Reiderrabbit’s Review: Legacy

Reid Duke takes a look at four Legacy decks in the aftermath of GP Indy: U/W Stoneblade, Storm, RUG Tempo, and Natural Order RUG. Find out which deck he feels should make a resurgence in time for SCG Open: Sacramento.

Every player looks at Magic: The Gathering in a different way, and perspective matters, particularly in Legacy. How could it not? There are endless possibilities in strategy, card choice, and gameplay. With 12,000 distinct cards, fifteen years of tournament history, and as many unpredictable opponents as stars in the sky, it’s difficult to talk in absolutes. What’s the best strategy? What cards are and aren’t playable? How fast do you need to be? How much graveyard hate do you need on your sideboard?

My perspective on Legacy is likely different from yours, which is likely different from your average player’s. Hearing from a variety of people is valuable for a number of reasons. For one thing, you might just learn something valuable. Even if you don’t, you’ll have a better idea of what factors influence the decisions of the rest of the players entering the same tournaments as you.

Personally, I follow the tournament scene closely but only actually sleeve up a Legacy deck a handful of times in a year. I like to practice as much as I can for every tournament, but with so many variables and such an overwhelming card pool, no one can truly master Legacy. Consequently, my deck and card choices tend to be influenced by my personal preferences, my strong opinions, and my stubborn refusal to follow what everyone else is doing.

But not this time! In the past three weeks, I’ve entered four different Legacy tournaments with four different decks.

Have I grown up a little? It doesn’t feel like it. Have I finally learned to accept help when it’s offered? Not likely. I unintentionally led myself into this little psychological experiment because of a combination of curiosity and card availability (why bring a Constructed deck to a two-day Limited Grand Prix?). However, I’m very glad I did it, and I’m glad for the chance to share my own perspective on decks that other people have built. So without further ado, I present:

An Outsider’s View of Legacy

U/W Stoneblade is Legacy’s “safe choice.” In many ways, it’s the most obvious deck, as it contains all of the format’s best control cards. Swords to Plowshares is quite clearly the best removal spell. Brainstorm and Jace, the Mind Sculptor are quite clearly the best ways to smooth your draws and ensure victory in the late game. Stoneforge Mystic is a tight, efficient win condition that doesn’t leave you vulnerable at any point in the game.

This is often a recipe for a completely dominant deck: access to the best cards, wide variety of answers in removal and permission, and the consistency of powerful card selection and drawing. There may be a snapshot in time (past or future or both, I’m not the one to ask) where U/W Stoneblade does dominate Legacy, but it’s a testament to the format that it doesn’t right now.

Three decks in Legacy outpace everything else in terms of popularity and success today: U/W Stoneblade, RUG Delver, and G/W Maverick. In this type of metagame, you might expect a rock-paper-scissors situation, but such is not the case. U/W Stoneblade simply struggles against both of the other two top decks. Maverick shares many of its best cards, but exchanges the inefficient permission of blue for the speed and brutality of green’s creatures. RUG Delver sports the nightmare card—Nimble Mongoose—as well as a sideboard that completely neuters Stoneblade’s best weapons.

In general, I feel that the “obvious” nature of U/W Stoneblade is its downfall. Ancient Grudge makes equipment an unreliable gameplan after sideboarding, and Red Elemental Blast does the same to Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Everyone entering a Legacy tournament expects to face Swords to Plowshares, Stoneforge Mystic, Jace, Brainstorm, and Force of Will, and consequently a Stoneblade player is unlikely to ever run into an easy matchup.

My simplest criticism of U/W, though, is its lack of powerful sideboard options. White offers the best cards for a control deck in Swords to Plowshares and Stoneforge Mystic, but it’s not the best color for a control deck because it’s shallow. Beyond STP, Path to Exile and Wrath of God can be useful tools but are not great Legacy cards by any means. White can’t help you fight counter battles and can’t improve this deck’s combo matchup. I feel strongly that three colors is the way to go in Legacy; limiting yourself to two or one simply reduces your sideboard options too much.

The appeal of U/W Stoneblade is its raw power, its consistency, and its flexibility. Despite its weaknesses, playing powerful cards along with permission and card selection is a way to have a very, very high win rate against less experienced opponents. My impression of the deck was solidified when I saw that it was only grandmaster Adam Yurchick who could make it to the Top 8 of Grand Prix Indianapolis with the traditional build of U/W.

For me or anyone else of less-than-divine talents, choosing U/W will not make for an easy tournament. Tom Martell Esper build was an excellent choice for GP Indianapolis and is certain to see more success in the coming weeks. I even prefer a U/W/r build to the classic two-color version. The fact is, though, that no matter how powerful it feels to play with blue cards and Swords to Plowshares, you’re doing exactly what your opponents are expecting you to, and that’s not a good place to be in a format with such a deep card pool and so many ways to combat any given strategy.

I had mixed feelings about my experience with Storm combo. I chose the deck for a side event, wanting a change of pace after my disappointing experience at GP Indianapolis. I expected a tournament half-full of effortless turn 2 wins and half-full of crushing Counterbalance lockouts, but that was hardly the case. The majority of games were interesting, interactive, and challenging, which made me feel like my 5-3 record could’ve been much better (or much worse) with a different list or a different pilot.

With Storm in Legacy, you’ll rarely run into a “goldfish” opponent like you might in other formats. Even G/W Maverick typically packs maindeck Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Gaddock Teeg, which are nightmares despite the matchup otherwise being easy. Mono Red Burn can quickly lower your life total and make Ad Nauseam unreliable, and it may have cards like Mindbreak Trap to blow you out after sideboard. Blue and black decks are challenging for obvious reasons, but all that said, no matchup feels unwinnable with Storm.

It’s important to play to the deck’s strengths, which are its speed and non-interactivity. I maindecked two bounce spells for fear of being kold to maindeck Gaddock Teeg or Chalice of the Void. However, while I did run into those cards in the tournament, my two bounce spells didn’t help me to beat them. With no Tutoring effects, you’re at the mercy of randomly drawing the bullets you want, and you need to ask yourself the general question: do you want a Chain of Vapor in your opening hand?

It’s best to streamline your deck and be as fast as possible; perhaps you can win before your opponent can even cast their Gaddock Teeg! I like Richard Johnson’s list for that reason, but I would even take it one step further, lowering the land count and playing with Chrome Mox.

As strange as it sounds, I was disappointed with the actual card Ad Nauseam. Normally, one of the big strengths of Storm Combo is that you can take your time and sculpt a hand, waiting until the last possible turn to go off with the highest chance of success. However, the way Ad Nauseam uses your life total as a resource often forces you to rush things against aggro and precludes you from playing powerful cards like Thoughtseize, Dark Confidant, and Grim Tutor.

I believe there may be a very powerful Storm list out there, and it’s possible that the best list of Storm is the best deck in Legacy. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what that list is myself. I’d like to see one less reliant on Ad Nauseam, perhaps utilizing Past in Flames as an alternative engine. In its current form, I would only recommend Ad Nauseam Storm to a true master who knows each matchup inside and out.

RUG Tempo is the format’s top dog and for good reason. It’s fast, consistent, and unforgiving. As I learned the hard way at last weekend’s Grand Prix, the game can sometimes be over before it starts as Stifle, Wasteland, and free permission can leave an opponent defenseless. RUG also sports many of the format’s best cards like Tarmogoyf and Lightning Bolt along with enough card selection to find them quickly and reliably.

What puts RUG over the top in my eyes is its incredible sideboard. Ancient Grudge and Red Elemental Blast are among the best cards in the format, though you might not traditionally think of them as such. They’re simply such powerful tools in the matchups where they’re good (and there are a lot of those) that I’m personally loath to enter a tournament without them. This is a deck where every matchup gets better after sideboarding, and that’s an amazing feeling for a long tournament in an open field.

Up to this point, my Legacy review has largely been my complaints about the decks I’ve tried out, but I really have nothing bad to say about RUG Tempo and strongly recommend it.

I have nothing bad to say about it, except maybe that there’s a better deck that shares a lot of cards in common…

Realistically, it’s difficult for me to sit here and insist that Natural Order RUG is Legacy’s best deck or that it’s better than RUG Tempo. However, I can say at the very least that it’s not getting the play that it deserves. This deck was among the major players in Legacy for quite some time, and there’s no reason why it’s not still good today.

Above is the list I played to a 6-3 finish at GP Indianapolis, but the deck felt great and I would play it again if I was to go back in time. This deck has the strengths of Stoneblade and RUG Tempo—powerful cards and consistency—but doesn’t share the weakness of being on the radar. So often I would face down a losing situation against an opponent who was overprepared for my Tarmogoyf / Vendilion Clique beatdown, and I would slam a Natural Order and steal the game.

RUG Tempo is not an easy matchup for Natural Order RUG, but it’s certainly not horrible. After all, the two decks share so many cards that it’s not too far from a mirror match. However, Maverick and U/W Stoneblade are quite favorable, as are any other matchups where your opponent wants to play a fair game with you.

I feel extremely confident in Natural Order RUG, and I predict a resurgence of the deck. Who knows if it might take first place in a high profile Legacy tournament sometime soon? Who knows if that tournament might be in Baltimore, Maryland on the weekend of March 24th?

I don’t claim that I’m a Legacy master or that I know the above decks as intimately as some other players out there. However, hearing one extra perspective on the format can never be a waste of time. If you’re new to the format, perhaps I’ve saved you some effort in trying out all four of these decks for yourself. If you’re already a Legacy expert who’s devoted to a single deck, maybe hearing how an outsider views the format has reminded you of something you’ve forgotten.

So if you found this article helpful in any way, there’s no need to wait until reiderrabbit’s next review. Just go out yourself and ask other people their thoughts and experiences in Legacy, or for that matter, whatever format you’re interested in!