RG Survival is currently one of the top contenders in the blossoming Legacy format. It has the tools and recurring threats to beat control, the lifegain and creature advantage to beat aggro, and open sideboard options against combo. This article will give you a walking tour of the land of RG Survival, and also tell you why you should take it to your next Legacy tournament and not another rehashed version of Landstill.
RG Survival originated in the old Legacy format as a pure aggro deck that used Survival of the Fittest and Skullclamp to generate card advantage and constantly drop threats like Kird Ape and Blastoderm while generating mana with Llanowar Elves and Orcish Lumberjack. It also used a Basking Rootwalla engine. As you will see, the deck has evolved hugely since then, with the banning of Skullclamp and the uprooting of the 1.5 metagame. Here are the current builds now:
|RG Survival -- CommonMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards|
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Llanowar Elves
1 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
3 Yavimaya Elder
3 Eternal Witness
2 Goblin Sharpshooter
1 Viridian Zealot
4 Survival of the Fittest
1 Squee, Goblin Nabob
4 Troll Ascetic
4 Flametongue Kavu
4 Ravenous Baloth
1 Deranged Hermit
1 Shivan Wurm
4 Null Rod
1 Spore Frog
1 Goblin Sharpshooter
This is the most common build you'll see, but it is not necessarily the best. Recently people have been tinkering with a version of RG Survival that enhances some of its bad matchups by using Burning Wish to open up a sideboard that can answer a lot of different threats and give the deck even more versatility. Here is a list for that:
Before going into which deck I think is better or which deck you should play, allow me to run through some of the card choices in the common build.
Birds of Paradise/Llanowar Elves
These are sort of the unsung MVPs. Looking at the deck it probably seems like there is too much mana acceleration, but this deck wants a turn one mana drop like these every game. The hand the deck loves is something with Taiga, Mana Elf or Mana Bird, and Survival. From there, you can take off and do what you want as long as Survival stays out. They can be dead cards in the late game, but also can always be pitched to Survival.
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
This card is vital to the deck, and is usually one of the first targets you go for with Survival. Combined with Anger it can usually generate 2-4 mana very early in the game, and this deck loves its mana.
Rofellos can mean activating Survival many times earlier, and setting up your gameplan very early and very effectively.
By printing this card, Wizards really made Survival a pain to deal with for opponents, and very fun for Survival players. The ability to recur any lost card that you might have had or just a creature you had to throw to Survival in a pinch is a gigantic boon for the deck, and can often turn games around. If an opponent destroys Survival, you can just respond by discarding something and getting Witness. Next turn, play Survival, and you're off again. It also vastly improves the matchup against control decks.
This deck hates drawing lands late game, and Elder is incredible at thinning the deck out and giving you massive card advantage. You're probably wondering why there isn't Sakura-Tribe Elder in this spot. It costs one less mana, and does basically the same thing, with no activation. The reason is, Elder draws a card, which the deck loves, and it gets one more land. Even if it doesn't go into play, a lot of the time you aren't getting the land to play them, you're getting them so you don't draw them later. The one extra land and card makes all the difference, and occasionally the extra point of power comes in handy too.
Against aggro decks, this card is incredible. Against other Survival decks, it's even better. If Angry Tradewind Survival, another strong form of Survival, albeit one that isn't played as much, is trying to generate mana early, just pop this guy out and watch the fun. All of their mana critters are dead, and they won't be able to do a whole lot about it. Against Goblins you can take out a lot of pesky creatures and sometimes makes the difference between a win or a loss. The common version runs two simply because the more the merrier. If you get two active Sharpshooters out, you probably just beat about half of the decks in Legacy.
For those pesky, annoying Artifacts and Enchantments, Viridian Zealot is your one stop, no-mess solution. The question you're probably asking now is why not run Uktabi Orangutan and Elvish Lyrist? Again, the answer is fairly simple; this deck just doesn't want to waste additional slots when it doesn't need to. Uktabi can get rid of Artifacts better, and Lyrist is a little better at getting rid of Enchantments, but the ability to do both with one card, though a little less effective, is overall more important than the possible drawbacks.
