Blue has always been the best color in Legacy, but it has never been as good as it is now. If you're not playing blue, then you simply aren't likely playing one of the best decks in any given room. You might be pretty good--maybe once upon a time you were even great--but the blue decks are definitely better than everything else right now.
Note that I didn't say Treasure Cruise decks. These are certainly good, but you can be successful in blue without Cruise. What I'm saying is that you can't avoid blue and expect to defeat Cruise--at least not often enough to justify that choice.
Brainstorm has always been available, of course, and the considerable growth of the cantrip pool over the past few years has contributed heavily. Treasure Cruise is certainly one of the best cards in Legacy, and these decks are happy to have it. However, the effects of its introduction to the format are much farther-reaching than the decks that play it. It's these effects that have so thoroughly warped the format.
Boats Boats Boats!
First off, cantrip-heavy blue decks welcomed the sorcery with open arms, immediately adjusting to include as many Ancestral Recalls as was feasible. Why? Because drawing three cards is good, obviously!
Force of Will has long been one of the most alluring calling cards for potential blue mages, as having a zero mana weapon against powerful plays is well worth the card disadvantage that comes along with it. Treasure Cruise meant that these exact same strategies could both play Force of Will and keep far ahead of the opponent on available spells. Previously, the only truly competitive deck that could do the same was Shardless Sultai--a deck that already had access to an Ancestral Recall variant.
Speaking of Shardless Sultai, that archetype has been in serious decline. Why? After all, it's an attrition-heavy deck typically focused on even or favorable exchanges and out-resourcing the opponent. That's a tried-and-true recipe for success in Magic.
It's also no longer a particularly applicable deckbuilding theory in Legacy.
You Guys Got Trades?
If everyone has Ancestral Recall, relying on the resource exhaustion plan becomes a much more daunting prospect. Every fight has to start with addressing Cruise itself before you can really consider attempting to break very far ahead, as a resolved Cruise will annihilate any inches gained. This is among the reasons we've seen Pyroblast so successfully gain maindeck slots over the past few months. In Cruise mirrors, winning fights over three cards is crucial, often ensuring you're either winning the next fight or establishing the most pressure.
Against people who don't have Cruise, you can afford a virtual mulligan every now and then in exchange for having Treasure Cruise. Considering many of those decks are also resource-based decks, like Jund, Maverick, or Death and Taxes, the gain is very much worth the sacrifice.
Look at two of the most popular resource exchanges in Legacy prior to Khans of Tarkir:
Mana-screwing an opponent to death is naturally more difficult when they draw more cards per game. Of course, the increase in cantrips has occurred alongside a decrease in mana curves, meaning the opponent will less often be irreparably crippled by a lost land. And of course, a single basic Island ensures access to those cantrips is essentially unrestricted. Wasteland's still a good card, but it is much less powerful.
I suppose there's been some upside in that lategame Thoughtseizes are no longer as bad… of course, that's because the opponent isn't ever running out of gas. Discard spells aren't a great way to fight Treasure Cruise for many of the reasons Wasteland isn't, at least not without a way to capitalize. The fair decks have essentially nothing on that front, but the combo decks are perfectly positioned. Storm, for example, can utilize the space between a Duress-heavy early game and a Treasure Cruise-filled midgame to actually kill you, making its discard spells more potent than ever.
Of course, many more cards were impacted by the advent of Treasure Cruise, but generally speaking it's the war of attrition that has changed the most.
Cruise Like a Butterfly...
So, Treasure Cruise opened up deckbuilding restrictions on accessing Ancestral Recall in Legacy. It wasn't a freeroll, of course--Cruise has its own deckbuilding restrictions, they just happen to be much less severe. Generally speaking, it really just requires that you be actively casting spells and not be dependent on graveyard interactions.
