Happy new year everyone! 2013 has started with a bang for Legacy. The first full weekend of the year had not one but two huge Legacy events between Grand Prix Denver (700 players) and the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in Columbus (over 300 players). A less well-known traditional end of the year tournament was held in Hanau over here in good old Europe to give us another large event (about 200 players) to consider. This provides us with a great opportunity to understand what Legacy looks like as we begin the new year.
Information from these tournaments is obviously the thing most of you will be looking at the article for, but that information is likely to be old by the end of the month already. So in addition, I'll also use this opportunity to outline my way of looking at tournament results as soon as they come in.
Obviously, a lot of this is based on intuition and experience, but I hope seeing how I try to extract relevant information from a number of nearly simultaneous tournament results will help some of you develop the right techniques for your own perusal. Correctly understanding where a format is at and what angles of attack this opens up or closes down is probably the most fundamental and impactful tool for metagaming, be it simply to tweak one's deck accordingly or to choose a deck that is well positioned. If I can help with the basics a little, that seems like a worthwhile endeavor.
Sadly, the Hanau tournament has only reported the Top 8 finishers so far, and coverage of the SCG Legacy Open Columbus is missing the 13th place decklist, so that leaves us with 39 lists to work with. The Top 16 decklists from Grand Prix Denver and SCG Legacy Open: Columbus are easy to find, so I'll just link those for your convenience, but the German lists are a little more hidden, so here they are in all their glory:
- 3 Gempalm Incinerator
- 1 Goblin Chieftain
- 4 Goblin Lackey
- 3 Goblin Matron
- 3 Goblin Piledriver
- 4 Goblin Ringleader
- 1 Goblin Sharpshooter
- 4 Goblin Warchief
- 3 Mogg War Marshal
- 2 Siege-Gang Commander
- 1 Skirk Prospector
- 2 Sparksmith
- 1 Krenko, Mob Boss
Breaking Things Down Step 1: Archetypes
The first thing I do to understand what the results are telling me is to figure out how many different archetypes I'm actually looking at. This is what we see:
High Tide: 1
U/W Miracles: 1
Shardless BUG: 2
BUG Planeswalkers: 2
BUG Delver: 2
Esper Stoneblade: 5
RUG Delver: 4
U/W Stoneblade: 1
U/R Delver: 1
U/R Painter: 1
Nic Shift: 1
Missing: SCG 13th Place
That's 22 distinct archetypes out of 39 decks, 20 if we count the different BUG decks as one archetype. That's a lot of possible foes! It sure seems like Legacy is very healthy and wide-open, which is why we love it.
Even blue's typical overrepresentation was kept largely in check, with thirteen truly non-blue decks, exactly a third of the lists we're looking at. That number rises to fifteen when we include Dredge, which is definitely not a traditional blue deck. Even better from a color-balance perspective, two of the three events were taken down by decks without Islands anywhere near them.
The Rise of Jund
The remarkable development here has to be the rise of Jund. A fringe archetype at best up to now, the deck outperformed RUG Delver by one top placement and matched Esper Stoneblade for most successful archetype as long as we differentiate BUG lists at least into the aggro-control variety (with Delver) and the midrange/control variety (Midrange and Shardless). That's a truly impressive result for an archetype that likely had far fewer players running it in each of these tournaments than the more established (or hyped) decks.
That Jund should prove to be the prospective heir to the throne of best non-blue long-game deck isn't that surprising though. If Modern has proven one thing, it's that Jund is good at grinding out other fair midrange decks. Looking at how many of those reached Top 16 in these events, Jund probably had a field day in the current environment.
Add to that that most other decks had reasonable plans for combo and that some of the combo decks are exceedingly weak to discard (I'm looking at you, Show and Tell) and Jund looks like it will be well positioned in Legacy as long as the meta doesn't shift radically.
No need to worry, though, Legacy is likely to be spared a Jund-dominated meta like Modern has. If Jund becomes too prevalent, fast combo will step in. The decks Jund preys on—blue midrange and aggro-control decks—are also what keep the combo decks of off Jund's back. If Jund preys too well, then its predators will have an easy time of it.
