Until next week,
@Adrian L. Sullivan on Twitter
Okay, so maybe it isn’t that simple.
Here is a thing about Legacy that I’ve said many times and that the more I’ve played the format and the more I’ve watched the format, the more I believe it:
Whichever player is more prepared for a matchup is very likely to be the winner.
You might think, "Well, isn’t that true of all Magic?" but it certainly isn’t. A huge part of the reason that this isn’t the case in other formats is that the power of sideboard cards combined with the overwhelming power of maindeck cards is simply not as incredible in these other formats. Take Standard for example: you might be able to bring in a powerful card like Burning Earth into a matchup, but even if it is particularly good in a matchup, it doesn’t just lock things out. The cards that you’re backing up with Burning Earth aren’t as powerful that they can compound their strength and lock someone out. In Modern, a Tron deck can be fought against with some great weapons, but despite that none of them truly are a complete knockout punch.
Legacy in many ways is like an incredible Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) match in which both of the fighters in the ring are fully capable of making moves that will just end things both in the first game and in sideboarded games. In these matches, a small error can give enough room to one player that they can leverage it into a much greater advantage and take over right then and there even if the end may take a while to actually fully come about.
Not realizing what is important in a matchup can lead to a critical misstep, which picked up on by the opponent can spell doom.
Assume you’ve chosen a "rational deck" (by which I mean a deck that works properly and is at least powerful enough to be even a marginal deck). Pick an archetype of your choice as the "opponent" deck, and no matter how terrible the matchup I’m sure you can construct a 75-card version of your rational deck that will win that matchup in a full three-game match.
The trick is this: there are so many decks in the Legacy metagame that you can only afford to expend a very limited number of resources on fighting specific decks or general overarching strategies; it is basically impossible to fight them all. In addition, you actually have to know what the important things are to fight for this to work in the matchups you’re choosing to fight over. I’ve seen players sideboard out their best cards in countless matches, toss the most important cards to their Force of Wills, or misuse their library manipulation to get the wrong cards in their hand for the game in progress. The sheer work required in knowing all of the matchups intimately is almost mind-boggling. The Herculean effort required is one of the reasons that many people play the same deck again and again, and they are not wrong in making this kind of decision.
So really, the answer to the question "what should I play in Legacy?" is "play whatever rational deck you have the best knowledge of or can acquire the best knowledge of."
That being said, I do have some recommendations that I think are very good. I can’t go to Washington DC (sorry, Thomas!), but here are the decks I’d be thinking about playing if I were to be able to go.
Death and Taxes
I’ve been advocating Death and Taxes as the best deck in Legacy for a few months, so it made me glad to see Ari Lax take the Legacy Championship event in Philadelphia down with a copy of the deck patterned after the deck that I think is the best build of it, Thomas Enevoldsen’s list.
You might wonder what I find so appealing about the way Enevoldsen has the deck built, and really it is simple: Enevoldsen recognizes that Death and Taxes is not White Weenie. He isn’t trying to mount up some kind of beatdown that is sure to be trumped by an opponent who is doing something broken. Instead, Enevoldsen built the deck to amplify the Prison-style aspects of the deck that are designed to make the opponent’s cards useless.
In the unfair world of Legacy, you can’t simply "try to be fast" without an angle. Decks that attack these days are often backing their beatdown up with a great deal of counterspells. Running burn as a plan only really works as an angle if you are overloading that angle. Witness the disappearance of Zoo from Legacy, which doesn’t really have enough of any of those angles to compete in the current unfair world.
Like Ari Lax, I take my maindeck directly from Enevoldsen, but unlike Ari I don’t add an additional Horizon Canopy, largely because I’m not running an Enlightened Tutor package like Ari is. Here is my version of Death and Taxes:
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 2 Mangara of Corondor
- 2 Aven Mindcensor
- 3 Flickerwisp
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 3 Mirran Crusader
- 4 Phyrexian Revoker
- 1 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Sideboard Honorable Mentions: Spear of Heliod; Meekstone; Linvala, Keeper of Silence; Leonin Relic-Warder; Holy Light
This sideboard is built with what I think will happen to the metagame in the current moment, which will be responding to the significant successes for Death and Taxes recently and what will be an increase in access to True-Name Nemesis as people begin picking them up in earnest.
I want to discuss the ways in which I diverge from Enevoldsen’s sideboard from the SCG Invitational in July, of which there are a few.
I predict one response to the likely upswing in Death and Taxes players is going to be an increase in the fastest combo decks, from all of the various storm-based decks to coin-flip special Belcher. As a result, I know I want to have a number of answers that could potentially let me win the "unwinnable" games. One copy of Leyline of Sanctity might seem a little odd, but it manages to be a faux-third copy of Mindbreak Trap if it is in your opening hand and at the same time reduces the pain of drawing an actual third Mindbreak Trap in matchups that have become protracted.
