Unlocking Legacy – Mixed Bag

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Learn new strategies and SAT words this week as Doug covers a mixture of topics in the format, ranging from the paucity of Legacy events to the effect of Morningtide on the Eternal scene. Do Earwig Squad and Bitterblossom have a place in Legacy? Will Maralen of the Mornsong be welcomed into Magic’s greatest format? Also, find out what Extended deck could be the next hot thing in Legacy and check out a Morningtide-ready Landstill list!

With the fervor of Worlds over, not a whole lot has been going on in Legacy. While we still have plenty of excellent smaller tournaments, there’s nothing large looming on the horizon to build towards. Even European tournaments, usually the largest on the radar, are slowing down and drawing fewer people. I’m not sure what causes the cyclical calcification, but through years of playing Vintage, I know that this is a slow time for the other Eternal format as well. That said, there’s still a lot to look at, especially with the release of Morningtide.

Before I jump into the spoiler lists, I had a pretty obvious revelation about Tarmogoyf earlier this week. It was spurred by seeing that SCG has them for $50 and can barely keep them in stock, and other vendors and traders are getting amazing rates on them. In other formats, the big guy will eventually rotate out. In Legacy, he’s just… there until something drastically pushes it away or the format becomes too fast for a 4/5 for 1G. As a Legacy player, I’d love to see more and more people getting into the format. However, an additional $200 price tag for a set of creatures that become almost mandatory for play can be outright throttling to growth. I’m not sure how to solve it, or even if it needs solving. You can’t just ban a big undercosted idiot. It’s an issue, not yet a problem. Tarmogoyf’s price and effect on the format is nebulous to measure – how can we even tell if it is a negative thing? Not sure on that one either.

I was chatting with Tom LaPille the other day, and in between back-to-back sessions of him shoving over fourth graders and shoplifting home pregnancy tests, we discussed Next Level Blue. If you’re unfamiliar with the Extended scene, NLB is the dog’s bollocks there. It makes liberal use of fetchlands and dual lands; Counterbalance and Sensei’s Divining Top; Tarmogoyf and Vedalken Shackles; and some of the strongest answer cards in the format to make a tight little hotrod of a control deck. What it’s doing in Extended is basically the same thing it could do in Legacy; I’ve seen some lists that splash in all five colors to make super-strong Engineered Explosives or run Gaddok Teeg and Ancient Grudge from the sideboard.

All of this is possible and mostly painless to do in Legacy. Tom suggested some quantity of Swords to Plowshares (he runs seven copies) and offered that Shackles is mainly too slow for Legacy. I disagree at that point, because Legacy decks tend to run fewer creatures that are a lot stronger; having access to Shackles can turn the tables in many Legacy ground stalls. A simple swap of Force of Wills for Spell Snares and real dual lands for Ravnica dual lands in Tom’s PTQ-winning list would probably yield a fine Legacy deck.

The usual foil to NLB decks in Extended are decks that don’t care about Counterbalance; mainly, Tron decks and the occasional Death Cloud deck. If the trend in Legacy of Tarmogoyf plus Counterbalance continues as I predict, then Big Mana decks might be worth a look. I explored (and mostly dismissed) Tron decks in the format awhile back, but I got to thinking about another underexplored venue – the Mana Flare decks.

Now while I think decks like the Heartbeat of Spring/Brain Freeze combo are slow in that they have to dedicate so much space to the actual combo enablers, there are plenty of other options. This article from Adrian Sullivan about Heartbeat of Spring and the historical uses of Mana Flare is very inspirational. While some of the cards mentioned are Timmy-riffic like Time Stretch, there are solid, tournament-proven ideas. One of the ones mentioned is the Mana Flare/Browse combo, which enabled one to power through their deck for choice cards and then use Soldevi Digger to recurse threats over and over. This is woefully slow for the format today, but I think the idea of combining the mana-doublers with non-combo cards. Another example Sullivan cited was a R/G deck that used Jokulhaups and Call of the Wild to get the most use out of the mana. Again, pretty slow, but the idea of using scalable cards like Orcish Settlers to make use of every bit of mana you have is tempting. Powering out an Obliterate is also good times, no doubt. My mind also goes to Wake decks, but those were more control decks with a cute and powerful finish and only tangentially use the Mirari’s Wake.

The excessive mana strategy is interesting to me especially because there are few decks in Legacy that can exploit the extra mana you give them. Goblins and High Tide are the only ones that really stick out in my mind, but outside of those, what would, say, Threshold do with eight mana on their turn? Whatever they do, it’ll be nothing like you cycling Decree of Justice for thirteen tokens. Again, I can’t promise that this is anything with depth to it, but it’s an idea to keep in mind.

But let’s get to things at hand: Morningtide! I know I’m not the only one who sophomorically calls this Morningwood. That, in turn, reminds me of the Beavis and Butthead episode where they set out to solve the Mystery of Morningwood. I’m smiling right now as I remember that truly stupid episode. Anyway, earlier this week I put on two albums of The Olivia Tremor Control and dove into StarCityGames.com sortable Morningtide spoiler, especially great because it shows all the pictures.

Bitterblossom looks like an amazing control deck card. It’s pretty dreadful in multiples, but I love the aggregation of tokens without actually putting in that much work. It may be most akin to a Black Decree of Justice. You put yourself on a clock by playing it out, and I’d kind of want something like Cunning Wish for Pulse of the Fields if I needed it. That said, slipping this out on the second turn in a control mirror is probably as close to a win as you can get. It’s the kind of card that could probably fit into a deck like this:

I like this list a lot; the Cunning Wishes give access to some really nice things off the board, while not cluttering it. There’s only one Wasteland and a Tolaria West to find it, streamlining the less relevant Crucible/Wasteland lock. I’m also keen on the Meddling Mages off the sideboard, which seem like they could come in against a lot of decks that patently won’t expect them. What would Survival of the Fittest decks do when that thing comes down, chanting their namesake? It’s probably a bad idea to side them in there, but it makes for a cute thought.

