Legacy Prep: Stirring up Controversy

I’m afraid that right now, unless Legacy has some more major circuit events like another Grand Prix or even a Pro Tour, it will be resigned to fall back into stagnation. There is little innovation, and that’s partly due to the fact that the format is still underplayed. C’mon — four Goblin decks in the last Top 8? Solidarity is still the only viable combo? What’s up with that?

The latest rounds of SCG Dual for Duels is disheartening, in my opinion. Five Goblins decks, four Solidarity decks, two Suicide Bolt (B/R Pikula variant) were among the Top 8 slots, with one Threshold clinging to the mix. Angel Stompy, Mantle Affinity, the new and exciting Faerie Stompy and Extended-port Dredge-a-Tog round out the list. While the latter few are nice to see, the first 75% of the wins don’t excite me very much.

Lately, I’ve wondered if Legacy is back into the stalemate it hit prior to the two Legacy Grand Prixes, where Chris Pikula basically engraved into the minds of Legacy stalwarts everywhere that they really didn’t know everything about the format.

For those of you not in the loop, here’s the basic gist: everybody thought the format was going to be won by XYZ. In particular, everybody other than me said that Suicide Black would never work. Pikula brought a modified SuiBlack deck and almost won the whole shebang, proving the pundits wrong. They consequently marveled at his tech and blamed their poor predictions on the fact that Dark Confidant was only recently printed at the time. For the rest of us, we pretty much snickered at the pundits.

I’m afraid that right now, unless Legacy has some more major circuit events like another Grand Prix or even a Pro Tour, it will be resigned to fall back into stagnation. There is little innovation, and that’s partly due to the fact that the format is still underplayed. C’mon — four Goblin decks in the last Top 8? Solidarity is still the only viable combo? What’s up with that?

I’ll concede that Faerie Stompy is awesome and that it’s a nice piece of new tech to bring to a tourney, but I wonder if it will produce consistent results a la Pikula’s Homebrew and its latest variant, the B/r Suicide Bolt. So Threshold was mostly hated out — so what? Who gives? Telling me that the format rotates between Goblins, Solidarity, and Threshold does little to get me excited.

To demonstrate my point, I’m really disappointed with the overall Legacy community’s response to the entire Ravnica block. Ravnica is one of the strongest, most cohesive blocks ever printed. In my opinion, only Mirrodin block can claim a more drastic impact on competitive Magic in the past seven years. I find it quite sad the Legacy still feels like it never “rotated out” of the current meta, even with the impact of the full Ravnica block. Only one Dredge-a-Tog win? No Ichorid decks? Huh? What happened?

I should pause to note that the SCG Duel for Duals hasn’t had the expected effect. I love this tournament series, and it definitely needs to continue; but as far as I can tell, the excitement of the series seems less when compared to the SCG P9 Series for Vintage. The fact that big-money cards like Moxen can’t be picked up may have something to do with it; as the appeal of winning a card you could never, ever afford probably drags in a whole bunch of extra players (even if they realistically aren’t contenders).

The metagame hasn’t had the injection of successful new tech-seekers that these high-level tourneys should be producing. On top of the reasons I mention above, other noteworthy factors are that there are few true “format geniuses” and not enough pro influence. The format doesn’t have someone like Stephen Menendian, Rich Shay, Andy Probasco, Eric Taylor, or Robert Vroman; all of whom have had a significant impact on the format by performing consistently in high-profile events with a sizable number of participants.

I mean, Dan Spero and Kevin Binswanger (Bardo.Trout and Anusien) are great dudes and all, and I got nothing but the highest respect for them, but in my opinion only Chris Pikula and David Gearhart have that kind of star power. The former hasn’t been involved since he won his GP, and the latter hasn’t introduced anything new to the format at all. He still plays Solidarity.

I think there are several fundamental problems with Legacy right now, and here they are:

  • The lack of a consistent, relatively easy-to-play combo deck other than Solidarity;
  • The format is twisted by aggro decks, particularly Goblins.
  • The lack of a viable prison deck.

