If you know me, you know that my favorite Constructed format is Legacy. There are some odd formats from the past that I preferred just a little bit
(Extended during 1999-2000, Mirage Block Constructed, Time Spiral Block Constructed, Ravnica Block Constructed, Standard during a few moments in time), but
overall, Legacy is just the greatest.
I think a large part of it, for me, is seeing the wild diversity of the format. During the three-plus years that I was doing commentary for SCG Live, again
and again, you’d see the following pattern: There would be three or four archetypes in the Top 8 of the Standard Open, and there would be seven or eight in
the Top 8 of the Legacy Open.
In many ways, what I like so much about it is something I said a long time ago about Invasion Block Constructed: If you have an idea (and it is rational),
you can win with it.
That’s what Legacy is. A format where anything can win so long as it makes sense.
Now, being constrained by the power of the format is a reality. In Invasion Block Constructed, you had to reckon with the reality that Ravenous Rats and
Recoil were the core of one powerful deck and Flametongue Kavu and Kavu Titan were the core of another. In Legacy, you have the “format glue” of Brainstorm
and Force of Will, and then a million small titans of absurd power running around, competing for their dukedoms.
I am privileged enough to have been playing this game so long that I have a ton of the old cards. One of the things I didn’t have anymore was
Force of Will. I’d sold mine long ago, probably for about $10 each. At Patrick Sullivan’s first SCG Live, I finally bit the bullet and rebought into Force
of Will, recognizing that I was in it for good. Force of Will is one of the most recognizable old cards. There were a ton on display this weekend in Richmond.
If you’re looking for very new cards, you have only a few:
However, if you enjoy a trip back to 1997 or so, you have this:
Now, this isn’t an exhaustive list, and I didn’t include dual lands, but for an old guy like me, seeing these cards interact with new cards is just a
pleasure in and of itself. It ends up creating worlds where there are an absurd amount of card interactions. While Grizzly Bears might not see play because
it is so obviously outclassed by an incredible number of cards, I think it says something that Mother of Runes is an important and powerful card
in a format that includes Lion’s Eye Diamond, Enter the Infinite, Force of Will, and Stoneforge Mystic (among others).
A lot of people tell me that they prefer Modern. I think one of the reasons that I don’t is because in Legacy I can say this and have it be true: “Whoever
is more prepared for a matchup will win.” In Modern, it really doesn’t feel like that is true. In Legacy, it is very rare that I feel like the outcome of a
match was incorrect, either based on misplays, misunderstanding of the matchup, or being underprepared for a matchup.
Take nearly any competitive deck and tell them that they are going to be playing against one and only one specific deck, that deck can almost certainly
find the tools to beat that matchup. With a field so broad, though, and without that foreknowledge, you have to make careful choices in Legacy that
sometimes mean you lose to other decks. Importantly, though, the other archetype can do the same things in return, and the answers to answers are powerful
and legitimate. In Modern, oftentimes the hate cards simply cannot be handled, and so your fate is more commonly not in your own hands.
In Richmond, there were two major events featuring Legacy, the Season
One Invitational, with eight rounds of Legacy, and the Legacy Premier IQ, also with eight rounds of Legacy, plus the Top 8. The IQ had 222 competitors,
making it larger than most recent PTQs (before their departure), and there were a good deal of quality players in those events. A cursory scan shows that
Brian Braun-Duin, Tom Ross, Andrew Shrout, Shaheen Soorani, Christian Calcano, Chi Hoi Yim, Lauren Nolen, Eric Rill, Chris VanMeter, and Ben Wienburg were
among the competitors. This wasn’t just an obvious cakewalk.
Here was the Top 8 of the IQ after the swiss:
Death and Taxes
Temur Delver (missed Top 8 on breakers)
When we look at the lists that did well at the Invitational, we have the following:
Wow. That’s thirteen different archetypes among the top eighteen players in both events. If we go down to the next bracket down (one less win) in the IQ,
you start getting more repetition of archetypes, but you also get another five archetypes on top of it. It’s hard to say which event is a better
representation of what is doing well right now. The Invitational almost certainly had a stronger player pool, but it was a mixed format event, which
dilutes the data you can sift from the results.
It’s a hard call, but for now, what I’m going to do is privilege the results in the IQ, though only by a little, and discuss what exactly we are seeing in
Legacy right now.
