What if tons of people played Modern?
What if they played it for fun week in and week out?
What if the format were stable enough that people could play their decks year after year but each week-to-week was fresh and exciting?
. . .
What if I told you they call it Legacy?
. . .
Grand Prix Washington DC is this weekend, bringing the spotlight back to Legacy. Modern may have lots of promise and be inching in a good direction, but Legacy is beloved now and has been in a spot its community enjoys for many years.
Legacy is one of the true marvels of Magic: The Gathering. It is seriously mind-blowing when you look at the history of the format and consider what can be learned about making fun formats from it. Couple things to consider:
- Standard formats often get stale before the end of their three-month lifecycle, and whenever they don’t, it is considered to have been a "great" format.
- "If pros played Legacy regularly, they would ruin the format" is a thing people used to say all of the time.
- There have been 40 major Legacy tournaments a year for the past three years thanks to the overwhelming success of the StarCityGames.com Open Series.
- SCG Opens regularly contain numerous pros, and the four Invitationals a year have a higher percentage of pros than Grand Prix do (not to mention more money in prizes).
So given all of this, it would be reasonable to assume Legacy is on its death knell, right? They even printed Mental Misstep!
What would it mean for Legacy to be about to die? One possible warning sign might be the complete stagnation of the format. Let’s take a look at the top three decks of the format today, the top three decks from one year ago, and the top three decks from one year before that.
Three Years Of Legacy
Wait, what? I thought we were looking at the top three decks from each year? That’s only three archetypes total. Are you saying the top three decks in Legacy are the same three top decks from last year and the year before that?
Why does this still seem like gambling to you?
Why do you think the same three decks make it to the top tier in Legacy every single year?
*Disclaimer: This chart double counts U/W/R Delver as both a Delver deck and a Stoneblade deck (using four of each). Below U/W/R Delver will be listed merely as a Delver deck, which would cause Stoneblade’s numbers to drop to 7.7%, which would be merely the fourth biggest archetype behind Reanimator aka the fourth biggest archetype of 2011.
Ah-ha! Caught red-handed! Clearly, this is a format that has stagnated and needs to be shook up by some bans. The top three decks of the past three years are all Brainstorm aggro-control decks!
Wait, why is tournament attendance so high then?
You can’t weasel your way out of this one! There are twice as many players as there were three years ago and four times as many as there were six years ago. Magic is at an all-time high and every single set is the bestselling set of all time. No matter what tournament you hold, numbers are going to be high.
Then why doesn’t Modern get the kind of numbers Legacy does?
Err . . .
Umm . . .
That’s not fair.
Legacy’s not fair. The sooner you realize that, the better off you’ll be.
Ok, so somehow Legacy is a format where people play their favorite decks for years and years, often occupying more than twenty percent of the metagame, yet people keep showing up, keep playing?
How can we explain this?
Because it’s fun.
Why does Wild Nacatl being banned in Modern get bashed by the masses? There are plenty of worse bans in terms of "balancing and diversifying the format."
Why does Jace, the Mind Sculptor have more advocates to unban it in Modern than almost any other card despite it being a stronger card than half of the Vintage restricted list?
Why did banning Brainstorm lead to the decline of Vintage and the rise of Legacy?
The only way Legacy is ever dying is if Brainstorm is banned, and frankly I suspect Modern would be a lot more fun if Brainstorm were legal. At the very least Preordain could be unbanned and balanced around.
At the end of the day, Legacy is a pretty fun format. What makes it so fun?
- Resolving a Brainstorm is one of the most enjoyable experiences in all of Magic cards.
- It really does feel like you can do anything you want no matter how broken or crazy.
- Force of Will existing provides a counterbalance to the broken and crazy.
- While the format may be slow to change which decks are at the top, new cards keep getting added to the format, and the week-to-week metagame always has new faces, with fifty different archetypes showing up occasionally.
Legacy’s fun? That’s your advice for GP DC?
Fine, let’s whip out our crystal ball, Gray’s 1985 Sports Almanac, and some cough syrup.*
To start with, all of the November 2013 Legacy information is from the past five months of SCG Opens and Invitationals, encompassing fifteen major Legacy tournaments.
