The Legacy Treat

Ross Merriam begins his Season Three Invitational preparation by examining the current Legacy metagame, breaking down the top decks from #SCGDC this past weekend to understand the format’s positioning and pick the right deck.

Due to its vast card pool and thus its high power-level barrier of entry for new cards and decks, Legacy has always been the Constructed format which evolved the slowest. You could build a deck slowly over time and be confident that, when you were finished, that deck would still be competitive. As that deck aged, only minor tweaks would be needed in order to keep it competitive. Plus you would continually hone your skills with the deck, an important edge to gain in such a diverse format.

Thus for the last few years, when we have all been spoiled with regular Legacy tournaments on the Open Series, I generally stuck with the same deck. First it was Maverick, (maybe you don’t remember that, but I’m sure Cedric will remind you all with a link to me getting humiliated by Patrick Sullivan on camera) and after that it was Elves. (You probably all remember that one, however.)

[CEDitor’s Note: Ross, you must think very little of me. I would never hyperlink to Patrick burning you out in a Clippers jersey for everyone’s viewing pleasure.]

Since I set Elves down I have waffled a bit more in my Legacy deck choice. In the grindy Treasure Cruise-infused Legacy format, I moved to Storm and after that Sultai Delver. While I would normally look to stick with one of these decks, the nature of Legacy has changed this year.

With the changes to the Open Series structure this year, there is simply less top-level Legacy being played. The Premiere IQs that occur weekly are solid, competitive tournaments but they do not have the same depth of strong players as last year’s Opens and they receive much less coverage. And while Legacy Opens do happen, they do not happen that frequently due to the overall popularity of Standard. The bottom line is that there are fewer opportunities for me to play competitive Legacy this year.

On the whole this is positive because grinding Legacy week in and week out can make what should be an exciting format seem stale. There are also plenty of “non-games” (Wasteland, Belcher, etc) in Legacy that can try the patience of even the purest of heart among us. (I’m talking about Reid Duke, of course).

This year, Legacy is more of an indulgence. A rare treat to be savored when the opportunity arises, and that is what I intend to do. With Legacy being half of the upcoming Season Three Invitational (how are we almost done with Season Three?!?!?) the time has come to dust off the dessert spoon and dive right into the rich, creamy deliciousness that it is.

Last week’s Legacy Open in Washington D.C. offered a great snapshot of where the format currently stands and that is certainly where most players will start to reacquaint themselves with the format prior to New Jersey. Understanding these results is important, and that is what I aim to do this week.

Let’s start with the winner shall we?

Omni-Tell has been the biggest winner in the Treasure Cruise ban, since Dig Through Time is an incredible new addition to the deck that is no longer overshadowed by its common counterpart.

When Omni-Tell first emerged as a Legacy deck back in 2012, it was essentially a three-card combo deck, putting Omniscience onto the battlefield with Show and Tell and then casting Enter the Infinite to draw its entire deck and execute one of several possible kills. It was an attractive alternative to the established Sneak and Show deck since its combo guaranteed a kill, thus avoiding the embarrassing scenario in which you Emrakul away your opponent’s board via Sneak Attack then never find another creature and end up losing anyway.

Or the even more embarrassing scenario of having to do a cartwheel on camera because of a friendly wager placed on the outcome of such a match.

So being able to kill every time is valuable, and the Omni-Tell deck has several other advantages over Sneak and Show including killing immediately and not being vulnerable to cards like Containment Priest and Ensnaring Bridge. And all for the cost of needing to find one more combo piece. What is one more measly piece in a deck with Brainstorm?

Answer: a lot.

Assembling one each of three different cards is very difficult, and led to the Omni-Tell deck having an untenably high failure rate, a death knell for combo decks. It quickly faded away leaving us to merely cheat giant flying demons and spaghetti monsters onto the battlefield with our Show and Tells.

But the new iterations of Omni-Tell are essentially two-card combo decks. With Dig Through Time supplementing the already gargantuan number of selection spells in the deck, the deck clocks in at twenty-one spells that let you dig deeper into your deck.

This means that once you put an Omniscience onto the battlefield, you will be able to chain these spells until you assemble a kill, either with Cunning Wish or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. In an impressive display of elegant deckbuilding, the natural structure of the deck – combo decks want a large number of velocity spells to begin with – when pushed to the extreme serves as the third piece of the combo.

The power of Dig Through Time and versatility of Cunning Wish give the deck some much-needed resilience against disruption, but the big gain is that you no longer need to wait and look for a third when you already have two combo pieces in hand in order to execute the combo. You can be confident that a resolved Show and Tell will win the game with whatever remaining cantrips you have, giving the deck some much-needed explosiveness.

I’m still somewhat skeptical of the deck since there are definitely cases where this plan falls apart, especially in the face of discard stripping key pieces or the leftover resources needed to win with Omniscience.

The deck is also very linear, needing to resolve Show and Tell to win the game and the vast majority of the time needing to win through putting in Omniscience rather than Emrakul. So while you may dodge Containment Priest, you open yourself to cards like Meddling Mage and Ethersworn Canonist that don’t even need to be in play when you start your combo. The deck has weaknesses that the dearth of Legacy coverage may be masking.

