Legacy 2012: Is The Tide Turning?

Blue has not been dominating in Legacy in recent weeks. Are the tides turning? What will happen this weekend in Cincinnati? Patrick Chapin breaks down the numbers.


Brainstorm, Force of Will, Stoneforge Mystic, Tarmogoyf, Entomb, and Lion’s Eye Diamond are all legal in Legacy. In fact, five digits worth of cards are legal in a format that has been around for years and years, with no rotation beyond very occasional bannings. Despite all of this, or perhaps because of it, Legacy continues to be a rich and diverse format, continually evolving. Legacy, as a format, is an inspiration and why Wizards is going to all the trouble of trying to prune Modern with a similar method. It took banning 60 cards to get Legacy to the point it’s at now (actually more, but some cards have been unbanned).

Last year was a dangerous year for the format. After the banning of Survival of the Fittest, the format experienced a high point in diversity and balance. All seemed right in the world until Mental Misstep was printed.

This began a downward spiral. When The Illusion (that you don’t have to play blue) came crashing down, the format degenerated into a bunch of blue tempo decks playing dozens of zero-mana counterspells. Finally, Mental Misstep became the first counterspell since Mana Drain to be banned, but the format did not return to its earlier balance. In fact, the printing of Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage seemed to lead to an even greater increase in the number of blue decks taking over the format.

Would this be a continuing trend or had people just not figured out how to adapt to Delver and Snapcaster? It is often suggested that if Legacy ever gets to a point where Brainstorm actually needs to be banned for the format to function, then the format’s popularity will die. 

Was this the end? If only blue decks can function with Brainstorm and Force of Will being the only cards the blue decks all have in common, well, that is a tough one…

After the first four major Legacy events of 2012, we are starting to get the Legacy community’s answer:

Decks 2011 4th Quarter Meta 2012 Metagame

Blue Decks



Non-Blue Decks




Somehow, despite no new printings, the tide appears to be turning! Let’s take a look at the individual archetypes, in the format:

Tier 1


Archetypes 2011 4th Quarter Meta 2012 Metagame

RUG Delver



U/W Blade









Tier 1.5


Archetypes 2011 4th Quarter Meta 2012 Metagame






Mono-R Burn



Bant Blade



Tez Control


Tier 2


Archetypes 2011 4th Quarter Meta 2012 Metagame









Aggro Loam






Show and Tell









U/R Delver



White Weenie


Grixis Delver









*Expected metagame percentages are based on the “winner’s metagame,” weighing finishes with 6 points for 1st or 2nd, 5 points for 3rd/4th, 4 points for 5th-8th, 3 points for 9th-16th, 2 points for 17th-32nd.

That is a lot of big changes! The previous top tier was RUG, U/W Blade, U/R Delver, BUG, Maverick, Reanimator, and Bant Blade. Of those, Bant has dropped to Tier 1.5; U/R Delver has dropped to Tier 2; and last year’s third most popular strategy, BUG, has fallen off completely. While the top tier itself seems to be solidifying, we are seeing other blue decks take hits left and right. For instance, the most popular strategy of 2011 as a whole, Merfolk, isn’t even on the scoreboard!


“This word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”

While 2011 was dangerous in terms of the overwhelming dominance of blue decks, 2012 is not without dangers of its own. U/R Delver, BUG, and Bant Blade have all dipped in popularity or fallen off entirely. The top tier is actually becoming much less diverse. At this point, RUG Delver, U/W Blade, Maverick, and Reanimator are the decks to beat. Any Legacy tournament gauntlet should begin with these four decks that occupy over half of Legacy metagame, despite how many decks get played.

RUG Delver appears to have gained in popularity, but this is really just a rebound from the U/R Delver fad temporarily taking a cut out of RUG Delver’s numbers. Delver of Secrets has been the most popular and successful strategy since its printing. This sounds all well and good, but this is a very dangerous thing. Blue has its Tarmogoyf. In fact, it got two of them in the same set.

