Tuning NO RUG: What Would Kibler Do?

Hi there, y’all! I’m pretty sure you don’t know me, so I should probably introduce myself first. My name’s Jonathan Alexander, but call me Jona (pronounced like Yona by the way; I’m from Germany). I have been playing Legacy since shortly after Zendikar was released. From the beginning, I played Blue-based decks most of the time, quite often decks like Canadian Thresh or Team America. Team America was actually what I played for the first few months of this year. Then Reid Duke got sixth at the SCG Open in Boston with a RUG (Red Blue Green) Natural Order deck, and everything changed.

I immediately picked up the deck and started playing it. In testing I noticed that it was favored against pretty much all relevant decks I played against. That same week Mental Misstep got spoiled and I realized that it would perfectly fit the deck (like almost all other decks in Legacy). I cut the Dazes and a Ponder for a playset of Mental Misstep and called it a day. I didn’t like Daze in testing anyway so that seemed like a strict upgrade to me. The deck had an incredibly strong early game akin to Canadian Thresh, but with all the acceleration and its strong manabase could support a bomb like Natural Order, which is something Canadian Thresh has always lacked if the games got into the later stages.

I’ve been playing NO RUG in Legacy for about four months now and the deck has been doing me well: I’ve won about 70% of all my tournament matches since I picked it up. Naturally, my list changes from week to week, but so far, the changes were only slight. I’ve been adjusting my sideboard, cutting a Green Sun’s Zenith or a Ponder, things like that.

My most recent changes still aren’t massive, but they’re significant and help in almost all matchups. In playing the deck, I realized that most often the best plan was to just not care what my opponent was doing and overrun them with Progenitus. This gives control opponents less time to find the Wrath of God they need to deal with my Green monster, and prevents my aggro opponents from racing me. Against combo, things are a little different but overall you can say that NO RUG is usually the beatdown deck. Of course you can go to the late game, as you’re still strong then, but there are few decks in the format that can compete with your early game strength so it’s usually better to close out the game as fast as possible.

Before I start talking about the nuances of my recent list, I’ll give you an idea of what I think needs to be in the deck in order for it to work in a vacuum. It seems I’m a bit more all-in on casting Natural Order than other players are, but it has been working for me. Thus, I’m starting more cantrips than other players and I’m far from cutting down on Force of Will. I also quickly noticed that the little Green beatdown plan doesn’t always work, so I don’t think you should always play the full set of Tarmogoyf. This is what I consider the core of the deck:

4 Force Of Will
3 Mental Misstep
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Brainstorm
3 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Natural Order

3 Noble Hierarch
1 Progenitus
3 Vendilion Clique

1 Dryad Arbor
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Wooded Foothills
1 Taiga
3 Tropical Island
3 Volcanic Island

This makes 45 cards maindeck. You’re still adding at least two more lands, and most likely another Dryad Arbor. On top of that you either want another Noble Hierarch or a Birds of Paradise for more acceleration. You will probably have about eleven slots to work with. I like running the second Taiga and the second Dryad Arbor. There should also be additional countermagic and some number of Ponder and Sylvan Library, though the latter is not too important in most matchups. Usually you also have some number of beatsticks in the deck, most of the time a set of Tarmogoyfs.

In order to fill the remaining slots, we need to find out what we’re actually looking for. Even though my record is not bad at all I still want to improve. I’m losing games I could win with another setup. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that NO RUG is currently the strongest deck in Legacy, but I want to win the games I’m losing because I’m lacking answers for certain cards or strategies. To find out what we need to bring to the table, we need to look at what we’re going to face. Then we can look for solutions.

Most other decks are looking to win the game via Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Knight of the Reliquary, or Stoneforge Mystic into Batterskull. Due to the high amount of support spells like Mental Misstep, Force of Will, and most importantly Brainstorm and the presence of fetchlands and dual lands, a lot of decks are basically just good stuff decks. You don’t need a particular strategy in Legacy to win because the power level of the cards is so high that they usually can end games on their own. Thus, you don’t need to work your deck around your cards and can pack even more strong cards or cards to dig for them.

So when you look at Legacy, you see various Blue-based decks, some Green/White based decks, and some linear decks. I should note that for me, combo decks like TES or Hive Mind are linear decks. Reanimator belongs in this category as well. The deck might use cantrips and countermagic (i.e. a good stuff shell), but you’re still looking to assemble your combo of Entomb and a reanimation spell. NO RUG is different. You’re essentially playing a Blue/Green-based good stuff deck. You’re really just packing the best cards in the format (except for Jace, the Mind Sculptor, though some lists actually run him maindeck now) plus a set of Natural Order. That card is not a combo. It’s just the best four-drop you can run in the current format, as it beats the other two “best cards” – Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Knight of the Reliquary.

