Welcome to Legacy

Posted in Ways to Play on May 20, 2016

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

"What sets can you play with in Legacy?"

"All of them."

There's something enticing about those words.

I mean, you've probably played Standard, where you're looking at the past eighteen months of Magic sets. Maybe you've tried Modern, which dates all the way back to 2003. But that still leaves a full ten years of Magic sets in the dust, locked away from competition.

And that's where Legacy comes in.

With the exception of a relatively small banned list, every card is legal. Every. Single. One.

Something you opened in a Shadows over Innistrad pack? Of course!

Those old Weatherlight cards you have sitting in a shoebox somewhere? Yep!

Some flashy card you took out of a Commander deck? Almost certainly!

But with great power comes a great conundrum. Buried in cards, where do you even start?

Today, my goal is to walk you through some of the building blocks of Legacy. It should give you an idea, at least, of where to start looking for treasure in this vast ocean of Magic cards. Many of the decklists below are just examples of what things could look like; treat them as jumping-off points for your own ideas.

Ready? Let's start onward!

Synergy Aplenty

You would think that, having access to nearly every card ever made, Legacy would be about raw power. And while that is true to an extent, it also tends to be a lot about synergies. The further back a Magic format goes, the more cards you have access to—and the more synergies you can find.

Standard, for example, usually has some low-level, built-in synergies. It's built in such a way that cards mostly synergize with each other in the way you would expect. For example, you play your Shadows over Innistrad Vampires with a bunch of other Shadows over Innistrad Vampires and some madness enablers. These synergies make sense and are more obvious. There are some synergy-based decks in Standard, but there are a lot of decks just full of raw power.

Legacy, on the other hand, tends to swing the other direction.

The backbone of Legacy is finding synergies from throughout Magic's history—whether intended or not—and putting them together. And while not every deck is about synergies, the majority of them showcase several.

This can be done in several different ways.

For example, take Painter's Servant and Grindstone.

These two oddball cards, separated by eleven years of releases, combine to create an instant-kill combo. You pick a color for Painter's Servant—let's say red—then activate Grindstone. Your opponent flips over their top two cards...and hey, what do you know, they're both red now thanks to Painter's Servant. So the process is repeated. Again. And again. And again. Until eventually, their entire library is gone and they've lost.

This is your classic two-card combo. Legacy is full of them—and since these are both artifacts, they can go into any deck.

Then, of course, there are combinations that don't kill immediately but are "merely" the best ways to take advantage of an entire kind of card.

A good example of this can been seen in Sensei's Divining Top, Brainstorm, and miracles.

Miracles are cards you want to draw at specific times—and are incredibly powerful if you draw them just on time. However, the problem is that you don't always draw them at those times.

Solution: find ways to control when you draw them!

With library manipulation like Sensei's Divining Top and ways to put cards from your hand on top of your library (like Brainstorm), you can "float" your miracles near the top of your deck until exactly when you want them. And also using Brainstorm, you can get ones out of your hand back on top of your deck. It's a way to have Terminus consistently become a single-mana instant-speed board sweeper, and Entreat the Angels to become an instant-speed win condition.

You can expect to see a lot of combinations like this throughout Legacy.

So, what do traditional archetypes begin to look like when you traverse the Legacy field? Let's take a look!

Beatdown

Legacy means you have access to all of the best beatdown cards—and you can build some pretty aggressive decks in the process!

Thanks to fetch lands and the original dual lands such as Taiga, it's pretty easy to play whatever colors you want with ease. This means you can play a lot of the strongest cards from traditional archetypes in one deck. For example, Zoo!

With a bevy of strong one-drops and a curve consisting of several of the best cost-to-size creatures of all time, Zoo can hit hard and with force. If you like Zoo decks, there's a deck waiting for you in Legacy.

Gavin Verhey's Sample Zoo

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Speaking of aggressive decks, the deck that might be the root of it all is alive and playable in Legacy: Burn!

All the strongest burn spells in Magic's history are at your fingertips here.

Burn, a deck that I sometimes jokingly refer to as a combo deck since it has the "combo" of casting 20 points worth of burn spells, is plenty strong. Every card deals 3 or more damage, and you can burn a player out by turn four pretty consistently. (Plus, it helps that they're taking damage from all of their fetch lands!)

Gavin Verhey's Sample Burn

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But maybe you like to beat down and want something a little more than just burning people out. Well, Legacy definitely has you covered there!

Legacy has all of the disruption you could ever want. You can expect to see free counterspells, cheap discard, and perhaps one of the most fundamental pillars of the Legacy format: Wasteland.

