So Many Insane Plays – The New Legacy Banned List, And What It Means For You

The StarCityGames.com Open Series comes to St. Louis!
Monday, June 21st – Legacy has undergone a subtle change this past weekend, with the bannings and unrestrictions from the Powers That Be. Just how will the removal of Mystical Tutor affect the metagame? Even though it doesn’t kick in until July, will the news impact on this weekend’s StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in St. Louis? Stephen shares his initial thoughts…

I’m live blogging the June, 2010 B/R list announcement this year.

It’s 10:30pm, Thursday, June 17th. The Lakers are down 6 points in game 7 of the NBA finals. 90 minutes until blastoff.

10:43pm. Just got out of the shower. Quick look at the TV. Wow. Lakers only have 39 points through 2.5 quarters. Here’s my plan, devised in the shower: if they restrict anything in Vintage, I’ll be sure to take a look at the data to evaluate it. If they ban anything in Legacy, I’ll have to spend some time looking at Top 8 data, and do the same. I’ve put together a handy reference on the Source compiling links to every StarCityGames.com Legacy Open so far. If they unrestrict anything, I will be sure post the last tournament list abusing said card, and evaluate its potential impact. At the same time, I want to give my snap judgment as it happens. I’ll also monitor Eternal websites, and report reaction there. And, if Tom’s explanatory article goes live at midnight, I’ll also parse it. That’s the plan, at least.

10:55pm. Brian DeMars calls me and we talk Vintage (mostly about MUD) and Legacy. He says he hopes they unban Worldgorger Dragon in Legacy. I laugh. He tells me a story about how some dude Stifles the enters-the-battlefield ability, but the wrong one.

11:00pm Confirmed. The DCI announcement will be tonight, and it goes into effect July 1.

11:54pm. Lakers win. Boo, I guess. I was rooting for the Cavs this year. I kinda wanted to see the Eastern Conference win. Just checked the Mana Drain. All is quiet. Some traffic. Five minutes to go…

11:56pm. Cool! Evan interviewed Forsythe on the Magic Show… I can’t seem to get that page to load…

11:59pm. One minute to go….

12pm. OMG

Mystical Tutor is banned? Huh?

Grim Monolith is unbanned and Illusionary Mask is unbanned… hrm.

No changes to Vintage…. Surprising.

Brian DeMars calls my cell… he kinda likes banning Mystical Tutor… he thinks it changes the way you have redundancy.

Brian: I’m glad they unbanned Illusionary Mask. It doesn’t make your creatures uncounterable anymore.

Steve: On the Source, the first thread: “Combo is Dead.” Hilarious. And sad. And silly.

Brian: I can’t believe they didn’t do anything in Vintage — I think that’s a missed opportunity.

Steve: What do you think they should have done?

Brian: I agree with Mystical Tutor, and in Legacy I wish they had unbanned Land Tax.

Steve: In Vintage, I would have unrestricted Burning Wish, at a minimum. I would have done something. They need to at least give the appearance that they are managing the format.

Brian: I would have unbanned Shahrazad.

Steve: Ha! Me too. What loses the most?

Brian: Tendrils, without a doubt. ANT.

Steve: Is ANT dead?

Brian: Yeah, I think so. I don’t think you can actually play four Ad Nauseams, and there is no other way to get it. If you want to get it, you’re gonna have to Grim Tutor for it, or burn your entire hand [sacrificing Lion’s Eye Diamond] and Infernal Tutor for it.

Steve: I don’t think combo is dead. There’s still Belcher. But this is a huge blow.

Brian: You can still play combo, like with Ill-Gotten Gains.

Steve: I know, but that’s much worse. There’s so much Force of Will in the format today.

Brian: You’re much more all in. You can play Personal Tutor.

Steve: LOL.

Brian: You can play Painter’s Servant, name Blue, and then Scroll for it.

Steve: LOL, that works, huh? Okay, okay. Big winners? Anything without Force is a winner. Lands is a winner. Aggro decks are huge winners.

