Let us start with the text:
"Under the current rules, any time two or more legendary permanents with the same name were on the battlefield, they would all be put into their owners' graveyards as a state-based action. Under the new rules, any time two or more legendary permanents with the same name are controlled by a player, that player chooses one of them and the rest are put into their owners' graveyards as a state-based action.
One way to think about it is the "legend rule" now looks at each player individually…
… The "Planeswalker uniqueness rule" is getting a very similar update to what the "legend rule" got. The new rule 704.5j will state that if a player controls two or more Planeswalkers that share a Planeswalker type, that player chooses one and the rest are put into their owner's graveyards as a state-based action. Again, you no longer have to worry about what other players control…
… With the Magic 2014 Core Set, we're introducing a new system for playing lands that focuses on the number of land plays you have. Any time you want to play a land for any reason, if you've used all your land plays for the turn, then you can't play the land. By default, you have one land play on each of your turns. Spells or abilities can add to this number. So can permanents that allow you to play additional lands, but if these permanents leave the battlefield, those additional land plays disappear…
… These changes aren't in effect until July 13 in live tournaments and July 24 on Magic Online."
–From Matt Tabak's Magic 2014 Core Set Rules Preview
Let me quickly summarize some of the shorter points:
- Once upon a time, Lands players had to announce that their first land drop was their "Land for Exploration" or else risk getting their Exploration blown up between playing land one and land two, consequently losing out on their extra land drop.
- The new rules make Exploration worse, as there is no random piece of trivia that you can memorize to eke out an advantage solely due to your superior knowledge of the rules. If your Exploration gets blown up in response to Life from the Loam after you've played your first land, you won't ever get a second land drop. Clean and simple for both players and observers.
- There's a sideboarding rules update that won't really impact Legacy except that you won't get a game loss for forgetting to cut your 61st card during sideboarding. Rejoice, slackers.
With that out of the way, the meat of this article is pretty clearly the legendary and planeswalker rules updates. We are going to have to revise a lot of deeply rooted habits and create entirely new ones because of these changes. No longer will we have access to these lines of play:
- Cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor. We both put our Jaces into the graveyard.
- Activate Stoneforge Mystic. We both put our Umezawa's Jittes into the graveyard.
- Karakas your Karakas or Academy Ruins your Academy Ruins as a split-second Wasteland.
- Phantasmal Image as Hero's Demise.
We will have access to a slew of new options:
- Vendilion Clique you, do it again next turn, and still have a clock in play.
- Tap Gaea's Cradle, play a second Cradle, sacrifice the first, tap second Gaea's Cradle.
- Cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor, bounce your Tarmogoyf, kill your Jace with my Tarmogoyf.
- Unsummon a creature with Jace, play another, Brainstorm with the second.
- Edict you with Liliana of the Veil, cast another, edict you again.
It is most useful to view these changes in the context of deckbuilding rather than analyzing relative raw power levels of cards. It is tedious to point out that legends and planeswalkers "get better." It is useful to understand which changes are most likely to show up in a tournament. Let's begin with the overhyped cards.
Overhyped: Gaea's Cradle
I will start this section by owning up to the possibility that there is a playable Gaea's Cradle deck that does not contain a lot of Elves. For the purposes of this section, I will restrain my references to the strengths and weaknesses of the Elves deck. If you think that my critiques don't apply to your idea, I would be happy to discuss your ideas in the comments. With that said, almost every Gaea's Cradle deck is a much worse version of the existing Elves deck.
In case you were wondering, Gaea's Cradle is still the best card in your Elves deck, and you should have always had four copies in your deck. No one wants to hear an argument about how your second Fyndhorn Elves is better than a land that taps for more than one colored mana.
More to the point, though, Gaea's Cradle just got a lot better. Being able to play a Cradle and sacrifice a tapped copy is a huge boon for any Elves player. The new rule makes Glimpse combo turns much easier, and it gives players access to explosive turn 3 sequences involving two Cradles.
Improving Gaea's Cradle, though, does not solve the deck's big problems. Mana generation was never the deck's issue. The deck's three biggest problems, in order of magnitude, are:
1. Any turn 3 or faster combo deck: Storm, Belcher, Reanimator, several Show and Tell variants.
Due to the high density of green creatures required to build a playable Gaea's Cradle deck, Elves decks have always been gigantic underdogs to fast combo decks. This is because Elvish Visionary and Nettle Sentinel do not interact profitably with Ad Nauseam and Show and Tell. I trust you need no further explanation.
2. Lack of relevant cards.
There are roughly fifteen cards in the Elves deck that do anything at all: Glimpse of Nature, Green Sun's Zenith, Natural Order, and Wirewood Symbiote. There are almost no ways to sculpt a hand in this green creature deck. If you don't draw something good to do with all of your mana, your Gaea's Cradle doesn't matter. It is worth noting that Cradle will help out a lot in the games where you get to resolve one or more of your real cards.
3. Its own success.
If people want to beat you, they will. They'll play Rough // Tumble in their RUG Delver sideboards. They'll play Engineered Plague in their Shardless BUG decks. They'll play Pyroclasm or Firespout in Sneak and Show. They'll play Volcanic Fallout or Flamebreak in their Burn decks. This deck is not good enough to survive with a target painted on its back.
Overhyped: Mox Opal
This card is not currently playable in Legacy, and I don't foresee that changing. It's bad because it's not great friends with the Queen Bee of the format: Brainstorm. How to put this…
In theory, Mox Opal is an explosively powerful card. A deck playing Mox Opal is likely not looking to tap it more than three times because something has probably gone horribly wrong for a Mox Opal player to have a fifth turn in Legacy. Ideally, Mox Opal's speed boost will propel the game to a quick and decisive victory for its controller.
Problematically, there are cards in Legacy that are just much better at doing what Mox Opal does. Lotus Petal and Lion's Eye Diamond are excellent at ending the game on turn 2, and both are far better than Mox Opal in decks with Brainstorm.
I mention Brainstorm because it is both an explosively powerful card and a guarantor of staying power—a fusion of virtues shared by no other card.
If you cast it on your second turn, you will have access to at least eleven cards with which you can try to win the game. You won't be able to use all of them, but you probably won't need exactly all of them, so you can put two back.
If you cast it on your seventh turn, you will be able to ameliorate mana flood, find spells that affect the game state in desirable ways, and probably use a fetchland to completely eliminate Brainstorm's drawback.
In practice, Mox Opal wants you to play artifact lands so that it can operate as a free land drop as early as turn 2. Brainstorm wants you to play fetchlands and expensive dual lands so that you can move conditionally powerful cards from zone to zone as the game state changes.
These strategies don't have a lot in common. As a result, Mox Opal will remain unplayable in Legacy.
Overhyped: Dark Depths and Thespian's Stage
Not to be attempted in metagames with Wasteland, Stifle, Swords to Plowshares, Lingering Souls, Deathrite Shaman, Blood Moon, Echoing Truth, or anything that punishes you for playing lands that don't produce colored mana or more than one colorless mana.
For those of you still scratching your heads, this Rube Goldberg device of a combo works because Thespian's Stage copies Dark Depths and you get to choose whether you want to sacrifice a Dark Depths with ten counters or a Dark Depths with zero counters. Your new Dark Depths then triggers and dies, unleashing Gerry Thompson from his icy confines just in time to appreciate his newest vocation: farming.
If you still want to build this deck and want your deck name to be useless and uninformative (in keeping with the traditional Legacy deck naming convention), I have tons of global warming-related ideas. Please don't actually do this, though. It's really bad.
Now that we're past all of the cutesy cards that won't really improve that much, let's talk about the cards that will! In a purely coincidental and totally serendipitous happening, all of the following cards go in the same deck as the card Underground Sea! For once, the blue cards in Legacy are getting better. It's about time.
The Rich Get Richer: Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Umezawa's Jitte
In a narrow and short-term sense, this rules change will improve Jace's stock. You can activate two copies in a turn, he doesn't murder-suicide his counterpart in Esper Stoneblade mirrors, and gameplay will care a lot more about who can handle their Jace better. That is all good news.
In a broader sense, Jace's surge in utility will cause people to look for reliable answers in mirror matches. They will find two things: enchantments and creatures.
The best way to kill a Jace is with fliers that don't care about his -1 ability. Problematically, that solution runs into the other half of the equation: both players can have and use an Umezawa's Jitte at any given moment. This will create a hostile work environment for Lingering Souls and Vendilion Clique, Jace's biggest enemies in Esper Stoneblade mirrors. So what remains?
Oblivion Ring and Detention Sphere. They're not great answers to Jace, but their upside is that they don't get retrumped by a universally played tutorable one-of. If I were building an Esper Stoneblade deck for a post-rules change world, I would play some number of Oblivion Ring effects in my maindeck.
Those effects have a lot of crossover value, by the way, against…
The Underdiscussed: Show and Tell
The only discussions I saw about Show and Tell were "well, casting this in a mirror is going to be riskier since you might just lose because they have Emrakul."
I would take it a little further than that. I would argue that this change will provide a strong impetus for Show and Tell to move toward the Bazaar of Moxen-winning build:
The mono-blue enchantment version is simply far better against dedicated Show and Tell hate. It sidesteps all creature interaction while having a powerful strategy against everything from Vendilion Clique to Detention Sphere to Red Elemental Blast.
The baseline strategy for this deck is similar to Sneak Attack's: pair one of eight cards (Show and Tell and Sneak Attack) with one of eight other cards (Griselbrand and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn) to "win the game."
Unlike Sneak Attack, you are guaranteed to win if your spells resolve.
Also unlike Sneak Attack, you have a strong plan against hate that involves triggered abilities—to wit, Cunning Wish for Trickbind. In sideboarded games where it is likely that your opponent will target your Omniscience, you can board in Trickbind, Wish for Firemind's Foresight, and Foresight for Flusterstorm, Trickbind, and Intuition. Trickbind their trigger, Intuition for three copies of Enter the Infinite, and cast Enter with Flusterstorm backup. Kill with Ponder and quadruple Brainstorm with triple Pact of Negation backup.
Legacy staples? Who knew!
As always, the game goes much deeper. Let's say that enchantments are the best way to win a Jace war and that enchantments are the preferred kill for Show and Tell decks. At what point is Aura of Silence a maindeckable card? How about Wear // Tear?
As is the case with many rules changes, Legacy will retain its core identity while picking up a few quirks. I don't believe that these changes invalidate any existing deck or inordinately improve any one deck. The big winners here are planeswalkers, Umezawa's Jitte, and Vendilion Clique.
These changes will without a doubt take some getting used to. It will be jarring to see dueling Jaces in play, but I strongly believe that it will lead to more entertaining and skill-testing gameplay.
Here's looking forward to a Legacy format that is still this vibrant when the next major rules announcement rolls around.
Until next time,
@drewlevin on Twitter