"It's like the cheesecake of formats—I wouldn't want to have it all the time, but I sure as hell enjoy it when I do."
That's how I described Legacy when I was writing about it during StarCityGames.com's Legacy Week early last year, and I feel the same way today. I certainly enjoy thinking about Legacy and like playing it from time to time, but much like cheesecake, I can very quickly get my fill. I might have something of a sweet tooth lately, though, since even after the Grand Prix in Denver this past weekend I've been brewing up a storm in my head.
Leading up to GP Denver, the last time I'd played Legacy was at the SCG Open Series featuring the Invitational in Los Angeles. I played a Bant deck in both the Invitational itself and the Legacy Open on Sunday, and while my results were fine – I went 5-2-1 in the Invitational and 3-2 in the Open before I dropped to head home – I wasn't thrilled with the deck. There were some things going on that I liked, but overall the deck just didn't feel very powerful to me. I lost too many games when I drew things like Qasali Pridemage while my opponents were playing planeswalkers, or miracles, or comboing off in my face.
Unfortunately, Legacy isn't a format for which I have many options when it comes to preparation. I don't own Legacy cards online, and even if I did it can be difficult to find games. I don't really have local playtesting partners unless I want to play against my roommate's combo deck of the week—I think he has the cards for Mesmeric Orb and High Tide and nothing else—so the majority of my Legacy "testing" is scouring the Internet for decklists and talking theory with people over Facebook.
Part of me really wanted to play something similar to Nick Spagnolo's deck from the Invitational. It managed to play my absolute favorite card of all time—Knight of the Reliquary—in a shell that was much more powerful and flexible than Bant. Maxing out on mana acceleration and playing nothing but planeswalkers and high-power threats seemed awesome, and the ability to play Thoughtseize and Abrupt Decay gave the deck a lot of catchall solutions that Bant lacked. I was mentally sleeving the deck up the week before the Grand Prix while my girlfriend and I sorted my collection (a process which has made my deck construction unbelievably more efficient, by the way).
But then I started having second thoughts. Several people expressed to me that they felt like Knight of the Reliquary wasn't a card that would be well positioned in the field they expected in Denver due to the plethora of Abrupt Decays and Lilianas likely to be present. I thought back to my list of Magical resolutions I published on this very site just a week before, notably the last one: "Don't be stubborn." I decided that if I was going to be true to my resolution, I shouldn't play a deck I hadn't tested simply because it had some cards in it that I liked. I decided to consult the rest of my testing group and take their advice on what to play.
Eric Froehlich had been advocating a Four-Color Midrange deck: basically BUG with white for Lingering Souls and Sword the Plowshares. I liked the idea in theory—Lingering Souls is an extremely powerful card in the heavily attrition-based BUG mirrors, so it would be a way to gain an edge in the matchup that was most likely to be the most popular in the field. The deck also had access to many of the most powerful disruptive tools in the format, from Thoughtseize and Hymn to Tourach to Liliana and Deathrite Shaman.
A brief aside on Deathrite Shaman: I really dislike the fact that this card exists. It is, quite simply, far too good for its cost. Hybrid mana spells seem to follow this completely nonsensical rule that allows them to be better than equivalent mono-colored spells for the same cost, when in fact they're easier to cast than a similar spell that is only one color. Deathrite Shaman is the best mana acceleration creature ever printed, and it's not even actually a green card.
Once upon a time, Noble Hierarch was one of the best possible turn 1 plays in Legacy and was a serious incentive to play green. Now, you can play a first turn Underground Sea or Badlands and accelerate your mana just as well as someone who plays a basic Forest and get life gain, a finisher, and the incredible ability to disrupt graveyard-based strategies for the same low price. I think Deathrite Shaman is a very interesting and totally reasonable card in Standard, but I think it breaks the color pie in egregious ways when it comes to Eternal formats that include fetchlands and that Magic is going to be worse off in the long term as a result.
In any case, I knew that I wanted to play Deathrite Shaman because it's completely off the charts good. EFro's deck looked like a reasonable shell for it, and he spoke highly of his testing results. I felt like the only reason I wanted to play something else was to play with Knight of the Reliquary, and I wanted to avoid falling into the trap of playing a deck for any reason but that I felt like it would give me the best chance to win. In the past, I'd chosen KOTR decks because I felt they were well positioned in the format and I was familiar with them; in this case, I'd literally just be playing it because it had Knight in it and looked like something I might like. I could do better than that.
