So Many Insane Plays – A Bird’s Eye View of Legacy: The Engines of Legacy

Play Legacy at Grand Prix: Chicago!
Monday, February 23rd– In the second part of this excellent Legacy series, Stephen Menendian and Matthieu Durand take us through the Engines of Legacy. Counterbalance/Top, Life from the Loam, Ancient Tomb… all these and more come under scrutiny. Grand Prix: Chicago is drawing near… be prepared!

[Editor’s Note – This article was written by Stephen Menendian and Matthieu Durand.]

[Editor’s Note – This article was written by Stephen Menendian and Matthieu Durand.]

Last week, we reviewed the Tribes of Legacy. Today, we look at the most popular and common card engines you are likely to encounter in your Legacy experience. We take a look at the notorious Counterbalance/Top engine, powerful Life From the Loam based archetypes, annoying and controlling Standstill decks, aggressive and oppressive Ancient Tomb decks, blistering Dark Ritual decks, and then Dredge.

III. The Engines of Legacy

There is no obvious way to organize these major engines. Many of them coexist in the same deck. Some are unique to a few archetypes. All of them are powerful. These are the engines that you are most likely to face in tournaments, and those that have wide usage in the format

A Counterbalance-Top

In some ways, Counterbalance is to Legacy what Mana Drain is to Vintage. It is a format-defining counterspell with widespread, sometimes invisible, metagame influences. Whereas Mana Drain punished players for playing spells with a high casting cost, and was a contributory factory in the speed of that format, by weeding out decks that are slower than Mana Drain, Counterbalance actually has the opposite effect. It punishes people for playing a narrow range of spells, and specifically too many cheap spells, and pushes the format to include more three- and four-mana spells. Since the Legacy format has very few excellent mana accelerants, and those that are excellent in other contexts are neutered through other bannings, mana costs in Legacy naturally cluster at one, two, and three, more so than any format, arguably even Vintage, since zero casting cost is so common in Vintage, but much less common in Legacy. As a consequence, Counterbalance naturally hits large swaths of the format. Even blind, there is a good chance that Counterbalance will counter something.

Even with excellent library manipulation, such as Brainstorm and Ponder legal in the format, a Counterbalance remains porous, producing intermittent – though no less real – card advantage. This is where Sensei’s Divining Top comes in. Through the manipulation of the top three cards of your library, a manipulation that has a cumulative effect over time, as more cards rise to the top of the library, the Counterbalance lock becomes nearly impenetrable through conventional means unless you run spells at a higher casting range.

Legacy is a format where card advantage matters. Most of the major engines in the format are either tempo advantage or card advantage engines. Counterbalance is no exception. It is one of the formats best sources of card advantage.

Because of the efficiency, utility, and card-advantage quality of this engine, it is easily ported. Consequently, there are a number of decks which utilize this engine. Dreadtill and Threshold stand out, but they are not the universe of Counterbalance decks.

Cards like Engineered Explosives (sunburst it for two but cast it for three or more!), Pernicious Deed and Krosan Grip are used as tools to combat Counterbalance

Threshold Variants

Along with Goblins, Threshold is the historically most successful deck in American Legacy Grand Prix tournaments, and in Legacy in general. Helmut Summersberger won Grand Prix: Lille with Threshold in 2005:

The Threshold concept is somewhat like the Legacy equivalent of Grow. It takes the best cheap, efficient creatures and countermagic and puts them in the same Aggro-Control, tempo deck. The changes in the archetype have been precipitated mostly by new printings. The printing of Tarmogoyf totally superseded the small role that Werebear fulfilled.

Ponder replaces Serum Visions, and the printing of Dark Confidant has pushed the deck into Black on account of the card advantage. Counterbalance gives the deck a much harder lock and another source of card advantage.

