Unlocking Legacy – Emerging Decks

Read Legacy articles every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Monday, June 2nd – Christopher Coppola takes a look at some less-commonly played decks and explores their strengths.

I. An Open Field

Legacy has diversified significantly since the beginning of 2007. At that time, two decks populated tournaments in larger numbers than all others, and their matchups occupied a majority of players’ attention.

However, the idea that the format has ever consisted of only two or three decks is a naïve caricature that is wholly inconsistent with tournament behavior. That has never been the case in Legacy, even at the height of the popularity of Goblins or Threshold. Such simplistic models cannot be representations of the format. The unique success of a single archetype is notable and requires closer scrutiny, but it is notable because it is an exception to the normal behavior of Legacy. In order to understand the format and make intelligent design choices it is necessary to be familiar with typical tournament dynamics.

Currently, the diversity and complexity of Legacy is arguably greater than it has ever been, and these simplistic models are even less useful. There is no accurate description of the format that revolves around a small number of decks. As I have explained many times before, the tools used to analyze other formats fail in Legacy due to the depth of the card pool and the competitive viability this gives many different archetypes.

II. Under the Radar

The exceptional decks have sufficient attention given to their matchups, but there are many other decks which are relevant, both because of their presence at tournaments and their good matchups against popular decks. Refined versions of well-known archetypes have emerged recently and incorporating their presence into tournament preparation is necessary.

The past two blocks have been unusually useful for Legacy, and this has combined with continued innovation to bring an unprecedented level of diversity to tournaments. There are a few decks which are significantly underplayed due to a variety of reasons and I will discuss a few of them.

Ichorid is a deck that has existed in its modern form since last summer, but has seen surprisingly little adoption in the U.S. Ichorid is very strong against blue-based disruption, which is common in Legacy. It is also relatively fast for its resilience, and is not easy to hate out since only cheap answers are useful against it.

Ichorid has won several large tournaments recently, including a 94-player event in Finale Emilia, Italy:

Alvise Gorghetto

4 Cephalid Coliseum
4 City of Brass
4 Gemstone Mine
4 Lion’s Eye Diamond
3 Breakthrough
3 Deep Analysis
4 Careful Study
4 Putrid Imp
3 Cabal Therapy
3 Dread Return
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
4 Stinkweed Imp
2 Golgari Thug
4 Bridge from Below
4 Narcomoeba
3 Ichorid
1 Cephalid Sage
1 Flame-Kin Zealot
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath

4 Leyline of the Void
4 Pithing Needle
4 Chain of Vapor
2 Echoing Truth
1 Simic Sky Swallower

Ichorid is a deck that functions almost exclusively off free triggered abilities in the graveyard, leaving countermagic, mana denial, and discard much less effective against the deck. Ichorid has basically two ways of winning the game: it can make Bridge from Below tokens and Ichorids, and just attack with them, or it can cast Dread Return protected by Cabal Therapies and reanimate either Flame-Kin Zealot or Akroma. It doesn’t need to combo off with Dread Return to win the game since it can generate many creature tokens, but given the chance the deck can win right away.

Cards that interfere with the combat step and graveyard hate can help against this strategy, but neither one really shuts the deck down. Once Ichorid dredges a large amount of cards into the graveyard it is difficult to stop, so stopping this process early is a better method of combating the deck. Considering the popularity of blue decks with control elements, Ichorid should be played much more than it is now.

The Storm archetype has had a difficult development in Legacy, due to the banning of all the bombs combo decks want to play, but the huge amount of acceleration has allowed the deck to function. It is a much different Storm deck than those that have existed in other formats. It is difficult to play due to the strength of the anti-combo disruption cards in the format, but it has regularly succeeded in Legacy at the hands of experienced players. Here is a recent incarnation that won a 36-player tournament in Hadley, Massachusetts.

The Epic Storm
Bryant Cook

4 Gemstone Mine
4 City of Brass
1 Tarnished Citadel
1 Undiscovered Paradise
4 Burning Wish
4 Infernal Tutor
4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
2 Infernal Contract
1 Diminishing Returns
1 Ill-Gotten Gains
1 Tendrils of Agony
1 Empty the Warrens
4 Simian Spirit Guide
4 Rite of Flame
4 Dark Ritual
4 Lion’s Eye Diamond
4 Lotus Petal
4 Chrome Mox
4 Orim’s Chant

4 Vexing Shusher
3 Shattering Spree
2 Xantid Swarm
1 Cleanfall
1 Pyroclasm
1 Tendrils of Agony
1 Empty the Warrens
1 Ill-Gotten Gains
1 Diminishing Returns

This deck relies on a large amount of mana and some efficient tutors to find different ways of winning the game. Ill-Gotten Gains and Diminishing Returns provide card advantage to continue generating storm and mana, and Empty the Warrens and Tendrils of Agony are win conditions that can counter almost all defenses. Empty the Warrens is good against decks with either few or expensive removal spells, and obviously Tendrils is best when facing a deck without permission. Orim’s Chant can allow allow Tendrils of Agony to end the game against decks with counterspells.

