Crash Course

Posted in Top Decks on May 26, 2011

By Mike Flores

This weekend is a rare Grand Prix devoted to the now-popular Legacy format. I still recall a few years back, when Billy Moreno brewed up the first winkings of his HulkFlash deck on the big wooden blocks in my living room, not yet knowing that a returning Steve Sadin would—maybe a week later—emerge a Grand Prix champion with arguably the greatest single-tournament deck of all time.

Once upon a time, Legacy was played infrequently at a large scale and the highest levels (maybe one North American Grand Prix per year) and catered to a comparatively small and specialized audience; but today, the Star City Games Open Series highlights a competitive Legacy event almost once a week. As a result, we have a format that is full of lively, week-over-week, innovation and give-and-take, with many of the greatest minds in the game devoting time, care, and technology to curating the still-emerging metagame.

Keep in mind there are probably forty different decks you can play in Legacy that are all capable of winning a big tournament. Yes, some are much more likely to win (a sick combo, Green-Blue-Black, or one of the Mono-Blue Control decks) than others (Goblins, Zoo, or other beatdown decks that don't include Force of Will), but ultimately, there are far too many decks to discuss in a single crash course.

But we'll nevertheless give it a go.

Part of what has enabled this overwhelming diversity is the banning of this card:

A few months ago we devoted an entire article to the various decks that you could make based on this card (Survival Survival Survival Survival), but the reign of Survival of the Fittest was an oppressive and ultimately stifling stranglehold. The DCI banned the little enchantment, and now we have a crazy and medium-unpredictable mishmash of decks.

Legacy is a format of constricted time. There are combo decks that can win on the second turn, and others that don't win until turn four. There are control decks, but they don't generally play for a position of inevitability (but of those, they will incorporate combo-like elements); many play more like CounterSliver than Fortress. Of beatdown decks, there are plenty; all different colors and all different flavors.

With forty-plus different decks, what else would you expect?

The banning of Survival of the Fittest occurred hand-in-hand with the un-banning of mighty Time Spiral. Unsurprisingly, Time Spiral immediately won a big Open event:

Alix Hatfield's High Tide

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High Tide is an upgrade to the famous Extended deck from the last century (the upgrade coming care of Candelabra of Tawnos). Essentially you want to play High Tide, then net mana with Turnabout, Candelabra of Tawnos, and Time Spiral. More and more untaps and taps for bonus blue give you the juice you need to kill the opponent with Blue Sun's Zenith.

High Tide was the generally accepted deck of choice for most successful Pro Tour players (on the outside), but New Phyrexia has gone a long way in helping to shift the metagame once again. New card Mental Misstep—a card that can be played by almost any deck—seems perfectly positioned to throw a monkey wrench into the bicycle wheels of High Tide.

How many different key cards in High Tide cost one mana?

Candelabra of Tawnos...

High Tide itself...

Numerous Brainstorms, Ponders, and so on that get the deck going...

Mental Misstep has already changed everything, and over just the past week or two, has contributed to the success of numerous new decks. Here's just the first of many:

Gerry Thompson's White-Blue Landstill

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Master deck developer Gerry Thompson unleashed the above on the metagame the first week Mental Misstep was legal; both Gerry and Open Series mainstay Drew Levin made Top 8 with this deck, remarkable in part for its inclusion of Counterspell.

Mental Misstep | Illustration by Erica Yang

Gerry's is a cool little reinterpretation of the Standstill archetype, enabled by Mental Misstep. Mental Misstep (along with Spell Snare and Repeal) give the deck a great deal of action against early game threats. Basically you want to play Standstill at any point that you are not behind / under pressure. Likely the opponent will have to break the Standstill, resulting in a kind of Ancestral Recall.

When playing this kind of a deck you can get proactive without breaking Standstill... Much of your offense runs though Mishra's Factory, for one thing; in addition you have the Crucible of Worlds + Wasteland interaction that allows you to not only draw extra cards but actually make big moves against the opponent; again, without actually casting any spells.

An even newer blue control:

Chris Kronenberger's Mono-Blue Control

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Mental Misstep gives mono-blue decks the ability to keep Wild Nacatls off of their backs, even without splashing Swords to Plowshares.

Energy Field is a powerful card that can prevent any amount of damage... as long as nothing of yours hits the graveyard. If you can exhaust the opponent's hand, and then play only lands that can't be profitably interacted with via Wasteland... You can buy tremendous time to milk with Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Vedalken Shackles. But Energy Field will not withstand, say, a Hymn to Tourach.

A more common sort of "control" deck, believe it or not:

AJ Sacher's Team America (Green-Blue-Black Control)

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Remember what we said about Legacy being a format of constricted time? The Green-Blue-Black Control decks—often called "BUG"—are good examples. These are "control" decks relative to the potential speed of the metagame, but having access to an enormous card pool (essentially every set, ever; and with that, both the best mana and card access) gives the deck the opportunity to cherry pick from the best spells only.

BUG Control's Counterspells are all super fast... Force of Will and Mental Misstep. Its threats are top of the line as well: Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant. But the real issue? The discard! Green-Blue-Black Control pairs the power and consistency of blue with the sheer jerkwad-ness of Hymn to Tourach... These games are only fun from one side of the table!

