Getting Back In

Get up to speed on the current Legacy metagame before SCG Open Series: Milwaukee this weekend as Carsten Kotter returns to Magic and writing articles.

Hello everybody! Sorry about my unannounced absence, but I had to take a little time off to make a mess out of my university work. I hope you haven’t missed me too much. There’s good news though—I now have the time to delve back into my favorite game, and it seems there’s quite a bit for me to catch up with between a Legacy Grand Prix, multiple SCG Legacy Opens, and a Pro Tour and some Grand Prix in formats I might not play but still like to at least have a working knowledge of.

Given my proclivities, I’ll obviously focus on getting up to speed in Legacy first, and what I’ll invite you to do today is join my examination of where the format has moved during my absence. We’ll see which decks have risen to prominence since January and what the metagame as a whole looks like right now, and I’ll also talk about how I’d consider attacking the format as it presents itself so far. Consider this my "State of the Format" address if you will. There’s much to do and little space, so let’s get started!

The Big One: Grand Prix Paris

If you remember how much I love U/W Control, you can probably imagine the huge smile that spread across my face when I realized Miracles was the breakout story of this particular tournament. Three copies in the Top 8 and three of the five undefeated spots on day 1 (admittedly the same three players that made Top 8, but still)? That’s quite an achievement for a deck that sees a reasonably small amount of play and generally fights with round time issues in large tournaments. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to see true control succeed again, especially because it’s probably what I would’ve brought if I could’ve made it to the tournament.

In spite of this impressive performance, however, Miracles didn’t manage to clinch the win. That honor went to Javier Dominguez’s BUG Delver deck—interestingly enough, the only deck in the Top 8 that refuses to conform to the True-Name Nemesis versus ignore TNN metagame that many writers, myself included, expected to develop after the card was released last fall.

His list is interesting, looking a lot more like Blue Jund than the typical Team America style BUG Delver deck. Instead of going with the beatdown power of Tombstalker or the inevitability of True-Name Nemesis himself, Javier incorporated Dark Confidant and Liliana of the Veil to give the deck added late game staying power while dodging much of the True-Name hate his opponents likely brought in, expecting a more traditional set up. Given the result and his Top 8 matchups—neither Reanimator nor Miracles would really have cared about Nemesis, but both hate facing Liliana of the Veil —his slick metagame move certainly paid off, and I can’t help but wonder if we’ll see this kind of angling for position in the Nemesis fight crop up for years to come.

Outside of Javier’s bold move however, the GP Paris Top 8 paints a picture of the format that looks a lot like what people expected to happen due to True-Name Nemesis. The successful decks either play the card or are archetypes that could care less about it being in play, and that trend continues throughout the Top 16, with only Sveinung Noding’s Birthing Pod Nic Fit deck having neither True-Name nor an obvious way to go over the top of it plus Equipment other than just Podding up too much value for the Nemesis to race it—even the lone RUG Delver deck is playing two mini Progenitus.

One deck I’d like to single out from the Top 16 is Kaspar Euser’s Dark Depths deck, which he also piloted to an undefeated record on day 1. That list is definitely something I haven’t seen before:

While Exploration is probably what led to it being labeled a Lands deck, understanding the deck in that way seems like a mistake to me since it doesn’t function at all similarly. Lands wants to grind and abuse Life from the Loam in the long run to lock the opponent under Wasteland recursion and Rishadan Port, while Kaspar’s deck seems to be hellbent on operating as a combo-control deck.

Using only Force of Will for countermagic and a triplet of Supreme Verdict to Intuition up when needed as his only form of creature removal, he clearly isn’t set up to control the game in the long run. Instead, a massive tutor count of Crop Rotation, Intuition and Living Wish with a lot of utility targets gives him the ability to delay the inevitable just a lit bit longer when necessary or to pull off his own plan A—hit you in the face with Marit Lage—very consistently when not threatened.

This deck is my pick for "possibly utterly amazing deck that nobody has picked up simply because it looks so strange" to come out of this Grand Prix. I’ll be sure to slam at least a couple of testing games with it soon to figure out if someone finally managed to crack the code concerning the Dark DepthsThespian’s Stage combo.

The Other Side Of The Pond: Two Months Of Legacy Opens

On the SCG Open Series, the thing that jumps out the most to me is the rise of BUG Delver and the fall of RUG Delver. The most played and successful deck for a while, RUG Delver has been pushed off that pedestal. Sure, the deck can still perform well, as Stephen Mann’s win with it shows, but it isn’t even close to putting up the numbers it did in the past as far as taking slots in Top 16s is concerned. Instead, we’re seeing different iterations of BUG Delver doing really well, similar to how GP Paris had a number of successful BUG lists but only a single RUG list in the Top 16 (and a quite unusual one at that). Is it possible that the reign of Stifle, Lightning Bolt, and Nimble Mongoose is finally over?

It sure looks like it and it mirrors what has been going on in my own local metagame. Imagine my surprise when I finally made it to our local events again this week and saw that most of our dedicated tempo players had switched to either Miracles or combo instead. Their answer when I asked what had prompted the change? "Man, I’m so sick of trying to beat True-Name Nemesis in a fair fight." It seems like the Merfolk Rogue that could is still doing work shaping the metagame even now that the hype has died down.

Luckily, the Open Series results still paint a reasonably pretty picture of Legacy as whole. U/W Miracles hasn’t made as much of a dent in the US as it did in Paris—at least so far—and while there’s a lot of blue around, the Top 16 results still show a lot of variety and spice that makes Legacy such an awesome format.

Painter, Lands, various Delver and Stoneforge decks, Death and Taxes, Jund, a multitude of different combo decks, Miracles, and even sweet old-school decks like Goblins have all been putting up solid results. A new take on BUG Control, Mono-Green 12-Post, Infect, and Food Chain have even come out of the left field to make sure we see some unexpected faces raking in the prizes. I for one would not have bet on Moment’s Peace and Manipulate Fate making it to the elimination rounds—that’s for sure.

Drawing Conclusions

Now that I have taken an overarching look at what has been going on while I was away, it is time to come to some conclusions about the metagame so we can formulate a strategy for fighting it. Let’s make a list, shall we?

  • BUG is the color combination on the rise. Between Abrupt Decay, Deathrite Shaman, and Liliana of the Veil, it has received a lot of awesome cards lately, and the fact that Golgari Charm and Liliana are two of the best answers to True-Name Nemesis certainly helps it out too.
  • Most decks still rely heavily on nonbasic lands to fuel their difficult mana requirements, as well as in some cases constituting a major part of the game plan (see Cloudpost, Dark Depths).
  • There are fewer fair decks, especially RUG, than we’ve seen in the past. Even a lot of the unexpected decks doing well are unusual combo decks that can both threaten reasonably fast kills and grind with the best of them.
  • As a result of BUG replacing RUG and combo going strong, the format has strangely both slowed down and sped up at the same time. The fair decks overall have been getting slower as the tempo decks have reduced their closing speed, while the rise of combo means many more games actually might end by turn 3 or 4.
  • Graveyard shenanigans are definitely on the rise. Reanimator is all over the place, Dredge has reared its head again, and even Life from the Loam is experiencing a minor resurgence.
  • The rumors of the death of Legacy—or nonblue Legacy—as a result of True-Name Nemesis have been vastly exaggerated. It clearly has had an important impact on the metagame, but it clearly isn’t dominating the format completely as many of us feared.

Measures To Take

So how do you take on this kind of format? Once again, what I like to do in these situations is to make a list of what I need my deck to be able to do and which angles of attack are particularly worth exploiting.

  • You don’t need to play True-Name Nemesis, but you need a plan for it. Liliana of the Veil and Terminus seem to be rapidly establishing themselves as the most efficient and flexible answers to the best Invisible Stalker ever, meaning if you want to play fair you probably want to run either black cards in your deck, be on Miracles, or heavily prey on another weakness TNN decks have.
  • One such weakness would be the mana base. In spite of Imperial Painter’s success, people still seem to not respect nonbasic hate enough. Incorporating some form of punishment for nonbasics, from simply running Wasteland to the nuclear option of Blood Moon, in any deck that doesn’t plan to just kill them seems close to necessary right now, if only because you lose out on so many free wins otherwise.
  • Conversely, I want my deck to be largely immune to such shenanigans if possible, as giving your opponent access to "2R: You win the game" about one round per tournament doesn’t seem like the greatest plan ever.
  • If you aren’t planning to win by turn 2 to 3, graveyard hate seems like a must.
  • Removal has become more likely to turn out to be a liability as the percentage of combo-esque decks has risen. For the moment, however, I still feel the traditional way of setting up decks—prepare for fair decks in the maindeck and sideboard for combo—is still the correct one.
  • Maindeck Pyroblast a la Maxime Gilles is probably still overkill, though you’re likely to find targets in the majority of your matchups so they’re definitely defensible.
  • A fast combo deck that is good against the other combo decks should be very well positioned—that probably explains why Reanimator is doing so well actually.

What To Play

Looking over the information I’ve gathered so far, I think there are two established decks that stand out as excellent choices currently. The first one is U/W Miracles, which is what I would be playing if the long break hadn’t triggered my Storm addiction once again (I’ll include the very basic Storm list I used to take first and second place in two small local events this week at the end of this article those interested):

The reason I like this deck is its resilient mana base combined with the power of Terminus and Counterbalance. Essentially, Miracles is two decks in one: a combo-hating nearly mono-blue combo-control deck that wins by locking the opponent out of the game with the one-two punch of the Counterbalance + Sensei’s Divining Top lock and a mono-white board-control deck with an effective combo kill in Entreat the Angels.

In the maindeck, your library manipulation helps you set up whichever half of the deck you need—against a number of decks, both your angles of attack are actually live, which is pretty insane—and post-board you remove the half that doesn’t matter for cards that allow you to further the more effective game plan. You even get to dip into the nonbasic abuse plan with Blood Moon and Enlightened Tutor for added value.

The deck’s biggest flaw in the current metagame is the rise of Liliana of the Veil, which you have a lot of trouble with. That’s what Leyline of Sanctity in the sideboard is for. You actually don’t lose to Liliana’s +1—with Sensei’s Divining Top out, being empty handed usually isn’t a huge problem—but the repeated ultimate devastates you. Leyline prevents exactly that, and since you usually don’t need it before turn six, having two copies plus Enlightened Tutor should be good enough.

The other deck I like in this environment is actually Sneak and Show, maybe something along these lines:

This deck is still brutally fast and resilient and for the moment seems underrepresented in the metagame, which means people might be underprepared for it too. The maindeck counter package is chosen for variety to mess with your opponent’s head—the non Force of Will counterspells are all somewhat interchangeable anyway, and this way they’re much harder to play around—and Misdirection seems good in a metagame with more Hymn to Tourach floating around. Having six free protection spells that always work is excellent if you’re trying to be fast.

What I particularly like about Sneak and Show is that it gets to play with Blood Moon and Leyline of Sanctity post-board and it ignores graveyard hate and can pack some of its own. Essentially, you’re a fast and scary combo deck with Force of Will game 1 and get to add a couple of broken hate pieces for free post-board instead of having to dilute your deck with actual answers simply because there isn’t any utterly devastating hate at two or less mana. The only thing I’d really pray to dodge with this list is Death and Taxes, and even then you can easily just get lucky.

These two are obviously far from the only decks to play right now—if the results prove anything, it’s that a ton of different decks have the ability to propel you to the top right now—but I really like how they take advantage of the format’s weaknesses while presenting a very strong game plan of their own instead of truly trying to be metagame decks. This is a very important facet of doing well when a lot of weird decks come out of the woodwork.

Looking Ahead

Hopefully you are just as happy with getting to read my articles again as I am to finally have time to write them. Taking stock of the format as it stands is something any invested player should do from time to time in my opinion simply to make sure you haven’t missed some important memo somewhere down the line, and that work is doubly important if you’ve been out of the loop for a while. Feel free to point out any developments I missed, observations I glossed over, or conclusions I didn’t draw. I’m still in the process of getting up to speed, after all, and the sooner I get there, the sooner you’ll get to read more of the in-depth pieces I so love to write.

Speaking of future articles, if there are any particular subjects you’d like to see covered or issues with the current format that need to be addressed, feel free to let me know about them. While this game is beautifully large enough that I doubt I’ll ever run out of material to talk about, knowing exactly what you’d like to read is a big help. I’m still writing for you guys, remember?

Bonus Decklist

In spite of all the nice analysis above, clearly the deck to play is actually Storm. Why? Well, because Storm is always the stone-cold nuts, obviously!