Unlocking Legacy – Mythbusters

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I decided this month I would take a stab at whittling away all the baggage that comes along with being a Legacy player, and try to take an objective view of the format. I’ve gone out to the frightening wilderness known as Friday Night Magic, in order to interview some of the local non-Eternal players, hopefully to get an appreciation of what the outsiders’ perception of the format is.

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.
John F. Kennedy

My father always tells me, “It’s all about perception. People see what they want to see, not what you tell them to see. If you’re not going to show them what they expect, you have to prove to them their expectations are wrong.”

Something I learned early on in life; my father is usually right. (See Dad? I am listening!)

I decided this month I would take a stab at whittling away all the baggage that comes along with being a Legacy player, and try to take an objective view of the format. I’ve gone out to the frightening wilderness known as Friday Night Magic, in order to interview some of the local non-Eternal players, hopefully to get an appreciation of what the outsiders’ perception of the format is. From what I can tell, the average FNMer has a very different perception of Legacy than what I know it to be, or perceive it to be. I strongly believe this has to do with a lack of exposure to the format, and to a large amount of antiquated bias that doesn’t hold up under any amount of close scrutiny. Unfortunately, it’s a difficult undertaking to try and change these perceptions, but it’s something that has to be done, if Legacy is to continue its string of recent success.

The roots of the misconceptions of Legacy have to do with a series of myths that have been perpetuated by players and writers alike. Although some of us have done our best to clear the haze surrounding the format, and demonstrate that it’s not that much different from any other, there are nowhere near enough of us doing so; so although we are making some headway, it will take a much more significant dedication than has been shown by the player base so far to genuinely change the way the format is seen to the “outsider.” Still, no change happens immediately (well, at least without a war), so I’ll do the best I can to catalyze it, the only way I know how.

Let’s get to it, and with luck, perhaps we can sort out some of these myths from the facts.

MYTH #1 — Legacy decks are too expensive.

I might as well get this one off the shelf right away. I know you’re all thinking it, so let’s jump in feet first.

I’m not going to give you the generic “By the time you buy all the Standard singles, you could have bought duals…” rhetoric, because it would be patronizing, and a waste of both of our times. You’ve heard it before, and you either believe it or you don’t. People have done the math, and there are good points on both sides of the debate. But getting caught up in which format is more expensive overlooks a key point that most Legacy players don’t admit to themselves, let alone people they’re trying to interest in the format. The fact is, Legacy isn’t cheap – especially if you don’t live in the United States. Dual lands are expensive, and they aren’t getting any cheaper. Force of Wills are expensive and getting scarcer all the time. Even the budget decks run cards that cost over $10 apiece. Certainly, there are somewhat functional replacements, but the honest to goodness truth is that you cannot hope to be at the height of competition in this format without playing the best available cards. That’s really the whole point of Legacy — to play with the best cards in the history of the game, minus R&D mistakes, and you will most definitely be hobbling yourself by building on a budget. If you’re cool with that, then by all means, do it. There are some limited number of decks that can be successful on a budget. However, I would be lying if I told you that you could match the success of a fully-built deck like Threshold without the duals and fetches.

But let’s drop the whole hammer, lest Legacy be unjustly bathed in a negative light. Magic, on the whole, is a ridiculously expensive hobby. You’re kidding yourself if you think you’re being financially savvy by playing Standard as opposed to Legacy. No matter what format you’re playing, you’re dumping some significant dollars (or Euros, if you believe those exist) on little more than collectable slices of cardboard. Sure, in Standard you can get your cards out of packs, but you aren’t cracking four Tarmogoyfs at $3.50 a pack unless you’re exceptionally lucky. Drafting is nearly as expensive, based on tournament entry alone. Consider the amount of playable cards you get in a given draft versus the amount of chaff, and Limited may very well be the most expensive format to play, on a card for card basis. I’m not saying you should quit and save your money (nor would this excellent and reasonably priced store which pays my checks print this should I be inclined to say otherwise), but I am saying that you should be reasonably objective when comparing the monetary investment you’re willing to allow in one format, compared to another. Remember you aren’t comparing apples to oranges here; you’re comparing rubies to diamonds.

