This round of bannings was probably the single best possible outcome for Legacy as a format. Treasure Cruise, a card that rewards grindy blue decks to a
ridiculous degree, is gone. In its place is a format that we had prior to Khans of Tarkir, but with a valuable addition.
No, not Dig Through Time.
Ever since Brainstorm and Ponder were restricted in Vintage, Legacy aficionados have had this sort of Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. Every
round of bannings, there would be this fear – however unsubstantiated – that this would be the time that Wizards decided to axe Brainstorm, and
the entire format along with it.
Make no mistake, Brainstorm gives the format its identity. I’m not saying it’s not oppressive, I’m saying that Legacy isn’t Legacy without the
card Brainstorm. There would be other decks, a new top tier, all that. But it would be a new format. A lot of iconic cards would be substantially worse,
weird fringe decks would become too inconsistent without the capacity to rely on the best filtering spell of all time, and so on. Brainstorm does a lot of
work behind the scenes to make the trains run on time.
It also creates a very clean ideological standard. I know nobody who plays Legacy and is agnostic toward Brainstorm’s existence. Either they’re very
pro-Brainstorm: “it’s the best card, I want to play Legacy because it’s so good, and I feel good casting it, and it’s so hard to play, and I feel so smart
when I get it right, and this is Legacy, this is what it is for me, this is why I enter the tournament, to cast Brainstorm“; or they’re very
anti-Brainstorm: “it’s so absurdly oppressive, I’m going to play a bunch of underpowered artifacts and/or green and white two-drops that punish the jerks
who decided to show up with a bunch of fiddly b******t today.” It doesn’t matter which side of the ideological spectrum you’re on, it just matters that one
That, in a nutshell, is what I feel is missing about Modern. There’s nothing in it that inspires strong feelings. It’s diverse, sure, and it’s rigorously
maintained in the weeks before a Pro Tour, sure, but I don’t know many people who have strong feelings about any particular card in Modern. The format’s
identity is “it’s diverse and reasonably well-balanced,” which is about as compelling as telling me that your favorite breakfast food is granola and yogurt
because it’s really, really good for you. It’s indisputably true, but it is in no way interesting.
Legacy has heroes and villains in deck selection. No one valorizes the people who show up with Delvers and cantrips, just like nobody roots against the
Davids who show up with Lava Spikes in a room full of Brainstorm-slinging Goliaths. Part of what makes Legacy interesting as a format is that the villain
actually wins a whole lot of the time. The villain is legitimately favored, and most of the people in a room want to be the villain because it’s fun. It
creates tension. It creates narrative. When you turn on coverage and see one person attacking for two and one person casting Brainstorm, you know who
you’re supposed to root for. You know who’s favored, and you watch the game to see if the person who isn’t casting Brainstorm can somehow pull it out. You
know that they built their deck with the villain in mind, and so the table is already set for this story.
If you showed me a match between a person casting Siege Rhino and Dark Confidant and another person casting Sakura Tribe-Elder and Scapeshift, I don’t know
who I’m supposed to root for. None of those cards inspire strong feelings. Sure, one is a combo deck, but nobody is a hero or a villain. They’re people
playing Magic, and that’s fine. It’s just lacks the narrative quality of the first match.
I don’t think that anti-Brainstorm tournament-goers actually want Brainstorm to go away. I don’t think they want Wizards of the Coast to slay the dragon
for them. I think they love to hate Brainstorm. It’s The Story of the format. It’s their White Whale. They will kill it or be killed by the desire to slay
it on their own terms, and that makes for a good story.
All of this to say: Wizards of the Coast banned a blue card in Legacy that has the game text “draw three cards” on it that was worse than Brainstorm by any
metric you care to name. They lined up a bunch of good cards in the format, saw Brainstorm at the front of the line and Treasure Cruise right behind it,
and took out Treasure Cruise. At no point in the future will they ever touch Brainstorm. They can’t. There’s no excuse, in the context of this event, for
that to happen.
