Pondering—The Return of the RUG Project

Back when the Standard season first started, Luis, Matt and I brewed up a RUG deck that Matt would pilot for NY States. It revolved around Jace and Niv-Mizzet to draw a bunch of cards and win through card advantage. Matt went 3-3 at States, did poorly at the following TNM and gave up on the deck. I was firmly on Reanimator back then and decided to just let the deck die. It was somewhere in the middle of midrange and control but couldn’t decide which plan to go with ultimately. The meta progressed toward durdly control decks, and at one point, midrange was completely dead.

Then along came the aggro decks in an attempt to punish the greedy players, and suddenly midrange became viable again. Naya made a return and started producing consistent finishes at major events. I played around with that deck for a while, but didn’t like what White had to offer besides Restoration Angel. Moreover, much like many other midrange decks, it had no way to restock its hand, giving it a very weak matchup against the control decks that could easily three- or four-for-one it with an uncounterable Wrath.

So it was under these seemingly auspicious circumstances that I decided to revive the RUG Project, as we had called it back in the day.

Deck: RUG Project

Counts : 60 main / 15 sideboard

Creatures:16
2 Snapcaster Mage
2 Borderland Ranger
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
4 Thragtusk
4 Thundermaw Hellkite

Spells:20
2 Bonfire of the Damned
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Farseek
4 Searing Spear
2 Cackling Counterpart
4 Jace, Architect of Thought

Lands:24
2 Cavern of Souls
3 Forest
4 Hinterland Harbor
3 Island
1 Kessig Wolf Run
3 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Steam Vents

Sideboard:15
3 Dispel
2 Ground Seal
2 Negate
2 Plummet
2 Sundering Growth
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Zealous Conscripts

In some respects, it was an excuse to play with Snapcasters and Jaces again. The interaction between Cackling Counterpart and Thundermaw Hellkite is sort of cute as well — nothing like a double Lava Axe when they least expect it.

I did some preliminary testing against BR aggro, GW aggro, UW Flash, and even the OmniDoor deck. Pillar of Flame and Searing Spear were, as expected, phenomenal against the aggro decks; Cavern of Souls naming Dragon basically prompts an immediate concession from UW Flash; and Jace is good in all the matchups. He presents an alternate route to victory when midrange decks traditionally rely only on creatures, and nothing feels better than Farseeking to play him on turn 3.

I was feeling pretty good about the deck and was excited to try it at TNM. Unfortunately, I got paired against Matt the first round. He was on BR aggro tonight, and having tested a bunch of games against Josh Fetto prior to the event, the matchup felt at least somewhat favorable for me. Pillar gets rid of all 12 of his Zombies, Searing Spear deals with Hellriders, and from there it’s just a matter of staying alive through Aristocrats and Thundermaws, which is simple enough — BR isn’t designed to win with just those cards, they need to whittle down the opponent’s life totals with their Zombies first.

Game one we couldn’t buy a keepable hand. Matt went down to 5 while I was down to 4 on the draw. I managed to stave off early aggression by double Bonfiring for one, but Matt peeled a third Gravecrawler off the top and back came its two buddies. I get a Thragtusk but Matt answered with an Aristocrat, and it was off to boards. I took out the Snapcasters and Counterparts for Plummets and Conscripts.

We kept at six each in game two. I got out two Huntmasters and started racing against Matt’s lone Diregraf Ghoul, but things started looking shaky when he dropped an Aristocrat. I went to Pillar his Ghoul, Matt let it go and immediately realized his mistake when I followed up with a Bonfire for one. Matt scooped in frustration, though it turned out he shouldn’t have since he had plenty more gas in his hand.

Game three wasn’t much of a game either as I had double Pillar, double Spear, and was able to get to my 5-drops. Once I stabilized with a Thragtusk Matt packed it in.

