Chicago's Legacy

Posted in The Week That Was on March 13, 2009

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

One of the random skills I have picked up over years of gaming, tournament organizing, and store ownership is the ability to predict turnout for a given Magic tournament. My pretournament guesses are usually close enough to win a game of horseshoes and I recently urged my former partner to up his chair count at the New Jersey PTQ (which was later won by none other than Osyp Lebedowicz) to around 240. The turnout? 244.


Granted, this is not a skill that will be very useful come the zombie apocalypse. Or is it? I guess being able to predict mobs could come in handy once the planet gets a Tom Savini makeover—

—anyway, the point is that no one was more stunned by the 1200+ person turnout in Chicago for the Legacy Grand Prix than I was. I thought there would be more players than any previous Legacy event in North America but I was thinking 900, maybe 1000 people would turn out.

Like many other turnout prognosticators (okay, okay—the two other people in my office I was talking with before the event) I was concerned that card availability was going to hinder attendance. Talking to Pros heading to the event I was concerned that the format was going to be a boring blue one dominated by Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top all over the Top 8. I was wrong on both counts. In fact, looking at the Top 8 there were plenty of archetypes pulled from different places in Magic's competitive history and more basic lands than I have seen in some Standard Top 8s.

Looking through the Top 16 there was also a nice mix of established veterans like winner Gabriel Nassif, the now-ubiquitous Luis Scott-Vargas, Paul Rietzl, and the recently surging Brian Kowal, as well as players from the Eternal scene, and players posting the first big finish of their careers. I reached out to a group of players from the Top 16 who either indicated they were from the Eternal community or who were names I did not immediately recognize as having Pro Tour experience for a roundtable on the Legacy format, playing in Chicago, and their plans for Hawaii.

Participants included Jeffrey Lynch (15th Place), an Indiana University student originally from Carrolton, GA; David Caplan (7th place), a 20-year-old student from Toronto, Ontario; Andy "Brass Man" Probasco (2nd place) a 24-year-old originally from Rhode Island ("where Moxes and Darksteel Colossi roam the landscape") transplanted to Atlanta, GA ("where players are more likely to spin Divining Tops"); Phillip Yam (14th place), a 25-year-old software engineer living in Silicon Valley, CA; and James Mink (4th place), a 22-year-old ecomomist from Fishers, Indiana.

James Mink has played an arbitrarily large number of casual games.

BDM: How long have you been playing Magic and how would you identify yourself as a Magic player? Eternal player? PTQ regular? Casual? etc.

Andy: I've been playing Magic since Revised, but only seriously in tournaments since around the Onslaught block (when fetchlands completely overhauled Vintage). Even though I enjoy other formats, I've spent so much playing with and hanging out with the Vintage community that's it's hard for me to think of myself as anything but a Vintage player.

David: I have been a Magic player for 11 years on and off. I am an Eternal player, mainly Vintage, and started playing Legacy for GP–Columbus two years ago and have loved it ever since. I also play a lot of Limited, but no Constructed.

Phillip: I started playing casually in 1994, but took a long break until 2003 when I started playing more competitively. I'm a PTQ regular, but have also been playing a lot of Standard and Vintage recently, as local store Superstars has been organizing regular tournaments.

Jeffrey: I have been playing since Odyssey came out and I am definitely a PTQ regular.

James: I've been playing Magic at different levels since I was 14. I've tried to get a feel for all different sorts of tournaments; Regionals, States, FNM, City Champs, PTQs, and infinite casual games. I'd always love to play more, but I wish there was more of an Indianapolis Magic community/scene that would host monthly tournaments that were for more than a couple packs of prizes.

BDM: What kind of Pro Tour/Grand Prix experience did you have before Chicago? What about other tournaments like Power 9 events or big legacy tournaments?

Jeffrey: I only played in GP–Atlanta in 2003 before GP–Chicago. I played in a Win-a-Mox tournament prior to the GP in testing.

Andy: I played in a few Grand Prix before this, but I didn't take them seriously or test for them. I also went to PT–Charleston, but most of my experience comes from large Vintage tournaments. I've won a StarcityPower 9 and a Mana Drain Open, and got 2nd in a Vintage Championships, which are basically the three biggest Vintage events in America.

James: I've only played in one other GP—in St. Louis for Limited. As for PTQs—I've liked Extended a lot last year.

