Unlocking Legacy – Are You There, Wizards? It’s Me, Adam

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Monday, February 25th – This week, Adam tackles a range of topics including ruminations on Eternal Magic, a Legacy perspective on Organized Play, the Banned and Restricted List, and a long forgotten card from Alpha…

I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.
E. B. White (1899 – 1985)

Ruminations of an unfocused mind

Lately, I’ve gotten the feeling that there’s a lot I miss out on by focusing solely on Eternal Magic. Sure, I’ve written all about the benefits of being a Legacy player – how great that feeling of camaraderie can be when you travel a long distance with good friends; the sense of community you get from being part of a subculture, even within a larger subculture; getting to play with all the best cards from the history of the game — but still, there’s the experiences of thousands of people, scraping and hoping, grinding it out for the dream of making it to the “big show” that we, or rather, I, barely even register.

The more I think about it, the more down about the whole matter I get. See, I can still remember a time, oh so long ago, when I knew nothing at all about the structure of high level competitive Magic. When I was new to this game, the game was pretty new too, and there wasn’t the wealth of information to be had, the way there is today. There was no internet, let alone a StarCityGames, for me to get all my up-to-date information from, so I never really had the opportunity to grow as a player in the way the young players of today can manage. There were a few guys in my neighborhood – who were much older than me, and as such, more readily equipped to recognize the potential of the game — who jumped at the chance to become involved in the tournament scene at this early stage. I can distinctly remember being in awe, as they told me about the experiences they had when they traveled a whole 2 hours to go to a Pro Tour Qualifier. I remember asking how they did, and finding out they made it to the second round, before being knocked out. The second round! I hope it demonstrates my naivety at the time — to those of us with any sort of tournament experience, we realize now that this meant they went 0-2 drop. Yet, to the inexperienced eyes of a 14 year old just starting to become interested in the game, the mere fact that the word “pro” was involved got my interests piqued. “You can be a professional Magic player? Wow! I know what I want to be when I grow up!”

It’s been a long time since I felt that awe, that thirst for something bigger than myself. As I grew into myself as a player, I realized that my interests didn’t lie in the formats that were getting all the attention. I liked playing with my cards, and as many of them as I could, and I found a format that let me do just that. Still, I think fondly back to the time when I had that energy and drive to break onto the big stage, and wonder what would have happened had I chosen a different path in Magic.

So what, exactly, does this have to do with Legacy? Not very much, I admit. However, I think that with the recent events in the greater Magic community — the changes in Organized Play, the formation of the Players’ Union, etc. — even we Legacy players should be aware of what’s going on in the game as a whole, rather than focusing on just our own secluded corner. Often, because of the nature of our format, we feel buffered from the effects of the decisions made by Wizards of the Coast, and their impact on the larger community is seen through a bystander’s eye. As I think more and more about what we miss out on because of this, I can’t help but to think how these changes affect us, and Legacy. Whether you like it or hate it, or remain stoically indifferent, here is one Legacy player’s perspective on organized play, the Players’ Union, life, the Universe, and everything.

About a month ago (wow, has it really only been a month?), the word began to spread that Wizards had unleashed a slew of changes to the schedule, payout, and structure of professional events. Honestly, I didn’t really care at first, and the general uproar sounded like typical “the sky is falling” player whining. What made me take notice was when Raph Levy set up a website dedicated to uniting the player base behind him, rallying them to speak up for themselves and see if they can affect some real change within the decision-making processes at Wizards. I thought, if someone with as much invested into this game as Raph thinks things are amiss, maybe I should check it out. I went to the site and registered, and started reading the information there. At the time (within the first 24 hours of the site going up) there wasn’t much, so I followed all the links to whatever info I could gather on what the changes really were. Now, once again, these are seen through Legacy-colored glasses, and as human nature dictates, I scanned the articles with “how does this affect me?” lodged firmly in the front of my mind. The short answer is very little. The major thing that I took away from it all was that three PTs per year instead of four, or the five we used to have per year, makes it even less likely than it was in the past for there to be a Legacy PT. This, combined with the increased relevance of the GPs due to fewer opportunities to earn Pro Points, makes me wonder how likely we are to see continued, or increased, support from the OP department for Legacy. Being highlighted at Worlds this year was great for the format, but with these changes, I’m not convinced the trend will continue.

