My esteemed readership,
In case you have not heard the news: Highlander is happening more regularly now on Cockatrice. Aesthetics and convenience in operation aside, the software is really helpful in cramming a lot of games into a small timeframe. We also found a tournament mode which allows to have almost no downtime between matches, as we simply rotate between tables once a match has finished. So please feel invited join the discord server and participate the next time Magic Monday rolls around. The community is locally diverse and a lot of archetypes are represented.
After last week’s video recap, I decided to do an extensive written tournament report of this week’s Magic Monday tourney. Thanks to the replay-option on Cockatrice, I could give an accurate description of every game I played, which lines I took and which information I evaluated. I also added some thoughts on what to generally expect in each matchup from the RUG Tempo perspective.
In short, I faced White Weenie, UR Control, Mono B, UB Reanimator, Gw Ramp, and 5c Midrange and went 4-2. This is the list I played during the event: https://deckstats.net/decks/144087/1459638-ugr-european-highlander- The change I made compared to the last Magic Monday was swapping Mana Leak for Faithless Looting, as I was saturated on counterspells and wanted to obtain more card-selection for tackling a more diverse metagame.
Granted, the report is quite long and at times probably too detailed, but I hope you enjoy at least some passages from the matchups that interest you.
Round I – White Weenie, on the draw (0:2)
Facing one of my worst matchups (30/70) in round one makes for a good warm-up, being on the draw even more so. RUG tempo is structurally weak against swarm-y disruptive creature decks, as it is really challenging to get ahead on tempo and you generally cannot establish a board presence that holds enough of their attackers at bay for you to stabilize. There are two things that ought not to happen, which is them curving out in the early game and you drawing the reactive blue component of your interaction. Both of these things happened, as you will see.
Opening hand: Sea Gate Stormcaller, Vapor Snag, Verdant Catacombs, Steam Vents, Brazen Borrower, Counterspell, Mountain
This hand was a bit dicey as it was lacking board presence to capitalize on the bounce-spells, but still playable. My opponent curved onedrop into Rishadan Port into threedrop, and from there on presented more creatures and Path to Exile on my blockers. The mana-denial was extremely punishing as I was on the draw, and so it was an excellent imitation of the Legacy D&T vs Delver matchup.
Opening hand: Chain Lightning, Dreadhorde Arcanist, Hexdrinker, Mental Note, Island, Bloodstained Mire, Grim Lavamancer
This hand is literally the dream in this matchup. Grim Lavamancer turn 1 on the play, removal for days and a lot of pressure. Plot Twist: my opponent Wasteland’ed my Taiga and followed it up with a Mother of Runes (on a mulligan to six; the Highlander Gods seem rather angry at me). I did not draw a red source in time and when I did to deploy Dreadhorde Arcanist, my opponent had Winds of Abandon, at which points I was too low on life to recover. EZ game.
Round II – UR Control, on the draw (2:1)
UR Control is a good matchup for RUG Tempo (70/30). First off, their removal is ill-equipped to handle your green threats. Secondly, RUG’s low curve makes it rather easy for the pilot to circumvent the nonbasic-hate. Third, you will end up ahead on tempo in most exchanges (especially when you fight over noncreature spells on the stack). Lastly, they give you ample time to draw into a good sequence of spells. The following observations will confirm these theoretical statements.
Opening hand: Flooded Strand, Forked Bolt, Flame Slash, Force of Negation, Pteramander, Memory Lapse
I kept this hand in the dark, not knowing what I was playing against. I generally don’t like mulliganing, and since this hand had interaction against all archetypes and I had some time in drawing another land, I figured I might as well keep and worst case, use this game to obtain information on my opponent’s deck. When my opponent led with basic Island into Mountian, I knew that my opponent probably would not present much in terms of proactive plays. I peeked at the end of their turn 2 and saw a hand of Back to Basics, Vendilion Clique, Mountain, Island, Storm’s Wrath and therefore decided to run out Pteramander on turn 2 as I had Force of Negation for the B2B and Veil of Summer for a Vendilion Clique in my drawstep (which happened). They played B2B on turn 4, getting it FoN’ed. At the beginning of my turn 4, I drew my second land, fetched for a Taiga played Wrenn and Six that I have drawn in the meanwhile and which gave me back my Flooded Strand. Next turn, they used Abrade for my Pterry and hit Wrenn, keeping up Mana Drain. I attempted Forked Bolt on the Clique, they obviously drained and I Memory lapsed it, noticing that they stalled on lands. From this point onwards, it was smooth sailing as I stabilized my mana and presented some inevitability with Wrenn and Six. I removed their next creature, drew into more card selection and had counters at the ready once Storm’s Wrath was the only option left available for them. After the game continued for a couple more turns with nothing much happening apart from me developing my hand and mana, a big fight ensued over Strom’s Wrath, which I decided to pick as it would leave them with no cards in hand, an empty board and after the dust settled (i.e. Wrenn getting destroyed), I was left with Ethereal Forager in hand. Forager connected, I received back my Mana Drain and the game was essentially over as this ensured another hit from the Forager.
