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#RUGlyf: The RUG Delver Primer - Part 5: The RUG Renaissance

Welcome to... not another This Week in Legacy?! This week, for those of you looking for weekly metagame updates and etc., we'll be skimping out on that. Instead, what I present to you is something I recently wrote quite close to my heart. Strap yourself in, brew a cup of coffee (or two, it's a long piece) and enjoy.

A long-ish time ago (well, it was around two years), a novice writer decided that he’d write a few paragraphs on one of his favorite Legacy decks. It began with a history lesson, chronicling Turbo-Xerox to Miracle-Gro to Canadian Threshold, then ventured into card choices, sideboard choices and a long-winded explanation (sort-of) on how to play the deck. However, the writer’s monthly column soon transformed into a weekly column and he also got eaten by the commitments of life.

The long-promised fifth part of the #RUGlyf series looked to never see the light of day.

But here we are. At the end of 2017, I have finally found myself with time in front of my laptop and a profound urge to write about one of Legacy’s greatest decks. I’ve actually put down any other deck. I have wholly dedicated myself to the church of Nimble Mongoose. I have been inspired by success of the many recent patron saints of RUG who have ventured into tournaments and Top 8'ed, whose lists we’ll soon look into.

The format has changed significantly since the writing of #RUGlyf Part 4. Seismic shifts have occurred that looked to make the deck unplayable. Sensei's Divining Top was banned, and with it old Miracles, eliminating a matchup that many felt was reasonable. In its place stood a heap of Grixis/BUG/4c cards, RUG’s foremost enemy among them the loathsome Deathrite Shaman, ready to dismantle the Wasteland/Stifle game plan and counteract the growth of Nimble Mongoose. Fatal Push entered the format, making one of RUG’s premier threats, Tarmogoyf, no longer the monster it once was. Now, not only did RUG have to deal with the uncounterable Abrupt Decay blowing up its threats (other than Mongoose, bless him) it also had to deal with its top-end two-mana threat trading for a one-mana spell. Grixis Delver has become the de facto best variant of Delver, having not only an aggressive game plan of Delver backed up with Bolts, but also a solid midrange back-up plan thanks to Deathrite Shaman and Young Pyromancer letting the deck play a bit longer. Many players opted to this as the “tempo” deck of choice. Of course, nothing is as “tempo” as RUG is, but alas.

Despite all this, RUG Delver has persisted. Canadian Threshold has persisted. In this article, I am going to outline the evolution of RUG Delver in the post-Sensei's Divining Top era, bringing us all the way to its current back-to-back-to-back-to-back large tournament Top 8s since the middle of 2017. It will be punctuated by odd discovered technology and my own opinions on the current optimal builds of the deck.

Recent History

Let’s dive in chronologically, I suppose, starting with the printing of Fatal Push.

January 20th, 2017.
Aether Revolt is released.

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When Fatal Push was printed, many immediately cried out the death of Tarmogoyf. The once $200 Green idiot could now be answered so efficiently by any of the fair Black decks in the format. Although Dismember had already existed, this was not the greatest option for control decks due to the hefty life loss. Grixis Delver was also now at the head of the format and Gurmag Angler seen as the best fair beat stick. Goyf had his work cut out for him – many players opting for novel technology such as Seal of Fire to make Tarmogoyf grow larger than Anglers. This can be seen in one of Jonathan Alexander’s list from late 2016, after his strong 24th-place finish at GP Prague. Note the focus on “Winner Orb” – still a very viable synergistic sideboard card – to crush the then-dominant Miracles deck.

Jonathan’s work on Canadian Threshold would be key in the evolution of the archetype moving forward post-Push. His blog The Weekly Wars is filled with a wealth of content on the deck still quite relevant despite changes to the format. Definitely some requisite RUG reading.

Anyway, so with Push, Goyf became bad. Who to turn to?

Mongoose-less RUG had made an appearance quite some time ago in the hands of Gialuca Gazzola who Top 8'ed GP Prague in 2016. Mongoose had been one of the hallmarks of the deck since the Lam Phan Canadian Threshold-era, however. What could’ve led Gianluca to opt out of the little monster?

Apes, apparently.

Tailored to the post-Dig Grixis Delver metagame, this list can ignore Deathrite pretty readily (or just kill it with the seven removal spells main) as the threats all do not require Threshold at all. Hooting Mandrills is the big breakthrough in this list and, although it cannot attack through Anglers, I’m sure its trample and unboltable body are further strong game against Grixis Delver too.

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So thanks to Gianluca, Mandrills was already seen as a pretty viable threat. With Fatal Push in the format, the Delve creatures looked better and better due to being impervious to the card, even Revolted. Nimble Mongoose too looked like an excellent prospect if people are gravitating to Fatal Push-based midrange decks, with Shroud punishing those. But there’s some very obvious tension between Delve and Threshold. Gianluca very consciously did not include both in his list.

But the payoff if these could be played together had a lot of prospects. A plan of boarding out Delvers and having a suite of threats involving Mandrills, Mongoose and True-Name looked like an incredible way to exploit the metagame.

The power of going “full shroud” was being realized.

Some took this plan to an incredible extreme, with Jonathan Alexander playing Delverless Canadian Threshold to some success (his forays into Life from the Loam / Barbarian Ring as a removal engine still has relevance today) and players like Ethan Gaieski brewed a Bant Threshold list with a similar mindset. “Dark Thresh” also looked to capitalize on Fatal Push’s raw efficiency by shifting RUG Delver’s Stifle Wasteland core to a BUG shell with Goose, Deathrite and Delver as threats. Some felt the tension between Mandrills and Mongoose a little too much, and opted for the expensive True-Name Nemesis in its place. Some simply kept playing Goyfs anyway.

Nonetheless, this was ultimately a dark time for RUG. The deck had few high-profile finishes and the few people tinkering with the deck appeared to be mad scientists who should’ve just spent their time playing Grixis Delver if they wanted to win.

There was also soon another seismic shift to occur too.

April 24th, 2017.
Sensei’s Divining Top is banned in Legacy.

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RUG Delver was the Delver deck best equipped to fight Miracles. Having an incredibly efficient threat that could only be beaten by Terminus in Nimble Mongoose, along with the plan of Winter Orb and Pyroblasts to crush post-board, made the matchup quite favorable in my eyes, other than the times you’d get punked out by a quick Counterbalance Top lock. The Miracles deck would go off to remodel itself as the very solid Predict / Portent-based deck it is now, but the control deck that immediately filled the void of Miracles was 4c Control – affectionately known to many as Czech Pile. Kolaghan's Command and Leovold, Emissary of Trest were the new toys this midrange/control deck utilized to grind apart other fair decks alongside Baleful Strix and Deathrite. Stoneblade also had a little bit of a resurgence, particularly versions that yearned to suit up a True-Name Nemesis as quickly and consistently as possible via acceleration with mana dorks. Before, these decks would be prone to a timely Terminus blasting away the whole field, but that was no longer the world lived in.

Although RUG's prey Miracles disappeared (and then soon reappeared), the format oddly boiled into what seemed a good place to be playing RUG. Although Deathrite and Baleful Strix can be a headache, a well-tuned spell suite and tight play can lead to an utter dismantling of the 4c Control deck’s fragile mana base. Patrick Tierney was the first arbiter of RUG’s revival, taking Top 8 of GP Las Vegas’ Legacy portion. He took a somewhat stock approach to the deck, but altered the creature suite to have two True-Names over what would typically be Tarmogoyfs. He upped the amount of removal in his main deck to ensure that the Deathrite “challenge” could always be passed and effective mana denial and Threshold ensured. Many were amazed to see the deck take such a run. But people had forgotten that RUG Delver was still the best Delver deck at just “Delvering” or “Canadianing” the opponent out of the game with its pure streamlined and focused efficiency.

It was good to be back.

The next big finish for the deck, however, showcased an altered creature suite utilizing Hooting Mandrills and some choices which seemed initially oddball. Marius Bender had long been a proponent of RUG Delver, and some information on his history with the deck (and Magic in general) can be found in my interview with him and Kevin Wagner in This Week in Legacy. He also has a wealth of opinions and resources posted under his name MTB on The Source. All in all, I cannot speak highly enough of him. Here is his 2nd placing list from MKM Hamburg, that he also ended up Top 8'ing with less than a month after at MKM Barcelona.

This threat base is tailored to fight against Czech Pile effectively, with Hooting Mandrills, Mongoose, and True-Name allowing the deck to go “full shroud” and strand common removal like Bolt, Push and Decay in hand. Marius also recognized that twelve creatures is not requisite in RUG Delver – rather, a leaner threat base means the deck can play the “protect the queen” role as effectively as possible by drawing a single threat and enough disruption to ride it to victory.

