Ah, Legacy. The Cadillac of Magic: The Gathering.
Where Wastelands and Brainstorms sit side by side with Dark Rituals and Lion's Eye Diamonds. The original removal spell, Swords to Plowshares, hangs out opposite some of the most efficient creatures of all time, with Sheriff Force of Will and Deputy Daze there to keep all the ruffians and ne'er-do-wells in their place. It's a wonderful and evergreen experience, picking up those old dual lands for another workout. We will soon be back to Worcester for an SCG Tour® Legacy event, and I envy those of you who will be in attendance. Too often, we let Legacy slip out of the forefront of our minds, as there are many more Standard, Limited, and Modern events to prepare for, but whenever we go back it reminds us that we are but humble and fallible novices in the face of the intricate dance of two powerful, well-tuned machines.
In order to properly get back into the right mindset for Legacy, it behooves us to take a look at some of the perennial contenders and what has happened in the interim since the last major Legacy event. New decks have risen to the top, others have slipped, and (as always) I have a personal decklist to offer up at the very end.
To begin, the once and future king of Legacy (at least until the rumored Deathrite Shaman ban), Grixis Delver. Bob Huang, longtime Legacy specialist and format enthusiast, has used hyperbolic language to describe his personal Delver list, which he calls "the best deck in the format, bar none." Strong words from a usually-reserved player, but he has a point. This deck just wins:
It's an undeniably sturdy list. Bob's been playing the same cards for months now, and he claims to have reached format nirvana. With multiple angles of attack including mana denial, the hated multiple-Delver draws, Young Pyromancer to go wide, Gurmag Angler to present a one-mana 5/5, Deathrite Shamans and Lightning Bolts for reach, and True-Name Nemesis to obsolete traditional removal, Grixis Delver is an elite strategy that offers tons of free win equity to those who pick it up. Even if you're not a format maven, it would be wise to consider just sucking it up and playing the best deck. You don't have to worry about grindy, drawn-out affairs with a Jace deck, and you don't have to sweat hate or interaction like the combo or Lands decks. You just play undercosted threats, clock your opponent, and counter their best attempts to keep up. Post-sideboard, you even have powerful answers to narrow problems, like Surgical Extraction for Reanimator, Dredge and Lands; Diabolic Edict for Lands, Turbo Depths, and opposing True-Name Nemeses; Marsh Casualties for Elves and Death and Taxes; and Ancient Grudge for Chalice of the Void. If you ever find yourself waffling about what deck to play in the late hours before a Legacy event, just do yourself a favor and play Grixis Delver.
But let's say you don't want to play the obvious best deck. You want to play the most Magic possible. You want to play lots and lots of cantrips and win with your good buddy Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Miracles is still around in a new form, and if you want a mental workout, you can have a blast keeping track of the order of the top of your library with cards like Portent, Brainstorm, Ponder, Predict, and the like. Anuraag Das is obsessed with Miracles, and his list is the go-to for anyone who likes flipping a Terminus onto a cluttered battlefield.
Another true work of art, this Miracles list provides clean card advantage, plenty of interaction, a Counterbalance soft-lock that can put opponents in fits, and a strong Delver matchup. With flexible answers and a less mana-intensive card selection engine, Topless Miracles is almost as powerful as its now-banned progenitor. The only problem, as always, is finishing your matches in time. Make no mistake, it can be done, but you simply must have crisp mechanics and be willing to prod slow opponents. If that isn't your cup of tea, then Miracles won't be your best option.
That being said, if you want a deck with similar grindy elements but a strong matchup against both Miracles and Delver, the next fair Brainstorm deck is for you. It's by far the most flexible deck in the format, with options like a Punishing Fire package, heavier discard elements, weird Planeswalkers--Dack Fayden or Ob Nixilis Reignited--and any removal or disruption spell you can think of in four colors. I do not personally recommend this list, but if you are looking for the closest relative to Nic Fit that has a great shot to win a major tournament, look no further.
"Clashed" on MTGO, whoever you are, I salute you.
With respect to players like Grixis Midrange, Sultai Leovold, Temur Delver, Sultai Delver, Esper Stoneblade, and a whole host of others, this concludes the overview of the biggest fair Brainstorm decks. At risk of repeating myself, the clear choice for an undecided player is stock Grixis Delver, which is likely to be the most popular deck and still overperform at the upcoming Open.
If you insist on playing an unfair Brainstorm deck, though, your best options are Storm and Sneak and Show. These twin powerhouses of non-interactive Magic have been cornerstones of Legacy for years now, and remain among the best choices for players who like to win big. Neither of them, however, is the absolute top choice for unfair Magic in contemporary Legacy. No, the two best decks for cheesing out the opponent now are none other than B/R Reanimator and Turbo Depths (again, assuming that you are relatively inexperienced with Storm, as expertise is more mandatory with that deck now than ever).
There are a number of potential tweaks for Turbo Depths, but the name of the game is simple. Play a few discard spells (or don't, up to you), make Marit Lage come out of the icy prison with Thespian's Stage or Vampire Hexmage, protect it with Sylvan Safekeeper if necessary, and win at your leisure. Sylvan Safekeeper is an incredible piece of tech for the deck, preventing Swords to Plowshares from ending the 20/20 and soaking up an otherwise-deadly Diabolic Edict that many opponents have floating in their sideboards. As a starting point, "daft" has a list that seems crisp and well-rounded. This is the feared Lands deck on easy mode, where you cede the grindy potential of Life from the Loam in exchange for faster free wins against combo decks. Often, a discard spell or two can lead into a third-turn Marit Lage, and that is more than enough to get the win.
Let's say you'd rather lose to Surgical Extraction than Terminus, though. There's one deck that is the Magic equivalent of going all-in blind every hand, and if you can handle the risk, you can enjoy the reward. Putting his royal Griselness on the battlefield on the first turn is one of the best feelings in Magic, and that is what this deck aims to do. If Miracles is the deck most likely to end up with unintentional draws every round, R/B Reanimator is its polar opposite. "Hit 'em fast, hit 'em hard, and if they whoop you, so be it," might be the credo of Team Griselbrand. The list is fairly stock at this point, but after looking at a few options, I prefer this one by MTGO user "ewlandon":
There are only a few things that a person can really mess with in this list. One could play more Collective Brutality, different artifact hate, and potentially change the makeup of the different reanimation targets, but it's simple and effective. If you win a tournament with this deck, though, I believe there is a rider on Griselbrand's contract that obliges you to go to your nearest casino and throw all your winnings on black (or red, your choice; there's just something poetic about the roulette wheel being painted in Rakdos colors).
At this point, we have exhausted most of the best archetypes in the format. It says something about Legacy that the great divide is between the fair Brainstorm decks and the unfair glass cannons, but a handful of non-Brainstorm, somewhat interactive decks do exist and do win tournaments. They are Death and Taxes, Lands, Elves, Colorless Eldrazi, and (dare I say it) Burn. Unless you are an archetype expert with any of these, I must caution that I do not recommend playing them.
Death and Taxes requires pilots to master timing tricks, figuring out when to be aggressive and when to follow a mana denial plan, when to go for which equipment with Stoneforge Mystic, and how to play around hate. Thomas Enevoldsen can win with it, but that doesn't necessarily mean you can pick it up and expect to win at the same clip. Lands has been at times the absolute best deck in Legacy, and still can fight with the best of them, but unless you have hundreds of hours of reps with the deck, you will win a lot more of your matches with something like Turbo Depths instead.
Elves is in a similar spot, where the matchups against the fair Brainstorm decks are all close, and the matchups against the unfair decks are all pretty bad. To that end, I do not recommend playing any Elves other than Deathrite Shaman in your Legacy deck. Colorless Eldrazi suffers from an increase in Baleful Strix and artifact removal among the fair decks, as well as a relatively poor matchup against Turbo Depths and R/B Reanimator. It's eminently playable, but not as well-positioned as it was when it was first created. And Burn? When Patrick Sullivan himself is bemoaning Flame Rift's spot in Legacy, it might be time to lay down the Lava Spikes.
I did promise my own preferred list for upcoming Legacy tournaments. It all stems from my absolute adoration for Snapcaster Mage and my disdain for Young Pyromancer. See, Young Pyromancer, while a strong card, is often not particularly important in a wide range of matchups. Against Elves and Death and Taxes, the important task is to break up an opponent's battlefield and sneak in damage with Delver or Deathrite Shaman. Against combo decks, the important task is to pick apart their hand or counter their attempts to set up while sneaking in damage with Delver and Deathrite Shaman (or Gurmag Angler). Against Miracles, the important task is to stick and move, to dance around their Terminuses and try to find a spot to protect a True-Name Nemesis or to jam a bunch of creatures after the first Terminus. And against the mirror match, the best thing you can do is leverage a mana advantage for victory, playing heavy removal to keep your opponent from being able to develop their battlefield to beat yours. Young Pyromancer doesn't do enough against the other synergy-based decks (Elves, D&T, combo decks), as it requires you to spend two mana at sorcery speed and then cast a bunch of instants and sorceries to actually be worth its salt. Far preferable is the flexible Snapcaster Mage, which can serve as extra removal spells or extra discard spells depending on what's needed, and which allows you to position yourself as the "control" in the semi-mirror against traditional Grixis Delver.
I've played Four-Color Delver before, and it may be time to play it again. Here's the list I'd take to any tournament with confidence that I'd be able to put up a stiff fight against most of the popular decks in the format:
Volcanic Island sucks. There are no two ways about it. It does nothing for your Deathrite Shaman, which is the biggest problem, and so Badlands replaces one to give you more ways to cast the best turn-1 play in your deck. The heavy discard element comes from the fact that you want reliable disruption against the unfair decks and can't rely on drawing the combo of Gitaxian Probe and Cabal Therapy to truly stunt on the opponent. A good, honest Thoughtseize is just fine. Potential changes include adding a third Abrupt Decay to the list somewhere, putting an Ancient Grudge in the sideboard, or playing a third Diabolic Edict to hedge harder against Lands and Turbo Depths. Potential cuttable cards include the Dismember, one Liliana, the Last Hope, a Marsh Casualties, and the Pithing Needle.
Standard comes and Standard goes. Modern, as we saw a few weeks ago, can change in the blink of an eye. But Legacy stays. Legacy is the most accessible link to Magic's rich history. If you aren't dipping your toes in the Legacy waters, you are indeed missing out. If the Most Interesting Man in the World played Magic...well, you get the picture.