Merry Christmas, everybody! I hope you're enjoying the holidays as much as I am while I'm writing this (man, my parents really know how to cook great food!). With the holidays around and Christmas generally leading to some capital to invest for the typical Magic player, I thought the time was right for an article about how to start Legacy for a reasonable amount of cash. If you're one of the people bemoaning your inability to break into Legacy without also breaking the bank, this article is for you.
Magic costs money. We're all familiar with that fact, if only because this here site here only exists because we the players are ready to part with hard cash to get the cards we need. Legacy in particular is expensive. Your manabase might cost you what you'd pay for a nice little used car or pay your rent for a few months.
This obviously creates an insanely high barrier for anybody who wants to get into the format competitively. Coughing up a few thousand dollars just to play a card game isn't something everybody can or wants to do it. Actually, I'm more familiar with this kind of problem than most people because I've been playing Vintage for such a long time, and trust me, if you think Legacy is expensive, you should take a look at what a good Vintage deck comes for. As one of the better players in that format (at least back then, I'm somewhat out of the loop by now), I had a lot of people asking me how to build a “budget deck.”
Budget decks are decks that replace certain expensive cards (in Vintage context, usually Power 9, in Legacy mostly dual-fetch manabases) with alternatives that don't cost an arm and a leg. Now, budget decks can be good decks if they're being built specifically to accommodate the loss of important, expensive cards. U/r Fish was a very powerful archetype in Vintage some years ago, for example, but that doesn't mean the deck wouldn't have been better with an Ancestral Recall and a Time Walk. Those cards weren't left out because the player didn't want to run them but because he didn't have access to them.
Still, running a Null Rod-based Fish deck without the Power Nine is a solid alternative to not playing or budgetizing an existing archetype. You see, most non-budget Vintage decks are (or at least were) built with the acceleration provided by Moxen in mind and often sculpt their game plans around either resolving Ancestral Recall or using Black Lotus to accelerate out Yaggie's Will. Budgetizing those decks by trying to find replacements for the cards you don't have doesn't just produce a weaker deck; the result is a steaming pile.
I've been getting comments along the lines of “heh, it sure is easy to win at Legacy when you have a ton of expensive cards,” and that's further proof that card access is as significant an issue in Legacy now as it was for the Vintage budget players of old.
What those of you on the lower end of the card availability scale have to be aware of is that the expensive cards in Legacy—duals and fetches most importantly—have a very similar effect on deckbuilding as the Power 9 do in Vintage. Here, as there, taking a netdeck and replacing the expensive cards with cheaper substitutes generally doesn't end well. Ravnica shock-duals may seem like they're close to the originals, sure. After all, if you're fetching intelligently, you'll often only end up taking an additional four damage. The problem is that the decks you're budgetizing are built with the additional four life in mind. In ANT, running Watery Grave instead of Underground Sea might be the difference between an Ad Nauseam that kills you and one that wins you the game. In a control deck, the additional life loss might cause you to die a turn before stabilizing. In Zoo fetching shock-duals instead of real ones can easily lead to Fish racing you instead of being dominated. And duals are only the biggest example of why budgetizing can ruin your chances.
So are you screwed if you're strapped for cash but want to play Legacy? No, you aren't. You just have to accept that not having all the cards you'd like will limit which decks you can play. The solution to monetary problems isn't budgetizing; it's picking the right decks, Legacy's version of budget decks if you want. In a way, you're even in luck. Where the Vintage players I talked about before had to actually play suboptimal decks, you can play ideal (or close to) Constructed lists.
There are a number of decks in Legacy that, in their optimized forms, can be purchased for less than $500 just by using the card search function next to this article. If you can actually invest some trade stock, borrow some cards, or have some pieces already, you'll often get away significantly cheaper.
What I'll be doing today is showing you six such decks (not an exhaustive list by any means)—actual high-tier Legacy decks you'll be able to build for the cost of an expensive Standard deck (the prices I give are what you'll pay when buying the cheapest versions StarCityGames.com has in stock in sufficient quantity and don't count the basic lands or shipping). I'll include a short overview about what makes these different from more expensive versions, explain shortly how each of them works, mention some ways to make them even cheaper (when applicable), and go into the options that a little more available cash gives you for each of them (again where applicable). Sound good? Let's go then!
