Soly Says: A Primer on RUG Delver in Vintage

A Brief History of RUG Delver

In April of 2012 I built a RUGB Gush deck for Vintage at my friend Travis Heipp’s apartment, testing for an upcoming Xtreme Games event. Originally it was a relatively standard Gush deck splashing red for a couple of Lightning Bolts and green for Fastbond, while also playing both colors to support Ancient Grudge. After getting thrashed by Travis’ version of the UR Landstill deck, I realized that Lightning Bolt was very strong right now, but while the rest of the deck seemed to include the “broken” plays of Vintage, lacked effective ways to really interact with the most popular current strategies in Vintage (Landstill and Workshops being everywhere at the time).

I found a version of Rich Shay’s creature-laden Gush deck that Jimmy McCarthy played at a Team Serious Open, and decided that I would model a deck after that. Thus Vintage RUGB Delver was born. I say RUGB, because originally I was playing black mana for Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, and Yawgmoth’s Will. Very quickly throughout the night of testing these got chiseled out of the deck, and Vintage RUG Delver was born. Although the version has changed many times and will continue to do so, this is a recent list I piloted at GenCon 2012:

Vintage RUG Delver, by Mike Solymossy

Business (41)
Force of Will
Mental Misstep
Spell Snare
Steel Sabotage
Ancient Grudge
Lightning Bolt
Mystical Tutor
Ancestral Recall
Time Walk
Snapcaster Mage
Vendilion Clique
Delver of Secrets

Mana Sources (19)
Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Scalding Tarn
Misty Rainforest
Tropical Island
Volcanic Island
Sideboard (15)
Nature’s Claim
Grafdigger’s Cage
Tormod’s Crypt
Red Elemental Blast
Threads of Disloyalty
Ingot Chewer
Ancient Grudge

I won the first event I built the deck for, and shipped the list to Mike Hajduk via Facebook. The next weekend, I received a text that he had taken 2nd in a 44 man tournament with the deck! We talked a lot over the next couple weeks about what we liked and didn’t like, and made slight changes as we headed to our next events. We ended up both winning our respective tournaments with the deck. After all that (and the deck picking up some steam by Matt Elias, Mark Hornung, and Ryan Glackin), I won or split the win in the next two I played in as well! The deck had posted pretty solid results, with Mike and I both having an incredible win/loss ratio with the deck. Better than that though, was that in repeated testing I was going at least 50% against the field. Even Oath of Druids! (Note: I don’t test against Dredge ever because you’re not playing games of Magic when you play against Dredge; you’re playing games of poker or solitaire).

I knew this deck was good, and knew by mid-June that it would be what I wanted to battle with at the upcoming Legacy Championship at GenCon. After months of tuning I was ready to unleash the deck on the world. I honestly thought I had an incredibly high chance of winning a painting, and cemented my belief this deck was good when I even won the 10am Vintage Prelim event going 7-0-2, besting a field of 63 people. I managed to take the 2 byes to the main event and some cool cash.

Unfortunately, it was all for naught as couple topdecked Jaces and an opponent playing Oath of Druids ended my chances at a Top 8, and I finished 13th in the Vintage Champs. My report from that weekend can be found here.

Building RUG Delver

When analyzing what goes into a RUG Delver deck, it is best to think about how you plan on strategically accomplishing the goal of killing your opponent before they can do anything meaningful. Delver of Secrets is a very tempo oriented card, and one that you want to exploit by keeping your opponent off balance long enough to finish the job with your creatures. As such you don’t want a bunch of half useless and situational cards like Voltaic Key cluttering up your hand or your deck while your creatures are trying to make short work of your enemy. So let’s look at some potential card choices (and omissions) in RUG Delver.

Mental Misstep: I think this card is relatively weak in Vintage. I think people overvalue Ancestral Recall, which is one of the only real important 1-drops. I usually dislike countering tutors if I can avoid it, because I would prefer to counter what the enemy is tutoring for. If RUG Delver keeps putting up results though, this card gets much stronger, and unfortunately for the RUG Delver player, you will have to play this card just to beat opposing Missteps.

Flusterstorm: This card shines in a deck that is only countering your opponent’s spells most of the time, because it is nearly uncounterable in its own right against early spells like Tinker and Ancestral Recall. It’s always really nice to use a Gush, Lightning Bolt, or Ancestral Recall in response to one of their spells on the stack, just to bait out a Force of Will so you can Flusterstorm their entire stack for a blowout.

