Does this sound familiar?
Ordinary Person: Reid, I didn’t know you played Magic?
Me and my friends used to play in high school; you never would have beaten my B/R deck! What colors do you play, Reid?
For many years, it made no sense to ask this question of a tournament MTG player. The five colors were rarely balanced, and most of us would go
wherever the broken cards were for the given format.
Today, I’m thrilled to say that I’d be able answer Ordinary Al’s question—I play green because I like it and have the most fun
with it. What I might not explain to Plain Jane is that I’m a cutthroat player, and my desire to have fun is pretty insignificant compared to how
badly I want to win. The only reason that I’m able have such a discussion with Johnny No-Hobbies is that Magic’s colors are remarkably
well-balanced right now. Even serious players have a huge variety of decks and strategies that they can choose from.
Nowhere is this truer than in Legacy, where every card is legal except for the unfair ones that make blue and black dominant in Vintage. Every single
color has something helpful and unique to offer. At the same time, the presence of cards like Wasteland, Rishadan Port, and Price of Progress make it
impossible to include them all in the same deck.
The Best Deck in Legacy
Sometimes the term “Junk” is used to refer to a specific deck or color combination. However, to me, “Junk” means a nontribal
midrange deck. Junk wins by attacking with creatures. It has the ability to take an aggressive or a defensive role, depending on the situation. It
plays with both disruption and answers to opposing threats. To put it simply, Junk is a “good cards” deck.
When used in this broad sense, it’s fair to say that Junk is the best deck in Legacy. The power and efficiency of the format’s best cards
make it hard for pure aggro, pure control, or pure combo to perform well. Specifically, the fact that Tarmogoyf is simultaneously the best offensive
card and the best defensive card in the format means there’s little reason to build anything but midrange.
While certain interactions and color combinations are more effective than others, there is a ton of flexibility in how a Legacy Junk deck can be built.
What Each Color Offers
Swords to Plowshares
: The best removal spell. STP is as close to a universal answer as it gets while still being efficiently priced. As I mentioned in my last Legacy article, I cringe at the thought of playing
any other removal spell before I have four Swords in my deck.
Stoneforge Mystic: An overrated card. Many people seem to think that Stoneforge’s dominance in Standard and Extended can transfer to Legacy, and it simply
can’t. If plan A is to attack with an equipped creature on turn 4, your deck won’t survive in a format of turn 2 kills. That said,
there’s absolutely a time and a place for Stoneforge Mystic. It’s great in an attrition war, it locks up a game where you’re
beginning to get ahead, and it turns utility creatures with modest combat stats into huge threats. It works wonders in this B/W Junk deck that my
brother, Ian, and I have been working on:
Knight of the Reliquary: She dominates every other creature that can be cast in Legacy. With Wasteland and a dozen other powerful lands in the format, most games are over if
someone untaps with a Knight.
Qasali Pridemage, Rhox War Monk, Gaddock Teeg: These aren’t powerful enough to draw me to white, except that they’re excellent targets for Green Sun’s Zenith. Between these and
Knight of the Reliquary, white and green go very well together.
Wild Nacatl, Nimble Mongoose, Noble Hierarch: These, along with Grim Lavamancer, are the best nontribal one-drop creatures. Depending on your other colors and your overall game plan, most green
decks will want four copies of one of these.
Tarmogoyf: The best offensive card and the best defensive card in one. Any Junk deck needs a good reason to not play four.
Green Sun’s Zenith: Searching for Dryad Arbor on turn 1 is a great way to jump ahead in a game. While Zenith is never the absolute best play you can make with your mana,
its versatility more than makes up for that. Imagine a split card: Llanowar Elves / Tarmogoyf—and Zenith can do a lot more than that. Granted,
the Tarmogoyf side costs three mana, but outside of Knight of the Reliquary, Tarmogoyf is better than every three-drop creature anyway.
Brainstorm: The best card in the format. Pure card draw is hard to come by in Legacy, but there are ways to simulate the effect. Brainstorm smooths out your
draw, allows you to shuffle away reactive cards that you don’t need, and lets you sculpt a winning game plan. Most importantly, it lets you
control how many lands you draw in the course of a game. This is the reason why blue Junk decks that are designed to run on two or three lands are
better than slow control decks that need four or more.
