Last week I told you that the best way to get into Legacy is to acquire four copies of a flagship card and build a lot of decks with that card. This approach lets you grow your collection without ever losing the ability to play in tournaments. While there are expensive cards in Legacy, you don't have to buy them all at once. More than anything else Legacy is a format that lets you play a deck that appeals to you.
Today's article is a roadmap of how to go from a budget-friendly Lion's Eye Diamond deck to several of Legacy's more expensive and more popular combo decks. Throughout the process my focus will be on creating enjoyable decks that use your collection without breaking the bank. For starters, though, we should talk about budget priorities.
Legacy is no different from other formats of Magic in its initial startup cost. No one who owns zero Standard cards remarks on the affordability of $25 Mutavaults; $25 Sphinx's Revelations; or $20 Jace, Architect of Thoughts. But somehow people manage to play William Jensen's Grand Prix finals U/W Control deck at FNM without breaking the bank. Why? Because they already own most of the cards. It's an easier deck to build if you already own the Hallowed Fountains, Jaces, and Revelations from playing Esper, you know?
Legacy works similarly. But since we're starting off in a new format, it's going to be a capital-intensive startup. So here's what I would recommend you pull together:
- $400 in either cash or trade stock, erring higher on trade stock since—if you read my first article on the topic—people who own Legacy cards are going to value Standard cards a lot lower than other Standard players. Supply and demand, folks.
- $40 a week that can go into building out your Legacy collection. This comes out to between $150 and $200 per month. If you work a minimum-wage job, it's between five and six hours of work every week that you're dedicating to building your collection.
- A constant willingness to analyze why you're losing and what you're losing to. Throughout your Magic lifetime, you will lose. When you're starting out a new format on limited resources, the losses are even more frustrating. It's easy to be just starting out, lose to an unaffordable deck, and chalk up your loss to Mr. Moneybags over there. It is far harder to accept your loss as a combination of factors, consider what your deck could change that would give it a better chance next time, and come back more prepared to win. Legacy is a huge format with a ton of sweet cards—I highly recommend doing some research.
So let's say we want to play Lion's Eye Diamond decks. Those will run us $240 for a beat-up playset. For all future pricing, I'll be using the lowest price available for every card—while you're going to get some pretty dinged-up cards from time to time, you're also going to keep these cards and use them in a lot of other decks. If you know that you're buying cards to build a collection and play a lot of Legacy, paying less for played cards is well worth it.
From here we're at our first crossroads. We can either play Dredge for a long time . . .
- 1 Flame-Kin Zealot
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 3 Golgari Thug
- 3 Ichorid
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 2 Griselbrand
Or we can play various incarnations of Storm.
I'll price out Dredge for you first. The dredgers cost by playset:
You want four of each of these no matter what you may see or hear about not playing the fourth Golgari Thug. The deck is called "Dredge," so play four copies of all the good dredgers. Quick tangent:
For a fundamentals-based approach to Dredge, read Richard Feldman's The Dark Art of Dredge Fu. For my money it's the best deck primer I've read. It explains literally everything I wanted to know in a very straightforward manner. The primer is fairly outdated since it was written before the creation of Deathrite Shaman, but Dredge's basic tenets of deckbuilding and mulliganing haven't changed at all.
The defining rares and uncommons are a bit more expensive:
- $40 for a set of Cabal Therapy
- $28 for a set of Ichorid, although many people get away with playing three total
- $20 for a set of Bridge from Below, which is a mandatory four-of
- $12 for City of Brass
- $16 for Gemstone Mine
So far we're at $118 aside from the $240 for the set of Lion's Eye Diamond. We have more than $100 to buy:
- Narcomoeba at $4/set
- Cephalid Coliseum at $4/set
- Careful Study at $4/set
- Breakthrough at $4/set
- Faithless Looting at $2/set, but you can probably get someone at your LGS to give you a set if they were around for Innistrad block
- Dread Return at $0.75 per card, and you definitely don't want all four
- Various other cards—Firestorm being the most expensive at $20/set—that you may want to try in the maindeck or sideboard
The best thing about building Dredge is that it is a good mix of powerful and inexpensive. In a format where a lot of the top decks are multicolored collections of chase rares with four-figure price tags, Dredge is a top-tier deck that costs less than $400. It attacks the format in a way that requires fairly specific hate cards. It is a fundamentally skill-intensive deck at many points—deckbuilding, mulliganing, sequencing, situational resource management, attacking and blocking, and playing to your outs with every dredge.
The worst thing about building Dredge is that you're spending a little under $100 on cards like Bridge from Below and Ichorid that don't have a home outside of Dredge decks. To be fair, most of the money you're spending on cards will be useful in other decks, but you're kicking off your Legacy collection with a noticeable amount of deadweight. If you're going to play Dredge for a long time, it's one of the most cost-effective decks in Legacy.
If you decide to invest in a Dredge deck, you'll have the following cards available to put in other decks:
- 4 Lion's Eye Diamond, which goes in a lot of combo decks
- 4 Cabal Therapy, which goes in a lot of combo decks, some midrange decks, and a few control decks
- 4 Gemstone Mine and 4 City of Brass, which also go in various Storm decks
- 4 Careful Study, which also goes in Reanimator
If you decide to start off by building a Storm deck, the least-expensive version is Geoffrey Moes' Goblin Charbelcher deck:
- 1 Taiga
- 4 Chrome Mox
- 4 Goblin Charbelcher
- 4 Lion's Eye Diamond
- 4 Lotus Petal
- 4 Desperate Ritual
- 3 Manamorphose
- 4 Pyretic Ritual
- 4 Empty the Warrens
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
- 4 Land Grant
- 4 Rite of Flame
- 15 Island
The purpose of this deck is very straightforward: cast Empty the Warrens for a lot of Goblins or cast and activate Goblin Charbelcher. It does so as early as turn 1. The deck comprises of cyclers (Gitaxian Probe and Street Wraith), initial mana sources (Lotus Petal, Land Grant, Chrome Mox, and Simian Spirit Guide), intermediate mana sources (Elvish Spirit Guide, Desperate Ritual, Pyretic Ritual, and Manamorphose), and win conditions (Empty the Warrens and Goblin Charbelcher). Lion's Eye Diamond is simultaneously the weakest card in the deck and the strongest card in the deck—it cannot cast any of the spells in the deck on its own, but it provides a Goblin Charbelcher activation on its own.
Other versions of Charbelcher have four copies of Burning Wish and three maindeck copies of Empty the Warrens. They also play Seething Song over Street Wraith and have fewer copies of Pyretic Ritual. These changes make the deck slower, more versatile, and less consistent. Importantly, these changes also require owning a set of Burning Wish—a $20 card.
So how much does the Street Wraith version of Charbelcher cost? We already know that we're spending $240 on a set of Lion's Eye Diamond, and the Taiga can be replaced by the far cheaper Stomping Ground. What does the rest of the deck cost?
The win conditions are cheap—just $14 for everything.
The cyclers are similarly cheap—just under $10 for these, and Gitaxian Probe goes into a lot of other decks.
The initial mana sources create the bulk of the rest of the deck's cost. The good news about buying Chrome Moxes and Lotus Petals is that they will be useful in many other combo decks. The bad news is that they're $100.
The rest of the deck is both inexpensive and cross-functional:
- Elvish Spirit Guide: $16/set
- Simian Spirit Guide: $8/set
- Manamorphose: $8/set
- Rite of Flame: $8/set
- Pyretic Ritual: $3/set
- Desperate Ritual: $2/set
- Tinder Wall: $1/set
The deck ends up costing a bit more than $400—$240 for Lion's Eye Diamonds, $100 for Lotus Petals and Chrome Moxes, and $75 for the rest of the deck. From that $75 you're buying Rite of Flames and Gitaxian Probes for Five-Color Storm and a set of Elvish Spirit Guides that most people are happy to trade for whenever you stop wanting them.
This deck will teach you a lot about sequencing your spells, reading your opponent's body language for counterspells, and calculating your outs. It will also teach you about the sheer unrestrained joy of killing someone on turn 1 on the play. You'll do that a lot. It's great.
A few weeks into your experience with the deck, you'll be able to buy either a set of Burning Wish or the cards for Dredge. If your local scene is particularly small, you may want to save up for Dredge cards so that you can switch between Dredge and Charbelcher, keeping your opponents guessing as to whether they need to mulligan for Force of Will or pack a set of Leyline of the Void in their sideboard.