Among Legacy Regulars, there does seem to be some hesitance to go into four colors. There is no marginal cost difference between running 3 or 4 colors in Legacy. This is one of the most important fallacies advanced by players – that by running only three colors, somehow one’s manabase is more stable. The most common point made is that running four colors makes you more vulnerable to Wasteland. Having played in many tournaments with four color Threshold decks between the two of us, we can definitively say that a Wasteland harms your manabase roughly identically whether you are in 3 or 4 colors. In most cases, you have lost a vital mana source. In many cases, you have been cut off from a color. But this is true whether you are in 3 or 4 colors. And the ability to recover is roughly the same. A simple topdeck of a cantrip or Top that finds a fetchland can help you find whichever color you were recently cut off of. In short, there is no valid argument that a three-color manabase is reliably more stable than a four-color manabase. You can read Stephen’s tournament reports with Threshold. Here is a list designed by Matthieu that was taken to a Top8 finish in a 65 players event in January and lost to Blue Stax in quarterfinals:

Here are some important tips on playing this deck:

If there is a choice between Dark Confidant, Counterbalance, or Tarmogoyf on turn 2, the correct play, in general, is Dark Confidant. To a surprising degree, card advantage is important in Legacy. Very often, two decks will go back and forth, one for one, picking away at each other. Creating actual card advantage is a big boost in a format where there is so little cheap actual card advantage. While the reputation is that no creature will survive very long, even if Dark Confidant is able to replace itself, that can make the difference in having your last threat stick. If the choice is between turn 2 Counterbalance or Goyf, then I would go with Counterbalance. You will able to use your Counterbalance to protect your next turn Goyf.

At Magic Worlds, 2007, this archetype was by far the most popular, with 76 copies, almost twice as many as the next most popular, 34 Goblins.


Paul Cheon popularized this deck with his brief Youtube clip at Magic Worlds, describing both the Spike and Johnny appeal of bashing with a 12/12 trampler. More recently, Luis-Scott Vargas discussed a UW variant on this archetype.

B: Life From the Loam

Life from the Loam is probably the strongest engine available in Legacy in terms of raw power. It is the core component of an extremely efficient recursive card drawing engine when used with Onslaught cycling lands and also a way to set up generic recursion when combined with Intuition and Volrath’s Stronghold or Academy Ruins. This engine is so efficient that either Aggro or Control decks use it with great success. The 2006-2007 Extended season saw both Aggro Loam and Control Loam (commonly called “CAL,” for Confinement Assault Loam) being widely played, but for some reason the engine took a while to take off in Legacy. Gabriel Nassif ended up one win short from Top 8 at GP: Lille in 2006 with his own UWgb Control Loam build featuring Grave-Shell Scarab as finisher, and Hugo van Dijke won the Dutch Legacy Nationals with a G/W Aggro-Control Loam build (close to the old school “Terrageddon”), but aside from this the engine remained largely absent from the Legacy metagame until fairly recently, in the shadow of the other engines.

One of the main reason people stay away from Life from the Loam is a supposed vulnerability to graveyard removal, which tends to be heavily played in Legacy. This is a very flawed idea, and playing around Tormod’s Crypt or Relic of Progenitus is fairly easy assuming you can afford keeping one mana open and a cycler in hand to save your Life from the Loam at instant speed. Most of the time your opponent will only manage to remove a few lands from your graveyard, which is hardly relevant as the best thing about Life from the Loam is its ability to aliment itself. The worst things that could happen to you are Extirpate and Leyline of the Void, and these weaknesses can be countered by running Burning Wish.

Morningtide gave yet another powerful tool to the Life from the Loam engine with Countryside Crusher, lowering its vulnerability to one-shot graveyard removal (Relic of Progenitus kills Terravore) and putting a stronger emphasis on Red. Nevertheless, Eventide is the set that truly gave the edge to the Loam engine. While cycling lands and Flashback spells were obvious inclusions in a Life from the Loam deck, the recent printing of the Retrace mechanics has given the engine a brand new dimension, with Raven’s Crime providing unlimited hand control components and Worm Harvest a virtually uncounterable and efficient win condition.

Aggro Loam

Aggro Loam can be built in many different ways in Legacy. The original approach was to build the deck around a G/W core, with Terravore, Armageddon, Solitary Confinement and now Tarmogoyf as the most notable cards aside of Life from the Loam, but these builds never saw heavy play in Legacy.