Wasteland is ubiquitous in Legacy, and part of why aggressive decks can get so far ahead. If you play a creature, they play a land, and then you Wasteland their land, you both have land parity—but you get to attack on in with your creature while they're set behind. It pushes the advantage in your favor.

Combine that with a laundry list of disruptive tools, and there are plenty of strong options. You can expect to see spell-heavy aggressive decks that lean on Delver of Secrets and Young Pyromancer.

The format is full of cheap—or even free—disruption, as well as plenty of one-mana spells that dig you deeper into your deck and filter, such as Ponder. These decks harness the power of both!

The disruption means you can protect your sparse threats well and delay the combo decks. The cheap draw and filter spells means you can play fewer lands and quickly cycle through spells to trigger things like Young Pyromancer.

The result is something like this:

Gavin Verhey's Sample Grixis Delver

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Not all disruption comes in the form of spells, either. There's a long lineage of disruptive white creatures, and one deck known affectionately as Death and Taxes harnesses those creatures to cripple the opponent's deck while beating down in the process.

White Weenies is a strategy as old as Magic itself—and in a format as powerful as Legacy, it's still alive and kicking by virtue of forcing everyone else to fight fair.

Against the fair decks, you can punch through with creatures. And against the unfair ones, you can cripple their unfair strategy of casting a bunch of spells or using specific combo cards.

Gavin Verhey's Sample Death and Taxes

Download Arena Decklist

A similar deck called Maverick is green and white, giving you access to cards like the powerful Deathrite Shaman, Knight of the Reliquary, and Gaddock Teeg.

And of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Tribal? Goblins, Merfolk, and Eldrazi have you covered. You can even play Slivers! Want something a bit more midrange? Jund, Abzan, Sultai, and more are perfectly solid options. Linear archetypes like Affinity and Infect are still standing tall.

And the crazy part? They're all viable! You can pick your favorite, build it up, and prepare for battle!

Control

Aggressive decks have plenty of tools—and for each one of them, control has something to fight back against it.

The juice most control decks run on is Brainstorm. Brainstorm combined with fetch lands like Polluted Delta gives you phenomenal card quality, letting you stick back cards you don't want and then shuffle them away—creating an Ancestral Recall–like effect.

On top of that, some of the most classic control options in the game live on in Legacy. Counterspell? Swords to Plowshares? Force of Will? These cards are readily available to be cast.

Take, for example, the Miracles deck I mentioned earlier. It uses these classic control elements in the best way possible, adding in cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor to create a robust control deck that can attack from multiple angles.

Gavin Verhey's Sample Miracles

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Sensei's Divining Top pulls major weight in this deck, not just setting up your miracles, combining with Monastery Mentor, and being strong with fetch lands; it also combines with Counterbalance to lock opponents out of playing spells of certain mana costs.

Miracles takes advantage of all of these cards well, but there are a few powerhouses it doesn't use because of its propensity to wipe the board and "true controlling" nature—and there are other decks that fill up that space.

Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor—two of the only cards banned in Standard in recent memory—team up again to bring Stoneblade (or Deathblade, if you include Deathrite Shaman) to the table. Stoneforge Mystic, alongside Batterskull and Umezawa's Jitte, does a pretty good job of creating a large threat quickly—and putting a damper on aggressive strategies.

Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull create a ridiculous combination, and when backed up further by cards like True-Name Nemesis, this controlling shell can actually push games to completion with ease. It's not often you'd expect a control deck to play a two-drop that starts aggressively defining the game, but such is the case with the power of Stoneforge Mystic!

Gavin Verhey's Sample Esper Deathblade

Download Arena Decklist

Okay. So maybe you've seen control decks before. Sure. You have an idea of what to expect from a deck sporting counterspells.

But Legacy isn't just about blue control decks. Here's something that really only a format with the breadth of Legacy could create: a land control deck!

This control deck, simply called Lands, plays a whopping 30-plus lands in a format defined by mana bases hovering around 20 lands. It harnesses the power of strong individual lands with plenty of ways to search for them.

Why? Well! With such a long history of powerful lands and land-affecting cards, it can play cards no other deck can.

Maze of Ith? Glacial Chasm? The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale? All of those cards belong here.

The combination of Glacial Chasm and Life from the Loam shuts most aggressive decks right down. Wasteland might let them break through for a turn, at best.

But the real juice is something that the Lands deck only picked up in recent years: Thespian's Stage!

Thespian's Stage along with Dark Depths creates a two-card combo that immediately creates Marit Lage! You use the Stage targeting Dark Depths...and then suddenly Stage is a Dark Depths with zero ice counters. Time to tell your opponent the story of a 20/20 indestructible creature!