Once you've picked up your rainbow lands and Burning Wishes, you can focus on your next major step: picking up a few blue dual lands. The fusion of Dredge and Charbelcher is eventually this:
As you'll note, the six blue lands—three fetch lands, three dual lands—are a big step up. The fetch lands are interchangeable and can be any blue fetch land or Bloodstained Mire, whereas the dual-land configuration is unfortunately pretty hard to change without losing a real amount of value. Since basic lands are terrible in a five-color deck, the only real options for cutting down on dual lands involve adding a fourth fetch land to replace the second Underground Sea or adding a City of Brass to replace the second Underground Sea.
The problem is that a lot of the time you want to be able to find two Underground Seas so that you can Duress or Therapy into Dark Ritual or cast Dark Ritual in response to a Daze on your first Dark Ritual. Any circumstance involving Wasteland is also a real concern, as being able to fetch exactly Underground Sea is important both early and late in the game.
Ultimately, buying or trading for three blue fetch lands, two Underground Seas, and one Volcanic Island will cost in the realm of $500. If you happen to own some blue fetch lands, you're already a third of the way there. I highly encourage shopping around for the dual lands, as you both don't care about edition and don't care about condition. Paying through the nose for a near-mint version of something that you're going to play for a long time is foolish. You can find beat-up Underground Seas in the low $100 range and beat-up Volcanic Islands for less than $100, but it takes patience.
Very important tangent: don't buy Collector's Edition dual lands! These will show up as incredible bargains, but the sad truth is that they aren't tournament legal. Some people may advertise them as International Edition, but don't be fooled—you can't play them in a sanctioned Legacy tournament. Make sure that you're buying Third Edition (or Revised or Unlimited) dual lands. They'll cost more, but the upside is that they're real and you can play them.
Aside from the added cost of the mana base, you'll need the following Storm-specific staples:
- Infernal Tutor: $40/set
- Silence: $6/set
- Brainstorm: $6/set
- Dark Ritual: $2/set
- Ponder: $3/set
- Abrupt Decay: $6 per card
- Diminishing Returns: $1
- Ad Nauseam: $1
- Ill-Gotten Gains: $2
- Past in Flames: $2
- Chain of Vapor: $1.25
All in all, buying the cards for Five-Color Storm (also known as The Epic Storm) will cost you $600 on top of what you already own. It is possible to play it without the second Underground Sea, but the rest of the deck is pretty non-negotiable.
For a bit of perspective, this path has you playing Dredge or Charbelcher for a month and both decks by month two, gives you some Burning Wish versatility in your Charbelcher deck in month three, and has you playing The Epic Storm by month six. If you know anyone who owns Underground Seas or a Volcanic Island or if you happen to own a set of any blue dual land, you can knock a decent amount of time off of the last number.
The transition from Dredge or Charbelcher to The Epic Storm is going to be jarring. This will be your first experience with Legacy's renowned cantrips Brainstorm and Ponder. Instead of your decisions primarily occurring via mulligan, your decisions will be more dynamic and more information heavy. You will be confronted with situations where you can take an aggressive win-now line that loses to various cards or a conservative win-later line that loses to various other cards.
You will draw on your experiences with Dredge and Charbelcher to understand how people hold themselves when they think they're advantaged or disadvantaged. You will have watched people angrily jam five cards into their deck and know that they're boarding in three Surgical Extractions, a Grafdigger's Cage, and a Scavenging Ooze, so you'll be able to figure out whether your opponent is prepared or not for sideboarded games.
You will be better at playing your Storm deck for having played cheaper versions of it for months.
You will be far better at using cantrips and discard spells to manipulate both players' hands. Months of playing off of the top of your deck will give you an excellent sense of what you want and when you want it.
Over time you will learn about the differences between various Storm decks. You're a set of Polluted Deltas and a Tropical Island away from building a Storm deck around Preordain instead of Burning Wish:
For a primer on this version of Storm, click here.
You'll understand the differences between Desperate Ritual and Brainstorm and between Rite of Flame and Preordain. You'll understand each deck's fundamental turn and in what metagame you will want to play a deck that is faster or slower. These preferences will come from experience with each deck—you won't care about Thalia, Guardian of Thraben with Belcher, whereas your slower Preordain based Storm deck will struggle against it quite a bit.
Once you finish putting together your Storm decks—give it maybe a year—you may want to branch out. Don't worry—Lion's Eye Diamond is one of the most powerful cards in the format. After a year of playing with it, you should be about ready to break Legacy with another combo deck, right?
Enjoy the journey.