I’m Friends with RUG Monsters

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ken Crocker, and some of you may know me as a Midwest Magic grinder. Others may know me as the guy who once threw his deck against a wall at a PTQ (long story, some other time). However, most of you know me from this.

Today I am going to break down the RUG Monsters/Superfriends deck I played at SCG Detroit. I’ll go over possible upgrades to the deck for SCG Cincinnati, where I will be battling with an upgraded list, including new Journey into Nyx cards.

For those of you who have never seen the deck in action before, and would to see me play it poorly (Magic is hard), the match at Detroit starts here.

Obviously I could have picked some more optimal lines, to say the least. However, I did finish the tournament with a record of 7-2-1, with an intentional draw in Round 10 with a friend of mine. That record and draw led to a 33rd place finish; .09% in tiebreakers between myself and 32nd place. Daggers.

But besides some unlucky tiebreaker math and some misplays on my part, the deck is both fun and great, yet more challenging than most control decks I have played. Keeping that in mind, let’s talk some theory and numbers.

When The Dream Was Still Alive…

For those of you who did not look at the deck tech, here are the 75 cards I registered:

[Deck title=RUG Monsters by Ken Crocker]

[Creatures]
4 Elvish Mystic
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Courser of Kruphix
3 Polukranos, World Eater
4 Stormbreath Dragon
1 Arbor Colussus
1 Aetherling
1 Sylvan Primordial
[/Creatures]
[Planeswalkers]
1 Chandra, the Pyromaster
3 Domri Rade
1 Kiora, the Crashing Wave
2 Ral Zarek
2 Xenagos, the Reveler
[/Planeswalkers]
[Spells]
2 Cyclonic Rift
1 Mizzium Mortars
[/Spells]
[Lands]
3 Forest
1 Mountain
4 Breeding Pool
4 Steam Vents
4 Stomping Ground
4 Temple of Abandon
4 Temple of Mystery
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Pithing Needle
3 Mistcutter Hydra
2 Negate
1 Simic Charm
2 Syncopate
2 Turn // Burn
1 Unravel the Aether
1 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
1 Bow of Nylea
1 Mizzium Mortars
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

So before getting into individual card choices, let’s talk macro theory.

Why Play RUG Instead of Jund (i.e. why play blue instead of black?)

This is a very popular question. There are several reasons:

1) Blue allows you to play Kiora and Ral Zarek (the king and queen of value town). These four-drops are much more powerful on their own than the alternatives in R/G Monsters, which is usually [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card], and Jund Monsters, which is usually [card]Reaper of the Wilds[/card].

2) Blue allows you to play [card]Turn // Burn[/card]. The removal in Jund Monsters is all sorcery speed, so it has difficulty killing [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card], [card]Master of Waves[/card] tokens (you cannot Burn the Master, nor can you fuse the spell when cast on Master of Waves, but if you just Turn it, the tokens lose their +1/+1), and hasty [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card]s.

3) Blue allows for counterspells out of the sideboard. You can catch U/W/x players off guard with a timely [card]Negate[/card], along with any R/W Burn players.

4) Blue gives you access to more non-creature threats. There is a reason why Reid Duke built his Junk Midrange deck. It was because it ran [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] to take out non-creature problem cards (like [card]Underworld Connections[/card], [card]Detention Sphere[/card], etc.). Non-creature threats are much more difficult for Mono-Black Devotion and U/W/x control to deal with, as both decks usually only run four ways to deal with them ([card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] and [card]Detention Sphere[/card], respectively).

5) Since blue allows you to run more planeswalkers, cards like [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card] and [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] are less threatening. What are normally problem cards are now answered by your planeswalkers, essentially for free.

As for individual card choices, let me explain…

  • The one-of [card]Arbor Colossus[/card] is a necessary evil because of [card]Desecration Demon[/card]. This will be a recurring theme…
  • The one-of [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card] is mostly for [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]. Instead of [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] two-for-oneing you, if it takes a creature, you do not have to waste a card killing it. Obviously, Chandra has other merits as well, but the prevalence of Mono-Black Devotion was relevant when making this addition.
  • The one-of [card]Sylvan Primordial[/card] is mostly for Elspeth. The plan is that they tap out on six and cast [card]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/card]. I tap out on seven (or more) and Primordial their Elspeth. Clean answers to difficult questions. It also helps against [card]Detention Sphere[/card].
  • The one-of [card]Kiora, the Crashing Wave[/card], was a mistake in hindsight. During playtesting, drawing the second Kiora was the second-worst feeling that the deck could create (the first is playing a land off the top of library with [card]Courser of Kruphix[/card], then revealing another land on top). This mistake will be fixed, as Kiora is amazing against [card]Desecration Demon[/card], and very helpful against [card]Thassa, God of the Sea[/card].
  • The two [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card], one [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card] split should be switched if new cards were not being released. [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card] is a higher variance card. It can be great in some matchups but only mediocre in others. [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card] does deal with [card]Desecration Demon[/card] for a turn, [card]Detention Sphere[/card], tokens from G/W Aggro, and turns off Thassa at instant speed.
  • So, if you watched the deck tech, I may have been mistaken about [card]Simic Charm[/card]. That 75th card can get you sometimes. It was okay a couple times, but most of the time it stayed in the sideboard and mocked me.

