Last week I wrote an article about Modern and ways I think it could be improved. You can find it here. One of my ideas was to reprint Legacy staples in Modern Masters. Perhaps it was a bold proposition, but that is probably because I love Legacy so much and would like nothing more than to watch Modern slowly evolve into what Legacy has become for so many. Legacy and Modern are different formats, and the line between the two shouldn't necessarily be blurred. But if Modern is to succeed, it needs a spark. While Legacy doesn't have the same draw as Standard, there is a reason why Legacy Grand Prix in Europe continually get outrageous turnouts. There is a reason why the Legacy community is so passionate about the format.
The problem with Legacy is accessibility. There aren't FNMs for Legacy, and StarCityGames.com seems to be the driving force behind keeping it alive and well. However it's incredibly hard to find the cards to play the format, and the decreasing supply will ultimately be Legacy's downfall. Modern can become the format Legacy wants to be, with more affordable cards and continuous support from WotC.
There are a lot of cards that aren't on the reserved list that could be reprinted and find a home in the format. Modern Masters is a great idea—an awesome tool that could help facilitate the growth of a young format with lots of potential. Although the first iteration of Modern Masters is locked in on being all reprints, they could use future Modern Masters as a springboard. Modern Masters could be everything! They have the ability to reprint cards just for Modern, as well as to print new cards that are only legal in Eternal formats. Without the ramifications of printing something too powerful for Standard, they can provide Modern with many new cards that are both exciting and fun to play with!
At the moment, I think there are a lot of great ideas in the works, and I wouldn't be surprised if WotC was already working on many of the things I wrote about. The current banned list in Modern and the theory behind it is not good for a long-lasting format. Cards like Green Sun's Zenith are designed to get continually better as more cards are printed. Not every green deck will want it, but it should be a tool that we have access to in order to give us consistency as well as power—something Standard does not have.
I'm confident that WotC will figure out a better system and a better philosophy for Modern.
What I do want to talk about today is Modern's older brother: Legacy.
This weekend's StarCityGames.com Open Series in Orlando is featuring two Standard Opens, but the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Atlanta is on the horizon. I'm hoping that this article will help you figure out which Legacy deck would be best for you to play.
I'm going to talk about the major deck types in Legacy and how they aim to win. There are so many viable strategies that I think the best way to go about things is to dissect exactly how they interact with the opponent (or don't) in order for you to choose which strategy is best for you.
The Fair Decks
A fair deck is a deck that aims for interaction with the opponent. This style of deck generally includes a number of creatures, removal spells, and disruptive spells to keep the opponent in check. Cards like Force of Will, Daze, and Spell Pierce give blue decks a variety of ways to slow down unfair decks so that you have time to execute your plan. Additionally, discard effects like Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize take away options and help you put the opponent into awkward positions.
There are lots of different types of fair decks, but they all adhere to the same philosophies. They don't try to win on the first or second turn of the game, and they are in the business of building resources, winning through creatures/burn spells, and/or denying resources. Wasteland is a prime example of resource denial, as being able to cast spells is generally how most decks win!
While there are a variety of sub-types of these decks, today we're going to go over a few of the best strategies in these archetypes and how they operate.
This type of deck tries to guide every aspect of the game, scrapping to survive to the late game. They tend to use disruption and removal to force the opponent into adhering to their game plan. The general rule is that the longer the game goes, the closer the control deck gets to victory. Cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor help solidify their grip on a game by providing the controller with card advantage, board advantage, and deck manipulation through the "fate seal" ability.
Justin says about his deck:
"It would not be difficult to make a case that Stoneblade is an inherently 'bad' control deck, as it is a 22-23-land deck with multiple four-drops in a format full of Wasteland. However, when choosing a deck for a tournament, I try to maximize the amount of skill that I can input to influence my matches, and Stoneblade's variety of reactive spells makes it versatile when entering an event where I could play against a different style of deck every round."
This deck may not adhere to the older theories of "draw-go" control, but it does hold the current title of best control deck in Legacy. As Justin said, it has a variety of ways to interact and disrupt the opponent, giving you the upper hand in a lot of scenarios. You can't necessarily win every game, as sometimes you will draw the wrong answer for the situation at hand, but that is just something you have to account for when playing a control deck. This is one reason why some people prefer to play proactive strategies—to force their opponents to have the right answers in the right situations.