Brian: No, because I actually think Zoo had a good matchup against ANT. It was close.

Steve: It’s definitely true that Zoo could race with burn, and deal something like 10 damage in two turns, but you can’t deny the fact that aggro decks, generally, gained a lot. First, they get a whole bunch of side space freed up. Second, they now have no auto-bad matchups, except just a few minor decks. Now they don’t have to be so much rock-paper-scissors.

Brian: Astral Slide gets better. I’m playing Fluctuator at the GP. Going hog-wild. We should play Fluctuator in our Loam deck. Nah, they would just Stabilize it.

Steve: LOL. I think that the biggest shift now will be in Legacy sideboards.

Brian: Yeah.

Steve: I think the real downside to this, besides the fact that Legacy loses really what was a very unsuccessful – at least in the U.S. – archetype for no good reason, is that every deck in Legacy had a naturally bad matchup, so that deck choice was really important, reading the metagame was really important. Now, you can tune your deck to beat everything much more easily. I don’t like that. I think ANT was a structurally important part of the field, to keep everyone honest. If things swung too far one way, ANT was there to keep people in check. That’s the function of extreme decks like ANT and Burn, etc.

Brian: I think it makes the format a lot more interesting.

Steve: Why?

Brian: Because there isn’t tone degenerate deck for which you have to have sideboard cards.

Steve: But Combo has been in Legacy since its inception. Think about Iggy Pop. I think the big thing is that there was a balance in format. If you played a Blue deck, combo had serious problems. And if you didn’t, or if you didn’t play an artifact deck, then that’s how combo was actually viable, in that it could prey on a certain proportion of the field. And even then, Combo wasn’t a win. You could still beat it, as Zoo decks did all the time, or you could pack a good amount of hate.

Brian: ANT was not interesting. At all.

Steve: I think that if their target was Combo, then you should have taken out Ad Nauseam itself. If their target was Reanimator, then they should have sucked it up and banned Entomb again, or something that didn’t have such deep collateral damage. It seems like a poor mean-end fit here. This wasn’t a well-tailored decision. The only thing worse, in terms of mean-end fit, is if they had banned Brainstorm to slow Reanimator and combo. Honestly, I feel like this is a decision where the folks in the DCI think they are too clever by half. It has that vibe. Let me ask you this: I hear you that you don’t think that combo is interesting… but was it fair?

Brian: No. Wasn’t Grand Prix: Madrid finals ANT versus ANT?

Steve: No. There were multiple ANTs in the Top 8 though. And ANT has seemed to get a lot worse, post GP: Madrid, partly because of Reanimator, right? But also because people are more prepared for it. It sort of appeared in the Top 8, and the metagame shifted. Look at the Bazaar of Moxen results.

Brian: It makes your sideboard so narrow.

Steve: But that’s only true if you aren’t playing a Blue deck, right?

Brian: I think they want people to play non-Blue decks.

Steve: But I think people do want to play non-Force in Legacy. I mean, Zoo is doing really well right now.

Brian: But why would anyone not play a Blue deck? In fact, it may hurt Blue decks now, since they lose one of their better matchups. It evens up the playing field. If you are playing a combo deck, you are actually playing a real combo now.

Steve: But that just goes back to the point I made earlier, which is: why not ban Ad Nauseam? Or Lion’s Eye Diamond?

Brian: I would have rather seen an LED banning, if it came down to it.

Steve: I think that the DCI doesn’t like to admit that it makes mistakes very often. Not because they are stubborn, but because they are human, and deliberate in their decision-making. I think, in terms of the perceived health of Legacy, that Reanimator was a bad thing. And I can’t understand why they would have unbanned Entomb, over a ton of far fairer cards, starting with the other two they just unbanned, and cards like Earthcraft, or even Worldgorger Dragon. (WGD without Entomb legal is perfectly fair.) Let me ask you this: Is Reanimator dead?

Brian: No, but it’s fairer.

Steve: What do they play now, in that slot?