Lightning Bolt: THE reason to play this deck. The card is incredible in the current metagame. Unfortunately people are much more aware of the presence of Lightning Bolt now, but in the past people would recklessly throw their Jaces into the face of a Bolt. As long as Lodestone Golem and Dark Confidant exist, Lightning Bolt has incredible value.

Steel Sabotage: I love this card. From hitting an early Sensei’s Divining Top to breaking up the Time Vault combo to bouncing a Blightsteel Colossus, Steel Sabotage has so many uses and is rarely dead. Having 2 maindeck really helps against Workshop decks as well.

Spell Snare: This card is the way to gain some Game 1 percentage against Oath of Druids and Standstill. There are a ton of great spells to counter with this card though: Tarmogoyf, Time Vault, Chalice of the Void @ 1, Sphere of Resistance, Thorn of Amethyst, Dark Confidant, Time Walk, Merchant Scroll, Demonic Tutor, Oath, Standstill, Mana Drain, etc. It is really well positioned right now.

Mystical Tutor: I’ve been cutting this card from every blue deck I play, because the card disadvantage against a field of blue decks is just miserable. Originally I thought it was trash in this type of deck, until I saw a local player (AJ Bonnell) play it at one of the Xtreme Games events in his RUG Delver deck. I dismissed it at first, but during the drive home I realized that if you played the card as a reactive card to answer threats, rather than a proactive Ancestral Recall tutor, you could get incredible value out of this card. I have fetched Lightning Bolt, Steel Sabotage, and Time Walk with this card much more often than Ancestral Recall. As a side note, I hate tutoring for Recall with a topdeck tutor. People overvalue Ancestral Recall to the point where I’ve seen people tutor for that card instead of Gifts Ungiven when they had a ton of mana in play and could just auto-win. Do not let the meager card advantage that Ancestral Recall provides blind or distract from other potentially stronger strategic plays at a given time.

Merchant Scroll: Mystical Tutor can find Lightning Bolt, Red Elemental Blast, Ancient Grudge and Nature’s Claim. Merchant Scroll costs 1 more and doesn’t have nearly the utility that Mystical provides, and really isn’t good enough to make the cut in this deck.

Snapcaster Mage: I started out with 3 of these and trimmed that down to 2 pretty quickly, as you don’t want too many of these jamming up your hand early. Lightning Bolt will be your most flashbacked card. Occasionally you can get a Flusterstorm to blow out your opponent’s spell + Force of Will if your opponent is bad and walks their spell into it by assuming their Force will stop what you flash back.

Vendilion Clique: Easily the best card in the deck. I would play 4 of this card if it wasn’t Legendary. I do keep wanting to go to 3, but I the hands where you draw your second one early are very awkward. Like I wrote earlier, you want to limit the amount of dead or awkward draws, so you can’t afford to play too many of these. However, I have won a game by flashing in the second one in an opponent’s Draw step just for the trigger after they tutored for a potentially lethal Yawgmoth’s Will, so keep this trick in mind just in case you are in a dire position.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor: Planeswalkers are rarely coming down before turn 3, and even then it’s a rarity. Against all the blue decks you only resolve this card when you’re already ahead, and you will rarely resolve it against Oath of Druids or Workshop decks. This doesn’t do enough in this particular deck to justify inclusion.

Trygon Predator: Trygon has floated in and out of the RUG deck as a 3, 2, and 1-of. I love it when it resolves, but unfortunately, it’s too slow to do anything to Oath or Workshops without playing a full set of Moxen as well as at least Sol Ring to power this beast out early enough. There are cheaper and more mana-efficient solutions to be had for this deck.

Dryad Militant: This card may be suitable for the main deck in RUG Delver. The body being a miserable 2/1 is pretty weak, but the attached ability is pretty relevant. I will be testing this card in place of Tormod’s Crypt at the very least.

Nivmagus Elemental: I am unsold on this card in RUG Delver, but it’s on my radar. It seems worth testing because of the ability to exiles spells on the stack and the interaction with Flusterstorm, which you already play multiples of. Removing spells from the stack that are going to get countered anyway to grow this guy seems like decent value as well.

Judge’s Familiar: While this has a relevant ability, the body is way too small to matter, and RUG Delver just isn’t the right deck for this card.

