Legacy: My Top Tier

This week Carsten Kotter takes a look at Legacy’s top tier as a preview to #SCGDC, anticipating what the best decks in the format are and how likely each is to make a significant dent in the Legacy Open’s metagame.

I’m doing something today that is known to get out of hand rather easily… talk about what I consider to be Legacy’s best decks at the moment. So, just to get that out of the way, please: keep it civil! The reason I want to talk about something as mundane as that is simply this… there’s a Legacy Open coming up two weeks from now in Washington DC and if some among you are still either looking for something to play or a snapshot of which decks to expect to do well, this should be rather helpful.

Now, just because I think these are the best doesn’t necessarily mean I’m right. In spite of my comparatively large format knowledge, there are a lot of decks I don’t have in-depth experience with (or any, really) and it wouldn’t be out of the question that there are a couple of decks out there able to put up similar results to the ones I’m going to mention. Similarly, we have just received a new set of cards to add to the format with Magic Origins and it is also my impression that we haven’t really worked out the impact of the whole Khans of Tarkir Block yet, as things like the emergence of Mentor Miracles hints at. Simply put, I can’t guarantee that this article is actually a complete representation of the top tier.

What I’m reasonably sure of, however, is that all the decks I’m going to talk about today are actually part of that elusive class of Tier One decks in the first place – which I think makes these still worth talking about. Well, so much for the prelude, let’s jump right in.

BURG – Delver

After seeing what did well in Lille and Prague Eternal before it, it shouldn’t be surprising that my choice for best Delver deck at this point is the European four-color monstrosity:

This type of Delver list just has one incredible advantage compared to the more classic ones: it’s best able to switch roles between being a traditional Delver deck playing the tempo game and playing a full-blown card-advantage Miracle Gro-style game, which in turn means it’s the best Delver deck to abuse Dig Through Time in. Having access to Lightning Bolt in the maindeck and almost the same amount of disruption as Temur Delver – with the important omission of Stifle and the resulting heavy mana-denial game that deck plays – as well as eight one-mana threats (Deathrite Shaman activations stack up, as we’ve all learned since the little guy was printed), there are a lot of games where you can just jam a Delver and a second one-drop and run away with the game. It does what Delver is supposed to do, keep the opponent off balance with Wastelands and soft permission, but it’s even more threatening because those creatures don’t actually have to close the game – you can save an entire extra turn by finishing them off with a couple of Lightning Bolts, which can be critical to getting the win.

At the same time, you also have access to extremely flexible removal in Abrupt Decay and an overwhelmingly powerful draw engine in Dig Through Time backed by some powerful midrange threat – Tarmogoyf in the above list, though some players prefer True-Name Nemesis as a hard-to-remove control-style finisher that also happens to dominate the board a la Morphling back in the day.

Add a sideboard in which the red splash allows you to be configured for such extreme moves as removing all your Wastelands and Lightning Bolts for more Pyroblasts (don’t ask me why some successful lists ran Red Elemental Blast instead of Pyroblast, which could be cast on anything to fuel delve), Flusterstorms, Sylvan Library and Abrupt Decay against Miracles (making you essentially the superior control deck that just happens to have Delvers) or to remove your more expensive cards and threats for more disruption against combo, and suddenly the deck is an overpowered tempo machine that can win the late-game grind even against Storm.

All of that flexibility and extra power compared to the other Delver lists comes mainly at a minor cost to the manabase (seeing as all the Delver decks already ran on nothing but nonbasics) and with the major presence of basic Island (thanks to Miracles and OmniTell) already having de-emphasized people’s reliance on that plan, it truly feels like it is the time for the greediest of Delver decks to be played.

Grixis Control AKA Grixis Pyromancer

Two lists this time because I still feel like Rich’s catches what the deck wants to do best while Jordon Robbins’ list is closer to what I’d expect most players to be running judging from the results I’ve seen – though I still don’t see any reasonable argument to run fewer than four Dig Through Time in that deck.

What makes this deck so potent is that it looks at the same two-decks-in-one approach BURG Delver goes for, just coming from the opposite direction. Most of the time Grixis Control plays its game as an actual high-velocity control deck, getting ahead by being able to cast Dig Through Time more efficiently and more often than the opposition. However, whenever the deck draws its win condition – Young Pyromancer – early and it lives, say against combo or a vulnerable hand that has already been Probe + Therapied once, it suddenly gets to play an extremely brutal aggro-control game.

One thing I think should be worth exploring with this approach is the question of whether the deck could further evolve by cutting the red cards for white ones. You see, Grixis Control’s biggest weakness in my opinion is its removal suite. Sure, Lightning Bolt is a great card and the best removal spell you could wish for against decks full of small creatures. But once your opponent starts bringing things like Tarmogoyf, Gurmag Angler or Knight of the Reliquary to the fight, however, you suddenly have very few cards that actually deal with their threats. This means that while the deck is awesome at snacking on many of the most-played decks in the format, it ends up with a decided weakness against decks that just jam a bunch of large creatures – making this deck more of a metagame predator than the others I’ll be mentioning.

