnati, an active Knight can also use it to block and eat an unsuspecting Kuldotha Forgemaster attacking in. I suggest taking this card into consideration for the future, if you are playing Knight at all.
I was almost set on Zoo again, but waiting for the Open Series to return to Cincinnati, after the SCG Denver weekend (which was simultaneously the Jupiter Games Northeastern Legacy Championship), I logged onto The Source to find a message in my inbox:
“I suggest you sleeve up Reid Duke’s 75 from the GP…
…I don’t believe I have ever copied another player’s list before, but I am not joking, I read his list in the day one undefeated decks and literally got on eBay to buy the pieces I needed.”
Whoa. The message was from Geoff Smelski, who had dominated the Jupiter Games NELC weekend, taking Top 4 in the Invitational, and winning the Qualifier the next day with NO RUG. Geoff has always given me a lot of great advice, and as usual I didn’t take this piece of information lightly either. Was NO RUG really that good? I tucked the deck away, getting some light testing in against Hive Mind and some of the more established decks like Merfolk, Zoo, and UW in the weeks prior to Cincinnati. I had a lot of explosive wins with Natural Order against creature decks, and could play a control game against UW and Hive Mind with support from Vendilion Clique, Red Elemental Blasts, and Pyroblasts.
I didn’t do well at Cincinnati, which happens when you draw Progenitus in your opener five times, and then once mull into a six-card hand with the legendary hydra again. I was hooked on getting the deck to perform better. With SCG Pittsburgh just two weeks away, I took a closer look at various winning lists, Reid Duke’s GP Report, and discussed the deck with some players that were running NO RUG. This is the list that I arrived at prior to SCG Pittsburgh, and I’ll go over some of the card decisions. This is the list that I arrived at:
Mark Sun – NO RUG
I added the second Dryad Arbor; like many players have suggested in the past, the first Dryad Arbor is a huge target for removal, but having the second one as a backup can sometimes catch the opponent off guard. Plus, it gives your green fetches much higher value in the mid-late game, as you can threaten Natural Order again much easier. Some lists that I saw had a basic Mountain in the sideboard in addition to the Grim Lavamancer plan, which helps guarantee activations, but the deck is very colored-mana hungry, and usually the extra Mountain is a waste of a sideboard slot. Birds of Paradise replacing the fourth Noble Hierarch allows the deck to Zenith for a red source if necessary, and is Wasteland-proof. Otherwise, the creature suite is pretty general. Some lists have opted for only 3 Green Sun’s Zenith, which I am currently leaning towards.
For the countermagic suite, despite Hive Mind and other combo decks, I still advocate my original thoughts of the post-New Phyrexia metagame, which involves less Force of Will, more card quantity advantage based operation of the deck. With the Top 3 projected decks by percentage (Merfolk, Zoo, UW Stoneblade) all not requiring Force of Will to beat, I felt comfortable with this call. The third Force of Will comes in from the sideboard. I also decided to replace the Grim Lavamancers in the maindeck with Fire // Ice, for two reasons. The first is that the toughness of a lot of critical creatures: most Natural Order fodder, Vendilion Clique, Lavamancer, Dark Confidant, Stoneforge Mystic, and Merfolk in general all fall under 3. Being able to dodge Misstep with a removal spell and sometimes split it for value makes the Fire portion very attractive. The second reason is that the Ice portion can be used to tap down creatures to buy time for yourself. One example is a germ token equipped by Batterskull; Ice’ing it at the opponent’s upkeep can retain the clock at two turns with Progenitus, not giving them time to find another out.
I always want to board into Grim Lavamancers for tribal decks, which compliment the red removal in the deck already. As long as Stoneblade continues to be popular, Ancient Grudge will be my choice of removal over Krosan Grip. Trygon Predator is tutorable with Zenith, and Terastodon is a better choice as a Natural Order target against control decks when they have problem permanents (Ensnaring Bridge, for example). The 4 red blasts are self explanatory, leaving 3 flex slots for the projected metagame. Usually, I only play three different combinations here:
3 Submerge, or
3 Counterspell, or
I prefer Submerges a lot more when the projected metagame is more Bant and Zoo, but for this tournament, with Hive Mind fresh off a win in Seattle, more players should be gravitating towards Hive Mind or decks that beat Hive Mind, none of which are the two decks I mentioned. I had Fire // Ice for the mirror as well, when Grim Lavamancer was the choice in the opposing maindecks. The 3 Counterspell was the safe call, and was additional utility against control. I felt that Dredge was yet another flash in the pan, so I held off on the graveyard hate package.