While many formats exist in an aggro/midrange/control world, Legacy features aggro-control instead of midrange and combo instead of control. Here is a snapshot of these three primary macro-archetypes in Legacy at the moment:
- Aggro-Control: A deck that definitely plays Brainstorm.
- Combo: A deck that probably plays Brainstorm.
- Aggro: A deck that probably doesn’t play Brainstorm.
- Misc: A Brainstorm deck that doesn’t fit into any of the above categories.
Legacy being nearly half aggro-control is nothing new. Nor is the format being over a third combo. Why no control or midrange?
At high enough power levels, control decks need a combo kill since the best card interactions are so much stronger than any specific card.
At high enough power levels, midrange decks need to generally be blue to interact with the combos everyone else plays.
Really, Legacy is a format where all decks exist on a spectrum of how interactive they are. On one end, we have decks like Belcher that do not interact at all, just trying to kill you on turn 1. On the other end, we have extremely interactive decks like RUG Delver or BUG that try to disrupt you every step of the way. These decks may be extremely interactive, but they are far from passive. There is just no profit to playing passively in Legacy.
Breaking Legacy down is always challenging because there are so many different archetypes and variations of archetypes. In general, my primary concern is with getting grokkable information that is useful for making predictions and decisions rather than consistency in which archetypes get merged together for instance.
Here’s a breakdown of the major archetypes from the past five months:
*Non-RUG Delver includes U/W/R(5.71%), BUG(2.14%), Grixis(1.43%), U/R(1.00%)
**Stoneblade includes Esper, U/W/R(3.14%), U/W(1.43%), W/B/R(0.86%), and W/B(0.29%)
***Misc includes less than 1% each of Bant, Burn, Pod, Four-Color Loam, All Spells, 42 Lands, Death’s Shadow, Zoo, Pox, High Tide, 12Post, Aluren, Landstill, and Slivers
That’s a lot of information. What all can we glean from this?
To start with, the two biggest archetypes are RUG Delver and Not-RUG Delver. That should give you some idea of how dominate Delver of Secrets is as a strategy in Legacy. Divide the archetype in half and each half is still much bigger than the next biggest deck.
So it has come to this?
Delver, and namely RUG Delver, is the deck to beat. Drew Levin primer on the archetype is absolutely required reading and can be found here. Here is his suggested RUG Delver list, which is fairly representative of the archetype:
To answer your questions:
1) For opponents with one-toughness white creatures.
2) To not kill your Delvers.
While there are a variety of non-RUG Delver decks people play, these days the most popular is U/W/R:
Now we see where all the Stoneblade decks went! They aren’t disappearing but rather cross-breeding with Delver to form this unholy abomination.
Said, Doctor, ain’t there nothin’ I can take?
I said, Doctor, to relieve this belly ache,
Now let me get this straight,
You put the Delver in the Stoneblade and you shuffle ’em both up?
Contrast this with a more "pure" Stoneblade list, such as this past weekend’s champion Timothy Thomason:
See what I mean? Cards keep getting added to Legacy at least partly because WotC puts out sets that aren’t Standard legal, which means not every new card needs to be at a safe power level.
True-Name Nemesis is not exactly a secret (and apparently neither is your true name), but it is amusing how much people enjoy the card despite it being much, much more powerful than Invisible Stalker and much less able to be interacted with. Players love to make up stories to try to paint a picture of why they like or do not like stuff.
Why was Invisible Stalker hated? It plus Equipment was a frustrating and unfun play experience in Standard and Limited that happened way more times than most had an appetite for.
Why are people excited about True-Name Nemesis? Legacy is a format where people sometimes play zero lands and sometimes play 42. It’s a format where people sometimes attack you with Emrakul on the second turn. It’s a format where people sometimes play twenty counterspells.
A True-Name Nemesis is far from the most frustrating experience available in Legacy. The bar is different in terms of what you expect. Invisible Stalker felt like it violated the spirit of Standard or Draft. True-Name Nemesis? Well, that’s just a Tuesday to Legacy.
The other element is that True-Name Nemesis is cool, new, and not played out. People loved, Loved, LOVED Invisible Stalker—until they didn’t. As long as TNN isn’t too popular, he should be well-liked. Miley Cyrus understands.
