Unlocking Legacy – Updated Recommendations to the DCI

Read Legacy articles every week... at StarCityGames.com!Monday, March 10th – Christopher Coppola updates his standing banned list recommendations and discusses the reasons for the changes.

I. Review

In September 2006, I wrote a detailed article arguing for the removal of six cards from the banned list. Wizards returned two of these cards to the format, and deckbuilders have enjoyed them without causing any trouble at tournaments (Mind Over Matter and Replenish).

In June 2007, Aaron Forsythe called Land Tax “incredibly powerful” and “oppressive” in defense of keeping it banned. In September 2007, I wrote an article examining this issue closely, demonstrating huge obstacles to the card’s success in Legacy, and continued to argue for its return.

The format has continued to grow and develop substantially, and my standing recommendations from September 2006 are in need of revision.

II. Future Sight

Of the sets released after the format’s creation, Future Sight has been the most influential on Legacy. Some very strong cards were released that have been heavily played in tournaments: Gathan Raiders and Magus of the Moon made Red Chalice Aggro into a viable deck; Narcomoeba created Cephalid Breakfast which has significantly raised the bar for Combo decks; Bridge from Below made Ichorid into a powerhouse that remains underplayed; Tombstalker is now one of the most efficient threats in the format, and has strongly improved Suicide variants; and the ubiquitous Tarmogoyf was given to us in this set.

Future Sight improved the power but also the diversity of the format, eventually having the effect of making Control a legitimate archetype once again. However, the particular strategies which were improved have altered the landscape of safe effects, and this also changes my recommendations.

There are two new graveyard-based decks in the format. The first, Cephalid Breakfast, is based around Narcomoeba and Dread Return, and Hermit Druid would make this deck much better. I’m not sure if it would be too good, but it’s certainly possible, and therefore I must remove it from my list of recommendations.

The second deck, Ichorid, is based around Dredge cards and Bridge from Below. This deck would be strongly improved by the addition of Entomb, making it execute in the early turns of the game much more consistently. Again, I’m not certain that it would be too powerful for the format, but it’s a possibility. Since I am not confident that it would be safe in the format, I can’t recommend it for unbanning.

III. Recommended Changes

My original list consisted of Mind Over Matter, Land Tax, Entomb, Hermit Druid, Replenish, and Grim Monolith. Two of these cards have been removed due to unbanning. I have just removed two more due to the changes brought about by Future Sight. There is also an addition to the list.

Land Tax
I have already written a great deal about this card, so I will just summarize the reasons why it should be returned.

Land Tax requires too much investment to be worth using. To set up, activate, and then exchange the lands for relevant cards takes too much time and isn’t consistent enough.

It is comparable to Life from the Loam, which while a popular card, is very safe.

Grim Monolith
It’s hard to tell why this card is on the banned list. It is useless in Combo decks since there are more playable accelerants than Combo can even use, and this is near the bottom. I have tested it extensively in Stax, and I wouldn’t play it in any of the builds of Angel Stax that I have developed. It is not worth trading one card for one colorless mana in a Control deck like that.

There are some cards which might be good in combination with Grim Monolith, but none of them are as strong as engines which have already existed in the format. Grim Monolith also doesn’t open up any new strategies. Artifact decks have quite a tough time as it is in this format, due to efficient removal and incredibly strong hate cards. Affinity has always had big problems due to these types of answers. Goblin Welder decks would have potential, but if nothing else Legacy decks are amazing at killing 1/1 Goblins and disrupting graveyard-based strategies, so this is not a promising design. This leaves the vague idea of an aggressive artifact deck that casts Grim Monolith in order to save up the mana for a large spell. This is comparable to Reanimator stragegies, and such a deck would suffer even more from the cheap artifact hate available to every deck, on top of the tons of cheap disruption and removal available in Legacy.

I strongly considered recommending this card in September 2006, but I wasn’t as confident about it as was the remaining cards. Legacy Combo decks are faster, more consistent, and more resilient than the one based around this card. The Earthcraft deck would have to generate multiple Green mana, play basic lands, and would be unable to win until the turn after it goes off. Cephalid Breakfast, Belcher, and The Epic Storm are all much better decks and are not threatening to the stability of the format.

IV. Maintaining Stability

The DCI has made a lot of good decisions about the Legacy banned list. The vast majority of cards which are banned deserve their status. There are no cards which are unbanned which are problematic — the Legacy environment is very balanced right now, and this is the sole criterion for banning decisions. The high cost of rarer cards is a defining characteristic of Eternal formats, and is inescapable if players want to use cards from the early years of Magic, but this does not affect any of the cards relevant to Legacy. Availability is actually a legitimate question, but it is very unlikely to pose a problem for any of the events Wizards of the Coast is realistically going to schedule for Legacy.

The list of cards which could safely come off of the banned list is very short. In the interest of providing some context for my recommendations, I will describe two cards that may seem like possible candidates for unbanning, but which really need to stay banned because they are too problematic.

Dream Halls: Dream Halls is one of these cards. It would probably remain unplayed and largely useless, and the instinct to let it come back is fair. However, the problem is that were it to find one application, the deck would probably be degenerate and deserving of a re-banning. Dream Halls is one of those cards that doesn’t really have safe applications, and therefore unbanning it wouldn’t actually open up any design space for deckbuilders – if they succeeded it would just be taken away again.

Frantic Search: This card would be very powerful in graveyard-based Combo decks. Decks based around Tendrils of Agony typically have trouble generating enough storm to go off, and this would serve that function as well as trading dead cards for combo pieces. Mainly though, Frantic Search would be a huge problem in combination with High Tide. Frantic Search would create a new version of Solidarity that would dominate all other Combo, Control, and Aggro decks.

At the moment, there aren’t any very serious B/R issues for Legacy, which is a good thing. The format has been doing very well since last summer, with the help of some official support (the interest in the Worlds tournament) and from excellent new cards (Future Sight). In addition to B/R consideration, I request more of both of these in 2008!

Christopher Coppola