Watching the Meta-Morph: Laying down the RUG

By Matt Rogers                       20/6/11

Last week, I went to Grand Prix Singapore and battled with the pros. I wanted to make my trip worthwhile, so I sat down and really thought about what deck I wanted to play. Given the recent PTQ and open series lists, I saw three potential deck choices. The obvious choice was Caw Blade: this deck is very powerful and positive against most matchups. It’s really hard not to choose this deck as it just offers such a vast array of things to do, keeping you in control a lot of the time. Tempered Steel was another option I looked at. This deck had been doing exceptionally well in the Caw Blade matchup and has more safeguards than most aggro decks, something that makes it bearable for me to play. RUG Twin was the final option. This deck has amazing power due to Lotus Cobra; it’s possible to Inferno Titan on turn three or play Jace, the Mind Sculptor with counter spell mana available very early.

My RUG Twin Deck at GP Singapore:

Deck: RUG by Matt Rogers
Main Sideboard
4 Copperline Gorge 2 Arc Trail
2 Forest 1 Combust
2 Halimar Depths 1 Jace Beleren
4 Island 2 Lightning Bolt
4 Misty Rainforest 1 Manic Vandal
2 Mountain 1 Nature's Claim
4 Raging Ravine 2 Obstinate Baloth
4 Scalding Tarn 2 Pyroclasm
2 Consecrated Sphinx 2 Spell Pierce
4 Deceiver Exarch 1 Wurmcoil Engine
2 Inferno Titan

4 Lotus Cobra

1 Dismember

2 Explore

2 Gitaxian Probe

1 Into the Roil

4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

2 Mana Leak

3 Nature's Claim

4 Preordain

3 Splinter Twin

60 Cards 15 Cards
 Display Deck Statistics

I chose to play RUG after vigorous testing and a lot of deliberating on what deck was best. I felt that RUG was optimal for many reasons: it was a strong matchup versus Caw Blade and an even better one versus Tempered Steel. RUG also had a powerful board for aggro matchups such as Vampires, RDW and Boros. After sideboarding in Obstinate Baloth, Arc Trail, Lightning Bolt and Wurmcoil Engine; aggro decks stood little chance against me. In my original list, I played one Manic Vandal in the main deck and only two Nature’s Claim in the main. I felt at the time this list was sufficient and moved forward to play in Singapore.

I started by playing in a GPT before the tournament in a bid to increase my byes from two to three. I played in the second GPT of the day and went 2-0 in every match, sweeping up the competition. This result further convinced me of RUG’s power and I would not waver from here. I did however make one change to my list: I moved a Manic Vandal into the sideboard, replaced by a Nature’s Claim. This is because I felt Manic Vandal was sub-par in doing what was required of it. It came in at sorcery speed and the beatdown it provided meant little in the deck. Having the third Nature’s Claim in the main seemed a lot better for me.

Then came the Grand Prix:

I comfortably took my three byes and observed the competition. Finally, after what seemed an age, round four was upon us all and many more players took their seats. I faced off against a Caw Blade deck; it was a fairly boring match which I easily swept up. My next match was also against Caw Blade, my favourite matchup. This game was uninteresting; I won with time to spare in the round.

Record: 5-0

I was paired against a Red deck. He led out with a Goblin Guide, swinging in for early damage. I played a Lotus Cobra, in the hope to reach something to control his tempo. He cast Searing Blaze on my Lotus Cobra, leaving me on 13. Running out of options, I had to Dismember his Guide, paying the full four life to do so. I continued to stabilize in the form of Mana Leak on his Kiln Fiend. At this point I felt I had regained control of the match. I passed the turn, with all my mana open. I cast my Deceiver Exarch in his upkeep, tapping down his land to prevent the chance of a Koth of the Hammer. My opponent immediately responded with Burst Lightning and another Searing Blaze to ensure I didn’t end it right there and then. In hindsight, I’m glad I leaked the Kiln Fiend! Next turn I played Jace, the Mind Sculptor, brainstorming I was satisfied with my options and I passed the turn. My opponent laid down a Koth, but before his 4/4 could take out Jace, I cast another Deceiver Exarch tapping it down. Next turn I cast Splinter Twin, taking us to game two.

                                                                                                To Dismember or not to Dismember, that is the question...

My opponent once again led with Goblin Guide, but I answered with a Lightning Bolt to keep the damage minimal. His Ember Hauler came down next. I played an Explore, moving me up to three lands. He didn’t unleash any more red fury on me, simply took his land drop, attacked and passed back to me. I played my first Lotus Cobra, then played and sacrificed a fetch land. In response to all this, my opponent tried to Lightning Bolt my Cobra, which I deftly followed with Mana Leak, unfortunately my opponent cracked a fetch land and proceeded to Searing Blaze my Cobra. Next up he swung in again with his Ember Hauler and then cast two more Ember Hauler. I then played Pyroclasm to clear his board, he passed the turn, making no plays. Once again I had regained control, and Obstinate Baloth came to the field, repairing earlier damage. The next turn I cast Splinter Twin on my Obstinate Baloth, to put an end to the race he started.

