Building a Legacy – Twenty Reasons To Fall In Love Again

Drew celebrates the banning of Mental Misstep by showing you exactly how diverse Legacy can be and what decks will be viable now that people can freely cast one-drop spells without fear of Misstepping.

Author’s note: For all of this article’s decks, I won’t be getting into Innistrad cards this week, as I have a whole set review coming up next week to give those cards their fifteen minutes.


We’re free.

Mental Misstep is the second counterspell to ever be banned in Legacy, putting it in a league with Mana Drain. Its printing was an ultimate shattering of “the illusion of Eternal formats”—namely, that blue is anything but leagues better than the other four colors. It homogenized the format in a way that I have never seen before and hope to never see again. Decks from Goblins to G/W Beatdown to G/B/W Junk played a full set of Mental Missteps despite not being able to produce blue mana.

Mental Misstep changed the format by reducing the value of one-mana cards. This seems innocuous at first, but the fact is that a lot of cards in Legacy are at their best in low-resource situations. If you have more one-mana interaction, people empty their hands faster. Mana curves are lower; games are faster; and so the most successful decks are ones that can play multiple spells in a turn starting on turn two. Four-mana planeswalkers and waiting four turns to get ahead on cards are far too slow for that world.

When Mental Misstep went legal, however, it provided a tempo-neutral way of countering a lot of format-defining spells. The first pair of staple one-drops to go was Sensei’s Divining Top and Stifle. These cards pull their respective decks in opposite directions—one wants the game to involve the accumulation of as many resources as possible; the other wants there to be as few resources in play as possible.

Sensei’s Divining Top is actively interested in each person having twelve permanents because the Top deck will be able to control its draws so as to never get screwed, flooded, or draw the wrong spells at the wrong times. At some point, the Sensei’s Divining Top deck can find and resolve Counterbalance and make a lot of an opposing deck irrelevant. From there, winning is elementary.

Sensei’s Divining Top is a great way to win blue mirrors. Without Mental Misstep, blue mirrors are somewhat defined by the scarcity of countermagic. Blue decks can gain an advantage in the mirror by loading up on counterspells and ways to find Sensei’s Divining Top, but in doing so they lose edges against decks like Zoo and Merfolk, since Aether Vial and Wild Nacatl are pretty incredible against actual Counterspell.

As a result, blue decks’ only hard counter for an early Sensei’s Divining Top will often be Force of Will. The problem is that Force of Will is a precious four-of that strong players learned to conserve for opposing Jace, the Mind Sculptors or to push through their game-breaking Counterbalance. Sensei’s Divining Top would therefore usually resolve and usually contribute heavily to winning the game on its own.

Mental Misstep let blue decks counter Top on a one-for-one basis at every point in the game without losing their long-game capacity to counter the game-breakers like Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Given that players will eventually flip Sensei’s Divining Top and subsequently replay it, Mental Misstep would eventually get it. As a result, card selection (found in one-drop spells like Ponder and Sensei’s Divining Top) became less valuable than raw card advantage (found primarily in a zero-mana sorcery, two-mana enchantment, and four-mana planeswalker).

Given that Sensei’s Divining Top is going to be good again, let’s look at what a modern Counterbalance strategy might look like:

Alternatively, you could go for a much longer-game approach:

The second list is an update on Adam Barnello’s deck from SCG Open: Boston in April. In case you haven’t noticed, Stoneforge Mystic has taken over the role of “defining two-drop” in Counterbalance strategies. The rationale behind this is that Tarmogoyf—good man though he is—is green, and green is not a particularly appealing color to play in a control deck. White gives you the best removal spell, and black gives you the best sideboard cards. Green gives you Krosan Grip, and red gives you a bunch of Blasts, but I would much rather have access to the defensive efficiency that black and white provide than the anti-blue efficiency that green and red provide. There’s only so much Cursecatcher-your-Firespout that a man can take, you know?

For those of you who are just plain sick of playing Stoneforge Mystic but aren’t ready to give up Sensei’s Divining Top, my good friend David Gearhart put in a lot of work on a rough list of Accelerated Blue back in the spring. The idea behind it is that it presents several threats very early in the game, relying on mana acceleration to create early board advantage and multiple planeswalkers to win games that go late. A good starting point would be:

There are tons of directions that you can take the deck depending on how you want to approach a new, much more diverse Legacy metagame.

To get back to my earlier point about Mental Misstep and resource scarcity, though—Stifle makes people want to build decks and play games that reduce each player’s hand to nothing and each player’s board to between one and three permanents. Stifle works best as a one-mana Stone Rain + Lava Dart, although it briefly picked up play as a way to beat Hive Mind’s Pacts. The decks that want to play it are decks that don’t intend on letting opponents have the mana to comfortably cast their spells. To that end, they employ Stifle and Wasteland to mana-screw opponents, then use taxing counters such as Daze and Spell Pierce to gain further tempo advantages. Daze and Spell Pierce will very often counter spells that represent an entire turn’s worth of mana while demanding only a fraction of a turn’s mana, letting the Stifle deck play more spells and (presumably) twist the game state further in their favor.

The problem with Stifle in a Mental Misstep world is similar to the Sensei’s Divining Top plight—people often couldn’t effectively counter it without losing either tempo or cards. When I was playing Team America, I was always happy to trade Stifle for Force of Will + a blue card, since I was just planning on attritioning them anyway. If I had Daze to get their land drop as well, so much the better!

Once people could counter Stifle without losing tempo, they were able to play their spells much more consistently. Stifle decks have a lot of cards that see diminishing returns over the course of long games, making them a poor call for a Mental Misstep metagame that slowed games down by several turns. When you draw Daze on turn ten, for instance, you want to shoot yourself. The problem is that if you don’t have Daze in your deck, you might just get killed by Lion’s Eye Diamond really, really quickly. More on that later. For now, a few reminders of what Stifle can look like in Legacy:

Canadian Threshold was the original Stifle/Wasteland “tempo deck.” All of its spells generate some form of tempo advantage—they cost less than what they answer; they’re undercosted threats that are difficult to remove; or they constrain an opponent’s mana, keeping them to one (over-efficiently answered) spell per turn. A huge addition from the last few months is Standard staple Dismember, as one of the major reasons why Canadian Threshold wasn’t a great deck had to do with its inability to unconditionally deal with a resolved Tarmogoyf. Can’t Bolt that one, boys. Since Canadian Threshold is very typically on the attack, four life isn’t going to matter a lot, making Dismember a very strong removal spell in this deck.

Where Canadian Threshold is a Stifle deck that tries to get in behind an opponent’s shield to kill them before they can pry your fingers off their neck, New Horizons is a Stifle deck that focuses on a much longer game. Another way of looking at it is that it’s just another Bant deck that has a heavier mana disruption component.

Like many other successful Bant decks, it has more enormous creatures than any deck has removal spells, making its plan very clear from the beginning: can you kill my Tarmogoyf? Okay, cool, how about my Terravore? Interesting. And this Knight? Can’t kill him? Guess I’ll get all of my Wastelands, destroy your ability to cast multiple spells in a turn, and then kill you in one or two attacks.

On the off chance that New Horizons gets mana-flooded, four of its lands turn into spells, making it an incredibly efficient resource-conversion deck. This is a deck that shifts roles very smoothly and quickly, making it a potent weapon in the hands of a competent pilot.

AJ went out of Misstep-free Legacy on top, piloting a deck he’d been playing for weeks to his first trophy. I would be surprised if the deck didn’t want some number of Dismembers, but for those of you looking for a versatile deck that has a lot of powerful interactions and complex decisions, AJ’s behemoth is still very much worth respecting.

And finally, the deck that I believe provides the best perspective on what’s important in Legacy. Before I get to that, I want to address the genesis of its naming, since I’ve seen people very confidently get it completely wrong. If you couldn’t possibly care less, I’ve marked the section off with asterisks, so I’ll meet you on the other side of this story.


Team America was originally a deck designed by Dan Signorini and David Gearhart that played twelve “free” spells—Daze, Snuff Out, and Force of Will. The deck evolved from a U/B Gearhart deck (read: awful card selection, but a strong core design philosophy behind it) that played Dark Confidant, Tombstalker, and maindeck Extirpate. In keeping with his personality, he decided to name the deck something completely unrelated to anything having to do with what it did.

In this case, that name was “Europe.” His idea was that Tropical Island was fundamentally necessary for U/G/x Threshold decks to operate properly. If he could Wasteland + Extirpate an opposing Threshold deck’s Tropical Islands, then, he could cut the opposition off of all their win conditions. (The strong design philosophy, in case you missed it, was that mana denial is a viable strategy in Legacy. I know, I missed it the first few times around as well.)