Other builds arise afterwards, based on Extended lists. These builds, incorporating a strong Red component, have a combo approach for this engine with Devastating Dreams and sometimes Seismic Assault. In plenty matchups, your game plan will basically be “Drop a huge creature, cast Devastating Dreams for 3 or 4, win.” This combo component makes the deck even more reliant on Life from the Loam, a reliance that is shored by the inclusion of Burning Wish as a powerful and versatile tutor for the engine. Nevertheless, the best color combination is still rather undetermined. A straight RG build featuring both Countryside Crusher and Terravore has a stable manabase, but has hard times beating Combo. The White splash is still an option, mostly for Solitary Confinement and Armageddon, but the deck would still suffer from the same Combo weakness. Knight of the Reliquary can make a big impact on White builds, and is a solid option that should be tested in a build featuring powerful singletons. On the other hand, Black opens a wide array of options.

This suggested build is fairly different from others, much more controlish, as it relegates Green to a simple splash for Tarmogoyf and Life from the Loam, with a very heavy Black component. The Thoughtseizes are used for Devastating Dreams protection against Control and Aggro-Control as well as early disruption against Combo — a matchup that can be won by setting up Raven’s Crime recursion as soon as possible — or Counterbalance. Raven’s Crime is also your main game plan against Control, where you will want to empty their hand before playing creatures. While regular Aggro-Loam decks want to maximize the synergy between Life from the Loam and its creatures, this one tends to be a Raven’s Crime deck most of the time, and thus creatures become secondary. This is the reason why Dark Confidant is included there, as a backup draw engine in case Life from the Loam or Burning Wish do not show up. It is a true Aggro-Control-Combo build, and can adapt its game plan fairly quickly depending on the game situation. Jund Charm could be tested there since the three modes have solid uses in this deck, though we fear the color requirements are a bit too heavy, even for a deck supporting Life from the Loam and Mox Diamond.

Against Aggro decks, this build will want to be a Combo-Control deck, mostly because of its low threat density. The Control plan is typically based on an early Burning Wish for Firespout, followed by one large creature to dominate the board, while the Combo approach revolves around a turn 2 Tarmogoyf followed by a turn 3 Devastating Dreams for either two or three depending on who is on the play. Against Control decks, you will surprisingly almost always want to be the Control deck yourself. There are some games where you will open with a turn one Thoughtseize and clear the path for your Tarmogoyf or Countryside Crusher, but most of the time this play will meet a topdecked Swords to Plowshares or Engineered Explosives hindering your game plan. Against decks like Landstill, I (Matthieu) tend to go for a heavy discard approach and a quick Raven’s Crime setup. With 4 Burning Wish that can be used to find the missing piece of the combo, Aggro Loam can end the game as soon as by turn 3. For example:

Turn 1:

Bloodstained Mire for Badlands, Thoughtseize a Force of Will or a Counterbalance

Turn 2:

Taiga, Burning Wish for either Life from the Loam or Raven’s Crime

Turn 3:

Wasteland a blue producing land, Raven’s Crime

Aggro Loam will untap on turn 4 with {R/G}{R/B} available, Raven’s Crime, Wasteland and Bloodstained Mire in the graveyard and Life from the Loam in hand. Depending on which lands Landstill played, Aggro Loam can either go for the mana denial plan by returning and playing Wasteland, or for the discard plan by fetching another Badlands with Bloodstained Mire and discarding Wasteland to pay for Raven’s Crime retrace cost. Note that the Landstill player will face a cruel dilemma here; either discard a land and become even more vulnerable to Wasteland, or discard a business card and become more vulnerable to Thoughtseize or Duress. On the following turn Aggro Loam will be able to retrace Raven’s Crime twice, for a fast and efficient Mind Twist effect. You will not always face a semi goldfish like here, but this gives a general idea of the array of strategies Aggro Loam can pull depending on the matchup.