- 4 Gempalm Incinerator
- 4 Goblin Chieftain
- 4 Goblin Lackey
- 4 Goblin Matron
- 3 Goblin Piledriver
- 4 Goblin Ringleader
- 4 Goblin Warchief
- 1 Mogg Fanatic
- 3 Mogg War Marshal
- 1 Siege-Gang Commander
- 1 Stingscourger
- 1 Tuktuk Scrapper
Making it cheaper:
Not much, as the expensive cards are integral to your game plan.
This deck has had a lot of bad press ever since New Phyrexia was printed, but Goblins are like cockroaches; it's simply impossible to really get rid of them. Between the anti-Goblin hype during the Misstep-era and the first few tournaments after the banning being full of combo, Goblins has lost a lot of its followers throughout 2011. That doesn't mean it's suddenly a bad deck, on the contrary. Goblins is still a force to be reckoned with and easily capable of plowing through a Legacy tournament as long as combo isn't out in force (and seeing as blue-based tempo decks make up a large part of the field right now, you should be able to dodge that dreaded matchup as long as you win early on).
As to the list presented above, it isn't mine; it's something either Gerry or Drew (I don't remember exactly) suggested here a few weeks ago. It's also the only deck I lost to during the Christmas tournament in our local game store. The sweet thing about the list is that it isn't a budget deck at all; even Bill Gates should be fielding exactly that list if he wanted to play Mono-Red Goblins. You see, adding fetches and duals doesn't actually make Goblins better; those cards simply allow it to play differently. The multicolor lists are much better at playing an answers game. Between Incinerators, Weirdings, and Hooligans, those decks can use the tutor and draw engine Goblins is built around (Matron/Ringleader) to answer things after they have resolved. To do that, those decks need to play more colored mana sources at the cost of Rishadan Ports.
The minor differences in abilities Mono Red offers compared to splashed versions lead to a very different game plan. Where R/b/g Goblin builds generally focus on advancing the board while killing what the opponent does, Mono Red is all about slowing the game down until your high-end spells come online. Sure, Lackey or Vial followed by mana denial is still the ideal scenario and leads to the fastest wins, but even without the enablers, the mana denial lands will often allow you to buy time until you can unload a Warchief and a Piledriver during a single turn, with more gas to come in the future. Essentially you're using your manabase to turn Goblins from an aggressive midrange-beatdown deck into an aggro-control deck with a heavy card-advantage endgame.
As such, being budget when playing the little green men doesn't mean you're left with a suboptimal deck, far from it. You simply have to follow a different plan than someone who can throw more money at the problem. Just throwing more Goblins at it will make it disappear just as well, though.
- 4 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
- 4 Elvish Spirit Guide
- 4 Simian Spirit Guide
- 4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- 4 Progenitus
Making it cheaper:
You could use some less expensive hard-to-cast fatties like Inkwell Leviathan instead of Emrakul and Progenitus, though you definitely lose some speed. You could also replace comparatively pricey lands like Reflecting Pool with other five-color lands or more Invasion sac-lands like Geothermal Crevice.
The one expensive card this deck would want to run is Show and Tell instead of Demonic Dread. This has a few advantages in that you end up with a higher blue card count for the pitch-counters, don't always have to allow your opponent to drop everything they're holding into play (just the best thing), won't just fail sometimes because your opponent refuses to play a target for Demonic Dread (which can be a problem if you don't have an Orchard), and are able to work around a Counterbalance or Chalice of the Void for zero.
Who says brokenness has to be expensive? I've played with this deck a little, and it can do some sick things. You actually have a pretty reasonable chance of dropping Progenitus or Emrakul on turn 2.
The reason this deck is so cheap even when built optimally is that it is a rare beast, a consistency combo deck. Enabled by the fact that you can cascade into Hypergenesis and only Hypergenesis, you run twelve cards that will allow you to drop whichever fatties you have in hand into play for the low price of three mana. Because of how the engine works, you can't run cheap library manipulation anyway and need to be able to produce U/W, R/G, and R/B, so you simply don't want to play fetches and duals. The only truly expensive card in the deck is Force of Will, one of the absolute best investments you can make if you're interested in Legacy.
