A History of UG Madness: and What to Expect!

A History of UG Madness: and What to Expect!
By Will Farrington

In one of the most wonderful, and fun, blocks in history, we experienced a surge in new and viable decks. With Torment, the deck that stuck out the most, by far, was UG Madness.

With cheap creatures, good bounce, possibly the best counter at the time (Circular Logic), and a very low cost to build, UG Madness quickly rose to become the deck of choice for many players - pros and casual players alike.

UG Madness was the first competitive deck I ever built, and though the version I was using at the time was subpar because of a few card choices, it nevertheless followed the same principles as UG Madness.

The Deck is Born

With the janky beginning out of the way, we can move straight onto what the more streamlined versions of the deck appeared like.

A variant of traditional Madness, Threshold, would soon go to the stomping grounds and show its mettle at Worlds. Here’s Raphael Levy’s Threshold list:

16th Place 2002 Worlds DeckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
10 Island
8 Forest
4 Yavimaya Coast

4 Nimble Mongoose
4 Werebear
4 Wild Mongrel
3 Seton’s Scout
4 Wonder
2 Genesis

4 Careful Study
4 Mental Note
4 Breakthrough
4 Roar of the Wurm
1 Rushing River

Let’s analyze how the structure of this Threshold deck led it to a Top 16 at Worlds, while UG Madness fell short.

The Mana Base

Yavimaya Coast - Any and every Madness deck outside of Legacy should have an automatic four Yavimaya Coasts in it. UG Madness is one of the most unbalanced decks as far as getting the right color at the right time goes. Yavimaya Coast helps to fix that issue. Any player planning on playing Madness NEEDS a playset. Lucky for you, it’s been reprinted in 9th Edition, so you shouldn’t have problems getting some.

The Critters

Nimble Mongoose - The Mongoose is one of the many metagame cards in Threshold decks of the time. Opposition, GR Aggro, and Tog ruled the format. Having the power to stop an untimely lockdown from Opposition, a burn spell from Aggro, or any kill spells Tog might have was a powerful option because of its untargetability. Add on the built-in 3/3 body once you reached Threshold, and you had gold.

Werebear - Mana acceleration and a fast 4/4 body? I’ll take 4!

Wild Mongrel - If you’ve never seen this card before, crawl out from under the rock you’ve been living under and click the card-link. The Mongrel is singlehandedly responsible for creating Threshold and Madness decks alike. As a 2/2 for 1G, the Mongrel is a fast threat that doesn’t stop. With the synergy between his pumping ability and the Threshold and Flashback cards, the Wild Mongrel is the strongest card in the deck by far.

Seton’s Scout - The Scout is simply a likely 4/3 for a whole of 1G. Does anyone else need any justifications?

Wonder - Wonder is the win-all for UG Threshold and Madness. It is the Fires of Yavimaya; the Psychatog; the Armageddon; the Lin Sivvi of UG Madness and Threshold. When Wonder hits the graveyard, you start smashing like there’s no tomorrow. Many of the top decks in Extended currently, post-rotation, and in the former Standard formats, did not run any flying creatures, so Wonder made a blitzkrieg win possible.

Genesis - If you're expecting a metagame with lots of creature hate, then Genesis will be your lifeline by making all of your creatures reusable again. Recurring a discard outlet like your Mongrel can often be a nightmare to any Red-based player as they're forced to constantly find answers to it - and will simply stop trying to kill the Mongrel.

Other Spells

Careful Study - Careful Study is to UG Threshold and Madness decks as Brainstorm is to Blue decks in general: the perfect draw spell. In Threshold, blue mana to put you 3/7 of the way to Threshold AND keep your hand full is nigh to irreplaceable.

Mental Note - The perfect complement to Careful Study, Mental Note might not have the sheer drawing power that Careful Study does, but it throws two cards into your precious graveyard anyways.

Breakthrough - Anybody remember Fact or Fiction? In Threshold, Breakthrough is the equivalent of Fact or Fiction. With the power to dump ltons of Flashback cards into your graveyard quickly and effectively, it's no wonder that there's 4 slots reserved for it in the deck.

Roar of the Wurm - One of the cards you'll truly never pay its real casting cost to play, Roar of the Wurm is the biggest beatstick in any UG Madness or Threshold deck at a cheap 3G.

Rushing River - Holy bounce spells Batman! In my opinion, there is simply no suitable replacement for Rushing River. Early game, it might be a little mediocre, but after you've topped 4 mana, the kicker cost might as well be free.

But why is Threshold a part of this article? Because it too evolved...

Something a bit more recognizable...

In 2003, pro player David Humphreys took UG decks to the next level: Top 4 at Worlds.