Verdict — Plausible, but not unique to Legacy.

MYTH #2 – Old Staple Cards are Difficult to Find.

Once you decide that you’re willing to invest (and I do mean invest) into some of the staples of a non-Standard format, the next step is to actually find the cards. This is another snag for many of the players I interviewed, who seem to believe that Forces and Duals are mystical creations which cannot be seen in their natural habitat, and must be viewed from afar in the zoos of the Legacy Regular’s binder — safely protected by bulletproof plastic sleeves. Honestly, this was the most surprising myth to me. In this world of World Wide Webs and Information Superhighways, I was floored to see that people were so limited in the scope of their card access. With stores like StarCityGames.com catering to the needs of the Magic player, how could anyone truly believe that cards are out of their reach? If cash flow is a problem, gather up your extra rares and check out a few stores’ buy lists. You don’t even have to be concerned about Eternal players not wanting to trade old cards for new. Most stores want the new cards more! If you don’t want to work with a store, put a list of wants and haves up on a site with a trade forum, like MagicOnlineTradersLeague, or mtgSalvation. And if none of these works, there’s always the default auction site.

Right now, as I’m writing this up in MSWord, I’ve hopped on to the StarCityGames.com card database, and plugged a few of the more popular cards into the search engine. Here’s what I found that SCG had for sale at the time of writing…

Dual Lands — 100+
Force of Will — 25+
Flooded Strand — 40+
Polluted Delta — 15+
Goblin Lackey — 30+
Survival of the Fittest — 30+
Aether Vial — 10+

Where is all the scarcity?

Verdict — BUSTED.

MYTH #3 — New Cards Cannot Compete With Older, More Powerful Cards.

Let’s assume that the average player has played the game for more than one year, but less than five. Say, they started somewhere around Mirrodin’s release. This would define “Old” cards as anything prior to Odyssey block, and “New” cards as anything Standard Legal in the last year (Ravnica through Lorwyn).

Now, obviously there are more old sets than new. It’s difficult to make an objective comparison between old and new based solely on numbers, because we know for certain that antiquated design principles made some of the older sets unfairly broken. Fortunately, most of those cards are either banned or balanced in Legacy. So how do we determine the effective level of competition of new cards versus old?

Let’s skip counting cards, and stick with the basics. How many upper tier decks in Legacy are utilizing new cards as part of their core strategy? This means we do not include cards like Krosan Grip, which is a functional Naturalize (the definition of the utility card) with the addition of a new mechanic.

Threshold — Easily the best deck in the format, it’s now adopted the “Tech” of utilizing Tarmogoyf as its primary win condition. Along with ‘Goyf, newer lists are using the Counterbalance/Sensei’s Top combination for a virtual card advantage machine. The most recent addition to the deck is Ponder, the best new cantrip this side of Brainstorm.

Goblins — Tin-Street Hooligan was introduced to the deck in order to deal with pesky artifacts such as Pithing Needle. Lorwyn has opened a veritable cornucopia of doors for the deck, with Wort, Boggart Auntie and Thorn of Amethyst topping the list of playables. In addition, Mogg Fanatic and Siege-Gang Commander were both reprinted in Tenth Edition, allowing the new player access to them in packs again.

The EPIC Storm — Rite of Flame, Simian Spirit Guide, Empty the Warrens, Ponder, Dark Confidant, Infernal Tutor. It seems combo has done well in the recent sets.

Survival of the FittestGaddock Teeg; Doran, the Siege Tower; Thoughtseize; Shriekmaw; Big Game Hunter; Loxodon Hierarch; Tarmogoyf, etc. Basically every good creature has a shot to make it into a Survival build. The new sets have TONS of good creatures.

Cephalid Breakfast — The entire strategy of the deck revolves around the printing of Narcomoeba, Dread Return, and Tarmogoyf. Without these additions, this deck would still be as unviable as it was a year ago.

