The Long & Winding Road – Creating a Legacy

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Monday, October 19th – For many players, the jump to Legacy is a leap of faith into the unknown of Magic’s past. There are now as many “blocks” of Magic that are barred from Extended (seven: Ice Age, Mirage, Tempest, Masques, Invasion, Odyssey, Onslaught) as are allowed in it, and that doesn’t include the pre-Ice Age sets or Portal. This means that Legacy has over double the card pool allowed in Extended play.

For many players, the jump to Legacy is a leap of faith into the unknown of Magic’s past. There are now as many “blocks” of Magic that are barred from Extended (seven: Ice Age, Mirage, Tempest, Masques, Invasion, Odyssey, Onslaught) as are allowed in it, and that doesn’t include the pre-Ice Age sets or Portal. This means that Legacy has over double the card pool allowed in Extended play. Many of these cards have significant Oracle text, and for many players are going to seem confusing, scarce, and expensive. The good news is that most of the decks that are popular in Legacy right now have analogues to decks that saw recent play in Extended. In other words, even if you’re completely unaware of anything printed pre-Onslaught, if you’ve played any Extended over the past few years, you should be able to find a deck that is similar (or in some cases, nearly functionally identical) to a deck you’re familiar with. But why even bother playing Legacy, as there aren’t any PTQ seasons that support it?

Until recently, Legacy was one of Wizard’s forgotten children, with extremely minimal support, but it has always had a die-hard core of players, and regional pockets of heavy support. Over the past several years, support by Wizards has increased, and Legacy played a role at Worlds 2007 (with five rounds of Swiss) and Worlds 2008 (where it was one of the team formats). The Legacy Grand Prix in Chicago earlier this year smashed the attendance record for an American Grand Prix at the time, and Legacy again had the largest attendance of the Champs events at GenCon this year. Additionally, tournament organizers such as StarCityGames.com are supporting Legacy, in StarCityGames.com case with a series of $5000 tournaments this year. On the East Coast, Legacy is supported very strongly by Jupiter Games in New York, and Dream Wizards has been supporting the format in Maryland. While Legacy will never be as popular as Standard due to price and card availability, it is a format that has experienced a considerable surge in interest and relevance as far as organized play. Additionally, the unification of DCI ratings under the Total rating introduced last year allows high-performing Legacy players all of the “perks” that their Vintage counterparts lack, including Rewards redemptions from WotC and the possibility of earning Grand Prix byes (or even Nationals and Pro Tour invites) on the back of strong performance in Legacy events.

If you find yourself in an area with Legacy support, and wish to get into the format, it can seem like a daunting task. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that the audience has at least a passing familiarity with Extended, and is looking to take a first step into playing Legacy. Coming into the format straight away from Standard is more difficult and generally quite costly, as one needs to acquire Extended staples like Tarmogoyf and fetch lands in addition to the staples of Legacy. While I would never suggest that someone avoid Legacy, cost does become an issue if you’re leaping formats. When I came back to the game in 2007, I found it was best to begin with the current block (by drafting and playing Standard) and then work backwards from there. In my experience, this is the most organic way to learn the card pool and acquire a meaningful collection.

There are a few cards in particular that drive up the cost of Legacy: Underground Sea, Volcanic Island, Tropical Island, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Force of Will, and Tarmogoyf.

Underground Sea has seen an explosion in price over the past eighteen months, and to a slightly lesser extent this is also true of the other blue dual lands (Tropical Island and Volcanic in particular, as they see more play than Tundra). When I was shopping around for Underground Seas in late 2008, the ceiling was around $50 for Seas in good condition, and played Seas could be found much cheaper. Now, that price has pushed to $70 and above for Revised Underground Seas in good condition, and it is getting rare to find any below $40 regardless of how played they are. This shouldn’t really be seen as surprising, as Black and Blue have long been the most potent combination in Magic. Underground Sea sees play in the best Vintage decks (such as Tezzeret and TPS) and many of the more powerful Legacy decks (such as Counterbalance/Top and Ad Nauseam). The good news here is that you honestly don’t need a play-set of Underground Sea, thanks to the much cheaper Onslaught and Zendikar fetchlands. In fact, outside of Canadian Thresh and Eva Green, there are very few decks that actually need or want to have a full play-set of any specific dual land. Underground Sea, and dual lands in general, also have the benefit of being a relatively safe investment. As there is no chance of them rotating out of Vintage or Legacy, as long as those formats exist, they should hold their value. The popularity of EDH also helps drive the value of original dual lands. Because Blue duals are so expensive, it is important to figure out which ones you need to acquire, and in what quantity, to play a specific deck such as Canadian Threshold, Counter/Top, or ANT.