The basic idea is this — the format right now is fundamentally aggro versus combo — with little more. Rifter is a passable control deck, but as you can see it hasn’t produced any consistent results. Combo has recently improved, as Ravnica block gave Iggy Pop some nice tools with Leyline of the Void and Infernal Tutor (along with transmute, etc.); but a good build hasn’t been finalized. The deck is still relatively hard to play and not resilient enough — it still has a hard time facing off against a well-prepared opponent with Force of Will and/or Daze — and while Ill-Gotten Gains is a decent combo core, it’s no Yawgmoth’s Will.

(Hey Smennen, here’s a challenge for you — you’re the best guy there is when it comes to combo. I challenge you to produce the best Iggy Pop build you can, or some other combo deck if you think that’s better.)

(Not that the above request will do any good, as I doubt Smennen reads any of my articles. But he does have a nice taste in women… heh heh heh I will now type like Friggin’ Rizzo for the hell of it)

→thats right punk because Rizzo doesn’t read your blowspew anyway thnks wtf

I will state definitively that Legacy needs a card like Yawgmoth’s Will. Let me clarify that — I’m not advocating the unbanning of Yawgwin in Legacy; not at all. What I’m saying is that the format needs some effect that can rightfully serve as a serious core for a combo deck. Skullclamp, for example — ignoring the fact that it would be broken in aggro decks and that it’s just fine on the ban list — would enable decks like Kobolds in Legacy.

Let me give you another example — take cards like Blood Funnel. Blood Funnel, if it wasn’t for the fact that it was ridiculously unwieldly, could serve as the center of a combo deck. In fact, in Standard today, you could theoretically run Blood Funnel and Dovescape all in the same deck, and it could be broken as hell. Maybe even in casual Legacy, who knows? Play multiple Funnels, use them to sacrifice an Academy Rector into Dovescape, and boom — you could be pumping out huge X spells like Braingeyser or Prosperity or whatever the heck you wanted. Chance of that being reasonably viable right now? Zero.

Recently, Wizards has acknowledged the need for more viable combo decks, as they’ve fallen out of favor in previous blocks (barring Wake, which really was more of a control deck than anything else). Combo decks are actually viable in Standard and Block now — Heartbeat and Adrian Sullivan Lasik.dec (absolutely a blast to play, by the way — but in real life, figuring out complicated stacks can give you migraines galore). The entire dredge mechanic is comboriffic in and of itself. This is a good thing, and I hope this trend continues, as Standard and block feel boring when it boils down to the White Weenie versus Gifts, a.k.a. Aggro versus Control matchups found in Kamigawa block. The fact that they even printed Niv-Mizzet — knowing full well the interaction it has with Curiosity — is another indication of the fact that Wizards is probably trying to encourage combo. Some new cards from Coldsnap give this away, too — Rite of Flames and Braid of Fire (which is terrible for most combo decks, since you have to use it during your upkeep — it’s really only good for playing other cumulative upkeep cards) seem more than conspicuous in recent trends – Infernal Tutor, the tutor half of Supply/Demand, and Mishra’s Bauble all confirm my suspicions.

The new “combo core” cards, though, are either unwieldly beyond playability (e.g. Blood Funnel), or too expensive for classic environments (Eye of the Storm, Dovescape, Enduring Ideal). What the format needs is a reasonable engine A) sitting in the middle of the mana curve, B) that can actually do broken things with older cards, and C) doesn’t affect the Extended cardpool too much. Life from the Loam and dredge are a nice start, but it doesn’t really help much at this point because Life from the Loam doesn’t have that swinginess-into-the-combo win. Something that could turn the format on its head would be nice.

It’s almost as if we need an answer to the following situation: you’ve just cast a Wish or Tutor – in response, you sacrifice a Lion’s Eye Diamond. What card can you now get with your Wish or Tutor that will keep the combo going? Legacy really needs a three-mana “go off” spell. Ill-Gotten Gains would be totally broken if it cost only three mana, but I think that until we get something good to play of a cracked LED, combo won’t move very far from its current boundaries in the metagame. I could be wrong, but think about how many options would open up if there were something to play worth the risk of LED’s One With Nothing effect.