The Hatfield brothers have been on a tear, and their version of RUG Delver is the deck to beat, in my opinion. Jesse Hatfield put up another good finish this past weekend, so I would use this version for testing:

With unparalleled mana-efficiency, RUG Delver really is just all about the “rate.” The “rate” for a Magic card is how much “mana worth of value” you get for the cost (the cost being generally mana with value being the ability to positively influence the outcome of the game). While some decks rely on tribal synergies or killer combos, some try to be control, others beatdown; RUG Delver is just a collection of as many cards with the best rate as possible. Technically an aggro-control deck, this is the most dangerous form of “Good Stuff” deck, as it is rarely hosed by anything, and when it is good in a diverse format, it is hard to justify sculpting a strategy that beats it, since it takes so much to do so, leaving you vulnerable to much else.

I particularly love the Counterbalance-Top package in the sideboard. This gives you a backbreaking strategy against combo, as well as a way to rip open the pseudo-mirrors.

Of course RUG Delver isn’t the only way to abuse Delver of Secrets. Here is a new spin that top 8ed this past weekend in Washington DC:

Dark Confidant is not nearly as good as Tarmogoyf, these days; however black removal helps combat creatures better than burn alone, and discard adds another angle of attack for combo (though I still prefer Counter-Top).

RUG Delver’s 17.5% metagame percentage is definitely something to keep an eye on. Without U/R Delver to create the illusion of greater diversity, we will eventually have to face the fact that Delver has occupied about 20% of the Legacy metagame since its printing. A card being 20% of the metagame isn’t a problem, but if it is only one deck (and a nearly universally adopted list), that is well past warning bells.

Non-rotating formats (that are actually supported, unlike Vintage) ideally want no more than one-eighth of the field playing the same deck week-in and week-out. When a single deck is consistently over 20% of the field, like Zoo was in Extended, it leads to stagnation—interest in the format wanes. We aren’t at that point now, but we have certainly seen more than one red flag raised. Legacy has a best deck, and this is it.

There is only one other deck that can make a reasonable claim to the title, U/W Blade. U/W Blade burst onto the scene with the printing of Batterskull. Its popularity has continued to grow slowly ever since then. It has a longer history of dominance than RUG Delver, also putting up slightly unhealthy numbers. It also makes it pretty clear that if anything needs to be done to hurt both RUG Delver and U/W Blade decks, Snapcaster Mage is the likeliest bull’s-eye, despite both Delver of Secrets and Stoneforge Mystic being better in their respective decks.

A non-combo creature banned in Legacy? I certainly hope not, and certainly not Tiago Chan Invitational card. The truth is, however, this would just be a tool to try to weaken Brainstorm without banning it outright. I think we are still quite a ways off from that, with a number of treatment options available before it comes to that. As discussed here , I suspect we will see some unbannings.

Here is a good current list to use for the U/W Blade gauntlet deck:

Ben Friedman has been on a tear recently. Between StarCityGames.com Open results and his recent GP Orlando top 8, he is definitely on the move. I like his move away from Spellstutter Sprite in favor of more cheap interaction to try to keep up with RUG Delver and his added Elspeths (a potent threat to take over games). Looking more and more like Caw-Blade, U/W Blade can play control when it needs to but can switch tempo and mount an offensive very quickly, due to the power of Stoneforge Mystic + Batterskull. The creature kill available to U/W Blade is second to none (Plows, Paths, and Wraths). U/W Blade is likely to be one of the pillars of the format for quite some time to come (pretty much as long as Stoneforge Mystic/Batterskull and Brainstorm/Force of Will are legal).

While Legacy has been dominated by Blade and Delver decks since Snapcaster’s printing, we have recently been seeing an increase in Maverick-style Naya decks as a non-blue alternative. Maverick was originally G/W, but Punishing Fires has proven itself enough to now be the more popular version. Here is a slightly experimental version to consider:

Ayers’ build uses only the slightest of blue touches for Rhox War Monk and Flusterstorm. Of course, that is how it starts…

The final archetype rounding out our top four is Reanimator.

Reanimator is the premier graveyard strategy due to its ability to make effective use of Brainstorm and Force of Will, while still getting the fast free wins that graveyard combo is known for. Legacy is a format with tons of fringe combo decks, but Reanimator is definitely the most popular combo deck by far. Part of why there is such a rich diversity of combo is that whenever one rises in popularity, the hate for it increases, pushing it back down. Entomb is just so busted, Reanimator can generally fight through the hate, halfway decently.