Phillip: I've played in one Pro Tour and several Grand Prix, and play in every PTQ I can. For Eternal, I play in local 30-40 player Vintage tournaments. I'd never played Legacy except for a GPT.

David: I Day 2ed Columbus with the same deck (sans Tarmogoyf and Ponder). I have played in and won many local Power 9 events in both Vintage and Legacy. I Top 4ed the 2007 Legacy World Championships. Played in and Top8'd/won a few large Legacy tournaments in Syracuse.

BDM: What was your goal coming into Grand Prix–Chicago?

James: Number one was having fun. I didn't expect to win the GPT. When I did, my goal was to make Day 2 of the Grand Prix. After that, it was to win the next match. I kept reminding myself that this whole experience was for fun, and I believe that helped in keeping calm throughout the whole of the tournament—which was great when the Head Judge of the tournament made a comment that he didn't think he'd be that calm in the last round (when) I played against Nassif.

David: My goal was to Day 2, and hopefully recoup my costs for the trip.

Andy 'Brass Man' Probasco

Andy: Honestly I was hoping more for my deck to perform than me. I think a lot of Eternal players think of themselves more as deck-builders than players. It took a long time and a lot of work to come from the list I started with to the one I played at the GP. I tried to sell as many good players I knew on the deck as possible, hoping that at least one of them would place with it. I'm sure some of them regret not taking my advice now!

Phillip: Top 16 to qualify for PT–Honolulu.

Jeffrey: To make Day 2.

BDM: What was the deck you played and why did you decide to play it?

Andy: I played a Counter-Top deck my Magic buddies and I had been referring to as "Next Level Brass" (after the similar Next Level Blue deck from previous Extended seasons). It's the end result of testing a huge number of variants, running Dark Confidants, Quirion Dryads, Mystic Enforcer, Painter's Servant / Grindstone combo, and almost anything else you can think of. The important thing about the deck is that it sacrifices a little ground against the field to get an edge against other Counterbalance decks, which I felt the top tables would be full of.

Andy Probasco's Next Level Brass

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David: Blue-Green-Red Canadian Threshold. I played it because I am very comfortable with it from having played it for so long. I believe it has great matchups against most of the field, and can handle the non-metagame decks that are bound to show up at such a large GP.

David Caplan's Threshold

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Jeffrey: I played Merfolk because I enjoy playing the archetype and I only lost three games out of 8 rounds in the Win-a-Mox tournament. After the tournament I wanted some form of artifact and enchantment removal in my sideboard and I always wanted to leave Aether Vial on 2, so I decided to add Tarmogoyfs and Krosan Grip to the board.

Jeffrey Lynch's Merfolk

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Phillip: Playing Legacy started for me at GP–Los Angeles where they held a GP Trial for Chicago that had 14 players. I wasn't planning to attend Chicago and didn't have a deck, but I scrambled together a mostly-Extended Affinity deck and gave it a shot for fun. I won the three byes and decided to attend the GP. I knew I didn't want to play a blue deck, so I tuned Affinity to a decent list that was testing fairly well, but eventually tried Goblins and realized it has the same upsides while being far more resilient. I'd also had a lot of experience with the deck in Extended, so it felt like a good choice.

Phillip Yam's Goblins

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James: Dragon Stompy. I liked the deck for a variety of reasons. For one, not being as familiar with the format I found it to be very easy to pilot. The deck runs on a theme that I enjoy: resource disruption. Seeing that most decks didn't have an answer to main-deck Blood Moons, Trinisphere, or Chalice of the Void, I knew that there would be some autowins involved with the deck as well. Because there are so many quick, big threats in the deck, I believe that there's a great chance for an opponent to make a bad play and not be able to come back from it. Of course, when you're playing against pros that advantage tapers off quite a bit.

James Mink's Dragon Stompy

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BDM: What expectations did you have about the metagame? Were those expectations different because so many PTQ and PT players were in the mix as opposed to what you might expect at a regular Legacy tournament? How does the influx of those players affect the metagame?

David: I didn't really have any expectations of the metagame; I was prepared for anything. I was expecting a more focused metagame with many players running the same decks, but was pleasantly surprised at the variety of decks I saw and played against. My teammates and I were discussing the fact that on Day 1, only one of us faced the same deck, or even archetype, twice.