Regardless, this is the preeminent combo deck of the current metagame and as you will see as we continue down the list, this is a combo-rich time for Legacy so adjusting your decks for the new face of Show and Tell will be very important.

Second place stands in stark contrast to first, as the newcomer of Legacy was joined by one its oldest comers, Shaheen Soorani and his beloved Esper Stoneblade deck:

Here I am getting all excited about the new tech and old man Shaheen comes in with the same deck he’s been playing for years. He may not even have changed the sleeves. This Top Eight is littered with players playing decks they know best with Shaheen, Bryant Cook on Storm, Daryl Ayers on Lands, and Michael Derczo on Death and Taxes. Our own Brian Braun-Duin also took his trademark ninth place with Miracles.

There are some new additions to these decks. Containment Priest, Dig Through Time, and Vryn Wingmare all add some new wrinkles to these format staples but for the most part these guys are relying on their years of experience and it’s impossible to fault them for that.

Even with fewer opportunities to play, Legacy is still a format that rewards knowing your deck well. It’s simply a function of there being so many decks to prepare against. Maybe I am fooling myself by trying to branch out into new decks, but I have rather enjoyed playing with Brainstorm and especially Force of Will. After years of playing aggressive decks without blue in them, I relish the opportunity to tap out for my haymaker without leaving myself vulnerable. It’s both comforting and liberating because it takes away any fear you might have.

That’s why I was drawn to Delver variants this year. A staple since Delver’s printing, they aren’t going anywhere and this Top Eight did not disappoint:

The first thing I notice is that these are both U/R-base Delver decks and include Gitaxian Probe for added velocity and spell density. These are the most aggressive form of the Delver deck, which makes sense in a Top Eight that included a lot of combo decks.

Lightning Bolt may not be a great card against combo, but every Delver variant needs to play some maindeck removal and having that removal spell doubles as reach where Abrupt Decay and Swords to Plowshares cannot. This gives you valuable percentage points in game one before you can replace those removal spells with more appropriate disruption.

The added cantrips means that the density of good interaction against combo decks is artificially increased as well as letting your best sideboard cards come up more often. Finally, it means your best threat, Delver of Secrets, flips more reliably and speeds up your clock.

The deck I have been playing, Sultai Delver, is a less aggressive variant that matches up better in the pseudo-mirror and against Miracles… but the slower clock and added removal spells really hurt your combo matchup. Personally, I will be looking to switch to one of these decks for the Season Three Invitational unless a combo deck pops up that I particularly enjoy.

Right now I strongly lean toward the Grixis variant for a number of reasons. The primary one is that I think black now has the tools to fight green effectively. Historically the green variants of Delver have been better in the pseudo-mirror because they fight the Tarmogoyf war best. First, green gives you access to your own Goyfs and second, the best removal spell against opposing Goyfs, Abrupt Decay, is green.

It is impossible to overload on a card like Murderous Cut or Dismember, so even black variants were left at a disadvantage. But with the new Grixis lists, between a few black removal spells, Deathrite Shaman to limit the size of both graveyards and the new Delve creatures (Tasigur and Gurmag Angler) we now have enough tools to manage graveyards naturally that they can hold their own in the Goyf war. Young Pyromancer can even outpace a Tarmogoyf with a spell-dense draw, so there are a number of angles that you can take depending on your draw.

I also like the sideboard plan that Grixis has against combo decks. The combination of Cabal Therapy and Young Pyromancer is incredibly potent at stripping your opponent of resources in a mana-efficient way. More importantly, it provides the Delver deck with another angle of disruption, and nothing stymies combo decks more than having to protect themselves along multiple angles.

The Temur deck more often than not brings in more countermagic like Flusterstorm and Pyroblast which, while good, do not force the opposition to consider and prepare against another angle of attack. Granted, the Temur deck has a stronger mana denial plan with Stifle supplementing Wasteland, but that could be incorporated into the Grixis shell if desired.

Instead, Dylan Donegan opted to play a couple extra threats and two copies of Dig Through Time. This certainly helps against fair decks and adds a very powerful card to the deck. However, to me, Dig Through Time does not exactly fit what the Delver deck is doing past being a Delve card in a deck that fills its graveyard quickly. Two mana is a large investment for a land-light Delver deck, and the fact that it does not affect the board in any way is a significant mark against it.

What this tells me is that Dig Through Time may simply be too powerful to exclude. If that is the case then perhaps it needs to be banned, but I am far from sure of that. It could also be that the Grixis Delver variant plays in between Temur and Sultai in terms of aggression, so a couple of cards to aid in attrition games are warranted. Dig Through Time certainly plays that role well.

The final note I have about this Open is that the format seems very aggressive. There are plenty of combo decks and Delver variants in the Top Eight and relatively few midrange and Miracles decks at the top of the standings. Looking at the Day 2 metagame breakdown we see that Miracles was still popular but only did well in the hands of experienced pilots and the most popular midrange decks (Esper Stoneblade and Shardless Sultai) were not as highly represented as we have come to expect.

This is a relatively fast metagame for Legacy, and perhaps that is why Miracles did not perform as well since it has a propensity for slow starts. Regardless, you should be prepared to interact early and often in New Jersey, which is exactly the kind of Magic I like to play.

If this holds true in two weeks, Legacy will be quite the treat indeed.