Survival of the Fittest
Obviously this card is important to the deck. It allows the deck to have a lot of options against a lot of decks, and constantly drop threats. I don't think I need to explain much more.
Squee, Goblin Nabob
A common Survival target, as are all the cards placed under the Engine category. Squee allows you to always have a Survival target in your hand, every turn. The deck only runs one because it only needs one. Multiple Squees would take up slots more useful cards would have had, and you usually don't need multiple Survival activations late in the game anyways. For the record, I've also used Squee as a chump blocker in a desperate situation before, so you never know.
This card is incredible in this deck. You can usually get it in the graveyard on turn two or three, and then the fun can begin. You can recur Viridian Zealot over and over if your opponent is running an excess amount of Artifacts or Enchantments. You can recur Yavimaya Elder and thin your deck out in an obscene and inhumane fashion. Or you can give your opponent one of the more humiliating losses and lock them out with Spore Frog. Against control, I almost feel dirty using this card.
This is probably the best creature in the deck, though it is rarely ever in play. Getting Anger in the graveyard with a Taiga or Mountain out early is always the number one priority of this deck, which tells you how important it is. Anger speeds the deck up by at least a turn, probably more when combined with Rofellos. It has become a staple in all viable Survival decks, and for good reason.
This used to be Sword of Fire and Ice, but Troll is just as good against the aggro decks Sword was useful for, and even better against control. Troll is one of the MVPs against Landstill, and is a great early drop as well if you haven't been able to find Survival.
Out of all the creatures that are used to attack and win, Flametongue Kavu is probably the best. The fact that it only costs one red mana and three of any color for what it does is amazing, and is part of the reason why the deck can get away with only one basic mountain. Early in the game you can zap away
pesky creatures and swing for 4 while doing so. What more would you want?
This is one of the first targets to go for when playing aggro. Baloth can gain a lot of life and keep you in the game until they go into topdeck mode. It can also be recurred with Genesis. This is not even to mention that it beats for 4.
For when you just want to win the game quickly, and feel like doing it with Squirrels, Deranged Hermit is your go-to guy. Massive Squirrel overrun has always been one of the better ways to win a Magic game, but Deranged Hermit is also a pretty good card anyways. Recurring it with Genesis is fun as well, and usually can create enough chump blockers to stop some decks cold.
Probably one of the weaker slots in the deck, but it is also effective. It can bounce a Deranged Hermit, Flametongue Kavu, or Eternal Witness back to your hand, and only costs 3RG to do it. Oh yeah, it's also a 7/7 trampler. Did I mention that?
Other Possible Card Choices
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Now, I'm a big fan of this card in the deck, but most disagree with me, so I won't try to sound like it's the best thing ever. In my personal build I just replaced it with Shivan Wurm, and replaced a Forest with a Mountain. Sometimes the can be a pain to get, but when you can, it's worth it. It has synergy with almost every card in the deck. You can gain more life with Baloth, thin more land and draw more cards with Elder, kill more creatures with Flametongue Kavu, recur more cards with Eternal Witness, and destroy more weenies with Goblin Sharpshooter. It also has a rather savage synergy with Deranged Hermit. If you want to add more of a fun combo aspect to your deck, I would advise playing this card.
Just replacing a Llanowar Elf with Quirion Ranger is not a bad idea. Sometimes Ranger can be very useful; combined with Rofellos it is insane. I personally am running this right now, but mostly because I'm using the Kiki-Jiki version. If you decide on Kiki-Jiki, throw in one of these guys and watch the fun begin when you swing at your opponent with 12 3/3 Squirrel tokens every turn.
If you see a lot of creatures and aggro, don't be afraid to maindeck this guy. He's an MVP in a lot of those matchups and you'll want to have him game one. I keep going back and forth with him, and still have not decided.
