It's been a while, folks. I know I haven't written anything since Return to Ravnica came out, but winter break is here, so the time has come for me to sit down at the keyboard and put out some fresh content for you all. To be honest, I haven't had much tournament success since school started, which I'm almost positive is not a coincidence. Some people can get away with not preparing for a tournament, but I clearly need to put in a little more preparation if I'm going to do well at Grand Prix Denver.
To that end, I've been thinking a lot about Legacy, which is, of course, my favorite format. I could write more about Stoneblade, but I've beaten that horse enough already. Instead, to help everyone get a leg up on Legacy, I'm making my comeback article both a refresher course on the Legacy metagame and a just-for-fun Top 10 list of the best cards in Legacy.
Current Legacy Metagame
The format is in a strange place right now. BUG Midrange decks of various breeds are clearly the most popular and dynamic decks of the moment, spurred on by the new printings of Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay. Reid Duke and Gerry Thompson have both put out impressive lists that did well at the Invitational, and a skilled player could pick up either one and find success with it.
I like Reid's list a lot, although it certainly seems a little soft to combo decks game 1. This will become a recurring theme in all of the midrange Brainstorm decks examined today, which Ari Lax appropriately identified as a reason to play his Storm deck. More on that later, though. Reid's deck is a sleek, disruptive machine with a lot of the best spells in Legacy mushed together and several card advantage engines in Dark Confidant and the planeswalker suite. The new spells from Return to Ravnica mean that a deck like this not only gets a removal spell that beats Counterbalance, but it also has the wonderful multi-use tool of Deathrite Shaman to accelerate out powerful turn 2 plays, offset Bob's damage, and incidentally hate on Reanimator and Dredge.
As a Stoneblade player, it's not the Deathrite Shaman that scares me, although it does require a Swords to Plowshares if I ever want to get value out of Snapcaster Mage. It's the one Life from the Loam in the sideboard that's scary because it allows for a totally new angle of attack, threatening to grind out Stoneblade while maintaining the role of the aggressor. Kudos to Reid for remembering that this card pushes grindy games solidly in your favor and for recognizing that many pseudo-mirrors will come down to a grind.
Todd Anderson played this GerryT brew to a Top 8 finish in the Invitational, and it clearly has some cool interactions going for it. Ancestral Vision + Shardless Agent is just awesome, although that won't always come up and sometimes you'll get an Abrupt Decay with no target. That's the classic danger of cascade, and though you get cards like Brainstorm to set up the right cascade, I'm not sure that I'm interested in creating awkward situations for myself when I could just play Reid's deck and cast Dark Confidant.
The lack of any basic land is also interesting, as it makes Path to Exile awesome against this deck. Gerry maintains that his Stoneblade matchup with this deck is highly favorable, but I'd like to take a crack at it. Lingering Souls seems pretty nice against this deck, and recognizing that there's no Daze or Spell Pierce to play around can make things so much easier.
Brian Braun-Duin played a slightly heavier controlling build of BUG at SCG Legacy Open: Baltimore, which featured such hits like Garruk Relentless and maindeck Life from the Loams. If I hadn't been burned by BUG Control at the Invitational in Indianapolis over the summer, I would consider playing his deck, but I prefer a more proactive strategy. If you like grinding out your opponents, it's either this deck or Miracles for you.
Speaking of Miracles, what happened to it? Of course, Abrupt Decay made things more challenging, but the core of the deck is still extremely powerful. I believe that incorporating Stoneforge Mystic might help solve some of the problems the deck has now that Counterbalance is more fragile, and perhaps a splash is necessary. I personally would want to splash black for discard, but at that point I'd just be turning the deck into Stoneblade. Paul Lynch played U/W/R in Baltimore to a Top 8 finish, and although I think the deck needs evolution to compete in the changing metagame, this is definitely the starting point I'd use.
As we move towards more proactive decks, the two top contenders for killing your opponent quickly are Storm and RUG Delver. Jacob Wilson's RUG list and Ari Lax's Storm deck are great choices, and if I were not such a Stoneblade advocate, I would almost certainly play RUG. RUG's gotten some bad press lately, with people claiming that it can't beat these BUG midrange decks that have popped up everywhere. The problem with that thinking is that it's just not true. A removal spell and an easily killed mana dork do not turn the matchup around, although they certainly make it closer.
The problem is that RUG can't rely on Sulfuric Vortex anymore as a trump against BUG, and Deathrite Shaman makes Nimble Mongoose look weak. To combat this problem, RUG decks simply have to prioritize killing the Shaman and might have to include more Spell Snares and Dismembers to get rid of opposing Tarmogoyfs. I wouldn't be opposed to four Lightning Bolt, two Chain Lightning, and two Dismember becoming the industry standard for RUG to ensure that BUG's Shamans and Goyfs hit the bin without delay.