Brian: Ponder? Let’s play Ponder. That would be my starting point, and I’d see if it’s good.

Steve: I also think that Reanimator is still fine. You keep Entomb and you have Careful Study, Brainstorm, and Ponder.

Brian: Combo decks aren’t fun when you always have everything you need, and so this is just fairer. You actually have to play the game.

Steve: I understand that, but I also think that there was no harm to the format from the Tendrils decks whatsoever. I think that they added a nice element to the field, and I actually prefer the Tendrils the decks to Dredge. With Dredge, you can’t actually do much game 1. But Tendrils decks were naturally to weak to a large part of the field. Plus, I don’t think anyone felt like that couldn’t beat Tendrils if they tried. Between cards like Chalice of the Void and Pyrostatic Pillar, every color has answers.

Brian: I don’t think Dredge decks are a problem. They are very beatable. It’s like in Vintage where if they Tormod’s Crypt you, you just Bazaar next turn.

Steve: I understand, but I don’t think either archetype was a problem, either in terms of performance (certainly not that), but either in terms of perception. I think that Reanimator was a bigger problem that Tendrils decks. And I think that, if their goal was to hit Reanimator, they hit the wrong card. They should have just sucked it up, and re-banned Entomb.

Brian: Maybe what they are doing is seeing if this puts Entomb in check.

Steve: No doubt, but the problem is the collateral damage. I also understand that while people don’t like combo in Magic in general — and I totally get that – the perception of combo in Legacy was very different than how people normally think about combo. Partly because it had been embedded in the format for so long that people were really used to it, and comfortable with it. And I also think that we’ll a lot of post-hoc rationalizations, where people will come out and say things like: “man, combo was so unbeatable, if you knew how to play it correctly. ANT was actually the most degenerate deck, but people just didn’t realize it. Just look at Europe and you’ll see this was true. Just look at what the Pros play, and you’ll see this is true.” Of course, that’s entirely wrong. But people will say it. That always happens post-bannings.

Brian: *Relays a conversation with Michael Jacob* Moral: If this was a Pro Tour format, it would be totally degenerate. The fact that Pros only play it once a year is what keeps it fair.

Steve: I actually disagree, and let me explain, because it’s not why you think. I think that Legacy would still be fair. Much more aggressive, sure. A little bit faster, yes. But you would see rapidly changing strategies, and rapidly changing responses. It would just accelerate and condense the field a bit more. But I actually that structurally, Legacy is fair. And I think the reason for that is because there’s actually a hyperbolic relationship between fairness and card pool. It’s weird. The old assumption that the larger the card pool, the more broken the format. It’s not that simple. It’s not a simple one to one thing, where more cards equals faster and more broken.

Brian: I think it has to do with what the metagame should actually be. And that in Legacy, a majority of the deck builders aren’t very skilled, and their decks aren’t optimal. And playing a lot of Standard or Block on the Pro Tour sees the games become more degenerate, like Jund versus U/W; you encounter situations where if cards go unanswered, you are just dead.

Steve: I think what you are describing is metagaming. And that’s not a problem.

Brian: Legacy isn’t as distinctly defined as other formats.

Steve: I agree with that only to an extent. That’s why I say that if it was a PTQ format or a Pro Tour format, I think that the metagame would consolidate, slightly, which was what I was saying earlier. But Legacy is still a much larger format, partly because of the card pool.

Brian: What if Pro Tour: Amsterdam was Legacy, followed by a four month PTQ season? The format would be all ANT, Zoo, and Entomb decks, and that would probably be the metagame. There wouldn’t be room for Enchantress, Lands, etc. They aren’t aggressive enough.

Steve: What about Blue decks?

Brian: You would have Canadian Threshold, tweaked out, but you couldn’t run Rhox War Monk. The format would be all about killing on turn 4 or faster. Nothing else would be viable.

Steve: I think that Legacy’s card pool is so huge that you can answer almost anything. Mindbreak Trap and Red Elemental Blast exist in this format. There is an answer for everything. Enchantress? A billion Tranquility effects. Stax? A billion anti-artifact effects. And so on.

