Unlocking Legacy – The Absolute Newest

Read Legacy articles every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Monday, July 21st – Doug gives us a short and sweet Eventide evaluation, considering some new building-block cards that will have a strong impact on the Legacy format. Will the enemy-colored Cairn cycle fill in for our missing enemy-color fetchlands, bringing Rock decks to the forefront? Will Wake Thrasher make those mighty Merfolk playable? All this, plus a breakdown of last month’s major Legacy events serve to prepare you for the country’s biggest Legacy events in August.

It’s an exciting time to be a Legacy player! Well, at least an American Legacy player, as we’re getting two higher-profile Legacy events in the coming month. First, there are several Legacy side events tagged onto the Vintage Championships in Chicago. The prize pool is above what we normally see at Legacy events, including “Vintage boosters.” I take this to mean Italian Legends packs, so here’s hoping you open a Mana Drain you can’t play in our little format… Several weeks after these side events, the big show, the Legacy Championship, takes place at GenCon. If the past is predictive, we’ll see a U/G deck come out from the side to win the whole thing and then fade back into obscurity. On top of all this, we’ve got an interesting new set that introduces some very compelling cards to the format. In this article, I’ll show you my top five Legacy cards from Eventide, as well as prepare you for the upcoming tournaments and look at what every Legacy deck should be able to handle.

First, I’d like to take a look at Endless Horizons. It’s been compared to a Howling Mine or similar effect every turn, and I think it’s pretty apt. The closest comparison I can see, though, is Abundance and Sylvan Library doing their thing together. If you’ve ever played with that combo, you have the advantage of being able to draw a land and spells every turn, enabling the full development of your mana with lots of drawing in the process. Endless Horizons makes sure that you only draw spells if you decide to do the Mana Severance option to your library. I can see a home for this in a mono-White deck, enabling things like Goblin Charbelcher kills, huge Decrees of Justice and other cute things that require lots of mana. Remember that Tundras and the like are also Plains; while I can’t really see the need to run Endless Horizons in a non-mono-White deck, it’s at least an option available.

At four mana though, is this what we want to be playing? White has a lot of options to stall to four mana, most notably though Martyr of Sands and Swords to Plowshares. Once at four mana, Humility or Wrath of God can do the long-term control. One of the fundamental problems of white decks has been stabilizing on board and just not being able to kill quickly. Horizons cuts out the problem of drawing lands, while making a Charbelcher-like kill feasible. If you’re into playing White grind-out decks, try making this card work in there. If the Horizons is destroyed, you don’t get the Plains anymore, so be committed if you want to get rid of all those lands!

Next on my list of notable cards is Cold-Eyed Selkie. I’m just not sure what to do with this card, to be honest. It’s going to connect against a lot of decks in the format, but three mana, a card and two turns to see a return on the investment is rough. Certainly, the Selkie loves trips to Pendelhaven. It’s even a Green card, if you need draw for your Survival of the Fittest or Rock deck. The big danger I see from Selkie is that it encourages you to run bad cards to make it draw more. The list of playable creature pump seems to start and end with Rancor. Past that, we really have to struggle to justify it in a deck. That said, if Faerie Stompy could swing the mana requirements for this, equipping an Umezawa’s Jitte or Sword of Fire and Ice would be a complete game-over. It also has a bit of potential as a sideboardable drawer in control-on-control matchups.

Wake Thrasher is another card in search of a home. It’s comparable to Sea Drake in the fact that it can potentially be a huge pounder for only a little mana. The next thing is to determine just how big this guy has to be to run. Paying retail, it comes out of the gates at 4/4 next turn at the very least. Beyond that, it’ll be at least a 2/2 if you continue to attack with it. Is that enough for three mana? It makes me return to Merfolk decks as a concept. Thrasher gets better when you’re untapping more than just lands, and a deck with lots of little Blue guys can make it a big fish indeed. It’s probably not what the deck needs to actually be playable (a Trinket Mage that gets Meekstone is probably better) but it’s good to keep in mind and might be enough critical mass to make something on the fringe into a decent deck. Note that it also combos with Seeker of Skybreak to make a million brazillion power guy.

Moving on, the Cairn cycle is worth taking a long look at. We’ve got amazing possibilities for manabases in front of us with fetchlands and dual lands, but the enemy-colored decks have always been a bit harder to make work. For example, UG Madness was greatly hampered by being unable to make the right colors at the right times. While that deck isn’t playable anymore, the situation still exists. The enemy-color Cairns provide a vital stepping-stone for enemy-color decks. What comes to my mind is the Rock-style B/G decks that want to play Birds of Paradise on the first turn and Hymn to Tourach on the second. The Cairns make these kind of mana contortions a lot easier on the deck. Deadguy, while being mostly-dead, could benefit from the appropriate Cairn as well. Though their impact will be hard to spot after Eventide is released, I’m sure the Cairns will make appearances at some point. They’re great to keep in mind when deckbuilding.

Finally, let’s look at Worm Harvest. I wish I had a sexier card to talk about for my most-playable, really. The Harvest looks good in Lands and really not much else. The most fundamental question about it is “how many worms will I need to make to be worth five mana?” Five mana is serious in Legacy. I’m thinking I want to see no less than six tokens from this. Comparable quantities of creature-pounds cost 1G or 2U, so we’ve got a low bar to limbo under. The Harvest feeds itself due to Retrace, and it’s that recastability that really sticks it in my mind. It’s tempting to fit into a controlling deck and use it as a finisher, but it doesn’t compare well to Grave-Shell Scarab or Gigapede, the standards in the color and cost. Furthermore, average decks aren’t likely to have six lands in the bin by the time they start casting this, nor do they have great chances of drawing a land every turn to Retrace it again and again. The best way to get around these problems is to take a look at a deck that puts a lot of lands into the graveyard while running plenty of lands to begin with. 43 Lands seems like the best shell to fit this in.