Ari's Storm deck, on the other hand, is benefitting from these BUG decks cropping up everywhere. These decks haven't included the disruption necessary to properly fight Storm, and Ari has appropriately identified this hole in the metagame. If I were more proficient with Storm, I'd give it serious consideration, especially because Legacy Grand Prix are always full of random decks and there's nothing that punishes random decks like Storm. Decks like Goblins, Elves, Enchantress, and Zoo just can't compete, and you're guaranteed at least two or three free wins just for showing up with a deck that plays so unfairly. As a bonus, you can now beat Counterbalance with your Abrupt Decays!
Stoneblade lists are also starting to trim their cheap interaction like Spell Pierce for more Lingering Souls, which makes for more free game 1 wins for Storm. Many Force of Will decks are only packing three copies main these days, so they're less likely to have the right interaction to beat you. Ari's right in his latest article. If there was ever a tournament to play Storm at, this is the one. I fully expect at least one TES deck to make Top 8 of GP Denver.
My final recommendation is only for the ballers that know how to pilot this unique deck. If you own Candelabra of Tawnos, you can play the always-elegant High Tide. It's a thing of beauty when this deck combos correctly, although sometimes beauty can be infuriating in turn 5 of turns when the round's been over for twenty minutes and the pilot's taking their sweet time to combo off through disruption. This deck also benefits from the lull in combo hate and cheap interaction that the format's seeing right now, and if it was easier to acquire the cards, I'd wager that a copy of this would make Top 8 as well. As is, it's an awesome deck, one of the most skill-testing decks ever built, but I don't know how people will be piloting it in Denver.
Finally, we come to Stoneblade, the deck that tries to do everything. If you want to have all the engines in the world with which to win, Stoneforge Mystic, Lingering Souls, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Snapcaster Mage are your squad. Matt Hoey's list from the Invitational is a fine starting point, although I'm still not 100% sold on the basic Swamp. Maybe he can convince me of its importance. As always, the key to remember when playing Stoneblade is positioning yourself appropriately for the matchup.
You can be a disruptive and aggressive deck with a 4/4 on turn 3 backed by Thoughtseizes, Snapcaster Mages, Lingering Souls, and Force of Wills. You can be the control deck with Swords to Plowshares, Engineered Explosives, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Figure out the right time to switch gears in the RUG Delver and BUG Midrange matchups and you will have success. That's part of why it's so tough to play against Stoneblade. Cards like Lingering Souls and Stoneforge/Batterskull are excellent on offense or defense and can buy time or put pressure on opponents when appropriate.
Here's Matt's list that he played to 9th place at the Invitational:
The wonderful thing about Legacy is that there's no clear favorite in many matchups; rather, skill with one's own deck and knowledge of the likely cards in an opponent's list determine games. If I could recommend only one thing to learn before a Legacy tournament, it's what cards signal different lists and what that means with regard to the presence or absence of Daze and Spell Pierce. Playing around those is critical, although it seems like RUG Delver is the only deck that still packs those in spades.
My Top 10 Cards in Legacy
Now, for something a little more fun, I've compiled my list of the Top 10 cards in Legacy. If your deck isn't playing with at least a few of these spells, you're doing it wrong!
Honorable Mentions: Fetchlands and Dual Lands
These guys would take over the entire list if I seriously considered them, so I'm copping out by listing them first. These cards define Legacy. Three-color decks with buttery-smooth mana are awesome, and these lands allow you to play with all of your favorite cards! The fetchlands even have synergy with the first card on this list, so they do so much more than just make mana. A format without good mana fixing is no fun at all, and if Wizards could find a way to reprint them, I would be a very happy camper indeed!
This card is the reason blue decks are so good in Legacy. The fact of the matter is that there's no way a deck like Stoneblade could exist if it didn't have Brainstorm to let it swap out its dead cards in a given matchup. The deck plays Swords to Plowshares and Engineered Explosives alongside discard spells and Force of Will, which are for totally different matchups. Brainstorm holds it all together. AJ Sacher's seminal article on Brainstorming properly is required reading for any Legacy aficionado, and I don't think the format would be played at all today if that card wasn't available. It simply wouldn't be the same. The card basically allows you to mulligan part of your hand when you combine it with fetchlands! Not bad for a glorified Reach Through Mists.
This card keeps the multicolor control decks honest, and it's the counterpart to Brainstorm that makes decks like Maverick and Goblins competitive. I personally don't recommend either of those decks for the Grand Prix because combo looks to be on the rise, but they are omnipresent and are real limits on the metagame at the fair end of the spectrum. Try casting those expensive Supreme Verdicts or Jaces when RUG Delver or Goblins is harassing your mana; it's not a pretty picture.
There's a reason my preferred build of Stoneblade for the GP has 23 land and two Ponder. I am worried about making my land drops, and I'd like to hedge as much as possible against mana screw, which is only exacerbated by this irritating card. From the most aggressive and disruptive Merfolk deck to a grindy Landstill brew, everyone plays Wasteland, and it keeps the format healthy as much as any single card can.