Considering its importance to both Legacy and Vintage, the price point of Force of Will is actually pretty reasonable. For a point of comparison, consider the early price points on cards like Bitterblossom, Mutavault, Cryptic Command, and Reflecting Pool. During various times in 2008 and 2009, these were cards that were $20, and at some points were even more expensive. Obviously price points on all of them have dropped considerably as they’ve rotated out of Standard. Investing the same $80-100 in a play-set of Force of Wills is a wise choice as again, they won’t rotate and should therefore at least maintain their value, and will more than likely increase in value over time. Acquiring Force of Will opens up many of the top-tier decks in Legacy, and in combination with the blue duals, also leads you down the path to playing proxy Vintage, should you desire to do so in the future.

Finally, Tarmogoyf has become one of the staples of Legacy. It sees play in the majority of non-combo decks, and even there Goyf is sometimes found in the sideboard. Many players acquired Goyfs during Time Spiral’s run in Standard, so if you still have Tarmogoyfs, you have one of the pillars of the format already.

I would also suggest avoiding certain flashy or niche cards when you’re first building up a Legacy collection. One example would be Phyrexian Dreadnought, a card that has escalated in price even as cards like Path to Exile and Qasali Pridemage have created a disincentive to playing it. Similarly, the Painter’s Servant / Grindstone combo finds itself in a hostile metagame, so investment in those cards (or the potentially related Imperial Recruiter) would be a bad idea for a new Legacy player. There are also some Legends cards, like Moat or Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, that only see limited play in certain niche decks. Finally, avoid acquiring cards that pigeonhole you into a specific deck, such as Exploration (for 43 Land) or Sea Drake (for Sea Stompy). Similarly, something like Natural order is a niche card that gives you minimal return on investment as a new player in Legacy.

When entering a format, one of the first things you need to do is identify the key players in that format. This year in Legacy, we’ve seen a definitely metagame start to form out of what was a strongly regional format. At this point in time, I think it is relatively safe to target these decks as the tier 1 of Legacy. They’re the decks you’re most likely to see in a given Top 8 or the late swiss rounds of a larger event:

Canadian Threshold
Counterbalance / Top Control
ANT (Ad Nauseam / Tendrils)

There are certainly other archetypes worth looking at, including various Trinisphere decks (including Trinistax, 42 or 43 Land, Belcher, and Dragon Stompy, all of which have shown up in the Top 8 of large events this year) and Eva Green, but on a national level for American Legacy, these are probably the decks you want to learn and understand. When I was beginning to get interested in Legacy, and later in Vintage, I found it helpful to proxy up the top tier decks and goldfish them, to get a handle on how they functioned. I then tested against local players in those formats by borrowing decks or playing with proxies, until I identified a few decks that I was interested in playing. Again, there are certain format staples that will allow you to invest in multiple decks at once. Let’s take a look at this a little further.

Decks with Blue Duals

For a player that is already invested in Standard and Extended, and has Tarmogoyfs and some quantity of Blue fetchlands (such as Polluted Delta, Scalding Tarn, and Misty Rainforest), taking the leap to Canadian Threshold or Counterbalance/Top might make sense. Obviously this is also true for those of you that do not have cost considerations to worry about. Playing these decks requires that you acquire some number of Blue dual lands, although for smaller local events, playing with a mix of original duals and Ravnica duals at first is a workable solution. The overall cost of Canadian Threshold, outside of the dual lands, Force of Will, and Tarmogoyf, is quite reasonable. Cards like Nimble Mongoose, Fire/Ice, Lightning Bolt, and Daze are not particularly expensive, and Stifle has cooled off considerably due to its rotation out of Extended.

Canadian Threshold has proven that it is one of the top decks in Legacy, with solid performances at $5Ks and this year’s Legacy Champs. Ben Wienburg list also has a cost driven by sets of Volcanic Island, Tropical Island, Force of Will, and Tarmogoyf:

Note that in this particular list, which runs no basics, the exact type of fetch land used is irrelevant so long as it can find an Island, so Scalding Tarn and Misty Rainforest can easily replace Flooded Strand and Polluted Delta (and also provide better opportunity to experiment with basic land usage, should one want to do so). Canadian Thresh does require investment in Wastelands, but again Wasteland is a card that sees significant play across various Eternals decks and has a reasonable cost attached for how many decks it allows you to play in these formats.