Breaking Things Down Step 2: Macro-Archetypes
Next I like to roughly class the performing decks into groups of decks that have similar play styles and interactive plans. To do that, I use a rough approximation of the old combo-aggro-control terminology, which looks like this for the events in question:
Aggro: 1 (Goblins)
Combo: 10 (High Tide, 2 Dredge, 2 Elves, 2 Omni-Tell, Reanimator, Belcher, U/R Painter)
Control: 1 (U/W Miracles)
Midrange: 9 (Junk, Maverick, Bant, Jund, Nic Shift)
Aggro-Control: 7 (U/R Delver, 2 BUG Delver, 4 RUG Delver)
Midrange-Control: 10 (5 Esper Stoneblade, 2 Shardless BUG, 1 U/W Stoneblade, 2 BUG Planeswalkers)
Aggro-Combo: 1 (MUD)
Some of the BUG decks, especially the planeswalker-heavy builds, could be considered control decks, but the Tarmogoyf / Dark Confidant core allows them to play enough of a creature-focused midgame to make them different animals in my mind.
So out of our 39 decks, we see a full 20 dedicated to playing for a relatively long game of Magic, seven that will be aggressive in some games and grindy in others, and only twelve that actually focus on winning early—eleven of which aren't beatdown decks. And while I chose to class that one beatdown deck—Goblins—as an aggro-deck, it definitely has the tools to play as a midrange deck, so maybe that's where it should be in the first place.
Points to take away from this:
- Legacy is definitely becoming quite grindy, with more than half of the decks focused on edging out overwhelming value in the midgame.
- Players trying to attack the format with speed generally chose combo over aggro strategies, though it's not clear which combo deck actually does the job best.
- Given the amount of hype BUG has received, its performance was mediocre. BUG clearly is a good deck but is far from an overwhelming force.
- Delver-based aggro-control is alive and kicking and has basically taken over the whole aggro-control niche.
- The true breakout deck from these events was Jund, though the Deathrite Shaman / Abrupt Decay B/G core is pulling its weight in a multitude of decks.
Breaking Things Down Step 3: Details
Once I have an idea of what the top of the metagame looks like from an archetype perspective, there are a few detail questions I always ask myself. The first one is generally which disruption is seeing the most play in non-combo decks. This question is most important to gauge the viability of combo decks (because that's where disruption is most relevant) but also holds a lot of value as far as understanding what you need to play around in game.
Maindeck Disruption in Non-Combo Decks
I use 1s to denote decks that have only that type of disruption and 2s to indicate decks that have access to two types of disruption (thereby scoring twice in the table).
Countermagic: 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 (nineteen instances, only six "pure")
Discard: 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 (eighteen instances, seven "pure")
Hate Bears: 1 2
Other (Chalice, mana denial): 1 1 2
None of the non-combo decks are completely devoid of ways to interact with the opponent, though Goblins is definitely running light with only the land-based mana denial suite of Wasteland and Rishadan Port. Particularly disheartening for combo players is the high amount of 2s—playing through a single type of disruption is much easier than a combination of different types of interaction.
The biggest development we're seeing compared to earlier Legacy formats is the amount of discard being run. When people didn't have additional reasons to play black, discard was relatively rare. Now you can expect to encounter it at least every other game, just about as often as you'll see countermagic coming your way.
The same trend is even manifesting in decks that run only one type of disruption. For the first time I can remember, there are more decks using pure discard as their only on-stack interaction than are using countermagic!
At least there's one thing to make combo players happy though: permanent-based interaction is at a minimum, meaning there will be few games in which they can get locked out game 1.
The next thing I usually look at is the graveyard hate count in maindecks and sideboards combined. Legacy has a number of degenerate strategies that abuse the graveyard, and if people are skimping on the hate, their day in the sun just around the corner. These were the numbers I was particularly interested in looking at this time given that I expected a lot of people to skimp on graveyard hate, relying on their maindeck Deathrite Shamans to provide disruption in that area.