Hymn to Tourach

James: Metagame-wise I relied on Josh, who knew that there would be some Goblins, Merfolk (which I should have tested a bit more against), Storm, and Counter-Top decks, Threshhold decks, Landstill, Dreadstill, White-Blue Standstill variants. I never tested for the mirror—figuring that Dragon Stompy was rogue enough that I'd never be up against myself. I didn't expect so many black-green Hymn to Tourach / Tarmogoyf type decks to be around, but there seemed to be quite a few (a few of them also packed white for Swords to Plowshares and Vindicate).

Phillip: I felt the format was wide open, but that blue decks (especially Counter-Top) would be most popular, especially because of the PTQ and PT players.

Jeffrey: I knew there was going to be a lot of Threshold and Counterbalance, and some red decks. I knew that most of the pros were going to shoot for the best blue deck. I was worried about Day 1 because I had only one bye, and a lot of random/red decks were going to be challenging.

Andy: I expected things to be pretty diverse, not necessarily because of the mix of Eternal and PTQ players, but just the logistics of such a huge tournament. After Day 2 I assumed only the better decks to be around, and that seemed to be the case. There was certainly a big mix of "people who tested the format" and "people who thought they didn't have to," but that's the case at any tournament, not just Eternal.

BDM: Were you as surprised as I was by the turnout, which set a North American attendance record? How many people did you expect to see and why that number? Why was the number so large?

Andy: Legacy GPs have tended to draw huge crowds. I assumed it would be big, but I wouldn't have guessed record-breaking. Having a Legacy tournament be so high-profile is a huge draw for Eternal players, and it's worth it to more people to spend the extra money or take the extra long trip to make it out for the event.

Jeffrey: I was expecting around 800 players. I had no idea that over 1200 would come to play Legacy. I think the number was so large because the Legacy format comes with a general mindset that the format is large/wide open and therefore anything is viable. People can play, with relative success, any deck they want to play (Red Deck Wins, Goblins, Counter-Top, Merfolk, Dredge, Affinity, etc.).

David: I was expecting a large turnout, but certainly not this large. Legacy has a strong and vocal community that is begging for support from Wizards. Coming to the tournament in droves is our way of supporting the format and showing that we want more support from Wizards.


James: It wasn't surprising. Indianapolis had the previous huge turnout, and it's not a far drive from there to Chicago. I think there are a ton of Magic players here in the Midwest just looking for those bigger tournaments. We've been in a Magic-light area for quite awhile. I believe that Indy has a pretty centralized location, and Chicago has a great location as well with lots of pools to pull from. I saw people from Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, and Minnesota all over the place. I also believe that because Legacy rarely has any large tournaments like the Grand Prix, many Legacy players focused on coming to the tournament and testing the deck that they've been playing with for years.

Phillip: I was very surprised and was expecting 600-800, comparable to most North American GPs. I hadn't paid much attention to the format before and had no idea Legacy was this popular.

BDM: Was qualifying for the Pro Tour a goal coming into the tournament?

James: Because I was so in shock for even winning the GPT, it wasn't the starting goal of going to the tournament. I knew that I'd be there with friends. After making Day 2, I was hoping to make money.

Phillip: That was my primary goal.

David: No, it was not. But now that I am qualified, I am seriously considering going, just for the experience.

Andy: It certainly wasn't the primary goal, but I think every Magic player appreciates how big a deal that is.

Jeffrey: No, not at all. I mostly came in hopes of doing well at the PTQ on the next day.

BDM: So with your Top 16 finish you have qualified for a Block Constructed Pro Tour with a Limited Top 8 by playing Legacy. Will you be attending the Pro Tour?

Andy: At this point, my girlfriend is too excited by the prospect of going to Hawaii to let me stay home.

James: I'm really looking forward to the Pro Tour because it's an opportunity that many people don't receive. I think that making the Pro Tour is a great goal for many people, and I'm glad that Wizards continues to support its players by rewarding their hard work. I'm hoping to put in a lot more testing for the Block Constructed and Limited aspects of the tournament (so any of you who want to test with us please say so!). I'm also happily going to be with my future wife on our honeymoon, so I'm looking forward to a great week in Hawaii.

David: It seems likely that I will go. I have a good amount of Limited experience, but zero Constructed (outside of Eternal) experience.

Jeffrey: I will probably be using my winnings to pay for a plane ticket to Honolulu.

Phillip: Absolutely!

BDM: What misconceptions do you think non-Eternal players have about the Legacy format?