All other cards are pretty obvious inclusions. Delver of Secrets and Tarmogoyfs are just dudes, but they are threatening and fast enough to put the opponent on the back foot and deny them an important resource: turns.

Other Cards to Consider
This is a list of some cards that I’ve either contemplated playing, or have played in the past. I’m always open to new ideas and changing the deck as need be.
Spell Pierce
Fire // Ice
Grim Lavamancer
Trygon Predator
Krosan Grip
Seeds of Innocence
Hurkyl’s Recall
Magus of the Unseen
Viashino Heretic
Control Magic
Sower of Temptation
Echoing Truth
Artifact Mutation
Gorilla Shaman
Burning Tree Shaman
Worldly Tutor* (more on this Later)
Scavenging Ooze
Talrand, the Sky Summoner
Thrun, the Last Troll

Worldy Tutor
This gets its own section because many folks at GenCon thought the story was hilarious. I thought that RUG Delver was picking up steam for GenCon. I felt that Dredge and Workshops would be everywhere, and this deck is a real predator to the Workshop decks, so I believed that others would get on board with the strategy. I had tested the mirror a lot online, and realized that while Jace was very good, Talrand, the Sky Summoner seemed unbeatable in the mirror. They only had 4 Force of Wills and 4 Lightning Bolts to deal with it, and with your own counterspells it was almost certain to stick, or at least put two 2/2s on board. But I also felt Tarmogoyf was very strong in this matchup.

I had a think tank on Facebook that involved Mike Hajduk, Ryan Glackin, Mark Hornug, and Ruben Xicota, along with some locals that I felt could strengthen the RUG Delver heading towards GenCon. The sideboard plan included something like this:
1 Worldly Tutor
1 Talrand, the Sky Summoner
1 Scavenging Ooze
2 Ingot Chewer

My thought was there are four matches in vintage where card advantage doesn’t matter at all, and the whole match was about board presense.
1) RUG: against RUG you could board in the tutor, Ooze, and Talrand, and naturally be able to find a Tarmogoyf or other impactful creature.
2) MUD: Worldly Tutor is much better than Preordain against MUD, and made sure your draw step would yield an Ingot Chewer or Trygon Predator.
3) Dredge: It at least found Scavenging Ooze (with the Cages and more still being in the board)
4) Oath: This card made sure you’d have a Trygon Predator early enough.

It took everyone in that Facebook group to talk me out of it. Most admitted that the theory wasn’t actually awful, but that it was just “too cute.”

The real reason I didn’t play it? Every one of my cards is Japanese, including Japanese altered dual lands and Force of Wills. I couldn’t find a Japanese Worldly Tutor in time. 🙂

Why Play RUG Delver?

Mana Base
You get to play a solid mana base because you have 3 basics and 4 if needed after sideboard, in addition to 6 fetchlands. This makes it hard for any deck to keep you off of your colors by disrupting your mana. Your spells all cost 3 or less, and because of that, you get to severely cheat on mana with RUG Delver. You’re playing 19 mana sources total, and can go down to 18 against any deck that isn’t attempting to choke off your mana sources after Sideboarding. You also play Gush, which acts to fuel further mana production by retriggering land drops (float 2, Gush, play land, cast spells).

Delver of Secrets
Delver of Secrets is currently one of the Top 5 unrestricted cards in Vintage. I believe it’s currently in this order:
1) Bazaar of Baghdad
2) Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3) Dark Confidant
4) Delver of Secrets
5) Tangle Wire (Yes, it’s secretly the best card in Workshop decks.)

There are not many ‘fair’ plays in Vintage you can do that are more gratifying than killing your opponent with a Delver of Secrets.

Board Presence
I believe that modern Vintage is much less about card advantage, and more about Board Presence. Storm kills are a thing of the past. Everyone is killing by putting powerful permanents on board that quickly or immediately win them the game. Although this deck lacks the “I win next turn” factor, it’s very consistent. RUG Delver plays some of the best card drawing spells, disruption, and creatures in the game.

Most Vintage decks are either inconsistent at drawing their powerful spells (modern Time Vault decks), or lack an engine to keep up once their main game plan is ruined (MUD). Or worse yet, they lack ways to regain advantage once it’s lost (Oath of Druids and Noble Fish). RUG Delver gets to play Ancestral Recall and Time Walk, and also multiples of its most powerful and efficient spells (Flusterstorm, Lightning Bolt, Gush, Delver of Secrets, Vendilion Clique).

