The Captain’s Log: Adapting RUG for the Current Metagame

The Captain’s Log: Adapting RUG for the Current Metagame

As of late there has been a disturbing trend in our local and the broader meta game at large. RUG is on the decline! Now by decline I mean RUG staggered from almost 30% of a typical Star City Games tournament to a ghastly 20%. What a stark drop isn’t it? Don’t be worried though the deck is far from dead, there is just something else lurking in the shadows. But that is a discussion of a later date, this week we talk about the problem.

Deathrite Shaman

This little guy does a wonder to anyone brave enough to bring RUG to a tournament these days. Because this card is so popular and works against a full 2/3rds or the deck it means there is some work to be done. Deathrite Shaman comes down early, then gets online and eating your graveyard away. This little guy not only decreases the size of your graveyard making sure your Nimble Mongoose never reaches full power, but it also keeps your Tarmogoyf in check, all the while smacking you in the face for 2 damage or gaining your opponent life. This isn’t even mentioning the ability that gets their spells out of Daze and Spell Pierce range. For a tempo deck like RUG these are not things we are looking for out of an opponent.

So what does RUG do from here? Do we set RUG down and look for a different answer? Do we just give up because Wizards prints what seems to be such an efficient answer to RUG and so many other graveyard based decks? No, not so easily. We must look for answers. How to solve this little guy? Well let’s do some brainstorming. We could go the traditional route and just look to Daze him when he comes down or burn him with Lightning Bolt, Forked Bolt, and/or Chain Lightning and all of these cards can be in our list. But there is another option: Thought Scour.

Thought Scour

Now I have never been a huge fan of this card because at heart I always felt this was a very bad cantrip and in Legacy the importance for card quality is huge. But it just may be Thought Scour’s time to shine. You may be thinking well why would we want to give Deathrite Shaman three more targets with Thought Scour? But it’s not about the targets, it is about keeping that graveyard stocked and full of spells. In other words going over the top of Deathrite Shaman by making sure that there is just too much for it to get rid of. Make them invest their mana in your graveyard instead of advancing their board. This seems like an ideal plan for a tempo player. Because once again it doesn’t matter if the opponent has more cards in their hand when the game is over, if they didn’t have the time to use them then it was like they didn’t have them at all.

So here is a list that I have been working on.Very similar to the traditional list because it still has obvious strength, but just a little tweak to keep it ahead of the curve.

With the added Thought Scour this also gives you more “shuffle effects” with your brainstorm. Instead of shuffling the deck away you can set up you library with cards you no longer want or different card types you would like to get in the graveyard (to make Tarmogoyf bigger) then cast Thought Scour targeting yourself. Also Thought Scour gives you a different form of attack against different decks. Against Miracles you can use Thought Scour to mill away a potentially disastrous Terminus or Entreat the Angels. Thought Scour can be used in the blue mirrors to disrupt opponent’s brainstorms. Let them think long and hard about what cards it is that need to be on top of their libraries, let them think about proper sequencing of upcoming turns and when they have finally decided then you chose. Is it resources they need to further the game or is it trash they wish to throw away? Regardless you get the option. Another important interaction is in your sideboard games that require Submerge. Thought Scour when paired with Submerge becomes permanent removal. Simply put the pesky creature on top of their library then scour it away, all the while drawing you a card.

Think of it this way, would you play a blue card that read: “as long as your opponent controls a forest and you control an island you can play this card for 1 blue mana, destroy target creature and mill your opponent one card. Then draw a card.”

Seems like a good combination to me.

Chain Lightning

Granted all of this may not be enough to warrant Thought Scour’s presence in the deck, but if nothing else it is a possibility to start from. Another option is to go even faster. How do you get much faster for a tempo deck than RUG? A tool that seems long forgotten Chain Lightning. This card is another 3 damage spell that just puts the pressure on your opponent much faster than many other cards. Another benefit of this card is that it can be aimed right at Deathrite Shamans small little head clearing the way and protecting the graveyard for your Tarmogoyfs and Nimble Mongoose. This could be the solution as well, cutting the Thought Scour for the Chain Lightning.

In my experience with RUG it is important to always keep your opponent on his heels always stumbling for life, mana, and every other resource that is needed to progress the game. While Chain Lightning is a sorcery and not what you want in every matchup it can give you that extra push you need to put the game out of reach just before your opponent can grasp that ledge and climb out of the hole you dug for them. In this type of game plan your focus needs to be even more on what is important and that usually is the battlefield. What is there to clog it up? What is important to Stifle, counter, and fight over? For every matchup the answer differs, but in any game of magic I like to take a step back and look at what the opponent is trying to do, and then try to make it hard for them to achieve that end game.

Supreme Verdict

Some examples of Stifling board development is against Esper control. This deck tries to go long game against you using the raw power of their cards to beat you and make up for their lack of speed. Where their cards are more powerful they tend to be slow. A RUG player must capitalize on this. A huge card that Esper looks to use against RUG is Supreme Verdict. Here is yet another card that seems to be Wizards attempt to crush RUG, but fear not there is a plan.

What is that plan? Well it is much like previous plans, play smart. To cast this spell our opponent must first get to four mana. Knowing this we can take our first few turns setting up our board playing our quick and dangerous creatures and use the following turns to Stifle their progress. We can use our cantrips to look for Wasteland and Stifle to punish their mana base and set them back valuable turns all the while increasing the amount of pressure they are under. This is where Chain Lightening can come in with great force. Where 6-9 life before may have been safe for a control deck to settle at against a RUG deck now RUG is running nearly double the amount of burn.

Another route to victory is holding back creatures, also known as not overextending. Now this is a very difficult skill to master and often times can mean the difference between a win or a loss immediately. If you hold back creatures so your opponent does not get max value out of their sweeper spells you are giving your opponent something equally as valuable, time. If we do not have creatures in play we are not applying pressure to our opponent. To master this skill you must be able to be good at math, but also be able to tell the future. Ok not really tell the future, but be able to look at a game state and try to see what are the likely possibilities of what is going to happen in the next few turns and how you will be able to respond to them. Will your opponent play a creature that will be able to block a key turn and soak up valuable life points, or will your opponent be able to Swords to Plowshares one of your creatures while you are tapped out and unable to Spell Pierce it? Being able to see these possible lines of plays will benefit your game tremendously because you will get to anticipate what your opponent is going to do before they do it and can already have an answer at the ready.


RUG is still alive and healthy it just needs some updates. While Legacy is a format where the cards that see play rarely change there is often an ever shifting meta game. Because of this RUG needs to adapt to survive. This can often be done by just changing a few cards here and there and understanding the game plan of an opponent then shifting your game plan accordingly. The answer is out there for sure, hidden in some deep dark box of old magic cards. Someone just has to unearth it.

Thanks for reading – hope you enjoyed.

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