Brian: The problem is that efficient answers aren’t as good as efficient threats. They have to be for value. Drawing the card at the wrong time isn’t as good.

Steve: I recognize that, but that’s not my point. I’m not talking about individual matches, but in the aggregate. While my Tormod’s Crypt might not stop my Dredge opponent, the next player’s might. It’s not that these answers prevent you from winning, but they make it harder to go through six, seven, eight rounds and not pick up a loss. That’s what’s great about Magic and Eternal. The large card pool means lots of answers, and answers can swarm the metagame from tournament to tournament.

Brian: Drawing Tormod’s Crypt when they have Show and Tell isn’t very good.

Steve: Interestingly, that’s a card that takes a big hit; Show and Tell. You can’t play it as a one-of.

Brian: Maybe you play it as a four-of? Maybe more straight Show and Tell decks.

Steve: Do you think these changes are good for Grand Prix: Columbus?

Brian: Absolutely, I’m 100% behind them. Do you think Vampiric Tutor should be banned?

Steve: Yes

Brian: What deck would play it?

Steve: Aggro Loam decks, Loam decks, maybe Landstill as a couple-of, the Rock variants, Painter decks, Reanimator, and combo. Going back to your earlier point: I think a sign or evidence of a healthy format is one where the metagame is moving and evolving. And if the metagame isn’t moving, even slowly, then you know that there are structural constraints holding in place. I think that Legacy, even if it were an intensive professional format, would move.

Brian: But would people enjoy it? I want to play all these cool cards in Standard, but they just can’t beat Jund. I want to play Survival in legacy, but I just get killed by ANT.

Steve: But here’s a difference, the reason you can’t play Survival in Legacy isn’t ANT. But the reason you can’t play those other cards is Jund. Asking whether a format moves or not, whether it’s dynamic and evolves, is a different question to whether the format is qualitatively enjoyable. I think that dynamic formats make formats fun, even if the decks are all hyper brutal. And as things evolve, there will be openings for more fun/fair decks. That’s the nature of things. Aggro Zombies on the Source just posted: “Why did they do this? Combo consistently underperforms, the problem card in Reanimator is Entomb, and basically all of the other strategies using Mystical are fine. The last two SCG Opens have been dominated by Zoo, which isn’t even Blue – so we nerf one of the two decks Zoo isn’t so hot against? What?” I mean, good point isn’t it? That Zoo is a tremendously underestimated deck in Legacy, particularly by the so called experts and pundits and pros, because it just seems so far.

Brian: Zoo is actually one of the three decks that would exist in a defined metagame. It always is.

Steve: It’s Rock, right? It’s always there. The best Aggro deck. Okay, I’m glad you recognize Zoo is a real deck. But there are a lot of minds out there who don’t.

Brian: They aren’t experts, and the reason they don’t is part of the problem.

Steve: But Brian, those players are the ANT, Reanimator, and Counter-Top players. These are the Spike who look at new formats and say: I want to play the broken deck. I know as a Vintage player that the ‘broken’ deck is often not the best deck. But there is a perception out there that ‘Zoo’ isn’t real. (Think about the Max McCall article, “Attacking is Miserable.” Those are the players who think that Zoo is just unreal.

Brian: They are the reason that Legacy isn’t where it should be or could be. Which is a good thing, according to Mike Jacob.

Steve: Aggro Zombies also said: “The format was perfectly healthy, and Reanimator’s poor showing of late seems to indicate the format is adapting to it. And now it looks like we’re in for some Vintage-style loving.” Ouch. Do you think this will change what people play before it goes away (July 1st)?

Brian: I think people will interpret the card being banned as the deck being too good, so they’ll play it before it goes away. I’m not sure it’s about Reanimator or ANT going away now — it may be too good down the road, more than it is right now.

