Unlocking Legacy – Crucible of Worlds

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Legacy at Worlds seems to be either the best or the worst thing to happen to the format, depending on who you talk to. Kevin Binswanger goes through the issues and the metagame and tries to make the case that Wizards is on the right track to a Legacy Pro Tour, as long as Legacy regulars can accept a few missteps.

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.”
Carl Sagan

That quote sums up how I felt going into Worlds. Readers who disliked the pun in the title or thought the article was going

to be about a certain You Make the Card, feel free to blame Doug Linn. Readers who were amused by the pun in the title can

thank me for the having the brilliance to recognize this diamond in the rough. Okay, I’m joking. It’s a good line; thanks

Doug. Speaking of You Make the Card, when is the next one? Those contests are always a lot of fun. In the months between

the announcement and the event, I was actually giddy. For months. Do you have any idea how uncomfortable that is? I was

listing players who were qualified, excited to have some of the best Constructed minds that ever played panning the enormous

card pool for gold. I rooted for Helmut Summersberger (Lille win and Austrian National team? Should have been a lock!)

Silly me. It turns out that the best players in the world are content to play the decks we already knew about, with a few

minor tweaks. So that means that we’ve got the best possible decks now, and we can stop trying, right? Wrong.

The first thing to understand about the Worlds results is that a large number of pro players do not build decks. Much like

Legacy, the difference in power between “whatever you can throw together to make 75” and “the tuned machine your team has

been working on for a month” is quite significant. A large number of players get their decks the day before or even the day

of the tournament. If this works for you, more power to you, but I noticed Craig Jones admitting to fumbling over his

Survival deck due to inexperience. While it’s very cool that a large number of pros were playing our format, a large number

of them did very little deck development. Which is fine, because they were not going to work on decks no matter what the

format. Remember how many people scrambled for Grim Lavamancers last year for Extended?

So Legacy at Worlds. The response generally seemed to be very positive. The response from the pros is mixed; some really

liked it and would support further involvement, and some people were dramatically against it. Remember that not everyone has

to like every format; many pros vocally hated Two-Headed Giant Sealed, but it seems to be a wildly popular format with

players, especially at prereleases. The 2008 Pro Tour schedule has not been published yet, so if the feedback is all

positive, it is possible there will be a Legacy Pro Tour or, even better, a PTQ season.


The biggest question coming out of Worlds is not Tarmogoyf, which some players had called to be banned. I have heard

ruminations about the power level of a different card (combination): Counterbalance + Sensei’s Divining Top. The excitement

started building around GenCon; Billy Moreno put the combination into Flash and won a Grand Prix for Steve Sadin. Around the

same time players were fitting the combination into the sideboard of UGR Threshold to win back the points you lose in the

mirror by having poor removal. I figured Counterbalance would a staple in Threshold lists by Worlds, but Patrick Chapin

surprised me in his article by saying, “I win the mirror on the strength of such hits as Counterbalance-Top and Swords to

Plowshares.” So I checked the Worlds lists. Of the five 5-0 decklists that could fit Counterbalance, one of them did. 2

Cephalid Breakfast decks, a UGW Threshold build and a UGB Threshold build all passed on Counterbalance and Sensei’s Divining

Top. One 5-0 UGB Threshold deck opted for 3 Tops and 3 Counterbalances. Of the 4-1 or better decks (there are 22), thirteen

chose to eschew Top and Counterbalance in the maindeck. Of those 13, two boarded into Counterbalance and Top: one of the

UGW players ran 4 Counterbalance and the UG player ran 3 Counterbalance in the side; both ran 3 Sensei’s Divining Top

sideboarded. Those decks are 4 Breakfast decks, 2 UGW Threshold decks, 2 UGR Threshold decks, one UGB and one UG Threshold

deck, and three Landstill decks. For Landstill, two were UGBW and one was UWR Landstill. None of the players without

Counterbalance ran Sensei’s Divining Top. Interestingly Nicolas Kohan chose to augment his UGR Threshold deck (4 Nimble

Mongoose, 4 Tarmogoyf, 3 Werebear) with 4 Aether Vial. None of the top Breakfast lists reached for Counterbalance or Top,

choosing instead to access Green tutors.

Personally I think Counterbalance is worth running, and I wonder how many 4-1s could have gone 5-0 with the two card

combination. Why didn’t they run the combination? The main reason would be if you wanted access to more counters on turns

1-3 (generally Spell Snare), or if you felt you could not put the full combination together. I’m pretty sure that running

Sensei’s Divining Top is the right call even if Counterbalance was not printed. Many players undervalue Sensei’s Divining

Top; I do not think you would ever wanted to play Portent or Serum Visions instead of it. I even question Ponder in lists

that do not have Top. When I play Threshold, I use a lot of my cantrips early to help find Sensei’s Divining Top; there is

no reason to save them because Top does their job every turn. The only value left is using Ponder to shuffle your library

when you need. I am even starting to consider it in decks without as many shuffle mechanisms, like Goblins, merely because

it can help not draw excess lands.