As for most of the decks without counters, the Combo matchup is by far your hardest one. The discard plan is efficient at preventing Combo from going off, but a topdecked Ad Nauseam! is deadly. Your main game plan in this matchup is to aim for early discard, and hope that you have enough time to setup a lethal Raven’s Crime recursion. If you feel that Combo is about to go off, do not hesitate to miss land drops for more retraces, these will pay off in the mid game. This Raven’s Crime plan is the reason why we cannot really afford to run Rule of Law or Ethersworn Canonist in the sideboard. These will stall Combo for a few turns, but a single Raven’s Crime or Thoughtseize per turn will not be enough to cut their Dark Rituals and become safe from a topdecked bomb after Chain of Vapor. This is the reason why we opted for the old school Orim’s Chant. More than often Combo will sideboard out some protection against you and bring in Chain of Vapor or Krosan Grip — expecting Thorn of Amethyst, Rule of Law or Sphere of Resistance — and Orim’s Chant has the potential to catch them off guard. Engineered Explosives should also be brought in, as the best foil to the discard plan is to play Lotus Petals and Lion’s Eye Diamonds.

Aggro Loam is surprisingly resilient to graveyard hate. Leyline of the Void is obviously a killer card, but Tormod’s Crypt and Relic of Progenitus can be played around quite easily assuming you can afford to hold a Forgotten Cave or a Barren Moor in hand. Unlike some other Loam decks, which are very reliant on intensive recursion (usually Engineered Explosives with Academy Ruins) and tend to run a single copy of Life from the Loam, Aggro Loam can afford to see his graveyard removed. Graveyard removal will leave Countryside Crusher untouched, and between Dark Confidant, Burning Wish and the high Life from the Loam count maindeck, as well as the filtering and graveyard filling provided by Crushers, restarting the engine is not a hard thing to do.

Control Loam

Control Loam or Intuition Control are names that would perfectly fit this archetype, but for some reason it is known to Legacy regulars as “It’s the Fear.” This archetype is another one of the format’s powerful blue based control decks, except that it utilizes a different set of engines than any other deck. It fuses Life from the Loam, Counterbalance, and Intuition.

Here is a sample list:

This list goes to show you the wide applicability of Life From the Loam as a card advantage engine. Some local players in my area are running Etched Oracle in this list in order to generate even more card advantage.

In some ways the deck is a hybrid. It can win like Threshold, a quick Goyf aided by Counterbalance, or it can play a genuine control role like Landstill, and use Deeds and Countermagic to keep control. This is an option for any serious player to consider.

C: StandstillFact or Fiction

Standstill is one of the most efficient draw engines in Legacy. Of course, it’s a somewhat conditional draw engine. Long time Magic players probably recall with some amusement the old T2 days of Standstill fueled Zevatog. In Legacy, Standstill decks have solid footing, resting their laurels upon the power of cards like Mishra’s Factory to reduce the conditionally — and risk — of playing Standstill. Mishra’s Factory is the most powerful manland ever printed, and the printing of Mutavault has only enhanced its stature. Standstill also has powerful synergy with Aether Vial, which is why a number of Aggro-Control decks also run Standsills.

However, the most famous user and abuser of Standstill in Legacy is Landstill. Landstill was one of the very earliest innovations after the 2005 restructuring that created Legacy as we know it, and separated the Legacy banned list from the Vintage restricted list. It is the format’s keystone pure control archetype, which seeks to establish control over the board insofar as possible, and use manlands as a path of victory.

There are many ways to build Landstill. Let me show you a few major configurations which have made Top 8 in Legacy events.

This list shows you some of the key characteristics of Landstill. Standstill and Fact or Fiction synergizes. The card advantage generated by Standstill fuels your Fact or Fictions, which often put you over the tipping point. Fact or Fiction can be an incredibly frustrating card, sitting in hand while you are under attack, or dying helplessly. However, it’s not there to save your butt when you are in the whole. It’s there to push you ahead when you’ve used your other cards to stay in the game. Crucible of Worlds is also really powerful, recurring not just Mishra’s Factories indefinitely, but also fetchlands and Wasteland. Elspeth is amazing in Legacy, and pretty clearly the best existing Planeswalker for this archetype. She is very difficult to remove, and incredibly cheap. If you are running enough White sources, we highly recommend it.

This is the other popular Landstill variant. Nantuko Monastery is a huge boon, and Pernicious Deed is a powerhouse. This list shows you that some Landstill players are running full complements of Spell Snare, a great possibility for Landstill pilots.