Actively casting spells has always been commonplace in Legacy, but now it's a way of life. Reactive spells like Stifle and Spell Pierce are in sharp decline, while counters that function alongside proactive plays that use your mana are spiking: Force of Will, Daze, Misdirection, and even Pact of Negation have all been very popular for months. These spells help you jump ahead in the early turns, building speed as you cast more spells faster, in turn enabling you to keep the opponent reactive (a space their deckbuilding has become less structured for) while advancing you closer to Treasure Cruise.
Legacy cantrips have so long been a science that this world is kind of difficult to watch. The frequency of the turn 1 or turn 2 Brainstorm has never been higher, as sacrificing a little bit of that flexibility matters less in the face of Cruise's raw card advantage. With one-drop cantrips so easy to play, any turn in which a mana goes unused often costs an additional mana later, when the graveyard has one less card.
We've gone even deeper down the rabbit hole over the last few weeks, as Thought Scour and Mental Note have surged back into the public eye. Not only are these spells helpful for additionally manipulating Brainstorms, but they net extra mana for Treasure Cruise, in turn enabling you to cast it more consistently and faster. While these decks might be a tad mana-inefficient to a point, they're very powerful, and I expect we have more to see from this engine.
Meanwhile, other cards that utilize graveyards have taken hits. Tarmogoyf, Nimble Mongoose, Deathrite Shaman, and Grim Lavamancer have all seen significant declines in both popularity and success. While Tarmogoyf itself is still a decent threat in the world of Treasure Cruise, it is a bit smaller on average and simultaneously a less unanswerable clock when everyone can tear through their deck for a removal spell. The occasional Cruise + Bolt or just a game in which both players delve a lot of cards can degenerate into a weaker Goyf. Goyf is still the best there is at what it does, but it's definitely worse.
Nimble Mongoose and Grim Lavamancer trimming down makes perfect sense, as unlike Tarmogoyf, they each essentially consume cards from the graveyard that Cruise will also want. Mongoose is likely deserving of a bit more play than it's currently receiving, and indeed Temur Delver has rebounded a bit, but I don't foresee it returning to former glories.
Deathrite Shaman's decline is less obvious. After all, controlling the opposing graveyard and an opponent's access to Treasure Cruise is definitely reasonable, even if you "cost" yourself some mana efficiency from time to time. What gives?
I believe that Deathrite Shaman's success was so fundamentally tied to the attrition-heavy decks it frequented that the card has found itself surprisingly homeless. As one-drops popularize and velocity becomes more important, the two and three-drop spells all the base-B/G decks are known for in turn become less attractive. Yes, Abrupt Decay is sweet--it's also two mana and not blue. Yes, Liliana of the Veil is a good card--it also costs three mana to cast and now converts cards into mana for Cruise instead of into nothing. These aren't crippling changes taken alone, but as a whole, the sets of resource exchanges that most Sultai, Jund, Abzan, and four-color decks were using alongside Deathrite Shaman have become less effective.
Of course, as much as Reanimator and Storm's discard spells have improved, Elves' Shamans are a bit better-positioned as well. Elves does much of its best work before the opponent can expect to have to cast Treasure Cruise, and it can certainly expect to be more mana-efficient than the average fair opponent. Because Elves so often plays a grindy game against fair opponents, this point of control is appreciated even if it isn't always essential.
...Sting Like a Nonblue Spell
We've already acknowledged that maindeck Pyroblast is just a part of the new world order in Legacy. That's been a whammy for many archetypes, such as Sneak and Show and High Tide. These decks were already struggling, but having to play against a hyper-efficient hard counter so frequently is a serious wound. Most combo decks rely on the fact that you will fail to present adequate interaction quickly enough to stop them.
Of course, Pyroblast isn't a stone cold killer against every combo deck. The three I've already mentioned--Reanimator, Storm, and Elves--are all perfectly capable of slaying an opponent with access to Pyroblast. They've also, through no coincidence, been the most successful combo decks! All of these rely on a good bit of digging with the ability to threaten an explosive kill that won't care about getting Pyroblasted. The former two have powerful cantrips that make them faster and more explosive, while Elves trades that for a solid beatdown plan that can very often win the game on its own.