I really advise using this card, even though most builds aren't running it yet. Wish improves literally every bad matchup this deck has, and even improves some of the already good ones. A lot of the time the sideboard is useless
anyways, so I don't think there's a reason not to. It's also cheaper than forking over a ton of cash to get a playset of Null Rods, which is another plus. It gives this deck even more versatility, which it loves.
Uktabi Orangutan/Elvish Lyrist
As I mentioned before in the card explanations, Viridian Zealot is usually better than these two. If you're seeing an unusual amount of artifacts and enchantments that need to be destroyed really quickly and efficiently, you can probably drop a Goblin Sharpshooter and Zealot for these two. Even then, I wouldn't advise it, since there's no really cuttable cards in this deck for this kind of purpose.
If there's a lot of Solidarity and Combo in your area, splashing black for Cabal Therapy and Duress can really be good. It'll definitely improve your combo matchups, and might improve your control matchups at the cost of weakening the deck's strong manabase and doing a little worse against aggro. A lot of the time that can be worth it though.
I'm not a fan of this card, but if there are a ton of creatures in your meta and you're having problems dealing with them, throw in one of these and see if it works. I personally think it just eats up too much mana and doesn't do much that Goblin Sharpshooter doesn't do for you, but some people really like it. I think it's more of a personal preference.
There are a ton of sideboard options. Here are the ones that are good to use:
If you're seeing a lot of 2-Land Belcher, or if there are those little Type 2 and Extended punks who feel like unleashing the Ravager monstrosity in other formats, feel free to throw 4 of these in and laugh at them.
Pretty solid against decks like Landstill or decks that just randomly use a lot of Duals. Turning your Taigas into Mountains isn't a very big drawback to potentially shut down your opponent's deck.
This is really the only sideboard slot that's a complete given. There's almost no metagame where Naturalize isn't useful, and I would suggest running three or four of them, always.
If there's a surplus of Angel Stompy or random fatty decks looming around, Duplicant can be really good. If you're using Kiki-Jiki, this can get even better. Throwing in one to improve a couple of bad matchups might be worth it in some cases.
This card is just ridiculous against Solidarity. They have to counter it, or Cunning Wish --> Chain of Vapor it, in which case they most likely take at least 8 damage. If you can resolve this and add some early game damage, you can probably beat Solidarity more consistantly. If there are a lot of Solidarity or Storm combo decks in your metagame, you might even want to run 4 to consistantly draw it and play it second or third turn, Survival or not. Otherwise just one or two will probably work.
Another good card to combat Solidarity. I prefer Ichneumon Druid since it's a creature, and can be Survival-ed for, but Pillar can drop a turn earlier. If you're seeing a lot of Solidarity, running a full set of these might be necessary.
To save space, I'm not going to go over the Burning Wish options. Most of them are self explanatory anyways.
Playing the deck
There's not a whole lot I can say about this, since a lot of the deck is playing reactively to your opponent. It's a lot simpler than you might think. Early you just want to get Survival, then drop a creature, get Anger, then get Rofellos and play it next turn. From there your next target is probably Squee followed by Genesis, and then the game is open. If they have creatures, use Flametongue Kavu, if they have a lot of creatures use Goblin Sharpshooter. If they destroy something, use Eternal Witness, etc.
Gameplan -- Basically against Landstill, you want to either resolve an early Survival of the Fittest or a Troll Ascetic. Troll Ascetic is the best creature in here against Landstill. If you can get Survival out and activated, try to resolve Trolls against them. Getting Genesis into the graveyard quickly is also vital, since it allows you to wear down their counters. The U/W Landstill version with Swords to Plowshares, Wrath of God, and Akroma's Vengeance can really be annoying, but eventually you should be able to get through the control and win. Post-board you can use Blood Moon or other non-basic land hosers like Dwarven Blastminer to try to get through them, but the strategy mostly stays the same. This is really about a 50/50 matchup, maybe a little in RG's favor. The Burning Wish version probably improves the Landstill matchup with Ruination and Tsunami.
