Storm & RUG Delver – The Legacy Breakdown by Alex Gershaw and Chris Vincent

Storm & RUG Delver – The Legacy Breakdown by Alex Gershaw and Chris Vincent

“Hey, Magic Public, I’m Alex Gershaw. I play in Leeds and mostly (if not exclusively) Legacy.”

“I’m Chris Vincent, and I play pretty much all Magic tournament formats and play, mostly in York and Leeds.”

Despite a market appetite, we realised that mtgUK doesn’t seem to have published many articles on Legacy recently. We mean to right this terrible wrong.

We’ve decided to write about the broad brush of different decks that you’ll likely see at most Legacy tournaments over a series of articles. In each one we’ll provide a brief breakdown of what they do, how they win, what their strengths are and what are they weak to. The main purpose of each article is to provide the community with more insight into the wide world of Legacy.

This isn’t really designed to be a series of strategy articles. No doubt some of the information by nature is strategic, but the main reason for writing is to bring some passion to sharing a format we love – and offer incentive for more people to pick up Legacy decks in the future. Each article will examine two decks; one unfair and one fair.

Unfair decks tend to be ones to cheat the natural rhythm of Magic. They are a huge factor in the appeal of playing a format like Legacy in the first place: You get to do ‘unfair’ things to your opponent as early as turn one! For example, cheating into play some powerful permanents, abusing the Graveyard or even assembling a win on the spot.

Cards that cheat things into play Banner

Fair decks tend to be ones that keep them honest. They play efficiently costed creatures, supported by removal and disruption and often win with incremental combat damage or inevitability.

Undercosted Creatures Banner

The Unfair Deck

Tendrils of Agony banner

Storm: 4th Place SCG InvQ. Knoxville 11/5/14

Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Tropical Island
Underground Sea
Volcanic Island
Lion's Eye Diamond
Lotus Petal
Sensei's Divining Top
Ad Nauseam
Cabal Ritual
Dark Ritual
Cabal Therapy
Gitaxian Probe
Grim Tutor
Infernal Tutor
Past in Flames
Tendrils of Agony


Defense Grid
Grafdigger's Cage
Dark Confidant
Abrupt Decay
Chain of Vapor
Empty the Warrens

Our first deck is named after and revolves around, probably the most ‘unfair’ or ‘broken’ mechanic in the game ‘Storm’.

Decks of this kind attempt to end the opponent by casting a bunch of spells in one turn and unleashing a lethal Tendrils of Agony. It’s fast, efficient and can play through a lot of different kinds of disruption. Storm has a few variants, but the version we will explore (represented in the above decklist) is most commonly called ‘Ad-Nauseum Tendrils’ or ANT for short.

The kill

Tendrils of Agony, the main deck only has the one card capable of killing the opponent.

The mechanism

Rituals or Lion’s Eye Diamond into Infernal Tutor to find Past in Flames (preferred route) or Ad Nauseam. The cantrips help you find the right combination of cards and enable the mechanism.

An optimal turn is outlined below:


Mana pool

Spell count

Play Underground Sea



Pay 2 life to cast Gitaxian Probe to see their hand and draw a card.



Tap Underground Sea for B and cast Cabal Therapy (naming their disruption)



Cast Lotus Petal



Sacrifice Lotus Petal for B and cast Dark Ritual



Use B from your existing mana pool to cast another Dark Ritual



Cast Lion’s Eye Diamond (LED)



Use BB from your existing mana pool to cast Infernal Tutor, retain priority to sacrifice Lion’s Eye Diamond for RRR. You will have 0 cards in hand when Infernal Tutor resolves so the Hellbent clause applies and you can ‘tutor’ for Past In Flames.



Use BBRR to cast Past In Flames



Use B to Flashback Dark Ritual from your graveyard



Use B to Flashback the other Dark Ritual from your graveyard



Use BB to Flashback Infernal Tutor from your graveyard. You will still have 0 cards in hand when Infernal Tutor resolves so the Hellbent clause applies and you can ‘tutor’ for Tendrils of Agony



Use BBBR to cast Tendrils of Agony targeting your opponent with the spell itself and all the copies created by the Storm trigger.