That’s not a bad thing, per se. Legacy has survived just fine for years without support from a professional events standpoint. It will survive again should the situation go back to pre-Philly. There are thousands of players in cities across the world playing for store credit and packs every week, and hundreds playing for dual lands every month. It’s a grassroots format, and more than any other but Vintage, can support itself.

So, although there isn’t much chance of this round of changes blowing up in Legacy’s face, I pledged my support to Raph and his cause, because it seemed the right thing to do as a Magic player, if not particularly as a Legacy player. I know, were our situations reversed, that I would feel greatly appreciative for the support of the Circuit players. I
can only expect that kind of support if I’m willing to show it to them, when they call for it. Aside from the basic support of my compatriots, I hope that this organization becomes an avenue for better communication with Wizards. Should the need arise, I would like to be able to have a way to express any needs the Legacy community has, with the people who are able to fill them. Right now, this isn’t the case. I think the union has the potential to be that path.

And really, that’s it. That’s all this union is, and all it should be considered to be. It’s not a way to collectively bargain with Wizards about the payout at PTs. It’s not a call for arms, for players to boycott or strike if their terms aren’t met. It’s not a bunch of snooty pros griping about a pay-cut. It is simply, and only, a means to more effectively communicate with the company that runs this game, about any concerns that we as players may have. I realize there is a lot of resistance to the idea of the group, mostly centered on the choice to use the word “union” at all. The fact that Wizards was willing to meet with the representatives of the group, and talk openly about this situation as it has presented itself, should speak volumes to those of you who are openly berating the group. If the interests of Wizards were not being furthered, or even maintained, by this meeting, then it would not have occurred. There is no ill will here. There is no animosity. There is simply a group of players who feel they have some ideas which could benefit the parties involved, and would like a means to bring those ideas forward.

So, the union began to take shape, and the meeting at PT:KL occurred. What came out of it was of far more interest to me than anything else on the issue has been to this point. Wizards said, in a nutshell, that the money they are potentially saving from the elimination of a PT, the decrease in payout, and the reorganization of Club levels would be redistributed into a grassroots campaign to increase the attraction of the game to the casual market. Now, although we’re yet to see this in anything other than a press release — i.e., we’re waiting for them to put their money where their mouth is — I’ve got nothing but confidence that they truly feel this is wise business practice, and will follow through with their intentions. The part of particular interest to me is how they define what constitutes a “casual player.” Based on previous articles and interviews on the topic, it appears to me that any given Legacy player falls well within the scope of their definition of casual. The question is, will we see any of that money, in the form of structured support and attention from Wizards? The answer is likely “no.” And really, it’s unfortunate. As I’ve said before, for a casual player walking into tournament Magic for the first time, Legacy truly is the natural starting point. For most kitchen table players making the big step up to tournament play, the ability to play with almost all of their cards far outweighs the possibility of losing to any perceived broken combo decks. Throwing some support to the format, in the form of an organized tournament structure similar to FNM for example, could go a long way toward increasing the interest in a format begging to be put in the spotlight. At the same time, giving the players of this format a genuine avenue in which to pursue Professional Magic would be a giant step for us. Please, the DCI, make my eternal rating worth something more than a few byes once per year. I know from my own experiences, and I can’t possibly be alone, that if qualifying for a Pro Tour through Eternal Magic was possible those 10+ years ago when I first started playing “1.5,” that the path of my Magic career may have been very, very different. Instead of excluding portions of the player base from Magic’s biggest stage, find a way to include them. We may just surprise you.

I think I’ve belabored this issue enough for now. If anything pops up that has direct impact on us, don’t worry Legacy guys, I’m on the frontlines, gunning it out with our best interests in mind.