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Marius’ list also highlights the strength of Spell Snare. The format has distilled to a place flush with Strix, Stoneforge and Snapcaster, mana-intensive two drops incredibly threatening to RUG’s plan that Snare punishes incredibly efficiently. Another oddball choice is Marius’ main deck inclusion of Preordain as extra velocity and selection.

In the sideboard, Abrade is the newest piece of technology from recent sets and the oddball Compost is a piece of technology to fight Czech Pile and even Storm.

Marius’ list inspired many to take RUG back to the top tables. A week after Marius’ success, Eric Vergo took RUG Delver to Top 8 America’s most prestigious Legacy tournament, Eternal Weekend, playing almost the same seventy-five as Marius. I took RUG Delver to victory in Australia, in our much less prestigious Brisbane Eternal Weekend. Although similar to Marius in terms of threats, I adopted a few more Jonathan Alexander-esque pieces of technology found during the post-Push era:

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Main deck Life from the Loam is an engine I still have a lot of respect for, allowing the deck to fuel Threshold and Delve, maintain card advantage in conjunction with Brainstorm and act as an eleventh threat in certain matchups (that flips Delver) by creating Waste-lock. However, it is entirely optional and perhaps best in metagames flush with fair decks, serving me well against Czech Pile and Death & Taxes notably. Sideboard Barbarian Ring, technology adopted from Jonathan’s Delverless lists, is also a powerful piece of utility, acting not only as an additional land in mana-tight matches but also colorless removal.

The last notable big finish for the deck comes from Ryan Lesko at the Star City Games Open in DC. His list is closer in spirit to Patrick Tierney, but has a spell suite that took a lot of influence from Marius and Mandrills-based lists, including the one-of Preordain for a slight bit more selection. His sideboard looks to pre-Czech Pile technology like Winter Orb and Seal of Fire too. In Patrick’s words, his list utilized Tarmogoyf to approach a more open metagame, where the big idiot can shine against decks like Eldrazi and Death & Taxes. Although a liability against Czech Pile due to Push efficiently dealing with him, there is still a place for the Goyf.

So that gets us up to date on how the deck has progressed from the printing of Fatal Push and into the post-Top era. It has come from the lowest, “antiquated” Delver deck to once again gaining respect for its single-minded tempo mana denial plan that is currently well-placed in the format.

Deck Construction

Next let’s look how to construct RUG Delver in 2017.

Main Deck


Firstly, the threats. A typical RUG Delver deck has ten to twelve threats in the main deck. Although odd compared to its Grixis peers, that often run a maximum of fifteen, RUG’s threats being unkillable mean that removal need not be overloaded. Furthermore, RUG Delver is much more dedicated to the “protect the queen” plan and typically only wants a single threat mixed with disruption. Flooding on threats is also very poor for RUG – more Nimble Mongooses in hand mean less cards to fuel Threshold or Delve. Honestly, for me I have started to embrace the lower the amount of threats the better, and having more faith in a more comprehensive disruption suite and cantrips giving agency to find these threats when needed.

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These two are the cheapest and first tier of threats RUG has available. There is no doubt that RUG’s main advantage over other Delver variants is Nimble Mongoose. In a world now filled with Fatal Push and other fair decks trying to overwhelm with removal, Nimble Mongoose’s Shroud and RUG’s primary plan of getting seven cards in the bin have never been better. Although Deathrite Shaman may make this sometimes difficult, and care must be taken to ensure the Elf Shaman be kept off the table, when RUG’s plan goes well Mongoose is often the crowning glory that steals the game. Although past iterations have tried without the Mongoose (see: Gialuca’s list and my kind-of-bad but kind-of-okay RUG in Denial list) everyone has soon returned to it, as it is the signature weapon the deck has against the metagame.

Also, a note. Odyssey Mongoose is not strictly better than Eternal Masters, despite everyone telling me otherwise. Although the border sucks, Eternal Masters’ Mongoose artwork looks more nimble than ever. I rest my case.

Delver of Secrets is well-supported in this shell too. Not only can Delver, or multiple Delvers, backed up with heavy mana denial strand uncastable removal in the opponent’s hand or just kill them before things can get setup, but Delver is the key threat against combo decks when a single Delver cast on turn one can be taken to victory while arming oneself with disruption and never tapping out unless utterly necessary. Mongoose can be a little too slow. However, in more prolonged games Delver can be quite a liability, dying to every piece of removal. Although nicely pitchable to Force of Will in game one, it is not uncommon in post-board games to cut Delver of Secrets entirely and go “full shroud” with the opponent’s point removal being completely nullified.