Andy: Different players will have different preconceptions of any format. I think most Magic players realize though that Legacy and Vintage are a lot like every other format: there are strong and weak strategies, sometimes people get blown out by bad or good draws, but in the end, play skill and hard work is going to win out. I think the GP Top 16 was a pretty good indicator of this.

David: Many players see Legacy as an expensive format. The thing that is important to remember is that the upkeep of the format is quite cheap. Once you own the staples, there are not too many cards you need to buy because Legacy does not rotate. This makes Legacy cheaper over time than other Constructed formats.

James: That it's too complex, has too many cards, and is too pricey. The deck I played disproves all those notions. It's a vastly simple, very redundant deck. There are subtleties, but it runs on raw power. There are no dual lands, so it's not that pricey. The metagame is pretty easy to grasp because there are only a few cards that are actually powerful enough to make it into the format.

Jeffrey: I don't think Legacy is the "win on turn one format" everyone thinks it is. Actually, a lot of the games I played were slower than some Standard games of Magic I have played. The format is definitely skill intensive. Also, the idea that 15 rounds of Magic are easier in a Legacy format than in any other format is totally false. Every format of Magic offers games that can only be won when a player is completely focused.

Ad Nauseam

Phillip: I think some people (including myself initially) have the idea that a lot of games don't last very long because of combo decks like Ad Nauseam. Those decks exist, but they're a small part of the metagame. I did lose a match in the GP where I was killed on turn two both games, but that was only one match.

BDM: How healthy is Legacy right now? Do you think anything needs to be banned / unbanned to change up the format?

James: If there's anything unhealthy about Legacy, it's that there's not a ton of room for innovation in deck designs, and many decks last for years. This is a good thing and a bad thing. You don't have to have a whole new deck for each new set coming out. But the environment could stagnate into only a couple strategies as I've mentioned previously. I really enjoy the format, though, and I believe that if there were more big tournaments for people to attend and ideas to spawn, then Legacy could be a great way for players to continue to play their most beloved cards and hopefully bring new strategies into the mix.

David: I would say Legacy is very healthy and diverse format based on the many different decks represented in the GP. Nothing needs to be banned or unbanned, because the format does not need to change. On the other hand there are a few cards on the banned list that need not be there, that will not likely affect the format.

Phillip: I see no problems with the format, and the Top 8 looked pretty diverse.

Andy: Legacy seems fine to me, while I think Counterbalance is on top (pardon the pun!), it's certainly beatable, and the Top 16 decks were diverse enough. I'm a little surprised Top hasn't gotten the ax, considering the logistic reasons it went in Extended are just as true in any format (particularly one where Landstill sees significant play!)

Jeffrey: Legacy is a very healthy format. I really didn't see anything that should be banned. The craziest thing I saw all day was Mark Conkle's Round 8 where on Game 3 he mulligans to four cards on the play with Elves. His opponent is playing a Threshold variant and keeps seven.


Mark's turn one: Forest, Llanowar Elves, go.

Opponent's turn one: Flooded Strand, go.

Mark's turn two: Birchlore Rangers, Heritage Druid go. His opponent cracks his fetchland and gets an Island to Brainstorm at the end of Mark's turn.

Opponent's turn two: Flooded Strand, sacrifice for an Island, play Counterbalance.

Mark's turn three: Tap three Elves and a forest for Natural Order. His opponent has no responses and Mark Conkle gets there on a mulligan to four on the play with Progenitus.

But even crazy hands like this are balanced by the fact that his opponent kept a hand without Daze or Force of Will, since Natural Order is the only way Mark would win on a mulligan to four on the play.

Rome If You Want To

I don't know how many of you have already seen this news item about the Magic Online 2009 Championship Series but if you haven't you should go read it right now. And if you have seen it you should go and reread it right now. There has been a lot of buzz this week in the wake of the announcement since this Championship Series is an online tournament that culminates in an eight-person bracket that pays out $50,000 in cash prizes. Yes, that's right ... $50,000 in cash prizes being awarded through MTGO.

That is certainly very exciting, especially since you are guaranteed $4,000 just for showing up in Rome to play in the eight-person finals. Why are you going to be in Rome? Well, how about because you also just qualified for Worlds as well? Go read the announcement and start playing some MTGO already. See you in Rome!

Firestarter: The Virtual Reality of an Online PTQ

What do you think about Worlds invites—not available through any other form of tournament play besides National Championships—being given away through an online tournament series? Head to the forums and share your thoughts on this huge announcement from MTGO!

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