The deck is easy to play and mulligan (you need mana, a cascade spell, and at least one fatty) and trades the speed of Belcher for the ability to run your own protection, something that will definitely come in handy if your opponent has a Force of Will in hand or is playing fast combo themselves. One big reason this deck is sweet is the look on your opponent's face when they stare at the Emrakul and Progenitus tag team before even getting a turn.
- 1 Flame-Kin Zealot
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 2 Golgari Thug
- 4 Ichorid
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Putrid Imp
- 1 Sphinx of Lost Truths
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 1 Tireless Tribe
Making it cheaper:
Once again the deck is so linear that there isn't much you can remove without significantly hurting the deck. Replacing the Firestorms with more Tireless Tribes should be fine but will only save you a few bucks anyway.
There also aren't any significant upgrades for those with more cash to blow. Saving up for a set of Lion's Eye Diamonds will allow you to build a different deck that nearly looks the same but plays much more like a true combo deck (similar to how Badlands/Taigas allow you to explore different styles in Goblins). This seems like a particularly saucy option considering Dark Ascension is going to bring us a Careful Study with flashback in Faithless Looting (I know, right?).
Dredge has long been the deck touted to deliver the most bang for your buck if you're planning to get into Legacy. I shamelessly stole this list from Kristopher Hackelman at the Invitational. Considering you read Legacy articles, I don't think I need to tell you how Dredge works, though if you want to really learn something about the deck, check out Richard Feldman's excellent article The Dark Art of Dredge Fu. I don't agree with all his ideas (LED Dredge is in fact not an inferior version but a different deck, for example, and I dislike not having the Flame-Kin Zealot because winning fast can deal with a lot of situations that are otherwise problematic), but it's still an excellent primer. Dredge is also a spicy choice to buy into right now simply because we're in the middle of a graveyard block. Sure seems like there should be some goodies for Dredge, especially if Faithless Looting is any indication as to how much R&D thought about Dredge when designing cards (answer: not very much).
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 2 Fyndhorn Elves
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 1 Joraga Warcaller
- 2 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 4 Quirion Ranger
- 1 Regal Force
- 4 Vengevine
- 1 Viridian Shaman
- 4 Wirewood Symbiote
- 1 Dryad Arbor
Making it cheaper:
The deck can probably live with a Cradle or two less (add Forests). As broken of an effect as it provides, drawing more than one sucks, and drawing it as your only mana source is a definite mulligan. It also makes it particularly effective if your opponent simply tries to kill everything you play, which can end up being a problem when you've only drawn a single Forest.
There are a ton of options to try out. You could splash black for Thoughtseize, Cabal Therapy, and Buried Alive from the sideboard, try out Brainstorm and Intuition maindeck, or add a hint of white so as to support Gaddock Teeg and Qasali Pridemage as Zenith targets. Horizon Canopy makes for another excellent land, even in builds that don't splash white simply because it allows you to play more lands without them being totally dead during your combo turn.
Oliver Pamart's original build I based this on (which won a 71-player event in France) also had Natural Order into Progenitus as a sideboard plan instead of Sylvan Messengers and Pendelhaven, which I suspect was mainly meant to deal with strategies that try to grind the deck out with removal—something the elvish version of Ringleader counteracts for a much lower price. Caller of the Claw has the same function but is particularly efficient against mass removal and makes it so that an active Fauna Shaman means removal only downgrades your creatures into wolves. Progenitus still is a much more powerful plan, though, and worth investing in.
The sweet thing about the deck is that you get to run a combo deck and a creature beatdown deck at the same time. Sometimes you cast Glimpse of Nature, use Nettle Sentinel and Heritage Druid to fuel you mana-wise before hardcasting all your Vengevines as well as a heavily kicked Joraga Warcaller and swinging for the win with the plants and the few Elves you had before all those shenanigans.
At other times, you lose your first four creatures to removal before landing a Fauna Shaman and grinding them out with the Vengevine chain. And if neither of those works out, there is always attacking with pointy-eared forest people. Elves really has a ton of options and goes broken with the best of them, all while playing only basic Forests.