D: Ancient Tomb

On December 5th 2003, the DCI abruptly put an end to the domination of Ancient Tomb decks in Extended following their impressive showing at Pro Tour: New Orleans a month before. An unprecedented 26 copies of Ancient Tomb had been played in the Top 8 of this event (Ancient Tomb also being the most played card in the tournament), along with 28 copies of Tinker and a good amount of Gilded Lotus and Grim Monolith. While Grim Monolith and Tinker are banned in Legacy — and for a good reason — It is still possible to abuse Ancient Tomb in this format. Ancient Tomb is one of the best re-usable fast mana generator in Legacy, and the core component of a few archetypes.

The most obvious approach for the Ancient Tomb deck is to use its namesake to fuel expensive game breaking artifacts, building around a skeleton similar to the one used by the Stax decks in Vintage or the Tinker decks in Extended circa 2003. Nevertheless, unlike Mishra’s Workshop, Ancient Tomb can also fuel non artifact spells, and is thus also used in creature based decks as a way to accelerate fatties and other bombs.

Ancient Tomb decks are usually tempo killing decks, using the same core of Chalice of the Void and Trinisphere to deny the ability to cast spells to their opponents and to lower the impact of their draws on the game, buying them enough time to put a full lock in place or to inflict 20 points of damage using efficient beaters. Chalices of the Void and Trinispheres are used in a very similar way Counterbalance decks use their Counterbalances, to punish their opponents from playing cheap spells and having a tight mana curve. In order to maximize the tempo of their first few turns, Ancient Tomb decks tend to seek speed at all costs (usually packing City of Traitors, Chrome Mox or Mox Diamond as secondary accelerants), often at the expense of card advantage, stability and obviously life. A good understanding of the mulligan is needed if you want to master these decks.

Because of the efficiency of this mana advantage engine, any deck featuring a good amount of colorless mana costs can utilize it. While the original Ancient Tomb deck, Angel Stompy featuring its accelerated Exalted Angels, never had a big impact in Legacy, its current incarnations, Stax, Dragon Stompy and Faerie Stompy are all pretty successful and are strong predators to the Counterbalance and the Loam decks.


Stax has been a long time contender in Legacy, even if its original incarnations were quite underpowered and could not compete efficiently in a field where turn one Goblin Lackey or Aether Vial were rampant. With a metagame shifting away from Goblins towards Counterbalance, Life from the Loam and Dark Ritual decks, Stax evolved from an underground archetype into a very dangerous predator.

The most famous Stax build was originally designed by Christopher Coppola (also known as Machinus on various forums), and stayed away from the standard Red (Goblin Welder is too fragile) and Blue (Tinker is banned and Thirst for Knowledge is sub optimal without Goblin Welder) components found in Vintage in order to focus on White, with Ancient Tomb accelerating various permanent based tempo killers. White was then considered as the best color to splash due to a synergistic win condition (Exalted Angel), efficient creature control (Ghostly Prison, Wrath of God) elements and a wide range of sideboard options (Seal of Cleansing, Aura of Silence). The latest sets gave a lot of interesting tools for White Stax to play with, and Time Spiral block completely changed the lock approach. Before Time Spiral, the most common way for Stax to win against Aggro was to hold the early swarm with Ghostly Prison, buying enough time to put an Exalted Angel or a Wrath of God online to seal the deal. Magus of the Tabernacle and Flagstones of Trokair pushed Armageddon or the Portal clone Ravages of War in the build, as an abrupt way to end games by turn four against Aggro, Control and Combo. Icing on the cake, Horizon Canopy can be used as an interesting and recurring card draw when paired with Crucible of Worlds. Recently, Shard of Alara introduced Ethersworn Canonist as a one-sided Rule of Law and obviously strong sideboard card against Combo, alongside with the Planeswalker Elspeth, Knight-Errant as the newest win condition. Elspeth, Knight-Errant is a very versatile card in White Stax, since it can participate to the lock establishment by feeding Smokestack or providing unlimited Tarmogoyf chump blockers while protecting herself from combat damage.

Nevertheless, despite all these new additions to White Stax coming from the latest blocks, the card that has been the most discussed in Stax shells is not White. After its impressive showing at Pro Tour: Berlin in a field of tiny green men with pointy ears and its omnipresence in Vintage, Tezzeret the Seeker could possibly storm Legacy too, and his inclusion in a Blue based Stax shell is quite obvious. The Blue Planeswalker is a very versatile tool for Stax, and a much stronger one than Elspeth in a vacuum. While the first ability is only relevant if you decide to run Seat of the Synod or Tangle Wire (even if the synergy with Mishra’s Factory is nice), the second one opens a wide range of powerful options for Stax and will almost always be used right after Tezzeret hits the board. The lack of Tinker in Legacy is one of the reasons why Blue has always been dismissed as a splash, and Tezzeret fills this void, acting as a recurring tutor and source of card advantage, assuming you can keep it on the board. Last but not least, the super power is a fast and efficient win condition.

Blue has fewer tools than White to play with. Ghostly Prison and Rule of Law have straight equivalents with Propaganda and Arcane Laboratory, but the biggest loss when switching from White to Blue is Flagstones of Trokair. Flagstones of Trokair gave a good consistency to Stax, and has no other equivalents. The loss of Magus of the Tabernacle is surprisingly a very minor annoyance. Magus of the Tabernacle truly shines against Aggro unless combined with Armageddon, and Aggro has slightly disappeared from the Legacy metagame. To be honest, a single Magus of the Tabernacle will look pretty weak when facing Phyrexian Dreadnought. In a field where Aggro-Control dominates, Maze of Ith is strong, and much harder to deal with than Magus of the Tabernacle. Stax can also steal Faeries technology with Sower of Temptation, and you will notice that you will kill your opponent with his own fat creature more than often. Nevertheless, one of the main dangers when designing Blue Stax is to fall into a “White Stax port” trap. When Tezzeret was spoiled, a lot of Legacy players attempted to design Blue Stax by mirroring White Stax functionalities, ending up running extremely weak Blue cards as suboptimal mimics of White cards. Mana Vortex is probably the most blatant example. Armageddon is great in White Stax, because it synergizes with every other lock component. Mana Vortex is bad in Blue Stax, because it goes against one of Stax’s fundamentals: Stax has an edge over the opponent because the opponent suffers from the symmetric pieces first.

Engineered Explosives is a great tool in Legacy, and running a few dual lands allows an easier Sunburst for two. This little splash opens multiple options. The White cards have already been covered earlier, and a Blue White Stax build could incorporate Magus of the Tabernacle or Armageddon. Green has no relevant cards to bring there (except maybe Tarmogoyf in the sideboard, it is Tarmogoyf after all), and the best Red sweepers, Pyroclasm or Firespout, tend to be rather weak against Elves! or Goblins because they do not address the actual problems Stax has in these matchups. Black is a fine choice, exposed in the list above. Engineered Plague is great against Goblins and Elves!, and could even be brought against Red Storm combo decks. The Abyss is a solid maindeck option, and Nimble Mongoose or Phyrexian Dreadnought are easily dealt with anyway using Engineered Explosives.

Stax is one of the few top decks in Legacy, and has a great matchup against Threshold variants because it has all the tools needed to hinder Threshold tempo and mana while being immune to Counterbalance locks. Dark Ritual decks also hate when a fast Trinisphere or Chalice of the Void hits the board. Nevertheless, Stax has a known weakness to Goblins, actually one of its worst matchups. On the draw, facing a turn one Goblin Lackey or Aether Vial is the worst thing that could happen to Stax, since these plays completely nullify Chalice of the Void or Trinisphere. Engineered Explosives can help, but tends to be too slow, especially since time spent on casting and activating it is not spent on dropping useful lock components. Stax also hates seeing Pernicious Deed or Nevinnyral’s Disk, but their higher casting cost or harsh mana requirements make them easier to stop preemptively with Wasteland.

Overall, despite being still under the radar, Stax has the power level needed in order to win a Grand Prix, and has a solid matchup against most of the other engine based decks (Counterbalance or Life from the Loam). It is a great choice for all these entering the tournament with 3 byes.

Tomb Stompy

Tomb Stompy is a generic name that refers to a large spectrum of Aggro decks using Ancient Tomb — usually coupled with Chrome Mox and City of Traitors — as a way to accelerate creatures and soft lock components. Aside from the name, they share nothing with the original Stompy, which were instead built on very light mana bases and a majority of 1cc spells. Tomb Stompy could theoretically splash any of the five colors, and tend to use the same disruption core of Trinisphere and Chalice of the Void, breaking the symmetry of these cards by running cards with high casting costs. Designed in 2004, the first successful Tomb Stompy build, the White based Angel Stompy, is now obsolete, but served as a reference for the construction of the modern Tomb Stompy builds.

Faerie Stompy’s game plan is fairly simple to apprehend, drop an early high power evasive flyer and attempt to ride it for the win while stalling the opponent with Chalice of the Void and Force of Will. Trinket Mage enables consistent turn two Chalices, and opens a small toolbox with Pithing Needle, Seat of the Synod and Sigil of Distinction, one of the very best cards from Shards of Alara. Sword of Light and Shadow has multiple uses here, since it serves as a source of card advantage — especially when returning evoked Mulldrifters — as well as protection from Swords to Plowshares, Smother, Snuff Out or Tombstalker. For these who are not familiar with the deck, it is worth knowing that Sea Drake’s come into play ability is now targeted, and will thus be countered if you open with a turn one Chrome Mox, Ancient Tomb into Sea Drake.

Dragon Stompy’s game plan is quite different from Faerie Stompy’s. While Faerie Stompy wants to capitalize on early threats in order to win the game, Dragon Stompy goes for a stronger disruption, with Magus of the Moon and Blood Moon punishing the opponent from running the weak multi-colored manabases that see play in Legacy after the decline of Goblins and its Wastelands and Rishadan Ports and Trinisphere as a replacement for Force of Will.

A game against a standard Threshold list could go like this:

Turn 1:

Ancient Tomb, Chalice of the Void
Threshold has Force of Will

Turn 2:

Mountain, Magus of the Moon
Threshold attempts to Daze, but it is paid by removing Simian Spirit Guide

At this point Threshold is in a bad position. Most Threshold lists only run a few basic Islands — if any basics at all! — and their only out to Magus of the Void is Swords to Plowshares. At best, they have to try to cantrip into both Plains and Swords to Plowshares or Forest and Tarmogoyf if they want to get back into the game.

Turn 3:

Taurean Mauler

This is probably the final blow in this game. If Threshold keeps casting Brainstorms and Ponders in order to draw for answers or Tarmogoyf, Dragon Stompy’s clock gets faster and faster as Taurean Mauler grows, likely to a point where Tarmogoyf or Swords to Plowshares have to trade with it, and Magus of the Moon will still be around. If Threshold relies on topdecks, Dragon Stompy hits for 4 per turn, and Threshold cannot even filter their draws with Sensei’s Divining Top since fetchlands are disabled.

E: Dark Ritual Storm Combo

The format’s first successful Dark Ritual combo deck was Iggy Pop (click here to read a primer on it). However, that was played in a field in which Goblins was the deck to beat. Since then, the main Dark Ritual storm deck has been “The Epic Storm.”

Here’s what that looked like:

However, Dark Ritual decks were given a major boost with the printing of Ad Nauseam. The printing of Ad Nauseam has given Storm combo a true engine, instead of just trying to string together tutors and mana. Ad Nauseam is the format’s only unbanned, good storm engine. But, and the million dollar question is: how should you build Ad Nauseam combo?

Doug Linn explored this question in great detail a few months ago (http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/legacy/16733_Unlocking_Legacy_Feeling_Nauseous.html )

The existing developed Ad Nauseam decks have followed the wrong leads. If you aren’t running 4 Ponder and 4 Brainstorm in your list, your list is wrong. Period. No ‘if’s’ and/or ‘buts’ about it. It’s untuned, but here is the list I have developed. Burning Wish is also a red herring, literally.

