Legacy By the Books: Land Tax Miracles vs. RUG Delver

Written by Carlos Gutierrez on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Legacy

The last couple of articles I’ve posted here have focused on broader descriptions of Legacy, the cards that define both the format and the metagame and just getting familiar with the cards and interactions that you have to be aware of when you’re making decisions.  Now that we’ve finished a sort of overview of the format and the things I’ve learned so far, I’m excited to dive back into the new metagame with Griselbrand.

It may have been a quite a while since I’ve written up a matchup, but I’ve still been playing a ton of the top tier match ups.  I’ve jammed quite a few games with RUG, Maverick and Esper just to get more of a feel for how the decks interact.  I haven’t been able to get Reanimator together, which is pretty unfortunate, but I’ve still picked up quite a bit of experience with the format and started to figure out what kinds of decks I do and don’t like.

I’ve always been a control player at heart. I’ve therefore been a huge fan of Snapcaster Mage and Jace, the Mind Sculptor decks.  I like having a small toolbox of singletons that you can find with cantrips in order to grind out the late game.  Recently though, I’ve been grinding aggressive decks and getting much more of an appreciation for the explosive beatdown decks–which is essentially what RUG is.

That said, I really, really don’t like playing RUG for the same reason I never liked UW Delver with Runechanter’s Pike in Standard.  You get some number of free wins where your deck works according to plan. Turn one guy is tough to beat when you get Stifled and Wastelanded into oblivion.  In my experience though, there’s at least as many draws where you just never do anything. They play around the disruption you have, kill your guys, and you just never get off the ground.

Here’s the RUG list that I’ve been using since GP Atlanta:

I’ve played a number of different RUG lists over the last few weeks and this is the one that I like the most for the purposes of testing.  This list makes you play around the most different kinds of effects, which I think is important for the purposes of testing.  It’s important to learn to play around or maximize the biggest blowouts like Stifle and Spell Pierce.  Once you’ve learned that, it seems like it’ll be much easier to handle the lower variance cards like Spell Snare and Fire//Ice.

If I were going to play RUG in an event, I would almost certainly be playing the deck that Gaudenis Vidugiris won the GP with.  That list seems a lot tighter to me, since it gives you the opportunity to maximize the cards that are the best on the play without being all-in on them.  I think his list gives you a little more play in the important matchups, even if it gives you fewer free wins.  Here’s his list for reference:

I think that this list does a better job of maximizing the power of your various threats and having more versatile and consistent tricks, even if they are less powerful.  There are also a few cards that I think are just better than some of the ones in Ayers’ list, like Scavenging Ooze and Fire//Ice.  There’s very little downside to running these over some of the cards that usually fit in this slot, like Tarmogoyf and Forked Bolt. The potential upside is huge.  Ice is much better against a Griselbrand than a Forked Bolt, for example.

Now, the results from GP Atlanta were really exciting for me.  But not the Top 8.  Or Top 16.  No, you have to go all the way to 27th place to find the deck I’m excited about.  A UW Land Tax deck designed by Reid and Ian Duke.  This is exactly the kind of deck that I like to play most. For the most part, I really like this list and I think this is what I want to try to be playing as long as it holds up to the gauntlet.  After making a few small changes, here’s what I ended up with:

I made a few changes to the main deck after watching how similar decks played out.  All I did was cut a Daze and a Sensei’s Divining Top for Counterspell and Ponder.  Here’s why: this deck is playing for the late game.  I want to make some concessions to that.  Sure, Daze and Top are better in the early game; they’re definitely effects that I want access to and want a lot of.  But Counterspell and Ponder are so much better than another Daze or Top in the late game and do similar things early on.

The deck definitely takes some getting used to. You have to pay attention to various tricks you can pull to get Land Tax to trigger, like failing to find on a fetchland or Dazing spells just to bounce lands.  You have to pay attention to what cards are on top of your deck and remember them for multiple turns so that you don’t have to waste mana Topping.  What cards you put back with Jace become incredibly important when Counterbalance is involved.  There are a ton of subtle things that you can mess up if you’re not paying attention to everything you’re doing.

That said, this is the deck I’ve enjoyed playing the most so far out of all the ones that I’ve tried. I think I’d like to try to run the gauntlet against something like this to try to come up with an improved list.  But for now, let’s talk about how the preboard games went.

Preboard: Why Legacy is Awesome

I managed to play three sets of preboard games of this matchup with three different people at our local game store. We had radically different results each time.  I played the UW side of the matchup against Mike playing the RUG side. UW felt invincible against RUG and I swept him 4-0.  I played a set against Eric where I ran RUG and the games were much closer, but in my favor.  We split the games 3-2.  Last, I played a few matches against Alex, who edged out the UW deck 3-1.

Before we get into the specifics of the matchup, I think that these results show that being a strong technical player isn’t enough to be successful in this format.  It’s incredibly important to be playing a deck that you’re comfortable with so that you know what’s important in each matchup and what kind of hands you can keep.  There’s a ton of play in each matchup and being both competent and confident makes a very big difference. You can spend time and energy thinking about the important decisions instead of wasting energy on every routine decision.

