Vs RUG Delver
(last updated 7/30/18)
Best cards (main): Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Swords to Plowshares, equipment, Brightling, Mirran Crusader
Worst cards (main): Phyrexian Revoker, Recruiter of the Guard Sanctum Prelate
Best cards (side): Path to Exile and other additional removal, Rest in Peace
Revoker targets: Likely none game one, potentially Grim Lavamancer
Best Generic Sanctum Prelate Numbers: 1
Legacy Challenge Top 8, nwrobinson 7/23/18
Deck Strategy and Key Cards
RUG Delver (aka Canadian Threshold, Tempo Thresh, or Temur Delver) is a tempo deck that focuses on hyper-mana efficiency. In most cases Tarmogoyf is the only card in the deck that costs more than one mana to cast, as Daze and Force of Will have alternate costs. RUG Delver is better at working with limited resources than other versions of the deck, and it usually plays Stifle to leverage its mana advantage further by wrecking fetchlands. Like other tempo decks, it seeks to stick an early threat and then use mana denial and free/cheap counterspells to “protect the queen” and ride that threat to victory. It’s a little odd to say this for a tempo deck, but it’s slower at closing out the game than you might expect. Nimble Mongoose is an annoying threat to deal with, but it takes several turns before it is doing any sort of meaningful damage. The Delver or Tarmogoyf opening hands are generally present a more aggressive clock than the Nimble Mongoose hands.
Prior to the banning of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe, RUG Delver was largely considered inferior to the more flexible and objectively powerful Grixis Delver. RUG Delver has a real chance in the new metagame, though it is still unclear if Grixis Delver or even Death’s Shadow Delver will end up as the Delver deck of choice. The RUG Delver maindeck is pretty tight, but there are a few flex spots. You’ll typically see about a 2/2 split of Spell Pierce and Spell Snare. After that, there’s two other flex slots in most decklists. Common choices these days are Dismember, Tarfire, and Forked Bolt, though a maindeck True-Name Nemesis isn’t out of the question either.
The Matchup and Important Interactions
The first two paragraphs here are generic Delver advice. What followers after is advice specific to RUG Delver.
As the D&T player, you have inevitability. The longer the game goes on, the more likely you are to win. Cards like Mother of Runes and Umezawa’s Jitte are very likely to effectively win you the game when unchecked. If you can avoid dying to their first threat or two, you are likely in good shape. Your opponent is going to try to keep you off balance in the first three or four turns of the game to push early damage. Prioritize stabilizing the board over pretty much everything else and you should be fine. Your secondary goal is to disrupt their mana, but doing so once they have a problematic threat on board becomes slightly less important.
I often hear the advice “just play around Daze” and you’ll be fine. In many cases, this actually isn’t great advice. You have so many high-impact cards in this matchup that you can afford to lose a couple to counterspells. Remember that both of their primary counterspells have a drawback, either pitching a card to Force or a returning a land for Daze. In many cases, you are actually quite fine with either of those scenarios. Now if you have a game-winning card to protect, maybe wait a turn on that, but otherwise, you don’t necessarily need to live in fear of your spells getting countered. If you sit back and do nothing to advance your board or control your opponent’s board, you are likely putting yourself in a losing position.
In game one scenarios, it’s very difficult for RUG Delver players to beat any piece of equipment. In most cases, your opponent will have no way to get the equipment off the board. Instead your opponent has to try and leverage the tempo in their favor by stopping your equip activation with Stifle or by removing your attacker before it successfully connects. Once you’ve put the Delver deck on the defensive, things should be turning heavily in your favor. This happens naturally as the game goes on, especially if you are playing Brightling and/or Mirran Crusader, as these threats invalidate opposing threats very easily. Brightling in particular is great at quickly getting you out of “burn range,” forcing your opponent to deal with it prior to getting back to aggressively attacking your life total.
The games that you lose in game 1 most often involve your opponent “just having it all” and not needing to cantrip for the right cards. The scariest starts often involve two creatures in the first two turns backed up by a Daze or Force of Will. Disruptive cards like Thalia end up being too slow to matter for many of those starts. You are overwhelmingly favored in game one though, so don’t sweat it if you occasionally “get Delvered.”
The core of your deck is very good against RUG Delver, so you probably won’t sideboard more than about four or five cards in most cases. Phyrexian Revoker is certainly the worst maindeck card, so I’d start by pulling those out. Recruiter of the Guard is a great cut next, as it’s just too slow for that matchup. After that, I take out Sanctum Prelate if I’m playing it; while it can hose the Delver deck, it also shuts off your removal and can come down too late to matter against their most aggressive draws. After that, trim another card or two and you’re golden. You’ll be bringing in any additional removal you have (e.g. Path to Exile) as well as Rest in Peace. Some builds may have some flex creatures to bring in, such as more copies of Brightling or Spirit of the Labyrinth as well. If this is the case, trim your less optimal or slow maindeck creatures to bring those in. On that note, I do like Spirit of the Labyrinth more than Sanctum Prelate in this matchup, as it can trade with a Nimble Mongoose that has threshold.
People frequently argue about whether or not to bringing in Council’s Judgment. It can answer True-Name Nemesis and Nimble Mongoose, so there’s certainly some merit to it. I personally don’t like a three mana removal spell against a Daze deck though, and for some reason I’ve yet to understand, many RUG Delver players are leaving Spell Pierce in the deck for post-sideboard games. I think if you are playing Brightling, racing True-Name becomes less of an issues; hence you can likely afford not to bring in Council’s Judgment.
The RUG Delver sideboards aren’t solidified yet in this new metagame, so pilot preference matters quite a bit. You should expect your opponent to trim some number of counterspells and low-impact cards for more removal and ways to deal with your equipment. As far as removal goes, expect things like Grim Lavamancer, Abrade, Sulfur Elemental, Rough, and Izzet Staticaster. Ancient Grudge, Abrade, and Pithing Needle are the most common ways of mucking with your equipment, though things like Smash to Smithereens and Destructive Revelry show up as well. Your opponent also may opt to bring in Winter Orb to increase their potential of “just getting you” with their first threat before your superior cards can take over the game.
RUG Delver is an extremely positive matchup. Saying that it is 70:30 in favor of D&T is likely not an exaggeration. Like any deck, you do have the potential to just “get Delvered” in the first few turns of the game and lose without putting up a fight. However, in the games where that doesn’t happen, you should be in pretty good shape. You have too many “must-answer” cards, and they can only deal with so many of them. I’d say that the easiest way to lose this matchup is to poorly evaluate your role at any given time. I find it’s useful to figure out how I can lose by asking questions like these:
I lost a couple of matches to RUG Delver while I was still refining my decklist, but I haven’t’ dropped any matches to RUG since switching to a 2/2 maindeck split of Brighting and Mirran Crusader. I like that configuration for this matchup, as it gives you a way to wall Tarmogoyf, which can get larger than Brightling in some scenarios.
Data as of 7/30/18
Win rate with WW D&T: 5-2 (71.4%)
Win rate with RW D&T: no data