Legacy is an incredibly diverse format, and you can see that when looking at the casting costs that get played. Today we are going to take a trip up the mana curve and talk about the best card in each spot. It will give you a sense of the best thing to be doing at each cost, all while being a fun ride. Let's get started!
More than any other land, Wasteland defines Legacy. The presence of Wasteland makes people play and fetch basic lands aggressively and enables aggressive decks to combat more powerful ones. Without Wasteland, decks like Delver or Eldrazi would be a lot worse against midrange and combo, which would surely be a loss to the format.
I'm choosing not to count free spells (like Daze or Force of Will) in the zero spot, which makes Lion's Eye Diamond the clear winner. Lotus Petal has some merit, but I'll take the pseudo-Black Lotus over the pseudo-Mox any day. This is what makes Storm decks of various flavors work, and the combination of Lion's Eye Diamond and Infernal Tutor really does let you build your own Demonic Tutor and Black Lotus, which are not shabby cards to have access to.
Much like Wasteland defines Legacy mana bases, Brainstorm defines Legacy as a format. If I had to pick one card to represent Legacy, it would be this—both for power level and for impact. Almost every blue deck plays four Brainstorms, and the reason many of those decks are great is because they have access to the card. The combination of Brainstorm plus a shuffle effect gives you a ton of card draw/filtering power for just one mana, and ensures that blue decks have consistent and powerful draws each game.
Tarmogoyf is a ubiquitous inclusion in a world full of fetch lands, cheap spells, and mana bases impacted by Wasteland. Having your 5/6 threat only cost two mana is critical in a format as fast as Legacy, and Tarmogoyf gives a wide range of decks access to a win condition at a cost they can afford. The landscape of Legacy would surely be quite different without this bizarre monster.
Cheating in Griselbrand, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, or Omniscience has been a tier 1 Legacy combo for years, and Show and Tell props up multiple combo decks as a result. It turns out that the entire cardset of Magic has some pretty good cards to put into play for three mana, even if the effect here is nominally "fair." Whatever the opponent puts into play pales in comparison, and Show and Tell is one of the cards that ends the game at a high rate whenever cast. That's a good deal for three mana.
Sneak Attack is a close second here, but Jace being the high end of a wide variety of decks prompts me to give him the nod. Miracles, Shardless Sultai, even Sneak Attack decks themselves—they all look at Jace to close out the late game. I say late game intentionally, as turn four-plus can be considered late in Legacy, making Jace the end of the curve more than the middle of it like he was in Standard. That also means our next bunch of cards may involve a lot of alternate casting costs and getting cheated into play.
Force of Will is the glue that holds Legacy together, and it's on par with Brainstorm and Wasteland in terms of how often it shows up. Without Force of Will, combo decks would utterly dominate, and turn-zero/one/two kills would be a scourge of the format. It gives blue decks interaction at no mana, albeit at a cost of cards and life. That's what makes Force so awesome—it's great against the nonsense combo decks, but not the best against "fair" decks, as you do get two-for-oned.
As predicted, here is a "six-drop" that is most frequently cast for the bargain price of one mana. Terminus is one of the linchpin cards in Miracles, the most controlling deck in the format. The combination of Sensei's Divining Top and Brainstorm with Terminus lets miracles happen consistently, which does make me question the name. Aren't miracles supposed to be unpredictable and rare?
Just because I consider Elesh Norn one of my lucky charms (say the name "Elesh V" out loud to see why) doesn't mean I was biased when adding her to this list. First of all, seven is way past the point where anybody is casting these spells, and Elesh being a legitimate reanimation target is a thing. She kills hordes of small creatures and locks some decks completely out of the game, all for one or two mana (thanks to Reanimate or Exhume).
Eight ball, corner pocket. There's no easier called shot to make than Griselbrand as the eight-drop of choice, as he revolutionized multiple different archetypes. He's a four-of in Sneak Attack and Reanimator decks, as it turns out that drawing seven to fourteen cards is a good way to win in Legacy (and the backup plan of a 7/7 lifelink flier is not bad either).
Similar to Elesh Norn, Iona is the reanimation target of choice when you are facing down spells rather than creatures. Locking the opponent out of an entire color is often good enough, and having an Iona to search for helps in a ton of matchups.
- Cast Show and Tell, put Omniscience into play.
- Cunning Wish for Firemind's Foresight.
- Cast Foresight for Brainstorm, Cunning Wish, and Impulse.
- Cunning Wish for Release the Ants.
- Use Impulse and Brainstorm to find Emrakul or Griselbrand, and Brainstorm one to the top.
- Release all the ants, winning clashes with your eight- or fifteen-cost card.
Emrakul is going to close us out here, as she is the second part of the Griselbrand tag team when it comes to cheating gigantic monsters into play. Sneak Attack and Show and Tell are Emrakul's little helpers, and it can truly be said that Emrakul is the Legacy end boss. Annihilating the opponent's board and life total is a good way to close a game.
I hope you enjoyed this journey through all the costs of Legacy. This is a cool mix of cards to talk about, and red almost got a card on the list (almost). Some of the slots are closer than others, and I'm no doubt going to find out which ones those are, though I'd have trouble imagining Wasteland, Brainstorm, or Force of Will going anywhere.