Eventually, Gearhart realized that the idea was beyond awful and decided to play Sinkhole, which was at the time a very good card. He also cut Dark Confidant and added green for Tarmogoyf. From there, he realized that he could play Snuff Out as an incredibly mana-efficient removal spell, whereas before that he couldn’t, since he was having trouble beating a poker chip with his Dark Confidant reveals.

From there, the deck evolved into a version of Canadian Threshold that had a better non-Tarmogoyf creature, better removal spells, and a better sideboard. Dan Signorini won a major tournament in upstate New York with the deck, and Gearhart, pleased with the deck and in keeping with his patriotic/xenophobic nature, named it “Team America.”


The reason why Team America defines the format is that it’s the deck that—combo decks aside—is built to be capable of casting its spells the fastest. This capacity is a reaction to the format’s speed—after all, if you’re going to die faster, you want to be able to interact on the turns that matter—but it is a very powerful angle by which people can attack the format. That angle is directly fulfilled by the card Hymn to Tourach.

Hymn to Tourach was bad in a world of Mental Missteps because people were playing Ancestral Vision, but Ancestral Vision was a symptom of the new nature of the format, not the cause. People could play Ancestral Vision because everyone was playing Mental Misstep. This meant that people could afford to play less early-game interaction. That, in turn, meant that people would have more cards in hand in the midgame. If people have five cards in hand on turn four, Hymn to Tourach is far worse than if people have two or three cards in hand. In a world without Missteps, Hymn gets peoples’ last two (often best) cards very consistently. It also weakens Brainstorm, since holding lands to maximize Brainstorm’s upside (drawing three good spells) becomes worse against opposing Hymns.

To summarize: because Legacy is faster without Misstep, Hymn is much better. This is due in part to how good Stifle is at trading resources off and leaving players with very few permanents and very few cards in hand. In that situation, Hymn to Tourach can get rid of 50% of an opposing player’s resources (two cards in hand, two lands in play). In a situation where they have four lands and six cards in hand, it’s getting rid of 20% of their resources, making it a much worse card.

Since Stifle lets you build toward an attrition-based model, however, the one-card advantage that Hymn gives you can be game-breaking. With judicious Brainstorming, it can be a two-on-one Tarmogoyf advantage. It can be a Tarmogoyf and a removal spell against a Tarmogoyf. It can be a Tarmogoyf, two lands, and a Wasteland cutting down one of two tapped lands, stranding their removal spell in hand. When games move as quickly as they do in a Legacy format without Mental Misstep, Hymn to Tourach can be very decisive.

But what makes Legacy so fast in the first place? Why do people need to interact so early? What’s killing everyone?

Oh, right. Those. To revisit the Top/Stifle point, the reason why U/B Storm performed very poorly in the Mental Misstep metagame was because its Duresses weren’t nearly as potent as they used to be. Before Misstep, a Storm deck could cast Thoughtseize or Duress and have it do something. It would take a Force of Will; it would take a Counterspell or a Counterbalance; or it would at least provoke an opponent into Brainstorming in response, potentially giving the Storm player a window to go off.

A smart U/W Mystic player or Natural Order RUG player would let all the Ponders and Brainstorms resolve, wait for the Duress to come, Misstep that, and hold onto their precious Force of Wills. Then, usually, the Storm player would die.

Now that Mental Misstep is gone, Lion’s Eye Diamond is going to shine again. There are a lot of people who enjoy the power of a Black Lotus. More than anything else, LED drives the speed of the format. It’s a card worth playing or, at the very least, respecting.

If that’s not your cup of tea, though, there are plenty of alternatives. Rather than explain each one to you, I’m going to use the rest of the article to showcase just how diverse Legacy can be. Many of these decks are casualties of Mental Misstep’s dominance, and I look forward to their return. Believe me, though—these are hardly the outer limits of the format. Quite the opposite, in fact: there are twenty-five archetypes in this article, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of them in the top eight of Indianapolis.

This format is the one that I fell in love with, the one I wanted to write about every single week. I’ve missed it a lot. Enjoy it however you see fit. I’ll be back next week to talk about how a graveyard-centric set is going to shake up a format that’s coming back to its degenerate roots. Until then, happy brewing!

Drew Levin

@drew_levin on Twitter