Let’s strip the IQ Top 8 names out of it for now and look at the breakdown of the brackets.
Reanimator wins over Death and Taxes, 2-1
Miracles wins over Jeskai Delver, 2-0
Miracles wins over Elves, 2-0
Infect wins over Shardless Sultai, 2-0
This strikes me as fairly reasonable set of results with few surprises.
Reanimator isn’t Sneak and Show. While Karakas is still a very powerful card against Death and Taxes, Reanimator isn’t tied to a 4 Griselbrand, 4 Emrakul
package, and there are plenty of reanimation targets that are devastating for Death and Taxes. In this case, there are two reasonable non-legends to go for
(Grave Titan and Tidespout Tyrant), as well as a legend which can shake up the world (Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite). Add to this that Lotus Petal can speed
things up a great deal, and things become difficult for Death and Taxes. Then, from the board, Dread of Night and Abrupt Decay are very effective weapons
in fighting this match’s fight. Conversely, while Death and Taxes can run a great many hate cards, this version’s 75 is running the following: 2
Containment Priest, 1 Grafdigger’s Cage, 2 Rest in Peace (helped out by Enlightened Tutor). I’m not surprised to see Reanimator take this one down in split
Miracles winning 2-0 over both Jeskai Delver and Elves is hardly a surprise, either. If Elves doesn’t win right off the bat, Miracles will leverage its
classic counter-control strategy over the other deck, nuking the world with Terminus, pointing random removal at key cards, and locking the game down with
countermagic while setting up Counterbalance + Sensei’s Divining Top. Jeskai Delver has a better shot simply by potentially managing to leverage itself
into an aggro-control position (clock first, followed by protection), but the current Miracles decks are very good at fighting against that strategy. I’m
not surprised to see Elves fail to pick up a game, but Jeskai was probably a bit closer.
As for Infect over Shardless Sultai, this is the classic situation of two decks simply being poorly matched. Infect gets to enact the aggro-control
strategy that it wants to enact, but it can accomplish a kill far more quickly than Delver, and Sultai is far less good at putting up defenses. Abrupt
Decay and Force of Will are going to be trying to do a lot here, and Inkmoth Nexus and Vines of the Vastwood make this path of resistance very hard to
accomplish. I imagine this one was over quite quickly.
Reanimator wins over Miracles, 2-0
Infect wins over Miracles, 2-0
Again, I think these are pretty lopsided matchups, and the results are not surprising.
For Reanimator, you can actually create an absurd showdown incredibly early in the game, perhaps even on Turn 1. If Griselbrand gets into play, even for a
moment, the game is likely done. With Force of Will, Daze, and Thoughtseize to back it up, fighting against Counterspell, Force of Will, and the
Counterbalance lock, I’d be fairly surprised to see Miracles win.
Infect essentially is capable of the same thing, capable of putting together a game-winning showdown at an incredibly early turn. In addition, however, it
has a great deal of redundancy in its ability to deploy threats. It doesn’t need to try to create a “combo” moment right away, but it can also hang for a
long game, doing some nickel-and-diming all the way until the opponent is dead, with them on the back foot the entire time. Miracles, again, seems greatly
disadvantaged, particularly against a quality Infect player.
Reanimator wins over Infect, 2-1
While I didn’t see this match play out, I picture it being two games where each player was capable of doing something absurd, and whoever managed to
succeed first took it down. Griselbrand and Elesh Norn are particularly good here, as they can both draw cards with less fear of punishment (Infect usually
struggles to deal much in the way of actual damage, though it can) and can completely lock out the game while in play. I imagine this could have easily
gone the other way.
Now, let’s look at the specific Top 8 lists.
I’ve always liked this list, ever since I first saw GerryT piloting a version a few years ago. Chi Hoi Yim’s build is fairly conservative, trying to
maximize the powerful and versatile spells in the deck. Some of the grinding turns that this deck is capable of are pretty impressive, with a Shardless
Agent potentially representing a great deal of card advantage except for in those odd circumstances where you spin the wheel and find an Abrupt Decay with
an empty board. Dig Through Time is obviously a staple in the format now, but this deck is so good at using its resources that it can still afford to run
some despite competition with Deathrite Shaman.