Control decks are generally blue-based and try to draw out the game as long as possible. When you force your opponent to make multiple decisions every turn and most of those decisions can lead to disaster, they will (usually) screw up at some point. If they don't, it might be a bit more of an uphill battle, but Legacy provides you with the tools you need to pick apart most decks. With access to both proactive and reactive disruption, it can be incredibly difficult for other decks to figure out just how to beat you. In the meantime, you still have this Stoneforge Mystic they have to deal with or else they're going to die.
Aggro decks try to put the opponent on the back foot from the very beginning of the game by being aggressive. Imagine an aggro deck as a snowball. If you are able to gain momentum and apply pressure before the opponent can catch up or stabilize, then you're in business. There are many faces of aggression, so a variety of decks fall into this category, as well as a subset of categories that function on a different axis. Aggressive decks use their speed and efficiency to overwhelm the opponent before their abundance of resources allow them to take control.
While this deck is considered to be "aggro-control," using blue elements of disruption and free counterspells, I think RUG Delver is currently the best aggressive deck in the format. It plays fewer creatures than most aggressive decks but has Force of Will and the like to protect them quite easily. Fantastic card selection like Brainstorm and Ponder make finding these threats fairly simple. Access to these spells also makes it easier to find the right cards for the right matchups, allowing you a lot of flexibility and gameplay against a variety of archetypes.
RUG Delver leans on Lightning Bolt very heavily since it provides the deck with a way to efficiently deal with an opposing creature while also giving it more ways to close out a game in a racing situation.
This category is a bit harder to define, as it tends to blur the lines of aggro and control. A midrange deck generally uses creatures to close out the game, but it also has the ability to win the long game through particularly brutal interactions or cards. There are a variety of these kinds of decks, but the most popular ones at the moment feature Deathrite Shaman.
Punishing Jund is generally the go-to deck when everyone else is playing fair. The interaction of Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows acts as a way to positively interact with most creatures and planeswalkers, which fair decks generally win the game with. Unlike control and aggro decks, midrange decks aren't as well suited to beat up on combo decks since they tend to straddle the fence. They don't try to win fast, and they also can't completely lock up the late game against a combo opponent. BUG is another popular midrange deck, though the lack of Punishing Fire makes it much harder to dominate the other fair decks in the format.
Combo decks are just that. They try to put together a combination of cards that win the game as quickly as possible. The flexibility you have in Legacy when building a combo deck is unrivaled. You have access to almost every card in Magic, so the possibilities are nearly endless. Combo decks don't always "win on the spot," but they generally create a situation where it is either impossible or very hard for the opponent to win. Most combos have their foils, and certain combos can be better for certain metagames. If you're a combo player, the trick is to find out which of the combo decks is best positioned.
This type of combo deck sits in a strange spot. At some points, these decks are almost unbeatable. The sheer speed and consistency at which this type of deck can go off is staggering, and only one thing keeps it in check:
These types of decks are consistent, but they are also incredibly vulnerable. This is the definition of glass cannon. There are cards you can play to help combat things like Force of Will, such as Xantid Swarm and Pyroblast, but these cards tend to hinder your ability to win as quickly and as consistently. I do think that Belcher is a particularly strong glass canon deck thanks to Empty the Warrens (and storm) being particularly powerful against counterspells, but I'd have a hard time sleeving up this gem without a very good reason.
Graveyard-based combo decks are pretty sweet because they use the graveyard as an additional resource, effectively growing their hand size with each card that fills it up. While Dredge does this with a bit more flair, I think that Reanimator is probably the most consistent. If you're interested in reading more, I've written a reasonable amount about Reanimator, which you can find here.
Luckily enough, the list played by Devin Koepke at SCG Legacy Open: Kansas City is pretty similar to mine.
There are some fundamental differences between the two lists, but the shell remains the same. Devin came to the conclusion that Deathrite Shaman hadn't been seeing as much play recently, so the maindeck Show and Tells weren't necessary. As the metagame shifts, you can see how certain cards become suboptimal for certain game plans. When Jund was everywhere, Show and Tell was something you wanted access to. With Brainstorm, Ponder, and Careful Study, it wasn't all that difficult to find one of your two copies in the maindeck when your opponent was able to lead off with a Deathrite Shaman.
I would also like to point out that in my article I said that Daze was unplayable. I probably spoke a little too soon on this topic because I've been playing more with Daze lately and it is actually much better than I gave it credit for. The biggest reason why is that you are significantly faster now thanks to the addition of Lotus Petal. Before Lotus Petal, the deck just wasn't fast enough to justify Daze. With the ability to combo off on turn 1, having a faster deck helps you benefit greatly from having Daze, as you are able to use it like a mini Force of Will. Decks like Sneak and Show and Storm are a bit slower, giving the opponent more time to build their mana up, making something like Daze much less appealing.