Steve: That’s speculative. I don’t think that the DCI shouldn’t manage either Vintage or Legacy from such a point of view. This is important: I think its fine to have totally different standards for managing Vintage and Legacy. For people playing in GPT this week and up until July 1st, what should they expect to change?

Brian: My gut is that they’ll see a little more Tendrils, but possibly a little more Tendrils hate, so I don’t think Tendrils is a good deck to play. I wouldn’t play Tendrils or Reanimator. If I were playing a GPT, I would play Zoo. That would be a solid choice. Zoo with a good sideboard.

Steve: Let’s talk about Grim Monolith. They recently unbanned Metalworker.

Brian: I don’t think that’s viable. There are too many Plows and Burn. It’s just another bad deck. Another combo deck.

Steve: The response on the Source to these changes is overwhelmingly negative right now.

Brian: What did you expect? Magic players whine, and they whine about everything. The DCI is used to that.

Steve: Bryant Cook just wrote: “Not to honk my own horn or anything but… I Top 8’d the large event over this past weekend in Syracuse. If you read my report, I sided out Mystical almost every match-up. This banning is not going to stop combo.” Touche. Hanni, a well-known European player, wrote: “That’s pretty ridiculous that they banned a card for no reason. I like the fact that they took two cards off of the banned list, but the fact that they added one that was entirely unnecessary pisses me off. I like having more cards to play with, and there was nothing degenerate about Mystical Tutor. ANT was not demolishing the format, and that is apparent by Zoo consistently making Top 8s. So now we’re going to see Zoo just completely dominate the format until an entirely anti-Zoo deck emerges?” Interesting points.

It’s past 1pm. I told Brian I had to go.

Let me look at the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open Top 8s. Since January, there have been six SCG Legacy Opens. In those Top 8s, there have been a total of 39 Mystical Tutors, or an average of 20.31% of those Top 8s. I didn’t count the January SCG Open, since that was before Reanimator emerged. The February Open was the first with Reanimator. 20.31% of Top 8s hardly seems like a problem, especially compared to Tarmogoyf or Force of Will. If we add the GP: Madrid Top 8, that rises to 22.8% of Top 8s. It’s a little high, but ban-worthy?

I think that Legacy can and should be managed differently than Vintage. Because Vintage exists, there doesn’t need to be a format where you can play all your cards. And, because you don’t have things like Black Lotus and Mishra’s Workshop, the tolerance for faster decks can be less. Legacy is a lot more about attacking. And that’s fine. I don’t think that the DCI should be as laissez-faire with Legacy as they are with Vintage. That said, I think that things were excellent in Legacy, as Zoo was just winning a bunch. I think that the net effect of this will be to slightly reduce the diversity in the format. Sideboards will free up space, and I’m not sure that either one of those things is a good thing. While a minority of Legacy players played Reanimator or ANT, I suspect that most Legacy players will not be terribly thrilled with this, even if they have a better chance in the metagame now. The mistake — to the extent that there was one — was unbanning Entomb, which was inexplicable.


Overall, the changes to Legacy are decidedly mixed. One wing of the metagame just collapsed almost entirely. And Reanimator got batted down a little bit. It’s almost like we rewind to pre-GP: Madrid. On the one hand, that’s a good thing. Legacy was perceived to be fairer and more open in that environment. On the other hand, I think Legacy will experience a real loss that wasn’t really necessary. Legacy players weren’t at all bothered by ANT. Reanimator had become more than a mere nuisance, but it too could be answered with a suite of solutions. My opinion is that restricting Mystical Tutor was not sufficiently justified and the wrong target. But I understand the rationale. I hope that, despite this fact, GP: Columbus is better for it. That will be the ultimate justification.

A few months ago, I argued for the unbanning of Illusionary Mask, so I’m really happy to see this card come off. It’s a truly wacky and fun card that people will enjoy playing in Legacy. And although it won’t be a very competitive card, it will generate some fun moments. Grim Monolith is largely innocuous, and I’m glad to see the DCI continuing to bring cards into the format that won’t be a problem.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian