Welcome reader! If this is your introduction to the Legacy format welcome to the world of Legacy! Legacy is a dynamic and fascinating format of over 9000 Magic cards. While the number of cards actually used in tournament play is far smaller it has a much larger viable card pool than its Eternal cousin Vintage. But as we scoured through the article archives on this website and others we realized that there were virtually no recent articles dedicated to providing an overview of the Legacy format. And those that are seem to be targeted to beginners.
This article and its companion (the Engines of Legacy which will be published next week) is designed to correct this oversight. If you know virtually nothing about 'Legacy' Ben Bleiweiss did a fine job explaining where this format came from in his article An Introduction to Legacy and we recommend you begin your journey there.
While our goal is not to provide a comprehensive look at each and every single viable deck in Legacy we will present most the major archetypes based upon two thematic axes (tribe and engine). If you are new to Legacy this series will be a whirlwind but worth your time. If you are familiar with Legacy but haven't played in a while you have come to the right place. We will bring you up to speed. But this series is not simply a superficial introduction or update to an enigmatic older Magical format. That would be too easy. If you are a Legacy master looking for an edge or merely curious as to what we may have to say you may be surprised to learn that some segments of this series have been written specifically for you.
Every format no matter how large or small has a structure. There are certain synergies or interactions that so fundamental so central to deck design that they actually help organize the format. The fundamental building block of Legacy is the interaction between Onslaught Fetchlands and Alpha/Beta/Unlimited/Revised dual lands the original dual lands. Although this principle may seem obvious to the Legacy player even pedantic to assert it sometimes the deepest truths are the simplest and simultaneously the least contemplated. This synergy fundamentally determines in very large measure what is possible in Legacy. Legacy players can choose among almost any combination of colors for very little cost (efficiency wise). This is a profoundly important point. Want to play with Engineered Plague in your sideboard? Splash a pair of Black dual lands that can be found using the fetchlands you are already running. With a 9000-deep card pool to consider almost any deck can draw upon this resource with only minimal intrusions into deck design. Legacy is a paradise for deck designers who are looking for Magic obscura.
As a result it is almost impossible to talk about archetypes without also pointing out that as much as engines or synergies color combinations define the range of options Legacy. Every reference to an existing archetype comes with the caveat that color combinations are not a given. When talking about Landstill a popular Control deck we could be talking about any number of base-blue archetypes. We could be talking about UW Ur UGb UGw Ugbw or permutations thereof. And these are just the number of possible variants for one archetype. Goblins a popular and successful archetype can splash any of the other four colors. Unlike Vintage there are no cards that are automatic inclusions in every deck. As a consequence there is little incidence of shoehorning a particular color into virtually every deck as there is for Blue in Vintage on account of Ancestral Recall Time Walk and Tinker. This means that when we say that any color combination is possible we mean it.
Despite the enormous card pool the organizing principle of Legacy even more than the potential color combinations are the engines. By engines we refer to synergistic interactions that are so powerful that they shape the field and bend the design around them. We will explore the major engines of Legacy including but not limited to Counterbalance-Top Standstill/Fact or Fiction Life From the Loam (paired with a wide spectrum of cards) Ancient Tomb and the series of spells it accelerates Survival of the Fittest and its cohort and Dark Ritual Storm combo decks. But first today we will examine the decks that rely less on broadly utilized engines or varied manabases. Rather these decks utilize internal and often exclusive synergies through accumulated card printings. Specifically we will be looking at the Tribes of Legacy.
II. The Tribes of Legacy
Goblins is the flagship archetype of Legacy at least until the recent past. To provide some perspective Goblins has placed either first or second at each of the American Legacy Grand Prix tournaments so far. Jon Sonne won Grand Prix: Philadelphia in 2005 with this:
- 4 Gempalm Incinerator
- 4 Goblin Lackey
- 4 Goblin Matron
- 4 Goblin Piledriver
- 4 Goblin Ringleader
- 1 Goblin Sharpshooter
- 1 Goblin Tinkerer
- 4 Goblin Warchief
- 4 Mogg Fanatic
- 3 Siege-Gang Commander
- 1 Skirk Prospector
The deck leaped onto the Legacy format almost as soon as it became a tournament format. It was inexpensive compared to many of the decks in the format which required dual lands or pricey older cards. It does everything but counter spells. It draws cards burns out the opposition attacks combos and tutors. It's fast often winning on turn 4 or sooner.
How does it do all these things?
Let's start with the god draw. The god draw with Goblins in terms of producing the fastest goldfish might look something like this.
Play one more Goblin.
Attack with everything to kill your opponent. Each Piledriver will be attacking for 9 damage.
There are a dozen variations of this basic line of play. Multiple Piledrivers produce exponential amounts of damage. Matrons can be used to tutor up additional Piledrivers and Goblin Ringleaders replenish your army. Warchief gives all of your men haste and acts like a one-sided Helm of Awakening.
Goblin Lackey is such a powerful play that the Goblins pilot is very likely to win any given game if Lackey is unanswered. On the other hand a Goblins pilot should not necessarily keep a hand on the strength of Lackey alone. The dreaded turn 1 Goblin Lackey leads to the most absurd lines of play but it may not even be the best turn 1 play of the deck.
However the objective with the Goblins deck is not necessarily to produce the fastest goldfish. Against Control decks a persistent stream of pressure is usually enough to push a breaking point. If the Goblins pilot over-commits to the board by playing all of their creatures they risk being wiped out by a Wrath of God. A turn 1 Goblin Lackey is just as likely to meet a Swords to Plowshares as it is a Force of Will. For both of those reasons Aether Vial is often the preferred turn 1 play. It evades countermagic will enable your Ringleader draw engine and will help you reload in the mid-game or after a board sweeper like Pernicious Deed or Wrath of God.
Cards like Wasteland and Rishadan Port create incredible tempo advantages that can push a tipping point beyond which an opponent can recover even if they have somehow managed to resume their game plan. The deck could seize nearly every role: control combo and aggro. Siege-Gang Commander is a game-ending bomb. SGC allows the Goblin army to emerge from combat with almost any foe victorious. It clogs the ground and works like a primitive exalted mechanic sending the unmistakable message that blocking is a suicide errand. Siege-Gang Commander is also important in scenarios where a ground stall has commenced and trench warfare has begun. SGC lobs its Goblin-missiles over enemy lines to finish off a weakened opponent. The same principle applies to a Moat. The Commandeer hurls his charge over the castle's defenses. A Moat may impede attack but it can't stop a catapulting kamikaze Goblin.
For the first couple of years of tournament Legacy and especially in the wake of the first Legacy Grand Prix Goblins was so dominant that there were almost immediate calls for the banning of Goblin Lackey or Aether Vial. Those cries of distress seemed a distant memory by the time Grand Prix: Columbus arrived. In fact the success of Goblins in Grand Prix: Columbus came as almost a relief.
Two years after Philadelphia at Grand Prix: Columbus arguably one of the fastest and most broken tournament environments ever experienced outside of Vintage Goblins managed to get second place. This was not a fluke.
- 4 Gempalm Incinerator
- 1 Goblin King
- 4 Goblin Lackey
- 4 Goblin Matron
- 4 Goblin Piledriver
- 4 Goblin Ringleader
- 1 Goblin Sharpshooter
- 4 Goblin Warchief
- 4 Mogg Fanatic
- 2 Siege-Gang Commander
- 2 Tin Street Hooligan
Owen's deck was geared toward combating Hulk Flash. Mogg Fanatics would prevent Flash pilots from comboing out by hitting Carrion Feeders at just the right moment. Cards like Goblin Sharpshooter also prevented Flash pilots from going infinite by stacking triggers every time a creature went to the graveyard. Although Flash eventually won the tournament Goblins reminded everyone that other decks could still compete.
As we look back on that with Flash long banished it is less a shining moment that inspired warm feelings than a portentous one that should send a chill down your spine. Goblins is a threat and will always be a threat Tarmogoyf or no.
Although recent Legacy tournament data suggest a drop-off in Goblins performance some large caveats should be mentioned. Smaller tournaments where Legacy regulars tend to compete may have very low Goblins representation compared to a tournament such as Grand Prix: Chicago where large numbers of irregular Legacy competitors will battle along with expert technical players on the Pro circuit. The more that this latter grouping of players gravitate towards Goblins the more successful it is likely to be.
Goblins is the best kind of Magic deck. It's a simple deck to pilot but one that has many layers of depth. The more masterful the Goblins pilot the more these invisible tactics will emerge. Stack combos with Skirk Prospector and Goblin Sharpshooter tutor tricks with Matron (fueled by Aether Vial) and other ambush tactics (Incinerator Mogg Fanatic) and other subterfuge all play a role in piloting Goblins at the highest level. Just as important is the sometimes subtle differentiation between role assignment. Goblins can shift between Beatdown Control and Combo roles between games and within the same game. Knowing when and how to make these shifts is another piece of the Goblins puzzle.
Despite Goblins many strengths it does feature some clear weaknesses.
Engineered Plague is and has been the single most powerful tool used to fight Goblins. Plague is so effective in the Goblins-dominated field of Grand Prix: Philadelphia that Chris Pikula ran two maindeck and often paid for them with Dark Ritual. Today Engineered Plague is a common sideboard card among the control and aggro-control decks that are so popular in modern Legacy. Goblins needs to have an answer to it and one of the most successful answers has been Krosan Grip. Cards such as Pyroclasm may see less play today but cards such as Engineered Explosives have taken their place.
As was explained in the introduction most Legacy decks have many color options and Goblins is no exception. Today the Goblins player also has a wider range of options available to them than ever before. Goblins players have taken full advantage of possible secondary color splashes and Owen's deck was no different using Krosan Grip to break up Counterbalance locks and stop Engineered Explosives. Splashing Blue gives you access to Daze and a Faerie that untaps Kiki-Jiki to create an infinitely large army. Splashing Black gives you access to Duress Thoughtseize and Warren Weirding and cards like Mad Auntie or Wort. Splashing Green gives you Krosan Grip and Tin Street Hooligan. Splashing White gives you spot removal like Swords to Plowshares and disruption like Armageddon. Whether you take up this deck as your weapon of choice or not be aware of the many options Legacy affords Goblins and decks like it.
And yet if you are a Legacy expert you probably know very little about Elves. In testing I (Stephen) came across many very competent Legacy players who had very little idea what I was even doing when I was playing Elves. Players became confused quiet or simply disconnected especially as I started to combo out.
Simply put Legacy players are grossly ignorant about Combo Elves. They see turn 1 Forest Fyndhorn Elves and think "scrub" or they tune out with the mistaken expectation that they will smash some face. What's sad is that Vintage players know more about Elves than Legacy players. Vintage Expert Rich Shay ran a tuned Elves list in Vintage a few months ago to a Top 8 finish (granted he was running Skullclamp as well banned in both Legacy and Extended) but the fact that a deck like Elves could even be ported to Vintage and make Top 8 speaks volumes about how good it is. Owen Turtenwald ran the deck in at least two Vintage tournaments as well and he's a SCG co-Champion and multiple Top 8 competitor.
If Owen Mr. Legacy Goblins ran Elves in a Vintage tournament what does that say about its potential for Legacy? In Extended Elves is a deck with a surprising turn 2 goldfish and a regular turn 3 goldfish. It's even faster and more consistent as you might imagine in Legacy.
The core of the deck is the interaction between Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel. Unfortunately it isn't as simple as just assembling these two cards however. A whole army of Elves is built around these two cards but these are the two cards that allow you to most easily gain unlimited amounts of mana.
With a Heritage Druid on the table and an untapped Nettle Sentinel and at least one other elf you can generate three mana. From there you can play more Green creatures. Every time you play two more creatures you can do the same thing. Every time you play a spell you'll be able to untap the Sentinel and then use the Druids ability to generate three mana by tapping the Sentinel again and the two new critters. With one Nettle Sentinel you can pretty much play as many one-mana Green creatures as you have for no additional cost.
A similar interaction is fostered by Nettle Sentinel and Birchlore Rangers. Together the two creatures allow you to play one-mana elves at essentially no mana cost. The new Elf is tapped to Ranger along with the again-untapped Sentinel to allow you to play another creature.
Eventually when you find another Nettle Sentinel you cross an invisible mana threshold. You will be generating gobs of mana with Heritage Druid. So what do you do with this mana and how do you find all of these creatures? Well although Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel provide the primary mana boosting Glimpse of Nature is the primary draw engine. When you are in the process of going off you can use Glimpse of Nature to ensure that every Elf replaces itself or comes closer to replacing itself. Wirewood Symbiote and Elvish Visionary for instance are here to help make sure that you don't stall out. The Symbiote will allow you to replay an Elf and the Visionary will draw you another card. You can even bounce and replay the Visionary to draw even more.
The other great thing about drawing from the Legacy card pool is that you get to play with cards like Fyndhorn Elves instead of Elves of Deep Shadow Elvish Spirit Guide for additional acceleration and to help beat Daze (also an Elf!) and Quirion Ranger which untaps Elves while allowing you to replay a Forest!
This is the pattern that is most likely to lead to a turn 2 victory:
Forest Nettle Sentinel and Heritage Druid.
Tap all three Elves for three mana.
Play Glimpse of Nature. Play another elf and untap Nettle Sentinel and draw a card. Play another Elf and draw another card. At this point you should be able to tap three Elves to generate 3 mana again and continue the process drawing more cards and generating even more mana as you find more Glimpses and more Nettle Sentinels. Sooner or later you will draw into your storm-keyword win conditions such as Grapeshot or Brain Freeze. You will use the Birchlore Ranger's ability to generate the off color mana to play it. A backup draw engine in case Glimpse fizzles or is countered is Pacting up Regal Force. Also if you are so inclined you can run Sylvan Messenger for more draw effects.
Another route to turn 2 combo is as follows:
Forest Nettle Sentinel
Forest Birchlore Ranger Glimpse of Nature.
Use the Ranger and the Sentinel to begin playing creatures one a time replacing each creature in hand with a fresh draw. If you are fortunate to find another Sentinel quickly either by drawing one or using Summoner's Pact to find one you will soon be able to use Heritage Druid's ability to combo out as described in the line of play outlined above.
What makes the Elves combo so resilient is that it requires so little to pull off. Even without a key part the Elves deck can generate quite a bit of card advantage and mana to litter the board with Elves. And even if the Elves deck stalls or fizzles while attempting to execute a turn 2 combo the Elves player is usually positioned very well to finish the job the next turn. As one commentator said regarding the resilience of Elves: "It is also more resilient to control elements. It fails more gracefully in that when its combo is stunted it has a perfectly viable alternate route to victory." Even if an opponent manages to wipe the board with Engineered Explosives it takes very little to get the combo up and running once again. For example an Elvish Visionary a couple of lands and a Glimpse of Nature can put you back in business.
However it would be an unforgivable error to simply highlight this deck's combo capacity. During the Pro Tour Luis-Scott Vargas reminded the YouTube audience that at least half of the time he won simply by ordering his army to beatdown. Although a rowdy bunch of 1/1 Elves may not seem threatening when there are a half dozen on the board by turn 2 and a dozen by turn 3 that is usually more than enough of an army to overwhelm many aggro and control opponents. A turn 1 Nettle Sentinel will can deal half a dozen points of damage by turn 3 alone. For this reason in the Elves list suggested by my team (Team Meandeck) we think that continuing to equip our Elven footsoldiers with Umezawa's Jitte in the sideboard is a good idea.
We are presenting a tuned and refined Elves list. It may not be perfect but it's the starting point for any serious look at this archetype.