Workshop Matchup
I have never felt better to be paired against a Workshop deck in my ten years playing competitive Vintage as I have felt when I’m shuffling up RUG Delver. Even with only 19 mana sources and 5 dead spells in game 1, I’ve never felt really far behind. It’s very difficult to lose to Workshops after sideboarding. Everything in your deck seems to say “destroy target artifact” after sideboarding. This statement changes slightly now that Kuldotha Forgemaster is seeing more play, but if you play tight, you will still be ahead.

Invalidating Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Unless Jace lands early or against an empty board, I always feel ahead of this planeswalker even when it resolves. There are many different scenarios, but they can rarely play out favorably for your opponent. Occasionally you have one creature on the battlefield, and it will undoubtedly end Jace’s life during your next Combat step. Your opponent might use the -1 ability to keep a creature off the board, but then you will just recast that creature and force the same next turn, and repeat this until Jace’s loyalty is 0. They may instead use Jace’s +0 ability to ‘Jace-storm,’ but then you attack their 3 loyalty permanent and it will go to the graveyard. Even better is if your opponent hasn’t gotten the memo about Lighning Bolt yet, and they immediately use the +0 ability and run Jace directly into your one mana removal spell, ultimately paying 2UU for a Brainstorm. Talk about value.

Specific Cards and How to Play Against Them

I tend to shock people with my ability to call out what cards they’re playing by turn 2. The reason is because I am very familiar with manabases in Vintage, and you should be able to figure out what your opponent is playing by turn 2 or turn 3 in most cases (often even turn 1). Here is how I handle some specific situations.

Tropical Island: If you see this, your opponent is most likely on a Gush Deck or Oath. There is a slim possibility they are on RUG Delver or Bant Fish. If they play Tropical Island and play no spells, you need to counterspell their tutors. If they’re playing Oath, you’ll feel like an idiot when you let their Vampiric Tutor or Demonic Tutor resolve, and they play Oath of Druids. If the opponent opens with a Noble Hierarch or a Delver of Secrets, your goal will simply be to find Tarmogoyf and Lightning Bolt. Bolts are more important against Noble Fish, whereas Tarmogoyf is more important against the mirror match. If you can figure they’re on a Gush Deck, then your plan becomes to Bolt their face, and attack. You want to mitigate their ability to use Fastbond and give them as few turns as possible.

Volcanic Island: Many decks can play Volcanic Island. Even some Oath of Druids builds will play this. If a deck leads with a Volcanic Island though, you have to assume they’re playing Lightning Bolts and most likely Red Elemental Blasts out of the sideboard. Lightning Bolt is actually not too bad for my deck, and I rarely fight over an opponent killing my creatures. One for one trades are fine for you.

There’s also the potential for playing against Landstill when your opponent leads with an early Volcanic, which means you’ll also need to be aware of Wasteland if that is the case. Don’t callously throw around Ancestral Recall, as there is a decent chance the enemy may have Misdirection in their deck.

Underground Sea: Chances are a deck with Underground Sea will also have Dark Confidant. This guy is much less scary because you have 6 real answers for it (2 Spell Snare and 4 Lightning Bolt), and all of your creatures are bigger than it. If they don’t have Confidant they may be on Doomsday, in which case Flusterstorm and Lightning Bolt are very important cards for you.

Ancestral Recall: I always see people emptying their hand to try stopping this card from resolving, and I never understood why. With RUG Delver, most of the time I don’t Force of Will an opposing Ancestral Recall. I will always Misstep it if I get the chance because the investment is so low, and I will always attempt to Flusterstorm it, but I very rarely will Force of Will this spell, unless it is the only out my opponent has to a lethal board.

Tinker: I hate when my opponent has a Tinker. This spell though depends on what your hand looks like. I have let this spell resolve in the past, knowing that I could Force of Will to push through my Steel Sabotage, or attempt to draw a Blue Card and have a Force of Will backup for Steel Sabotage. This however, isn’t revolutionary play, it’s just knowing how this game works, and playing accordingly.

Oath of Druids: Always counter this spell, as it will obviously lead to your demise. Also as mentioned previously, also counter any attempts by the Oath player to tutor up Oath. When playing a creature-based deck like RUG it should be pretty obvious that Oath is a bomb against you.