Brainstorm is untouchable.
The identity of the format is safe.
And now, let’s look at the format that we get to play this weekend. For a rough guess at what will be successful, we can just go back in time several
months and see what was good before Khans of Tarkir hit the shelves:
- 2 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Wirewood Symbiote
- 3 Quirion Ranger
- 1 Birchlore Rangers
- 2 Heritage Druid
- 2 Nettle Sentinel
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Craterhoof Behemoth
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
- 1 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 1 Mangara of Corondor
- 3 Serra Avenger
- 1 Aven Mindcensor
- 3 Flickerwisp
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 2 Mirran Crusader
- 4 Phyrexian Revoker
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
A diverse set of decks, mostly Brainstorms, with a solid mix of combo, tempo, and aggro-prison. If you want my take on what gets better and worse, here’s a
bulleted list of obvious predictions that you can hold me to:
– Wasteland is back in a huge way because there’s no longer a huge incentive to develop your manabase, whereas Treasure Cruise wanted you to go
cantrip-into-cantrip-into-Cruise, which requires a lot of blue lands, ergo not Wastelands.
– Deathrite Shaman is a lot better because the format will go back to being grindy without the existence of an obvious, near-effortless midgame trump
played by all people who show up and interact.
– Delver decks will go back to playing Spell Pierce and maybe Stifle, so Storm will get meaningfully worse. In fairness, Storm was the actual nuts in the
Cruise era, so this was inevitable. Sneak and Show will be top-tier, as will Elves now that Forked Bolt and Electrickery are out of the picture.
– People will remember Young Pyromancer fondly enough to still play it in their decks. Stoneforge/Pyromancer decks will likely carry over from the Cruise
– True-Name Nemesis is back, baby.
– 20+ Brainstorms in the top 8 of DC’s Legacy Premier IQ.
– Worldgorger Dragon will do stone kold nothing. People who win a match with the deck will continue to receive the standard three match points.
And now for a bulleted list of non-obvious predictions that I will conveniently ignore if I’m way off the mark and never let anyone forget about if I get
– Hooting Mandrills will be a real card in some tempo decks and, depending on the Jace + Swords to Plowshares density of the format, may supplant Nimble
Mongoose. A single-green-mana 4/4 trample is really good, and Temur Delver’s only real commitment to the graveyard is Nimble Mongoose, which is too small
and/or too slow a real amount of the time. Obviously Mandrills is horribly embarrassing against Miracles and similar decks, but if Lightning Bolt is the
defining removal spell and you’re a green deck that isn’t terribly committed to using your graveyard, it’s a real card that could see some play.
– Dig Through Time will show up as a four-of in a blue answer-oriented deck that plays a ton of cantrips. I don’t think Miracles is the right shell for Dig
Through Time both because it’s pretty bad at filling up its graveyard and because the deck is already pretty soft to Ignite Memories, if you know what I
– Dredge will be a top-tier combo deck and everyone will keep not respecting it. If someone puts in the hours with Manaless Dredge, they will probably be
rewarded with a top 8 for their efforts.
And now, on to a very short list-style review of Fate Reforged’s Legacy implications!
– Monastery Mentor will see play.
– Cloudform/Phyrexian Dreadnought decks will see play and may actually be good against non-Delver decks. Unfortunately, Spell Pierce and Stifle both do
serious work on Cloudform, so trying to set up that cute combo is both very slow and very risky against returning king Temur Delver.
– There will likely be some fringe roleplayer cards at points in the future – Wild Slash’s ferocious clause can conditionally deal with True-Name Nemesis
at the cost of being a Shock in a Legacy deck.
– I really don’t see a huge role for any cards in the set beyond Monastery Mentor.
So let’s talk about that then.
Let’s start by comparing this to a card that was somewhere between great and dominant for a while in Legacy: Knight of the Reliquary.
Knight and Mentor are both white three-drops with a base power/toughness of 2/2. So far, so comparable.
Knight of the Reliquary tutors up lands – typically Wastelands – and grows bigger while also powering those interactions. The cost of all of this, roughly
speaking, is that you have to play green and white and also play enough green and white lands to not really have room for being a traditional blue deck.
Monastery Mentor can’t catch his own dinner, but the “cost” of making him grow is much lower. Unlike Knight of the Reliquary, Monastery Mentor grows simply
by having you pursue the dominant strategy in Legacy: fiddling around with the top of your deck.
Knight of the Reliquary wants you to put a bunch of unplayable lands in your deck, plus then you also want to add specialized one-ofs like Bojuka Bog.
Monastery Mentor wants you to play with all of the best cards in Legacy, and from there you can basically do whatever you want.
Since Monastery Mentor’s greatest weakness is getting Plowed or Bolt right after hitting play, the most obvious deck to start him in will have a lot of
other enticing targets for spot removal. Behold, a mostly-stock Jeskai Delver deck!
Okay, so that was a pretty obvious application for the card. What if we go a little deeper, a little more reactive, and a little more brew-oriented?
Okay, we’re getting somewhere with this. Obviously the core idea of this deck is Tom Martell-style Esper Control, except you’re incentivized to play all of
the cantrips you can get your hands on because of Mentor, so your discard spell becomes Therapy after you have four Probes in the starting lineup, and once
you’re there, the best way to leverage your graveyard is to cast Dig Through Time, at which point you probably want to have a few one-ofs to Dig into, and
there’s your deck. Jace is your “finisher” against removal-heavy control decks, Counterspell is for when you’re ahead, and Zealous Persecution is either
Plague Wind or Overrun or both. The sideboard can be basically whatever you want because you’re an Esper Control deck in Legacy with a ton of cantrips, so
the sky really is the limit on this one.
Sorry, Lingering Souls – you had a good run.
There is one more thing that’s been bugging me ever since I typed this decklist out though. I was about to compare Young Pyromancer to Monastery Mentor,
since hey, both of them power up through cantrips.
Except, you know, that’s not actually true, and the difference is meaningful.
You see what I see yet?
Yeah, that’s right. Let’s go off the deep end.
The concept behind this deck is pretty simple: if we didn’t care about playing a long game, how aggressive could we be with our Mentor triggers? How often
could we untap and kill our opponent? I want to answer those questions, because they are pretty awesome questions to answer.
The starting point was the realization that Monastery Mentor is so much more than Young Pyromancer. At the point where you can cast artifacts for profit,
you should be playing a lot of freebies, which means playing Mox Opal, which means playing artifact lands. From there, you’re off to the races – you want
to keep land count low, spell count high, and still have ways to dig to Mentor, since every card counts.
The Stars and Spheres are iffy, but you’re basically paying one mana for a Monk in a deck with a lot of free mana. You have ways to pay one card for a Monk
(Chrome Mox imprinting nothing) and ways to pay one card for one mana and a Monk (Mox Opal sacrificing tapped Mox Opal), so the cost of Stars and Spheres
doesn’t seem too steep.
On a basic level, this is pretty likely to be worse than Storm, since it does flat out nothing until you draw Monastery Mentor. On another level, if you
cast Monastery Mentor, and it doesn’t eat spot removal or countermagic on the spot, you probably stand a decent shot at winning through whatever else
I honestly have zero clue how to build this deck, but I know that we can get more ambitious than “Monastery Mentor, Probe you and make a token, go.” I have
a dream that we can cast Mentor, make like half a dozen tokens, and then use Retract as an Overrun the next turn. It’s obviously a super gimmicky deck, but
it’s the exact sort of gimmicky deck that I would love to kill someone with on a rainy Saturday at some point in the future.
Also, for real, Monastery Mentor plus zero-mana artifacts deserves some attention. There’s something going on there.
Never settle for the updated Jeskai Delver deck. There’s always something more going on.