Record 6-0

My next match was against Caw Blade, and I had my head high after three great rounds of play. Game one started, and finished soon thereafter. My opponent dropped a turn two Stoneforge Mystic, turn three Mirran Crusader and turn four Sword of War and Peace on the Mirran Crusader, I promptly scooped as I had no answers to this mighty problem.

Game two was no more fun, I mulliganed down to five cards keeping: Raging Ravine, two Lotus Cobra’s, and Jace Beleren. I missed land drops long enough for a Batterskull to start tearing its way through me, when this was met with a Sword of War and Peace, the match was done.

Record 6-1

At this point in the competition, 5 of the top 20 decks were Valakut. I was lucky enough to get paired against one. Needless to say, I no longer think this is a tier one deck. They had few answers to stop my combo barring a sideboarded Nature’s Claim. Jace and Exarch slowed down their Primeval Titan and I pushed out an easy win. In game two, I had counterspells for his ramp and a Dismember in response to a Phyrexian Metamorph copying an Overgrown Battlement saw my opponent scoop up and walk away defeated.

Record 7-1

The next round, I paired against the mirror, one of my most difficult matchups. Game one my opponent had three early Lotus Cobra’s on the field, something I simply couldn’t deal with. In game two some well-timed Mana Leaks helped me to win over an agonizingly long and slow control match. Game three was a frustrating match, my opponent mulliganed to five, keeping two lands, two Cobra’s and a Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I found the two Cobra’s hard to fight through, but it turned out alright. I played my own Jace to kill them both. I played multiple Exarch’s to stay in the game but unfortunately a Gitaxian Probe, two Preordain and a Jace brainstorm didn’t help me to find the Splinter Twin I needed. My opponent eventually played the combo against me, playing two Spell Pierce for my double Nature’s Claim.

Record: 7-2

At this point, Day One was over. I was a little disappointed with my luck, but happy to be in a good position. I was happy with how the deck had played out and I felt it definitely had the strength to make Top 8.

Day Two:

My first match of the day was against Caw Blade; once again it proved an easy match. I made short work of his strategy through Nature’s Claim in both games.  

Record: 8-2

I was then paired against Raphael Levy (finished ninth place), playing a strong Elves deck running Vengevine/Fauna Shaman. In the first game, Raphael covered the board in creatures, quickly overrunning me using Ezuri, Renegade Leader. In game two, a couple of Arc Trail and an Inferno Titan gave him no board presence. Game three turned out long and very close. Pyroclasm gave me an early edge, but he followed up with Spellskite and Molten-Tail Masticore. He then proceeded to discard Vengevines off the Masticore; I had no answers and could not find a six drop.

Record: 8-3

Is this the player you want too face down at a Grand Prix (Brian Kibler).

Next up, I met well known and widely respected pro player Brian Kibler playing U/B Artifact. In game one, Kibler played a Steel Overseer followed by a Phyrexian Revoker naming Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I had a Lotus Cobra on board, and played another one. I then cast my Jace, the Mind Sculptor, setting it up for use on my next turn. Kibler played an Argent Sphinx, not fearing my Jace. But I played down an Inferno Titan, destroying his Revoker and using Jace to bounce the Sphinx back to his hand. I soon won through my Inferno Titan.

The following game didn’t go any better for Kibler. I was quick to Arc Trail his Steel Overseer and Phyrexian Revoker this time. I then played down a Manic Vandal for his second Overseer. Once I had out, my card advantage was too much as Kibler passed me turns without doing much. A Gitaxian Probe allowed me to secure my control of the game and I quickly beat him down using a Lotus Cobra, Manic Vandal and a Raging Ravine.

(Editor - For those interested you can find Kibler's deck list here)

Record: 9-3

My next matchup was Caw Blade, but this time things didn’t go quite as smoothly. All three games seemed to go on forever, and they were all about Jace and drawing cards. Very boring and a draw.

Record: 9-3-1

I next came up against a U/W control, playing no Stoneforge Mystics. I lost both games due to Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge dealing to all my non blue mana sources.

Record: 9-4-1

My final round of Grand Prix Singapore and I got paired against the mirror. In game one, my opponent had two Cobra’s, followed soon by two Exarch’s. The Splinter Twin came out soon after with Mana Leak open, unfortunately there was nothing I could do.

In game two, he had a Lotus Cobra and I did not. This led to him having a Jace before me, in a situation I couldn’t afford to use the mana to play my own out. I tried to combo off but his combust dealt to my Exarch. He rode his card advantage to the combo five turns later.

Final Record: 9-5-1

After day one’s performance, I found day two’s a little more disheartening. I felt that the toughest challenge I faced at the tournament were the two mirror matches as I felt I simply had no plays. Each game in the mirror it felt like whoever had more Lotus Cobra would win. However I finished 62nd, making the Top 64 for a cash prize finish. Ultimately, I feel RUG Twin is very powerful and will look to play this deck for this next period of standard. The deck has a lot of options and is a very skill intensive deck, so be careful if you intend to follow suit.

Join me next week for an article that is relevant to us all right now about how I test for big tournaments and how I will test for the upcoming National Tournament.

But for now, play whatever deck you want, just be like Jason Chung and win with terrible decks.

- Matt Rogers