Opening hand: Young Pyromancer, Misty Rainforest, Pyroblast, Mana Drain, Sleight of Hand, Bomat Courier, Chain Lightning
My opponent used turn 1 Brainstorm, already a big tell. I played Misty and passed as I wanted to leave up Pyroblast in case they would cast another cantrip. My opponent played a fetchland and also passed the turn. I did not fetch here as it would have reduced my chances of drawing another land by some minor percentage. I drew a Windswept Heath, played it and was now able to crack Misty for an Island casting Sleight of Hand, which drew me a Ponder. They passed with three mana up and as soon as I wanted to fetch EOT, they responded with Whirlwind Denial, thus stifling my fetch. I was still fine since I had Ponder, but I did not need to cast it as I drew Wooded Foothills. Then again some rather uneventful turns in which they drew lands and I didn’t, but I was ok since I had Mana Drain, Pyroblast and Force Spike which allowed me to participate in the draw-go scenario. They did not present any proactive plays, so when I had 5 mana out eventually (they had 7 at that point, both of us having 6 cards in hand), I attempted to resolve Tarmogoyf. I won the counterbattle which, at that point, I considered a big win since this creature is very robust in this matchup. But they were then able to cast Entrancing Melody uncontested, which I did not expect and completely swung the game around. Temur also doesn’t have a hard removal for a 5/6 Goyf and I had to devote too much resources to answering it and therefore lost.
Opening hand: Volcanic Island, Botanical Sanctum, Force of Negation, Treasure Cruise, Hexdrinker, Brazen Borrower, Preordain
Being on the play, I was committed to taking mulligan if I wasn’t proactive enough. As you can see, my opening hand was perfectly suited for going first. My opponent was on a mulligan and forced to keep a clunker of a hand, but as soon as I managed to get Hexy to level 3, the game was essentially over as my creature did a good Thrunn, the Last Troll impression. I selected into more counterspells (Remand, Veil of Summer, Flusterstorm) and rode my creature to victory. In my previous articles, I reiterated that UR control is not a recommendable deck anymore, and this match exactly showcased why. Never was I punished for keeping a slow hand as I had ample time to draw into the missing pieces and I always achieved tempo-positive exchanges. Contrary to the belief of my opponent, I still content that this is a very good matchup for me.
Round III – Mono B, on the draw (0:2)
Mono Black is another one of the three decks I fear the most (30/70). It can strip away RUG’s key resources and has an army of recurring threats. There is not really a recipe for sustained success in this matchup apart from sequencing a turn 2 threat backed up by a softcounter in order to start controlling out the game. The following games are rather uneventful from my point of view, and the match probably ended after a couple of minutes.
Opening hand: Nimble Mongoose, Misty Rainforest, Mountain, Remand, Vapor Snag (Mull to 5)
My opponent led with a recursive one mana 2/1, which I bounced after they did not play into my Remand. However, my opponent had Wasteland for my Tropical Island, and thereafter their Lifebane Zombie stripped away my Nimble Mongoose. I was able to wipe their board with my Forked Bolt, but was still on a single mountain in play, so they snuck through two more creatures before I had blue mana and I was eventually unable to stop the bleeding and died.
Opening hand: Flame Slash, Snapcaster Mage, Veil of Summer, Verdant Catacombs, Gitaxian Probe, Grim Lavamancer, Lightning Bolt
Similar to my first match, I was happy with that keep, as it had a lot of interaction in the matchup and could function for a while on a single land in case my cantrips failed to deliver. Also, mulliganing against a black deck with Tempo is not a good idea. I saw a hand containing Tasigur, Mishra’s Bauble, Entomb, Encroach and two lands. I decided to pass for I knew they couldn’t resist Encroach’ing me and that gave Veil of Summer an easy target. I fetched for a Taiga and played the Grim Lavamancer as I needed it to remove Tasigur. Anyway, my opponent Sinkhole’d me, Dismember’ed Grim Lavamancer and I did not draw a land. Next match, please.