The deck is full of wonky synergies and cards that don't see much play elsewhere. If you want to play something interesting, sideways, yet very powerful, Lands is right up your alley.

Gavin Verhey's Sample Lands

Download Arena Decklist

Did I mention you can also just lock your opponent under Wasteland and Life from the Loam? Yeah, you can do that too. I'm featuring the Punishing Fire version here for an additional bit of endgame oomph.

Okay, so you've seen some of the beatdown decks. You've seen some of the control decks. That leaves one more place I want to head off to. It's time for...

Combo

When it comes to formats like Limited or Standard, competitive combo decks are generally outliers. It's not really what we want the game to be about, as these decks can be uninteractive and hard to deal with.

But in Legacy? It's practically a combo player's utopia!

There are so many kinds of combo decks in Legacy that I can't even begin to list them all. But they all have their own variety of convoluted kill conditions that serves one purpose: get rid of your opponent in one fell swoop!

I'll start with a mechanic so broken that it has its own Mark Rosewater–coined scale: storm!

The idea behind Storm is to play a bunch of spells in the same turn and then unload with a card like Tendrils of Agony for lethal.

Casting enough spells to make a lethal Tendrils in one turn might sound difficult, but between cheap card drawing, "ritual" cards that add mana to your mana pool, and "tutor" cards that let you find specific cards, it's possible for the Storm deck to win as early as the first turn—and they can generally win by turn three for sure if they're unopposed.

Here's a look at Ad Nauseum Tendrils—or ANT for short—that is one of the most ubiquitous versions of Storm decks.

Gavin Verhey's Sample ANT

Download Arena Decklist

These kind of decks take a lot of practice to properly pilot—especially through disruption. While in a vacuum they can win very quickly, cheap discard and counterspells force you to play very carefully...not to mention all of the sideboard hate cards you might run into! The best Storm players have to know how to fight through all of the disruption and hate thrown at them.

Does all that sound brain-bending? Well, on the other end of the spectrum is a combo deck that wins simply by attacking with a big creature: Sneak and Show!

There are some cards that let you put creatures onto the battlefield and cheat their mana costs, such as Sneak Attack and Show and Tell. Combine these with cards like Griselbrand and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and, well, your opponent's death quickly ensues.

Like the Storm deck, this strategy plays mana acceleration to combo out quickly. But unlike Storm, the core combo doesn't require as many pieces—so you can also efficiently play disruption like Force of Will of your own!

Gavin Verhey's Sample Sneak and Show

Download Arena Decklist

Both of those are combination decks that work in very different ways. One is a very intricate engine, while the other uses ways to sneak strong cards onto the battlefield.

Some decks are even more blunt.

One completely wild deck is Belcher, named after its key card: Goblin Charbelcher.

This combo deck has exactly one goal: play and activate Goblin Charbelcher.

It typically plays one or two lands, and plans to flip most of its library with the namesake Charbelcher. It uses various free mana sources to explode with mana, with the goal of winning right away. It can win as quickly as turn one! The problem, of course, is that it has no real disruption; if your opponent has Force of Will, you can't do much about it.

But sometimes? You just need to cross your fingers and believe in the Belcher.

Gavin Verhey's Sample Charbelcher

Download Arena Decklist

Finally, I'll end with a combo deck that I love because it just so perfectly emphasizes how cards years apart can randomly find a home together in Legacy.

The two-card combo this deck is built around? Food Chain and Misthollow Griffin!

These two wacky cards are a perfect couple together. Food Chain lets you exile creatures for mana equal to its converted mana cost, plus one. Misthollow Griffin you can cast from exile.

The result? You repeatedly exile and recast Misthollow Griffin to generate unlimited mana!

Gavin Verhey's Sample Food Chain

Download Arena Decklist

Bonus upside to Misthollow Griffin? You can exile it to Force of Will and Misdirection without feeling like you went down a card!

A Long Legacy

Legacy is a format of seemingly infinite possibilities. If there's something you like to do, there's almost certainly a way to make it work in Legacy.

What I covered today is merely the tip of the Legacy iceberg. What will you play? Pick your favorite, build it up (perhaps with the help of some Eternal Masters booster packs!), and prepare for a format unlike any other!

I could talk about Legacy until the end of time, so if you have any questions or thoughts at all, I'd love to hear from you! You can always reach me on Twitter or by sending me a message on Tumblr.

I'll be back soon, kicking off a new regular column that you won't want to miss.

Have fun, and enjoy Eternal Masters!

Gavin

@GavinVerhey

GavInsight

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