Notion Thief in the sideboard can accomplish some gross game stealing. I never know if it is actually correct, but I really do love it when I see it. I
also really like seeing some of the other hateful cards in the board: Null Rod, Arcane Laboratory, and Night of Souls’ Betrayal are all cards that can shut
out an opponent, a game plan that I generally
The first time we really saw this deck shine was in the hands of Erik Smith, who essentially rewrote Legacy for a short while after this deck’s debut. This
is a deck that is all about value, and in looking at Trovato’s list, there are no real surprises here. Containment Priest is the only truly new inclusion,
and I’m sure it did a great deal of work for Trovato against all manner of unfair decks. Whenever I see these lists, I always like access to Stifle, though
that could be me being overly concerned with both Storm and Death and Taxes.
The first time we really saw this deck shine was in the hands of Erik Smith, who essentially rewrote Legacy for a short while after this deck’s debut. This
Hare runs two primary gameplans: Glimpse of Nature into an absurd board position, or Natural Order something obscene into play quickly. Sometimes it will
do one on its way to the other, and rarely it will just plink away at the life total with a bunch of dorks.
This is a really exciting surprise, potentially locking out many games, I’m sure. It isn’t unreasonable for a Legacy deck to have to string together two
cards to answer Ruric Thar, whether it is a search spell and then a Swords to Plowshares or a pair of Lightning Bolt. Either way, some decks will have had
enough chunks torn out of their life total that they can’t manage it. Pity the poor combo deck who has to answer this card early. (Or don’t; it’s okay to
hate on combo decks.)
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 3 Serra Avenger
- 1 Aven Mindcensor
- 3 Flickerwisp
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 2 Mirran Crusader
- 3 Phyrexian Revoker
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 1 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
- 1 Spirit of the Labyrinth
- 1 Containment Priest
Ah, Death and Taxes.
There are some minor elements of Jessie Butler’s list that are slightly different than the norm. He is running one less land, eschewing the Horizon Canopy
in favor of another spell. I’m still waffling on whether 3 Phyrexian Revoker is correct or not – opinions on this one vary greatly – but it makes sense to
me if you expect a lot of Temur Delver.
I absolutely love the Absolute Law in the sideboard, but on the other side of things, I absolutely hate Path to Exile in the sideboard. This is a resource
denial deck, and giving up a land to your opponent flies in the face of the very strategy this deck is going for. I’m not
sure what problem this card is trying to solve that wouldn’t better be solved by something else.
These two decks represent the only doubling up of archetypes in the Top 8. They approach things quite similarly, with only a few differences, and both
employ the Snapcaster Mage plan rather than the creatureless plan favored by Reid Duke and others. It used to be that I really disliked this deck, largely
because I felt like it couldn’t create a win fast enough to make the deck at all reasonable. Ever since the printing of Entreat the Angels though, this
hasn’t been a problem.
Of the two, Shawn French’s maindeck includes the most exciting single card:
When I saw this list, I have to say, I got really excited. Without having tried Keranos out in Legacy, I can’t verify that the card is actively correct or
not. However, with Force of Will and very cheap removal like Swords to Plowshares, I feel like you can probably leverage a Keranos into being an absurd
engine of card advantage, especially with Sensei’s Divining Top. In addition, it isn’t unreasonable to passively sit behind it and win. Now, granted, five
mana feels like the equivalent of three billion, so it might not be worth the effort, but I’d really be interested in finding out one way or another.
Shawn seems to love these expensive bombs, running Baneslayer Angel and Karn Liberated in the sideboard as well. I’ve long been a fan of both of these
cards in controlling decks, though I’m not certain if they make sense in Miracles. Again, this is something I’d need to try out. BBD, for his part, keeps
things tight and conservative: Everything is cheap and streamlined, with the most expensive sorcery-speed plays being Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Council’s
Judgment. I’m inclined to believe that his version is safer, but I do love the excitement that Shawn brings to the table.
What can you say about Tom Ross? Well, he has this token for a reason:
I have to say, I utterly love this deck. There are a few card choices I’m not certain of (2 Gitaxian Probe sticks out), but I certainly appreciate the way
this deck positions itself. I’ve found that even as players have gotten more used to playing against this deck, they often aren’t prepared for an opponent
who knows how to play it fast and play it slow. Like many red decks, Infect can often have a path to victory that is hard to find but exists. I’m
never surprised to see Tom Ross find that path.
I always love seeing Sylvan Library in the 75 of decks that can expect to be able to leverage the power of the “Necro-Hut” (the card’s nickname back in the
days when even a touch of card advantage was a huge thing); if you don’t fear for your life total, this card is absurd.
