An Introduction to Online Eternal Formats

Posted in Magic Digital on May 18, 2016

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

One of my favorite things about Magic Online is the ability to play older formats. Thanks to MTGO, I'm once again a frequent Vintage player, and you can get games of Legacy or Vintage at any time. Given that Eternal Masters is on its way, now is the perfect time to get a glimpse of what Vintage and Legacy look like on Magic Online.

Legacy

One of the best ways to get an overview of a format is to look at the poles—the decks on the extreme ends of the combo/control/aggro spectrum. Legacy is a huge format, so getting a top-level look at the representative decks is important. We will also look at the decks that bridge the gap, as there are plenty in between the extremes.

Aggro

The most popular aggressive deck in Legacy is Eldrazi Aggro, no doubt inspired by the feared Modern deck of the same name.

noloam's Eldrazi Aggro

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Game Plan: Beat the opponent down with giant Eldrazi while disrupting them with cards like Chalice of the Void, Thorn of Amethyst, and Thought-Knot Seer.

Why It Works: The mana base is the reason this deck can get away with playing a much higher curve than other Legacy decks.

The fourteen copies of these lands each tap for two mana (or in the case of Eye, reduce costs by two). That gives the deck plenty of ways to play a turn-one Chalice of the Void and follow it up with a stream of Thought-Knot Seers and Reality Smashers. Even the curve of Eldrazi Mimic into Seer into Endless is a ton of pressure plus disruption, which is all this deck is looking to assemble.


Aggro-Control

Though it's always a hotly contested definition, I like calling Blue-Red Delver an aggro-control deck. It's got the combination I look for, which is fast pressure backed up by counterspells, even if the build I'm highlighting today leans a little more on the aggressive side than other Delver lists.

cyaso's Blue-Red Delver

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Game Plan: Play an early threat, and use Daze and Force of Will to prevent the opponent from enacting their own game plan. Finish things with burn spells if necessary.

Why It Works: Delver, Swiftspear, and Stormchaser Mage are threats that hit incredibly hard for just one or two mana, and both Daze and Force of Will can cost zero mana to cast.

By operating for less mana than any other deck in the format, the Delver deck gets to deploy all of its cards to good effect and overwhelm the opponent. It can even spend a little mana on card selection, like Brainstorm and Ponder, in order to make sure it has the right mix of counterspells and burn.


Control

Moving toward actual control, we have Miracles. It's by far the most controlling deck in the format, and is one of the most popular decks right now.

shamanicgreen's Miracles

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Game Plan: Lock the opponent out of playing spells with Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top, while using removal to deal with anything they resolve. Finish the game with Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Entreat the Angels.

Why It Works: The Counterbalance lock is incredibly effective. By using Top to rearrange the top of your library every time your opponent plays a spell, you can usually Counterbalance and stop anything with a converted mana cost of 1, 2, or 3. That's most cards in Legacy, and it means that you only have to mop up the few things that escape your lock.

Also, as the name suggests, miracle costs are a big part of the deck. Brainstorm, Ponder, and Sensei's Divining Top do a perfect job of setting up Terminus or Entreat the Angels. By having control over the miracles, you get to play a bunch of insanely powerful spells for a very low mana cost, and you can even do things like tap Top to draw a card on the opponent's turn to play them at instant speed.


Combo

So far, we've gone from aggro, to aggro-control, to control. The next step is a bigger jump, as combo decks in Legacy tend to be very focused. But by starting with Sneak and Show, we haven't given up Force of Will completely.

idsan's Sneak and Show

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Game Plan: Put Emrakul or Griselbrand into play via Show and Tell or Sneak Attack.

Why It Works: The combination of great card filtering (Brainstorm and Ponder), fast mana (City of Traitors and Lotus Petal), and cheap counterspells (Force of Will, Flusterstorm, and Spell Pierce) lets this deck win quickly and stop the opponent on the way.

In a recurring theme, all of these cards are powerful and don't require much mana. Sneak and Show is one of the best combo decks because of how fast it is and how reliably it works. It's got lots of blue card manipulation and eight-plus counterspells, meaning that it has good matchups even against the few decks in the format that are faster.

It's also kind of cool that this list has a transformational sideboard that involves bringing in Monastery Mentor and Nahiri, the Harbinger for some backup kill conditions.