Making it cheaper:
The Ancient Tombs aren't strictly necessary but allow for some sweet, broken plays and make Tezzeret easier to support. If paying 14 dollars less is what you need, though, some artifact lands or Blinkmoth Nexi (yes, I know it's Nexuses; Nexi sounds much sweeter, though) will do all right, too.
The Glimmervoid is probably better off being an Underground Sea, seeing as the deck doesn't use any other colored spells. The difference between the two is so negligible here, though, that I'm not even sure it's worth it (not counting the fact that Underground Sea is a good card to have for other decks you might want to build).
After having performed admirably in the beginning of 2011, Affinity suddenly fell off the face of the earth. I'm not sure why, though, as like Goblins, the deck still packs a hell of a punch. The list above is based on what Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald took ninth place with at the StarCityGames.com Open in Charlotte held concurrently to the Invitational, with a few modifications. He suggested going up to four Tezzerets and three Dismembers if you want a favorable matchup against U/W Stoneforge, and Tezzeret is so ridiculous in this deck that I'd want to play four anyway. I also hate Myr Enforcer because it's so inefficient compared to the rest of the deck, so those were what I cut. Spellskite seems sweet enough to be maindeckable (if they can't kill your Masters or Plating-ed guys, they're going down fast), and that way there is room in the board for that third Dismember.
Owen said he'd play the deck again, and having played against Affinity myself, I know how powerful the deck is. In spite of the common wisdom cited above, this provides probably even more power per dollar than Dredge and has the additional advantage of feeling like playing real Magic, something players new to the format should appreciate.
Making it cheaper:
Got me there. The core of Lilianas, Sinkholes, and Wastelands eats up so much money that it's hard to make this significantly cheaper. I suppose the remaining Urborgs aren't exactly necessary, though having one in play is quite sweet. The fourth Cursed Scroll is also somewhat optional and could probably be an Innocent Blood, another Pox, or even an Ensnaring Bridge.
Speaking of Urborgs, I assume Reid Duke tested his list before running it at the Invitational, so investing in the last two Urborgs is probably a good choice. Nether Void and The Abyss on the other hand seem superfluous. I'd rather have Sphere of Resistance as combo hate (comes down much earlier) and Ensnaring Bridge if I really feel like I need more ways to defend against creatures. That being said, I might be way off on Nether Void. It might be this deck's Armageddon, the ultimate nail in the coffin once you've gotten a tiny bit ahead. If you have cash to spend, run a build with 2-3 Nether Void through a gauntlet and see how you like it. Running it as a one-of still doesn't seem like something this deck would want to do.
I know I talked about Pox last time already, but the deck is just sweet enough and cheap enough to qualify again. I removed Reid's cute Nether Void and The Abyss as discussed because they're both expensive and unnecessary. I honestly think running those one-ofs was probably a mistake in the first place because they are situational, cost a lot of mana, and there is no way to find them when they're needed, seeing as the deck has no library manipulation. Going with the consistency of having as many playsets as possible seems better (the Spinning Darkness is just a sixteenth sideboard card making it into the maindeck). The exception to that rule is the singleton Pox because it isn't actually a one-of. It's a way to play five Smallpoxes.
Other than that, there isn't that much to say about the deck because all it does is restrict options. It tries to mire both players in a situation where they have nothing available but a few lands in play, a situation most decks aren't all that well equipped to deal with—but where Pox excels. Once nobody has any resources left over, they die a slow death to Shock-sized attacks and artifact activations.
Two and a Half Thousand Dollars Later
I'm going to stop here for today, but the number of good Legacy decks you can build for less than 500 dollars is actually quite a bit larger than this. For these six, I've done the work of calculating prices and stripping non-essential cards for you. If there's nothing you fancy, either let me know in the comments and I'll write something similar again (soon). Or you could just go back to my Ultimate Legacy Compendium (already slightly out of date and missing a few decks such as Hypergenesis) and look for some lists that look affordable to you and fit what you'd like to be doing. I'll see you next year; until then put your money where it does the most good!