So in Threshold the question is not “Do I run Counterbalance and Top” but “How many Counterbalance and Top do I run?” Most

of the Legacy world says 3, with four exceptions. Two Threshold players had access to 4 Counterbalance after sideboarding.

One of these players was boarding the full 4 Counterbalance and one of them ran three in the main and put the 4th

Counterbalance in the sideboard. The breakdown is 2 Chapin-style UGWB Threshold decks, 2 UGB Threshold, 2 UGW Threshold, and

1 UGR Threshold. The other exception is Zvi and Andre Coimbra, who ran their UWB control list with 4 Counterbalance + 4 Top.

Most people run 3 because that is the established number for a card that you want to see every game, but you only want to

see one of that card. Top and Counterbalance are blank in multiples, assuming the first one resolves, which is not always a

given. The argument in favor of 4 is twofold: they are just that good that it is worth seeing multiples, and also that the

first Top helps you avoid seeing a redundant Top or Counterbalance.

The thing about Counterbalance is that in order for it to be good in your deck, you have to be vulnerable to it. The only

three-casting cost spells Threshold really plays are Krosan Grip and Threads of Disloyalty both from the sideboard, and an

occasional Sea Drake. Consequently, while the Zvi Deck (aka Zvi’s Uwb Enlightened Tutor Control deck) is very strong with

Counterbalance, it has few ways to get around it. All the Counterbalance decks are extremely susceptible to a Daze draw from

Threshold and lose a lot of power if they draw first. Game one Zvi only has overloading on Engineered Explosives to remove

an opponent’s Counterbalance lock. It seems like having your only enchantment removal game 1 cost is a huge disadvantage.

The problem with boarding into Aura of Silence in game 2 is that your Counterbalance packing opponent already knows they have

to find a 3 cost spell to beat you; they are used to doing this in Threshold mirrors. Just like Threshold you start with

primarily 1 and 2 cost spells and board heavily into 3s. Well duh, because those are the most effective cards for those

abilities. It just seems like you would want to mix things up to gain an edge.

Worlds Metagame

Stax is back. But really? I used to be a huge supporter of Stax, but I do not think conditions are ripe now for a comeback,

or will be ever. I have just always felt that the advantages gained from a pure Stax deck were mitigated by the weakness to

the die roll. Doesn’t Faerie Stompy compensate better for this with the addition of Force of Will? Or Dragon Stompy with

its Seething Song for even more explosive draws? The rumors about Stax circulated the Internet; supposedly Andre Muller only

had a single Mishra’s Factory and an Academy Ruins to deck his opponent as kill mechanisms. So check the data. There were

13 Threshold decks in the Top Legacy Decklists section; by comparison only 5 decks packed Ancient Tomb. Four of those were

assorted White Stax lists, and one was a Dragon Stompy deck. There were also five Vial Goblins decks 4-1 or better.

Threshold is still king. If Worlds has one result, it is that the Legacy Championship results are not a fluke. Threshold

comprised three out of the eight undefeated decks, and thirteen out of the fifty-three 4-1 or better decks. That (24%) is

about even with Threshold’s metagame representation (21%). Interestingly Goblins has nearly twice the top deck

representation (13%) of its metagame representation (9%). And if you looked at the numbers like that without any context,

Goblins would seem like the better deck. It is very telling that Owen Turtenwald, the man who Top 8ed with Goblins at GP

Flash, stayed away from running Goblins at the event. The pure Legacy results can be misleading because not all of those

players were in the same brackets of the event.

Before Worlds, Pat Chapin asked me what he thought the right choice was for Worlds. I knew he had been working on Time Vault

decks, but I had never been impressed with any of the infinite turn combos. The game is not over even when you lock, and I

anticipate some trouble with game 3s going to time before you can find a win. More importantly those decks are still

vulnerable to Pithing Needle (which is on the decline) but also Spell Snare, Engineered Explosives and Counterbalance which

are all on the incline. Since GenCon I felt that the right deck to play was Threshold, and the real issue remained with

finding an edge. To do that I was in favor of running weird-cost flyers to break groud stalls, slip under Counterbalance and

get some utility in different matchups. Primarily I was looking at Mystic Enforcer, Sea Drake, Trygon Predator, Rainbow