Speed: Being one of the fastest combo decks means you usually don’t have to worry about a lot of your opponent’s strategy and components, some decks, either slower combo decks or non-blue ones won’t be able to stop you before you kill them, and even with some dedicated back-up plan they usually need to be on the play to interfere with your strategy.

Resilience: While not the most resilient combo deck in the format, discarding one card from your hand or countering one spell is often not enough to stop you. You have two plans of attack to get to your finisher; one more consistent but utilises the graveyard; the other far riskier but avoids cards that interact with the graveyard.

Your opponent will have dead draws against you: Opponents will often have a lot of dead cards in game one, for example any creature removal is pretty much redundant as you run no creatures. A lot of opponents will not be able to sideboard out all their ‘dead cards’ because they do not have enough useful cards in their sideboard to replace them for games two (and three).

Consistency: Finally the deck has the blue draw spells to give the deck good card selection which enables the deck to find, not only the cards it needs to win reliably, but also its discard and sideboarded removal in order to fight through disruption when necessary.


BrainstormPlayer error: The best Storm pilots have been perfecting the art of counting to ten for a long time. The deck has a lot of complexities to it such as; knowing how to ‘blind Therapy’, how to make the right use of a card like Brainstorm, how to sequence spells and the ability to read the opponent, even when you can’t look at the cards in their hand, so you know when you can combo off.

Defensive options: Another weakness is its lack of defensive options. Decks packing a fast clock alongside efficient disruption, are quite problematic because you don’t have much time to combo-off, and you’ll need to run it through their disruption.

Hate: There exist hate cards that can completely shut this deck down, or at least make it incredible difficult to combo off. Some examples include Flusterstorm and Mindbreak Trap, and permanent-based hate such as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Ethersworn Canonist and TrinisphereIf one of these resolves, your days are pretty much numbered unless you’ve managed to draw some side-boarded removal already. Fortunately, ANT is still capable of ‘combo-ing off’ before an opponent has a chance to cast any of these cards.

Things to know about this deck

You don’t always have to use Lion’s Eye Diamond and Infernal Tutor to win. Sometimes cantrips and rituals can give you a high enough Storm count and draw you into your win condition.

It’s not necessarily all over if you get your combo nullified the first time.. Some decks still won’t put enough pressure on you to kill you before you have enough time to recoup cards and try again.

It’s not always best to go off as quickly as possible. There’s great merit in knowing what your opponent is playing and the right cards to remove from their hand with discard spells, particularly Cabal Therapy.

You’d like this deck if…

You like doing broken things and killing opponents as early as turn one!

You like the challenge of tackling numeric puzzles.

You have the time to study the deck itself. The optimal turn outlined above is a reflection of what the deck is reliably capable of doing, but less straightforward hands might take a bit of training.

You don’t have the time to study know the in-depth strategies of other decks. For example, Storm is a good choice if you don’t have the opportunity to play Legacy very often.

You’d not like this deck if…

You like to have options or a plan B if things go wrong. As outlined above, this deck’s defensive options are very limited.

You prefer interactive decks. As I said, you don’t interact much with your opponent’s deck other than with your discard spells, the opponent has a bit more opportunity to interact with you, but that depends on what form of disruption they are running.

You like to tweak, tinker or experiment. There’s little room for ingenuity with this kind of deck because the deck needs to be as efficient as possible and innovation/variance is almost always at the cost of efficiency. By contrast, a lot of the decks running creatures as a kill condition can change the creatures they run or the removal suite – but the options for ANT to make changes of similar ilk are very limited.