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Hooting Mandrills and Tarmogoyf encapsulate the second tier of threats available to RUG. Tarmogoyf, once the old stand-by of the deck, now looks a little lackluster with Fatal Push existing. However, Tarmogoyf, in conjunction with Delver, gives a suite of threats that are not entirely reliant on one’s own graveyard and can beat typically unwinnable matchups (Eldrazi, Death & Taxes etc.) by aggroing out the opponent Zoo-style. Its hugeness and ease in deploying is its biggest selling point, typically being a 4/5 but a 5/6 very possible, especially if some supplemental removal like Tarfire or Seal of Fire is included. It’s quite mediocre against combo, however, costing a little too much mana.

J.A. speaks a little more on Tarmogoyf:

Tarmogoyf has exactly one quality: It’s the least bad of all the other creatures. The only popular matchup where you want Tarmogoyf for its effect (being huge) is Eldrazi. It’s not a very exciting card, but it’s still consistently big and can bash for nice damage.

Hooting Mandrills is perhaps the newest addition to the pantheon of RUG’s threats. There are a lot of nuances to who I affectionately call “Curious George”. Unlike Goyf, Mandrills needs a little setup, but can be cast on perhaps turn three at earliest. His eating of the graveyard has obvious dissynergy with little Nimble Mongoose, that has irked many players since Mandrills’ adoption. But the upside of Mandrills is enormous. Essentially a Tarmogoyf-size threat that does not die to Fatal Push or Abrupt Decay, Mandrills is also a perfect foil to a metagame filled with True-Name Nemesis, being able to trample through the annoying Fish. It can also be a very quick clock deployable off a single mana, leaving the rest up for disruption, making him much more reasonable against combo than Goyf. The dissynergy with Mongoose, although apparent at times, can be remedied with understanding matchups, prioritizing one threat over the other and cantripping correctly. Furthermore, in prolonged games both are supportable, especially if graveyard-filling cards like Loam or additional cantrips are included.

I think Marius speaks best about this:

Something a lot of people comment on is the dissynergy with Mongoose. Not only is it not as big of a deal as people tend to present it as (If you attack with a 3/3 Mongoose and play a 4/4 Mandrills post-combat you will still have increased your clock by two damage each turn at least) but it’s also less of a factor because they are simply meant for different matchups. Mandrills is great in almost all the matchups where Mongoose is not strong enough (combo, Elves, BUG) and Mongoose is insanely strong in the matchups where Mandrills is less than stellar (Stoneblade, Miracles, Esper Delver).

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The primary tertiary threat available to the deck is True-Name Nemesis. In RUG I think of him as a cross between the evasiveness of Delver with the untouchability of Nimble Mongoose, but this of course comes at quite the premium – a mana cost of three. Although many players have opted for True-Name in the main deck (especially over Mandrills due to wariness of Delve and Threshold dissynergy), and the durdly threat does have a failsafe of pitching to Force in a pinch, he is most commonly seen in the sideboard for matchups that become a bit more prolonged and the third land drop achievable. True-Name also allows for the “full shroud” game plan nuking removal post-board when Delvers (or even Mandrills) are entirely cut. Interestingly, unlike other threat suites such as that of Grixis Delver which utilizes Pyromancer to stymie removal, True-Name and Mongoose are not both prone to -1/-1 effects so long as Mongoose remains Threshed. However, all these threats do have problems against Edict effects.

Other tertiary threats up for consideration include cards such as Vendilion Clique and Snapcaster Mage. Clique, although her disruptive effect valuable and evasion reasonable, often synergizes poorly with game plans that opt to avoid turning on Lightning Bolt as live removal and can often trade down, hence creating tempo-negative plays. Snapcaster is a useful card for grinding, and although a fragile body that turns on removal, still creates some amount of value and is useful Edict protection. However, RUG’s spells are often only strong in the early game, and with Snapcaster a mid-to-late game card the utility of flashing back Stifle and Spell Pierce may have lost its moment. Access to Snap Bolt is always nice, however.