Try this one on for size:

This list still has some kinks in it, but it’s a step in the right direction. Ad Nauseam has to be able to win through the hell that is Legacy Counterbalance, with multiple Dazes, Forces, and Duresses. One tool for doing that is running Dark Confidant, the counter-intuitive, but very sensible pick. Chrome Mox and Lotus Petal allow quick Bobs, and they get some damage in while creating card advantage.

The goal is to quickly assemble the mana and an Ad Nauseam and play it. The Ponders and Brainstorms will quickly find the Rituals, and Mystical Tutor will dig up the missing component. It’s important to remember that you can break a Lion’s Eye Diamond in your upkeep and play Ad Nauseam in your draw step at instant speed. Thus, if you have a Dark Ritual and a Lion’s Eye Diamond, you can Mystical tutor in your upkeep for Ad Nauseam, play the Ritual and break the LED in your upkeep to play Ad Nauseam in your draw step. When you are comboing out, you will rely heavily on the Chrome Mox, Lotus Petals, and LEDs to find the mana you need to win. You will often Mystical for Tendrils, and use Ponders/Brainstorms to draw it.

Ichorid Variants

Ichorid is a dark horse, but one that Pros could latch onto due to its raw power and speed.

Here is a recent list that got second place in a Legacy tournament:

The plan is simple: use Careful Study or Breakthrough (or Lion’s Eye Diamond) to discard a dredger like Stinkweed Imp or Golgari Grave-Troll. From there, just use your draw step, and additional draw effects, to dredge more of your deck away. If you can play a turn 1 Putrid Imp, you can play turn 2 Breakthrough to dredge most of your library. In the process, Narcomoebas will pop out. You can then use Ichorids, Narcomoebas, and Bridge From Below tokens to Cabal Therapy your opponent, and strip their hand of relevant cards. Then, you can sacrifice some tokens to play Dread Return Cephalid Sage. This will allow you to dredge the larger remainder of your deck, and find the hiding Narcomoebas and Bridges. Then, you’ll want to Dread Return again on Flame-Kin Zealot. This will give your army of Bridge tokens a boost, and allow you to take your team into the red zone. This is a very fast goldfish (often winning on turn 2), and not disruptable through conventional means once the dredging begins.

Cards like Force of Will, Daze, and Duress are all important in slowing the dredge player down, but cards like Tormod’s Crypt, Relic of Progentius, Jotun Grunt, Leyline of the Void, Yixlid Jailer, Extirpate, and more will all be necessary tools to fight this monstrosity.

In our opinion, each Dredge list should be running an Angel of Despair. In addition, River Kelpie now sees play over Cephalid Sage in Vintage Ichorid lists, and perhaps is stronger in Legacy as well. Finally, running 3-4 Unmasks maindeck gives Ichorid a nice edge. We suggest cutting the 3 Careful Study for 3 Unmask. Dredge will be a potent, but fringe, player in Legacy for some time to come.

IV. Conclusion

Amongst all the archetypes you could face at a Grand Prix or any large scale Legacy tournament, it is very likely that they will either be a tribal archetype, or one based on the engines we described here. Unlike Vintage, where deck construction is directly influenced by the power level of separate cards, Legacy is constructed around the synergies described in our two articles, be it Slivers or Merfolk enhancing each other, Sensei’s Divining Top enabling stack control with Counterbalance, or Raven’s Crime and Forgotten Cave turning into a massive draw and disruption engine with Life from the Loam.

The most notable absent in this article is probably Gifts Ungiven. The card had a huge impact on Block, Standard, Extended and Vintage, and it is fairly surprising that it is not being played in Legacy. Intuition can be used to generate similar effects, but Gifts Ungiven opens a wide range of deckbuilding options, and can easily be splashed in about any existing Control or Combo skeleton, one running Counterbalance or Life from the Loam.

In spite of that absence, Legacy remains a very rich and deep format full of archetype diversity. We have canvassed a good deal of the vast range of options Legacy offers. We hope you’ve enjoyed the journey, and will continue to enjoy Legacy for many years to come.

Thanks for reading…

Stephen Menendian and Matthieu Durand