- 4 Birchlore Rangers
- 1 Elvish Spirit Guide
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 4 Fyndhorn Elves
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 4 Quirion Ranger
- 1 Regal Force
- 1 Viridian Shaman
- 4 Wirewood Symbiote
- 15 Forest
There are of course wide ranging possibilities for this deck and a number of design avenues one might explore. Patrick Chapin suggested that Burning Wish might be a useful tutor for this deck. In addition he reminded us that Land Grant is another spell that would generate storm and untap Sentinels while fetching out Forests. If you want to run Black cutting 8 Forests for Gilt-Leaf Palace and Bayou will support post-board Thoughtseize. Chapin also ran Crop Rotation to find a single Gaea’s Cradle. That’s another powerful interaction to consider although we dislike Cradle on the grounds that as a one-land hand it is an automatic mulligan.
Elves is very likely to be a contender at the GP especially given it's recent breakout status in Extended ('recent' on an Eternal format time scale) means that professional Magic players are both familiar with the deck and have cards readily accessible. Already a more aggro-oriented Elves deck made Top 8 at the Legacy Championship last year. LSV’s upgrades only improve its chances. It's a perfect port from Extended. In a sense we believe that Elves has the potential to be for Legacy what Goblins once was. It's not as powerful of a raw aggro deck as Goblins but it's a far more potent Combo deck. It's a helluva a lot of faster as well. You don't need to be a better aggro deck when you put twice as many men into play in the same time frame. It makes little difference if you have 10 1/1s or 5 2/2s.
Legacy players need to quickly get caught up or they will be caught with their pants down. Currently on the Source there are no serious discussions about this deck. If they don't know what this deck does they won't have a clue how to stop it. And even with clue it's going to be a battle.
As potent as this archetype may prove to be it is not without its weaknesses. As a general matter this deck may prove easier to disrupt than Goblins even if oddly enough Elves proves to be a better overall deck. First of all Force of Will is more powerful against Elves than it is against Goblins. And silver bullets are more devastating.
Engineered Plague. As with all of the tribal decks Engineered Plague is a problem. It's even a bigger problem for this deck than others since it performs its job before it can be answered. It functions like a perpetual Wrath of God. The Elf pilot won't be able to use his mana elves to generate the resources to remove this card. Instead the Elf Pilot will have only two choices: address this card proactively but using cards like Thoughtseize to make opponents discard E. Plague. Or rely on the manabase to remove it after the fact with cards like Krosan Grip or Seal of Primordium.
Glacial Chasm. Although only a few decks run this card it is a game ender since the pilot will use Life from the Loam to recur it indefinitely. This is a reason to run Brain Freeze over or in addition to Grapeshot.
Engineered Explosives. While not quite as devastating this card is faster than the other answers to this archetype since it can be played on turn 1 and activated on turn 2. The best solution to this card is to destroy it before it can be activated. This can be done by using Krosan Grip post-board or by tutoring up Viridian Shaman pre-board and using your turn two mana production to destroy it. It can also be played around if you use your Symbiotes to return key Elves and make sure not to over-commit in the early game.
Counterslivers is one of the oldest remaining Aggro-Control archetypes in Magic. It won Grand Prix: Phoenix in 2001 and Grand Prix: Kansas City a decade ago. Counterslivers is a proven tournament winning concept.
Most recently Counterslivers won the Legacy Championship held last summer at Gencon. Here's the winning deck:
So why is Slivers so successful in such a competitive field? There are a number of things which are worth pointing out. First of all Aether Vial. Aether Vial is a recurring Black Lotus for Slivers. Since virtually every Sliver costs 2 it makes your slivers free and uncounterable putting out one a turn. Aether Vial also has the surprise factor. You can vial out a Sinew Sliver or a Muscle Sliver at just the right moment to take advantage of a miscalculation by your opponent one that is likely to win the game. The high amount of pump creatures Sliver runs also lowers its vulnerability to Engineered Plague.
Second power. Slivers in tandem are more powerful than anything else out there. A Sinew Sliver with a Muscle Sliver makes each Sliver 4/4 power. These guys can go toe-to-toe with a Goyf. Add a Mutavault into the equation and you have a small army or at least a mean gang under your control.