Round IV – UB Reanimator, on the draw (2:0)
At this point of the tournament, I needed a bit of redemption to console my feelings, and exactly found what I was looking for by facing a combo deck. The UB version of reanimator has a lot of card filtering, which facilitates more attempts to combo off during a game. They might not be as explosive as 5c variants but interact a lot more with you in order to secure their gameplan. In this respect, they can adapt to playing the control role. Another strategic angle to keep in mind is that their combo-setup is somewhat visible and often stretches over two turns, so a common cause of losing the matchup from the tempo perspective is overcommitting on main-phase mana investment. Pressuring quickly is arguably is less important than keeping up the impression of counterspells, as they will not combo off until they have one or two disruption spells themselves. As against most combo decks, I think 65/35 is the adequate win-ratio of RUG tempo.
Opening hand: Mental Misstep, Arid Mesa, Ethereal Forager, Spell Pierce, Gush, Pteramander, Windswept Heath
I played Pteramander on turn 1, a play that really bothered me on hindsight – my opponent escalated Collective Brutality, discarding their creature and removing mine. The additional one point of damage a turn 1 Pteramander would have provided does not outweigh the possibility of hampering my opponent’s setup, and even if my opponent would have passed their turn 2 without making any plays, fetch for triome would not have been a bad turn 1 from my part. Be it as it may, it seemed that my opponent was lacking a reanimation spell, so they used their following two turns for Snapcaster + Opt, Duress (which got misstepped) and Careful Study, after which they attempted a Treasure Cruise. At that point, I had drawn into Mana Drain and a third blue source, so I countered and was planning my following turn of Gush + Forager, getting back all the permission I would need. To add insult to injury, Hexdrinker was conveniently sitting on top of my deck, getting immediately leveled to 8 from the Mana Drain mana. My opponent’s next drawstep neither gave them the desired second combo-piece nor the removal for Ethereal Forager, and after the whale connected, the lid was shut on the game.
Opening hand: Gush, Hexdrinker, Yavimaya Coast, Miscast, Dismember, Verdant Catacombs, Bomat Courier
My opponent seemed to have kept a rather controlling hand with some cantrips, permission, Dig Through Time and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The early to mid-game was uneventful – I tried to develop my mana and board and fight through my opponent’s Jace. When Jace was finally handled, my opponent cast Dig Though Time (with one card remaining in hand), and with no tutor spells cast from my opponent this game, I figured I would be in decent shape even if they got a fatty down the following turn (as they were kind of at the mercy of their Dig Through Time). I was still holding Vapor Snag, had five cards underneath Bomat and a Tarmogoyf in addition to Hexdrinker. The delve-spell found my opponent Show and Tell and Rune-Scarred Demon, but they did not have enough mana to handle my board with the Demonic Tutor-ability. I could simply bounce the demon, cash in my bomat (yielding me Scavenging Ooze when I was comfortably sitting on a couple of green sources) and continue attacking.
Round V – Gw Ramp, on the play (2:0)
Overall, I think this matchup is probably 50/50, although being on the play gives RUG a considerable edge in my experience with the matchup. Their best games involve Cavern of Souls or Allosaurus Sheperd (as one Primeval Titan, Titania or Craterhoof is usually enough); apart from that, their main route to victory in this matchup is simply playing 3/4/5 cmc midrange creatures, say Questing Beast, Thragtusk etc. I am glad that I could play against the mastermind of this archetype, Hendrik from Berlin.