So, like I said, I went 7-2-1 in the tournament. I beat Naya Hexproof, R/W Burn twice, G/W Aggro, Mono-Black Devotion twice, and Jeff Hoogland’s Four-Color Midrange Brew. I lost to Esper Planeswalkers and G/W Aggro (somehow). Overall, I’d say most of my deck choices were solid. My play choices…on the other hand, were less solid.

RUG Garbage and MODO Problems

While I was somewhat happy with my result, I figured that the deck would be done; I had done a little deck tech, and all would fade into the aether. And then this happened.

That’s Magic Online streamer extraordinaire, Michael Jacob, trashing the deck I played. Of course, now I realized I made the big time.

Side note: I realize this is my first article, so you know little to nothing about me. But, it should be known that most of my deck choices are built primarily through theory-based analysis, as I do not have the ample free time to test (and thus the occasional suboptimal playing as well). I am a full-time graduate student, college lecturer, and work another job. Therefore, my “play testing” involves maybe five hours of Magic a week, watching streamers play when I can, and thinking about Magic when I’m not thinking about my school work. So, to me, it was a big deal to have Michael Jacob trash the deck I played.

So this is deck list after MJ made some changes:

[Deck title=RUG Monsters with Michael Jacob’s Updates]
[Creatures]
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Sylvan Caryatid
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Courser of Kruphix
3 Polukranos, World Eater
1 Arbor Colossus
1 Prognostic Sphinx
4 Stormbreath Dragon
[/creatures]
[Planeswalkers]
2 Kiora, the Crashing Wave
2 Ral Zarek
1 Xenagos, the Reveler
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Domri Rade
[/Planeswalkers]
[Spells]
2 Turn // Burn
2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Steam Augury
[/spells]
[Lands]
3 Forest
1 Mountain
4 Breeding Pool
4 Steam Vents
4 Stomping Ground
4 Temple of Abandon
4 Temple of Mystery
[/lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Pithing Needle
3 Mistcutter Hydra
2 Negate
1 Simic Charm
1 Syncopate
1 Aetherling
1 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
1 Sylvan Primordial
2 Skylasher
1 Unravel the Aether
1 Bow of Nylea
[/sideboard]
[/deck]

Spoiler Alert: he ended up going 2-2 in a daily event, beating Junk Midrange and R/W Burn, losing to G/R Monsters and R/W Burn. The loss to R/W Burn was, to be completely honest, due to some fairly poor draws on our hero’s side.

However, this gives us some things to talk about.

Positives:

  • The second Kiora. That card is very good in this strategy. I talked to Chris Arnold (the guy who played a similar deck to a top eight at the recent SCG Invitational and the inspiration for my picking up the deck) and he does not like Kiora. I have to say I disagree with him. If there is any deck that takes full advantage of Kiora, it is this deck.
  • Moving the two [card]Turn // Burn[/card]s to the main deck. [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card] was supposed to be my main-deck, instant-speed answer to [card]Desecration Demon[/card] and [card]Thassa, God of the Sea[/card]. But [card]Turn // Burn[/card] is much better at that than [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card] ever could be. Oops.
  • [card]Prognostic Sphinx[/card]. Forgot about that card. However, I do not agree with it over [card]Aetherling[/card] in the main deck. While it dodges Elspeth’s -3 ability, it doesn’t hit hard enough to end the game before a [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]. But it seems like it could be very good against Mono-Black (except for [card]Desecration Demon[/card]) and Mono-Blue. To the sideboard with you, Diabeetus Sphinx…for now.
  • Moving [card]Sylvan Primordial[/card] to the sideboard. Seven mana is a good amount of mana. It’s actually a little too much. The big guy had to go.

