So Many Insane Plays – Six Cards To Unban In Legacy

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Monday, March 29th – With Legacy being heavily discussed at present, Stephen Menendian presents a case for six cards to be removed from the current Legacy Banned list. In each case, he suggests why the card isn’t as dangerous as it once appeared, and he provides sample decklists that include the illegal spells!

The Legacy banned list was established in 2005 with the announcement of the format’s creation. It has remained virtually unchanged since. The initial Legacy banned list featured 63 cards. It was a remarkable feat of foresight from Forsythe. Only three cards have been added to the banned list since, and only because of the removal of power level errata (Flash and Time Vault) and logistical concerns (Shahrazad). No card undisturbed by errata has needed banning in Legacy for power reasons or tournament dominance since the format’s creation. That’s testament to Legacy’s natural competitive balance.

That doesn’t mean that people haven’t tried to get cards banned at one time or another. Some folks felt that Goblin Lackey should be banned. A few years later, people felt Sensei’s Divining Top should be banned. Others cards have entered the conversation. But in time, these calls to ban subside and the format moves on. Wizard’s patience proved prescient.

At the same time, Wizards has been notably cautious about cleaning out the detritus. In five years, they’ve only banned five cards: Replenish and Mind Over Matter, then Entomb, Dream Halls, and Metalworker. I don’t blame them. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Legacy is a very healthy format, with plenty of deck options. A short banned list isn’t a virtue here, since most banned cards can be played in Vintage. Some of the cards they unbanned were obvious, like Mind Over Matter and Metalworker. Neither card has seen any real play. Replenish, Entomb, and Dream Halls have all won tournaments, but they aren’t dominating. They are one part of a big format.

A week ago, Aaron Forsythe solicited community feedback by tweeting: What one card would YOU (un)ban or (un)restrict in what format and why?

There are a number of cards that can be safely unbanned in Legacy, if Wizards was inclined to do it. In this article, I will discuss six possibilities.

Illusionary Mask

A year ago, DreadStill was one of the premiere decks in the format. That deck was built around Stifle + Phyrexian Dreadnaught. Illusionary Mask has long been used to cheat Phyrexian Dreadnaught into play in Vintage. Recent errata to Illusionary Mask have actually made it much weaker because the creature being played with Mask can now be countered. One of the reasons that Dreadtill no longer sees much play is the printing of Qasali Pridemage, in addition to the printing of Path to Exile. Mask is also vulnerable to both cards.

Illusionary Mask is weaker than either Stifle or Trickbind as a way of cheating Dreadnaught into play. This is because Stifle and Trickbind are more versatile, and Blue. I could see a Dreadtill list running a pair of Masks as additional ways to cheat in Dreadnaught, after four Stifle. But Mask would be most powerful if it could cheat creatures into play under a Standstill. As I understand Mask’s current errata, playing a creature with Mask will trigger Standstill. Incidentally, StarCityGames.com oracle text is wrong. That would actually make Mask much stronger. I could then see Mask being used with Standstill.

Since that’s not a functional combo, and since Dreadtill has virtually disappeared, I don’t see Mask really being much of a factor in its revival. However, I think that a Survival shell would be viable. Borrowing from Vintage, here is a rough draft of Vengeur Masque:

This deck has several combos. In addition to Mask + Dreadnaught and Dreadnaught + Survival/Squee, Volrath’s Shapeshifter also combos with Phyrexian Dreadnaught to produce a 12/12 without the Mask. Mask will just allow you to cheat Dreadnaughts into play directly. A deck like this could be an upgrade to existing Survival approaches, but it’s not obviously superior to other Survival decks, and it wouldn’t dominate. It does beat the heck of having to acquire Loyal Retainer, though.

Illusionary Mask is an odd card and a fun niche card that would spice up the format without creating a problematic deck.

Mind Twist

Mind Twist used to be Banned in Vintage for being too powerful. It was unbanned in 2000, and unrestricted in 2007. Despite being unrestricted, Mind Twist hasn’t even registered a blip. It’s very rarely played. That’s because it’s largely outmoded. Targeted discard is generally a superior form of discard. And cards like Ponder and Brainstorm make it much easier to recover from being Mind Twisted. That’s one of the reasons that Hymn to Tourach sees so little play in Legacy. I suspect that Mind Twist in Legacy would see a similar level to play. The difference is that it can be very explosive, and a blowout with a double Dark Ritual draw.

Hymn to Tourach is more efficient at two mana. Two mana, two cards. For the same price, you only get one card with Mind Twist. But Mind Twist gives you slightly more flexibility. Its variable casting cost also allows it to evade Counterbalance. I’m not sure if Mind Twist is good enough to replace Hymn to Tourach in Eva Green, B/W Suicide, or The Rock, but I could see it supplement Hymn. I could also see Mind Twist being better in certain decks like Pox/Nether Void or Mono Black Control decks.

