Examining The DC Legacy Open

Looking forward to the Season Three Invitational, Carsten Kotter takes the opportunity to look backwards to #SCGDC and see just how much you can get out of the metagame data in order to better understand the current state of the Legacy format.

It’s been a while since we had our last Legacy Open go down, and the Open Series in Washington DC had a pretty established metagame waiting for it going in. That means doing a simple review of what did well seems like a waste of time – I assume you can read and understand the decklists of long-established decks by yourselves. Instead, now is the perfect time to figure out how well the archetypes we have pegged as the top performers have actually held up under pressure and which less-anticipated decks rose to the challenge of keeping up.

Conveniently enough, we’ve not only been provided with Top 32 decklists but also a Day Two metagame breakdown to actually get some idea of how decks have done compared to their metagame penetration – although only for Day Two, admittedly. As a side note, I’d love to have a Day One metagame breakdown for one of these at some point, though I can easily see why it would be problematic breaking down the 500+ decklists including oddball choices for Day One in a timely manner. It’d still be awesome information to have access to!

Anyway, let’s use what we have and finally take a look at last weekend’s results!

Day Two Metagame

Alright, to start off, let’s see what the pool of decks that made it through Day One actually looks like.

There were 123 players who made it to Day Two, with four decks rather clearly represented at the top of the format: Omni-Tell, Miracles, Grixis Delver and Infect. One word of warning: from the Top 32 decklists I’ve looked at, it sure looks as if Grixis Delver and 4C-Delver were randomly chosen to be qualified as either deck because the lists I have access to for both from the Top 32 look identical (Grixis plus Deathrite Shaman, essentially) and I therefore assume the same is true for the metagame breakdown I’m basing this on – so I’ve merged them both together, since it will be impossible to categorically pull apart the Grixis Delver numbers from the 4C Delver numbers. Similarly, Storm numbers include TES and ANT even though they play out very differently.

Metagame Breakdown

I’ve left the other single copy decks – the ones that didn’t make it to Top 32 – out of the table to keep this somewhat reasonable in size. They all have the same stats as Esper Control and Reanimator anyways (minus the Top 32 copy, obviously).

So looking at this table, the first thing that jumps out to me is Grixis Delver. While the deck was one of the most represented, it seemingly very much deserved to be – it nearly doubled the number of Top 32 slots it was supposed to take only based on field penetration no matter if we merge its numbers with 4C-Delver or not! Sure looks like cutting most of the green cards from BURG to play with Young Pyromancer instead does make some sense.

The second deck that strongly over-performed compared to its field penetration is Infect:

While the deck failed to put a player into the Top Eight, I personally don’t believe Top Eight numbers tell us as much as we generally think they do. I’d much rather look at the top quarter of the field instead to get a decent grasp of what is and isn’t performing well currently. Putting one-and-a-half times as many people in Top 32 as should be expected from field penetration alone is a very strong record and indicates to me that I might have been selling the deck short two weeks ago and that it might easily belong to Legacy’s Tier One decks at this point.

The third remarkable thing I’d like to point out is that, while it won the tournament, Omni-Tell actually did terrible overall on Day Two. As one of the three decks tied for most represented decks in the field, it would have been expected to put 2.9 copies into the Top 32. It managed exactly one. Sure, it’s the list Josh Pelrine won the tournament with, but to my mind his success is tempered (as far as the deck’s overall performance is concerned, all props to Josh for an awesome weekend) by the fact that none of the other Omni-Tell players managed to do even remotely as well.

Speaking of decks that underperformed, Burn has to be the deck with the most underwhelming record of them all. Of the six copies to make Day Two, not a single one advanced into the Top 32. Admittedly that still only means we have 1.6 copies less than would be expected, however every other archetype with the kind of metagame presence Burn had managed to put at least one player through.

Oh, wait, did I say Grixis Delver and Infect were the main two decks to outperform their representation in the field? I hope Shaheen and Riley aren’t too angry with me yet. The one deck that actually doubled its expected Top 32 penetration is good old Esper Stoneblade… and given how close these two lists are, I suspect the two of them worked together.

The only reason I give this less weight than the Grixis Delver and Infect performances are the numbers involved. We can’t have partial players making it into the Top 32 for obvious reasons, so given that Esper Stoneblade’s expected number of Top 32 competitors was one, breaking that benchmark automatically means you’ll at least double it.

That being said, this is an awesome performance for a deck that was once considered the top dog of the format but which has fallen by the wayside since Treasure Cruise started the Delve revolution. It sure looks like we’ve all been far too easily dismissing an old champion.

Everything else very much looks like it performed close to expectations at this point, with Storm, Elves, Death and Taxes, and Lands all outperforming their field penetration to a certain degree – a degree that I find hard to evaluate because, once again, the numbers involved turn a single extra berth instantly into the deck massively overperforming. It is an indication that Elves and Death and Taxes might still have as much claim to be called Tier One as Lands and Storm, though. On a side note, I was quite happy to see that three of the formats poster-child non-blue decks managed to more than keep up with what’s currently being thrown at them.

Deck Spotlights

Time for me to lose a couple of words about some of the less commonly seen archetypes that popped up in this Top 32. Let’s start with one aficionados will know but that many others at this point mentally treat as if it was ANT.

First, for those new to this minor distinctions with massive effects game Legacy archetypes sometimes tend to play, this is very far from the same deck as ANT. Sure, both end the game with a lethal Tendrils of Agony and both lists have converged more and more over time as the fetchland + dual land manabase has proven its superiority over the original gold-land setup TES used in the past. The two decks still play quite differently in spite of the number of cards they share. I won’t go into extreme detail here – this isn’t a TES vs ANT article, after all – but just to give you a short impression of how TES differs from the more well-known ANT builds of the deck.

The first notable thing to keep in mind is that ANT is actually much less of an Ad Nauseam deck than TES is. In fact, most of the changes in the TES list are at least partially informed by this distinction. Rite of Flame over Cabal Ritual, two full sets of two-mana tutors that can find your Tendrils once flipped over by Ad Nauseam, no expensive maindeck business spells outside of Empty the Warrens and Ad Nauseam itself, Chrome Moxen instead of more lands – all of this serves to make TES’s Ad Nauseams as lethal as you can possibly make them. Where ANT is a Past in Flames deck that can fall back on other routes depending on the list at hand, TES is an Ad Nauseam + Empty the Warrens deck that can fall back on Past in Flames.

The one huge addition TES has received lately is actually the sideboard copy of Dark Petition. One of the deck’s worst weaknesses in the past has been that Burning Wish won’t actually allow you to grab your Ad Nauseam, meaning that having only Burning Wish as your business regularly spell forced you into the unenviable position of either having to go for Empty the Warrens when it isn’t good enough anymore or to try and engineer a lethal Past in Flames too early for the deck to reliably do so. Dark Petition mostly eliminates this problem by allowing you to wish for Ad Nauseam simply by spending two more mana. If you’re looking for a really aggressive Storm deck, I’d suggest you at least check out TES.

When I talked about the decks I currently consider the best in Legacy two weeks ago, one thing I mentioned was that we should at least be looking into an Esper version of the Grixis Pyromancer deck now that we have access to Monastery Mentor. While Patrick’s deck isn’t exactly that – or at least has moved rather far away from the Gitaxian Probe + Cabal Therapy skeleton if that’s where he started out with this one – it is a clear sign that Mentor is slowly but surely discovering its possible homes in Legacy. Also, it is a clear indicator that he delivers the necessary finishing power to deserve those spots, too.

Basically what Patrick has crafted here is a very traditional control deck – in fact, it looks a lot like EsperBlade without the Stoneforge Mystic package, something to think about given the weekend’s results – with lots of removal, countermagic, some discard and a lot of card advantage between the four planeswalkers and three Dig Through Time.

A traditional control deck that gains nearly a fake-combo finish thanks to the Mentor, though. If you drop Mentor with a decently-filled hand and five or six mana on the table, there’s a decent chance this next turn is the last relevant one the opponent is ever getting after all. That’s quite the nice finisher for only paying three mana, don’t you think?

General Impressions

Moving away from what’s best and what’s worst, let’s take a step back think a little about the state of the metagame. This Top 32 included fifteen different archetypes, which is more variety than you would reasonably expect from an Eternal format that has actually been played competitively for such a long time. Even if we merge all the Delver decks together as being essentially the same, that still leaves us with thirteen different archetypes, a respectable place to be in my opinion.

There are only two things that I could see being perceived as problematic – aside from color balance issues and the unending Brainstorm hate campaign – is the types of archetypes that make up the top of the Legacy metagame.

In the Top Eight we had Storm, Omni-Tell, Reanimator, Lands, Temur Delver, Grixis Delver, Death and Taxes, and Esper Stoneblade. That’s three fully linear combo decks, a combo-Prison deck (Lands), a Prison-aggro deck (Death and Taxes), a control deck and three tempo decks. In the Top 32 overall, we see the same kind of trend continue with twelve combo decks (assuming you count Infect) and five Prison decks making sure the two traditionally most-hated archetypes in the game make up the majority of the format. Now I don’t think this is actually a problem because none of them is degenerate enough to actually remove fun and interactive games from the format, but it is something to be aware of as it is a very strong indicator of what kinds of decks it might even make sense to bring to this format (and a reasonable explanation for Burn’s underwhelming weekend).

The one thing I actually find disappointing is that while the combo, control, and Prison decks show a wide variety of choices for builds under the umbrella of each macro-archetype, the tempo decks are all based on Delver of Secrets (unless you count Infect as a tempo deck). Admittedly it shouldn’t be surprising that a flying Wild Nacatl for a single blue mana is the unifying core creature among the closest thing to aggressive decks this format will permit, but I can’t help but find it a sad state of affairs. Though maybe it’s just because I hate the stupid bug…

Closing Thoughts

I really don’t think we can reasonably claim that Legacy is broken, non-interactive, or dominated by a single deck or archetype at this point. After all, I very much expected for Dig Through Time to finally exercise its dominance at this point, and so far that just hasn’t happened yet.

There’s some need to look out for the percentage of combo decks in the metagame and we should keep an eye on Grixis Delver, as it has both the number of players and the performance numbers at this point to make a push for being considered the best deck in the format – but this is only a single event. If it can keep these performances up in the long run, we might have to look at doing something about that – but until then I don’t think we can reasonably argue the format is unhealthy outside of pointless arguments about color representation. If anything needs to be done about the format, it’s because we the players prefer a different kind of format, not for pure balance reasons.

What I found when analyzing the Open Series in Washington DC was a lot of high-powered, skill-based, highly-interactive Magic going on… and that’s what I want this game to be about. Raw power, meaningful decisions, and the dance of death between two players wielding ridiculously mean weapons.

Um, yeah, don’t take that last thought literally, please…

In closing, I have two questions for you: first, for me personally, how did you like this somewhat different approach to post-tournament analysis? What could I or should I have done that I didn’t do, and what could I have done better? And second, I’d really enjoy gauging a reaction from more than just those players invested enough to actually discuss it on The Source and join in the endless B&R discussions: what do you, my dear readers, think of the current state of Legacy? Is this a fine format, or should we petition WotC to do something to shake things up? I’m genuinely interested, so fire away!