Negatives:

  • [card]Steam Augury[/card]. Look, I know MJ is a better Magic player than I am. I’m not even going to claim otherwise. But [card]Steam Augury[/card]? Really? That’s too deep even for me.
  • Completely cutting [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card]. Card is good in the right matchups. Definitely sideboard material. Better than [card]Simic Charm[/card].
  • [card]Skylasher[/card]. I get that MJ is worried about Mono-Blue. But this isn’t regular G/R Monsters. With Kiora and Ral Zarek there to pick up your slack, the Mono-Blue match-up is much easier than one would think.

There’s a Storm Coming, Mr. Wayne…

So where do we go from here? Journey into Nyx looks to be a powerful Magic set that will potentially bring in new archetypes, such as B/W Aristocrats and UWR Control, and boost up some existing fringe archetypes, such as Mono-Black Aggro and R/G Aggro. So what does Journey into Nyx bring to the RUG Monsters table?

As of today, I can think of three cards I would be happy to add straight into this deck without looking back:

[card]Mana Confluence[/card]
[card]Temple of Epiphany[/card]
[card]Keranos, God of Storms[/card]

The first two probably do not need much explaining. Since you will be adding more blue cards to your deck, adding the blue/red scry land seems like a thing. Also, who doesn’t like scrying in this deck?

[card]Mana Confluence[/card] is a little more controversial. But look, that basic [card]Mountain[/card] is awful. We need lands that come into play untapped, and shocking ourselves every time might be a problem in a world of Mono-Black Aggro. I would not add the entire playset anytime soon. But definitely replace that awful basic [card]Mountain[/card].

Finally, we get to the real spice. I had nine Planeswalkers, nine Monsters, and the King of Control in [card]Aetherling[/card]. But what’s a king to a god? [card]Keranos, God of Storms[/card], is a card I am very excited about trying. But, why is Keranos good in a deck like this?

Well, the deck everyone has been putting Keranos in is a UWR Control shell. I’m sure that Keranos will be fine in that shell. But, UWR Control does not do the following:

  • Continuously sculpt the top of its deck. With [card]Prophet of Kruphix[/card], [card]Domri Rade[/card], [card]Prognostic Sphinx[/card], and [card]Kiora, the Crashing Wave[/card], I can set up Keranos however I like. Need to draw a card because Mono-Black is making you discard? Leave that land on top. Jace got you down? How about a free Lightning Bolt to take care of him? Not only do we sculpt the top of our deck, we have information about what Keranos will do on upkeep. That allows us to play in a way where we can maximize this. Sure, your opponent may know as well, but there isn’t much she can do to stop it unless she can stop Keranos.
  • UWR Control doesn’t really take advantage of the [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] ability as well as we do. We have pressure. Lots of it. From multiple angles. The UWR shells I have seen have either been tempo-based decks, which will have trouble with Desecration Demon (who doesn’t?) and Polukranos and thus not be able to get in as much damage as we can. Alternatively, I’ve seen strict UWR control shells where the [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] is just a little value. I love value as much as the next person, but I want to take full advantage of that value.
  • The UWR shells are already drawing so many cards that the ability to draw an extra card in our deck means more. When you have access to [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] and [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card], drawing one extra card is not as important to them it is to us.
  • The UWR shells that can awaken Keranos are tempo-based, and are required to flood the board in order to reach devotion. We, on the other hand, have all of these lovely non-creature permanents that slowly but surely add up our red and blue mana symbols. And if we never get devoted to Keranos, a free [card]Lighting Bolt[/card] a turn means much more to our creature plan.

So, it’s about time for a list, right? Here’s my first crack at the post-Journey into Nyx deck, after much careful consideration:

[Deck title=RUG Monsters with JOU Updates]
[Creatures]
*3 Elvish Mystic
*4 Sylvan Caryatid
*2 Scavenging Ooze
*4 Courser of Kruphix
*3 Polukranos, World Eater
*1 Prognostic Sphinx
*1 Arbor Colossus
*2 Keranos, God of Storms
*4 Stormbreath Dragon
[/Creatures]
[Planeswalkers]
*2 Domri Rade
*2 Ral Zarek
*2 Kiora, the Crashing Wave
*1 Chandra, Pyromaster
*1 Xenagos, the Reveler
[/Planeswalkers]
[Spells]
*2 Turn // Burn
*2 Mizzium Mortars
[/spells]
[Lands]
*3 Forest
*1 Mana Confluence
*4 Temple of Mystery
*3 Temple of Abandon
*1 Temple of Epiphany
*4 Stomping Ground
*4 Breeding Pool
*4 Steam Vents
[/lands]
[Sideboard]
*1 Pithing Needle
*3 Mistcutter Hydra
*2 Negate
*1 Aetherling
*1 Bow of Nylea
*2 Cyclonic Rift
*1 Unravel the Aether
*1 Syncopate
*2 Izzet Staticaster
*1 Anger of the Gods
[/sideboard]
[/deck]