My Twitter followers will know I had been slightly dreading the possibility of a Storm revolution at the Season Four Invitational, and at a glance it appears that my concerns were merited to say the least. Storm had several solid performances and was a dominant deck among the 7-1 and better lists. We've seen Elves and Reanimator also doing work on the Open Series, and I imagine this means there may be a reckoning coming between Griselbrand and Tendrils of Agony. I like Reanimator against Storm, but in a field where everyone is already paying attention to the graveyard, it's possible that Storm remains the better metagame choice.
The fair decks have adjusted as well. True-Name Nemesis is still ubiquitous, but Jace, the Mind Sculptor has been in freefall. I attribute this to True-Name being cheaper, more dominant in a few matchups, a stronger play from behind, and importantly only vulnerable to Pyroblast while on the stack. I don't see Jace recovering anytime soon, as even if Pyroblast dies down there's a heavy saturation of Daze decks to worry about. The planeswalker is at the nadir of his playability, and as long as Cruise remains viable it seems unlikely he'll ever grow.
Considering you can kill the opponent with volume of cards instead of strictly quality in many of today's shells, that's not surprising at all.
Any Port in a… Tempest
I'm definitely not going to start playing Storm, so where does this leave me?
Truthfully, I'm unsure. I'm starting to think neither Delver of Secrets nor Stoneforge Mystic are worthy clocks in this format, and it might be pushing Cruise and kill speeds to the brink is the logical next step. I think Sam Black did that best this weekend, with his take on Jeskai Ascendancy Combo in Legacy.
This deck is fast, powerful, and incredibly resilient to disruption. As a combo deck, I'm unsure exactly how much better or worse than Storm it actually is, but being a combo deck with access to copious permission certainly gives it a leg up in actual combo matchups. If we're going to expect an uptick in Storm and Reanimator, then Jeskai Ascendancy seems like the natural weapon. It's capable of outdrawing fair decks and snowballing a victorious Cruise into an actual victory very quickly thanks to those free counterspells and Lotus Petals.
Sam covered the deck more in-depth for you guys earlier this week, and I'm looking forward to tracking this archetype's progress.
Of course, I've also been considering some more… interesting options. With Wasteland letting mana get incredibly greedy, I've been thinking about brews that could sample the best of all the worlds.
This almost certainly isn't that brew, but it's a neat deck I cooked up and will hopefully get around to trying.
The mana would definitely need some games to balance out exactly, but I think I've got the ratios in the right ballpark, at least.
Academy Rector is really powerful, and it seems like a world with Stifle and Wasteland taking a back seat could be a world worth living in. This deck is based on a similarly greedy Omni-Tell decklist from two years ago, and I'm not certain that it's any better than that deck (or even playable), but it's certainly got some sweet options available. I'm particularly tickled by being able to Wish up Gaddock Teeg against Storm and then axe it to my own Therapy before going off, but that plan is very likely much worse than it looks (and it looks not great).
I think it's possible that a Crop Rotation and Academy Rector deck could also be good, as snagging a timely Cavern of Souls or Ancient Tomb is sweet. That sort of deck could go Mavericky and maybe run Thespian's Stage and Dark Depths, or go back to its roots with Boseiju, Who Shelters All alongside Show and Tell.
This is the kind of nonsense I can justify thinking about in a world without Wasteland's stern vigil. It may not have been the harsh overlord we wanted, but perhaps it was more necessary than we imagined. Cruise has changed the landscape of Legacy forever, and in some very fundamental ways. Discard spells may never return to their former prominence, and Wasteland shells are going to need to get more creative in order to evolve with everyone else. I'm certain that they will, but it also doesn't appear to be a formula anyone has solved just yet.