The closest thing I could think of as a three-mana combo core was Second Sunrise. If you crack an LED, Second Sunrise will bring it back to pay for itself. So I tried figuring out a way to get the Sunrise back; but I couldn’t figure it out. Recursion was clunky; the best I could think up was LED/Sunrise plus Eternal Witness plus Blasting Station. That’s infinite damage; but a four-card combo is pretty ridiculous to set up. Wild Cantor and Lotus Petal work with sort of strategy, too; so you don’t have to have an LED (and Aether Vial could help speed you up), but it’s still quite a lot to do in order to go off. Iggy Pop and Solidarity are much more consistent at that point, especially with the addition of Infernal Tutor.

I suppose you could try and use Second Sunrise independently, without recurring it — such as a Legacy-legal Krark-Clan Ironworks deck — in order to generate a huge quantity of mana and then do something with it, but that’s pretty damn risky. I’m sure there’s some way to do it, but I don’t know if that’s enough — perhaps I’m wrong.

The inverse of this is a lack of prison. If combo were more viable, two things would happen: 1) aggro would lose its grip on the format as it generally loses to combo; and 2) prison would turn up to fight it. In turn, control could shift away from creature-oriented control and move into spell-oriented control. The opposite is also true — if prison could fight aggro better, control would have to change as well, and so would aggro decks. It’s not as great as the first scenario, but it still help.

This would in turn also take the focus away from aggro, and the format would overall be more in flux. I think this is a good thing — I think the format needs more flux in order to stay healthy. Fluctuating metagames attract more players and generally help increase turnout.

Whether or not the above assessment of metagame shifts is a gross oversimplification or not, you all have to agree with my last point — a metagame in stasis is a metagame in crisis.

Now, the most recent Oracle update to Time Vault means that the Mizzium Transreliquat / Time Vault combo may change things, but for the time being, I still don’t think Stax or any other artifact-centric deck can respond as well to Goblins and Threshold. Ensnaring Bridge isn’t as easy to wield when you don’t have Moxen, Sol Ring, or Mishra’s Workshop to get it down before that Lackey just put Siege-Gang Commander in play – and empty your hand at the same time in order to prevent the assault.

So I would like to propose an extremely radical suggestion to the format. Some of you might think I’m nuts, but here my argument out — there’s some thought behind this. I may be wrong, but you certainly can’t disagree with my logic here:

Unban Worldgorger Dragon and Replenish. That’s not so radical.

My radical suggestion? Unban Balance.

Before you all get your shorts into knots bigger than Chris Romeo mustache (Chris, you know I love it, keep it please), hear me out. Let’s start with Dragon.

Dragon is not the massive threat it used to be, and most even felt it never really belonged on the Legacy banned list when they split them out. Without Entomb, it’s not as quick to assemble; and without Bazaar of Baghdad, you can’t dig-and-dump the same way. Yes, you can still use Library of Kamigawa (Mikokoro, Center of the Sea) in the combo, but you also give your opponent the opportunity to draw outs against you; and it doesn’t put anything in your yard to help break the Dragon loop. No, Buried Alive is not a good excuse. Pit Imp is not an excuse; you could very well be playing Ichorid or regular Reanimator at that point. If you suggest Scrying Sheets, you’re really off your rocker.

On top of that, Leyline of the Void has changed the nature of the game itself. Some Iggy Pop builds run them maindeck. Tormod’s Crypt is still available, and Shred Memory is a nice utility card in the format for a multitude of reasons. Swords to Plowshares, Naturalize/Disenchant, and even Ray of Revelation are still present in reasonable numbers; and so are Hydroblasts and Blue Elemental Blasts. Even Withered Wretch is floating around. It’s not like there wouldn’t be a format full of answers against Dragon, and it’s not as explosive as it used to be in pre-split Legacy, where Bazaar was still legal.

Much of the same goes for Replenish, except even more so — Replenish hasn’t even been suggested for a deck in the past five years; I doubt it would operate the same way it did all those years back. It is statistically insignificant and should be able to prove it’s truly broken before it stays on the list. It’s not like the format has Yawgmoth’s Bargain.

In addition, I don’t buy the brokenness argument at all. What’s the difference between Living Death or Patriarch’s Bidding for a graveyard full of busted goblins — Warchief amongst them — and Replenish? If you tell me the difference is the mana cost — in any way shape or form — then I’ll tell you you’ve been living in a hole for quite some time now. There is no way that Replenish is more busted than Goblin Bidding, which is quite legal (whether it’s good or not is not the question).