Next let’s look at the non-creature spells:

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Skip back to one of the older parts of the primer for a bit of insight into why RUG is one of the best Force and Daze decks. Play four of both. Especially Daze – I almost never cut the card from the deck now, because it is really the “payoff” for having Stifle and Wasteland in your Delver deck. Crippling your opponent’s mana gives you the ability to counter things with so few resources and synergize with Brainstorm. Very neat.

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Again, look to older primers for details of this too. Stifle is in an incredible place due to the greedy mana bases flush in the format, but it truly can be one of the more high-variance cards in the deck. I will often cut Stifle if the mana denial plan is going to be hindered (eg. against Blade decks with many basics) even if they seem to have very reasonable targets (Snapcaster, Stoneforge, etc.). Turns out boarding in more efficient answers (Pyroblast, artifact destruction) is a little more stable. That being said, against almost all combo decks it will be relevant and even in matchups where it is lackluster game one, it can eek out some kind of value if you plan accordingly. Nonetheless, since we are dedicating ourselves as hard as possible to the mana denial game plan, play four.

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Two cards the format is again now very soft to. Pierce is a much more generic card, but when people are attempting to cast three-mana spells like Kolaghan's Command Pierce pulls a lot of work in a tempo-positive way. It’s been a mainstay of almost all RUG decks due to it complementing the mana denial plan incredibly, as well as the format, as always, being flush with cantrips and combos and etc.

Spell Snare, however, is now in the perfect place. Snapcaster Mage and Baleful Strix are some of the most fearsome value-generating problems for RUG and Snare deals with these, even on the draw. Non-blue decks too can be punished by Snare. Critical lock pieces like Thalia and Chalice are deftly dealt with. The only huge liability Snare finds itself against is Sneak & Show, where it is an utterly useless card unless used as Force fodder. With Sneak & Show somewhat underrepresented, and fair decks blooming, there is no better time to be Snaring.

Some other options I have seen are main deck Flusterstorm (perfect in combo-heavy metagames when planeswalkers and artifacts that Pierce can hit are less of an issue) and the sometimes clunky but very broad Counterspell. Typically the amount of slots dedicated to any mix of supplementary countermagic is around three to five.


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Next, removal. RUG Delver plays Red because, in the main, Lightning Bolt complements the aggressive game plan all too well. Lightning Bolt is actually now better than ever with opposing Tarmogoyf decks at an all-time low and the only large threats really to fear are Delve threats, primarily Gurmag Angler.

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Due to Angler, Dismember has been a main stream choice in RUG, though always a contentious one. Especially with Eldrazi at a low, I feel it less necessary and supplementary Red removal such as Forked Bolt or Chain Lightning reasonable. Many a time matchups are not determined by Gurmag Anglers and friends, but instead being able to answer a turn one Deathrite Shaman. Having to spend four life to do so however is… Not pleasant.

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One more novel option that compromises between these that I have been having success with is Dead // Gone. Killing small creatures (but not going to the face) is often what your supplementary removal will be doing anyway, but its overcosted bounce spell mode can be powerful in a pinch against Delve threats (making them sometimes uncastable) as well as relevant against combo decks like Reanimator, Sneak & Show, and Marit Lage decks. Give it a try and be surprised.

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More interesting options for builds utilising Tarmogoyf are Seal of Fire and Tarfire. These are basically Shocks (Seal being a pretty bad Shock, as it often has to be utilized at sorcery-speed), which is of course useful for dealing with small creatures in a similar way to Bolt. The biggest boon these have is their respective types though. Having an enchantment and tribal card in the graveyard grows Goyf larger than standard 4/5 size, outclassing the Delve threats.

The amount of removal in a RUG Delver list to me speaks most on how much the player fears Deathrite. The standard amount is six, with four Lightning Bolt norm and the other two slots being any of the supplementary removal outlined. Seven removal is perhaps the maximum I’d ever play, as one risks diluting the deck with too many dead cards against combo otherwise.

Cantrips / Card Advantage

I’ve saved the best for last – cantrips and card advantage engines. Brainstorm and Ponder I talked on in Part 4 and as we know these are the glue of almost all the Blue decks in Legacy. What is more interesting in the adoption of a ninth cantrip in many lists now to complement the reduced amount of threats.