Storm can sometimes have Burning Wish and a number of sorceries to fetch from its sideboard (or ‘Wishboard’. This augments the number of tutors available and consequently improves the deck’s abiity to consistently combo off quickly (because you won’t need to ‘set-up’ future turns with cantrips as often) this build is often coined as The Epic Storm or (TES). It often runs Silence as its main form of disruption as it focuses more on comboing off as soon as possible with its increased number of tutors, rituals and the addition of Chrome Mox (replacing some lands) to build up a critical storm earlier.

Both ANT and TES have their respective merits. TES tends to work better against those decks that could put up resistance after turn 2 and the mirror (due to its speed), but less good against opponents who can make use of their disruption from turn one (even with Silence).

The Fair Deck

Delver of Secrets banner

RUG Delver: 2nd Place SCG InvQ Dalton 8/6/14

Delver of Secrets
Nimble Mongoose
Flooded Strand
Misty Rainforest
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Tropical Island
Volcanic Island
Wooded Foothills
Force of Will
Lightning Bolt
Spell Pierce
Spell Snare
Forked Bolt


Grafdigger's Cage
Tormod's Crypt
Ancient Grudge
Spell Pierce
Surgical Extraction

The Magic spectrum of Aggro-Control-Combo is at its most diverse in Legacy; RUG Delver is a prime example of an Aggro-Control deck, armed with efficient creatures, mana denial, disruptive counterspells and some removal.

This kind of deck has been alive for a long time – historically coined as ‘Threshold’ because previous incarnations ran several cards which were powered up by having seven or more cards in the graveyard. You’ll notice Nimble Mongoose still makes the cut in the current version of the deck.

The kill

Creatures, Delver of Secrets, Nimble Mongoose and Tarmogoyf.

The Mechanism

RUG aims to generally be aggressive from the outset, often landing a threat on the first turn or second turn.

It then makes use of its noncreature spells to do three main things, whichever is the priority in each instance of the opponent’s gameplan: protect the threat, prevent the opponent from ‘comboing off’ or preventing the opponent from gaining control of the game. This could mean countering a spell with Daze, destroying a non-basic land with Wasteland or aiming a Lightning Bolt at an opposing creature.


Speed (as relative to other fair decks): The threats are designed to close the game quite quickly so, from the RUG player’s perspective, they shouldn’t have to play long games or disrupt the opponent for long. From the opponent’s perspective, they haven’t got long until they lose.

DazeAttacks your opponent’s efficiencies: Most strategies in this format optimise powerful non-basic lands and efficient spells. RUG Delver applies pressure on an opponent from the early game while disrupting the opponent’s ability to make best use of its lands and spells. This means opponents sometimes have to play ‘suboptimally’ against you to play round the disruptive elements of your deck. For example, opponents will make sure they have a spare mana if they don’t want their spell to be met by your DazeThis means more often they will be slower to cast spells. Other times they will sometimes play basic lands instead of non-basics because of Wasteland, sometimes at the cost of being able to cast different coloured spells as efficiently as usual. These examples play very well into the fact that you’re aiming to close the game relatively quickly.

Versatility: Your threats, removal and disruptive elements arm you with the ability to take on almost anything your opponent might field against you. Combo decks will likely not have adequate time to play around your disruption, and control decks will have to stabilise (through your disruption) very quickly before you kill them.

You are one of the more aggressive decks in the format meaning you are less likely to play against a creature deck which is faster and more aggressive than you.


Need to know your what your opponent is doing: The basic principle of the deck’s strategy is quite straightforward, but it requires a bit of knowledge about what your opponent’s deck can do. This is important for knowing which spells you must counter (you can’t always counter everything!); when you should use a Stifle on a fetchland activation or save it for something more important; even which threat to play against them.

Not great in the late game: This deck thrives in the early game, but not in the late game. If your opponent does manage to stabilise or play some late-game cards then spells such as Daze and Spell Pierce will likely no longer be enough to stop them and your threats will often be superceded by those of your opponent.

Individual problem cards: Finally, there are some ‘problem cards’ such as Chalice of the Void or Blood Moon, which if resolved correctly can completely shut the deck down.