NarcoBridge Ichorid — Nearly the entire deck is “new” cards. From the Dredge creatures to the Dread Returns, and the Narcomoebas that enable them, this deck is almost a straight port from the Standard lists.

Landstill — The penultimate control deck now utilizes cards like Thoughtseize, Extirpate, and Tarmogoyf to apply disruption and pressure to the opponent.

UWB Aggro-Control (Fish) — The whole deck? Basically, you have Dark Confidant, Serra Avenger, Jotun Grunt, Thoughtseize, Counterbalance, Ponder, Extirpate, etc. etc. The list goes on and on. The natural control support colors have gotten some real love in the recent sets, and UWB Fish has reaped the benefits.

To summarize the above, you’d be harder pressed to find a handful of good Legacy decks that aren’t at the very least influenced by new cards, if not built completely around them. Can new cards compete with the old? For sure. As time progresses, the real question will become, “Can the old cards still hold their weight through the constant influx of new cards which may invalidate them?”

Verdict — BUSTED.

MYTH #4 — New Decks Don’t Stand a Chance versus Established Decks.

While this myth is closely related to the previous one, the subtle differences make it interesting. New cards are introduced all the time, but new decks are more difficult to come by in a format where nearly every card is legal. More often than not, new cards will become additions to existing decks, and make them stronger, rather than creating new successful archetypes in and of themselves. Still, the top tier of decks is not bullet-proof, and room does exist for rogue decks to take Top 8 slots.

In one of my previous articles, I discussed at some length the newest lists of Cephalid Breakfast. This deck was on very few radar screens before the breakout tournament in Annandale, VA where it took four of the Top 8 slots. This is a shining example of a rogue deck becoming a contender. Since that event, Breakfast has popped up in a number of events in the U.S. and Europe, and has solidified itself as a virtuous combo deck, and a deck to beat in Legacy.

Since September of this year, there have been twelve tournaments that qualify as “Large Events” based on the criteria of mtgTheSource.com. If we consider the “Tier 1 decks” to be Goblins, Threshold, Tendrils/Belcher Combo, and Landstill, we see the following:

Of a possible 96 Top8 slots, 45 of those were taken up by Tier 1 decks. Each tournament averaged about half, with a maximum of six top decks, and a minimum of zero. This means there were zero tournaments in the last three months where the Top 8 was devoid of rogue decks. Take the most recent large event as an example — it happens to be the one where no tier 1 decks made Top 8.

Ancient Memory Convention No. 29 Legacy Tournament.
Akihabara, Japan
October 28, 2007
41 players

Top 8:
1. Sligh
2. Mono Blue Control
3. GW Beats
4. Mono Blue Control
5. Affinity
6. Suicide Black with green splash
7. GWB Control (Truffle Shuffle)
8. Mono-Blue Fish

While a few of these decks have seen some success in the past (Truffle Shuffle, MUC, Fish), they are played nowhere near enough to be considered part of the upper tier. This tournament shines as an example of the absolutely open metagame that is Legacy.

Another example of a new deck that stands at the level of the old guard is NarcoBridge Ichorid. Almost the entire deck is relatively new to Legacy. This deck, in particular, demonstrates the ability of new ideas to gain ground against the old ideas — most of the Blue-based control and aggro-control decks in Legacy have an extremely difficult time beating this deck, which renders their counter magic and removal spells almost entirely useless. The Blue-based decks are therefore forced to develop a new strategy of action in order to prepare for a new style of threat.

Development is happening constantly in Legacy. Any given day, players are tweaking, tuning, and changing decks to make them more viable in their metagame. The issue is, at these large events, you can see literally any deck across the table from you, and you need to be prepared. This “random factor” is the true balancing element of the format. It’s the litmus test that your deck must pass to be viable in an indiscriminate meta like you’d see at one of these events. It’s exceedingly rare for a deck to be able to deal with the random element at the same time as the upper tier, and the decks that can tend to rise to the top of the format. These new decks that find they can compete become the decks the other rogue decks are competing against.