Here are the numbers filtered by tournament. Each number denotes that many copies turning up in a single deck.
45 pieces of graveyard hate, 25 not counting Deathrite Shaman
Grand Prix Denver
Deathrite Shaman: 4 4 4 4 4
Scavenging Ooze: 2 1
Surgical Extraction: 2 3 2 1
Extirpate: 1 3
Nihil Spellbomb: 1 1 1 1 3
Tormod's Crypt: 1 2
Relic of Progenitus: 1
Rest in Peace: 3 1
Enlightened Tutor: 1
Bojuka Bog: 1
52 pieces of graveyard hate, 32 not counting Deathrite Shaman
SCG Legacy Open: Columbus (13th place list missing, 16th place SB missing)
Deathrite Shaman: 4 4 4
Scavenging Ooze: 2
Surgical Extraction: 2 1 2 2 3 1
Grafdigger's Cage: 1 1
Tormod's Crypt: 1 2 4 1
Faerie Macabre: 4
Rest in Peace: 3 2
Wheel of Sun and Moon: 1
Enlightened Tutor: 2
Bojuka Bog: 1
48 pieces of graveyard hate, 36 not counting Deathrite Shaman
Looking at these numbers, graveyard hate isn't particularly low right now. Even not counting the Deathrite Shamans, the two smaller events averaged out to roughly three pieces of graveyard hate per deck (remember to divide by fourteen instead of sixteen for the SCG Legacy Open since we're missing a full deck and a sideboard), which I believe is a rather standard number. Only the Grand Prix had a low number with about two pieces of non-Deathrite graveyard interaction per deck.
Europeans (or at least Germans) also seem to take the graveyard threat more seriously than their US counterparts. The Hanau Top 8 had nearly as much total graveyard hate as either US Top 16, though a lot of that is five Deathrite decks making it into that Top 8.
It seems like my assumption that people would cut back on graveyard hate because of having Shaman was wrong, especially given that a lot of the Deathrite decks were the ones that had additional hate to bring in post-board. That doesn't bode well for our graveyard friends in the current metagame.
Something that should be noted, though, is that most RUG players seem to be ignoring the graveyard completely right now, instead letting other players take care of graveyard decks for them. A light at the end of the tunnel?
Basic Land Count
The third area I'm usually interested in is how vulnerable to nonbasic hate people have become. Legacy mana bases can do almost anything you want them to do—even provide stable four-color mana bases against Wastelands—but after a certain point, the powerful nonbasic hate available suddenly becomes worth playing.
Looking at these results, the prospects for attack look quite enticing. It has been a while since mana bases have been this greedy. Even the originally mono-green Elves deck is down to a single basic land (plus fetches), and both BUG and RUG are lucky if they even have that. High Tide, Esper Stoneblade, U/W Miracles, U/R Delver, and Goblins are actually the only decks I can see functioning decently after being hit with an early Blood Moon, and even they have to play around it by fetching basics from the word go. As for the efficacy of Price of Progress, I would expect it to deal at least four to six damage against a vast majority of these decks.
So what can we learn from all this? First, if you enter a Legacy tournament right now, expect to play grindy matches because half the field is set up to take the game to the later stages. Second, expect disruption, mainly in the form of discard and countermagic and often with both angles combined. Considering a quarter of the successful field is playing combo, that too shouldn't come as a surprise.
As far as more specific angles of attack are concerned, combo is facing a prepared field right now with only a very few decks that will allow you to just goldfish undisrupted. That remains true even for decks that present very limited interaction possibilities.
At the same time, though, decks that are resilient to discard are still looking strong with countermagic being replaced by black disruption in some decks. Something like Storm will surely profit from an absence of maindeck hate bears in favor of pure discard.
If I was looking to play combo right now, engine-based Storm decks like High Tide/ some kind of Tendrils shell or something with a decent back up plan such as Elves seem like the most promising options.
