Analyzing The Legacy Metagame

Legacy is evolving faster than ever with the latest bannings and the release of Innistrad. Blue seems to be on top again, but what’s the full story?

The Legacy metagame is a beautiful creature, evolving at a rate that would make even Pikachu proud. It is a format whose eras are more clearly defined by changes to the banned list than set rotations. The most recent of each, however, was huge.

Mental Misstep is the first card to be banned in the format since Survival of the Fittest and is at least as revolutionary. Simultaneously, Snapcaster Mage has crashed on to the tournament scene, bringing with it Delver of Secrets. While Snapcaster has appeared just about everywhere in the format, the two of them teaming up has provided the foundation for the RUG Tempo strategy that has won the last three SCG Opens and appears to be the clear “best deck in the format.”

Today, we are going to break down the current Legacy metagame, using all of the SCG Open results since Misstep was replaced by Snapcaster and Delver. The method I have used is similar to the Frank Karsten’s “winner’s circle” metagame, utilized in his old column over at the WotC homepage. By assigning each archetype two points for finishing 9-16, three points for 5-8, four points for 3-4, five points for 2nd, and six points for 1st, then averaging out the data from the four weeks of events, we arrive at a metagame that gives us a look at what the top tables look like (and what we should prepare most for).

Here are the results of that data:


Percentage of Metagame

RUG Tempo




U/W Blade


Bant Blade


B/W Blade


G/W Blade


Esper Blade






RUG Control












U/B Control


Aggro Loam










Looking at this data, we can make a number of interesting observations. First of all, it is painfully obvious that the banning of Mental Misstep has not restored the format to some sort of color-diverse wonderland. How much blue would be healthy? It isn’t clear, but let’s look at the format by color, and you be the judge:

Blue 85.7%

Green 57.6%

Black 35.4%

Red 34.8%

White 31.0%

All things considered, it does seem pretty balanced, with the exception that blue just completely and utterly dominates the format due to Brainstorm and Force of Will. This is nothing new and not necessarily a sign that Brainstorm needs to be banned or anything; it is just something to keep in mind. Force of Will is the most untouchable card in the format, without question, which means that if Snapcaster breaks anything, you know the first place that will be examined under the microscope. That said, there does appear to be a very rich and diverse metagame of blue decks. Metagames are supposed to have some amount of diversity and competitiveness among the decks. It doesn’t have to also apply to the colors. Besides, if there is one thing we have learned from Vintage, it is that if you want to get everyone to stop playing a format, banning Brainstorm is one of the most powerful tricks you can pull.

I find it very interesting that despite over a quarter of the field playing Stoneforge Mystic, white is the least popular color. Very few non-Blade white decks are seeing play, and I am not sure why they would. This is in stark contrast to green, which has tons of Tarmogoyf decks but also quite a number of non-Tarmogoyf decks.

Another way of looking at the field is by macro-strategy. While most formats are dominated by aggro, with some combination of control, ramp, and combo, Legacy is a strange creature that revolves around aggro-control:

Aggro Control 55.8%
Combo 16.9%
Aggro 15.3%
Control 12.0%  

Let’s take a look at the five most popular decks in the format. Up first, the deck to beat, the enemy, the three-straight champion, RUG Tempo:

Winning three SCG Opens in a row has this deck at the top of everyone’s radar. With only 14 lands that don’t function as spells, this strategy draws business more consistently than any other major deck in the format. Additionally, its spells are among the most efficient and undercosted in Magic.

A 3/2 flier for U?

A 4/5 for 1G?

Eternal Witness for 1U?

Plenty of one-cost removal and permission, to say nothing of the zero-mana counterspells?

Library manipulation banned and restricted in basically every other format?

Eight land destruction “spells” that cost one or less?

From speaking with Job after the event in Vegas, he said he was very happy with the list (which both he and second-place finisher Christopher Atashian both copied 75/75 from a previous list). The only change he recommended was (sadly) the removal of the Temporal Spring. It wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t as good as the rest of the deck.

While we do have 30 hits for Delver of Secrets, he flips more reliably than that, since you can also Brainstorm on your upkeep to ensure he hits, and even if you miss, you can also Ponder on two to ensure a turn-three flip. Having such a cheap and hard-hitting threat is a shocking change of pace out of a blue deck. After all, remember how big of a deal it was when blue got access to Tarmogoyf. Now they have another creature in that league of efficiency, at a rate comparable to Wild Nacatl (while still pitchable to Force of Will).