Bazaar of Baghdad: Chances are you’ll lose if you’re sitting across from this card. You can play tight, but the odds are against you. Your Sideboard helps against Dredge, but it will be an uphill battle.

Dark Confidant: Mike Hajduk and I will disagree on this, but I will always Lightning Bolt this card. I rarely Force of Will it, unless I have a slow hand and it is being cast on turn 1. Sometimes Confidant ends up doing 6 to 8 damage to your opponent and you just beat them thanks to the damage output of RUG Delver, but when given the chance to kill Confidant with a Lightning Bolt you’re better off not letting your opponent trade the life for additional cards and outs.

Library of Alexandria: It’s a calculated risk to have no answers to this card. The way the format is, you shouldn’t have to play against many decks that have this card after round 2, as those players either lose because they have to dump their hand too fast fighting Oath and Dredge and Workshops, or Library is getting Wastelanded by opponent. If you play against Landstill, your number one goal will be to throw down threats faster than they can draw cards.

Engineered Explosives: Speaking of playing against Landstill, you have to get used to playing against Explosives, and playing around it. With your Preordains and other card filtering it is a good idea to try to find threats of variegated mana cost so you never get two-for-oned.

Yawgmoth’s Will: If you feel this card will beat you, I suggest sandbagging Flusterstorm. Have I mentioned before how insane that card is?

Matchups and Sideboarding

This is one of the lesser favored matchups, but definitely not unwinnable. You can steal a game 1 if your hand is strong and they over-extend into your Lightning Bolts, allowing you to remove their Bridge from Belows early. Modern Dredge decks seem to lean incredibly hard on Bridge from Below. With that knowledge, I have Bolted my own creatures in response to their Bridge From Below triggers to stop a flood of Zombies, and drastically reduce the opponent’s tactical options, making them play fair the rest of the game (which doesn’t bode well for them). If they’re playing Sun Titan or Griselbrand they can still kill you with a Dread Return though, so be wary of this backup line of play. Lightning Bolt is still really good after game 1, as you have more ways to deal with their Bridges, and if they dredge an early Narcomoeba without a Bridge, you can shoot it out of the sky during their upkeep before they can use it with Cabal Therapy.

I have actually yet to lose a tournament match to Dredge with RUG Delver. Although the current crop of Dredge decks are very well positioned to destroy Grafdigger’s Cage, it’s still incredible against them if you can protect it. I often see people boarding out Flusterstorm against Dredge, but I think protecting yourself from Nature’s Claim and Chain of Vapor is the key to winning this match, as well as protecting yourself from Cabal Therapy. The way to win this match is to attempt to hold Force of Will’s for their Ingot Chewers. Tormod’s Crypt is very good at buying time and resetting the clock. You can replace the Tormod’s Crypts with Ravenous Trap, and this may be a change I make after seeing the results from GenCon.

Sideboarding vs. Dredge
-2 Steel Sabotage
-1 Ancient Grudge
-1 Forest
-1 Vendilion Clique
+3 Grafdigger’s Cage
+2 Tormod’s Crypt

Time Vault Decks
There isn’t really a ‘standard’ Time Vault deck at this point, but Marc Lanigra’s deck that won Vintage Champs 2012 will be the flag bearer for the archetype for a little while, even though it is slightly weaker against other Blue decks.

This matchup favors you if they don’t get the broken turn 1 or turn 2 draw. I’ve lost to very quick Tinkers, but other than that I feel this matchup is more than manageable. Just remember that Time Vault is almost always the best when it’s in their graveyard, and I always attempt to Steel Sabotage it. Ancient Grudge is also a very good trump in this matchup. Don’t fall into the trap of Mystical Tutor for Ancestral Recall here when you have better tactical options. Save the Tutor to answer their threats. Your creatures and Lightning Bolts will do a very good job of invalidating their planeswalkers, and Bolt is also potent if they are running Dark Confidant.

Sideboarding vs. Time Vault Decks
-1 Forest
-1 Lightning Bolt (If they don’t have Dark Confidant) OR –1 Flusterstorm (if they do have Dark Confidant)
-1 Gush
+1 Red Elemental Blast
+1 Pyroblast
+1 Ancient Grudge

Griselbrand Oath
Your opponent can be missing a brain stem, but if they resolve Oath early in game 1 then the game is over. You have to play very tight, while your opponent has the luxury of being like “derpa derpa derpa enchantment?” and win. The versions with bad cards like Dark Ritual are actually more in your favor, because they are both an awkward Oath deck and an awkward Storm deck, with little way to get back in the game once their early Oath is countered or stripped away.