The most intellectually sound argument against this is that there is no real reason to unban them, as the format is theoretically “fine.” My response to that is this: So what? Should I put Feldon’s Cane on the banned list and leave it there simply because no one cares? It shouldn’t matter if the format doesn’t need change or not; the cards really don’t belong on the banned list anyway. They are from an era of long ago. They did take Recall off of the Vintage restricted list, you know. No one blinked.

I would never suggest the unbanning of Skullclamp or Yawgmoth’s Will, but I don’t think the unbanning of Worldgorger Dragon or Replenish would do anything other than help the format. I have yet to see a compelling argument to say otherwise. You’re welcome to aim for my dome and argue me ad infinitum in the forums, but I think my points here are pretty solid.

(To be fair, I know there will be many of you who will simply say, “Duh — you call this controversy?” — but I needed to make my point. Oh yeah, and Geordie Tait? Demonfire you.)

Now the Real Controversy: Balance

First, before you all blow a gasket, I suggest you read Stephen Menendian assessment of Maysonet Tax-Rack in a modern Vintage environment. He has some interesting things to say about it. Notably, that it sucks. (Although his assessment is honestly quite a poor test of efficiency, I’ll admit.)

Let’s take a moment and ask why Balance is broken. Why? Because for two mana, you get Armageddon, Wrath, and Mind Twist in one shot.

Broken? Yes. It sure would kick the crap out of Goblins. Threshold? Not as much, but that too. But let’s not kid ourselves. We have a format where you can Mind Twist Goblins and they don’t really care — a Goblin Recruiter or Goblin Matron let Goblins recover from that sort of thing all the time. And Threshold? You have to be kidding me. It could adapt into Madness, putting Basking Rootwalla on the table along with Dredgable goodies and flashback cards like Call of the Herd. Spell Snare is also around, so it’s not like most decks couldn’t prepare themselves.

If Balance were legal, Ichorid could be competitive — and control decks would have to adjust. More counters, more spell-based control. Balance would also give prison decks a way to move up in the meta. It deals with both aggro and control decks. Combo decks could use it to pull their way out of deadly scenarios. It’s also a sorcery, so Burning Wish would finally have a good target.

More importantly, it would help add to the strength of White in the metagame, which has recently been languishing. White control decks would finally have a powerhouse spell that would put them on par with other decks. Consider the following example build:

Do you think that could beat anything? How strong would that actually be against the meta? How would anyone know as long as Balance isn’t legal? While it’s obviously not the most broken use of Balance, it’s just an example.

For Those of You Who Think I’m Remotely Serious

Am I seriously suggesting the legalization of Balance in Legacy? Well, I’m honestly not going to answer that – you can pontificate my reasons above and determine if you think I’m serious or not. In truth, it’s a moot point; since Wizards would never do it anyway. It’s futile to engage in any further discussion on whether or not I really think it should be unbanned because it Ain’t. Gonna. Happen. Word to your sleeves, bro; Balance will never touch ‘em.

The point that should be taken is that Legacy needs some brutal changes to stir up the format, or it will die. No one wants yet another year of Goblins, Threshold, and Solidarity. People will want something new. There’s more innovation in Vintage than there is in Legacy, and in my opinion, that’s honestly a little sad.

Until next time,

Nathan J

PS: I’d love to hear your thoughts in the forums — but let’s try to keep the conversation civil and constructive, k? Posts like “OMG U SUK jobblins are not the dominatorz & u kno jack” aren’t going to really improve the format very much. I just want to see the format increase in popularity, like everyone else.

Props: Coming back home to Israel for a couple week’s vacation. Gotta love the falafel, dude.
Slops: My kid refusing to use any bathroom in the entire frickin’ country. Ickspitter, indeed.

This article brought to you by the state of Indiana, because there is absolutely not a single friggin’ thing to do here other than sit at my laptop and write about Magic. Yes, it’s really that boring of a place when there aren’t any Hoosiers about.

That’s Hoosiers, you sicko.