How to Throw Away a Top 8 Slot - Playing RUG in DC

Feature Article from Michael Martin
Michael Martin
3/1/2011 9:53:00 AM
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Greetings folks; after a mini-break since PTQing last month due to moving to my new house (which is huge and incredibly awesome, yet also incredibly tiring to lug things up and down stairs), I was excited about playing some paper Magic. After buying some Jaces outright... well, I guess another story is in order first.

After Grand Prix: DC last year, in which I went 0-3 after starting with 3 byes, I played in one more event (a standard PTQ) then sold off my entire collection. I did this due to the fact that I was spending less and less time playing, thus getting more and more rusty, and also wasting more and more money on tournaments. Sarah, my girlfriend and mother of my daughter, was getting frustrated with the wasted money when we were expecting our daughter in a couple short months. While she supports my hobby, I also understand her trepidation. So I sold off my collection to basically stop myself from playing. The money didn't matter; in fact, I just handed it to her so she could do some grocery shopping and put the rest in the bank. I needed to stop myself so we could be better set up for when Zoey joined us in this world.

However, I also told her I wasn't done playing either. I made sure Sarah understood that as soon as Zoey was born and we were good to go money-wise, that I wanted to restart my collection and pick gaming back up. We made the plan that I should wait until we get our tax returns, then I could drop $1000 on starting a new collection. While this might only buy you half of the planeswalkers you may need for any given deck, it was at least a start.

So we're back; I bought my Jaces, since I knew I wanted to be Brainstorming and Fatesealing for many a moon to come. This was before Besieged was released, and there was no UW Mystic to be mentioned yet. However, there was RUG, and I knew that I loved playing that style of deck. While obviously not the same thing, RUG Omen in Extended was my favorite deck (then Wargate Omen splashing red did, but that's another story), and I wanted to do similar things in standard. I started pricing out what I was missing (which amounted to the Cobras and whatever big boom-booms I wanted to play, be it TItans, Avengers, Golems, etc...). I ended up just asking people to borrow the cards, and Ali Aintrazi and Jesse Oliff both agreed to let me borrow what I needed.

The Friday before the Standard Open came, and Ali and his crew of Merry Men were staying at my yet-to-be-completely-vacated apartment since it still had couches and was free. They came by the new house for some gaming and we were met by Jesse. Jesse was set on Boros due to its supposed "good matchup" against UW Mystic (I hate Caw Blade as a name...). Ali was laughing about his "bad" mono-blue Grand Architect deck, and we were all telling him, as usual, to not play the badness (while Ali would make comments about not being sure what he was playing, we all kind of knew he what he would go with). John Suarez had come as well, though he was just coming to work the booths; lucky for me, he had his version of RUG already built and tested (which is great; I never get to test and had yet to play a game with RUG). I asked how the UW Mystic match was, mostly wondering if the Swords changed the match any. "I haven't lost a match yet to UW Mystic online". Some games against UW that night and I understood; an unanswered Cobra just wins.

Another piece of wisdom Mr. Suarez imparted on me was that Precursor Golem was the stones.
While I was a bit tentative, and didn't have him in my list that I was planning on playing, Suarez insisted, and I played some games with his version. Once again, I discovered that I should definitely listen to him; he was absolutely right. He made the point that anyone worth their weight is going to Bolt the Cobra, and if they don't, you just drop 9 power into play on turn 3 and smash face. Even if they rip the Bolt, its still a 1-for-1 trade, so its not a complete blowout like everyone thinks. Also, I was informed that Inferno Titan was where its at right now, and I was shown time and time again the following day that this was, in fact, correct 100%.

The list, for reference...

RUG Control by Michael Martin
Finished 17th - 32nd Place at 2011 Star City Open - Washington DC
Main Deck
3 Inferno Titan
4 Lotus Cobra
3 Precursor Golem
Creatures [10]
3 Garruk Wildspeaker
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Planeswalkers [7]
4 Explore
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Mana Leak
4 Preordain
Spells [16]
3 Copperline Gorge
3 Forest (154)
1 Halimar Depths
5 Island (148)
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Mountain (152)
4 Raging Ravine
1 Rootbound Crag
4 Scalding Tarn
Lands [27]
Deck Total [60]

3 Flashfreeze
3 Nature's Claim
3 Obstinate Baloth
4 Pyroclasm
2 Ratchet Bomb
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

After showing up at the tournament site, I walked into the most crowded room I'd seen at one of these opens. It ended up being 693 players, which is insane, and that meant 10 whole rounds. Holy s**t! I made the declaration that I wanted to play UW Mystic all day long, lost my deck registration list right as they call seating for player's meeting (luckily Justin had it and I was able to find him), and we were off to gaming; I didn't keep notes, so we're about to find out how good my memory serves me...

Round 1: UW Mystic

I get ahead in game 1 by a fair margin using an unanswered Lotus Cobra (I loved watching him tap out turn 2 for a Stoneforge Mystic, even on the play in this case). I land a Precursor Golem, to which, once again, he has no response other than an equipped Squadron Hawk. I assume I have the game wrapped up, but 6 straight draw steps yielding lands and a couple of good rips by my opponent later and we're shuffling up for game 2 with me down a game.

-3 Lightning Bolt
+3 Nature's Claim

I use this sideboard plan ALOT on the day...

Games 2 and 3 had a lot to do with Lotus Cobra; once again, if he doesn't get answered, you just win (given you don't hit huge pockets of land in crunch time I suppose). I win with about 1 minute left on the clock.

1-0 (2-1)

Round 2: UW Mystic

Out of all 692 other players in the room (well, all the 396 other 1-0 players), I play a friend already; Matt Scott is a local player from Fredericksburg and as we sit down, we both know what the other is playing already. Game 1, once again, I pull ahead and get a Precursor Golem online. On the final turn of the game, Matt taps out to attempt a Gideon, which I Mana Leak, prompting the concession.

Sideboard (Same as Round 1)

Game 2, apparently Matt keeps a hand stock full of countermagic with Plains and Tectonic Edges. When he tries to double 'Edge me to keep me off Titan mana, I simply play the fetchland in hand with Lotus Cobra in hand to cast Titan to his board of 2 Plains.

2-0 (4-1)

Round 3: Mono-Blue Grand Architect

Really? 2 rounds in a row I have to play friends, this early? Ali obviously ended up playing his mono blue deck, and I could say that I was one of only 5 or so players in the room that had the opportunity to test against it. If you haven't seen the list, go check out the top 8 decklist from the DC Standard Open; in that list, Grand Architect IS his Lotus Cobra. This becomes apparent when we split the first two games in which I had the Cobra in game 1 and he had the Architect in game 2. We agree to an early draw to not give either a loss (we got a lot of flak for it, but I wanted to go in the draw bracket, as seeing UW control all day seemed like a good thing; also, we played it out afterwards, and I Jace him out game 3).

I boarded wrong here, so I won't post the board I did; you want to bring in Claims, obviously, but you probably want to also bring in Ratchet Bomb, since Wurmcoil Tokens can be a beating, and getting Chalices is nice too, especially when Thrumingbird is accelerating his mana to the stratosphere.

2-0-1 (5-2-1)

Round 4: UW Mystic

Game 1, Lotus Cobra+Jace+Inferno titan tends to get there when unmolested. I have to mention that this was another game that I Mana Leaked a turn 5 Gideon that he was forced to run naked out there hoping I didn't have the counter. I mention this because I did this exact same thing at least 5 times on the day for the win.

While shuffling his deck for game 2, a card falls out and falls to the floor; I make sure he gets it and hand him his deck back in case he wants to count again, making sure no more cards were missing. He then counts his deck out, and counts 61. He recounts, 61. He goes to start checking his board, and counts 15. I normally try to be understanding, but at this point I have to call the judge. I mean, if it didn't come from his sideboard, where did it come from? Needless to say, 30 seconds worth of explaining later and I was awarded the round.

3-0-1 (6-2-1)

Round 5: UW Mystic (Seeing the pattern yet??)

I win the die roll and play a turn 2 Cobra (its funny; for as game winning as this play is, people don't react to it the way they would, say, a turn 2 Tinker-for-Blightsteel. Perhaps someday they'll understand...). He taps out for the Stoneforge Mystic, and I untap, play a fetch, Jace, and Bolt his Stoneforge Mystic (I don't wait to try to "get him" with the Bolt-in-response-to-equipping; UW plays such a small amount of creatures that if you kill the first Stoneforge, that sword he just fetched is going to be dead for a while, as you're likely already way ahead with Cobra and your opponent needs to just answer that, not worry about a silly sword). From there its just a matter of playing Precursor Golem, Mana Leaking a Gideon on turn 5, and drawing the concession.

Sideboard: Same as Round 1

Game 2, he Ousts my turn 2 Lotus Cobra (which is good; if not I get to play turn 3 Jace with Mana Leak backup...); from there, he's able to incrementally pull ahead and get both swords online. *A quick aside: one of the reasons I love this deck is that I never truly feel out of a game most of the time. There always seems to be an out or two, and it takes a long time for the game to feel out of reach. I say this because, even though he has dual swords coming at me, I still don't feel out of it until the very end. Precursor Golem doesn't care about a pro-green/blue/black Stoneforge Mystic.* End Aside

Game 3, he once again Ousts my turn 2 Cobra, but this keeps him from playing anything on turn 2, and I get my Cobra back online, and it gets me too far ahead. Oddly enough, my opponent drops at 3-1-1, but his logic was sound; why play 5 more rounds after already playing 5 just for a CHANCE at top 8'ing? I would have played, but I guess I couldn't blame him...

4-0-1 (8-3-1)

Round 6 and 7: UW Mystic

To be honest, I don't remember which opponent I played first, though I do remember which two opponents they were. They were both UW, and the games always tend to play out the same (get ahead with Cobra/Explore, play a boom-boom/Jace/Garruk, win...). I will say, though, that one of the opponents got me a bit on edge in game 3 though. I'm at 15, have both Jace and Garruk online (Garruk at 5, Jace at 3) but no real action otherwise (Raging Ravines were there, but his Tectonic Edges ensured I wasn't going to get all the way with them). He taps 5 to activate Colonnade, and I go to Bin my Jace. However, my opponent crashes at my face, and I have a moment of true Panic. I mean, my deck had no real outs to a Colonnade, and if he's already crashing at my face, what the h*ll does he have in hand that I don't know about!? After that, I start getting alot more aggressive, and perhaps I should have been more aggressive before that, but needless to say, he never attacks me with Colonnade again, as I put him under too much pressure to have the freedom to attack again. Turns out he just thought he could "get there".

6-0-1 (12-4-1)

Round 8: UWr Mystic

I play against one Drew Levin this round; I'd heard of Drew before this, as I read the articles over at SCG. I assumed he was on UW Mystic, as most of the guys at the top tables were at this point. Game 1, I mull to 4 and obviously am too far behind to worry about even possibly winning. He does, however, reveal himself to be the same UWr version that GerryT was running, so my Cobras weren't so golden as they normally would be.

Game 2, I get a turn 3 Jace that never gets off the board. Maybe I should have started fatesealing sooner, but I was getting a Brainstorm a turn and he still had a full grip, so I didn't feel comfortable going in on the Fateseal plan, especially with no real action otherwise to put him under pressure. A point came in the game when I start the turn with a card in hand. I draw, activate Jace to Brainstorm, and put the cards back. Drew asks how many cards were in my hand, to which I responded with "Three". Immediately, Drew calls a judge, and I'm totally baffled. When the judge shows up, Drew emphatically states "My opponent just Brainstormed with Jace and only put 1 card back". When my initial shock at the accusation passed, I am quite offended.

You see, As anyone who knows people from my family knows, we were raised to be card players. My grandma loves cards and drilled it into our heads that theres no point in playing a game if you're cheating. There never comes a point when I'm playing Magic when cheating even crosses my mind. So when I get accused, I truly get offended... I actually can't think of anything else that will actually get to me like that will.

Regardless, when the shock passes, I state "there is a Copperline Gorge and a basic land on top of my library." I then pick up the two cards and flip them; now, this was a bit hasty and I only did it out of my frustration. Honestly, we were able to determine the lack of cheating by using math, and I didn't have to reveal the top 2 cards of my library to prove it, but it showed Drew and the Judge that I had in fact put 2 cards back. We go back through the steps, and Drew admits he miscounted or something along those lines. I don't know if he actually assumed I was cheating or just did it to put me on tilt for game 3, but if the latter was the case, it almost worked. However, I took a couple of deep breaths while shuffling and realized that I'm quite enjoying myself on the day and, as a father who never seems to be able to get out and game anymore, I should just enjoy the ride instead of getting frustrated at aspects of the ride along the way.
I'll give Drew credit too; he seemed to genuinely apologize after the fact as well; in fact, he came up and asked how I was doing in between rounds 9 and 10 and wished me luck, and I truly have no negative feelings toward him. He's a good player and I actually enjoy reading his content, so no worries here...

If I were on tilt, though, game 3 was the Remedy. Drew taps for Preordain on turn 2, so I'm clear to resolve Cobra, then Drew plays a two drop on turn 3, keeping one blue up (and I'd seen the Spell Pierce already), so on my turn, I drop the fetch in hand, play explore, drop another fetch, and play Jace with Mana Leak backup. When I Mana Leak his attempted Jace on the next turn, I feel confident; I think Precursor took it down technically, but getting that far ahead with Cobra pretty much got there.

7-0-1 (14-5-1)

At this point, I'm in 3rd place (just behind the 2 undefeateds) and need just one win in two rounds to top 8 this monstrosity of an event. I'm in no way nervous, and in fact quite excited about the prospect. After the day's happenings, it seemed that I was destined to make it...

Round 9: UW Mystic (yes, again...)

I get a feature match against Josh Ravitz; being a ringer, I put him on UW Mystic as well. We shuffle up for the feature match, and I mull the first game to 6. I keep a keepable hand that still needed a card or two to "get there", but I don't think I could have done much better at 5. Of course, at that point, I don't draw past the 2 lands I start with until its far too late and Josh pulls it out.

Sideboard (Same as Rounds 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8...)

Game 2, I play Garruk turn 3 naked, getting it spell pierced; my thought was to get the counter out of his hand for the Jace in my hand; I play the Jace on turn 5 with Mana Leak backup, and I feel good about the game. I feel even better when I get Precursor Golem. I was going to do it again; I was going to come back and win, I was going to top 8, I was going to...

Wait, whats Josh doing? Divine Offering on my Golem? Oust both my Cobras? Squadron Hawks kill off all my planeswalkers? No! This isn't supposed to happen! The reality is, I never see Inferno Titan, which would have been amazing in this game, and Josh gets there.

7-1-1 (14-7-1)

I can't lie, this loss did put me on tilt. The aura of invincibility that I had when playing UW was gone. I felt, every round, that no matter what the situation I was in, I was going to come back and there wasn't a damn thing the UW player could do to stop me. Well, that was gone completely. I asked my buddies standing around watching the match, and the consensus was that I didn't do anything necessarily wrong, he just got there. I knew I could just win the next round and get in, but I was doubting myself now...

Round 10: Boros

Another feature match, this time my opponent cracks an Arid Mesa on turn 1 for a Mountain, Adventuring Gear. I was hoping for another UW Mystic, since I knew the match so well, but I hadn't had any practice against Boros. I just had to hope to play tightly...

Anywho, my opponent plays a turn 2 Geopede, which I can't answer immediately, and he gets 6-7 fetches in the game... I'm still in it with Precursor Golem until the final turn when he drops Hero of Oxid Ridge and does me in.

Sideboard: I end up bringing in the entire sideboard, which I'm sure is wrong when you consider what I took out, but my plan was to slow him down with sweepers, countermagic, and Baloths until Titan gets there.

Game 2, my plan works to perfection, and Titan ends up taking the game in conjunction with Raging Ravine. I was told after the round that my opponent played horribly, and even though the only agregious error I saw him commit was the Journey to Nowhere he played on my Baloth (when he had two 6-power creatures crashing in; I had to block, and he could have saved the Journey for a creature that mattered; justice was served when I drop Inferno Titan the next turn and win), I was told that he was holding Koth the entire game, to which I was just kold...

Game three, I keep a hand that has Flashfreeze, Mana Leak, Bolt, Pyroclasm, and Jace... unfortunately, I'm on the draw, and I know that unless he gets the turn 1 Steppe Lynx with fetches, I'd get there. Of course, he has the Lynx and fetches for days, and that was that...

7-2-1 (16-9-1)

So that was it. 10 rounds, 12 hours, and nothing but 50 bucks and some SCG Open points to show for it. To say I was dissappointed would be an understatement. However, after some time to get accustomed to the fact that I blew the chance at top 8, I realized that I loved playing RUG and my fire had grown considerably. I wondered what I would change about the deck for next time, and I definitely would change some sideboard choices.

I think I want the 4th Nature's Claim, and Pyroclasms are just bad against Boros. Slagstorm is just better there, and I think that's the direction I'm going to go. I still want 'clasms for Kuldotha Red, but Boros is much bigger and I think I'll go 4-2 on the Slagstorm/Pyroclasm split. I think I want to change the 3rd Precursor in the main to an Inferno Titan, since even when I saw Precursor, I almost always would have been at least just as happy, if not happier, to see Inferno Titan. That may be wrong, but I actually plan on testing this idea (not to mention, testing the deck period, since I didn't do any before this event). Plus, with everyone sure to do like they always do and universally adopt GerryT's list, Precursor loses some value with everyone packing Bolts again (I'm not saying its bad, just slightly worse).

If you're playing standard anytime soon, I implore you to play RUG. If you enjoy playing a deck that requires a lot of thought and has a lot of decision points, play this deck. I will say, I was mentally drained when I went home that night, but I love mental stimulation, so this wasn't a bad thing. I went 7-1 on the day against UW Mystic, and I feel like, even though the match probably isn't THAT skewed, I do feel like its favorable.

Either way, enjoy. Perhaps I'll see you in Edison! (Or where ever I end up next...)

Shoctologist on MTGO

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