Reid Duke, who basically invented the current NO RUG shell, wrote an article about how the deck is basically just a Junk deck, full of good spells. It’s well worth a read, so check it out.

You have to keep in mind that you’re not forcing your deck to make Natural Order work; all your other good cards like Noble Hierarch, Green Sun’s Zenith and Tarmogoyf make it work anyway, and Natural Order is the best “bomb” the deck can drop into play. Further, you have a really strong disruption suite that also doubles as a protection suite for your Natural Order in case you need it. You can even win your games with your disruption suite. Noble Hierarch into Vendilion Clique backed up with some Lightning Bolts is a very reasonable clock, considering that Vendilion Clique flies over Knight of the Reliquary and you can flash it in after it has been bounced by Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Clique also serves to clear the way for your other good spells to resolve by proactively stripping your opponent of what could be an answer to what you’re trying to accomplish.

Still, there are some cards in the deck that I didn’t like all too much. Tarmogoyf, while being strong against Merfolk and Goblins, has been underperforming against almost every other deck I played against. It’s especially weak against Knight of the Reliquary decks. Since there are so many decks in Legacy, it’s really hard to metagame. You can’t prepare to just beat three decks and then your other matchups don’t matter. You need to beat about ten decks (or more) in Legacy, and tuning your deck against them all is nearly impossible. Note that when I say that you need to beat ten decks in Legacy, that I mean that these are decks you definitely need to beat, there still are at least ten more reasonable decks you might face in a tournament. So you’re looking to beat the top ten decks only. Wow.

What you want to look out for are repeating patterns in these decks, similar strategies. As I said before, there are Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Knight of the Reliquary decks. We also often see Stoneforge Mystic. Then there’s Mental Misstep (which often fits into all of these decks), so you need to keep that card in mind and shouldn’t focus too much on resolving key one-drops. Green Sun’s Zenith and Noble Hierarch are in a lot of decks. Wasteland is a force to be reckoned with. Then we have a lot other utility creatures like Grim Lavamancer, Dark Confidant, and Vendilion Clique. On top of that there are powerful instants and sorceries like Show and Tell or Ad Nauseam. Considering that these are only a short list of examples that’s really quite a lot.

What’s best is putting these cards into groups. How are these cards going to interact with your game plan? How are you going to interact with these cards? Are there cards that are good against more than one of these groups of cards? Are there even any cards that beat one of these groups at all? The hardest to deal with are Knight of the Reliquary, and to a lesser extent Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The latter dies to Vendilion Clique, which we’re running anyway and can also easily die to cards like Lightning Bolt. Plus you can bring your own Jaces and some Red Elemental Blasts or Pyroblasts postboard. This is still nothing new, though. Another card I’ve found to be pretty strong against Jace, the Mind Sculptor is Grim Lavamancer, as they can’t effectively bounce an active one. Don’t underestimate an opposing Jace though (as if anyone would do that), as he’s still pretty hard to beat as soon as he goes online and can give the opponent many options and access to more cards to combat what you are trying to do. We have lots of ways to prevent him from going online in the first place though.

What’s much harder to stop is an active Knight of the Reliquary. The current NO RUG lists really have no reliable way to beat it. After getting hit by two or more Wastelands you hardly do anything to stop a creature as big as Knight of the Reliquary, especially in our available colors. Now, let me say I tried a lot of things to solve this. I tried splashing for Swords To Plowshares and my own Knight of the Reliquary, but it wasn’t worth it. I’ve also seen Dismember suggested, but when that can kill him, he’s no issue anyway. Then I remembered Kibler’s Zoo list from Pro Tour: Austin. If the format goes big, what does Kibler do? He goes even bigger. What’s bigger than Knight of the Reliquary though? Even Progenitus sometimes (not often) gets raced, so we need something that’s definitely going to race Knight. Also, since we only have four Natural Orders, you want something else on top of that to draw your outs more often.

I’ve been running a singleton Terravore in my Maverick and Bant lists for some time now and quite often it’s much bigger than Knight of the Reliquary. It can’t search for Wastelands, sure, but it’s still a giant Green monster. I tested a lot of setups including Terravore and most of them worked, because you have the ability to reliably find your Terravore(s) with the help of Green Sun’s Zenith. I tried just cutting a Tarmogoyf for one, then I went down to two Goyfs for the fourth Zenith. My next step was to cut the second Tarmogoyf for the second Terravore. Ultimately I decided to cut the fourth Zenith to go back to two Tarmogoyfs again since you really sometimes want the ability to Zenith out two against Merfolk, for example.

Back to the task of finding solutions to our problems. The easiest group are the creatures, apart from Knight of the Reliquary. The mana creatures, Dark Confidant, Vendilion Clique, and Grim Lavamancer all are X/1 and Stoneforge Mystic is 1/2. Of course this is nothing new, but all of these creatures die to Lightning Bolt, Fire // Ice, and your own Grim Lavamancer. These are cards you should definitely consider playing right now. What’s good about Fire // Ice is that it doesn’t get hit by Mental Misstep. It also has other uses such as tapping a Knight of the Reliquary or Batterskull in a pinch when you’re going to have to race.

Furthermore, we need to deal with strong instants and sorceries, such as Ad Nauseam or Show and Tell. Thus we need to be able to interact on the stack, which is why Vendilion Clique and Force of Will are critical to the deck. A lot of people are playing Daze in NO RUG, which I never really liked in this deck. It effectively sets you back a land drop in your race to cast Natural Order, and it becomes useless as the game progresses. It’s really not what we need in this deck and we certainly don’t want to use it for a turn two Knight of the Reliquary. All of the other cards you really need to counter are noncreature spells, so Spell Pierce is really good in here. Apart from Mental Misstep it’s much harder to play around Spell Pierce than to play around Daze, especially against a deck without Wasteland (which I also tried out by the way). It’s also strong against everybody’s favorite planeswalker (Jace).

What’s left to keep in mind are the linear decks. Mostly, this means we need a way to win against Merfolk. Your plan will generally revolve around playing large Green creatures (or Zenithing them out), and controlling the ground with your Bolts, Fire/Ice, and Lavamancers. Spell-based linear decks are taken care of as long as you’re going to run some number of Spell Pierce in your maindeck (which you honestly should run given what the format looks like right now), and overly adjusting for Dredge or Reanimator is not the way to go. You can pack some pieces of graveyard hate in the sideboard, but that’s about it. You still get to use your countermagic to slow them down, and Spell Pierce is very effective against both.

Another deck that can be problematic that comes to mind is Affinity, though I think as long as you’re packing something for artifacts in general (Ancient Grudge, for example) and some removal you’re mostly fine. This is also one of the fringe decks you don’t necessarily need to beat so I wouldn’t focus too much on beating them, but that’s a good example of the many decks that you can and will run into at any given Legacy deck, so it’s often best to have flexible answers. Running enough burn spells should help you win this matchup most of the time.

Then we have Hive Mind and the other (storm) combo decks. Currently you really mostly face Hive Mind so you want to prepare for them first and foremost. Often, the Natural Order plan is not fast enough but Vendilion Clique really shines here. You can flash it in at the end of their turn if you need to start beating down or you can wait for them to cast Show And Tell if you’re light on disruption or already have a clock going. Not only does it strip away a key card in the opponent’s hand that they no doubt needed, but it will also provide a decent clock to just give them less turns to find relevant spells. It can also clear the way for your Force of Will to resolve if that needs to happen. Hive Mind is a matchup where Daze actually shines due to the interaction of Hive Mind copies, but I still don’t recommend running that card as Spell Pierce is also good at stopping these and other decks. Again, you can board in Red Elemental Blasts to stop them from comboing out, or in the case of Ad Nauseam to stop their setup spells like Brainstorm and Ponder.

With all this in mind I came to several conclusions. This is not only theorycrafting by the way, but has also been tested already. I really want to run Fire // Ice as my secondary burn spell. It’s both versatile and resilient (in regards to Mental Misstep), plus it pitches to Force Of Will, which is another bonus you should factor in. It’s not only great at shooting down Stoneforge Mystic, it also taps germ tokens when you draw it later on, so unlike most other pieces of removal, it does something when Stoneforge Mystic is already active and is almost never a dead draw. The Red half also deals exactly the amount of damage you need to kill a Jace, the Mind Sculptor after he bounced one of your creatures.

Terravore is the way to go for this deck. I’m running two of these instead of Tarmogoyfs #3&4, and having nine outs as opposed to only four to get a giant creature onto the board is a huge benefit. Running it alongside Grim Lavamancer is actually not too much of an issue since I only have both of these in my maindeck in postboard games against tribal aggro which happen to feed Terravore with their Wastelands anyway.

You also really want to run Spell Pierce in this deck as it’s able to deal with a lot of important cards, buy you turns, and due to the presence of Green Sun’s Zenith in most of the aggro decks it actually isn’t a dead draw against the more aggressive decks in the format. Like I mentioned before, it’s also more reliable at combating cards like Wrath of God or planeswalkers (or opposing Natural Orders) than Daze is.

This is my current list:
NO RUG 20113Q, by Jonathan Alexander 08-18-2011
Business (41)
4 Force Of Will
2 Spell Pierce
3 Mental Misstep
3 Fire // Ice
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Brainstorm
2 Ponder
3 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Natural Order
4 Noble Hierarch
2 Tarmogoyf
2 Terravore
1 Progenitus
3 Vendilion Clique

Mana Sources (19)
2 Dryad Arbor
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Scalding Tarn
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Taiga
3 Tropical Island
3 Volcanic Island

Sideboard (15)
2 Grim Lavamancer
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Sylvan Library
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Red Elemental Blast
3 Submerge
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

As for the sideboard, this deck is mostly about tempo, and these sideboard cards are mostly a mix of the most cost-efficient answers (in the short-run) to solve frequently occurring problems. Krosan Grip is more reliable than Ancient Grudge because of the finality of the split second mechanic, but Grudge can actual generate small incremental card advantage (in regards to dealing with artifacts), and plays through countermagic just as well.

Submerge is really just amazing and I highly recommend playing it. You can use it on your opponents big creatures (Knight of the Reliquary) but it’s also not bad against Noble Hierarch and especially Dryad Arbor to set them back a turn or more. Against the exalted-ability it can deny your opponent an entire attack step, which can also help you winning your games, and in response to an opponent’s fetchland activation it can just entirely wipe out an opposing creature for good.

The rest is stellar I think, but two cards deserve mention. The first is Scavenging Ooze. It’s not a tempo-oriented card, but it’s a blowout against all graveyard based strategies (plus it trumps Tarmogoyf), and can reliably be found via your Green Sun’s Zeniths. There are even lists running this guy maindeck (see Reed Hartman’s second place deck from Legacy Champs), and you can certainly do so if you expect to play against a field that would dictate that. For now though I’m still sticking to my maindeck Tarmogoyfs and Terravores as I don’t want to slow down the maindeck, but Scavenging Ooze might find its way into the main if there are a ton of Tarmogoyf or graveyard decks like Dredge, Reanimator, or even Cephalid Breakfast running around. The other card of note in the sideboard is Sylvan Library. Many lists have this card maindeck, but I’m really just looking to resolve Natural Order as fast as possible game one. For the overall more grindy postboard games, I like to bring in Library, at least against most control builds, and especially against discard (or Vendilion Clique for that matter). While it’s really good against these decks, I prefer having the third Fire // Ice and the second Ponder in my maindeck as these help across all matchups. These cards are more versatile game one, and that’s what I want for this deck. But keep in mind that I’m from Germany and Maverick sees heavy play across all of Europe so these are really the more reasonable choices for me.

If you’re interested in sideboarding plans, I won’t give you exact plans (for now, that is). However, I can tell you what you’re usually looking to do. In my experience it’s best to board out your most susceptible threats and thus trying to minimize the value of your opponents cards. Against Merfolk for example you really want to board out the Natural Order package since they have way too many cards to stop you from resolving it. It’s much easier to play around their Dazes and Cursecatchers when you’re only trying to resolve a Tarmogoyf or Terravore than a 2GG sorcery. When you’re trying to cast it, they might have a Spell Pierce anyway. Against decks with a lot of spot removal, I often board out Tarmogoyf, Terravore, and Green Sun’s Zenith. When they’re going to handle your creatures rather fast, you’re trying to get as much value out of them as possible. If they have a Swords To Plowshares for your Vendilion Clique, your still going to get some disruption, and I already said what Grim Lavamancer does to Jace, The Mindsculptor. Grim Lavamancer is also excellent against Stoneforge Mystic whereas Tarmogoyf really doesn’t do too much here.

These changes are strategies are what have been working for me lately in regards to tuning NO RUG, and hopefully you can draw from my experience to tune the ultimate list for your metagame. In my next article I’m going to discuss some playtest games with this deck as well as opening hands and my boarding plans. If you have any questions, let me know. Please feel free to write a comment below, or shoot me an email at jonathanalexander at gmx dot de.

Take care!