Third protection. Crystaline Sliver and Hibernation Sliver make it very difficult for opponent's to do anything about them. Winged Sliver is just the icing on the cake which evades a Moat and ground pounders like Goyf.
Nevertheless Slivers also features a serious weakness. As mentioned previously Slivers are extremely powerful in tandem because all their effects layer perfectly. This strength is also Slivers' biggest problem. While a single Tarmogoyf can kill an opponent fast a Muscle Sliver is not going to do much on its own and this forces the Sliver player to drop multiple creatures on the board at the same time making the deck very vulnerable to Engineered Explosives or Pernicious Deed if Hibernation Sliver does not stick.
1998 Pro Tour: Rome. In a field dominated by Academy decks where you could play some of the most powerful cards printed in Magic history such as Tolarian Academy High Tide Mana Vault Time Spiral or Recurring Nightmare amongst others and where everyone was trying to win the game by turn three or turn four Nicolas Labarre opted to play a deck that would typically go turn one Manta Riders turn two Merfolk Traders. Nevertheless he still made it to the finals losing to Tommi Hovi with yet another Academy deck. Between Force of Will Counterspell Wasteland and Force Spike Nicolas Labarre had all the weapons he needed for stalling the Academy decks long enough for his tiny Merfolk to beat the opponent down to 0 life. The Fish archetype was born.
Since then many variations on Fish have been played and while most of them dropped the Merfolk base for other creatures all kept the same core components of underpowered utility creatures and a heavy disruption package. A couple years ago Vintage players could drop a turn one Juggernaut or Tinker for a Darksteel Colossus by turn 2 while the Fish player could aim for an unimpressive turn two Spiketail Hatchling. Legacy Merfolk decks are built around the same concept except that they actually run some fishes!
As usual there is no real best Merfolk deck around especially since the deck can be built in many different ways enabled by the combination of fetchlands and dual lands. All these tend to share the same package of Cursecatcher Force of Will and Daze for disruption Silvergill Adept for card draw Lord of Atlantis and Merrow Reejerey putting an emphasis on the tribal theme and Aether Vial as a way to cheat mana costs and enable combat tricks or surprise disruption. Aside from this some lists opt to stay Mono Blue (sometimes including the dreaded Stifle + Phyrexian Dreadnought combo) while the Green (Tarmogoyf Krosan Grip) Black (Dark Confidant Thoughtseize) and White (Swords to Plowshares Sygg River Guide) splashes all saw tournament play. Even the optimum mana base setup is rather undetermined with players either going for a wider tribal approach with Mutavaults (usually with Standstill) or a stronger disruption package with Rishadan Ports as a Wasteland complement.
This is a basic example of how Mono-Blue Merfolk can be built in Legacy. A typical game against a deck like Ad Nauseam combo could go like this:
This simple play means your opponent cannot play a turn one Brainstorm or Ponder hindering his tempo while possibly preventing him from getting a much needed second land. It is also a great foil to a Thoughtseize or Duress opening.
Merfolk already intents to capitalize on the early tempo shift created by the Cursecatcher to inflict some early damage to the combo player especially since Ad Nauseam tends to demand a high amount of life. Ad Nauseam is down to 18.
The combo player is already on 14 life Merfolk has just sent him back to turn one with Cursecatcher on the board ready to catch the first cantrip being played four points of damage per turn and Standstill waiting to be triggered. The situation does not look good for the combo player. On turn four Merfolk could add a Mutavault to the board for even more damage. Once again there are multiple variations of this opening usually involving Force of Will Daze or Aether Vial.
As we could see Merfolk is great at preventing the opponent from doing broken things due to its heavy disruption package. Nevertheless this great strength is also Merfolk’s biggest weakness. What if our opponent is not playing Ad Nauseam but opens with Mountain Aether Vial instead and has a full grip of Goblins ready to be unleashed in the wild? To be honest things will go pretty bad for the Merfolk player. Cursecatcher is nothing more than a mere textless 1/1 in this matchup and Lord of Atlantis will probably be introduced to Gempalm Incinerator. Standstill is obviously a dead draw at this point and Wasteland is not going to be very relevant. Goblins will probably get Goblin Matron or Goblin Ringleader out at some point and overload Merfolk with card advantage. Same things are going to happen if Merfolk has to face the old-school Taiga Kird Ape opening. Let’s put it straight Merfolk cannot really beat "fair" decks. What can Merfolk possibly do against Goblins? If Merfolk wants to take the Beatdown role Goblins will capitalize on his mainboard Mogg Fanatic and Gempalm Incinerator (sometimes Warren Weirding) maybe adding Pyrokinesis from the sideboard and reduce the opposing attacking force to nothing in no time. If Merfolk intends on taking a Control role instead using Propaganda for example Goblins will simply slow play the game and burry Merfolk under his card advantage winning with Siege Gang Commander or by recurring Mogg Fanatics and Gempalm Incinerators with Wort Boggart Auntie (which also has the good idea of being unblockable in this matchup).
Overall the strength of Merfolk is directly proportional to the strength of the field. In a field where Combo is king Merfolk will be devastating but tiny green or red men tend to eat fishes for breakfast.
Until recently people would have probably considered Wizards as the defining Blue tribe. Lorwyn Block and its tribal oriented theme introduced a few powerful Faeries that pushed this tribe as the dominant Blue tribe and as a format defining archetype in Lorwyn Block Standard and Extended. Like any other Blue-based tribe Faeries makes a typical Aggro-Control deck quite similar to Merfolk in its concept with less aggressive components (Merfolk’s 8 Lords) and disruptive effects instead.
Spellstutter Sprite and Bitterblossom are the main reasons why one would play Faeries in Legacy. Legacy mana curves tend to be extremely low and even on its own Spellstutter Sprite will catch something either a Brainstorm or a Dark Ritual. In this deck it is basically a Mystic Snake for only half the cost. Bitterblossom is the other card that makes Faeries appealing. A turn 2 Bitterblossom is a solid play against Control decks where you are the aggressor (and if they get an Engineered Explosives for 2 they will still need to deal with the 1/1 afterwards) while against Aggro-Control the tokens can be used as Forcefields against Tarmogoyfs while your flying crew is racing. Sower of Temptation is another great weapon against Aggro-Control and more than often you will find yourself killing the opponent with his own Tarmogoyf Phyrexian Dreadnought or Tombstalker.
Because of the low amount of creatures we play and the diversity of their casting costs Aether Vial does not make the cut in this build which also excludes Standstill in the dedicated card draw slot. Faeries is less aggressive than Merfolk and will more than often go into mid or late game which makes Ancestral Visions a solid choice here. Ancestral Visions also fills the one-mana spots in the mana curve. Sometimes it will be an unimpressive draw but more than often it will be an Ancestral Recall when you need to refill your hand by turn 5. A Faerie build featuring a few more artifacts (either Chrome Mox or Vedalken Shackles) could also opt for Thirst for Knowledge.
Icing on the cake this build also features a small Wizards theme with Spellstutter Sprite (and Sower of Temptation to a lesser extend) recursion enabled by Riptide Laboratory. While this synergy is barely relevant in the first few turns of the game for obvious reasons it becomes solid once you reach the five mana threshold. Between Swords to Plowshares and Engineered Explosives this is not a very hard thing to do as Faeries builds tend to be much more controlish than Merfolk or Slivers (mostly due to a lack of massive offensive power). This explains why we opted to run no Daze but a few Counterspells and the full Spell Snares playset instead.
For a format with such a deep card pool it may be surprising that Legacy is so tribal. But that is precisely why tribes are so potent in Legacy. Given a few years of tweaking and consolidating creature types by issuing errata on top of fifteen years of accumulated printings tribal synergies are bound to be competitive. And since creature decks are so prominent in this format it is only natural that tribes will mark out some of the best possibilities for creature-based strategies.
Until next week…
Stephen Menendian & Matthieu Durand