Breaking down Legacy into Marco-Archetypes paints an interesting picture of the format:

Macro-Archetypes 2011 4th Quarter Meta 2012 Metagame




Delver of Secrets



Blue Stoneforge Mystic






Misc Non-Blue Deck



Misc Blue-Deck



There are so many fringe combo decks, they actually combine to form the most popular macro-archetype, despite no single deck being in the double digits. Most of these numbers look relatively stable. An exception is the near disappearance of random blue decks, replaced with non-blue decks. Legacy is such a complicated animal that it is hard to pinpoint the exact reason for this, but if I were to conjecture, I would say it is because the metagame is adjusting more and more to Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage. Legacy players realize that blue has risen to unhealthy heights, so more Chokes, more Red Blasts, and many other anti-blue measures are on the rise. Maverick, in particular, is designed to prey on blue aggro-control decks. RUG Delver and U/W Blade may be getting played quite a bit, but the format as a whole seems to be moving in a very positive direction for the long-term health and viability of Legacy.

Keep blue decks in check or the format’s health may be in danger?

“Challenge accepted.” —The Legacy Community

Just this past weekend, we saw the first Legacy finals without Brainstorm or Force of Will in a long time. How crazy is it that Mono-Red Burn just won back-to-back Opens? Here are the winning lists:

It may be funny to say, but Mono-Red Burn may really be on the rise! May I suggest the card Warmth? Seriously, what is this? 1993? Are you really going to keep letting some guys with 40 Lightning Bolts and 20 Mountains just walk in and take the trophies?

Now technically, the finals was not actually 100% non-blue, as the 2nd place Affinity list did feature Thoughtcast:

Stoneforge Mystic! With only Cranial Plating to go get, this is definitely a new twist on Affinity. Add to this the use of the Glint Hawk + Glimpse of Nature package, and Wilson surely caught more than one opponent off guard. I particularly enjoy the Dispatches in the sideboard.

Last weekend’s Open was held on the first weekend of Dark Ascension’s legality, meaning the addition of Grafdigger’s Cage. One of the most talked-about cards in DKA for powered formats, the Cage is one of the rare hosers that hates out just about everyone to some degree, making it potentially challenging to find a good home for it. Here is the Tezzeret Control deck that Jeff McAleer took to a 6th place finish, this past weekend, using the Cage:

As we discussed earlier, Merfolk appears to have died out. Mental Misstep being banned was a huge blow, and Snapcaster/Delver not being Merfolk appears to have nearly sealed the deal. Elf combo is always around in small numbers, but the real tribal gain was the return of long-time Legacy classic, Goblins:

Goblins has traditionally been poorly equipped to fight combo decks, but it appears that Delver and U/W Blade are doing Goblins’ dirty work for them. Combo is still popular, but Goblins is returning to its niche in the metagame in an attempt to claim the title of best deck for beating up on people who fight fair.

Our final deck for today has exploded onto the scene ever since Reid Duke unveiled it at the StarCityGames.com Invitational in December:

Coming out of nowhere, Pox is on the verge of breaking into Tier 1. Pox is yet another non-blue deck that has a ton of sweet cards that people have been wanting to play for a long time. Reid suggests that it is easy to hate out, if people want to. Non-creature permanents like Crucible of Worlds are devastating, since Mono-Black has such a hard time dealing with them. This week, either Pox or Mono-Red should get that fifth slot in the gauntlet, and both are important to get some experience against.

This is an exciting time for Legacy. The tides appear to be turning, and there are fewer blue decks at the top than there have been since the printing of Mental Misstep. Will this trend continue, or will combo decks rise to punish the lack of Force of Wills? The next banned list comes out at the end of next month. What would you want to see unbanned if anything?

Alright, I gotta get back to playtesting here in Hawaii. Pro Tour Dark Ascension is this weekend, and the new cards have thrown more than a couple wrenches into the metagame…

See you on the other side!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”