Here's the list he used:
4th Place 2003 Worlds DeckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
8 Forest
11 Island
1 Centaur Garden
2 City of Brass

4 Basking Rootwalla
4 Wild Mongrel
4 Aquameoba
3 Arrogant Wurm
3 Wonder

4 Careful Study
4 Circular Logic
2 Deep Analysis
1 Krosan Reclamation
2 Quiet Speculation
1 Ray of Revelation
3 Roar of the Wurm
3 Unsummon

As you can see, many of the same cards in Threshold are used in Madness, but there are still some major and subtle differences. Let's evaluate the cards we haven't done yet!

Basking Rootwalla and Arrogant Wurm - The two Madness creatures in the deck deliver by being cheap, efficient, instant-speed creatures. The Rootwalla can become a nightmare with his pumping effect, and the Wurm is a threat when the opponent suddenly finds a 3/3 Mongrel and a 4/4 Wurm ready to block his attackers.

Aquameoba and Wild Mongrel are the lifelines of your deck.
Aquameoba - Discard outlets are the lifeline in Madness decks, but I'll go over that more in depth later. In all senses, Aquameoba is Wild Mongrels 5-8.

Circular Logic - Circular Logic is the best countermagic any Madness deck has. I don't think there's anything else to say.

Deep Analysis - The extra draw in the deck, Deep Analysis is a cheap and effective way to get another two cards in hand.

Quiet Speculation - Speculation is the tutor for all cards named Deep Analysis and Roar of the Wurm. 'Nuff said.

Apples and Oranges

The decks may seem similar, but in reality, they're not.

What makes the Madness decks different from Threshold? It's the principle behind the decks.

Madness decks are more efficient than Threshold decks, and tend to succeed more often because Madness is a flexible mechanic. The Madness deck operates under the principles of playing what it wants, when it wants to. There's no prerequisite to playing any of the spells you need other than having a discard outlet. Once you have a discard outlet, you have nearly infinite possibilities when it comes to playing your Madness critters, or dumping a Flashback spell into the graveyard just in time to play it.

The instant-speed aspect of Madness is its major strength. Often players can employ a strategy of attacking an opponent, and after blockers are declared, discarding multiple Madness cards and Flashback cards . This leaves the Madness player with blockers to keep the rest of an opponent's creatures at bay, while also leaving themselves in a strong position to refill their hand with more cards to discard, creating more creatures via Roar of the Wurm, or even resurrecting dead creatures with a Genesis. Another trick UG players have loved since Judgment's release is discarding a Wonder before blockers are declared to create a giant, and often unblockable, army of creatures that can quickly deal a death blow to the opponent.

The other aspect of Madness that makes it so strong is its versatility. It can accomplish the same goal with many different combinations of cards quickly and effectively. It can play a Rootwalla when it attacks with a Mongrel for extra damage, or it can sit back and have a 3/3 and a 1/1 blocker to thwart an opponent's attacker. It can proactively end a counter-war with the sheer power of Circular Logic, or it can save its creatures from an untimely Wrath of God. Versatility in a deck is often the most important aspect of Magic, in my opinion, and Madness brings versatility to the table in a way that other decks simply cannot.

However, versatility also makes a deck far more difficult to pilot efficiently in a tournament-scene, most especially against a varied metagame. I've heard Madness called a simple deck to play. Whoever utters such words is a fool. At first glance, Madness seems like your typical Aggro-Control deck, but in fact, when it comes to choices, you have to think purely like a Control player most of the time. Timing is everything to Madness. Playing a creature on an opponent's turn or your own, or playing a draw spell and not leaving enough mana open can often cause you to lose games. Knowing the decks you're playing against and what threats they can and will play is your best tool when playing Madness, but it alone is not enough. You have to know how and when to react to their threats with yours. Most of the time, Madness will sit back and play a very reactive game; it is only against certain decks (like Goblins for example) that the deck will play a proactive game and try to finish the opponent off as quickly as possible. The key to winning with Madness is to decisively time when you're going to be proactive and attack, and when you're going to be reactive to keep your board position.

Threshold decks, however, are weaker than Madness decks because they require you to keep a full graveyard. With many ways to obliterate players' graveyards, often, keeping Threshold and Flashback cards in the graveyard for more than one turn leads to disaster for the deck. When the deck loses, or can't seem to accomplish Threshold, there's nothing it can do to stop opposing decks. Any deck armed with graveyard hate will utterly obliterate Threshold and won't be looking back.

Threshold decks have no capabilities for instant-speed anything other than pumping a Wild Mongrel, so you have to pilot the deck as pure and unadulterated beatdown. This is likely why the deck fell short in Worlds 2002, and received only 16th place. Against the raw control of Psychatog decks, and the quick-paced efficient aggro that RG brought to the table, the deck couldn't succeed.

