With June 18th came the newest Banned List announcement, coming along with the completely revamped Extended rotation. We lost one card, got two, and saw a format stripped and reassembled. This week, I’m going to discuss what all this means for Legacy players, but first, I want to assure you…
The Sky Is Not Falling
There’s this strange perception of Wizards of the Coast that seems to follow how conspiratorially-minded people look at government organizations — that they are a huge, limitless group with Plutonian wealth and resources, bent on creating some minor evil for innocent subjects. “New Extended is just meant to sell cards! Wizards wants to kill Legacy with this format!” the crowds cry. Let’s step back and remember that WOTC is a company staffed by a few dozen human beings, whose major goal seems to be keeping players interested in the game (which will naturally lead to more sales). I don’t see New Extended as a way to gut Legacy tournaments, a way to wither the format or anything else sinister. The back-against-the-wall attitude that still permeates the format, this view that only the work of noble warriors can prevent the incredible ignorance of Wizards and their active maliciousness, sees this as yet another reason why the company wants to kill Eternal formats.
The truth of the matter is that Extended was bad (and needed help) because people only played it on the Pro Tour circuit and that small stores could not hold a FNM Extended event, for lack of players with enough resources. Wizards has been retooling how they interact with small, independent stores and their current plan seems to be to encourage lots of local play, even with Magicians who will never attend a large event. Wizards wants those people to give Extended a shot again, and stack the deck in favor of the small stores so they can realistically run FNM events. Players with Tarmogoyfs, Engineered Explosives and fetchlands want to use them too, so those people dip into Legacy as well. Legacy isn’t broken and players will not stop playing Legacy if they can also play in Extended. If anything, this will increase the number of players who adopt Legacy, players who want to get more use out of those aforementioned Tarmogoyfs. Wizards can keep the same Pro Tour/Grand Prix schedule and format frequency without sacrificing Legacy or Extended events to make room. Though Legacy players drive a very small amount of card sales, large events are well-attended, and those events drive Magic forward as a living game and assure people that even when their cards rotate out, they can still use them. Legacy is, in short, good for WOTC and Organized Play.
I am interested in getting into this format, even though Extended has not interested me before. The prime reason is that manabases will actually be challenging to build again — no more fetch-dual primacy edging out all the other interestingly-designed lands before and since their printings. This Extended format does not resemble Legacy Lite, which the previous one did on several occasions recently. I look forward to playing a truly distinct new format.
On to the Banned List!
First and foremost, I want to say that it is incredible to watch people speculate on cards in Legacy following an announcement like this. Last month, I wrote about how to effectively speculate on Legacy cards to minimize risk and maximize profits. One of the key tenets is to know how a card will be played, as well as its likely performance in the greater card pool. What you will see this week and next week is rabid consumption and acquisition of cards when nobody really knows how good they will be, much less taking the time to figure out whether it’s good. If you bought Grim Monolith at $3, congratulations, you won the game this time around. If you bought it at $18, hoping it would keep going up without testing whether it’s any good, you might as well be holding Dream Halls. Let’s look at each card individually and see how its ripple effect touches other cards and strategies.
I think it was fine to ban Mystical Tutor, although Brainstorm is probably more powerful. The two affected decks are Ad Nauseam Tendrils and Reanimator, and people are already calling these decks dead. These are the people complaining that their cards have been devalued when they haven’t even tried a substitute to see if the deck can still run. The most talked-about replacement is Personal Tutor, which is a very bad analogue. Being instant-speed, Mystical Tutor let you sit back and act at the last possible moment; you now must telegraph your plan with Personal Tutor. Additionally, it will only get Sorceries, which means that in Reanimator, you can still go get reanimation cards and Thoughtseize, but you are deprived of Brainstorm, Force of Will and sideboarded bounce spells like Wipe Away. Ad Nauseam Tendrils has more contortions to make to fit in Personal Tutor; the weaker tutor cannot get Ad Nauseam, which means you are more reliant on Infernal Tutor to get it, or alternately, that you must run two or more copies of the instant. It does not get Dark Ritual or the aforementioned sideboard tech, either.
Factoring all this in, I don’t see Personal Tutor as a valid replacement for Mystical Tutor in the two decks that utilized it the most. I instead see Reanimator moving toward cards like Buried Alive or Intuition (or, scarily, Strategic Planning). Simple bans of engine cards have not stopped Reanimator before, so I predict that we will see those spots filled up efficiently. By contrast, ANT must build in some other form of tutoring if it wants that oh-so-sweet deal of running only one copy of Ad Nauseam. It has to make sure its Infernal Tutors are hellbent and that it’s profitable to do so — one card I am looking at to make this happen is, curiously enough, Gustha’s Scepter, which makes Lion’s Eye Diamond far less painful. You might also see players picking up Doomsday or splashing Red for Burning Wish in their Tendrils decks. The bottom line, though, is that neither Reanimator nor Storm Combo are dead. Even fringe decks like Dream Halls can still survive, while probably using Personal Tutor to get Show and Tell or Conflux. I doubt Lim-Dul’s Vault will be a good replacement in the decks that currently utilize Mystical Tutor, since it is very costly in terms of life to find a singleton card and the extra mana can be a hassle.
Grim Monolith is currently the poster child for rampant speculation. It generates infinite mana with Power Artifact, which is a bad combo that is worse than Grindstone and Painter’s Servant. It accelerates into Trinisphere alongside Voltaic Key, but that strategy is enormously inconsistent, even if you want to relive Kai Budde Wildfire deck. The most promising place for it is in Goblin Charbelcher combination decks, since it is another crucial +1 mana card. Remember that Belcher decks aim to make either 4 or 7 mana and either cast Empty the Warrens or Goblin Charbelcher and win on the spot. Grim Monolith, like Tinder Wall, gives a Belcher deck the opportunity to “store” mana for a turn or more, which can help the deck beat cards like Chalice of the Void, Sphere of Resistance, Daze and more. Belcher can be a little less suicidal if it runs Grim Monolith.
Grim Monolith may also help power out other combinations; Trix is too mana-intensive (and weak to Krosan Grip) but the Grindstone combo could benefit from the acceleration it is offering. You might also see Sneak Attack decks utilize Grim Monolith, both as a way to get the Enchantment out and to power up alternative disruption cards like Wildfire or Jokulhaups. In that application, I would expect to see it alongside Voltaic Key (which, curiously, has not been speculated on the way Monolith or Power Artifact have been).
Grim Monolith also has a long-shot potential to make Accelerated Blue decks, or a next generation deck that would use it alongside Gifts Ungiven to pull together infinite mana combos or other kill mechanisms. My teammates and I concocted a list long ago for Vintage that used Metalworker and piles of Blue cards like Braingeyser as a sort of blue Stax deck. Since the problem of Metalworker and Grim Monolith paired with Voltaic Key is that you often have lots of mana but nothing to spend it on, investing that into cards like Stroke of Genius seems potent — any cards you draw turn into more mana and more threats. Grim Monolith is a fair card and I am glad that Wizards has enabled enterprising deckbuilders to take a swing at making it good.
Illusionary Mask is nice to see come off of the banned list, since it has long been suspected that it was placed there as a combination of both its power and its cost. The current Oracle wording of Mask requires you to cast the creature; no cheating around counterspells or sneaking the card in under Standstill. The best Mask creature has always been Phyrexian Dreadnought and the next closest card is possibly Fathom Seer, with a big gulf in between the two. Remember that you still have to pay the full casting cost of the card, so you cannot realistically sneak in things like Brine Elemental to get an early effect out of the card. So, in essence, you have a colorless form of the Stifle-Dreadnought combination, with the advantage that the “stifle part” can be played whenever you have the free time to play it.
The strongest factor against Mask being played in significant numbers is that it cannot sneak monsters under Standstill. If it could, Dreadtill would love the card. I predict people will tinker with Mask and see its powers and limitations and then not use it as part of a tier-1 strategy. It also has niche applications as a sideboard beatdown strategy; long ago, in the mists of Vintage, combination decks would sometimes pack the Mask on the sideboard and throw Dreadnoughts at unsuspecting opponents. Illusionary Mask might also see play as part of a hybrid deck like The Riddler in Vintage, a deck that used Trinisphere and Mask to make a short, disruptive clock. Without Mishra’s Workshop, the deck has much less spectacular first turns, but it’s worth testing out to see if it is fruitful.
Putting It All Together
In the end, we have one card gone, two more coming in, and several new potential strategies in the format. The big losers are Reanimator and ANT, and decks with a poor matchup against either deck stand to gain. Lands, Zoo and especially Enchantress are big winners, and I think the latter has a good shot later this summer in Columbus. You will also see players shifting their sideboards around when they cut combo- and Reanimator-hate; one splash effect may be more opponents packing a full set of Krosan Grip, for example.
The Extended shakeup is not going to kill Legacy, and I urge readers to confront things like a lost Legacy Grand Prix if and when it actually happens, instead of assuming that Wizards is trying to kill the format without any of its players noticing. In the meantime, prepare to welcome new players who want to break a Wooded Foothills, equip an Umezawa’s Jitte or sacrifice a Sword of the Meek for a thopter token. Legacy is in a great place right now, and I am getting excited for Grand Prix: Columbus!
Until next week…
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