Speaking of Banned and Restricted lists…

In just under a week, it will be about that time again. With March rapidly approaching, and Steve Menendian making me think, as he is wont to do, I’ve put some thought into what I’d like to see happen this month. During the last few round of bannings, we saw Flash banned (hooray), Replenish and Mind Over Matter unbanned (meh), Shahrazad banned (meh), and then a whole lot of nothing. I’m hoping this month, we see a little shaking up of the B&R. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that we’ve gotten two new toys to play with (oh wait, neither of them has made even a small ripple in the metagame), but I’m looking for something worth playing to be removed. Without being too redundant to all the other articles about this ever — and we have had a lot of them — here’s a couple suggestions for potential changes to “the list.”

Off — Worldgorger Dragon

Now, I realize that this combo was relatively insane before the big change in 2004. It was the most consistent combo deck in the old 1.5, and it was fast. Like, really fast. You boarded in those Tormod’s Crypts, and those Stifles, and those Naturalizes, and you still lost to it. You know it, I know it, and the American people know it. But today isn’t 2004. There are a bunch of elements that are different about the metagame today that weren’t there back then. First of all, Extirpate exists. And it’s even played! That card, more than any other card I can think of, is made to beat up on Dragon. It solves the whole deck, on the spot. Second, Bazaar of Baghdad is no longer legal in this format. This means that you’re now required to find alternatives to it, such as Compulsion, Buried Alive, or Careful Study, in order to get your combo engine working — all of which can be countered, all of which are strictly inferior to the old engine. The deck as it would look today (and look down for a pretty good take on a list) would be slower, more vulnerable, and basically all around less threatening than the lists of yore. I strongly believe that the two factors above combined — the lack of Bazaar, and the refined hatred of Graves — will keep the combo much more in check. It loses to all the same hate that Cephalid Breakfast does, with additional vulnerability to counterspells, since it can’t sit on Aether Vial. At best, this deck becomes a Reanimation deck that isn’t terrible, and I really think Legacy needs one. Besides, the deck is ridiculously fun to play. The only thing holding this card on the list is the complexity of the rules interactions. It’s obvious the card was never intended to work the way it does with Animation Enchantments, but hell, quirky interactions are one of the things that makes this game so much fun! It’s a harmless combo that’s worse than a lot of stuff we already have. Please give it back.

Legacy WGDX

Off — Frantic Search

I know I’ll take some heat for this one. I’ll preface it by saying that if Dragon comes off, this can’t. This is a one or the other kind of decision, for sure. Still, I think this is the card that Reset High Tide needs to become competitive again. Granted, Counterbalance still kicks it in the teeth, but a card filtering engine that serves as mana production is exactly what that deck needs. The fact that it might find a home in many of the aggro-control decks in the format is less of an issue, they may not even play it, as its inherent card disadvantage is less useful than whatever mana production it may allow. Two decks, one being High Tide, the other being Faerie Stompy, could really abuse the card, and that seems fine. Making two second tier decks improve their game by a bit doesn’t seem overly dangerous to me. I strongly doubt its abuse in any Tendrils-based combo deck, as Vintage decks don’t play it at all, and they have Tolarian Academy to untap. This is another safe bet in my eyes, although it seems a little more risky than Dragon.

Note to Wizards — Risky is not the same as Bad Idea. I mean, you did give Gush back to Vintage.

Off — Land Tax

This card has been discussed to death. I get why you think it’s a boring card, and it is. It’s also a bad card, and I’m not really ever going to be sorry to see it across the table from me. “It’s boring” is not an excuse for a card to be banned. Let us have it, we’ll decide if it’s boring or not.

Off — Metalworker/Grim Monolith

Stax style decks are showing some success again. They are an excellent foil to the metagame, as the increased speed due to the reduction of mana curves is very susceptible to Chalice of the Void and Trinisphere. At the same time, I think the decks are lacking a single element to put them into the range of “good,” as opposed to “okay.” With the addition of either Metalworker or Monolith, they would hit the critical mass of accelerants needed to power out their powerful artifacts in the early game. Here, I think Metalworker, although more explosive, is probably the safer card to unban. He’s difficult to hit on turn 1, when he’s ideal, and is extremely easy to remove. He dies to any artifact removal, any creature removal, Lightning Bolt, etc., etc. Monolith is less explosive, but the potential exists for it to be utilized in other decks that can power into big, splashy effects, whereas Metalworker is a much more focused card that needs to be built around to be used effectively.