The white touch in the board is very interesting.
To me, this looks like an acknowledgment of a very specific problem. Unfortunately for Tom, it didn’t pan out in his resistance to the winner of the event,
Reanimator piloted by Nick Patnode.
We haven’t seen much of this deck in a while. Turbo-Griselbrand has larger been the domain of Sneak and Show for quite a while now, but it is worth
recalling that this deck is fully capable of dominating a tournament if there isn’t an overwhelming amount of graveyard hate making things horrifying for
Running Abrupt Decay isn’t unique to Nick Patnode’s build of the deck, but I know I’ve grown more used to seeing Show and Tell become the response of
choice to graveyard hate. However, these days, there is a great catch-all that manages to take out Show and Tell as well:
Solving this problem requires a more direct solution. It might be nice to rely solely on Abrupt Decay, but really, if you’re going to expect Death and
Taxes to be in the mix, you have to go deeper than just a single card or otherwise you’ll get locked out by Mother of Runes, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben,
and the mana denial of Wasteland and Rishadan Port keeping you away from ever making things safe.
Combining Dread of Night with Disfigure, Golgari Charm, and Abrupt Decay gives the deck a great plan. Only needing a single black (or two, under Thalia)
means that Dread of Night is easily primed to clear the way. From there, it is much easier to safely go for the big play. Add Pithing Needle to the mix,
you have potential protection against Karakas, as well as another step to hinder Mother of Runes. While certainly there are other decks than Death and
Taxes that employ Containment Priest, the versatility in solutions here can definitely be brought to bear against nearly all of them, with Leyline of the
Void being the lone exception (only Golgari Charm to answer).
Of course, as I said already, the Invitational itself has something to share with us, in the form of two decks we haven’t yet mentioned: Lands and Temur
Delver. Both of these decks not only had a player go 8-0 with the archetype, but the archetype also was represented by two high-finishing finishers in both
There really isn’t much here that is shocking. This deck is all in on either Dark Depths or Punishing Fire as its path to victory. Some versions of this
deck run yet more paths in the sideboard; Tyler Byrne’s build runs a single copy of Seismic Assault and an extra Dark Depths and leaves it at that.
In a format like the Invitational, this seems like a great call. For some significant number of players, Legacy is simply a format that they don’t have
much experience with; these players very well might have qualified via a Standard or Modern event and only have the slimmest bit of knowledge of what to do
in Legacy. For these players, Tarmogoyf and friends are the most likely go-to, and Lands is very good at handling both fair decks and those few people who
decide to take a wild idea and run with it.
Again, we have an incredible straightforward build of a solid deck. This deck is all fours of all of the best spells, with a pair of Dismember messing up
this elegance, almost certainly as an acknowledgement of the realities in fighting a Tarmogoyf or fast Tasigur.
Again, like Byrne’s Lands list, this is a great list for the Invitational for a lot of reasons. This is a consistent deck that can bring the fight to
basically anything. In addition though, inexperienced Legacy players are likely to be demolished by an aggressive deck that runs both Wasteland and Stifle.
In my own experience with Legacy, navigating against these two cards can be a real challenge, even if you are aware of them; I still remember losing a
match against Delver because I made the mistake of using a Wasteland on their mana when the board was empty. It worked, but I didn’t realize at
the time how much more I needed my additional land than they did. Five turns later, I was dead, brought down by the extra mana denial making their Daze and
Spell Pierce quite damning.
In looking at all
of these lists, there wasn’t anything new or earth-shattering, but it did inform the current brew I’m working on. This isn’t in any way a honed
list (yet), but I like quite a bit of what it is doing.
A while back, I saw the Esper Thopter Foundry deck that was being piloted by Chris Andersen, and I thought I might be able to marry it to concept from
Shardless Sultai-style decks. This is still very much a work in progress. It might not be properly built yet, but I definitely think the basic ideas are
rational, and that means it has a chance of becoming a contender. I hope you enjoy it.
There is a lot to look at in Legacy; I know I’m always working on the format. Currently, my own favorite decks are Death and Taxes, Burn, Delver-Burn,
Reanimator, Miracles, and a few brews (like the above Sultai Control) that I’m trying to make into something powerful. That’s a lot of decks, and that
isn’t even a sliver of what the format is. It’s that very diversity that makes me love the format so very much.