This archetype is different from more familiar storm decks in other formats because there aren’t any overly powerful spells which allow it to dominate the game. This deck can and should seek to win the game in different ways depending on the situation, and therefore a high level of expertise is necessary to succeed in a tournament environment. However, the deck will commonly go off during the first two turns of the game, and with practice and good mulliganing it has all the tools necessary to succeed.
Another archetype which has experienced revitalization due to recent card printings is Aggro-Loam. The new version of the deck plays the surprisingly good Countryside Crusher, which fits in perfectly with the decks strategy and mana curve. This deck also takes advantage of some of the most underplayed cards in the format, like Mox Diamond and Chalice of the Void, has good card selection with Burning Wish and the Life from the Loam engine, and can combo off with Seismic Assault. Here is a version of the deck that won a 48-player event in Alcantarilla, Spain:

Luis Castillo

4 Countryside Crusher
4 Terravore
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Burning Wish
3 Life from the Loam
3 Seismic Assault
4 Mox Diamond
4 Chalice of the Void
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Devastating Dreams
3 Forgotten Cave
3 Tranquil Thicket
1 Barbarian Ring
1 Badlands
4 Wasteland
4 Taiga
3 Forest
2 Mountain
2 Bloodstained Mire
4 Wooded Foothills

4 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Krosan Grip
1 Devastating Dreams
1 Life from the Loam
1 Nostalgic Dreams
1 Hull Breach
1 Gaea’s Blessing
1 Shattering Spree
1 Deathmark
1 Pulverize
1 Reverent Silence

This deck has a lot of synergy, and many of the cards are individually very strong in the current environment. Chalice of the Void on the play dominates many decks, and Terravore and Countryside Crusher can both easily trump Tarmogoyf as well as most other commonly played creatures.

Countryside Crusher, which is already a much undercosted card, is exactly the card this deck needed. In addition to being a creature that gets very large around the other cards in this deck, it also provides the Red-Green deck with additional card selection. Aggro-Loam is very good in its modern form and I expect to see it increase in popularity.

Angel Stax is another deck that has benefitted from recent printings. Time Spiral block added several tools to the deck, and Lorwyn brought Oblivion Ring which has seen substantial adoption in the archetype. The deck requires more aggressive mulliganing than most archetypes, and is notably vulnerable to AEther Vial. However, Chalice of the Void and Trinisphere are strong tools against almost all decks in the format, and Angel Stax is relatively flexible in design due to all the tools available in White. Here is a version of the deck that won a 51-person tournament at Magic League:

Angel Stax

4 Oblivion Ring
4 Trinisphere
4 Mox Diamond
4 Smokestack
2 Moat
4 Wrath of God
4 Crucible of Worlds
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Exalted Angel
4 Mishra’s Factory
4 Wasteland
3 City of Traitors
2 Flagstones of Trokair
8 Plains
1 Flooded Strand
4 Ancient Tomb

1 Moat
3 Humility
4 Swords to Plowshares
2 Ravages of War
2 Armageddon
3 Ivory Mask

This version eschews the modern lock of Magus of the Tabernacle and Armageddon in favor of the alternate combination of Exalted Angel and Wrath of God. In addition, Ghostly Prison has been replaced with Oblivion Ring, which makes the deck weaker against Ichorid and Goblins but stronger against slower decks playing larger creatures. Swords to Plowshares in the sideboard to replace Chalice of the Void has been infrequently used in the past, but it is worth considering for the decks that have much higher curves, or even on the draw against decks that play few cheap spells.

Angel Stax does very well in European tournaments, in a very similar environment

III. Simple Metagaming

When choosing a deck for a given tournament, it is important to consider all available decks. Many cards played in less popular decks are very powerful against more well-known strategies, and depending on your metagame, can be better choices than the more-explored archetypes. In addition, these decks are likely to be a surprise to many opponents and therefore be even stronger due to lack of preparation. In contrast, players are very likely to be prepared to face more popular decks, which puts more pressure on making all the correct design and play decisions.

The difference in power level between most Legacy decks is very small, and this emphasizes all the other factors which differentiate the successful decks from the rest. I would consider player experience and transparent design to be critical in succeeding at the tournament level. Metagaming correctly and choosing decks which exploit the weaknesses of those commonly played in your environment can also make a big difference.

Christopher Coppola