On — The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale

This is one of my favorite cards, and it really pains me to suggest it at all. However, for consistency’s sake I need to recommend it. At the time of the format change, it was made explicitly clear that secondary market prices were a legitimate factor in deciding if a card was to be banned or not. The classic example of this is Illusionary Mask. It was approximately $80 for an Unlimited Mask in 2004, and English Tabernacles are rapidly approaching this value. While it is unfortunate for the format to lose such a unique effect, the cost of the card is quickly becoming prohibitive. This seems strange for a land that doesn’t even tap for mana, but the policy was set up, and should be adhered to. The cards are scarce, and expensive. They probably should be banned.

On — Grim Tutor

This is on for exactly the same reason as Tabernacle, to a higher degree. There aren’t many being played in Legacy, but the largest reason for that is the near $500 price tag for a set of them. If you’re planning to reduce the cost barrier for entry into the format – and go so far as to ban otherwise fair cards in order to do so – then streamline your policy so that it covers all, not just some. Consistency in policy is something you must be stringent with. Another solution is to reprint it, say in Eleventh, but that discussion is a horse of an entirely different color.

Wait, isn’t that card terrible?

The last thing I want to mention to you all is a card I’m desperate to break in half. It’s been around since Alpha, and it’s been garbage since Alpha. Yet, I think the card has a ton of potential. After Worlds, Zvi Mowshowitz said that Moat was “the best-kept secret in Legacy.” I’m 100% in agreement. The problem with Moat is the fairly restrictive mana cost. With the right setup, Island Sanctuary is a two-mana carbon copy of Moat.

Obviously, the loss of the draw during your draw step is a beating. However, there are ways to play around this. If you can manage to draw an additional card each turn, then you can play around the drawback without sacrificing your ability to progress the game state. Howling Mine type effects are fine here, because the card advantage your opponent gets is largely negated by the fact that they can’t actually, you know, attack you.

I’ve found that the most interesting parts of Sanctuary lie in the differences from Moat, rather than the similarities. First off, the mana cost is much easier to work with. It comes down faster, although it takes a turn to become active. Second, it isn’t symmetrical. That means that you can absolutely still attack your opponent with your own creatures, and remain safely on the Island. Third, it sets up a continuous effect that lasts until your next turn. This means, once you’ve replaced your draw for the turn (note that this happens without using the stack, so an opponent cannot respond to your choice to draw or skip), you cannot be attacked, whether the Island Sanctuary is destroyed or not. This is a giant bonus over Moat, because an End of Turn Krosan Grip does not enable your opponent to alpha strike, giving you an entire turn to find a solution to whatever they can throw at you.

I’ve been testing Sanctuary in TEC, with some success, but I still think there must be a better way to utilize it. Jace Beleren is the most obvious way to me, as it the two interact so incredibly. Jace gets you around the drawback of Sanctuary, and the Sanctuary protects your Jace from any attackers headed his way. Excellent synergy. Combined with the control package of TEC, it seems to be a great start. It doesn’t hurt that Meditate is basically the nut high with Sanctuary in play. There’s almost zero drawback to either card when you have an active Sanctuary. The first pass of testing was with this list:

4 Force of Will
4 Brainstorm
4 Counterbalance
3 Meditate
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Wrath of God
3 Sensei’s Divining Top
3 Jace Beleren
3 Island Sanctuary
2 Vedalken Shackles
2 Engineered Explosives

4 Flooded Strand
3 Polluted Delta
4 Tundra
2 Tropical Island
2 Underground Sea
4 Island
2 Plains
1 Academy Ruins

I’m positive this build can be improved. It may be the next step in the evolution in the deck, or it may pan out to be garbage. It’s still early to tell for sure. I am liking, however, the increasing approach to the Keeper decks of vintage history that the deck is taking. With the format looking ever more like Thresh versus Landstill versus Goblins versus Combo, this deck continues to have all the tools needed to take on any of the top tier.

Well, there’s where I am Magically for this month. March is looking good, with TheSource’s Create-A-New-Good-Deck contest winner being announced, potential changes to the banned list, and some large Legacy events to look forward to. If you make it out to any of them, good luck, and until next time, keep your stick on the ice.