I would probably take the list closer to Black, dropping Wrath of God and Humility for Damnations if I were working in Bitterblossoms. The ideal number on that card is hard to divine as well; I don’t think you ever want two in play, but you probably want to see one every game.

Earwig Squad has also gotten a bit of press in Legacy. It helps the combo matchup and can do neat things in other matchups. I think we reach a point though where Goblins need to be exceptionally good to fit into the list and take up space. Would you rather draw this or Goblin Ringleader in basically any non-combo matchup? I’d probably go for the latter, but I am notoriously bad for actual aggro decks.

As far as cute theme cards go, Maralen is one of those “how do I break this?” cards. You simply cannot pay retail for her in the format, or the opponent will probably searches for whatever removal they run and encourages her transition into a career of quiet agricultural pursuits. The other options I have heard include Aether Vial and Stifle, though these both only deprive the opponent of a single draw. I cannot think of anything I’d like to pay 3 mana, 3 life and a Stifle for that I couldn’t simply Grim Tutor up. Tinker and Yawgmoth’s Will are gone from this format.

Countryside Crusher is sweet looking card. The obvious spot for it is in a Loam deck, an under-represented archetype in the format. While not as good as Terravore off the top of the library, it seems a wholly-better early game play. The lands from dredging Life from the Loam count as well, and you’ve got a lot of things moving from zone to zone in that deck. It adds another impressive body to the deck, making things like Devastating Dreams hit a lot harder. I’m unsure if what the deck needs is another big dude though; Tarmogoyf and Terravore seem to handle things well enough. This, like Earwig Squad, might be one of those cards that’s neat, but not what a deck needs. Outside of Loam, I’m hard pressed to find any deck that would want the Crusher over other creatures. Go to the forums and prove me wrong!

Color me skeptical, but I don’t see Mutavault doing anything for the format either. Mishra’s Factory will swing as far as you need it to go already. I haven’t seen deckbuilders clamoring for yet another manland, as we’ve got puissant ancillary lands like Nantuko Monastery. I suppose Goblins could run four, but that would take the non-Red lands up to 12 in that deck. On top of that, Goblins is often short of the two mana to crank Mutavault at someone. On a completely different note, Order of the Golden Cricket is riding a sheep! That reminds me of the movie Black Sheep that I saw this weekend. It’s from New Zealand and does not feature Chris Farley, instead being a typical zombie movie, though with zombie sheep over zombie people. Worth tracking down in a bargain bin. Everything you think they would do, they go there.

Morningtide, in general, doesn’t really add much to the format. The fixed Braingeyser and Mind Twist will make a splash in other formats, but Legacy has more efficient cards for the costs. Similarly, with no real tribal theme outside of Goblins, most of the cards fall short for Eternal play. I wish the format could support something like a Faeries deck as a riff on fish, but I don’t see it happening. The general answers that decks run, from Pyroclasm to Engineered Explosives, all stomp out those strategies. The only other possibility is a deck combining Leaf-Crowned Elder with some of the truly brutal Treefolk and Shamans that we have access to in the format.

Morningtide aside, have you checked out Adam Barnello latest control list? I love it, but I’d love it more with Phyrexian Furnaces. Oh well, I can’t have everything, but I can have Meditate. It’s a card that looks a lot worse than it is, and really can only be evaluated in the context of actually playing it and seeing what it does. Simply put, a lot of decks can’t handle the extra turn you give them. They’re like a mule with a spinning jenny – nobody knows how they got it, and darned if they know how to use it! It’s also a card that gets better based on the greater quantities of removal in your deck. If you can Wrath of God to punish the opponent for overextending, then the extra turn is marginal. His list runs smart choices like Academy Ruins and Vedalken Shackles as well. Strange as it sounds, the speeding up of Legacy has slowed games down. You have these brutal early turns when threats come out and get managed, but I rarely see games end before, say, turn 10. Barnello’s deck is geared to live through to the long game and then dominate it. If you’re interested in control for Legacy, it’s worth sleeving up and playing around with.

With the cutback on Premier Events, I’m as unsure as anyone about when the next Legacy Grand Prix will be. In the meantime, it can be worth it to give Extended a try to slake your thirst for dual lands. Even better, work on organizing Legacy events for the local store. Because Tarmogoyfs are universally handy, they make excellent top prizes. They can draw in players who are not interested in Dual Lands or Force of Wills. Another option for Legacy ambassadorship is having several decks sleeved up (even if they’re proxied) and taking them to the local Magic events with you. Play with a friend and you’ll gather a crowd. Invite other players to play against the two of you with decks you have on hand. Stephen Menendian had this great example a long time ago of doing this thing for Vintage. His line of thought was that once you put Black Lotus and Time Walk in someone’s hand, all other Magic gets the volume turned down. You can know about Vintage, but actually playing it is a revelatory experience. The same, I feel, for Legacy. Let someone taste fetching up Dual Lands without eating a Lightning Bolt. Let them see how Force of Will works, or how Brainstorm and Flooded Strand mix together. You might win a few more converts to the format.

Until next time, happy carding!

Doug Linn
Hi-Val on the interwebs

Thanks to germagic.de, and to Tom for being a good sport.