So yes, new decks are able to stand on the same level as the old. In fact, were it not for the maturation of these new ideas, the format would become inbred and stale. Any given Threshold player knows how to play the Goblins matchup. They’ve played the mirror infinite times. They’ve worked out a plan to board cards against combo. The format as a whole relies on the injection of new decks, and new cards into the existing decks, to feed a flux of progress into the format, which drives change, sparks development, and creates excitement.

Verdict — BUSTED.

MYTH #5 — Legacy Players Are Xenophobic Elitists.

I could write (and have written) an entire article on this subject alone. For the sake of all of our sanities, I’ll try to be (relatively) concise.

In September of 2004, Wizards decided to act in what they believed was the best interest for them, and for the game, when they separated the banned and restricted lists of Vintage and what would soon be known as Legacy. Prior to this date, the banned list of 1.5 was every card banned in Vintage, as well as every restricted card. With the separation of the lists, Wizards felt they could create a home for those players soon to be displaced by the approaching Extended rotation. In his article on the issue, Aaron Forsythe said…

“… with the impending rotation of the Extended format next year, we felt the need to make sure there was a reasonable format available where players could use their old cards (everything from dual lands to Ice Age cards to Rebels) that was not just a toned-down version of Vintage. We tried to strike the fine balance between accessibility and, well, balance of play.” (Link.)

This announcement had a number of impacts. Positively, it gave Vintage players confirmation that Wizards supported them, as it was largely at the request of those players the action took place. Vintage players were outspoken advocates of list separation, largely because they tired of seeing harmless cards added to the Vintage Restricted list, in order to ban them in 1.5. It also, as Forsythe said, gave the Extended players of that era a somewhat familiar format to continue playing in once their decks rotated out. Unfortunately, there was a previously ignored community of players who were put out in a big way by this announcement. The Type 1.5 players were outraged.

Wizards had effectively taken away the entire format. The upper tier of 1.5 decks at that time were comprised of decks like Worldgorger Dragon Combo (Worldgorger Dragon, Bazaar of Baghdad), Welder MUD (Mishra’s Workshop, Metalworker), and Food Chain Goblins (Goblin Recruiter). Every one of those decks was invalidated by the banned list. The only upper tier decks unaffected by the change were Tradewind Survival, which instantly became one of the best decks; and Landstill, which lost Mana Drain, but was otherwise unaffected. Even underpowered decks like Oath (Oath of Druids), Enchantress (Replenish), and MaskNought (Illusionary Mask) were “nerfed,” due to a perceived unbalance in power level, or due to the price tag on the cards in the deck. The players were understandably upset, and many were extremely vocal in their disdain. This was effectively the first attention they received from anyone, ever, and they gave a terrible first impression. Once again, it boils down to perception, and it’s difficult to make up for bad first impressions. Since 2004, the Legacy community has strived to do just that.

Most of the people responsible for Type 1.5’s development are no longer playing Magic, or at least no longer playing Legacy. There are a few of the old guard hanging on, but for the most part, the community is comprised of people who caught the Legacy bug closely before the restructuring, or sometime after. This is a point that is often overlooked when discussing the community and its reputation, and it’s an extremely important factor to the discussion. People still point to the negative image received due to the separation of the Legacy and Vintage lists, and yet the people responsible for creating that image aren’t even part of the community anymore.

Fast forward three years. Legacy is a healthy, well-developed format once more, with a growing community made up of many experienced and dedicated players. There have been two Grand Prix events, and a third was rapidly approaching. Aside from those events, there are a rising number of large tournaments held across the country, and even more in Europe. Legacy is blossoming into exactly what Wizards hoped it would, the everyman’s format; the deck builder’s dream. Suddenly, everything changed when the power level errata was removed from Flash.