So, there are a couple of things that this match up seems to hinge on.  Here’s what we boiled things down to:

  1. Terminus vs Nimble Mongoose
  2. CounterTop
  3. Land Tax vs Mana Denial
  4. Stifle and Spell Pierce vs Miracles

Terminus vs. Nimble Mongoose

This is the most important interaction in the matchup.  Preboard, Terminus is your most effective way to deal with Mongoose, which is RUG’s most resilient threat.  I typically tend to not want to pull the trigger on Terminus unless I’m getting at least one Mongoose in the deal.  You have Jace and Swords to Plowshares for all of their other creatures, but only Terminus and Engineered Explosives to deal with Mongoose.

CounterTop

If you can ever get this online with any amount of mana in play, you’ve won.  Even better, a blind Counterbalance gives you opportunities to fix your draws with Fetchlands and is reasonably likely to just counter random spells because of the way your curve is constructed.  Even more, they can’t really let a Counterbalance resolve, which means you get to bait out Spell Pierce other counterspells to make sure that your Terminus resolves.  Basically, Counterbalance is pretty sweet if it resolves and is also just the best possible bait for countermagic.

Land Tax vs Mana Denial

This is the sub game which defines most of the match.  The whole game revolves around mana denial and Spell Pierce.  If the game gets to a point where Terminus can resolve through Daze or Spell Pierce, the game is probably all but over.  Sure, RUG has Force of Will and you can Stifle Miracle triggers, but the UW player has Forces and Dazes of their own to push through the sweeper.

Because of that, there’s an interesting tension surrounding lands.  How many can you have in play?  What if they have Daze?  Should you fail to find off of your fetch?  The role of the RUG player is to deny you as many lands as possible for as long as possible by Stifleing fetchlands and Land Tax triggers while Wasting Tundras.  Conversely, the Land Tax player wants to consider keeping land-heavy hands.  You can’t be all in on a five spell Land Tax, Tundra hand, though. Sometimes you’ll just die without ever playing a spell.

Stifle and Spell Pierce vs Miracles

As mentioned before, games typically come down to whether or not a Miracle resolves.  At some point, you’ll have a reasonable amount of pressure in play and the UW player will have to go for a Terminus or Entreat the Angels to keep the board under control.  That’s the pivotal moment of the match.

What RUG is trying to do is keep the game in a state where Spell Pierce and Daze are live against Miracles.  You do that by countering aggressive cantrips, Sitfleing mana sources, and even Sensei’s Divining Top if they’re topping on upkeep to dig for lands.  You want as many “hard” counters as possible against their Terminus and Engineered Explosives.

What UW wants to do is keep land-heavy hands with moderate amounts of disruption and library manipulation.  You want to cast and resolve a Terminus on turn 3 or 4 and follow up with a Jace or Counterbalance to lock the game up.  You can use your Brainstorms to sculpt your hand and find Force of Will in order to set up your Miracles on the end of your turn, or to Miracle on their turn.  If you’re very confident that you can win the fight over your Terminus, it’s often right to go for it on their upkeep.  That way you use up some amount of their mana, their relevant countermagic and get to untap and resolve your own threat.

Sideboarded Games

Here’s how I tended to board with the UW deck:

Other options include Blue Elemental Blast if you saw Chain Lightning, since that denotes a build heavier on burn.  Really, all you’re trying to do is minimize every non-Mongoose threat and maximize your chances of finding and resolving a Terminus against a Mongoose.  As long as you don’t die, you can find a way to win at some point.  Just don’t run your few win conditions into Force of Will and you should be fine.

Normally, I’d want to board out some number of Force of Will. But in this match, you don’t mind having another way to stop Mongoose and force through your Terminus.

From the RUG side, things depend quite a bit on whether you’re on the play or on the draw.  On the play you want the full set of Stifles and Dazes. On the draw those become less important.  Unfortunately, you only really have Red Blasts to bring in even though you have a number of cards that aren’t really that great to take out.  I start by cutting Forked Bolts and then trim Force of Will on the play and Daze on the draw.  If you have more cards to bring in, I’d cut more of the same: Forces on the play and Daze and Stifle on the draw.

Unfortunately, the matchup doesn’t change a ton after sideboarding.  RUG has more hard counters, but the UW deck has more spot removal for non-Mongoose guys.  In the end, it’s still just an escalating game of “do you have it?” when the control deck goes for a Terminus.  The only thing that changes is that the UW deck just wants to try to minimize the impact of Red Blasts by boarding out expensive blue cards for expensive white cards.

All things considered, I think that UW is favored–though not by a ton.  Even the bad cards like Relic of Progenitus have marginal value, turning off Tarmogoyf and Nimble Mongoose for a few turns.  In the end, it’s really just a game of not being greedy and trying to get a read on what disruption the RUG player has.  If they tank on your fetch, it’s a Stifle; on your Brainstorm it’s a Spell Pierce.  Once you know what they have, you can play accordingly, miracle-ing early to force their Stifle and Brainstorming it back when you need it. Or you can try to just make land drops to get through Daze.

This is definitely one of the more interesting matchups I’ve played. Some of the others have been very much one-sided.  There’s a ton of play to both sides of the matchup and the decisions change quite a bit depending on how each side is playing.  If RUG has a ton of countermagic, it can just run out all of its guys and go all in on making sure Terminus doesn’t resolve.  Alternatively, you can hold back Mongoose and force out Terminus with Delvers and Tarmogoyf if you think their hand is weak.  It’s actually a lot like the Control vs Delver matchups in Standard, except all of the action is compressed into the first three or four turns of the game instead of seven or eight turns.

That’s all I have for this week.  Next time, I definitely want to get Reanimator into the gauntlet.  I’m not sure what to run it against yet, but I’m certainly open to suggestions.

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