Some quick hits about this decklist:

  • [card]Prognostic Sphinx[/card] makes his triumphant return. With the addition of Keranos, Sphinx earns its spot in helping sculpt the top of the deck’s curve. Furthermore, it adds devotion to Keranos and dodges Elspeth’s -3 ability.
  • Plus one [card]Mana Confluence[/card], plus one [card]Temple of Epiphany[/card], minus one [card]Mountain[/card], minus one [card]Temple of Abandon[/card]. We are adding blue cards to the main deck, so we need ways to cast them. While on paper this may look odd, what we really are doing is upping the blue mana count by two, keeping the red mana count the same, and lowering the green mana count by one.
  • [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card] earns her keep because of the abundance of X/1s in the format now and the expected increase in two-color aggro decks. Mono-Black Aggro with [card]Tormented Hero[/card], [card]Gnarled Scarhide[/card], [card]Spiteful Returned[/card], and [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]. G/W Aggro with [card]Soldier of the Pantheon[/card] and [card]Dryad Miltant[/card]. This expected increase in X/1s is also the reason why [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] has been added to the sideboard.
  • [card]Aetherling[/card] is relegated to the sideboard, since it is more expensive than [card]Prognostic Sphinx[/card], and we added more five-drops to the deck to cast in the first place. Furthermore, he only shines in control matchups, where you can board out cards like Polukranos and [card]Arbor Colossus[/card].
  • [card]Ruric Thar[/card] was cut to make room for [card]Aetherling[/card]. [card]Aetherling[/card] is better in the control matchup than Ruric, and there was only room for one of them. Same with [card]Sylvan Primordial[/card].
  • [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card] and [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] are hedges against any B/W Human/Athreos decks that might pop up. Plus, given that G/W Aggro will get better thanks to [card]Mana Confluence[/card], I want more answers to [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card] tokens and their G/W’s cavalcade of 3/3s. They must burn for their insolence.
  • I cut one [card]Elvish Mystic[/card] because it was card number 61. Turn-two Domri or Courser isn’t as important as having live draws in the late game.
  • Finally, some of the changes that MJ made have to stick. The two-Domri, one-Xenagos package is unfortunate, but necessary. Might be better to plus one Domri, minus one Kiora. Not sure. Main-deck [card]Turn // Burn[/card] should have been a thing in Detroit. Let’s not make the same mistake in Cincinatti.

I hope this article has been helpful, insightful, and entertaining. If you’re sick of playing the mono-colored decks in Standard, I suggest taking RUG Monsters for a spin, as it can be both a fun and rewarding experience. Feel free to leave comments on the lists or my thought processes, as I enjoy any and all feedback, even the terrible ideas and trolls.

Ken Crocker
@ideallydumb on Twitter

About the Author
Full-time philosopher, part-time Magician, Ken Crocker is a Magic grinder in the Midwest. While only playing competitively for four years, he has already made two SCG Open top eights.

17 comments on I’m Friends with RUG Monsters

  1. Corbin says:

    Nice writeup! Anything that is a little different in Standard is fun, and this was a good article.

  2. Lodurr says:

    Good article. I’ve been running a lot of green-based midrange decks with the Caryatid-Courser-Mystic core, but I lost faith in the Elvish Mystics because I run 8-10 scry lands and it’s rare to even have two untapped lands in your opening hand and draw. Even if you do have two shocks, do you really want to pay 4 life to rush an unprotected Domri out on turn 2? Against an aggro or a burn deck you might just be throwing him away. He’s okay to play on turn 2 after a scry land turn 1, but shocking yourself and playing a Caryatid is even better. Late game he’s a total blank. I personally don’t see enough reward for the risk. What do you think?

    I also run only 1-2 Polukranos now because of how prevalent Mono Black is. It’s a bummer to lose your 4-drop to any one of their 8-12 instant-speed removal spells with no residual value. If that was a Xenagos at least you’d have a 2/2 left over.