There are various builds of Counterbalance/Top decks, but most of them have overlapping pieces, which many extended players will already own. First, here is Andrew Probasco’s version from GP: Chicago:

Again, cards like Sower of Temptation and Vedalken Shackles should be familiar to anyone who played Next Level Blue or Faeries during the past few seasons of Extended. This deck is very much in the same design space as Next Level Blue was in Extended. For a version with Dark Confidant and Thoughtseize, also familiar from Extended, I would suggest looking at this version from the Charlotte $5K. The key driver of cost here is the set of Force of Will, the Blue dual lands, and Tarmogoyf.

These Blue decks are among the best in Legacy, but are also among the most expensive. They require knowledge of the format to be played at their maximum potential, and some players may not prefer this style of deck. Thankfully, in a format as broad as Legacy, there are many other options.

Ad Nauseam Tendrils, or ANT, is a combo deck that requires a similar level of investment. Mark Tocco ended up in 10th at the recent SGC Legacy $5K running the following:

One of the benefits to acquiring a list like this is that it runs a variety of duals – in this case, Mark is running six dual lands, but they’re spread across five different types. This can be beneficial if you also play EDH, as you are acquiring duals that help you construct decks in that format as well. There are many various builds of this deck, but they should appeal to anyone who has played TEPS in Extended, as the idea is similar. There are also versions that play Doomsday or run red for Burning Wish, such as Tommy Kolowith’s list from Grand Prix: Chicago.

These decks don’t require you to buy as many dual lands or Force of Will, but they do require you to purchase Lion’s Eye Diamonds, which are similar in cost to Tarmogoyf, but are only played in combo decks (such as ANT, Belcher, and combo builds of Ichorid). That doesn’t make LEDs a bad purchase, but keep this in mind when deciding what type of deck style you enjoy playing as LEDs lock you into various combo builds.

Decks with non-Blue Duals

Of the decks that run duals that aren’t blue, Zoo is clearly at the top of the heap. This year has been something of a coming out party for Zoo in Legacy, including domination by the deck at the $5K in Charlotte. This is the version that Alix Hatfield played to a first-place finish at that tournament:

The key expense in this deck is going to be Tarmogoyf, and then the six dual lands and the fetch lands (which can now be modified to include Arid Mesa). Outside of Chain Lightning, the rest of the deck is extremely affordable, which is likely an additional driver for this deck’s popularity. Zoo has very strong match-ups against Counterbalance/Top decks and Merfolk, but is much weaker against the various combo decks in Legacy, which helps explain the recent increase in the popularity of combo.

Belcher is another favorite of mine, and is the deck I used in my first Legacy tournament – and one that carried me all the way to third at the 2008 Legacy Champs. It’s extremely easy to play, and completely underrated by the majority of Legacy players. Cedric Phillips proved this again with his Top 8 at the $5K in Philadelphia (and you can find a tournament report with his version in his article from last week). Belcher only plays two duals, one Taiga and one Bayou, but it does play Lion’s Eye Diamond and Chrome Mox. Outside of these cards, it is one of the cheapest competitive decks in Legacy – and it has an unbelievably good match-up against decks like Zoo and Goblins.

Decks with no Duals

If you want to play a deck that runs Force of Will, but don’t have the resources to acquire dual lands, Merfolk are probably the way to go. As Merfolk have been discussed at length this year, I won’t do so here, but the deck is designed to prey on other Blue decks, and has very strong match-ups against Counterbalance and ANT decks. Some builds do play Tropical Island and Tarmogoyf, but that has traditionally been the exception rather than the rule. Merfolk is by no means to cheap to acquire from scratch, however, as the deck plays Force of Will, Wastelands, Aether Vial, Mishra’s Factory, and Stifle, but by comparison to the decks above, it is somewhat more budget friendly (especially if you already own the Merfolk from playing the deck in Standard).

Similarly, Goblins is a somewhat budget-friendly choice, in that it can be run as a mono-Red deck and therefore does not require one to buy any dual lands (although many people splash into other colors, such as White for Swords to Plowshares / Path to Exile and enchantment removal, or Black for Warren Weirding and various disruption options). Goblins is a deck that requires you to pick up multiple cards at a similar price point – for example, Goblin Lackey, Wasteland, Rishadan Port, and Goblin Piledriver. As such, it can be an easier deck to slowly acquire at a rate of a few cards per paycheck. It is also a deck that has been competitive in Legacy for years, and one that is able to adapt to the metagame it faces. Current Goblin lists have experimented with Goblin Chieftain and Mogg War Marshall as ways to address the deck’s traditional weakness against Tarmogoyf.