This may be a controversial pick for #3, but I believe that this hyper-efficient answer is a critical part of the Legacy metagame and is a "better" card than the next one on the list. If it didn't exist, I agree, the metagame wouldn't change a huge amount, but as a cheap defensive measure against decks that harass mana bases, its importance is often overlooked. The best way to look at Swords is as a control deck's best friend against aggressive decks, much as the next card is a control deck's best friend against combo decks. If you play white (barring corner cases like some Zoo decks), you play Swords. It's that simple.
"The glue that holds Eternal Magic together." I'm really astonished, looking back at it all, that Wizards managed to print a card nearly twenty years ago that ended up being so critical to balancing formats in the present day. Magic truly is amazing when you consider the interactions that develop between cards printed decades apart. The rest of the cycle has faded into the background for the most part, but Force of Will is one of the more iconic staples of Legacy.
It gives players a great feeling when they pick apart a combo player's turn with a well-timed Force. The only reason it doesn't rank higher is because it's starting to get trimmed from many lists to better compete in a more grindy metagame than in the past. Exiling an extra card is also no fun at all, although it reminds me of eating my vegetables. It has to be done, and though it's not fun, it's good for you in the long run.
If Force of Will is the vegetables Mom makes you eat, Lion's Eye Diamond is the ice cream for the greedy child that always gets their way. You get to have so much fun making lots of mana and ending games on turn 2. "I'm gonna choose the channel on the TV, and I'm gonna choose what turn this game ends! You can't stop me!" And, like a petulant child when forced to eat their vegetables, things don't always end up their way. This card is why you've got to play Force of Will, so be happy that Legacy gets both the veggies and the dessert. And you can play either one, which is a luxury my parents never gave me!
This card used to be Werebear. Oh, how things have changed. The quintessential undercosted monster, Tarmogoyf has been ending games for five years now, and I don't foresee that trend changing any time soon. This is secretly the one blue card you can't pitch to Force of Will, but it's also the only blue card that beats your opponent for five a turn while you happily Wasteland, Daze, and Spell Pierce them back into the Stone Age. This card is also the dividing line between old Magic and new Magic, at least for me. There were no $50 Standard staples before this, and creatures were always incidental ways to win before Goyf took over. He's led a charge of awesome creatures that have changed the face of Magic.
This card is the most efficient disruption out there for the non-blue mages and an excellent one-two punch to a combo deck's head when combined with a counterspell. Thoughtseize gets the job done and doesn't ask for much in return except two measly life points and a black mana. You don't get much simpler than that, and combo players and anti-combo players alike love this card for its ability to protect their game plan.
This gallant lady certainly has seen her stock rise in recent years. All my lands are Wasteland now?! Don't mind if I do! Noble Hierarch into Knight of the Reliquary certainly makes the game an uphill climb for any fair deck, and this card along with Green Sun's Zenith made Maverick the first non-blue deck in ages that I seriously considered on par with Brainstorm strategies. Creatures get respect now in Legacy, and this card is part of that trend. Long live Knight of the Reliquary!
The head honcho himself, Jace broke every rule in the book and pushed the envelope on card prices, power level, and flavor. John Dale Beety wrote in an article recently that white males (aka most Magic players) are supposed to identify with Jace, and after reading that, it definitely makes sense that Wizards pushed the power level on this bad boy. After all, who wouldn't want to be the best planeswalker of all time? He's the face of Magic: The Gathering at this point and closes games like no other. Jace is tempo, card advantage, and an absurd ultimate ability all in one four-mana package. If he's legal in a format, you better believe that I'm casting him. I highly recommend you do the same.
Brainstorm's little brother, Ponder is basically extra Brainstorms when you need them. Many blue decks opt to include this spell, and I'm going to play a few in Denver. Card selection is always important, and this card is one of the most unnoticed sources of it. Storm plays it, Show and Tell plays it, Stoneblade plays it, BUG and RUG both play it. How many people would have pegged Ponder as a Top 10 card in Legacy when it was printed? It has a much subtler effect on the game than Brainstorm, but it's quite powerful and crucial in sorting out a hand into the one that your control deck needs for a given matchup. Or you can use it to find your Burning Wish to kill your opponent. You know, either one is good.
Honorable Mentions: Dark Confidant and Stoneforge Mystic
This dynamic duo of two-drops didn't make the list because they're not omnipresent in the format, but they both have critical places in Legacy as overpowered creatures that are almost always in decks that include their color. I also didn't want to include Stoneforge in the list because I didn't want you all to think I'm too biased towards Stoneblade. Plenty of decks include these two guys, and I'm always a bit scared when one of these drops down on turn 2 from the other side.
I'd love to hear your opinions in the comments on the metagame analysis or the Top 10 list!
Thanks for reading what I had to say about my favorite writing topic in the world, Legacy! It's truly a ton of fun, and if you haven't played it yet, you owe it to yourself to try it out.