Opening hand: Tropical Island, Opt, Flooded Strand, Mystic Sanctuary, Deathrite Shaman, Mishra’s Bauble (Mulligan to 6)
Although I cast Deathrite and drew into a Wrenn and Six by turn 2, I did not find and answer for my opponent’s Turn 1 Elvish Reclaimer, a game-winning creature if it goes uncontested. I thought I was fine as I Opt’ed into Counterspell and Remand, all the while approaching Mystic Sanctuary and ticking up Wrenn, but my Opponent first used the Reclaimer to find Cradle, and after my next turn in which I played Sylvan Library to hopefully find removal, Reclaimer found Cavern of Souls, naming “Beast”. At this point, the clock is really ticking for me. They were lacking a mana to follow this sequence up with an immediate Woodland Bellower, so I played Sprite Dragon, got in for one, but apart from that Sylvan Library only found lands. I tapped Deathrite at their end of turn to drain them for two, which lowered my counter-shields and allowed them to sneak through a well-timed Chord of Calling, finding Paradise Druid – an excellent play as it guaranteed two more mana the following turn. Again a disappointing Sylvan Library activation.. I found Serum Visions, drew Faithless Looting and cleared the top off of lands. I found Gush and Tarmogoyf – however, since I already played a land this turn (BIG mistake), I decided to forego Gush and save it for next turn when I could potentially use it in combination with mystic Sanctuary. At this point, Sprite Dragon was able to attack for three which, together with the Deathrite Shaman activation netted 5 damage this turncycle. But then they dropped the hammer on me as they resolved Woodland Bellower, searched for Fierce Empath, who in turn tutored Craterhoof Behemoth. I couldn’t do anything since Cavern was on beast and knew that, unless a minor miracle would happen, I would lose this game. To recap, at the end of their turn, they were at 10 Life and their board contained Reclaimer, Caryatid, Paradise Druid, Fierce Empath and Woodland Bellower. I had Wrenn on 5, Library, Deathrite, Tarmogoyf, Sprite Dragon with two counters and was on 15 life. I still had a Counterspell in hand, and when my library revealed Preordain (and two lands, again..), I had a beacon of hope. I Preordain’ed, scryed away two lands and found Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy (Sprite Dragon on 4/4). I played the Sanctuary, put Preordain back on top, Gush’ed (Spire dragon 5/5), played Preordain again (finding two creatures and drawing me into a land, can you believe it…) and then it finally occurred to me that, in order to get the last point of damage in, I could counter my own Jace. So I attacked with a 7/7 Sprite Dragon, activated Deathrite and minus’ed Wrenn for exactly 10 damage the turn before I would have been dead.
Opening hand: Spell Snare, Volcanic Island, Dack Fayden, Counterspell, Wooded Foothills, Chain of Vapor, Underground Sea
This hand was good, but it could easily go both ways if my opponent did not play into my Spell Snare. Also, if I Chain’ed their mana-dork, this would deprive me from my ability to maximize Spell Snare. That said, Chain of Vapor on their threedrop into counterspell their next play is also not a bad line. My opponent lead with Wild Growth into Rofellos (met by Spell Snare) and got their Tireless Tracker Counterspell’ed. I then played Dack Fayden on an empty board, which over the course of two turn-cycles drew me into Force of Negation (still being left with Chain of Vapor), Memory Lapse and Dreadhorde Arcanist. My opponent presented Thespian Stage but missed out on the opportunity to cast Crop Rotation on their main-phase the turn after I played Dack. They eventually played it at my end of turn, but my sequence of Memory Lapse into next turn Force of Negation was particularly backbreaking as they had only one additional card in hand. Dack drew me into Sprite Dragon and discarded Preordain so that I could leverage Dreadhorde Arcanist to boost my hasty attacker while still filtering through my draws. Preordain found Remand and the game was essentially over at that point.
Round VI – 5c Midrange, on the draw (2:1)
RUG tempo is not exactly flattered facing midrange, as their card-quality definitely outshines yours and you need to come out the gates strongly to outdo the lack of quality. However, once the opponent’s midrange deck contains blue and dips into more colors, you can rely on more than simply having a consistent deck because more angles of disruption and avenues of gaining tempo-advantage open up. Against blue midrange, I perceive the deck to be 60/40, against non-blue midrange it is slightly negative, about 45/55.
Opening hand: Snow-Covered Island, Pyroblast, Spell Pierce, Opt, Stifle, Young Pyromancer, Preordain
I could answer my opponent’s turn 2 Jace with Pyroblast and Stifle’d a fetchland on their third turn. As they did not have another play that turn, I levelled the playingfield and was able to consequently pull ahead on lands. My proactive turn 3 consisted of Young Pyromancer backed up by Spell Pierce, which countered an opposing Drown in the Loch. I cantripped into a Sylvan Library, which I decided to deploy to hedge against the absence of counterspells in my hand. Meanwhile, my opponent was forced to utilize Tainted Pact as a mainphase land-tutor, and his subsequent mana situation did not allow them to play the required removal for Pyro (they played a Sylvan Library of their own, instead). I drew an additional card with Library as I was still on a healthy 16, extending my boardpresence with a Hexdrinker levelled to 3 at which point my opponent conceded.