Efreet and Tombstalker. Tomb Stalker is probably the best creature of the bunch but it is in the worst Threshold color. You

give up edge Swords to Plowshares’s edge against all of the recursive Mishra’s Factories but without the benefit of beating

on Goblins with Fire//Ice and Lightning Bolt. For the Worlds metagame I liked Rainbow Efreet or Mystic Enforcer (depending

on whether you expected more Landstill or Threshold at your bracket). The winning GenCon Threshold list scared me away from

four-color Threshold builds for months. An opposing Wasteland getting lucky and shutting off a color blanks cards and can

easily win a game on its own. Luckily Pat Chapin is braver/smarter/luckier than I am, and he had some real success with a

four-color Threshold list. Of all the Threshold lists that did not run Survival of the Fittest, I think I like his build the

most. I would hope for Tombstalkers in the side for the mirror, but the inclusion of Swords to Plowshares is just frankly

necessary in the Tarmogoyf world. I would go farther and suggest Oblivion Ring because in game 1 it can remove both

Tarmogoyfs and Counterbalances at a Counterbalance-immune casting cost, without putting your own board in jeopardy.

Finally, before we go on to the issues section of the article, I heard an interesting story I wanted to pass along. Bob

Maher: The Great One and Dark Confidant. Dark Hall of Famer (as someone registered on their Worlds decklist last year). He

played Belcher in Legacy at Worlds to a 4-1 record. He was responsible for two interesting stories. In one match, he’s

paired against a BGW deck, lost in game 1. Turn 2, the player has a choice between Gaddock Teeg and Dark Confidant. He has

Engineered Plague in hand to cast turn 3 naming Goblins, and he thinks that Empty the Warrens is the deck’s only kill

mechanism. Unfortunately this player did not know the format well enough, or maybe he was too distracted by the thought of

beating down Bob Maher with his own dark. So the player summons Dark Confidant and passes. Maher says something like, “I’m

going to have to kill you for that.” Then he proceeds to untap, cast Goblin Charbelcher, and activate it for lethal. Oops.


I have saved the issues section of the article until the end. There are two big issues with Worlds coverage: deck naming and

format knowledge. The first criticizes Wizards for claiming that the pros did a lot of innovation and invention that Legacy

regulars had already done. Stuart Wright achieved a 5-0

with Welder Survival, and congratulations to him. The coverage writer doing his feature, Tim Willoughby, claimed Stuart

Wright invented the deck. I don’t know if Stuart claimed he invented the deck, or if that was added by Willoughby, but he’s

wrong. Welder Survival was an old idea, stemming from a Vintage deck before Legacy ever existed, and adding blue was the

invention of (I believe) Ian MacInnes (CavernNinja). To me the worst bit of the coverage is this page, authored by Bill Stark. I do not mean to

lay hate on Bill Stark, since the Zvi-Levy coverage written by him was some of the best I read, but that page sums up a lot

of the issues players had with the coverage. Stark claims the French invented Dragon Stompy and Gabe Walls invented

Enchantress (can you really invent a deck from Extended multiple seasons ago?). To me, the absolute worst is this sentence:

Players buckled down to find edges just as they do for other formats and their innovations are sure to be felt in the

Legacy community at large.” Not only does the coverage get a lot wrong, but it is written very heavy-handed, as if to

say, “The pros broke your format and it is going to echo in your little tournaments for a while.”

The Legacy community is in a huge uproar over the questions of deck ownership and genealogy. Several years ago, deck

ownership and deck naming was incredibly important in every format except Legacy, including Vintage. Then it seemed like six

months later, suddenly no one cared if Michael Flores or Team Meandeck put their name in front of every deck they worked on.

Legacy came late to the game, and seemed to get over this growing pain about six months or a year ago, until now. And let’s

be honest, deck names and lineage can be very important. For a designer, the decks they build that do well in tournaments

are a deckbuilding resume. I have never met Naoki Shimizu (however cool it would be), but I am always on the lookout for

decks built by him. Why? He has an impressive deckbuilding resume, first with Solar Flare then followed by Scryb & Force

and UG Tron. A deckbuilder’s resume and list of successes is how players know whether to trust them or not. But who is

Shimizu trying to prove something too? The players he lives near and tests with obviously already trust them because they

keep taking his decks to major tournaments. Unless you or I come across Shimizu online, we’re unlikely to come across of his

and need to figure out whether it’s playable. If I’m playing a deck built by Naoki Shimizu, it’s more likely that deck T8ed

or won a major tournament, and that’s how I got the list and decided to trust it.

Michael Flores, on the other hand, definitely cares more about deckbuilder resume. Imagine that it is the day before a PTQ,

and you need to pick a deck. Flores posts a deck in his article that has good matchups against the metagame you expect, but

you do not know whether to believe him. You can look back at his list of accomplishments and all the players that have

qualified for the Pro Tour with a Flores deck and make a decision whether to test his deck and testing results.