Vendilion Clique is actually very good against Oath. Unfortunately, Flusterstorm is bad in this match. I’ve been contemplating going up to 4 Nature’s Claim and 4 Grafdigger’s Cage post-Sideboard because of this matchup (and Cages will also benefit the Dredge matchup). Other options are Krosan Grip, because usually this style of deck doesn’t have many ways to find a second Oath after their first is destroyed. In the past I have played Trygon Predator, but found that it is too slow to matter. I generally keep in my artifact hate as well in order to break up the Voltaic Key + Time Vault combo, which is their only other line of play against you.

Sideboarding vs. Griselbrand Oath
-1 Forest
-4 Delver of Secrets
-1 Flusterstorm
+3 Nature’s Claim
+3 Grafdigger’s Cage

MUD-style Workshop (without Kuldotha Forgemaster)
This matchup is relatively easy, and I feel like unless they draw insanely well, you actively have to try to lose this match. You must not let Chalice of the Void for 1 resolve and just sit in play, or it will be rough sledding. Other than that, Lightning Bolt and Steel Sabotage destroy the cards you care most about, and after board you have so many things that destroy artifacts that the matchup doesn’t even seem fair. Play tight and don’t walk into Wastelands needlessly. Expect this matchup to change slightly if Workshop decks adopt more copies of Wurmcoil Engine. The best way to combat this is Ancient Grudge and then just killing the lifelink Wurm token, because you’re ahead in the damage race more often than not.

Sideboarding vs. MUD-style Workshops
-3 Flusterstorm
-2 Mental Misstep
-2 Spell Snare
+3 Nature’s Claim
+2 Ingot Chewer
+1 Ancient Grudge
+1 Mountain

Forgemaster Workshop
This matchup isn’t nearly as easy as a normal MUD matchup, as it can do some sick things with Forgemaster. For example, I watched in the Top 8 at Vintage Champs this year as a Forgemaster player got mainphase Hurkyl’s Recall’ed, and Vincent Forino pointed out to me from the side that the MUD player could have used Forgemaster in response to dig out Trinisphere, which he could have played during his second main phase, and then Strip Mine his opponent, which would have left him with only a Mox. Instant speed Tinkering from a monobrown deck seems pretty good!

The comments above are the same here, but Forgemaster decks often have more problematic answers to your deck, like 1 or 2 Steel Hellkites, Duplicants, and a Sundering Titan, on top of the 4 Kuldotha Forgemasters. You need to be more discerning with your Force of Wills and Steel Sabotages if you can in this matchup. After board, you will again have so many things that destroy artifacts that the matchup doesn’t seem that close. Forgemaster has been the real deal, and I honestly can say I expect to lose my first matches against Workshops when playing RUG Delver if and only if they’re playing the 3/5 beast.

Sideboarding vs. Forgemaster Workshop
-3 Flusterstorm
-2 Mental Misstep
-2 Spell Snare
+3 Nature’s Claim
+2 Ingot Chewer
+1 Ancient Grudge
+1 Mountain

Bant Fish
This matchup has been very good for me thus far. You play relevant things like Lighning Bolt and Gush while they play things like Noble Hierarch, Grafdigger’s Cage, and Stony Silence. I sideboard in at least one of my Red Elemental Blasts to destroy cards like Shardless Agent or Trygon Predator for value. Threads is obviously very good as well. You could probably convince me to board out Flusterstorms for Ingot Chewers, just to cast them as a 3/3 dude. I like Flusterstorm to stop incoming Swords to Plowshares though, so I usually leave them in.

Sideboarding vs. Bant Fish
-1 Ancient Grudge
-2 Steel Sabotage
+1 Threads of Disloyalty
+1 Red Elemental Blast
+1 Mountain

Storm and Doomsday
These matchups are basically nonexistent in the current Vintage metagame, but the few times I have played against Doomsday or TPS style decks with RUG I’ve done very well. Mental Misstep and Flusterstorm are very good and Vendilion Clique is incredible. Their deck is not nearly as consistent as yours, and you can apply enough quick pressure to win the game. If they’re on Doomsday it’s even better for you as Bolts can end their life post Doomsday, and can kill their Lab Maniac win condition as well. Casting Steel Sabotage on their Black Lotus is generally awesome.