To those of us playing 1.5 when the separation of lists occurred, this felt eerily familiar. Once again, the majority of the upper tier decks were invalidated. This time, it wasn’t due to pivotal cards being banned – they were rendered obsolete by a combo so powerful that it immediately dominated the format. Just like the first time, the community spoke out. Just like the first time, people unfamiliar with Legacy, tuning in due to the broken combo and the upcoming GP, were left with a bad taste in their mouths about Legacy players.

The Legacy community, and specifically a few key members of it, has worked tirelessly to promote the format and its community before the Flash era, throughout it, and beyond. It’s because of these people we’ve seen a real change in the way Legacy players are perceived. I’ve seen a visible and measurable escalation in the amount of dedicated, intelligent players and writers coming from this format, and a steady decline in the activity of the trolls and pundits across the board. It’s no longer considered the norm for people to be closed-minded and dismissive to new ideas. It’s no longer accepted for people to be harsh to new players. I truly believe that Legacy has turned a corner, and with continued dedication and attention from concerned parties, I believe we can rewrite the perception of Legacy players to the greater Magic population.

Verdict — BUSTED, I hope.

MYTH #6 — There’s Nowhere to Play Legacy.

Alas, we’ve reached the point where no amount of convincing on my part can persuade you that the myth is false. It’s an unfortunate truth that some places in the country, and in the world, simply do not support the Legacy format. Stores have to do what’s best for their bottom line, and regrettably, that often means Eternal formats are the first to go. But that doesn’t mean you have to take it sitting down! Talk to your local shop owner, and see if they will allow you some space to play Legacy with friends, or set up a low-cost tournament for store credit prizes. If that doesn’t work, ask around at local comic shops, or hobby stores. Maybe there’s a businessman out there who’s looking to expand his market and can help support your interest in the format. Go to someone’s house and play on their kitchen table, or hop online and play using Magic Workstation or Apprentice. Just like when it comes to availability of cards, the Internet has opened up a new world of accessibility to this game. Facing a screen is, of course, quite different than sitting across from a live opponent, but if you’re interested in Legacy even the slightest, it’s a great way to introduce yourself to the format without making any investment financially. It’s also a great way to test out new deck ideas before purchasing the cards in real life.

Take your favorite Legacy deck and a friend to the local FNM, and instead of playing in the FNM, just sit near the event and test. Answer any questions from interested onlookers, and be sure to show them how the decks interact with each other. Remember, the goal is to spark interest in the format, not dissuade it; so emphasize the relationship between the cards and decks, not the broken stuff that can happen once in a while. While you may find that cool, it’s more likely to scare off new blood. Every person you introduce will help with the growth of the format in your area, and before long, you may find yourself in a thriving new metagame.

The point is, you make your own opportunities. If you think Legacy isn’t popular enough in your area, perhaps it’s up to you to promote it. If you think card access is an issue for people, then scrounge up some extra staples and loan them out to players who can’t put a complete deck together. Just because there isn’t a Legacy player base in your community now, doesn’t mean there can never be one — it just means it will take some effort to get there. Be willing to put in that little bit of effort — it can go an extremely long way.

Verdict — Plausible, but not permanent.

So there we are. Whether you’re a veteran Legacy player, or tuning in to get some background on the format, I hope you’ve gotten something out of this exercise. Apologies to my loyal readers for my lack of hot new lists this week — I think this subject was particularly pertinent with the extra exposure the format will be seeing through its inclusion at Worlds. Perhaps we’ll see yet another influx of new blood when people see the pros play with the decks we know and love, and I hope we use that opportunity to welcome them with open arms. Remember — there’s only one shot at first impressions in real life. Fortunately, this isn’t real life.

This weekend brings the third installment of The Mana Leak Open tournaments, held in Stratford, Connecticut. It promises to be an exciting weekend of Legacy, and the results should be interesting. These events, and their phenomenal prizes, bring out the big names of the format every time. If you can’t attend, be sure to check out mtgTheSource.com and TheManaDrain.com for updates, and if you’ll be there, be sure to stop by and say hello!

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.