Gameplan -- Unfortunately, this is a brutal matchup for RG. Game one you have basically no way to stop their combo, so barring a ridiculously bad misplay from the Solidarity player, or a simply terrible hand that they kept for some reason, you will probably lose. Game two you can bring in Ichneumon Druid or Pyrostatic Pillar and then hope they don't find Cunning Wish in time. If you really want to play this deck, and have a lot of Solidarity in your metagame, splashing Black for Cabal Therapy and Duress is probably your best option. This is probably 75/25 in Solidarity's favor pre-board, 60/40 post-board.
Gameplan -- This is an interesting matchup. I've found it usually comes down to if ATS can get Survival, and if you can abuse Rofellos first. Once you get Rofellos out you can get Zealot and kill the Survival. Their Force of Wills and Masticore can be really annoying though. Goblin Sharpshooter is a great early game target to get rid of all of their mana critters, which severely slows down the deck. The decks have a similar gameplan to each other, so it basically comes down to who can get Survival and use it first. If neither player gets Survival, you will probably win since the deck functions much better without Survival than ATS does. This match is probably about 50/50 pre and post board.
Gameplan -- Game one there isn't much you can do but hope they don't get Soltari Priest or Silver Knight. Exalted Angel can also be annoying, but there's a way to destroy it at least. Unless they have Mother of Runes. Oh, I'm not kidding anyone, this match isn't pretty. Angel Stompy was basically made to beat decks like RG Survival, as can be evidenced by Umezawa's Jitte, Disenchant, Swords to Plowshares, and all of the Protection from Red creatures. The Burning Wish version puts up a much better fight against Angel Stompy by using Anarchy. Game two you bring in Duplicant and then can remove pro-red creatures, but sometimes it can be too slow and won't make much of a difference in time. This match is probably 60/40 in Angel Stompy's favor, at least.
Gameplan -- I've found this to be a fairly positive matchup thus far. Vial Goblins has a huge early rush, but eventually, even with the card advantage they have, they'll end up in topdeck mode. With Survival you can eventually clear the board with Goblin Sharpshooter and/or Flametongue Kavu, and gain your life back with Ravenous Baloth. Once you stabilize and they have an empty hand, you can beat them very easily. With the Burning Wish version you have Pyroclasm available which is nice, but a lot of the time won't be needed. Post-board matches have essentially the same strategy, but you can also try Spore Frog/Genesis lock on them if necessary. This is probably 55/45 or 60/40 in RG's favor.
Gameplan -- In this one, you really just want to keep a lot of their annoying critters off the board. Flametongue Kavu is nice here. This can be a very irritating matchup a lot of the time, because of the counters that Madness has, along with blockers so you can't mow right past them. If they have Wonder in the graveyard, Burning Wish for Whirlwind is basically game over if it resolves. This is really another matchup that's about 50/50. I don't see much Madness though, so I might be wrong about this one.
Gameplan -- This is where the deck truly shines. In some cases, a random deck an inexperienced player is playing like Burn, 10 Land Stompy, or Suicide Black can actually find a way to beat the top decks. RG really crushes these kinds of decks though, they lack the necessary disruption and don't have the ability to always have threats on the table like Survival does. While the matchups above don't necessarily look amazing, the fact that the deck is good against random decks is really important, since a lot of the time those are at least 50% of the decks you face at a tournament.
Why play RG Survival
Well, from my experience, I can tell you that this deck is extremely fun to play, but also competitive at the same time. It has at least decent matchups against most of the field, and is also very good at weeding out random decks you come across. I also enjoy playing it because it makes me think, but doesn't completely blow my brain to bits like a deck such as ATS would. The downside is the deck costs a pretty fair amount of money if you're really serious about it, which stops many people from playing the deck. I say, if you're playing a format and enjoy a deck, you might as well try to build it, even if you don't think you can afford it. Another big strength for the deck is how flexible it is. You can easily metagame the deck to your liking, wether that means splashing Black or running a weird card like Ichneumon Druid maindeck. RG is one of the funnest decks in the format, as well as one of the most competitive, and I would suggest if you're getting into Legacy and want to play in the upcoming Grand Prix, you should try it out.
Editing by Goblinboy, Banner from nan.