Sideboarding vs. Storm and Doomsday
-1 Forest
-1 Ancient Grudge
+1 Red Elemental Blast
+1 Pyroblast

This matchup is a toss-up. On one hand their deck isn’t very powerful against you and you have a lot of dudes that can slip in under Standstill, but on the other hand they are most often packing at least 3 Engineered Explosives now. You can get into awkward situations where they blow your entire team up, so as mentioned above, try to find different casting cost threats against them when given the chance.

I had a situation against Josh Potucek at Vintage Champs where I knew he played Explosives, so I played a turn 1 Delver. On Turn 2, it flipped, and I played another delver. I peaked on turn 3, and could have flipped the delver, but decided to draw the card without revealing. The reason for this is twofold. He doesn’t know I’m drawing gasoline and Instants (the card on top was Lightning Bolt), and if he plays Explosives I can attempt to flip the Delver he doesn’t kill with it. Ancient Grudge is solid in this matchup, blowing up Crucible of Worlds, Engineered Explosives, as well as Mishra’s Factory. Lightning Bolt also functions as a one mana Instant speed Sinkhole against Factory.

Sideboarding vs. Landstill
-2 Mental Misstep
-2 Steel Sabotage
+1 Ancient Grudge
+1 Mountain
+1 Red Elemental Blast
+1 Pyroblast


Although I spoke about having a good record against Dredge, it is by no means a cake walk. The deck is inherently unfair, and you need to play incredibly tight and be a masterful magician to win this matchup.

Griselbrand Oath
This is how I imagine R&D was like at Wizards during the Avacyn Restored design process.
Wizards Employee A: “So, I want to reprint Yawgmoth’s Bargain.”
Wizards Employee B: “That would be so unfair; we can’t do that!”
Wizards Employee A: “So what if we make it cost 2 black mana more, and make it a creature?”
Wizards Employee B: “That’s probably fair…what do you think it should be?”
Wizards Employee A: “Hmm…how about a 12/12 that’s indestructible, has First Strike, Lifelink, Hexproof, and flying, and says “Pay 1 life: Draw 2 cards?”
Wizards Employee B: “That’s completely unfair. Okay, how about this instead. A 7/7 with Flying and Lifelink, that has pay 7 life to draw 7 cards…that’s much more fair, and it’s not like people will cheat it into play in the Eternal formats, right?”
Wizards Employee A: “Donesies!”

This is how Wizards of the Coast makes their decisions. Oath of Druids has always been a solid strategy in Vintage, and now players get a flying, lifelink Yawgmoth’s Bargain to pair with it. While a bit inconsistent, the Oath strategy is still a powerful one, and can present problems for the unprepared opponent.

Turbo Tezzeret
I’m glad we live in the United States, where there are very few people who play this deck. It can be a nightmare matchup, depending on the build. They play a ton of mana and a bunch of spells that your situational counters can’t touch. Thankfully they’re all in on Time Vault, and Ancient Grudge is amazing here. However, the worst feeling is when you kill their Tezzeret the Seeker, and they just play another one the next turn and kill you anyway. Steel Sabotage is probably your MVP in this matchup, to deal with both Time Vault and Tinker for Blightsteel Colossus.


I had been really disinterested in Vintage for a while, dating back to last year. The format seemed to basically devolve into Tinker/Will decks, Dredge, and Workshops. Boring! RUG Delver really invigorated my interest. While I do feel the format itself got much better and is starting to branch out again, the fact that I won a lot with a deck of my own design really interested me. I have long been known as a solid player, but never as a deck designer. While this deck isn’t nearly as neat as Meandeck Gifts was, or Steel City Vault, it still is very fun to play. Sometimes playing “fair” in an unfair format and #winning is a great feeling.

To the community, I’ll say that I try to show my own personality in my writing, but don’t claim to be the best author by any means. If you don’t like something please tell me why. Also, if you do enjoy what I have written so far, speak up and let me know what you liked, or what you’d like to see more of!

Finally, Eternal Central will be hosting a new Vintage Questions & Answers article monthly, featuring several past and present Vintage voices. In order to do this we need your input, and good questions from the community (spoiler alert: Vintage legend Tommy Kolowith may make a special appearance if we get enough interest). Please hit me on Twitter at @Sol_T1_MTG with your questions and ideas ASAP!

Until next time,
Mike Solymossy