Opening hand: Tropical Island, Dreadhorde Arcanist, Mana Drain, Spirebluff Canal, Hexdrinker, Bomat Courier, Flame Slash
Despite my opening hand looking quite solid and my opponent not doing anything else than cycling Unearth and Cling to Dust, my turn 3 attack with Hexdrinker and Bomat was met by a cycled Shark Tyhpoon blocking the snake. I definely responded prematurely by casting Opt and hoping for a removal spell, but in hindsight probably should have just accepted the block and kept open Mana Drain. Opt found me a Mountain which enabled a Dreadhorde Arcanist second main, but my opponent removed said creature during their turn. I attempted to resolve Gitaxian Probe, to which my opponent responded with Brainstorm. With no mana left for them, I decided to run out Stubborn Denial targeting Brainstorm, but when Probe revealed a hand containing Ethereal Forager, Geist of Saint Traft, Demonic Consultation and Tainted Pact, I knew that I was in a world of trouble. Although my hand contained Mana Drain, Counterspell, Mental Misstep and Flame Slash, my Stubborn Denial play earlier left me with Tropical Island and Mountain as the only lands untapped and if my opponent was to decide to resolve Geist, there wouldn’t be much I could do to stem the bleeding. Tainted Pact forced me to keep counter-mana at the ready, but I also had to set up a maneuver which allowed me to utilize Bomat (5 cards exiled) to its full potential. The game continued for a while, but I couldn’t stop Geist from attacking, even after sacrificing Bomat and getting a fresh hand. It really came down to the Probe-turn – in light of the available information, I think countering Brainstorm is a very defensible play, but Geist was really one of the most punishing counterplays I exposed myself to.
Opening hand: Mana Drain, Magmatic Sinkhole, Gitaxian Probe, Daze, Force Spike, Spirebluff Canal, Ketria Triome
This game, my opponent and I both had Gitaxian Probe on our respective turn 1. I saw Tasigur, Geist, Force of Negation, Probe and three lands, which made turn 1 Pteramander (drawn from Probe) an easy choice. Their Probe, however, made my hand look awkward. Not only did I have a tapped land, but they also knew about all the softcounterspells I was holding in hand. Nevertheless, their hand took some time to develop, and playing on curve was therefore impossible for them as well. I stalled on two lands for a couple of turns but could deploy Bomat Courier for additional pressure and answer their Hexdrinker with Chain Lightning. My opponent could resolve their Tasigur on turn 4 for 1 mana, at which point I had three cards in the graveyard. They were able to connect once with it, but having drawn two consecutive lands (Mountain and Prismatic Vista) allowed me to cast Magmatic Sinkhole with Mana Drain backup (& Daze, just in case) the moment Banana King attacked for the second time. Now, at their second mainphase, they had four lands, 7 cards in hand, were on 10 life (as my 1/1 Pterry kept attacking) and had no board. Understandably, they did not want to run out their Geist into Mana Drain, but also did not have many proactive plays apart from that. Their turn then consisted of playing Retrofitter Foundry and Magmatic Channeler, the latter of which I Mana-Drain’ed to get more mana as well as cards in the graveyard to level up Pteramander. I drew my fifth land, which ensured that I could level and also have one mana left for Spell Pierce/ Force Spike. During combat, my opponent unsuccessfully cast Path to Exile (they most likely had forgotten that I was still holding Daze) and, being at 5 life, failed to find a removal spell the following turn.
Some concluding remarks on my gameplay. As you might have noticed, I am very risk averse, both in my decisions to take a mulligan as well as in deploying threats. This is, I think, also reflected in my deckbuilding (a lot of cheap permission, fewer creatures). That makes me obviously a bit more vulnerable against small creature decks, but much better equipped against combo & blue. Keep that in mind when trying out my version and tweak it according to your own playstyle.
In the last rendition of the Magic Monday Tournament, I went 4:1. With a 4:2 this time, I achieved my goal of maintaining a positive record against a more-tournament representative metagame than what my local playgroup offers me. Although the stakes were generally low and players were still adjusting to the Cockatrice-software, it helped me in practicing against cards and play-patterns I normally don’t experience. Probably the weakest aspect of my game is getting caught by surprise by cards I am unfamiliar with and thus making suboptimal decisions. Having gone through combos or tutor-sequences in such a setting makes me less prone to error and gives me a sense of ease entering a larger tournament. Therefore, I cannot recommend enough that you join the friendly community on the discord server and I highly encourage you to partake at the tournaments.