If we cut Lightning Bolt for Swords to Plowshares, this problem suddenly ceases to exist for obvious reasons. Now, we’re also losing Young Pyromancer, the deck’s premiere threat, but there’s a card that seems like a perfect replacement in that role: Monastery Mentor. Sure, it’s a little slower, which might prove to be too much of a problem… but at the same time, it kills even faster when used as a late-game win condition and even just managing to squeeze out a token or two early already leaves you with a far more significant clock even if the Mentor is dealt with rapidly thanks to the tokens themselves having Prowess. You also lose access to Pyroblast, so there are definitely downsides, however I don’t think those are sufficient concerns to actually dismiss the concept as the gains are also considerable.


Two lists again, this time because I didn’t want to ignore the little work I’ve done with Omniscience and Dig Through Time. In a tournament, I’d definitely expect my opponent to be on the nearly mono blue list until I see a clear sign they aren’t. The reason the Burning Wish version is there anyway is that I think the approach is just as viable if not as popular (yet?).

In spite of the differences, both decks operate very similarly. Find your two-card combination of Show and Tell and Omniscience so that you can get the latter down for three mana, then just use free cantrips and Dig Through Times to churn through your deck until you’ve found a win condition. This has turned the deck from a three-card combo deck full of clunkers – Enter the Infinite plus everything the new lists have – into a fake two-card combo deck. While we rely on more than actually those two cards, we’re spending an abundant resource – library manipulation cads, in this case – to actually win after comboing out. This development has made the deck both faster and significantly more consistent than it has been in the past, pushing it to the clear top spot among Show and Tell combo decks at this point. Show and Tell’s biggest problem in the past has usually been that the deck had to run so many clunky cards that you didn’t actually want to draw multiples of, and the addition of Dig Through Time to OmniTell has allowed it to minimize that weakness… which is why it is now one of the two top-dog combo decks of the format.


Speaking of the top-dog combo decks of the format, while it appears to me that the metagame is actually harder for the deck than in pre-Dig times, Storm is still awesomely powerful in experienced hands, as evidenced by its performance in Kyoto (Top Eight) and Lille (multiple Top 16s, plus Kai made 17th there again with the same record as the Top 16 players, putting another list in contention most people likely didn’t know about yet).

I’ve chosen Caleb’s list above to show you because to my knowledge he’s the first one to actually place somewhere with Dark Petition in his deck, a card I’m actually starting to like more and more now that I’ve gotten in some testing with it. Having more two-mana-when-comboing-out tutors means the deck is actually able to play even more aggressively than it was already capable of doing. You just hit natural combo hands more often, all the while having more tutors to cantrip into that don’t cost more to loop with than Infernal Tutor did, increasing the deck’s consistency at the same time. In short, what was in my opinion the best combo deck in the format at least prior to Dig Through Time just got better – that sounds like something worth considering if you know how to Storm.


Three lists to show you the three directions the deck is developing in at the moment. There are the two traditional builds – Joe Losset’s “Legends” list with Karakas and multiple utility Legends and the Philipp Shönegger-derived Ponder build (played here by BBD). Both play a very similar game of hard control into the Entreat the Angels end-the-game button, but each uses different tools to stall the opponent out for long enough. This version of the deck is very much a known quantity, though still very good.

The most interesting development in the archetype, however, is the Mentor Miracles list first seen in Kyoto that omits part of the late-game focus of the traditional lists by turning to Monastery Mentor as a win condition that works perfectly fine to take over the game when you have a ton of mana – Mentor plus two Sensei’s Divining Top is quite the combo, by the way. This also allows the deck to suddenly produce a threatening early-game level of pressure and protect it with free countermagic tempo-style, an angle we’re not used to seeing from Miracles decks.

The reason this seems like a pretty awesome thing to do is twofold. First and foremost, Miracles is already a deck prone to drawing due to time issues, so having at least some games per tournament come down to you dropping a Mentor, them being unable to answer it, then dying in short order is quite helpful.

In addition, it was usually easy to play against Miracles. All you had to worry about is how you get through their defenses, and if you found a plan that did so before Entreat the Angels was able to just overwhelm you, you were good to go. Now you not only have to worry about losing your board to Terminus and getting locked out by Counterbalance, you suddenly need to take into account that Miracles could just flip the switch and start aggroing you down.

In effect, this allows Miracles to play less like the hard control deck we know it as and more like some kind of Next Level Blue deck, the old school Counterbalance deck of choice that used Tarmogoyf in a low-curve control shell to similar effect (only without the one-mana Wrath of Gods). That sounds quite impressive simply from a theoretical point of view and given that the deck has made it to the finals of both of the two most recent Legacy GPs, it sure looks like theory translates well to reality in this case.