The faster the deck, the better Daze can be.
Another reason why I really like this version of Reanimator is that the sideboard plan of Show and Tell helps alleviate the pressure created by cards like Rest in Peace and Deathrite Shaman, giving you a secondary route to victory that does not rely on the graveyard. While your deck is less powerful when using this means of victory, your opponent's deck will also be significantly weaker due to having fewer cards to execute their own game plan as well as having to mulligan aggressively in order to find cards that interact with your graveyard.
Combo-control is honestly one of my favorite archetypes. I love drawing cards, killing creatures, and eventually winning with a solid two-card combo. In Legacy, this usually involves less work than you'd think! With so many decks reliant on their graveyards to gain an advantage, whether it's Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, or whatever, Rest in Peace is very good on its own. Add to this the fact that many of the combo decks in the format rely on their graveyards as well and you've found a recipe for success!
Not all combo-control decks rely on Rest in Peace, but this deck seems to be the flavor of the month.
This deck may play much more on the side of control, but the ability to lock your opponent out of the game with Counterbalance or combo kill them with Helm of Obedience is pretty sweet. Add to this the fact that having a powerful Tutor in your deck like Enlightened Tutor makes you much more consistent and you've got a powerful prospect. Bullets like Blood Moon are an added bonus that should not be taken lightly.
Don't let the name fool you—slow combo decks aren't always so slow. They just tend to be on the slower side of things because they are much stronger after they take a few turns to "set up." This can mean a variety of things, but it mostly involves Brainstorm and Ponder to help sculpt the perfect hand for killing your opponent through any disruption they might have.
Slow combo decks are less vulnerable to things like Daze and Spell Pierce because they are able to generate a reasonable amount of mana before attempting to go off, but this also means they are worse against fast combo decks because they are inherently slower. Obviously, slow combo decks have some amount of disruption, which they often use as protection for their combo, but they can also use those cards to aggressively stifle the development of the opponent. Cards like Force of Will are invaluable because they can act as a way to punch through your combo or buy you a ton of time. The same can be said about Thoughtseize and Duress.
Sneak and Show has been around for a while now and has seen some success, but it isn't always fun and games. Your opponent can have a number of cards that positively interact with you as well as the regular suite of disruption. Problematic permanents like Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Liliana of the Veil; and Karakas pose problems for you that are fairly tough to get around. The alternate win condition of Sneak Attack helps get rid of some of this pressure, as you can give your threats haste, but it is obviously the slower of your two options and you don't always have the time or resources.
While Storm isn't the fastest combo deck, it does have its fair share of turn 2 kills (and even turn 1 on occasion). Having access to a combo that isn't vulnerable to on-board permanents that are regularly played is a plus, as is having Duress and Cabal Therapy as proactive disruption. The problem with the deck lies in its reliance on Infernal Tutor. Alongside Lion's Eye Diamond, it is sometimes correct to just "go for it," pitching your hand so that you can Tutor for any card (usually Ad Nauseam) while adding three mana to your pool in order to help cast the Tutored card.
At times, the Storm decks play out very much like glass cannon combo decks, but the added versatility of discard spells and card selection gives you the option of choosing exactly when you want to combo off. Having all of these options does tend to make you slower, which can bite you pretty hard when your opponent is playing a fast deck
There are a ton of decks in Legacy that can be classified in many different ways, but these are the major archetypes and decks that help define them at the moment. The fact that this many decks are all powerful and viable means that Legacy is a healthy format with a lot of room for innovation. Blue decks in their various forms may currently be "on top," but there are a lot of decks that are naturally favored against them in the wings waiting to topple them. Brainstorm isn't the end all be all of Legacy, though it is a very good card. The fact that many of these decks use Brainstorm in different ways for different reasons is just a testament to how deep some of these decks can go.
While Modern and Legacy have a lot of things in common, I agree that turning Modern into Legacy isn't really the answer. The ideas I proposed in my article about Modern last week were merely suggestions to help get the ball rolling. There are some clear problems with Modern that should be addressed, and sometimes going to extremes to help shed light on those problems is necessary. I, for one, would love to see Modern become a format defined by powerful cards and interactions as opposed to being limited by a banned list that is afraid to experiment.
If turning Modern into Legacy isn't your cup of tea, that's just fine. I like the idea of having two clear, distinct formats since that gives me a lot more to write about and play! Over time, I expect Legacy to go the way of Vintage and for Modern to become the new replacement. It is just my dream that Modern eventually steps up and provides the community with something worth fighting for!
Thanks for reading.
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