    1. Ken Crocker says:

      I think, to a certain extent, I agree with your assessment on Elvish Mystic. It is one of the worst late game top-decks possible, and in this deck, it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to cast a Domri/Courser as early as turn 2, given the amount of lands that come into play tapped. However, you are, at the end of the day, a midrangey/ramp deck, so I think Elvish Mystic is a necessary evil. But the reasons you have mentioned are similar to mine, insofar as that I cut one from the newest version of the deck.

      I like 3 Polukranos. While it is terrible against Mono-Black, against Mono-Blue, Jace decks, and the mirror, turn 3 Polukranos is a very powerful play. Furthermore, if Mono-Black is killing my Polukranos instead of Dragons, I’m okay with that happening. Obviously, the Lifebane Zombie blow-outs are still some of the biggest feel-bads in Magic, but I am playing a green deck, so there is only so much I can do about that.

      1. Anonymous says:

        I have been messing with RUG looking for the right direction, and i have a slightly different list. It tries to abuse the Blood side of Flesh // Blood. I know it is a sorcery, but i have pulled victories from thin air with it. Primarily because i run three Xenagods. Double Polukranos to 10/10, then pay RRGG and deal 20 damage with two Bloods. Ive occasionally even use the entire fused spell via caryatid. To this deck i have added two keranos, as my only blue card. Between courser, domri and keranos, card advantage happens. I also run 2 nessian wilds ravagers, mainly because i like using “bad” cards lol, but with xenagod, its either a 6/6 fighting their Desecration demon, or they foolishly let it be a 12/12, to which 1 Blood should kill them. Also, a 12//12 doubled with Xenagod is a 24/24. I good at math. I may test two aqueous form, buy dont want to dilute anything. Nice read, thanks!

  3. Erik says:

    Solid article, and really nice to see the point / counterpoint of a different view of your deck. Sounds like time is a rare commodity for you, but I hope that you can chisel some more out to keep writing, especially if it’s about decks that don’t fit the current Standard mold.

  4. Anonymous says:

    >Plus one Mana Confluence, plus one Temple of Epiphany, minus one Mountain, minus one Temple of Abandon. We are
    >adding blue cards to the main deck, so we need ways to cast them. While on paper this may look odd, what we really are
    >doing is upping the blue mana count by two, keeping the red mana count the same, and lowering the green mana count
    >by one.

    By my count you are
    -1 G (Abandon)
    -2 R (Abandon, Mountain)
    +2 R (Confluence, Piphany)
    +1 G (Confluence)
    +2 U (Confluence, Piphany)

    Minor math error. ;)

    1. Ken Crocker says:

      You are correct. I believe I got the -1 green mana because I was also subtracting a Elvish Mystic from the main deck. If you take that into account, then you get the calculations that I proposed.

      Should’ve made that more clear. Good catch, though.

  5. Brian says:

    I built this deck and played through it at a testing session yesterday. Seems good, however, Keranos is really hard to get his devotion online. With that said, This deck can do some really powerful things. I like the fact that it attacks decks from multiple angles. May be trying this in Cincinnati.

    1. Ken Crocker says:

      I agree that Keranos is difficult to get online. However, he has been so good in testing, that I really do not care whether he gets online or not. The free card draw or the free Lightning Bolt are perfectly acceptable without him attacking. If he gets online from devotion, I consider that a bonus. He’s like a sixth Planeswalker in this deck, and we know how much I love my Planeswalkers.

      1. Brian says:

        Any updates you would care to share? I tested the hexproof matchup last night and it was miserable. I siill really like the deck and plan to play it but I wondering if you would make any changes? Thanks

        1. Anonymous says:

          Aetherize. Done deal.

        2. Tyler Bennett says:

          Aetherize. Done deal.

  6. Dom says:

    What do you think about adding thassa or polis crusher to the deck?

  7. Steven says:

    I played this at a local FNM, went 4-0-1 with it to take 1st overall. It was incredibly fun to play and very strong against a lot different match ups. I played GW aggro, UW Control, Mono Green Stompy, Mono Blue and Mono Red. Some of my matches were also lucky, but I was in the drivers seat for most of it.

    Prognostic Sphinx was absolutely amazing especially.

  8. Nicholas says:

    What about Thassa, God of Sea and Prime Speaker Zegana? I played a list similar to this deck with those two cards in, and they had many combos that I loved. Then even later on in the game, if you have Keranos and Thassa out there, Devotion is so much easier to trigger. Also, the unblockable is so nice because the Ooze gets so big.

  9. Projekt says:

    You mention Prophet of Kruphix a lot, but I don’t see it in any of the lists. I think you ment Courser of Kruphix

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