Ultimately, here's what I ended up playing:
Compared to the list EFro sent me, I cut a Snapcaster Mage from the maindeck for the Sylvan Library along with a Wasteland for a Marsh Flats. I wasn't a fan of Snapcaster in a world where so many people have Deathrite Shamans (what can't he do?), and I felt like my lands would generally be better than my opponents, so I wanted to ensure I could fetch my correct colors rather than mana screw them. My sideboard differed slightly from EFro's as well, with two copies of Perish and the Extirpate where he had an additional Engineered Plague, a Krosan Grip, and a Nihil Spellbomb. I felt like I wanted some kind of sweeper against creature decks like G/W, Jund, or Elves, and Perish seemed like the best option around.
Ultimately, my tournament did not go as well as I might have liked. I made Day 2 at 6-2, beating a Burn deck, a BUG deck, and a Red Stax deck, with my losses coming to GerryT playing Shardless BUG and a SoCal local playing Witch-Maw Stoneblade. (Another aside: Patrick Sullivan started calling four-color decks by the appropriate Nephilim recently, and I think it's awesome. We call two-color decks by their guild and three-color decks by their shard or xUG abbreviation, so why not the Nephilim for four-color decks? Witch-Maw actually sounds pretty cool, too, but I'm not sure Dune-Brood has the same ring to it).
On Day 2, I started off with a loss to another Witch-Maw Stoneblade deck and then beat another BUG deck before losing to Show and Tell and U/R Burn to knock me out of contention. I stayed in to hand out the "I played a Hall of Famer" pins and beat another Show and Tell deck, but I lost in the last round to Esper Stoneblade.
A few notes about the event: I felt like I played well despite playing a deck that I had never played before in a style that I'm less familiar with. I won a few pretty insane games, including multiple comebacks against Burn from one life with Dark Confidant in play where I had to manage the top of my library with Jace or Brainstorm every turn while keeping myself alive with Jitte and/or Deathrite Shaman. I can't point to any glaring mistakes I made throughout the entire event, which is unusual for me in a Legacy event since it's such a complex format with so many decision points. I also played the entire event without a single energy drink, which is the first time I can remember doing that since I started playing in tournaments again. I kept to all of my resolutions this event!
I feel like the deck I played was decent but not great. I certainly had an edge against other BUG decks thanks to Lingering Souls, but I felt like that came at a cost against other decks. I found myself having trouble closing out games against combo decks sometimes due to lack of a significant clock. I played one game against Show and Tell where I was able to Wasteland his first land to keep him stuck on two mana against my Liliana for a bunch of turns, but when he drew his third land, he was able to Show and Tell an Omniscience into play and beat me. I also felt like my deck was vulnerable to opposing Lingering Souls. I had my own to fight back, but if I didn't draw mine, the opposing Spirits would make short work of my planeswalkers and I wasn't well equipped to stop them.
The cards that I felt underperformed the most, though, were Hymn to Tourach and Dark Confidant. I frequently felt like I couldn't afford to spend my turn casting Hymn early in the game for fear of falling too far behind to something like an opposing Deathrite Shaman threatening to accelerate into a Jace. Drawing a Hymn later on when I needed something to actually impact the board was just miserable. In games that come down to attrition, one can only afford so many weak topdecks, and seven discard spells makes for a lot of those.
Dark Confidant was exactly the opposite. It was a great card to draw late but was generally rather unimpressive early on. So many of the decks I faced were jam packed with removal that could kill Bob on sight, and I felt like I could only really stick one if I had Thoughtseize to set it up. And against a lot of other decks—like Burn, which has rightfully risen in popularity in response to the surge of BUG decks—Bob is an outright liability.
That was a related problem I found the deck faced. While I was playing a deck that had an edge in the BUG "mirror," my deck still had many of the same elements of BUG that people were metagaming against. I died repeatedly to Price of Progress, a card that I'm certain was far more popular in Denver than it's been in while, and rightfully so. I had a Show and Tell opponent play Leyline of Sanctity against me in game 3, which made all of my meaningful disruption against him absolutely dead. I did not win that game. I feel like this deck would have been great when BUG was first becoming popular, but now that it has become the deck to beat, it's too vulnerable to much of the same things people are playing in order to beat BUG to be a great choice.
While I wish I had done better in the event, I was reasonably happy with how things turned out. I branched out and played a different style of deck than I've been used to recently and felt like I played it well. I had fun playing, and I learned a lot about the format in the process. By the end of the weekend, I was trying to think of what I wish I had played, and I had all kinds of crazy ideas. I don't know the next time I'm going to play Legacy—probably at the SCG Open Series coming up in Las Vegas in March—but I'm already excited for it. I've got all kinds of ideas percolating that I want to try. Jund and BUG and Burn are popular, you say, and Abrupt Decay is the most played removal spell? Maybe it's time for Legacy to get a little taste of Obstinate Baloth!
Hey, maybe I'm crazy. Or maybe I just want to try some wild flavors of cheesecake.