If you’re unfamiliar with the deck, it’s a land-based deck driven by Manabond and Life from the Loam. The combination of cards means that with both active, you can see and play at least three lands every turn. When those lands are Maze of Ith, Glacial Chasm, and Wasteland, we’re talking serious power. It’s a great grind-out deck that’s underplayed currently. Part of this is because of cards like Extirpate making Life from the Loam difficult, and another comes from Blood Moon effects gaining popularity in the format. Worm Harvest answers both problems reasonably well. It functions quite nicely even when Life from the Loam is gone, preserving the inevitability of the deck. Also, when combined with Riftstone Portal in the graveyard, Worm Harvest delightfully gets around the Moon effects. Another side benefit is that since it enables such a fast win, a deckbuilder can remove Treetop Villages and Nantuko Monasteries from the deck, freeing up space for other specialized lands.

What To Expect When You’re Expecting Some Legacy Action

Summer is historically the hottest time for Legacy, and if you’re planning on attending an event, you’ll need to know what’s been performing. Culling results from around the Internet, I’ve compiled a breakdown of Top 8 results in the past month for events with more than 25 people in them. Here’s how it breaks down:

(a * indicates a T8, while ! Indicates a first-place finish)

UGR Thresh !*****
GWB Board Control *****
Survival variant !***
Dreadtill !***
Goblins ****
Ichorid ****
RGSA !**
BHWC Landstill ***
Aggro Loam !*
Enchantress !*
Fish variant**
UGW Threshold **
Stax *
Aluren *
Mono-Blue control *
Pox *
Belcher *
Dragon Stompy *
Elves *
UGW Control *
Imperial Painter *
UGB Control *
Enduring Ideal *

First, note the Ugr Threshold decks; they run the usual Threshold creatures, plus burn in the form of Lightning Bolt, and often Magus of the Moon. This makes for a potent combo, shutting down long-game control decks if they can’t handle the Magus, while being able to stabilize against faster decks and win Tarmogoyf staredowns thanks to the burn suite.

A trend that surprised me was the amount of GWB board control decks; this category includes Rock variants as well as more disruptive and aggressive builds. Decks in this category almost always include Pernicious Deed, Swords to Plowshares and long-game cards like Gigapede or Genesis. These decks combine with the numerous Survival of the Fittest decks in a category of late-game controlling decks. They aim to survive the early turns, winning wars of attrition and then completely stabilizing and winning. Part of their success is, I think, due to the potency of these cards in handling the outlier decks that are common in Legacy. While a focused aggressive strategy might get snagged on the Solitary Confinement from Enchantress, Pernicious Deed runs right through it.

Though we could talk about all the performances individually, I want to wrap up the analysis by looking at these results as a whole. Notice that there really isn’t much aggro in the top performing spots. The closest we can get is Goblins and Ichorid. The rest are all decks that plan to grind out the game and win later on. If you plan to play an aggro deck, make sure that it’s fast enough to sneak past the control elements in these decks, and if you plan to play control, make sure that you have enough trumps to handle the opponent’s lategame card advantage. Survival of the Fittest decks overwhelm thanks to the namesake card with Squee, Goblin Nabob, while the Tarmogoyf Dreadtill decks gain the upper hand through cards like Counterbalance and Academy Ruins. Either be faster than these engines, or have a superior engine yourself.

What Your Deck Should Be Capable of Handling

There are a few things that every Legacy deck should be able to handle. The first is Blood Moon effects; they’re numerous at the moment and they can really ruin a control deck’s day. The complicator is that Magus of the Moon and Blood Moon have to be handled very differently. A Snuff Out or Swords to Plowshares answers the former, while the latter is harder to deal with in the maindeck. Luckily, the enchantment is much less common than the wizard.

Second, if you note the results, all of the best-performing decks utilize the graveyard to some degree. A smart strategy for dominating the lategame involves eliminating or minimizing the other player’s graveyard. This is where I irrationally suggest Phyrexian Furnace to you. More prudently, Tormod’s Crypt in the maindeck isn’t a bad idea these days. While they aren’t glamorous, Crypts are also good to board in on control-on-control matches. Outside of control, people are finally realizing that Ichorid is a really strong deck. If you haven’t already, check out Anwar’s article last week regarding his experiences with the deck to get a handle on its power. If you’re on board with an aggressive deck, make sure you have some sacrificial creatures like Mogg Fanatic or Sakura-Tribe Elder to remove opposing Bridge from Belows.

If you’re fortunate enough to be in America and able to make it to the two upcoming Legacy events, it promises to be a good time. I also want to give shout-outs to the folks in Hadley for running a large U.S. tournament, as well as those T.O.s that have been putting on Legacy cash tournaments recently. I appreciate it when T.O.s take the chance of putting on a Legacy event, and I’m especially happy when we get large turnouts in the States. All of this combines to make Legacy a more played, discussed and covered format, and all of these are Nice Things. Until next time…

Doug Linn

PS: the customary “songs I listened to while writing this” list:

ABBA – Gimme Gimme Gimme (anyone else excited about Mamma Mia?)
Lansing-Dreiden — A Line You Can Cross
Iron Maiden — Two Minutes To Midnight (originally listened to ironically, but now I think I sincerely like it)
Lemon Jelly — Nice Weather For Ducks
Animal Collective — For Reverend Green