What does that scenario look like in Legacy? Well, it’s Legacy, so you’re less than 3 clicks away from either The Mana

Drain, The Source, or Star City Games’s own Legacy forums. You already have a better way to investigate a deckbuilder’s

resume by clicking “Show the last posts of this person”. Legacy is different from every other format in this way; primary

innovation takes place on forums. We do not have Magic Online and the secretive teams that characterize the Constructed

formats, and we do not have the frequent tournaments and regional testing groups that characterize Vintage. We have a

handful of players scattered around the world who test in sub-par conditions and report their findings through message boards

and instant messenger. And it works; we’ve come up with some respectable decks thanks to collaboration. But if you’re

playing Legacy enough to care about a deckbuilder’s resume, you probably already know all of it.

Worlds coverage fanned the flames on the deck naming arguments. One side says that a deck name refers to a specific 60 card

maindeck (with a few minor tweaks). Calling something “Faerie Stompy” cues Legacy regulars into Pestermite, Trinket Mage,

Chalice of the Void, Force of Will and other cards. They argue that calling the deck “Faerie Stompy” instead of “Blue

Ancient Tomb Aggro” or another such name loses specificity. A deck without Chalice of the Void cannot be called “Faerie

Stompy” but it could be called “Blue Ancient Tomb Aggro”. Proponents of this argument would point to the coverage calling

“Dragon Stompy” by its proper name.

The other side of the argument says that Legacy regulars already know what the decks are. If a Top 8 report has a deck named

“Blue Ancient Tomb Aggro”, chances are the deck is Faerie Stompy. These people (including myself) argue that decknames are

not for Legacy regulars. While a Legacy regular might know instantly what “Dragon Stompy” or “Faerie Stompy” are,

prospective players are not always so clued-in. Legacy needs to attract PTQ-level players to Legacy in order to gain widespread success and a

Legacy Pro Tour, so we should do everything possible to lower the entrance barrier for Legacy newbies. Proponents of this

argument point to the Faerie Stompy interview that was something of a train wreck. Throughout the coverage, the deck was

called “Sea Stompy” instead of “Faerie Stompy” and the commentators had no idea what cards were in the deck., but we will

discuss the coverage later. Proponents of this argument also point to the Legacy Championship at GenCon in 2005 covered by

Zvi Mowshowitz. Forum goers reading the article very quickly confused Solitaire (Enchantress) and Solidarity (Reset High


Speaking of Sea Drake, why are people surprised that Randy Buehler does not know the card off-hand? If you did not follow

Legacy closely, you would not be familiar with the card. Despite Faerie Stompy’s appeal to a large portion of the Legacy

base, it is a deck that has flown under the public radar in terms of articles and publicity at major tournaments (GenCon and

StarCityGames). The same can be said about Dragon Stompy. One of the things we have to accept is that if Legacy becomes a

Pro Tour or PTQ format, people are going to come in that do not know what we all know. They are going to reinvent the wheel

and they are going to get some things wrong that we take for granted. As a format we need to give the format room to grow.

Besides, the announcing team stumbled over the abilities of one of the highest profile cards in Standard, Garruk Wildspeaker,

so it is not unreasonable that they did not know a random uncommon from a set they may not have played. I would renew my

plea for professional-level coverage. If you are going to interview Legacy players, either rehearse the interview beforehand

or get a Legacy specialist to help. Mike Flores used to do coverage for Constructed formats, so why not get a Legacy player

to help do Legacy coverage? For that matter, why not get T16 or T32 finishers in the booth for Top 8 coverage? They are

likely very familiar with the matchup and the metagame, and it would help advertise the Pros in another way from the Pro

Player cards.

Yes, there were some issues with the coverage of Legacy at Worlds. But overall I think the experience was positive. We have

a real chance to be supported by Wizards, so I think as a community Legacy players should make an effort to not kill it. We

should make an effort not to be really elitist the first time something awesome has happened to the format. For me, the goal

has always been about lowering the barrier to entry and making it easier for people to enter the format. I wanted to end

with a quote from Tiago Chan. Interested readers should check out the entire article; it was interesting to see Chan start

testing a format he knew nothing about. Here’s the quote: “My suggestion would be to have a Legacy Pro Tour replacing the

next Extended Pro Tour. It’s a little different to Extended, but at the same time it’s so much more. This way, we would have

some of the World’s best players fully dedicating themselves to the Legacy format, since the rewards would be much greater

than testing for the last five rounds of a sixteen-round tournament.”

Are you there Wizards? It’s me, Kevin.

Kevin Binswanger
[email protected]