Force of Will: Another misunderstood card. While it’s a very nice card to have in your deck, and I believe that most blue decks should maindeck four,
it’s not one of the most powerful cards in the format. It can be very difficult to make up for the card disadvantage of casting Force of Will
unless you can end the game shortly afterwards. Maindeck them; sideboard them out in non-combo matchups.
Vendilion Clique: The effect is game-changing against combo and, at minimum, useful against everything. The three-power flier is also surprisingly good because there
aren’t Squadron Hawks and Bitterblossom tokens crowding the airways. For an extra impressive clock, try combining it with exalted triggers or
Burn: I have mixed feelings about burn spells. They have a hard time bringing down a Tarmogoyf or a Knight of the Reliquary, which are probably the two
most important creatures to be able to kill. On the other hand, there are plenty of creatureless decks in Legacy, and red offers the luxury of being
able to play as many removal spells as you want without having them be dead (since they can go straight to the head).
Grim Lavamancer: It’s not so much the Lavamancer himself that draws me to red, but what he stands for. Lavamancer fights on the front lines every weekend,
defending us against the Merfolk menace. The simple truth is that any deck without red is going to struggle against Merfolk. Frying fish is red’s
main niche in Legacy.
Hymn to Tourach: The best card advantage spell in Legacy. It’s a nightmare for combo decks, but the random element means it has a good chance of completely
screwing anyone who lets it resolve.
Perish: If you happen to build a creature deck that’s black but not green, Perish is a huge tool in creature mirrors. In particular, it ruins Elves and
Natural Order, which can be tough matchups for Junk decks.
Putting Them Together
Every color brings great options to a Junk deck. However, there are also huge benefits to consistency and resilience from keeping it simple. Three
colors seems to be the sweet spot. If you want the option to cast double-cost spells or to cast two spells of the same color in one turn, a four-color
deck cannot function on two lands. It’s also nearly impossible to set up your lands so that a Wasteland isn’t devastating. Sticking to one
or two colors allows you to easily play with your own Wastelands, but it’s generally hard to cover all of your bases with only two colors. The
overall power of the deck will be highest if you add the third color.
Here’s a deck that I strongly recommend:
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Dark Confidant
- 3 Tarmogoyf
- 1 Gaddock Teeg
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
W/G/B provides access to all of the best creatures, great discard, and all-purpose removal. This list is set up to win an attrition battle, but it can
also randomly win if a quick Knight of the Reliquary goes unanswered. I especially like Green Sun’s Zenith in this deck. It can provide mana, be
a big threat, or fetch up Qasali Pridemage or Gaddock Teeg.
However, that’s far from the only three-color combination that can be successful:
W/R/B can forgo Mox Diamond because red provides access to good one-drop creatures. Additionally, it makes the Merfolk matchup very
comfortable—Gerard Fabiano listed it as his best matchup in his Top 8 player profile from this tournament.
Here’s a color combination that appeals to me:
What R/U/G lacks in raw card advantage, it makes up for in low land count and excellent card selection. This deck is extremely consistent; it can draw
two or three lands and then use Brainstorm and Ponder to make sure every draw step beyond that is a business spell. Every card is either a must-answer
threat, or an answer itself. Whether it’s presenting a threat or answering one, R/U/G’s cards are extremely efficient, and it will
typically spend less mana than the opponent whenever there’s a trade.
It’s also worth noting that the blue control deck that Gerry Thompson and Drew Levin used to tear through the StarCityGames.com Open in Orlando
has exactly three Mishra’s Factories as answers to a resolved Nimble Mongoose. R/U/G has Wasteland and burn spells to take care of those to boot.
If you expect a field full of Merfolk and blue control, then a Junk deck in the R/U/G colors would be excellent. Efficient threats backed up by
permission and sideboard Red Elemental Blast is a recipe for success in these matchups.
Unfortunately, the weakness of these colors is its inability to kill a Tarmogoyf or Knight of the Reliquary that slips through permission. That’s
why I personally swear by Natural Order as a way to go over the top of those cards:
Some might argue that Natural Order is a combo deck and not a Junk deck, but why split hairs? It’s perfectly capable of winning with normal
creatures, removal, and disruption. Unlike most combo decks, Natural Order hardly requires any set up at all. I simply think of Progenitus as the king
of all four-drops in a Junk deck.
You could do worse than to copy any of the decklists above for your next Legacy tournament. However, I’ve barely scratched the surface of
what’s possible in Legacy Junk. I encourage anyone who can to play around with different color and card combinations and find an unexplored deck
that’s just as good as Team America and Classic Junk.