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Gitaxian Probe, although a staple in Grixis Delver, is a more proactive card which is somewhat disjointed from RUG’s purely reactionary game plan. Although excellent in the early game to scope out what to Pierce, Daze, Stifle, or Snare, Probe changes the texture of the deck in the mid-to-late game, making cantrips less reliable (as one of the cards is essentially an unknown; this is especially pertinent when Brainstorming for a counterspell – hitting a Probe is no bueno) and being somewhat of a dead draw when life total is at a premium. I think it can be reasonable in small numbers and do see its benefits – information is hella powerful – but it’s too easy to think that since it’s good in Grixis, it is good in RUG. The decks’ game plans are fundamentally different and hence require different deck building decisions.

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Thought Scour is the epitome of air. Again, this has been played by many too anxious about Mandrills and Mongoose dissynergy. In decks such as Esper Delver and the turbo Angler Grixis variants, I do see the benefits of this card, but in RUG I am less convinced. A card that comes close to acceptable for me in this slot is, bizarrely, Predict. A throwback to what old Miracle Gro lists played, and the backbone of current Miracles lists, Predict has essentially three modes, in my mind:

  1. An overcosted mini-Thought Scour. Like Thought Scour, Predict is instant-speed, however, and hence never needs to be tapped out for.
  2. In conjunction with Brainstorm and Ponder, a card that can allow RUG to push an advantage further ahead or pull the deck out from being slightly behind. This is its very high and very achievable upside.
  3. Force fodder.

My work with Predict is quite experimental, but I do like how it has played so far, recovering my hand after being dismantled by cards such as Hymn to Tourach.

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The epitome of medium in the ninth cantrip slot is Preordain. To quote Marius:

Preordain is 25% land, 25% creature, 25% removal, 25% permission and 100% mediocre. Realistically it adds another bit of much needed velocity to the deck that helps you find the card you need in your current position in the game.

In short, Preordain is pretty reasonable, if unexciting.

Looking to cards advantage engines, many of these can be opted to the sideboard to streamline RUG’s tempo game one plan. However, in the main these cards can fundamentally alter the game state and allow the somewhat linear-looking RUG Delver to break apart difficult situations.

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I have already spoken of Life from the Loam. Although contrary to the reactive game plan of RUG, if one thinks of it as an additional threat it makes a lot of sense. Loam can pull the deck very far ahead when resurrecting Wastelands, or even as a two-mana Ancestral Recall in conjunction with Brainstorm. In some matchups too, additional lands are well-worth cards when your mana is hard-pressed. One has to learn how to manipulate the card carefully, not tapping out too early to get Waste-lock going and hence putting shields down, as well as targeting correctly to manage Threshold. But it is strong, especially the package with Barbarian Ring, and in my mind is, in addition to Mongoose and Mandrills, a reason to be a base-Green Delver deck. I’d recommend Loam more for lists utilizing both Mandrills and Mongoose, smoothing the tension between the two cards while being a very serviceable card advantage engine or creating the threat of Waste-lock, unlike the mediocre Thought Scour.

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Sylvan Library is also an option in the current metagame. Excellent against Plow decks (Plow my Goyf? I’ll just draw some more, then!) but also the midrange decks of the format, RUG’s aggressive game plan means that untapping and taking eight to draw two additional cards can push the RUG player far ahead. Unlike Loam, it is also not terrible against combo – although tapping out for it can be a fearsome proposal, gassing back up with countermagic the turn after is very powerful. I’d recommend Library more for lists main decking Goyf, however, and probably in metagames of Stoneblade and Miracles rather than Czech Pile.

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A brief mention on Winter Orb. Although once a serviceable “threat” due to it absolutely crippling Miracles prior to Top’s banning, and I do see it occupying a similar slot to Library or Loam, I feel Orb is only truly strong in the sideboard these days. Deathrite Shaman too easily undoes its effect and can cause the RUG player to shoot themselves in the foot, not to mention that Kolaghan's Command is a card now common. It’s also often largely irrelevant against traditional combo.


The lands well, you know those. Some fetches, Trops, Volcs and Wastelands. Take your pick in terms of fetches on whether you want to pretend to represent other decks (and hence use Polluted Delta, Flooded Strand) or diversify to play around Pithing Needle/Sorcerous Spyglass (mix of Foothills, Misties, etc.).

Main Deck Template

Looking to the main deck, this gives us a RUG list of:

Threats (10-12)

Primary Threats
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Nimble Mongoose

Secondary Threats
0-4 Tarmogoyf
0-2 Hooting Mandrills

Tertiary Threats
0-2 True-Name Nemesis

Disruption (15-17)

4 Force of Will
4 Daze
4 Stifle
1-4 Spell Pierce
0-3 Spell Snare
0-1 Counterspell
0-2 Flusterstorm

Removal (6-7)

4 Lightning Bolt
0-2 Dismember
0-2 Forked Bolt
0-2 Chain Lightning
0-2 Dead // Gone
0-2 Seal of Fire
0-2 Tarfire

Cantrips / Card Advantage (8-10)

4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
0-2 Preordain
0-2 Gitaxian Probe
0-1 Predict
0-1 Life from the Loam
0-1 Sylvan Library


In terms of the sideboard, there is a few starters:


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One of the primary reasons to be in Red, Pyroblast, along with Snare and Pierce, lets RUG play one of the most incredible mana-tight disruptive suites available post-board. Against Blade, Miracles and Pile Blast punishes their huge plays like Jace and True-Name while snagging cantrips, Snapcasters and Strix. I’d play three in the current metagame but the standard minimum is two. You can diversify to playing Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast splits for Surgical Extraction considerations, but I find myself utilizing only Pyroblast due to sometimes needing to throw cards in the bin needlessly to make Mongoose Threshed.

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More non-color hoser countermagic is also a thing. These help pad out your countermagic suite against combo in particular, but many of these are also flexible enough to fight against fair matchups. Extra copies of Snare and Pierce can be found here.

Artifact Destruction

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Many have mixed opinions on the split of these and I think it all comes down to preference. Grudge does what it does exceptionally well, snagging equipment from Death & Taxes twice and blowing up Chalices when required. Abrade, on the other, does neither effect exceptionally well, but I feel it has a better failsafe than Grudge. There have been times where a Grudge in hand I wished was any other Red removal spell to push for the final points of damage. Furthermore, Abrade allows for conservation of sideboard equity, as it doubles as both artifact destruction and supplemental removal for matchups such as Elves. Take your pick, and I’d run a minimum of two artifact destruction spells and maximum of three. Other options like Destructive Revelry and Krosan Grip have largely fallen out of favor after the death of Counter-Top and less prevalence of Rest in Peace.

Graveyard Hate

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Graveyard hate is a thing. Run around two of these however one prefers. Some people have been experimenting with Ground Seal, since it can be reasonable against graveyard-based combo and Czech Pile, shutting down their Snapcaster, Deathrite, and Kolaghan's Command engine. But I’m not super sold on it, especially since it is useless against Storm.

Additional Removal

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Sweeper effects, particularly Rough // Tumble, have been commonplace in RUG for quite some time, but many have now become less enamored with them. Rough // Tumble is only most effective against Elves, as other small creature decks typically are flush with fliers or creatures too large (eg. Death & Taxes, Delver). Cards like Electrickery and Sudden Demise, although serviceable, also have gaping holes in their effectiveness. And cards like Izzet Staticaster or Grim Lavamancer, creature-based creature-oppression tools, have their own downsides, being high mana cost and graveyard depletion respectively.

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As such, simply having more point removal often does wonders. Rather than utilizing a big spell to catch up, RUG’s plan typically falls in line best when pressure is applied and efficient removal carves away any frustrating threats. Forked Bolt I find the best of the sideboard additional point removal options, as it can do a “mini-sweeper” impression in certain situations. Seal of Fire I already mentioned as additional removal that helps Tarmogoyf grow past Anglers, and Barbarian Ring is primarily a consideration if utilizing Life from the Loam. Ring Loam can do a pseudo-sweeper impression killing creatures turn after turn.

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Submerge also falls into the additional removal slots but is a bit narrower. I’m less enamored with it now that there are less Tarmogoyfs in the metagame and the premier midrange deck only lightly splashes Green, and many of its creatures accrue value on enters-the-battlefield triggers anyway. It’s still serviceable as a solid tempo-positive play if Elves or BUG Delver is in your metagame. Submerging Dryad Arbors is one of the finer pleasures of life.


Rounding out a sideboard typically includes supplemental threats (True-Names find their presence in RUG sideboards, primarily, as do Cliques sometimes) and any of the card advantage engines like Sylvan Library mentioned before.

Sample Deck Lists

To wrap up this part of the primer, I’ll pass on two deck lists to start anyone on their new RUG Delver journey. These two lists are distinguished by how their threat base is constructed and certain packages in the sideboard complementing these.