I started the weekend off by just trading on Saturday, and then playing in the Legacy Challenge. With a 3-1 record playing the new list and only losing to Gamekeeper Combo (yes, that does happen to be a deck), I felt pretty good for the next day. I show up to the site early, lend some cards out, and register my deck. Pairings go up, and the tournament officially starts…
Round 1) Jason playing Mono-Red Goblins. Win-Win
I’ll try to give matchup insights as well as a recap of what happened in my matches; this is something new I’m trying out. My view on the general strategy for this matchup is to answer Goblin Lackey (obviously) and to focus available removal on Goblin Warchief and Goblin Piledriver. Tarmogoyf clogs the ground rather well, but containing explosiveness by neutering a cost reducer and a goblin that can swing through Progenitus is key. I don’t recall much from the first game, but I had a quick Natural Order followed by a concession.
I hadn’t seen a whole lot of his deck, but I still want to maximize answers for Lackey and any other cards he could play to answer Progenitus, such as Phyrexian Metamorph or Anarchy. I have to mulligan to 6 this game without an answer for a first turn Goblin Lackey and that’s what he plays. I Zenith for a Dryad Arbor on my turn; praying he doesn’t have removal. It turns out he has a Rishadan Port, and I take 2 hits over the next two turns from Lackey (well-timed Stingscourger), the first putting in Goblin Ringleader, and the second putting in Goblin Matron. I see the obvious misplay here, but there’s nothing I can do. Luckily, I draw into a Grim Lavamancer, which controls the board as I dig for more Tarmogoyfs. I eventually hit a Brainstorm which nets me 2 Fire // Ice, and the game ends shortly afterwards as I stabilize. I point out to my opponent that he probably should have sequenced his Lackey hits correctly, as the Matron he put in on the second trigger undoes what the Ringleader just filtered out.
2-0 games, 1-0 matches.
Round 2) Jerry Yang playing Hive Mind, Loss-Win-Win
My view on the general strategy for this matchup is to use Mental Missteps and Vendilion Cliques aggressively in game 1 to answer cantrips and Show and Tell, respectively. With only two Force of Will and no support with red blasts in game 1, the matchup is not in your favor, but post-board, eight counters are brought in. Jerry and I have played each other before, a miserable 43 Lands vs. Landstill match that ended in a draw, and we both wish to never have an experience like that again. I mulligan to 6 on the draw this game and I have to keep a hand with Force of Will, blue card, and a Taiga. I proceed to draw no more blue lands to dig myself out, and when he goes for it, I decide that there is no reason to fight over the Show and Tell and give me a better edge for game 2.
The deck becomes a lot stronger, as I’m bringing in 11 relevant cards, all that could slow him down and stop the combo. I keep a strong hand with some red blasts and cantrips, but no Force of Will. I lead with a Noble Hierarch, and then Jerry plays Chalice of the Void off an Ancient Tomb with one counter. Yikes. I don’t have an answer for that, and I don’t draw any of my 3 Counterspell, but instead beaters. Luckily, he’s cut himself off of his own cantrips, and never finds the Island to play Show and Tell. How lucky for me. We shuffle up and go to game 3. This game was slow and grindy, but involved me casting Vendilion Clique on my turn 2 and seeing Show and Tell, Show and Tell, Hive Mind, and Chalice of the Void. I take the Hive Mind and strand him with nothing. When he has both Chalice for 1 and 2 out in play, I draw a Green Sun’s Zenith and find Trygon Predator. After the first attack, I destroy the Chalice for 1, freeing up the red blasts in my hand. He has two turns to find an answer, and doesn’t. The Chalice plan is a fairly new addition from Tom Ma, but is definitely dangerous to the Hive Mind player as well.
4-1 games, 2-0 matches.
Round 3) John Sava playing MUC, Win-Win
For the weekend, I drove down with Reuben Bresler, and he proceeded to crush me a few times on Friday testing with Athens Blue. I see the pairing and I’m not exactly thrilled by it, as I know John will be playing 70+ of the same cards. What surprises me even further is that when we get to the table, we’re called over for a video feature match. I’m sure John has been in that position before, but I’ve never had a video feature before, and my nerves start to take over. When we sit down to play, I make some small rookie mistakes, like put my playmat out, and move cards out of the camera zone.