Delver is at his best in Legacy (due to Brainstorm, of course) but has already been showing up in a number of Standard decks. I expect this trend to continue into other formats, though most likely at a significantly lower level of dominance than in Legacy.

From watching Job’s matches, Sylvan Library looked great, and I wouldn’t mind trying one in the maindeck. It goes without saying, of course, but the Red Elemental Blasts and Pyroblasts are just unreal right now. Five out of six people are playing blue at the top tables, and the synergy with Snapcaster Mage (as well as strength against it) is just top-notch. Even if I were playing U/W Blade, I would make room for Red Blasts in the board. You get the third color so easily; it seems almost surely the right move.

While RUG Tempo is far from unbeatable, it is so resilient, consistent, and efficient, it doesn’t really have any “terrible” matchups. This definitely needs to be the first deck tested against and at least considered as an option to play.

Up next, we have what you get when you replace Delver, Bolt, and Red Blast with Dark Confidant, Go for the Throat, Thoughtseize, and Hymn to Tourach. The “Team America” update is just more aggro-control trying to capitalize on hyper-efficient card choices. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Dark Confidant do greatly reduce the number of “hits,” but it is interesting to consider Delver of Secrets in here. Overall, it’s probably not worth it, but worth considering.

If I played in a Legacy tournament tomorrow, I would either play U/W/r Blade or a BUG Tempo deck like this. Not surprisingly, these are the two best “Jace, the Mind Sculptor” decks in the format.

I love Gonzalez’s use of Riptide Lab to abuse Snapcaster Mage even more than usual, taking a page out of U/W Blade’s playbook. There are actually quite a few cool choices that make Gonzalez’s list noteworthy. Ghastly Demise as a complement to Go for the Throat and Dismember isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it is oft-forgotten about technology that is better in this world of turn-one Delvers.

Sylvan Library making another appearance isn’t surprising, but it is something we are going to be seeing more of, I think. There is always a ton of competition at the two spot, but the first Sylvan is just so amazing. It isn’t just a top that doesn’t cost mana to use; it also can be an Ancestral Recall against combo.

Unearth is another sweet card that has elevated from a fringe niche card to archetype staple, due to the synergy with Snapcaster Mage. It lets you effectively “Snapcaster” creatures into play (and at a mana discount), plus you can use it to recur Snapcasters themselves.

This is another strategy that is very consistent, resilient, and efficient. Historically, Affinity has been one of its biggest weaknesses, but the use of four Pernicious Deeds goes a long way towards providing counter-play. Graveyard combo decks may also require more graveyard hate in the weeks to come, but BUG is obviously well-suited to adapt to such a change.

Both RUG Tempo and BUG Tempo are so high on card quality and consistency, they make for ideal weapons for full-day tournaments like SCG Opens. The fewer rounds you play, the more incentive there is to play a high variance deck, but that is a story for another day. While BUG started out very popular, the move towards RUG Tempo seems to be eating away at BUG’s popularity.

Up next, we have the most popular style of the most popular strategy:

While it is somewhat generous to describe all Blade decks as being the “same” strategy, they are at least fairly similar. Basically, there are two real types, blue blade and non-blue blade. As mentioned above, I recommend U/W/r among these, though I have to admit that G/W is not bad (assuming we live in a world where we can pretend “not bad non-blue deck” is not an oxymoron in Legacy).

As you can see from the list, there is really no spice at all in Langford’s build. Personally, I prefer two Riptide Labs in these sorts of decks, as well as two Volcanic Islands, but that isn’t that big a change. It is also crucial to play the fourth Flooded Strand instead of the third Misty Rainforest, as fetching basic Plains is very useful.

Sideboarding Day of Judgment is the right idea, but obviously I recommend Wrath of God (as you really do need to be able to deal with Thrun, the Last Troll or Golgari Grave-Troll. Boarding four Path to Exiles is exactly where you want to be with this deck, right now. Purify the Grave is a nice new addition that seems well placed to help gain edge in the increasingly popular Reanimator matchup. I could see cutting a couple Spell Pierces and maybe the Stifle to make room for two Red Elemental Blasts and a Pyroblast.

The strategy for U/W Blade? This is just another Caw-Blade deck. Once again, resiliency, consistency, and efficiency are king. What makes this list resilient? It has a lot of great removal and permission, plus all its cards are so strong on their own. What makes it consistent? The library manipulation, of course, as well as so many cards that can work towards the same goals. Efficiency? Basically every card costs at least half a mana too little!

Finally, we come to a non-aggro-control deck!

Reanimator has been on the rise and seems to be continuing to put up good numbers despite the field being aware of it. Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur adds such a powerful element, due to its ability to disrupt people nearly as hard as Iona (Mind Twisting them), while still drawing so many cards that you can actually easily reanimate a second fatty to help you beat a tough board. His biggest drawback is his relatively small size (dying to both Dismember and a pair of Bolts).

While the fatties in these sorts of decks fluctuate, there aren’t any major changes in this list. Elesh Norn has not been universally adopted but is heading in that direction due to its ability to dominate a board even against an opponent that was successfully able to remove it (a role formerly played by Grave Titan). Angel of Despair and big nasty Terrasty are still options and vital to have at least one copy of in the sideboard. The omission that kind of surprises me is the lack of a Platinum Angel (or Platinum Emperion) anywhere in the 75. Maybe you don’t need that effect because of Iona, Jin-Gitaxias, and Blazing Archon, but it is a very powerful and unique effect that I feel like I’d miss if I couldn’t at least board it in.

The Show and Tell sideboard plan has proven itself for quite some time now as a very solid plan against graveyard hate, so I definitely would keep that part of the sideboard intact, whatever tweaks are done. Echoing Truth provides the clean-up duty for whatever problematic permanent you might face, which is definitely the bounce spell of choice in this style of deck. Chain of Vapor doesn’t work with the fatties; Wipe Away isn’t worth the extra mana; and Echoing Truth can deal with multiple Leylines, etc. Sadly, no Mystical Tutor means we need to play a lot more copies if we are to find them in time. Lim-Dul’s Vault is always discussed as an option but is really at least half a turn slower than where we want to be.

Finally, we come to what was once the most popular deck in the format. Losing Mental Misstep has been a giant dagger, but at least we don’t have to worry about getting our Vials Misstepped anymore. The use of efficient creatures and some countermagic for support is obviously the basic game plan (at least for four out of the top five decks in the format), but Merfolk does go a little different of an approach than the Tempo and Blade decks (playing out more like a true Counter-Sliver deck).

Phantasmal Image is a new addition that I am a fan of. It is easy to just cash it in for another Lord, but it also lets you kill legends like Jin-Gitaxias and Thrun, as well as copy a Tarmogoyf (when things aren’t going so well).

Flusterstorm is kind of a cool option, taking advantage of the Commander boxed sets. It isn’t really that different from Spell Pierce, but it does fight permission and Storm. It doesn’t hit Swords, Sylvan, or Jace, but perhaps that isn’t that big a deal for this style of deck.

Merfolk makes better use of Dismember than anyone, and the printing of a one-mana reliable removal spell for blue has definitely made a permanent impact on the sorts of battles we see in Legacy. For instance, Llawan, Cephalid Empress used to be a stone-cold killer against Merfolk, but now they have so many easy answers.

Four aggro-control decks and a Reanimator? What does this mean? Well, I know I am definitely interested in working on Counterbalance, but it may be that there is no reason not to be aggro-controlling. It kind of seems like Aggro-Control isn’t just popular; it is where you want to be, as the aggro decks tend to suck, and aggro-control decks generally have access to the tools it takes to actually beat combo. What I wonder is, what is the aggro-control deck that beats the other aggro-control decks?

Is Legacy dominated by the color blue? Sure, but that’s neither a surprise, nor a problem. It is fun, diverse, and the metagame seems alive and well. Just this past week in Vegas, we saw four non-blue decks top eight the Open!  

Thanks for joining me this week, but I have to get back to testing for the last (for now?) full-size World Championship. I am currently sitting on a couch at the ridiculously extravagant Tom Martell estate, railbirding Finkel and Nassif trying one of Zvi’s ideas, GerryT and Michael Jacob trying one of Rietzl’s, and Adam Yurchick and Alex West trying out one of Sam Black. See you on the other side!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”