The pitfall that did it in though, was versatility. Threshold can only be played one way: proactively. Threshold players are forced to play everything at sorcery speed, and cannot hold back any tricks for the opponent to run into. So, instead, they have to use sheer force in the form of creatures that turn huge with Threshold. The deck cannot often accomplish a win unless it has multiple creatures out and a Wonder in the graveyard, whereas Madness can win without the Wonder.

However, the saving grace in Threshold decks is that Threshold really is faster at what it does. With the power to have Threshold by turn 3 easily, the deck can drop multiple Scouts and Werebears to quickly try and overrun opponents. When the opponent manages to catch up in the creature game, Threshold tends to run out of steam. Yet, thanks to Genesis, the deck can sit back and keep recurring its blockers to create an impregnable wall that won't be broken. And then, when it manages to dump a Wonder into the graveyard and accumulate enough threats for a guaranteed 20 damage, the deck can deal the lethal strike.

To sum up everything concerning the two decks: Madness is better than Threshold because it can roll with the punches.

Extending Your Lifespan

Once Mirrodin hit the scene, UG Madness moved from Standard to Extended. It was at this time that notable UG Madness favorite Jeff Cunningham became THE authority for UG players everywhere. Thanks to Jeff, we've got a list for the current Extended metagame here to analyze.

Jeff Cunningham's UG Madness (Modified by me)Magic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Chrome Mox
9 Island
6 Forest
4 Yavimaya Coast

4 Basking Rootwalla
4 Wild Mongrel
4 Aquamoeba
4 Arrogant Wurm
2 Wonder
1 Genesis

4 Careful Study
4 Deep Analysis
4 Daze
4 Circular Logic
2 Intuition

Normally, I'd throw in the card explanations and matchups here, but with Oct. 20 less than a month away, you don't want to hear it. So, straight on to post-rotation!

Let's keep turning

And now we come to my personal post-rotation decklist:

UGr Madness by ButteBlues18Magic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
//Mana Base
4 Yavimaya Coast
4 Shivan Reef
2 Karplusan Forest
5 Forest
7 Island

4 Basking Rootwalla
4 Wild Mongrel
4 Aquamoeba
3 Arrogant Wurm
2 Flametongue Kavu
1 Genesis
1 Wonder
1 Merfolk Looter
1 Thought Courier

2 Roar of the Wurm
4 Careful Study
4 Circular Logic
3 Deep Analysis
2 Gifts Ungiven
2 Turbulent Dreams

Many of you reading this are probably thinking I'm a crackpot at the moment. I mean, who would dare dilute traditional UG Madness with Red?

I would.

I've done extensive testing online with several esteemed deck-builders, most especially HKKID. When I was playing a post-rotation build very much like the Cunningham pre-rotation build listed above, I found myself being overpowered by the lightning fast aggressive decks RG Beats, Affinity, and Goblins. The weakness of Madness against all of the above decks is that it simply isn't fast enough. However, to worsen the situation, you have no creature control.

Until now. Without further ado, here are some of the more interesting cameos this deck has:

Engineered Explosives might seem like a bad Powder Keg at a glance. However, if you look closely, you begin to see the possibilities. If you look a mere paragraph above this one, you'll remember I said that RG Beats, Affinity, and Goblins were hard matchups because: a) Madness is too slow to keep up, and b) Madness has no creature hate. Engineered Explosives is an answer against all three decks. Often, as long as you don't detonate it for 2, you will keep your entire board position while dealing a crippling blow to opponents. Against Goblins, setting it for 3 can net you their Warchiefs, or if you can risk it, setting it at 2 will get their Piledrivers. Against Affinity, slam Disciples and AEther Vials at 1, or Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating at 2. Against RG Beats, you can usually set it to 1, 2, or 3 and still come out in a good position. Engineered Explosives is strong sideboard tech that UG players simply shouldn't ignore.

Flametongue Kavu has been a staple in many red decks since it was printed. The Kavu combines an aggressively costed body with the license to kill almost any target built in, which creates scenarios where simply playing the Kavu can swing the game into your favor. As your primary maindeck tool for stopping any of the opponent's creatures, you will often want to play it soon. However, be careful to play it only when you have an opponent's creature to target; there's no sense sacrificing one of your own creatures to play it.

Gifts Ungiven is a great card. However, do not ONCE call it a replacement for Intuition or I'll personally find you and smack you upside the head. Anyone ignorant enough to call Gifts a replacement or substitute for Intuition shouldn't be playing this deck. While both cards may put useful tools into the graveyard, the strategy one must use to proactively abuse the card advantage each provides is radically different. While you could Intuition for "Roar, Roar, Wonder", no such thing is possible with Gifts Ungiven. With Gifts, you can't double up on cards, but that's fine. That doesn't have to be a drawback. As shown to the right, a Gifts cast for Wonder, Genesis, Roar, and another Gifts is almost always going to make you happy. Why? Chances are, you're going to get the Wonder, Genesis, and Roar in the yard anyways. Sometimes, opponents will give you the Gifts, but most likely, it's just going to the yard. But, at that point, do you really care? You do have a bunch of fliers that won't stay dead, and a 6/6 Wurm on the way. Just remember, Intuition is a tutor that allows one to capture the win, while Gifts is a tool-box card.