Cards like Veteran Explorer and Aether Vial enable an unfair advantage over most of the cards in your deck, the former accelerating the pace of the game into the lategame, the latter bypassing your counterspell, and your mana denial suite to an extent.

Both Deathrite Shaman and True-Name Nemesis can also be powerful against this deck and are widely played.

Things to know about this deck

You often need a threat turn one or turn two to kick-off the game-plan. Opening hands without a threat are often questionable to keep.
Tropical Island

You can use the fact that most of the time, your opponent will be trying to play round you, to your advantage by keeping them guessing which disruptive elements they need to play round. 

For example, on your turn two, playing a Tarmogoyf means the opponent only really needs to play around Force of Will and Daze until you untap, but if you play a Nimble Mongoose leave mana up, they also need to play around Stifle, Spell Pierce and consider the fact that you can use a Brainstorm to draw into any of the aforementioned. 

You might not be holding a one-mana-answer but your opponent might play round it anyway. This doesn’t mean that it’s always incorrect to tap out for a Tarmogoyf on turn two though.

You will often find that you will be using your cards to gain situational advantages as well as perform their intended purpose. For example, you can return an Island to your hand to cast Daze, which could save it from an opposing Wasteland.

If you can engineer the use of Daze while the opponent’s Wasteland ability is on the stack (for example, by casting Lightning Bolt on their creature and either they will respond with (e.g.) a Spell Pierce which you can Daze, or if you don’t think they will, Daze your own Lightning Bolt and pay the 1 if the Island is more important than the Daze at this point of the game.

Rules knowledge can give you some small edges! For example, knowing what is and what isn’t a triggered ability helps you get the best out of Stifle! Suppose an opponent reveals a card with “Miracle” as the first card drawn in a turn (e.g. Terminus) there is a triggered ability which, if it resolves, allows the opponent to play the spell for its Miracle cost at that point in the game. However, there’s no triggered ability to counter as Iona, Shield of Emeria enters the battlefield.

You’d like this deck if…

You like strategies that keep the opponent guessing and force them to interact with you. This deck appeals to a lot of players who are good at applying the general concepts of playing Magic in their favour (e.g. threat assessment, tempo advantage, reading the opponent).

You are familiar with the cards played in the format and would like to be able to interact with the majority of the field.

If you don’t have the patience to play a control deck then this is an ideal alternative to keep the unfair decks honest.

If you like killing a helpless opponent because you made them helpless, this deck is for you.

You’d not like this deck if…

You want to play powerful spells with big effects. This strategy is all about swinging the smaller incremental advantages to your favour with cheap efficient disruption in the early game and killing the opponent before your advantage runs out.

If you want to play a fair deck with late-game options, then this isn’t the deck for you.

Although it is not too difficult to play to its basic level, cards like Brainstorm and Ponder can be complex to optimise especially in the early game where you might be short on information (e.g. knowing what you’ll need to counter, how quickly you’ll need to beatdown or if you’ll need to deny your opponent of mana) – so if you haven’t had much experience with these cards, then this will affect how well you pilot this deck.


There are a couple of different Delver variants which we may revisit later:

True-Name NemesisBUG: While slower on the offence, it makes use of discard and more powerful permanents such as Dark Confidant, True-Name Nemesis and Liliana of the Veil. This deck has a weaker manabase and cannot close games as quickly but is rising in popularity and debated to be an even stronger all-round choice than RUG in the current Legacy Metagame.

WUR: Very similar to RUG, but makes use of Stoneforge Mystic, equipment and Swords to Plowshares instead of the green Cards. Although these cards can’t close the game as quickly, and are less optimal against most combo/control decks, they give the deck stronger options against creature decks. Stoneforge Mystic also enables better mid-late game options.

This deck also has access to powerful white sideboard cards such as Rest in Peace and Meddling Mage which make it an appealing all round option.

Thanks for reading. Next time we will look at decks making use of Griselbrand and Jace the Mindsculptor respectively.

Alex Gershaw and Chris Vincent

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