Dragon Stompy is another budget-friendly option. Many of the more expensive cards in the deck – Chrome Mox, Umezawa’s Jitte, Chalice of the Void – may already be in your collection from Extended, leaving City of Traitors as the key cost involved in the deck. This version reached the Top 8 of Grand Prix: Chicago:

Finally, one of the cheapest competitive decks in Legacy is Ichorid. Many people have played Lion’s Eye Diamond in Ichorid (such as Damon Whitby‘s Top 16 list from the Charlotte $5K, or the winning deck from this year‘s Legacy Champs), which drives up the cost to some extent. LED gives Ichorid the ability to win on the first turn of the game, but also exposes the deck to Force of Will more than the builds that avoid LED. One example of a non-LED list is Matthew Bartlett’s 3rd-place finish at the $5K in Philadelphia. Matthew included Bloodghast, which has tremendous synergy with Undiscovered Paradise and Dakmor Salvage. He also chose to sideboard Force of Will as a way to beat hate cards and (I assume) to help improve his combo match-ups. Another possibility I’m anxious to try here is to take Damon’s use of Greater Gargadon in the sideboard of Ichorid and introduce it to Matthew’s list. Gargadon has definite synergy with the idea of dredging Dakmor Salvage and recurring Bloodghast. In any event, here is his list:

Again, outside of Force of Will, this deck is cheap and effective, and if you have played Dredge in the past, you’re familiar with how the deck functions and may already own some of the pieces.

Creating a Legacy

To further guide you as you invest in Legacy cards, I’ve broken down some of the commonly played cards you might want to acquire, and where they see play (although note that not every version runs all of these cards). The first batch is broken out by card, while the second is broken out by deck.

By card name:

Aether Vial: Merfolk, Goblins
Badlands: Goblins, ANT
Bayou: Belcher, Eva Green, ANT
Chalice of the Void: Trinistax, Dragon Stompy
Chrome Mox: ANT, Belcher, Dragon Stompy
City of Traitors / Ancient Tomb: Dragon Stompy, Trinistax
Force of Will: Merfolk, Canadian Threshold, Counterbalance/Top, Ichorid
Goblin Lackey / Goblin Piledriver: Goblins
Lion’s Eye Diamond: ANT, Belcher, Ichorid
Mishra’s Factory: Merfolk, Landstill / Dreadtill, TriniStax, 42/43 Land
Mox Diamond: Trinistax, Aggro Loam, possibly 42/43 Land
Plateau: Zoo, Goblins
Rishadan Port: Goblins, 42/43 Land
Savannah: Zoo
Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author]: ANT
Stifle: Canadian Threshold, Merfolk
Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale: Trinistax, 42/43 Land
Taiga: Zoo, Belcher, Goblins
Tarmogoyf: Zoo, Canadian Threshold, Counterbalance/Top, Merfolk, Eva Green
Tropical Island: Canadian Threshold, Counterbalance/Top, ANT, Merfolk
Tundra: ANT, Counterbalance/Top
Umezawa’s Jitte: Zoo, Merfolk, Dragon Stompy, Eva Green
Underground Sea: ANT, Counterbalance/Top
Volcanic Island: Canadian Threshold, Counterbalance/Top, ANT
Wasteland: Canadian Threshold, Merfolk, Goblins, TriniStax, Eva Green

By Deck:

CB/Top: Tropical Island, Tarmogoyf, Force of Will, Underground Sea, Volcanic Island, Tundra, Blue fetches

Canadian Threshold: Tropical Island, Volcanic Island, Tarmogoyf, Force of Will, Wasteland, Stifle, Blue fetches

Zoo: Taiga, Plateau, Savannah, Chain Lightning, Tarmogoyf, Umezawa’s Jitte, various on-color fetches

Ichorid: Lion’s Eye Diamond, Force of Will, Unmask, Undiscovered Paradise

ANT: Lion’s Eye Diamond, Underground Sea, Tundra, Volcanic Island, Tropical Island, Bayou, Orim’s Chant, Chrome Mox, Ill-Gotten Gains, Mystical Tutor

Merfolk: Force of Will, Aether Vial, Stifle, Wasteland, Mishra’s Factory, Umezawa’s Jitte; Tarmogoyf version: Blue fetches, Tarmogoyf

Goblins: Goblin Lackey, Goblin Piledriver, Wasteland, Aether Vial, Rishadan Port; various versions: Plateau, Badlands, Taiga plus associated Red fetches

Trinistax: City of Traitors, Ancient Tomb, Mox Diamond, Armageddon, Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Savanna

Eva Green: Tarmogoyf, Sinkhole, Bayou, Nantuko Shade, Wasteland, Umezawa’s Jitte

Dragon Stompy: Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors, Chrome Mox, Umezawa’s Jitte, Powder Keg

42/43 Land: Mox Diamond, Intuition, Gamble, Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Tropical Island, Taiga, Savannah, Wasteland, Rishadan Port, Mishra’s Factory

Matt Elias

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