My view on the general strategy for this matchup is to focus on resolving Natural Order in the first game (no outs except Energy Field), and holding a potential answer for Jace, so when they have Energy Field out they have to respond to it and trigger the sacrifice clause. Post-board both Llawan, Cephalid Empress and Metamorph are boarded in, which can hurt the Natural Order plan and your Vendilion Cliques/Trygon Predator. Back to Basics is their main bomb, which is present in all three games. If it resolves this deck has a hard time coming back.
I lose the die roll but start off finding multiple Dryad Arbors with Zenith/fetchlands. He advances his board position using his cantrips, and I play around Spell Snare on turn 2, and Counterspell on turn 3 with Daze. He lets me resolve a Tarmogoyf and swing in with an Arbor. I have Natural Order and Daze in my hand and am planning on casting it next turn. On his turn, he plays a Vedalken Shackles, which I have to Daze. He Forces the Daze, leaving him with 3 cards in his hand. After thinking about it for a moment, I decide to go for Natural Order on my next turn, and it resolves. He concedes two turns later.
I decide to board out my removal, reasoning that my Vendilion Cliques will be able to answer his (Legend Rule) along with the countermagic I brought in so I can protect my hand. We both play draw-go for a little bit, but he has a Sensei’s Divining Top and is making all of his land drops. I wait until he doesn’t have mana open for Counterspell to cast Vendilion Clique. I see: Island, Island, Mental Misstep, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, and Spell Snare. I take the Spell Snare, freeing up my 3 Counterspell that I brought in. I begin to attack with Clique, while he plays his Tabernacle, and a counter-war ensues over his Back to Basics. I have the first Counterspell, but he has a Force of Will. I remember that he has a Mental Misstep in his hand, and elect to hold on to the Pyroblast in my hand. My board position winds down slowly as I have to sacrifice my Dryad Arbor and only have Clique. I draw a Noble Hierarch and decide to bait the Misstep out of his hand. He bites, and I Pyroblast the Back to Basics, freeing up my mana. I Ponder into an Ancient Grudge, and when he goes to draw with his Top, I destroy it. He’s forced to Echoing Truth my Vendilion Clique, and when I recast it, he shows me a hand full of Islands and concedes.
6-1 games, 3-0 matches.
Round 4) Kai Ruan with Tempo Bant, Loss-Win-Win
Kai’s a nice guy, and we joke around while we shuffle up. I’m not excited about this matchup, as I really start to miss the Submerges that I took out. The general strategy for this matchup, as with most Bant lists, is to aggressively use Vendilion Clique to protect Natural Order and also to keep them from untapping with Knight of the Reliquary. Knight of the Reliquary in Zoo decks will generally not be as threatening, but the Bant lists will have access to Wasteland, and if Knight can help them double up on Wasteland, then you will fall too far behind. Submerge is a great tool in this matchup if your metagame slots can allow it. I lose the die roll, and as expected, he is able to protect a Stoneforge Mystic and a Sword of Body and Mind, while rolling me with Knight. SoBaM generates another blocker and is able to diversify equipment holders, so it’s a great target against NO RUG.
I start off with one line of play I’ve found to be effective against tempo strategies – turn 1 accelerant, turn 2 main-phase Vendilion Clique against Island, nothing, pass. Daze is likely not going to be in on the draw and you gain access to very useful information for the upcoming turn. Kai reveals nothing relevant and I go for the Natural Order next turn with no protection necessary. We move to game 3. It’s rather uneventful as Kai draws about a dozen lands while I slowly kill him with Dryad Arbors and Vendilion Cliques. Unfortunate chain of events for a match that had a lot of promise, but I’m glad to move on.
8-2 games, 4-0 matches.
Round 5) Felix Lapan (Top 4’ed) with Hulk-Rebirth, Loss-Loss
I saw Felix prior to the tournament and made a point to say hi; he’d crushed me in a GP grinder at Providence, all while telling me he enjoyed listening to me on Crazy Talk to ease the pain. I sit down across from him this time, and I realize that I probably have as little outs as I did in Rhode Island. Submerge would have been great here, but they’re sitting in the binder at the hotel. Felix wins the die roll and correctly casts Cabal Therapy on me naming Force of Will, and then proceeds to combo out with little resistance. I’m at a loss for boarding, mainly because this matchup is unique in the fact that versus most combo decks Natural Order comes out, but Felix has the option of casting his own Natural Order for Progenitus if he chooses. This is what I wind up going with:
I think this is about as good as it gets, unfortunately. This allows for the maximum amount of control elements while having Terastodon as an out to a resolved Pattern of Rebirth. Lavamancer and other burn takes care of the targets. I have to mull to 6 on the play, but I land a second turn Lavamancer. Before it goes active, however, Felix finds a Pattern of Rebirth for his Dryad Arbor. He has a second Pattern and shows me the Therapy next turn (sacrifice outlet for Pattern), and the game ends. No real outs there.
There is no hate specifically against this type of deck that NO RUG can pack. I hate casting Zenith for Gaddock Teeg, mainly because it shuts down your own Natural Orders to end the game, and they have Slaughter Pact as well. The graveyard hate package might have had some effect, but definitely not worth it based on the frequency of seeing not only a Hulk-Rebirth pilot but the creator himself. Felix and I converse a little bit after the match, and I wish him well on his way to Top 8.
8-4 games, 4-1 matches.
Round 6) Chris Barna with Merfolk, Win-Win
Chris is my good friend from Columbus, Ohio, and it is unfortunately that his 3-0 start at his first Legacy event will be followed up by a three-match stretch of playing people within our own playgroup. The Merfolk matchup, in my opinion, is rather swingy and draw dependent. The general strategy for this matchup is to stick your favorite Lhurgoyf and apply pressure, while answering Aether Vial and of course Lord of Atlantis. It’s a little harder to do pre-board for me, because my Grim Lavamancers are in the sideboard. Post-board you get 3 Grim Lavamancers and 4 1-mana Vindicates, so the matchup moves to pretty favorable. In this case, Chris unfortunately has to mull to 4 on the draw, and I take a quick game 1 with multiple [card]Tarmogoyf[/cards.
For game 2 we both keep our opening hands, but Chris doesn’t have any early pressure in Aether Vial or Lord of Atlantis and makes the mistake of not being patient with his Submerges, simply Time Walk-ing me by hitting Tarmogoyf. When he’s tapped out, I go for Grim Lavamancer, and he sticks. Chris doesn’t find a Dismember, and I stabilize slowly and surely, eliminating Lords and getting in with Goyf.
10-4 games, 5-1 matches.
Round 7) Dan Musser (Top 2’ed) with Zoo, Loss-Loss
It figures that I would have to go through more friends to move on further. This time, unfortunately, it happens to be my friend Dan from Akron, Ohio. I sat next to him last round so I know he’s playing 1-drop Zoo. Even if I had Submerges, this matchup is unfavorable because of the sheer speed of the deck, and their ability to efficiently remove your Natural Order targets. Because of the time this buys, finding a Progenitus might not even be relevant here. While against traditional Zoo it is possible to play out multiple Natural Order fodder and go from there due to the lower density of removal, Dan was playing Grim Lavamancer and fifteen removal spells.
We both sit down at a fake feature match (the Garruk table), and Dan points out to me that he lost on Saturday sitting in my seat. Awesome. To make matters worse, I lose the die roll. I manage to get a Progenitus out, but it’s a little too late to fight back.
I know Dan is playing Phyrexian Metamorph and Jitte in his sideboard, so I board in the 1 Ancient Grudge. As you can see, my sideboard is not the best against Zoo and I had to make some suboptimal choices. I actually manage to stall the game long enough to reach the following board position:
It’s his turn. He plays a Phyrexian Metamorph copying my Tarmogoyf, going to 17 life, and says go. I draw for the turn, and it’s a Fire // Ice. I Natural Order for Progenitus, and pass the turn. I get a pass back, and I attack, taking him to 7. He Lightning Helixes me at the end step, going back to 10. At his upkeep, I make a terrible misplay. I cast Ice on his Metamorph’ed Tarmogoyf (and draw nothing). Right after, I realize what I’ve done, and I’m ready to pack my cards up. He slowly moves the Jitte over to his Lavamancer, and attacks in to get 2 counters, removing them to go to 14 and surviving another turn. I extend the hand and pack up my cards. Dan points out the correct line of play would have been to split the Tarmogyof and Lavamancer carrying Jitte anyways, (since he can untap and just hit me for 2 with Lavamancer), so I don’t feel *that* bad.
10-6 games, 5-2 matches.
Round 8) Ryan with Merfolk, Loss-Loss
I sit down for my last match against Ryan, whose brother I beat the previous day in the Legacy Challenge to reach 3-1. I know he’s playing Merfolk, but from his brother’s excitement, I know he has tricks. I keep a very shaky 6-card hand without removal but with plenty of digging, and I think I’m set. Ryan keeps his poker face the entire game, allowing me to counter some critical lords and set up a t3 Natural Order. When I go for it, he has double Force of Will, and when we both play the rebuilding party, his deck is much more threat dense, and runs me over.
Sometimes you run good, sometimes you don’t. I start off with a great hand of t1 Birds and t2 Tarmogoyf, but the hand quickly falls apart when I can’t answer Ryan’s second Lord of Atlantis. He makes the correct reads against me and sacrifices his hand to protect it, all while swinging in slowly with the Merfolk dorks. Eventually, his Mutavault goes the entire way as I’m waiting for an answer on the top of my deck. I draw a Brainstorm, cast it, and see: non-fetchland, non-fetchland, Dryad Arbor. Looking at the board state, there’s no way I can win unless I can see a fresh card, and I extend the hand. Ryan shows me the maindeck Dismembers and Metamorphs, and I shudder a little bit inside. Apparently things could have been a lot more ugly, but the brother gets revenge anyways!
Final: 10-8 games, 5-3 matches.
I was a little sad to not see any of my sideboard cards for this match, but them’s the beats. I collect my $50 for Top 32, and watch two of my friends make it to the Top 16. Not a bad day after all for the Columbus crew. I get to mull over a few things on the drive home, such as my major misplay in the seventh round, and what fixes I need to have a better matchup against green decks. Regardless of my finish, it’s been a while since I’ve felt this good about playing a deck, and I fully intend on rocking it in the future. These are some of the changes that I’m considering as of now:
Sylvan Library: There is no way that this deck can use it as aggressively as Zoo, but it doesn’t have to. It’s a good tool to maintain card advantage / card parity with the control decks, and is another useful card to have against the Hymn decks. With 9 fetchlands, seeing multiple fresh cards every turn makes this a strong choice. It would likely replace Ponder #2 in the deck as a singleton.
Eternal Witness: This suggestion was made on The Source, and I think it’s a good fit for this deck. It can be a target with Zenith, regrowth a spell in your graveyard, and still stick around for Natural Order. The only question is whether to play it in multiples or have it as a singleton. Either way, Eternal Witness has always been a backbreaker against control decks. I could see it in the fourth Tarmogoyf slot, or in the Fire // Ice #3 slot.
Umezawa’s Jitte: My initial draft of this deck had 2 Umezawa’s Jitte in the sideboard, and I would like to have another tool against tribal decks. Jitte seems to be the best call here, and I will be looking to add two copies back to the sideboard if there is space. They would likely cause the Grim Lavamancers to be moved to the maindeck, and Fire // Ice to be cut overall.
Other Green Utility Creatures: The best two candidates are Trygon Predator and Scavenging Ooze, which I have gone over already. I could definitely see a card like Scryb Ranger or Quirion Ranger making it into this deck, as it synergizes with the six manabugs, and helps against Wasteland. Even one copy is still found by Zenith and 2 colored mana can still be generated on turn 2. Dauntless Escort has also been considered to fight against Perish effects. Kitchen Finks was played by Reid Duke and is a good target versus Zoo, as well as Natural Order fodder.
I have talked to a lot of people about Jace and Thrun, the Last Troll, and here are my thoughts on having the two. UW Stoneblade/Landstill is a deck where NO RUG has a reasonable matchup already; the 3 Counterspell in the sideboard already provides effective “hate” against it. Counterspell can also be boarded in against combo, which Jace has an impact on in the late game, but not the early, where NO RUG needs to have control. The only time I would consider Jace again is if the Hymn-midrange decks become popular again. Thrun has made it into my sideboard a few times, but the unfortunate part about the suggested number to be played and his “Can’t be countered” clause is that it’s more likely Zenith for X = 4 is getting him into play rather than hardcasting him, which defeats that purpose all together.
That’s all I have for now, I hope I’ve given some good insights on NO RUG and how to approach some of the more popular matchups. I don’t have a new definitive decklist yet, but I plan on playing the deck with some tweaks at Gen Con for Legacy Champs this Saturday. If you are in Indianapolis, I love to network and meet new people, so feel free to come by and say hi!