Rounding out our big three, we have ze BUG decks. While there are some BUG Delver decks, generally most BUG decks end up much bigger, using Shardless Agent and Jace, the Mind Sculptor rather than Delver of Secrets and Tomb Stalker. For reference, here is a BUG Delver deck:
And here is a Shardless BUG deck:
Why the decline across the format in Jace, the Mind Sculptors? Literally everyone else plays four Spell Pierces.
Of course, it can be useful to take our lens and zoom back out a little but not quite as far as the macro-archetype chart. For instance:
One Way Of Looking At Legacy
Here we break the aggro-control decks along the most logical division, to Delver or not to Delver. Additionally, we have divided combo into "to graveyard or not to graveyard," which may not be the most important division to them but sure is to everybody else who wants to sideboard to beat ’em.
Why not split aggro? It’s just not as big a chunk of the metagame as aggro-control and combo, but if you wanted to cut it in half just ’cause you’re into that kind of freaky stuff, you could split it between the linear aggro decks (8.13%) and the good stuff decks (6.87%).
Dude, I have no idea. You’re the one into that stuff.
Ok, so combo is pretty clearly a big hunk of the metagame. What are the two combo decks I can test against so I can feel well prepared for the 25 different combo decks people play in Legacy? Confidence is up there with getting enough sleep and eating food when it comes to tournament preparation from what I’ve heard.
Ok, well, if you can only test against two combo decks, I guess the first would clearly be Reanimator. It is the most popular combo deck in the format.
Ashen Rider is better to reanimate than Angel of Despair.
And umm . . .
I reckon there ain’t really a whole lot new on this front, partner.
At least Deathrite Shaman is less popular than it used to be!
The logical non-graveyard combo deck to satiate ourselves with is Sneak and Show. On the upside, it is good to test against the perceived "most broken" deck. On the other hand, the probability you even want to go to GP DC decreases by 30% if you play five games with or against it.
This is not Legacy’s best side. Sadly, it is also stuff like this that makes everyone have to play aggro-control.
What do I like for GP DC?
Beyond that? I’m pretty open to suggestion, but I kind of like Young Pyromancer, Lightning Bolt, and Pyroblast (which is better than Red Elemental Blast because of the Pyromancer). As for the third color, well, let’s look at our options:
- White – Stoneforge Mystic, Swords to Plowshares
- Black – Dark Confidant, Baleful Strix, discard, passable removal
- Green – Creatures like Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze, etc.
All three have their appeal. I guess if I had to pick a place to start . . .
This list might be too wishy-washy, split between Grixis Delver and Shardless BUG, but at least we’ll learn some things. Seriously, though, I think Baleful Strix is really underplayed for how good it is in the format. As a matter of fact, I am not even sure why you wouldn’t want four. Isn’t it just the best removal spell in the format?
I’m also not totally sure you have to be all in on Young Pyromancer for it to be a worthwhile card. That said, it might be just too good too not play Gitaxian Probes (making Pyromancer better and opening up Cabal Therapy out of the board).
Cards I like:
The Deathrite Shamans, Lilianas, and honestly even the Pyromancers I am less into (but still into). Show me a list with the above four cards (and all of the usual suspects) and I’m in. I could even be talked into swapping Bolt and Pyroblast for Plow and Stoneforge. Just give me a Baleful Strix to block for my Jace and I’m sold. Although I’d really rather not BUG if it can be helped.
What would I recommend to someone that’s top priority is winning the tournament, not just enjoying the sweet, sweet nectar of Jace’s 0 ability?
In situations like this, I try to imagine Reid Duke sitting before me. Honestly, any difficult decision becomes easier if you do this, but it is especially appropriate in this case because the Duke’s top priority is winning and he’ll play stone-cold anything and play it well.
So what would I recommend to the Duke?
Honestly, RUG Delver’s the best deck. Sneak and Show may be obnoxious, but people are targeting it. RUG Delver can’t really be "hated out" outside of some pretty extreme fringe play, like maybe Chalice of the Void or some other such nonsense. I’ll tell you what I wouldn’t play:
It’s going to be a fun weekend . . .
*Non-DXM, Non-Narcotic of course.