Unlocking Legacy — A Format Shift

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Legacy is currently experiencing significant development. Christopher Coppola analyzes these changes and predicts how they will affect the format in the future.

I. Banned List Updates

On May 31st, I wrote an article explaining the degeneracy of the Flash combo, and I stressed the need for it to be banned on June 1st. The DCI came to the same conclusion and fixed the format the next day. Legacy players everywhere were happy to hear the news that the format would become stable and fair once again.

Aaron Forsythe had some interesting comments about Flash and the Grand Prix, but the important one was about the power of Flash itself. The DCI judged Flash to be broken, and not in any way safe or acceptable to have in the format. I found this to be an important judgment, and one that should serve to characterize Legacy and its design. If nothing else, I hope this unfortunate incident has informed more players about the character of the format.

The DCI also followed some more of my advice on June 1st. In September, I wrote an article discussing several cards that I thought did not deserve to be on the banned list, and I gave brief arguments for each of them. It remains a difficult challenge to argue that any of them deserve their place on the list, and clearly impossible in the case of Mind over Matter and Replenish, which were returned to the format on the first of this month. I am glad that these cards are available to deckbuilders again. I want to thank the DCI for returning them to the format, and I hope more unbannings will follow. I will have more to say about Aaron Forsythe comments about the banned list, and the banned list itself, at a later date.

II. Metagame Updates

Legacy is finally enjoying some long-awaited developments. They would have been clear and effective had Legacy been played at GP: Columbus, but as it happened, the innovation from the previous year was useless in the face of Flash. Now that it’s gone, the format is where it would have been for that tournament.

Two major changes have occurred in Legacy that are going to shape the format for some time. The result of these changes is a shift in the balance of power among the archetypes in the format.

The first change is due to hard work by deck builders. All archetypes have improved their matchups against fast Aggro, specifically the Goblins archetype, through continued design changes and sideboarding strategies. Many decks are now playing with versatile answers, especially in sideboards, that are good against Goblins and useful in many other matchups. This has reduced Goblins’ position in the format from dominant to just good. Many decks are benefiting significantly from the reduced pressure from Aggro decks, and are diversifying their strategies against the rest of the format.

The second change is due to accumulated development, as well as newer cards being printed. Combo decks are better than they have ever been, and are being played in higher numbers. Time Spiral block has added many interesting and useful cards to Legacy, and although their power has not yet been fully discovered, many decks are beginning to take advantage of them. Currently there is one deck in particular that is making very good use of two new cards, Simian Spirit Guide and Empty the Warrens:

This deck, also known as “CRET Belcher,” has been demonstrating consistent and fast kills against all archetypes. If you look, you will see that the deck is 82% mana sources. This may be the highest amount of mana sources that any deck has ever run, and it’s certainly true for Legacy. It is focused almost entirely on the first two turns of the game. The deck wants to cast a Goblin Charbelcher or Empty the Warrens on turn 1, and then kill the opponent over the next two turns.

This deck, like almost all Combo decks, is best against Aggro, which is compounding significantly the decrease in popularity of Goblins. Other Combo decks, such as Burning Wish Combo and Aluren, are still strong choices for tournaments, and together they are changing tournament compositions. The combination of improved answers and the increasing popularity of combo decks is going to be a big problem for Aggro decks in the near future.

III. A Format Shift

In March, I classified Legacy decks into two categories: those that were played heavily and were also very successful, and those that were played much less but had success when they were played. The only two decks in the first category were Goblins and Threshold.

I think this classification is still accurate, but the power of the two best decks has changed considerably, and this classification may require revision in a few months. I have already mentioned how Goblins is facing increasing opposition from well-built Combo and Aggro-Control decks. There are so many tactical and strategic foils in the format now that Goblins may find it difficult to consistently succeed in competitive tournaments. The last time I was working mainly on Goblins as my competitive deck of choice (circa April 20th), I came up with a strong list that incorporated years of testing and tournament practice. However, I am skeptical about its ability to deal with the changes taking place in the format. Here is the list I was committed to running at the GP before the errata disaster:

I think this is one of the best Goblins list I have tested, and the one I like most, but I am much less confident in the power of this deck given the shift in the format towards Combo decks. Even with eight spaces in the sideboard dedicated to beating to it, the deck still doesn’t enough control over the game to reliably stop Combo decks. Goblins has to get lucky by drawing a fast kill, as well as the right disruption at the right time, just to have a chance. Without a draw engine or better disruption, I don’t think this is a reliable strategy.

But while Goblins is getting weaker, Threshold is getting stronger.

Threshold is benefiting from the same factors I have already mentioned. First, the decline in popularity of Goblins itself is causing this close matchup to be less of a worry for Aggro-Control players in general, and Threshold in particular. Second, the increase in the popularity of Combo decks means that Aggro-Control decks have a greater strategic advantage in competitive tournaments. Third, Threshold makes good use of very strong new card, Tarmogoyf:

This deck is similar in a few ways to more traditional Red Threshold decks, but it is definitely better in the current environment. The threat base is stronger and more consistent; the pressure from Aggro decks is lower, making the sideboard Pyroclasms more appropriate; and the deck now has more freedom to run better answers for Combo decks. This is not a definitive list by any means, but this archetype has a lot of potential at the moment and I expect to see it perform very well.

In addition to Aggro-Control benefiting from the format shift, Control decks have an opportunity to improve their status in the format through innovative deckbuilding. There is more space in the format than ever for Control decks to succeed, and there are also new cards available to build upon. At the moment there are no specific decks that I think demonstrate this change, but there are indications in many smaller tournaments that these decks are developing well. I hope to see more success in the near future from both Blue-based Control and Stax.

IV. Your Response

Last month, I wrote an article criticizing some in the Magic community for being dishonest and irresponsible about Flash and its effects on the format. I knew that this would be somewhat controversial since people don’t like to be criticized, but it was very important to make it clear that a large number of Legacy players are bothered by this behavior and would like the format to be treated with more respect. I stand by my criticisms, and I hope to see more consideration of them.

I expected there to be a fair amount of hostility about this issue, and there was. What I did not expect was the enthusiastic and incredibly positive response I got through PMs, email, and forum posts about this topic. Many of you wanted to let me know that you supported my article completely, and were happy that someone addressed the issue. I have read all of the threads and messages about this topic, and it was very informative to hear your thoughts.

It was also helpful to get a response from those of you I would not typically talk to about my writing. I just want to remind all my readers that my email address is at the bottom of my articles. If you want to add your feedback about a deck or a topic, feel free to send me a message. I may not always respond, but I take all feedback seriously, so email me if you have something to say.

Christopher Coppola
[email protected]