The games weren’t fun, and it sucked seeing Matt beat himself up about game two when he probably would have had it anyway. Neither of us have been doing particularly well this Standard season, only managing X-1s every now and then with much worse results at other times. Matt’s been taking it harder than I have, and beating him when he should have won was unsatisfying.

Regardless, it was 1-0 matches, 2-1 games.

Round two was against Mike, a newcomer to the store whom I played last week. He was also on BR but one that he brewed up himself. I spent the majority of game one trying to stabilize as he had a ton of removal, but I eventually get two Thragtusks and Hellkite + Counterpart my way to victory.

Game two went down in similar fashion, minus the early pressure from my opponent. Jace drew me into my threats, and I got there with the dragons.

2-0 matches, 4-1 games.

I went up against Tim next. We hadn’t played Standard since the Delver days, back when I actually won things. He was on Bant Control, the same list that Reid Duke made consecutive GP Top 8s with. I get out Huntmaster after Huntmaster but they just weren’t enough to put a dent through all the Thragtusks and Sphinx’s Revelations. Game one lasted a long time but Tim was never really in danger of losing it.

I boarded into Garruk and Conscripts for the second game, and the unanswered Planeswalker made things quite difficult for Tim. I had Garruk on nine loyalty at one point, refusing to ultimate right into Tim’s Verdict. He eventually flashed it in via Alchemist’s Refuge when I went for the card draw with Garruk’s minus ability, but from there he was defenseless, and the 3/3s got there.

For game three, I made some bad boarding decisions that would end up costing me the match. I decided to go on the Planeswalker plan and hope to win that way, while boarding out burn in favor of counterspells to keep the Sphinx’s Revelations under control. As it turned out, Tim kept a slow hand, and a transformed Huntmaster and companion got him down to 6 before he was able to Wrath, and a Searing Spear put him to 3. But since all my Snapcasters and other burn had been boarded out, I was praying for a Thundermaw or the only remaining copy of Searing Spear to get in the last points. They never came, and Tim dropped two Thragtusks and killed me as I drew lands and more lands. Even more frustrating was the fact that, had I beaten Tim, I would have been paired with Lirek for the last round, and his UW Flash deck was a virtual bye in all of my testing.

Instead, it was 2-1 matches, 5-3 games after round three.

Last on the list was Richard Tan, piloting the Naya + Blue for Sphinx’s Rev deck that did well at SCG this weekend. Since I was no longer in the running for store points, I conceded to Richard, who was X-0, and just played for fun. Sphinx’s Rev proved too much for this deck to handle, and I couldn’t touch Richard’s life total in game one. Game two didn’t go much better as I stalled on four lands and got wrecked by Acidic Slime and double Restoration Angel. I kept pretty loosely both games with nothing on the line, but I don’t think it would have mattered. Sphinx’s Revelation is a real problem for this deck.

In the end, it was 2-2 matches, 5-5 games.

Back to the drawing board. I like the deck, but the control matchup needs some serious work. Jace alone doesn’t provide enough card advantage, and having essentially only 12 creatures makes it hard to recover from Wrath effects. For some reason I didn’t include Niv-Mizzet in this build, thinking Hellkites would be enough. What I failed to recognize was that Niv is gas that refills itself, assuming you get to untap with him. I also felt Snapcasters and Counterparts were subpar, and ended up taking them out in almost every match. I’m considering cutting those to make room for mainboard Niv and Garruk. It makes me extremely top-heavy, but the deck proved that it can stay alive for long enough to reach that stage. And if you can get to that stage, might as well have some big game against the decks that are trying to go bigger. I’ll play around with the list a bit more before I take it to Monthly Standard on Sunday.

The RUG Project is alive and well, just when I was getting sick of Standard.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Pondering—The Return of the RUG Project”
  1. Matt Jones says:

    HA! Thanks for your kind words, Li. I take EVERYTHING much harder than most people, HA!

    • Li Xu says:

      Here’s to good games and keepable hands in the future. Orlando actually expressed interest in testing the deck out on Friday, I may have a changed list by then.

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