Speaking of Hymn to Tourach, Legacy's wide card pool and comprehensively awesome mana options allow all different decks to play great cards... Not just blue, but beatdown, too. Check out Caleb Durward's most recent Hymn to Tourach deck:

Caleb Durward's White-Black Discard

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I have to admit I like the fact that he can Dark Ritual out Phyrexian Obliterator.

I had been a bit unexcited around the topic of the Obliterator, specifically because I didn't think it could do anything in Standard the way things are. A fourth-turn giant monster is not impressive when the opponent can just respond with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and most of the best decks coming in to New Phyrexia were interacting with creatures via Condemn, Oust, Into the Roil, or Tumble Magnet, anyway. But paired with Dark Ritual and the damning pall of Hymn (both unavailable in Standard), Phyrexian Obliterator has me pretty enthusiastic. This creature is the realization of all of Papa Negator's dreams, the son that can accomplish all the father left behind, leaving his ancient red masters crimson in their own blood.

Stoneforge Mystic is pretty cool here, obtaining Sword of Fire and Ice as well as Umezawa's Jitte. The Equipment packages are in particular awesome with newcomer Mirran Crusader, which has both double strike and a bad attitude.

I mean, who is going to block a Mirran Crusader (protection from black and green) wearing a Sword of Fire and Ice (protection from red and blue)?

For that matter, who is going to block Phyrexian Obliterator? Ever?

Force of Will | Illustration by Terese Nielsen

Legacy's tremendous mana availability allows you to combine many different cards with similar themes; also the same cards in different color combinations. For example you will see Hymn to Tourach in lots of different decks... but also Knight of the Reliquary, or Umezawa's Jitte.

Here are two more, different, beatdown-type creature decks:

David Price's Zoo

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David Paschal's 'Junk'

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The Zoo decks exemplify the best in offense, stretched across close to twenty years of Magic set releases: awesome one-drops, Tarmogoyfs, a little card drawing, great removal... and Knight of the Reliquary.

The Zoo deck uses Knight of the Reliquary primarily as a giant, though it can also pick up a Horizon Canopy. On the other hand, Junk is a bit slower, but can do more stuff. Junk has good creatures, but not really one-drop beaters. Instead, Junk's Knight of the Reliquary can get more specialty cards like Wasteland or especially Karakas (which can handle every legendary creature, up to and including the normally slippery Emrakul, the Aeons Torn).

Legacy's expansive view of all of Magic allows players to run all manner of historic Goblins, Fish, and Robots from Standard and Extended times past, as well.

Max Tietze's Goblins

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Goblins isn't the same deck that Jon Sonne used to stop Chris Pikula's fan-invigorating run in Philadelphia, largely because everyone else improved around it with new cards... but it still has some cool new-ish tricks. Tietze made this Top 8 by plucking the one Stingscourger to reject AJ Sacher's looming Emrakul, the Aeons Torn!

Nick Spagnolo's Merfolk

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Check out Nick's most recent list. Three Force of Wills?!? The theory is that Mental Misstep does a lot of the heavy lifting now. Yeah, I was surprised too (but I think Nick generally knows what he is talking about when it comes to casting blue spells).

Michael Eisenhauer's Affinity

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In one sense, Affinity in Legacy 2011 is weaker than the deck as it appeared in Mirrodin Block (no Skullclamp)... but the addition of Galvanic Blast is nothing less than perfect for the onetime boogeyman.

Galvanic Blast | Illustration by Marc Simonetti

I haven't even started! There are more kinds of Zoo, loops around Mangara of Corondor, big-mana Cloudpost decks, and all manner of Explorations. But forty decks is... a lot. Who knows what we will end up seeing this weekend?

Instead of trying (and failing) to list every possible strategy, I'll just leave you with my favorite ones... those based on the bin:

Frankie Mach's Dredge

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Dredge undoes eighteen years of Magic theory, every first game of a match. First turn Breakthrough for zero?



Dredge is probably going to win. :(

The deck's goal is to put lots of cards in the graveyard, flip over multiple copies of Narcomoeba, flash Dread Return with Bridge from Below in the bin (making lots of Zombie tokens), return Flame-Kin Zealot, and smash you all in one stroke.

But if it doesn't get that draw, Dredge can just hassle with Ichorid, or exploit the free Cabal Therapies it is getting every turn.

This deck is super hard to beat in Game 1, but anyone who really, really wants to GG the graveyard, can.

Joe Lossett's Cephalid Breakfast

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I like Cephalid Breakfast even more than Dredge. It is faster (just wins on the spot on turn two), and it plays the two best cards in Legacy (Brainstorm and Force of Will). We haven't seen a Breakfast finish since New Phyrexia, though, and like High Tide, this is a deck intimately vulnerable to Mental Misstep. Anyway, Breakfast—despite being the fastest and potentially most powerful deck in Legacy—has always been vulnerable to the most stuff. Even a Swords to Plowshares can break it up!

That said, just know that Nomads en-Kor + Cephalid Illusionist pours the whole deck into the bin all at once by targeting the Illusionist over and over again with the Nomad's ability, for free. Then it's all Narcomoebas, Cabal Therapy to cover, and free Dread Return. Disaster.

Switching gears to finish, we have focused almost entirely on the Open Series and its transformational effect on Legacy so far. I just wanted to mention the tournament series as well... because I won one last weekend!

This is the deck I used, dispatching all manner of Stoneforge Mystics and Squadron Hawks along the way: