How To Get Into Legacy, Part 2

Do you want to be able to play in SCG Legacy Opens when the Open Series comes to your area? Then be sure to read the next part of Drew’s series on how to get into the format!

Last week I went over the major staples of Legacy as a format. For those of you looking to build your Legacy collections from Standard staples, cash, and bubblegum, though, there’s a little more to it than "go get yourself some Revised dual lands." That’s what I want to talk about today.

One of Legacy’s major upsides is the lack of deck obsolescence—that is, the deck you’re playing now will probably be just fine in a year or two. If you’re used to the constant churn of Standard sets and staples, you’re very familiar with mythics quadrupling in price overnight as well as the chase rare of a set seeing almost no play after the next fall set gets released. In their respective hearts, Standard is novel and swingy, while Legacy is knowable and stable. Somehow Legacy gameplay still filled with adrenaline, and that’s part of why people want to play.

People don’t want to buy cards that they aren’t going to use for months. I will never tell you to invest hundreds of dollars into cards that you can’t put into a deck and play with that evening. Here is a quick checklist of exactly how not to get into Legacy:

  • Sell all of your non-Legacy cards—after all, you’re just going to play Legacy now!
  • Buy as much of the best deck from dealers as you can.
  • Save money until you can buy the rest of the cards.
  • Slowly drift away from your community of friends because you don’t play anymore—you don’t have the cards for Constructed, and you don’t want to spend $15 on a draft when you could save that $15 for another card in your deck.
  • Get lonely, question why you’re doing this, sell the cards you do have for a fraction of their value, and buy back some of your Standard collection.
  • Hate Legacy because good god is it wickedly overpriced. How does anyone even get started?

There are a number of bad underlying assumptions in that roadmap. Let’s start with the most popular one:

False Premise #1: If you’re not playing the best deck, you might as well not play.

A lot of people think that if they can’t play Shardless BUG, RUG Delver, U/W/R Delver, Storm, Show and Tell, or Esper Deathblade, they don’t stand a chance. After all, Legacy is a format with a lot of expensive cards and people who have been playing for a long time. How can someone playing on a budget expect to win matches against the guy with the Japanese foil Polluted Deltas and English Beta Underground Seas?

Legacy nouveaus get told constantly that Legacy is about combo and blue decks, that both of those macro-archetypes are Super Powerful, and that most decks Don’t Stand A Chance.

Then you watch a Burn player utterly destroy a Shardless BUG opponent and realize that even the really expensive decks have fundamental weaknesses.

Then someone tells you that this particular Burn deck was actually more expensive because those Summer Mountains cost $300 each. Jeez.

Maybe the most expensive deck doesn’t always win, you think. But wait . . .

False Premise #2: Budget decks aren’t fun to play.

Counterpoint: The first time you cast Giant Growth to effectively counter a Shock.

Counterpoint: The first time you cast Scaled Wurm and it was bigger than your friend’s Shivan Dragon.

Counterpoint: Every draft deck costs $15.

Counterpoint: The most played cards may be the best at what they do, but there are near-replacements for almost anything.

Counterpoint: The first time you beat someone whose deck cost two orders of magnitude more than yours and you needed the specific game text on your $0.50 uncommon to do it.

Counterpoint: The look in Patrick Sullivan eyes when he casts a $1.50 so-heavily-played-the-border-is-white Fireblast to kill a tapped-out opponent with lethal damage on board and Umezawa’s Jitte in play.

I could go on. Budget decks aren’t the problem. You don’t get to be as versatile when you’re on a budget, but you can still get a real taste of what’s going on. You don’t get to play free disruption and the best creatures and perfect mana and sideboard Umezawa’s Jitte just because, but you will get enough of a taste of Legacy that you’ll want stay with it. You’ll want to build a collection that lets you put $30 cards in your sideboard just because.

False Premise #3: Getting into Legacy is just about owning the expensive cards.

The thing that everyone misses is that you actually have two goals that should converge. The first one—the one that everyone talks about—is building The Legacy Collection. It’s got fetches and duals and Tarmogoyfs and Dark Confidants and Stoneforge Mystics and random old cards from like Legends or something, and is that a Moat? And some random planeswalkers that might be good like Garruk Relentless and Tombstalker and everything else. Yeah, that’s what getting into Legacy is all about.

It is incredibly empowering to flip through a long box and think to yourself, "What do I want to play this weekend?" It is also emotionally powerful to flip through that same long box, stare at your set of Volcanic Islands, and remember the day that you did well enough with your Legacy deck to win those dual lands.

And that brings us to the second part of getting into Legacy: you should learn the format.

You can watch coverage and streams to your heart’s content, and all of those resources are great. I wish I had them when I was learning the format. You can do endless amounts of research nowadays.

As a direct result of Legacy’s resounding success on the SCG Open Series circuit, people are creating and supporting their own local Legacy communities. Watching isn’t enough—the game is made to be played.

There are two fundamental ways to get started playing Legacy if you don’t have an unlimited amount of cash to spend on your collection:

The first way is to borrow a deck from someone in the community. Many local Legacy communities have people with extensive collections who want to see the format grow. They know that newcomers are unlikely to have cards, so they’ll likely be willing to loan you a deck. It may not be the exact deck you envision yourself playing for the rest of your life, but that’s okay.

Find the group of people who "are" your local Legacy community. If you’re willing to listen, they have a lot to teach you. Prove yourself to be a person of good character, strong morals, worthy of trust, and willing to quiet down and learn. Ask some questions about how to best play the deck, but mostly experiment. Accept that you’ll make mistakes, but know that there are people who want you to succeed.

Don’t focus on looking smart. Focus on the experience. If you come from a Modern background, you may find yourself activating your fetch lands at the end of your opponent’s turn. Once you play a deck with Sensei’s Divining Top or Brainstorm, you will soon learn why that heuristic doesn’t work in Legacy.

You’ll learn a ton of different things—tiny little things—that you’ll carry with you. You’ll learn how to cast Brainstorm for value and how to Brainstorm against discard spells. You’ll learn how to sequence your creatures and discard spells against combo decks, against control decks, and against midrange decks. You’ll learn how frustrating a 1/1 Mother of Runes can be.

You’ll get killed on turn 1 at some point, but it won’t matter. You’ll see a person across from you who shuffles their deck before every match hoping that this is the time where they get to create that shining memory of a game where they played 100% of the cards, where they achieved perfection. They want to be Catfish Hunter, Mark Buehrle, Don Larsen in the World Series. No one remembers who their opponents were, and no one cares. People remember perfection. The Devil Rays? Well, that was just one loss in a 162-game season. Someday you’ll get your chances to be Felix Hernandez.

It is a romantic and tidy path to be swept up into the waiting arms of a supportive local Legacy community. You’ll become part of it, winning format staples here and there and loaning them out to friends as you all come together to help everyone build the decks that they want to play on Sunday. It’s a beautiful thing, one that I benefitted from tremendously over the first couple of years that I played Legacy.

Whatever I have done since 2010 I would not have been able to do without the support of Northern Virginia’s Legacy players. It is fair to say that I would not have succeeded without the ardent support of David Gearhart, Alix and Jesse Hatfield, Anwar Ahmad, Jesse Krieger, Dan Signorini, Damon Whitby, Eric Copenhaver, and so many others. I hope that you, dear reader, may someday find a group of people willing to tutor you so much that you someday feel comfortable taking on the mantle of professor.

For many people, though, that sort of welcome isn’t available. And the second path is one that this article series will lay out in full detail.

The second path is a three-step cycle:

Step 1: Build a Legacy deck.

Step 2: Play Legacy with it.

Step 3: Improve it.

Implicit in all of this advice is the understanding that you are constrained by fiscal realities. That is why I want this series to have several parts—I want to show you how this model can translate into a broader collection-oriented pattern of behavior while still allowing you to play Legacy at every step along the way. I want to provide price-oriented breakdowns of decks, natural starting points, and your range of end points.

Think of getting into Legacy as a mastery tree. In the beginning, you have your (fairly weak) skill. Maybe it’s elemental, maybe it’s dark, maybe it’s holy. Whatever it is, you need to understand how to orient your strategy around the strengths and weaknesses of this thing. It’s really important that you understand how this skill impacts gameplay. You spend time understanding how aggressive or defensive your mastery is going to be, and you eventually grasp the ins and outs of this basic strategic tenet.

Then you get access to the next tier of skills, and you can branch out a bit. You gain access to more creative expression and personalization, and you start making your approach yours. You keep your understanding of your strategic approach, but you also begin to create your own style of play within those strengths and weaknesses.

By the time you own enough cards to build the best version of the deck you want to play, you’re already going to know how to play it. You’ve been playing it since before you owned all the cards to build it. Weaker versions for sure, but now that you have everything you want, you know exactly what you’re doing.

People like to tell Legacy nouveaus to "buy a deck and learn it really well." This would be great advice if it weren’t a catch-22. You see, how are you supposed to do the first thing—"buy a deck"—without knowing how to build it? How are you supposed to know what card choices are right, which colors you should be playing, whether this card or that card is better, and what your sideboard should look like?

Then again, how are you supposed to learn all of that information without playing with it first? It’s a conundrum and one that no one ever answers. So let me answer it for you.

The way to get into Legacy is to build a deck that you enjoy playing and that emphasizes the powerful parts of your archetypal strategy. As your budget allows, improve it and keep playing with it. By the time you own the entire deck, you will understand how to build it in a variety of contexts.

Let’s say you love combo decks. You want powerful cantrips and awesome cards and fireworks, lots of fireworks. Your starting skill—the card you’re going to build your collection around—is Lion’s Eye Diamond.

I’m not kidding. Lion’s Eye Diamond is the linchpin of a lot of different Legacy combo decks. Some of them cast ten spells in a turn, and some of them can win without casting a single spell all game. No matter which one you start out with, Lion’s Eye Diamond is their natural intersection.

So you start out with a set of Lion’s Eye Diamonds. You learn that the card is not in fact as good as you think it is. You learn that part of adding the mana to your mana pool is discarding your hand so you can’t cast any of the cards currently in your hand with Lion’s Eye Diamond mana.

You start off with straightforward synergies: Lion’s Eye Diamond for RRR and Faithless Looting. Cards with dredge would rather be in your graveyard than in your hand. Cards like Narcomoeba would rather go from your deck to your graveyard than from your deck to your hand. Things make sense.

You learn about tutors and Lion’s Eye Diamond and how Infernal Tutor and Lion’s Eye Diamond are so good together. Lion’s Eye Diamond makes you hellbent, Infernal Tutor finds a card, and the three mana from Lion’s Eye Diamond helps you cast it. This makes sense.

You learn about Burning Wish. You learn how to build a Burning Wish sideboard, and you delight in the notion that you can Wish for any monocolored card—after all, if you have Lotus Petal and Lion’s Eye Diamond, how much more color fixing do you need? You already understand the "cast my card, hold priority, activate Lion’s Eye Diamond for [color]" phrasing. Your ability to plan out your entire turn has improved. You know what you’re going to tutor for before you cast your Infernal Tutor or Burning Wish. You don’t hesitate when you activate Lion’s Eye Diamond anymore.

You learn about Goblin Welder, Painter’s Servant, and Grindstone. You think about how you can win the game with just a Goblin Welder, Grindstone, and Lion’s Eye Diamond as long as you have a Painter’s Servant in your hand. You dream of casting Goblin Welder on turn 1, casting Grindstone on turn 2, and following up with Lion’s Eye Diamond. You double check your intuition.

You activate Lion’s Eye Diamond, discarding Painter’s Servant. You use your Diamond mana to activate Grindstone, but you hold priority—you’ve gotten better at communicating exactly what’s going on lately. You activate Goblin Welder, swapping out Grindstone and Painter’s Servant. You name a color.

Your opponent’s deck disappears.

They die in their draw step.

Bit by bit, you get into Legacy. Your collection grows, and your understanding grows. You take a trip down memory lane, playing Charbelcher even though you could play your Storm deck. You understand that the recent spike in counter-light fair decks favors Goblin Charbelcher. You flip through your long box, pulling out your set of Chrome Moxes. Hello, old friend. It’s really good to see you once again.

So tell me: what sort of journey would you like to go on next week?

Until then,

Drew Levin

@drewlevin on Twitter