This is modeled after the Mono Black Control deck that Craig Wostratzky used to make Top 8 at the StarCityGames.com Indianapolis Legacy Open. Mind Twist can be a game ender in this deck.

But I think Mind Twist could actually be more terrifying in Eva Green.

All in all, Mind Twist is surprisingly innocuous. It will have the potential to create a blow out game, where one person is Mind Twisted early. And perhaps the most broken use of Mind Twist is turn 1 Duress, turn 2 Dark Ritual, Mind Twist you for 3. But I don’t see the unbanning of Mind Twist as contributing to a dominant deck. Also, all of those Diverts and Misdirections make Mind Twist a huge liability. If Mind Twist is unbanned, that would be yet another reason to play Misdirection.


Earthcraft was first banned in 2003. At the time, the Vintage restricted list was tethered to the Legacy banned list. Legacy was once Type 1.5, and Vintage Type 1. The Legacy banned list was nothing more or less than the Vintage restricted list. Any card restricted in Vintage was automatically banned in Legacy. In order to nerf the Earthcraft and Squirrel Nest combo in Legacy, Earthcraft was restricted in Vintage. As soon as the Legacy and Vintage B/R lists were separated, Earthcraft was unrestricted in Vintage.

If Earthcraft were unbanned in Legacy, it would be one of a number of two-card combos of approximately the same cost. It would be the enchantment equivalent of Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek or Painter + Grindstone. There are already plenty of combos like that: Helm + Leyline, Natural Order + Progenitus, Dreadnaught + Stifle, Dark Depths + Vampire Hexmage, Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek. Two-card combos, even those that win the game, proliferate Legacy, and are not viewed as particularly threatening. Not even Show and Tell or Natural Order is viewed as a problem for the format. Dark Depths is a marginal combo.

Earthcraft + Squirrel Nest would be another option, and one designed for Green mages. I think it’s perfectly fair. If I have any reservations, it’s that this combo might actually power up Enchantress (or Elves) even more. Consider:

Sterling Grove is a tutor for Earthcraft/Squirrel Nest, and Enlightened Tutor can also find the combo. Squirrel Nest could also clog up the table and buy time. Earthcraft isn’t very good by itself, so it’s arguable that Enchantress pilots would actually not run this combo. Sigil or Sacred Mesa are single card win conditions.

There a number of mitigating circumstances that make this combo less than terrifying. The first is the fact that Pithing Needle has been printed since this combo first existed. The second is that Krosan Grip is practically everywhere in Legacy nowadays, and the price of enchantment removal has never been cheaper, with Nature’s Claim. The third is that cards like Hibernation or Engineered Plague, easily utilized sideboard cards, can neuter this combo quickly.

Goblin Recruiter

Goblin Recruiter was banned because of its power in Food Chain Goblins. Turn 1 Goblin Recruiter (off a Chrome/Mox Diamond) allows you to stack your deck, so that with turn 2 Food Chain you to combo out immediately. It works like this:

Turn 1: Mox, Mountain, Goblin Recruiter and stack your deck.

Turn 2: Land, Food Chain. Sacrifice Goblin Recruiter to generate 3 mana. Cast any Goblin in your hand. Sacrifice it to Food Chain. Now you have 4 mana to play Goblin Ringleader. Play Goblin Ringleader and draw 4 Goblins. Sacrifice Goblin Ringleader to play another Ringleader. Eventually, you’ll play Goblin Warchief and 4 Goblin Piledriver to win this turn.

It’s important to note that the Food Chain can only be used to pay for creature spells, so it prevents comboing with cards like Goblin Charbelcher or Empty the Warrens. Although, some Extended players did combo Recruiter with Charbelcher, using Recruiter to stack the library like Mana Severance.

Because of the banning of Goblin Lackey in old Extended, and the banning of Recruiter in Legacy, the only home for Food Chain Goblins has been Vintage. It actually managed to win one of the SCG P9 tournaments:

If Goblin Recruiter were legal in Legacy, this is largely what the deck would look like (sans Vintage Moxen). What players in Vintage have discovered is that non-Food Chain Goblins is just as good, if not better, than Food Chain Goblins. Vintage is not Legacy, and there are significant differences between the formats, but there is reason to think that if Recruiter were legal, Food Chain Goblins would not uniformly and unequivocally become the premiere Goblins list.

And even if it were, I’m not convinced that it would be that much of a problem. First of all, Turn 1 Recruiter, turn 2 Food Chain, is pretty much no different than what Elves, another tribal deck, can do, with turn 1 Nettle Sentinel, turn 2 Glimpse of Nature and another Elf to win that turn. Elves would probably remain the faster combo deck. And both combos are vulnerable to a number of very common answers, from Daze, to Force, to Swords to Plowshares.

Goblin Recruiter isn’t going to produce a Goblin combo deck faster or more efficient or consistent than Elves. Also, killing the Recruiter on turn 1, with Bolt or Path pretty much stops the combo, or slows it down. I don’t see Food Chain Goblins dominating Legacy under any circumstances. It could make Goblins a bit stronger, but even then that’s not a given. I think it would just produce a major Goblin variant for people to noodle around with.

Land Tax

I have long believed that Land Tax should be unbanned in Legacy. If I could change one card on the Legacy banned list, it would be this. At the same time, I recognize the futility of this view. The DCI really doesn’t want to unban Land Tax. I understand that. A lot of the old lovable fogies on the DCI probably overvalue Land Tax a bit. And, I also get the fact that Land Tax produces an annoying effect: searching your library. I understand that organized play does not like cards that eat up time like that.

That said, I think Land Tax’s time eating is overstated. Searching up three basic lands is pretty simple to do, and really doesn’t take up more time than breaking a fetchland. The real time is in shuffling, and it doesn’t take longer to shuffle post-Land Tax trigger than it does in breaking a fetchland. And if you’re playing Land Tax, you probably aren’t playing Fetchlands, so it’s a direct trade-off.

Legacy is such a tempo format that Land Tax offers the possibility of a real control deck. Before Grand Prix: Columbus, there used to be a bunch of control decks in my metagame. After it, they all disappeared. The principal reason behind the fact that decks like Landstill are very rarely played these days is Qasali Pridemage, I believe. Land Tax and Scroll Rack and equally vulnerable to Pridemage.

At the same time, one of the chief limits on the power of Land Tax is the fact that you are pretty much limited to largely mono-color decks, or two+ color decks with very awkward manabases. That alone prevents Land Tax from getting too far out of hand.

Land Tax is not a broken card, but it does generate a good deal of card advantage in the form of basic lands. I think there enough limitations on Land Tax to guarantee that it would not need to be banned again. It’s a card that would be great fun, and more importantly provide a real control option for the format. It’s an unbanning that would expand the strategic options in the field, for the better, and make Legacy an even more attractive and entertaining format.

Time Spiral

The argument for unbanning Time Spiral isn’t that, like Mind Over Matter, it won’t see any play. Mind Over Matter was unbanned and I don’t think it’s seen a moment of competitive play since. It’s true that Dream Halls was unbanned and actually won a major European tournament, but it’s mostly a joke deck in the U.S. Its legality is just proof that ‘interesting things’ can happen in Legacy, but it’s nothing to fear. It’s an option for people who like to play with cool toys.

Time Spiral is a card that I believe would be good for Legacy. The truth is that there is no serious Storm combo deck in American Legacy. I realize that Belcher combo gets a lot of attention in the U.S., but how often has it made Top 8 at an SCG Open? Once? Twice? And I realize that a few Ad Nauseam decks made Top 8 at the last GP, but Ad Nauseam decks are very poor performers in the U.S. SCG Opens, especially relative to their presence in the field.

Time Spiral would offer another option for Legacy Storm that isn’t reliant on Ad Nauseam, or jank like Doomsday or Diminishing Returns. Time Spiral and Ad Nauseam can’t be played in the same deck for obvious reasons.

Time Spiral is a genuine storm engine, but it doesn’t raise the concerns that make Storm a problem. Specifically, Time Spiral is slow. At six mana, it’s not a spell that is going to be cast on turn 1 or turn 2, or even on turn 3 (barring a god draw). That’s why Time Spiral is okay to unban.

To even cast Time Spiral, you have to generate 6 mana. With High Tide, you are looking at turn 3 at the earliest, and you’ll require something else besides, such as a Cloud of Faeries to generate the sixth mana. You could do it with Dark Rituals, but then you won’t get the full benefit of the untap, and find yourself pressured in trying to combo out post-Time Spiral.

For that reason, realistically, we are looking at turn 4 before this card is going to be cast. Consider old High Tide decks:

Extended High Tide
Kai Budde

16 Island
4 Thawing Glaciers
3 Volcanic Island
4 High Tide
3 Frantic Search
4 Time Spiral
3 Turnabout
1 Palinchron
3 Stroke of Genius
2 Arcane Denial
1 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
4 Force of Will
4 Impulse
3 Merchant Scroll
1 Mystical Tutor

Frantic Search is banned in Legacy, so that would make this deck even slower. Reset can’t be used with Time Spiral, since Time Spiral is a sorcery.

The natural home for Time Spiral would be Spring Tide:

I could imagine a slightly faster variant with Bubbling Muck and Dark Rituals, but I’m not sure it would be any stronger or more consistent, just another trade off of speed/consistency. Legacy is so dominated by tempo decks, it would be fun to see cards like Time Spiral and Land Tax unbanned to provide genuine alternative options, albeit weaker, to the standard aggro-control or aggro-tempo decks that are so common.

I’ve presented the case for unbanning six cards: a card of each color and an artifact. You be the judge. Either way, speak up in the forums and let Aaron know what you think.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian