This coming weekend is the SCG Open Series event in San
Jose, which is very exciting for me since it puts the tournament right here in my backyard. Barring random life events – a caveat I
always have to employ – I plan on attending both the Standard tournament on Saturday and the Legacy event on Sunday. And as it happens, I have
two questions I wanted to ponder.
First, how is “San Jose” a sexier location name than “Santa Clara,” where the Open Series tournaments are actually taking place? I applaud
the decision to not fib and call this the San Francisco Open, but I can’t say that San Jose has better cachet than Santa Clara.
Santa Clara, by the way, has better food.
The second question is more the purview of this column. Here it is:
What will the Legacy metagame look like?
Today I’m going to take a stab at understanding how the Legacy metagame evolves over time and then use that understanding to suggest what you
should be prepared to defeat this coming weekend.
The Legacy context
Legacy is distinct from Standard in many respects, and these differences can be expected to lead to differences in how it evolves over time.
Essentially, these differences boil down to the three concepts of a sporadic event schedule, card availability, and a strong narrative thread.
We’ll hit these each in turn.
When you don’t have a million monkeys on a million typewriters
For Standard, we have a cavalcade of events on Magic Online (MTGO) to fill the gaps between major events such as GPs, SCG Open Series tournaments,
various 5Ks and 1Ks, and everything else under the sun. The upshot of all this is that we have a Standard metagame that’s incredibly agile, driven by a
nigh continuous flow of tournaments, many of them carried out in an environment (MTGO) which does a pretty good approximation of a perfect market, in
that everyone who wants to buy a card can interact with everyone who’s trying to sell that card. When we descend to the real world, it’s a
little harder for people to change up decks…but not that hard – you can still show up on the morning of a tournament and
cobble together your metagame killer deck from the onsite dealers.
Similarly, a PTQ season in Block or Extended forces week-on-week innovation and change, as everyone checks in on the aggregated results of PTQs that
have just gone by and attempts to use that information to take down next week’s tournament.
Legacy is a drastically different world, and these differences begin with a paucity of events. Sure, there are stores running weekly Legacy
tournaments, and there are those Legacy queues online, but they occur far, far less often than their Standard counterparts. More to the point, there
are very few tournaments that are reported online – it’s pretty much those weird pseudo-Legacy Dailies from Magic Online, supplemented by
the occasional European tournament and, naturally, the Open Series events.
The upshot is that metagame changes in Legacy don’t get to follow the smooth trajectory of metagame changes in Standard and any random PTQ
But this is my only deck
The other big difference between Legacy and Standard is card availability, which I touched on briefly above. It’s not uncommon to find the Legacy
player who has “their deck.” In fact, that’s the selling point of the format for many Legacy fans – you invest in “your deck,”
and then you barely need to buy any more cards from then on.
This isn’t just a cost issue – obviously, a Jace-burdened Standard deck is encroaching heavily into the cost space of many Legacy builds.
Instead, it’s a legitimate card availability issue – like, it’s hard to actually find the darn cards. If you decide today that you
don’t want to play Standard U/R/G Jace anymore, you can cash in your cards and buy yourself a copy of U/B Control. In contrast, if you want to
ditch your CounterTop deck in exchange for Ad Nauseam Tendrils, there’s going to be some legwork involved both on the selling and on the buying
A Legacy deck may hold its value better, but it’s less liquid in the short term.
The metagame consequence of this aspect of Legacy is that a portion of the metagame is nonresponsive to outside influences. In other words, some
percentage of players who show up at the SCG Open in San Jose this weekend will be playing Merfolk because they own Merfolk and not because they think
it’s the best deck to take down the metagame.
Tell me a story
Finally, we have narrative.
Narrative is the part where we simplify things by telling ourselves a story. For example, the story of Worlds in Standard could be “U/B Control
dominated!” That’s certainly the impression you might have left with after watching the Top 8.
But the thing is, if you look at the decks that went 5-0 or better in the six rounds of Standard on Day 1, you see that Valakut truly dominated with
twelve appearances. U/B Control was a reasonable second with seven decks making that record, followed by five U/W Control builds.
So, the narrative is “U/B Control” for those of us experiencing the event through the most compelling window into it, the Top 8. But if you were
there, the “real” story of Standard was probably Valakut.
Given the lack of a “smooth” metagame progression that I mentioned above, this narrative impact has the potential to be really big in Legacy. If
my “last known information” about the Legacy metagame is the impression I was left with when I watched the live coverage of the Open
Series Top 8, then I’m going to value that impression really highly in imagining what I’m going to face down at the next big Legacy event.
So what’s it going to be?
So, we have a lack of ongoing events, card availability issues, and the narrative effect. Given these three things, what might we expect to be true
about the development of the Legacy metagame?
It’s possible that it’s mostly resistant to change. Lots of people have their one pet deck and don’t feel like buying new cards, and
there’s not a bunch of data pushing things around.
On the other hand, there might be a striking impact from the last big event’s Top 8. We could, for example, expect to see a metagame shift to
people playing decks they expect will beat the winners from the last tournament.
If you’re playing the TFR home game, now would be a fine time to write down your own Legacy hypothesis. What do you think? Do people try to beat
the winners from last time? Do they not care at all?
An event-on-event analysis
In trying to take a look at the question of how the past impacts the future in Legacy, and the impact of card availability and that narrative idea, I
did something pretty simple.
I hijacked Jared Sylva’s data.