The last Legacy deck we are going to take a look at is one of the most feared combo decks in the format. It does have some disruption, but it's certainly a purer combo deck than anything else we've seen thus far. (And it comes from user TogoresRodrigo, who is accomplished Storm pilot Rodrigo Togores!)

TogoresRodrigo's Storm

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Game Plan: Get the storm count to nine, then cast Tendrils of Agony. There are many ways to get there, most of which involve the combo of casting Infernal Tutor, then sacrificing Lion's Eye Diamond with it on the stack. That gives you an empty hand, so Infernal Tutor is hellbent, at which point you can get Ad Nauseam or Past in Flames and string a bunch of spells together.

The deck is exceedingly hard to play, and I recommend lots of practice if you are going to. I include it here partially because there's a good chance you will face it, and knowing what it's doing is important.

Why It Works: This deck kills very quickly, and disruption from Duress plus a fast clock is a good combination. Dark Ritual and Lion's Eye Diamond can lead to kills as early as turn one, and Ponder, Brainstorm, and Preordain make the deck more consistent than you might suspect.

For more on this deck, check out the video I recorded with it.

Bonus: Rodrigo shows up in the comments to discuss sideboarding, which I found very challenging.

What to Play?

Legacy is one of the most diverse formats imaginable, and there are tons of options. We've looked at examples of many of the major archetypes, but there are tons more for you to choose from. Eldrazi or Blue-Red Delver are both good places to start if you are getting into Legacy—Eldrazi because the deck is powerful, proactive, and straightforward, and Delver for many of the same reasons. Delver also will give you practice with Brainstorm, a very challenging card, and gives you the base of cards you need to make a bunch of different blue decks.

Of course, the set is called Eternal Masters, and there's another Eternal format I want to take a look at—one that also happens to be my favorite format.

Vintage

Vintage is a little odd in that there are very few decks I'd label as pure control. There are decks that win more slowly than others, but the powerful nature of the win conditions in Vintage leads to many decks that are capable of winning out of nowhere. It's hard to protect against the varied win conditions present, and as such even the decks with a bunch of counterspells tend to be quite proactive.

For example, take Jeskai Mentor, one of the most popular decks.

diophan's Jeskai Mentor

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Game Plan: Get ahead on cards with Gush, get ahead on mana with free counterspells, and get ahead on board with Monastery Mentor.

Why It Works: All of the plans named above involve mana advantage, either from being free (Gush, Mental Misstep, and Force of Will) or from making tons of Monks for only three mana. Mentor decks combine the power of Vintage blue cards with an engine capable of turning them into an army.

The natural enemy of Monastery Mentor is Dark Ritual, as apparently Monks are not prepared for an oncoming Storm.

becks84's Storm

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Game Plan: Like Legacy Storm, this deck is looking to assemble a lethal Tendrils. It has more powerful cards with which to do so, which makes it faster and more resilient, as you'd expect.

Why It Works: Disruption from Defense Grid and Duress combine extremely well with the abundant fast mana in the format, leading to frequent kills on turns one to three. The most common lines include Dark Petition into Yawgmoth's Will or Necropotence, after which it's trivial to string together enough spells to win.

Speaking of natural enemies, Storm has no worse matchup than Mishra's Workshop, even after the recent restriction of Lodestone Golem. (And David Beduzzi, who's deck is shown below, is a longtime Workshop master.)

David Beduzzi's MUD (Mishra's Workshop Aggro)

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Game Plan: Ensure your opponent is unable to play a single spell. Kill them with assorted robots.

Why It Works: Mishra's Workshop taps for three mana. Three! That means this deck can easily break the symmetry in cards like Thorn of Amethyst, Sphere of Resistance, and Lodestone Golem.

If this deck plays an early Sphere or three, it's not uncommon for the opponent to never play anything relevant (or anything at all). Look at the previous two Vintage lists—they rely on Moxen and cantrips like Preordain to play their spells, and Workshops taxes those cards severely. Even with Lodestone being restricted, this is a very real deck, and in some ways the most controlling deck in the format.

What to Play?

As in Legacy, there are a ton of options (slightly fewer, but still many more than I have time to talk about today). Pick any that strikes your fancy, with Mentor or Workshops being my recommendations. It's actually very similar to Legacy, and for the same reason—straightforward, proactive decks are great. Mentor also overlaps with tons of other decks, giving you a good base to build from.

Whatever you choose, I hope you enjoy these formats—they are my favorites for a reason.

LSV

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