Aggro Loam

This list has been tearing up tournaments in Europe for a while now in the hands of creator Niklas Kronberger, and it even secured two Top Eight spots at GP Lille to boot. Quite the result for one of the often-maligned non-blue decks in Legacy. I can attest to the list’s strength both from personal experience and from seeing it in action, and a number of people I trust to know what they’re talking about have it pegged as the best non-blue deck in the format.

Between a hard-to-beat card advantage engine in both the early- and late-game, pretty awesome combo disruption for a non-blue deck between Chalice of the Void and Green Sun’s Zenith for Gaddock Teeg, Punishing Fire to totally imbalance midrange matchups and Knight of Reliquary to go large easily, the deck does so many things well and is flexible enough to boot that I’m easy to convince that’s actually the case. The deck is just chock-full of both answers and raw power, and that’s generally a good place to be.


Lands finally is my most tentative pick, simply because it’s justified historically more than anything else (though having a Top Eight in Lille definitely helps with the argument). What I mean by that is that the deck, despite having a relatively small player base, was essentially the only non-blue deck that could keep up in the Treasure Cruise metagame and given that the deck has still been performing after Cruise got the axe, it doesn’t look like that performance was metagame-induced.

Instead, the deck simply is very powerful, efficient, and surprisingly flexible for what is essentially a pile of lands and some enablers. Lands threatens to make a 20/20 as early as turn two, can set up an overwhelming advantage very rapidly with Exploration and Life from the Loam, and also has the ability to grind opponent’s out in the long run with Punishing Fire and Life from the Loam shenanigans. That leaves us with a deck that has strong game early-, mid- and late-game whose main weakness seems to be that it has trouble interacting with combo decks. However, that’s where our current metagame comes in. With OmniTell mostly replacing Sneak and Show, you combo hate – all those Sphere effects – suddenly pull double duty against both of the most popular combo decks. One of them (OmniTell) even helps you to make sure you get it into play in time, as you can always drop it in off of Show and Tell and still have it stop them cold. Given that the deck is traditionally far ahead of anything fair you throw at it, that sounds like a situation in which the deck can shine.

But Where Is…?

Let me be clear: I believe those are the best decks in the format currently. If you told me I had to play a Legacy tournament tomorrow but you’d decide what I get to play, I’d sure hope you gave me one of these.

Yes, there are a lot of very good decks missing. The other Delver decks. Elves. Infect. Any kind of Stoneblade concoction. Reanimator. Dredge. Shardless. Sneak and Show. Death and Taxes. Probably a dozen others I’ll hear all about in the comments. I simply think that while those are good decks, these seven are the actual top of the heap.

Sneak and Show is hurt by Omni Tell and Storm both existing. One is the same deck but slightly slower, trading off raw speed for much greater consistency, while the other takes Sneak and Show’s argument that it is faster than Omni-Tell and turns it into just not a very good argument because Storm is even faster than it is.

BURG just feels like a stronger deck than the other Delver variants with the current card pool and Dig Through Time-dominated metagame. Infect, to me, is a Delver deck with combo potential but it is more vulnerable to a focused anti-creature plan or fast combo deck than BURG Delver is, something the threat value of the combo-kill finish doesn’t make up for at this point.

Reanimator is a little less consistent then I’d like it to be, and its combo turns bad too rapidly: once your opponent hits enough mana to be fully active or has managed to start attacking, your “combo” of putting a Griselbrand into play turns out to be far from a true combo-kill surprisingly often. And so on and so forth. In short, everything other than what I have listed above feels like it’s competing with another deck that does something similar just better or with additional tools, power or flexibility thrown in.

That doesn’t mean the other decks aren’t viable, especially if you’re used to their play style, or that the above lists are the be-all, end-all of deckbuilding at this point. There are routes for further development even among the top tier – the Grixis to Esper switch I mentioned for Grixis Control seems interesting, for example – and a lot of possible tweaks to explore among those lists. I’m quite partial to the BURG list that replaced Tarmogoyfs and Spell Pierces with True-Names and Thoughtseizes I played against in Prague, for example, and I could easily see hybridizing traditional Miracles with the Mentor version even more being a decent approach.

However, most people netdeck and that means a lot of what could be done isn’t done, or at least it takes quite a while to be done. In addition, people usually try to netdeck the Tier One decks. If you’re one of them, I suggest you take your pick above, but please correct obvious weirdness like using Red Elemental Blast over Pyroblast in a deck with Delve spells. If you aren’t, one of these is what I’d expect most people to turn up with, buffered by a wide variety of slightly-weaker decks that offer significant overlap with these (Sultai and Grixis Delver with BURG, for example).

If your deck is ready for lots of different Dig Through Time decks with varying levels of aggressiveness (and varying reliance on actual Dig Through Time), Storm because it’s Storm and still busted plus a couple of non-blue decks that have the power and metagame positioning to fare well against what the format looks like at this point, you should be well prepared for Washington DC two weeks from now.

Whatever you do with the information, good luck!