Jared has done an excellent job compiling metagame reports for much of the 2010 Open Series Legacy season. I couldn’t have asked the questions I
asked this week without his significant effort in collecting this data and presenting it in a usable form.
The question I asked was this:
Is there a relationship between the decks in the Top 8 of one big tournament and the metagame of the next Open Series Legacy tournament?
I looked at Open Series Legacy tournaments from Los Angeles (January 3, 2010) through Nashville (October 17, 2010). Using Jared’s data, I looked
at all decks that appeared as 4% or more of the metagame in a tournament and asked “was this archetype in the Top 8 of the tournament before it?”
For example, the “4% or better” archetypes in the Open Series tournament in Indianapolis were CounterTop (10.8%), Merfolk (10.5%), Zoo (9.1%),
Reanimator (7.3%), Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT) (5.6%), Belcher (4.6%), and Dredge (4.6%). If we then look to the big event preceding it – the Open
Series tournament in Richmond – we see two copies of Merfolk, two copies of ANT, two copies of Reanimator, one CounterTop, and one Zoo.
In other words, the following decks that beat the 4% mark in the Indianapolis metagame were represented in the prior event’s Top 8:
The following decks weren’t:
I picked the 4% appearance cutoff because it represents the point at which you have a roughly one-in-three chance of running into the deck in an
eight-round event. This seemed like a reasonable point at which we might want to start thinking about the matchup.
Note that I counted the two Legacy GPs as impacting Top 8s, since they’re very much on the minds of Legacy players who attend Open Series events.
Also note, for you statistics buffs, that I certainly didn’t structure this to let me test for statistical significance.
So, if we do this across much of 2010’s Legacy season, what do we find?
Fickle, reliable, and everything in between
There are basically three potential outcomes for a deck in this survey.
First, it can come up with a significant weighting toward the prior Top 8. In other words, it’s way more likely to appear as a major metagame
player if it was in the Top 8 of the last big event.
Second, it can come up with a neutral weighting. It just sort of gets played, maybe with a push from the last event, maybe not.
Third, it can come up with a negative weighting. That is, people are going to play it a lot relative to its Top 8 appearances.
Zoo, Goblins, and New Horizons all came in as decks that are most likely to show up as major metagame players only after having Top 8 appearances. One
interpretation of this is what I like to think of as “Oh, right that deck exists.”
Another is that people like to bet on winners, and a deck that made a Top 8 the last time is, by some measure, a winner.
Sometimes this is probably the right move, as the deck’s success really is reporting on its absolute power. When Survival was doing well
in the last few months, more people piled on to play Survival…and it kept doing well. In contrast, when more people pile on and play Zoo or
Goblins after those decks have done well once, that doesn’t by any means guarantee they’ll do well again.
The in betweeners
Those decks with an even split between having or not having a prior Top 8 appearance bear a bit of a closer look.
The two big “in betweeners” are CounterTop and Merfolk. Both decks are to some extent “in between” in terms of prior Top 8 appearances
simply because they’re so very common. If you get played a lot, you’ll have a pretty even distribution, regardless of Top 8. This probably
represents that whole “this is my only deck” idea that I mentioned above.
However, we do see a bit of a push upward in metagame presence if these decks have done well in the prior Top 8. In other words, if Merfolk did well,
slightly more players will bring Merfolk next time around.
Lands also falls into this category. I suspect Lands is especially stable in terms of metagame presence because it’s a real pain to assemble the
deck. But now I’m just guessing.
Finally, there are those decks that, rain or shine, like to break the 4% mark regardless of the last big Legacy Top 8. This category includes Belcher,
Dredge, ANT, and Enchantress.
Assembling a metagame prediction
So what does this mean for trying to predict the metagame for the San Jose Open or some big Legacy event further down the line?
Basically, it means that I’d assume the following percentages, sight unseen:
To that, I’d add on a base of the following:
If any one of those made it into the Top 8 of the last big event, I’d add on another 3%.
Then I’d look for anything “next and exciting” and plug that into our projected metagame at the 6% mark, or maybe 8% if it’s a known
archetype such as Goblins, and it really made a big splash.
8 from Kansas City looked like this:
1st – Goblins
2nd – Merfolk
3rd – Goblins
4th – Green and Taxes
5th – Junk
6th – B/W Tempo
7th – CounterTop
8th – Affinity
Before we apply my seemingly quantitative rules, I’m going to pull one trick and group Gene Richtsmeier’s B/W deck together with Lewis
Laskin’s Green and Taxes, as I think they’re actually quite structurally similar. Now, applying our “rules” (guidelines, really),
we’d build this predicted metagame:
(I’ve linked each one to a reasonably representative decklist to help you out.)
Yes, this adds up to 80%, leaving 20% for some undefined “other.” Welcome to Legacy.
These numbers, as with all numbers, are deceptively quantitative. I don’t expect to be right on with any of them…but I’m curious about
whether the suggestions of the historical trend through the 2010 Legacy Open Series season will continue to work out as we venture into 2011. Should I
expect to have a 6% chance to play against Affinity each round this weekend?
I sure hope so. But we’ll see.
Summing it up
Even if you don’t want to put your faith in this genuinely shaky attempt to predict the metagame, I do think it’s important to keep in mind
what it tells us about the impact on Legacy of things like narrative and “this is my deck.” We need to prepare for the new sexiness, as told to
us by last week’s Top 8. At the same time, we also need to know that no matter what, rain or shine, we have about a one-in-three chance of
playing some Belcher deck in every single Legacy Open.
Hope for Affinity, plan for Merfolk, and expect Belcher. That’s just how it is.