People ask me how to get into Legacy more than any other question. They understand that the games are incredibly fun, the format is diverse yet balanced, and the options are almost endless. But how does someone go about "becoming" a human being who plays Legacy? Well, it depends on your starting point.
Maybe you’re a Standard player with a lot of mythic staples and a budding Modern collection.
Maybe you’re a Modern aficionado who owns (the?) four Modern decks and wants a more interesting, entertaining, and downright fun experience playing this game.
Maybe you’re a professional with a decent amount of disposable income but want to know how best to spend it so that you can play the kinds of decks you want.
Maybe you’re a student who can’t afford a single card but love the game and want to play it as much as humanly possible.
All of you can play Legacy. Your experiences playing the format will be vastly different to be sure, but you can all play. The primary constraint on your ability to play a format that stretches over twenty-odd years of sets will be how easy it is for you to get your hands on older out-of-print cards. After all, this is a collectible card game.
First, let’s talk about what these older cards are and why you should care about them.
Dual Lands & Fetch Lands
Price range: $60-200 for Revised dual lands, with price variation stemming from color pairings and condition.
People play dual lands instead of any other two-color lands because they can be found by fetch lands, giving you as many effective copies of your dual lands as you want for the cost of one life per land.
The standard-issue rules text of fetch lands, however, is nearly as important as fetch lands’ ability to find dual lands. Decks play a lot of fetch lands not just because they want to find their dual lands more reliably but also because they need to shuffle away their two worst cards after a Brainstorm.
If you want to play most decks in Legacy, you’ll end up coming across lists with a lot of these. They are on the reserved list, which is a piece of ancient history that basically means that these suckers (and many others) aren’t getting reprinted ever again. Hate it or hate it, the reserved list is here to stay.
The prominent role of fetch lands and dual lands in Legacy mana bases means that dual lands are always going to be the most prohibitive part of Legacy. It means that multicolored decks that rely on a lot of dual lands are going to be some of the most expensive, and it means that dual lands are going to be tough to trade for at a reasonable price.
I want to go on a bit of a tangent here to discuss how to actually go about trading for dual lands. I plan on taking my sweet time with this tangent, as I also want to touch on how this phenomenon changes traditional notions of "metagaming" when it comes to Legacy.
~*~*Tangent in which I acknowledge that this is a trading card game~*~*
Since people don’t want to give up their dual lands very often, it’s hard to "get into" dual lands and roughly as hard to reasonably "get out of" dual lands. You don’t want to trade a dual land for four Sphinx’s Revelations since you know your dual land is always going to be $100 and that set of Revelations is going to depreciate pretty severely once they rotate.
Whether you bought your dual lands outright or traded into them, you don’t want to lose a ton of value on a trade where you’re giving up dual lands. So you sit on your Revised duals, waiting for the right deal to come along. What does the "right" deal look like? It’s a bit complicated.
Trading expensive cards between formats is difficult because of the nature of Standard rotations. Highly playable Standard mythic rares tend to fluctuate quite a bit while they’re Standard legal. Once they rotate, they almost always go down.
If you’re a Standard player, that’s okay. You can trade one set’s mythics for another set’s mythics, always pushing back the event horizon of your collection’s depreciation. But what happens when you want to trade cards with someone who doesn’t care about Standard?
A lot of the time Modern players don’t want Standard cards for their current price. Their Modern collection isn’t subject to the same fluctuations as Standard collections, so they have little incentive to take on highly unstable assets like Standard mythics. As a result, the person with the more stable (read: older) cards in an interaction is capable of dictating the terms of a trade. They don’t need to make the trade right now, whereas maybe the Standard mythic owner does.
If you’re looking to get into trading, this inter-format trade drop-off is why cards like shock lands are uniquely desirable for people who love to trade—their price tag holds steady whether you’re trading with a Standard player or a Modern player.
Right now you can reasonably trade your Standard mythics into shock lands. Shock lands are Modern staples, and they always will be. They’re not going to lose their value once Return to Ravnica rotates, and it’s likely that they’ll go up some more over time. So what do you do from there?
You trade shock lands for Modern staples of course. Look for Dark Confidants, Vendilion Cliques, and so on—cards that people might reasonably trade into shock lands. It’s not cheap, but Dark Confidant and Vendilion Clique aren’t going down in price any time soon.
From there you can trade at more or less face value with someone who has dual lands. If this sounds daunting, I’m sorry—you could also just save $400 and buy a set of any non Underground Sea dual land.
To bring this full circle: imagine that you’re the person with the dual lands. You’ve had fun playing Sneak and Show, but now you really want to play Storm. You want to turn three of your Volcanic Islands into two Underground Seas and a Tropical Island. Sounds simple, right?
Except maybe you don’t live near someone who has those cards. Or maybe they have them and like playing their Shardless BUG deck.
Your options are in descending order of desirability:
1. Wait for the "right" trade partner.
2. Trade in your cards to an established buyer and use that credit to purchase the cards you want.
3. Save up for more dual lands and keep playing your set of Volcanic Islands in the meantime.
4. Literally eat your cards.
5. Go through the arduous process of trading your dual lands into desirable Modern and Legacy staples that are available locally and then still eventually #1.
As you can imagine, there isn’t a ton of liquidity in the Legacy card marketplace except through dealers. Availability is a very real issue, and people have demonstrated a strong willingness to pay for the convenience of a trade partner that will accept any card and give you any other card if the price is right.
That willingness—full disclosure—is what keeps me employed as a writer for this fine website. The SCG Open Series exists because people are willing to pay what amounts to a finder’s fee every time they sell their cards to the dealer booth and buy new cards with their 125% trade-in credit. People don’t do it because they like losing money; they do it because it’s way, way more difficult and time consuming to find the optimal trade partner. Besides, since everyone values their time, it’s unlikely to be worth a lot of people’s time to wander around finding dual lands for trade at the right price and for the right things.
As a result, people tend to play "their deck" until they want to switch decks. Once they decide to switch decks, people tend to make major collection trades through a reliable dealer who has what they want when they want it.
This creates a Legacy metagame with considerable diversity (due to budget, personal taste, and local availability) while also being somewhat stagnant (due primarily to lack of market liquidity).
~*~*End tangent on trading card game, back to strategy content*~*~
So let’s say you’re not interested in dealing with dual lands. Does that mean you can’t play Legacy? Not by a long shot! Let’s talk about the secondary staple of Legacy.
Price range: $50-75 depending on condition, although you can pay $120 for a foil DCI promo if you want to ball hard.
Wasteland defines monocolored decks. You need a good reason to not play Wasteland in any deck that wants to attack for the win, and there are plenty of decks that don’t want to attack that still want Wasteland.
Wasteland is like Lightning Bolt or Thoughtseize—it’s the best at what it does. Lightning Bolt is the best and most versatile burn spell; Thoughtseize is the best and most versatile discard spell. You want burn spells and discard spells.
Wasteland is the best way to prolong the early game.
Prolonging the early game is really important because the power level of combo decks compresses the time frame in which decks can reasonably expect to interact. In short, if you’re not doing something relevant on turns 1 through 3, you’re dying.
Wasteland offers you the ability to from time to time just play turns 1 through 3 for an entire game. If your deck is better at turns 1 through 3 than your opponent’s deck, you’re a favorite to win. After all, they may have Jace, the Mind Sculptor in their deck, but they have to get to four mana to cast it!
Wasteland is especially strong because the core elements of many Legacy mana bases are the aforementioned Revised duals. Wasteland can do more than simply trade a land drop for a land drop—it can cut someone off of one of their colors. In some cases it will simply knock them out of the game!
The reason why Wasteland can create huge returns is because Legacy mana bases are unstable by necessity. If you’re optimizing your deck for the first few turns of the game, you want to have access to all of your colors, and you don’t want to get flooded. This means playing more dual lands and fewer total lands—a recipe for disaster against Wasteland.
Some people attempt to mitigate Wasteland’s impact by playing some number of basic lands, but this is very often a misguided decision. If your deck cannot function entirely off of basic lands, you should strongly consider their role in your deck. Protecting against Blood Moon is one thing, but if you’re playing a basic land just so you can fetch it when they have Wasteland, what’s your second step?
If you don’t have another basic land in your three-color deck, are you just going to fetch Island, Bayou and get Wastelanded off of two colors? Wouldn’t you be better off fetching Underground Sea and Tropical Island, getting either Wastelanded, and being able to cast Brainstorm or Ponder anyway?
My point is not to provide a primer on how to build a manabase with Wasteland in mind; it is to illustrate how few people have a real plan against Wasteland. Since Wasteland is arguably Legacy’s most flexible card, you are likely to play against it. You should strongly consider playing with it. If you want to get into Legacy, this is one of the best cards with which to start your collection.
Once you’ve established your collection a bit, you’re going to want to play one of Legacy’s famous blue midrange/control decks. What ties all of them together?
Price range: $60-80 depending on condition.
Force of Will is the glue that holds Legacy together. Any outlaw can roll up to a tournament with Lion’s Eye Diamond, Show and Tell, Reanimate, or Glimpse of Nature, so it’s up to the sheriffs and their Force of Wills to hold combo maniacs at bay. Force of Will is a weak card on its face, but it is the only reliable counterspell that can be cast on your opponent’s first turn. In a format that is filled with a huge range of powerful spells, Force of Will is your catchall answer. No tempo or control deck is viable without Force of Will. What else goes in decks with Force of Will?
Force of Will requires a lot of other blue cards. Since Force of Will wants to be cast on turns 1 through 3, it is strongest with Brainstorm. Brainstorm digs three cards deeper on a crucial early turn, giving you more looks at a potentially game-saving Force of Will. Brainstorm goes well with fetch lands, and fetch lands go well with dual lands.
If you’re interested in buying a deck all at once, you may well need Force of Wills. It is unlikely that your first Legacy deck will have Force of Will in it, though, as it is seldom the most expensive card on your decklist. Wasteland, on the other hand, is often the most expensive card in a monochrome deck.
So what does a path forward look like? As I mentioned earlier, different types of players will be able to approach the format differently. This is where I turn it over to you, dear reader.
Who are you?
I could list off a number of "people types" with whom I’m familiar: the broke student, the time-strapped but cash-available professional, the Standard FNM player who wants to play local Legacy tournaments, the Modern collection-wielding player who wants to play in Sunday Legacy Opens, and so on.
But I want to make the next few weeks of articles as relevant as possible to you. Give me an idea of what to expect.
What does success look like when you talk about "getting into Legacy?" When you consider the process of building a deck, do you view it as a journey toward acquiring cards for a single deck or as a longer process of getting cards that go in your play style’s "type of deck?" That is, are you trying to get all the cards for exactly a Jund deck or do you want to play black disruption decks until you’ve pieced together a collection that can build a Jund deck?
How long have you been playing?
What does your collection look like? Is it yours or do you pool cards with friends?
Are your expectations realistic?