Turbulent Dreams is one of the newer additions to the deck. It proactively works against any deck you'll come against, while being a nice discard-outlet at the same time. Huge swings in game tempo can come about through using it. In the mirror match, wiping out the opposition and dropping your own Madness guys allows for extraordinary comebacks, and against other Aggro decks like Goblins and Affinity, you can turn back the game by several turns. I highly recommend using this card, at the very least sideboarded.

Matchups for the Post-Rotation


Goblins: This match is going to be generally tough, but winnable. If you can establish a fast EE set to 2 or 3 (to take out Piledrivers/Warchiefs) you can win it pretty easily. Save Circular Logic for Piledriver, but it's alright to ditch one for a Warchief or Bidding if you must.

Affinity: This matchup is another tough one. However, with Pithing Needle, Turbulent Dreams, and Naturalize all coming out of the sideboard, you can put the pressure on. Pithing Needle should definitely read "Stop target Ravager", and Turbulent Dreams might as well be a Fireball. The first game is almost always theirs, but after sideboarding, it can be won as long as you keep your head on straight.

Aggro Control

UG Madness: This is one of your most favorable matchups. Between FTK and Turbulent Dreams, you've about got yourself a free win. Outresource them, and use FTK as well as you possibly can, and you'll do fine.


Tog: Counterspells, creature hate, and all that other stuff. Aren't you just excited? The key to beating any Tog deck is to outplay their counters and kill - so make sure you can do it. Pithing Needles out of the board makes winning near impossible for any build not sporting Upheaval, but it still won't make matters easier on you. If they run Deed, definitely don't lay down more than a critter or two at a time, or you'll regret it.

Wake: Just like Slide, they've got WoG. However, now they've got counterspells and Fog effects. Just like against Tog builds running Deed, extend past their counterspells, but not far enough for them to wipe the field. Turbulent Dreams is a decent answer to a Wake, but it won't hold for long. It's another grueling match.

Slide: Very hard. I'm not going to lie to you here; this match is nearly entirely dependent on how well you draw, and how bad they draw. If they drop a turn 4 Angel, your ass will be grass if you can't find an answer. Bringing in the bounce and Naturalize from the sideboard is what can save the match for you. However, beating them pre-sideboard isn't possible if you play overly aggressive. Just don't walk into a WoG.


Both combo decks of the format, Storm and Tooth and Nail, use the same style of play in order to win, so I'll address both at the same time. Against combo decks, playing as an all-out aggro deck is the key to success. Extend as much as possible, and really lay down the pressure on the opponent. Always keep some mana open for tricks though - even bluffing the Circular Logic can sometimes keep them from playing anything important. If you do have a Circular Logic, though, be sure to save it for a key spell. Turbulent Dreams can play an important part against Tooth and Nail, but it pales in comparison to the effect Circular Logic makes. There's really nothing to sideboard in either case, but you should be fine as is. Remember, lay the beats and hold the counters - you'll do great.

Later Additions

Right now, nothing in Ravnica looks overly appealing to run in Madness. However, when Guildpact and Dissension bring our new treats to us, the pain-lands will be replaced by the new duals (for the most part). After both sets are released, a mana base like this wouldn't be all that uncommon:

Possible Future Manabase for MadnessMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 UG Dual
2 Polluted Delta
2 Wooded Foothills
2 Windswept Heath
2 UR Dual
4 Island
4 Forest

Of course that isn't tested or anything (who knows what other goodies we might get in either of the next two sets?), but that'll give you a rough idea on what to do with the mana base come June. However, you can probably be safe in assuming that the manabase I provided will work fine. How do I know? Because Legacy players have been using it for a while (where the dual lands are Tropical Island and Volcanic Island respectively).

UG Madness of any form is not for the faint of heart. If you wanted easy, fast matches during your tournament experience, you should've grabbed Goblins or Affinity. As much as I'd like it to be, UG Madness will NOT be the top dog of Extended, and I doubt it'll get close to it. However, it will still pop up in Top 8's and it will be a viable force on the pro scene. If you can't handle a day of long and exhausting matches though, definitely don't take Madness.

Props and Slops
iloveatogs and myself for the artwork
The Editors for doing an awesome job
The other writers
IBeatTomGuevin for tuning me onto Turbulent Dreams - you rock man! Jam
HKKID and Belgareth for helping me in testing
Belgareth for laughing at Threshold decks with me
Multiple Green Day albums as well as some other music and cups of coffee to keep me typing quickly

Thanks for taking the time to read this slightly long-winded article and continuing to help MTGSalvation thrive.



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