As for weaknesses, mana bases are wide open to attack right now.
Blood Moon, especially cast on turn 1 or 2, should win the match against a large majority of opponents. As such, I'd love to run Imperial Painter right now:
- 4 Painter's Servant
- 1 Phyrexian Revoker
- 1 Goblin Welder
- 4 Imperial Recruiter
- 3 Magus of the Moon
- 4 Simian Spirit Guide
- 1 Jaya Ballard, Task Mage
Sure, you'll get into trouble once in a while when paired against a Show and Tell deck featuring Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, but your ability to Blood Moon early and often should more than make up for that against the field as a whole.
Even if you don't want to go all-in to this extent, Blood Moon (and its friend Back to Basics) is a card with a lot of value right now. If your deck has the mana base to support it, it should probably make your sideboard (in Sneak and Show, for example).
Blood Moon isn't the only way to make people pay for running a ton of all-dual mana bases. With fewer decks having early removal (thanks to relying on Abrupt Decay), a significant rise in Dark Confidant based-decks, and all those Thoughtseizes flying around, Price of Progress seems absurdly good right now. You could obviously use the still common Burn and U/R Delver shells, but I think the format is ripe for a fast Zoo deck to make a comeback.
I mean, look at those decks. They have between zero and four pieces of one-mana removal and few to no ways to deal with multiple creatures at once. They're relatively slow to the finish line, and most also can't efficiently defend against topdecked burn spells. Discard is also notoriously bad against fast aggro. Even some of the combo decks can have trouble racing a fast Zoo draw (High Tide) or provide you with ample opportunity to interact with them (Elves, Painter).
Something like this should do pretty well in this kind of metagame (Hidden Herd tech courtesy of SpikeyMikey on mtgthesource.com):
I'll be the first to admit this list probably isn't perfect. I'm just not a Zoo player. A lot of cheap, high-power creatures combined with a powerful burn end game and Grim Lavamancer to keep Deathrite Shaman in check feels like it should do quite well in a metagame where (early) removal is relatively scarce and people will regularly have to take eight points from a single card, though.
Obviously, you could also go for the opposite plan and grind out the other grinders. A tool that seems insane for the job is Punishing Fire plus Grove of the Burnwillows. Most creatures people run die to a Punishing Fire (from Delver of Secrets and Stoneforge Mystic to Deathrite Shaman and Dark Confidant), and most decks also can't beat the engine going long. It might be time to revive some old favorites like Punishing Maverick and Aggro Loam.
- 1 Aven Mindcensor
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 3 Noble Hierarch
- 2 Qasali Pridemage
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Scryb Ranger
- 3 Stoneforge Mystic
- 1 Gaddock Teeg
- 1 Dryad Arbor
The Aggro Loam deck practically screams for Abrupt Decay, but other than that I wouldn't feel embarrassed bringing either of these to a tournament somewhere soon. Both decks are great at grinding out one-for-one fights—one because of card quality, the other because of an insane draw engine—and both are great ways to implement Punishing Fire.
All the Answers?
There are many other things to be learned from these results. I chose to ignore a very sweet new feature in the GP coverage this time—top table population from round to round—both because I'm unsure as of yet how exactly to deal with that kind of information and because the high fluctuation from round to round indicated that a lot of similarly placed decks were lost to the cut off.
The decklists and coverage also deliver a lot more information than I have made use of in other ways, from helping us figure out optimal builds to understanding how particular decks interact when paired up and in which direction to tweak our existing decks.
This kind of data also has its faults. The Top 16 decks often are a lucky topdeck away from the Top 32 or even Top 64 decks, and even those wouldn't give us a full view of the metagame. Having at the very least a snapshot of which decks made up the field at the very beginning would help a lot there. *hint hint!*
I hope I've managed to share some amount of useful insight into how I glean information from tournament results and that, at the very least, the information itself will prove useful to you if you were already familiar with these admittedly rather fundamental tools. Let me know what you think in the comments.
Until next time, look at what everyone else is doing!