The first is a list somewhat more traditional:

This list features good ol’ Tarmogoyf, drawing from the lists played by Eric Vergo and Patrick Tierney, and is also seen on Magic Online in the hands of players like malimujo. It is better served for metagames flush with Swords to Plowshares decks. Why go through all the nuisance of Delving away your graveyard for Mandrills when Goyf would do basically the same thing: go farming! The focus on Tarmogoyf is evident in the supplemental removal utilized – Seal of Fire and Tarfire can turn Goyf into a monstrous 6/7. Of course, this deck has large problems with Czech Pile and other Fatal Push decks due to its leaning on Goyf, and against those decks going “full shroud” is not really feasible, but such is the sacrifice one makes. The Sylvan Library in the main is quite potent due to synergising effectively with Goyf against Plow, and if destroyed also grows the Tarmogoyf. The sideboard Winter Orbs further punish decks such as Blade and Miracles where mana denial is typically ineffective due to their heavy amount of basics. Also note this list should be strong against Grixis Delver – Tarmogoyf is problematic for that deck based around primarily Red removal and the supplemental removal growing it into a 5/6 makes Goyf laugh at Angler. A sideboard plan of boarding out Delvers and blanking Grixis’ point removal is feasible there.

The next list is configured more for Czech Pile.

This is essentially a more stable version of my current list (Preordain chosen over Predict), and is close to Marius and J.A.’s thoughts on the deck. I strongly feel Life from the Loam is at its best in this shell due to its remedying of tension between Mongoose and Mandrills while still having upside as “the 11th threat”, though many less enamored by it (like Marius himself) look to a single True-Name in the main, freeing up a sideboard slot. I am more on board with sideboard Library to fight Czech Pile, and a split between it and Compost is also feasible if one is afraid of redundant Libraries clunking up hands. Pile has problems with resolved enchantments, only having a few Decays to deal with these. Winter Orb is a liability in metagames with Czech Pile too, with it being prone to Command and perhaps not even a feasible plan against Pile to begin with.


Some may disagree on my opinions on the deck’s place in the metagame currently and that is fine. But hopefully one understands the takeaways of this piece: the metagame has changed, RUG Delver has changed, and there are many options to investigate concerning the deck’s construction. It is still relevant.

It also will always be one of the most elegant decks to play, with each game feeling like a tightrope walk due to the relative low power level of RUG’s cards, but the strength of them when utilized in a pinpoint manner together, dismantling much of the format. Hopefully this was a pleasant read, and perhaps a Part 6 will materialize when RUG transforms even further in the years ahead. I strongly hope that all you Nimble Mongooses out there can keep on RUGing eternally.

Further Reading

Some resources and RUG tournament reports for further exploration of the deck.

Jonathan Alexander has a wealth of content concerning Canadian Threshold and should be your first resource on the deck. Although dated, there is a wealth of information on his blog The Weekly Wars. Ctrl + F "Canadian Threshold" and read chronologically. His pieces definitely let you understand the mind set you should have when playing the deck.

Marius Bender and Kevin Wagner's interview on This Week in Legacy covering MKM Hamburg gives further insight into where they feel the deck is and their opinions on card choices.

Eric Vergo was interviewed by Eternal Durdles, and gives some insight into his tournament and decision on playing RUG Delver.

Ryan Lesko has an excellent thread on reddit, answering questions and briefly going through his tournament experience.

From me, Sean Brown, comes two tournament reports with sideboard guides, some good insights and sappy sentimentality.

And, as always, The Source Canadian Threshold thread is still active and still has a wealth of information and discussion available. Marius' recent posts (under his name MTB) are particularly excellent.

Hopefully that was a bit of a refreshing change from the standard weekly piece. Any feedback would be much appreciated and I'd be happy to look further into doing article like these in the week's ahead.

Before I go, some of the usual shout-outs:

  • I'd like to highlight a great resource being worked on: The Doomsday Codex. For all you Laboratory Maniacs tinkering with Doomsday, this is an excellent resource that is getting updated more and more in the weeks ahead by /u/Doishy and group of other Doomsday-dedicated. It's great to have an up-to-date resource for one of t he more convoluted and intriguing decks in the format.
  • Mengucci jams some more BUG Nic Fit at CFB!

'Til next time!

Sean Brown

Reddit: ChemicalBurns156
Twitter: @Sean_Brown156

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