This week’s Highlander event in SA was won by Sarven McLinton on a revival of his old Sultai Tempo deck, “Hootie and the BUG Fish” from about 3 years ago. This tournament report contains the Top 8 lists, a brief discussion of the overall metagame, and some info and resources on the winning list. You can also scroll to the bottom for just the decklists and standings.
Whilst some of the Top 8 competitors such as Raj (4th) and Diogo (8th) had the joys of playing against a diverse range of combo, aggro, control, and midrange decks, others like Daniel (2nd) had to slog through back-to-back Midrange matchups (welcome to Adelaide Dan!). Despite SA’s reputation for being heavily ‘fair magic’ focussed, with people siding toward the Control, Midrange, Tempo, and Aggro archetypes, this Saturday’s event had a surprisingly high representation of ‘unfair’ strategies.
There were Thassa’s Oracle, Reanimator, Dark Depths recursion, and others scattered around the room. An interesting observation is that Combo decks which tend to do well in Adelaide are usually Hybrid Decks, and most of the aforementioned enact some kind of alternate game plan if their combo doesn’t work out. For example, Soc (7th) likes to beat down with Kor critters, equipment or hatebears, and Daniel (2nd) can loop lands for value or enact a mini Midrange plan when the Ramp or Combo don’t work out.
The Top 8
Overall, the Top 8 has a high level of diversity in deck colour combinations: Sultai; Jund; Temur; Izzet; Esper splashing green; 4-colour without blue; and two different takes on UBRG decks! In practice some of them play out in similar fashions, despite colour, namely: 2x ‘Big Tempo’ style decks in line with the ‘RUG Lord’ philosophy; 3x Midrange decks, albeit with different approaches; and then 1x each of a Control deck, Combo deck, and the ultimate hybrid type… Ramp-Combo-Midrange (good old Lands!). In Places 9th through 16th there were mostly Aggro, Combo, and Control decks which did not make the cut. However this this isn’t a surprise given how well positioned Midrange decks are to just enact a consistent proactive game plan against these archetypes (if the Combo decks are too slow, or miss a beat, they just get run over by mana dork into 3 drop, 4 drop, even if they steal a game here and there).
Pure Tempo decks (i.e. RUG Life with Goblin Guide, Tarmogoyf, Daze your removal spell) struggle in these metagames, which is why we’ve seen a major adaptation toward ‘Big’ Tempo decks that prefer to use their Spell Pierces to protect huge threats like Questing Beast, and resilient threats like 3-mana planeswalkers or Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. This shores up the inherent weakness of Tempo by giving them the ability to go toe-to-toe against Midrange in the early game, and then rely on crushing card advantage in the late game by continually looping Ancestral Recall.
The larger evolution of RUG Life (RUG Lord) can be found here: RUG Lord Decklist
The Winning Deck
Sarven McLinton won Saturday’s event by coming full-circle back to Sultai Tempo. The original explorations of pushing the Protect the Queen archetype into 3 colours actually begun in late 2017 with BUG. This was way to give Tempo (colloquially ‘Fish’ decks) more power than their original two-colour UR and UB counterparts. Hence, “Hootie and the BUG Fish” was the early predecessor to RUG Life, and now that the RUG colours are no-longer the universally strongest colour combination (due to successive pointings culminating with Wrenn and Six) it was time to revisit the original archetype!
You can find the deck tech here for posterity:
By applying the latest RUG Lord ‘big tempo’ principles to Sultai, we now have a highly competitive version of Hootie and the BUG Fish that keeps up with the continually evolving metagame. The mana base follows the established Mystic Sanctuary basic-island-heavy snow format, allowing the deck to leverage Astrolabe and Coatl, and shore up BUG’s traditional weakness to Blood Moon. RUG Lord’s Gifts-Uro-Ancestral Recall looping package is there (plus Cling to Dust!), but given that BUG gets to play powerful discard in lieu of situational counterspells we get to bring back Jace Vryn’s Prodigy and also maximise hits on Sea Gate Stormcaller! Although we lose burn for reach, Big Tempo rarely actually ends the game with reach itself (unlike the pure Tempo game plan), so exchanging these for universal removal like Decay and Trophy is excellent.
Whilst all the above changes largely fit the same RUG Lord template of ‘high curve Tempo’ or ‘extremely low curve Control’, the most notable changes though are actual converted mana-costs. These have been kept very low, cutting established RUG Lord staples like Force of Will, Sharknado, Hieroglyphic Illumination, etc. in order to leverage Dark Confidant. It cannot be understated how well ‘Bob’ goes in Tempo, but yet we cannot typically sleeve him up due to Treasure Cruise, Hooting Mandrills, Tasigur the Golden Fang, and so on. Whilst the latter is often a ‘must play’ for any black deck regardless of archetype, with the high prevalence of Karakas and Remand, Delve threats are not without their cost. Tarmogoyf is the iconic card that ticks every box (cheap, impactful, non-Pyroblastable, non-Legend, and is a must-kill-threat), and Hootie and the BUG Fish is designed to play the maximum number of these on turn 2: Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, Bitterblossom, Scavenging Ooze, Jace Vryn’s prodigy, and Sylvan Library. For those concerned about life loss, incidental life-gain is scattered throughout the list, including Deathrite, Scooze, Oko, Cling, and that first Uro ‘Explore’, any one of which throws a spanner in the works for an opponent hoping to race your Bob or Blossom.
The sideboard is very much geared toward transforming to fight Midrange, but if you’re in a meta with more ‘unfair’ strategies, ensure that you cut (at least) Ashiok Nightmare Weaver and Thrun the Last Troll for additional tailored Combo or Ramp hate pieces (e.g. Null Rod, etc.). For anyone who wants to play this deck without A-call, there are powerless builds that forego looping Draw 3’s and instead gain inevitability via other means, so feel free to contact Sarven McLinton on facebook for details. Sleeve it up and you’ll have a blast!
|Player’s Standing||Player’s Name||Player’s Deck List Link|
|1st||Sarven McLinton||Sultai Tempo (“Hootie and the BUG Fish”)|
|2nd||Daniel Tyler||Jund Ramp-Combo-Midrange (“Lands”)|
|3rd||Michael Hearn||UBRG Midrange (“Kess Pod”)|
|4th||Rajdeep Tokhi||UBRG Midrange (“Yidris-less Yidris”)|
|5th||James Arthur||WBRG Midrange (“Nono-Blue”)|
|6th||Oli Oks||Temur Tempo (“RUG Lord”)|
|7th||Socrates Stavropoulos||WUBg Combo (“Cephalid Brunch”)|
|8th||Diogo Cunha||UR Control (“Blue Moon”)|