The Celestial Flare and Sword of Fire and Ice both share one reason for being included: True-Name Nemesis. Getting through a True-Name Nemesis is quite difficult, but both of these cards can help in that endeavor. Both cards also have a little bit of additional utility as well. Of all of the Swords, Sword of Fire and Ice is perhaps the best bit of Equipment for being able to close out games and control the table. Celestial Flare can be a useful card in any number of combat situations, as Legacy often includes situations where only a single creature is incoming (or defending). The true True-Name haters can always substitute Holy Light if they want to go a little bonkers here.
Absolute Law is in the deck partly as an element of the response to the extra burn spells I expect to be heading into the metagame. If you’re concerned about non-red damage, consider Mark of Asylum for much of the same effect. I could be eschewing the attack of the graveyard a little too much; if you think you want a little more, run that second Rest in Peace and cut out the Absolute Law.
I’ve been slowly picking up the cards for this deck for a while now in the hope that at some point I won’t have to borrow cards for this deck any longer. I still have a ways to go, but I know that this will certainly be a deck that I’d expect to have sleeved at the next Legacy event I go to, much like it was at the last Legacy event I competed in.
When I was working on this article, I read Drew Levin article The Road To DC: Your Delver Primer, an article which I largely agreed with but which made some claims about U/W/R Delver (which I’ve taken to calling Delver-Blade) that I just don’t think are accurate.
In essence, he doesn’t like the schizophrenic nature of the deck. As a deck with Delver, he wants to see that angle pushed more; as a deck with Stoneforge Mystic, he wants to see that angle pushed more. He’s completely right that in their ideal (Platonic) forms the decks that take greatest advantage of these strategies do naturally move in opposite directions.
One of the lessons I’ve learned in the last few years of Standard with red lists is that you can make use of an aggressive beginning to set up a powerful endgame that is slower and have the deck mesh well. I wrote about this in an article last month, and it also rings true in Delver-Blade. You have access to some very aggressive draws, but you can also wrap things up with a more resilient plan of attack based on Stoneforge Mystic.
This approach does mean that sometimes you fall to decks like Lands, where you don’t have quite enough oomph to finish them off before they contain you and your endgame is simply not powerful enough to fight their endgame. But in matchups against other Stoneforge Mystic decks, against Miracles, and many of the faster unfair decks, you have access to another angle of interaction other than being an aggro-control deck or an aggro deck that occasionally masquerades as an aggro-control deck. In essence, you’re shifting a tiny bit towards the controlling end, giving up a sliver of your automatic wins you might have gotten from pure aggression and replacing it with more options when the game gets out of hand.
A part of why Drew might not be appreciating the deck is he’s moved very far away from the version played by Erik Smith in favor of streamlining the deck. Erik’s list though was always about having access to enough options that it could shift from one angle to another. Losing Stifle in particular is a huge blow to this deck because it lets the deck play two potential roles: (a) the aggressive deck, ruining the opponent’s mana, and (b) the more reactive deck, stopping the Big Play dropped by the opponent.
When new Legacy staple True-Name Nemesis was printed, it was instantly a card that found its way into any number of decks, including this one. One of the more notable of them was Tyler Macho’s list from this past weekend, which placed fifteenth in the Legacy Open. He played a few of the Merfolk Rogue in his Delver-Blade list, which is very nearly otherwise Erik Smith version of the deck. Like Gerard Fabiano, he cut one Geist of Saint Traft for a Vendilion Clique and replaced the other Geists with True-Name Nemesis. I still actually like Geist, but I want to minimize the diminishing returns, so I only play a single copy now that True-Name Nemesis is there.
Here is where I’m at with my current list:
- 2 Grim Lavamancer
- 1 Vendilion Clique
- 3 Stoneforge Mystic
- 1 Geist of Saint Traft
- 4 Delver of Secrets
- 1 True-Name Nemesis
The first thing I feel is worth talking about is the inclusion of True-Name Nemesis.
Simply put, True-Name Nemesis is one of the best cards possible in all of the "fair" matchups. When you’re fighting a Tarmogoyf or when you’re fighting a horde of random creatures of any kind, True-Name Nemesis feels like a mini Moat; it isn’t quite to the stature of Moat, but it is pretty close. This is a card that is not at its best in the unfair matchups, but against decks that plan on attacking you, there is little better than it. That being said, this deck doesn’t need too much help in that arena, so access to two in the matchups where it matters should be fine. If you want more, consider cutting the singleton Supreme Verdict for a third.
I’ve already talked about the absurd power of Zur’s Weirding in Legacy; in essence, it locks down the game against decks that are reliant on a few spells. In addition, this version of the deck also includes Vendilion Clique, Sword of Feast and Famine, and Mystic Remora as great weapons against decks that are trying to build something up for a big turn. Mystic Remora is another great singleton, and if you are truly eager to play more, I wouldn’t fault you for it.
Most of the rest of the deck’s sideboard should be pretty self-explanatory. These days I’ve come to feel that the best answers to a deck like Death and Taxes are just to attempt to kill everything. Grim Lavamancer in the main, a few True-Name Nemesises, Engineered Explosives and Supreme Verdict, and access to all of the Swords to Plowshares really helps get you there. If you want another card to help that matchup, consider Tsabo’s Web, as it can help you escape the clutches of their mana denial.
All told, I think this deck is a fabulous choice in the current metagame. I still prefer Death and Taxes overall, but this deck is better able to beat a more wildly varied metagame in part because of the presence of Force of Will, which is a great equalizer. I still see Death and Taxes as the more powerful choice, but this deck’s worst matchups are better than Death and Taxes’ worst matchups.
Finally, I really appreciate the idea of simply playing Delver-Burn. Notice I didn’t say U/R Delver. I’m not talking about the deck that Osyp Lebedowicz took to a second-place finish at the Legacy Championship this year. I’m talking about a deck that includes one of Magic’s all-time great hate cards:
One of the things I love about a Burn deck is coming at the format in question somewhat "sideways" so to speak. Most decks aren’t prepared for handling a great deal of damage, and a typical Burn deck is able to overload what they are capable of dealing with. In Modern, for example, Burn is currently my favorite deck.
In Legacy, though, Burn has shifted to being an almost third-tier deck largely because of the sheer power of the combo decks that have entered the format, most particularly Show and Tell decks Sneak and Show and Omni-Tell. As a result, the lack of cards like Force of Will is just too much to really cope with.
Delver-Burn was a potential answer to that problem. Unfortunately for Delver-Burn, it had a major issue with the Goyf decks, particularly RUG Delver, which not only packs Tarmogoyf but also packs Nimble Mongoose. The combination of these two cards felt practically unbeatable for this archetype. Thankfully once again, True-Name Nemesis has changed the math in this matchup that had really pushed this deck onto my backburner.
Here is my current version:
This is a deck that is actually quite well suited to fighting against the "Death and Taxes menace" that is potentially rearing up its ugly head. Between Grim Lavamancer and True-Name Nemesis, there are a lot of creatures that put up a good fight in that matchup, and backing it up with both burn and Snapcaster Mage, you can actually put up quite a good impression of a control deck in that matchup. If you want even more help in that matchup, consider removing the Surgical Extraction for a pair of Sulfur Elementals and really get into the land of overkill.
In most matchups, though, you are trying to go for the throat. Turn 1 Goblin Guide and Delver of Secrets make for a nice start to an aggressive game, and Price of Progress often ends up playing clean up. In many ways, because you can put out so much damage in one fell swoop, your countermagic is used simply to make sure the game ends in a reign of fire.
The difference between this deck and both Delver-Blade and RUG Delver in the combo matchups is that you actually have quite a bit more damage that you tend to be putting on the table at an earlier time. A part of the risk though is that you’re still a Goblin Guide deck in a world of Brainstorms. This is incredibly dangerous if the game lasts more than a few turns.
Price of Progress is one of the real incentives to play this deck. So often you’ll end up in a situation where you’ve managed to deal five-to-seven damage to your opponent, they’ll have dealt three or four to themselves, you draw a Price of Progress, and the game just ends. Sometimes you’ll be at an absurdly low life total, but it won’t matter because they’ll be dead.
One of the most exciting things about True-Name Nemesis in this deck is that Moat like quality I talked about before. When you’re just holding the opponent back from being able to properly kill you, it becomes very easy for a Price of Progress or a Price of Progress with help from a Snapcaster Mage to just end the game in a moment.
Of all of the decks I’m playing in Legacy, I’ve had the least opportunity to play this one compared to the others, yet I do find it the most compelling for the current moment. To me, Death and Taxes is the deck to take to DC if you want to play it safe, but I have a feeling that this might actually be the best deck for the event. I just don’t have enough games in to really know for certain yet.
Overall, I’m sad that I’ll be unable to attend this weekend. I’m still happy to be playing Magic elsewhere though. I’ll be at the PTQ in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; if you see me there, be sure to say hi and tell me what your favorite deck in Legacy is. If you won’t be at that PTQ, just tell me in the comments—I always like to hear about what people love to play in my favorite Constructed format!
Until next week,