Legacy Writers Roundtable

Posted in The Week That Was on May 27, 2011

By Brian David-Marshall

This weekend will see the Grand Prix train pull into Providence, Rhode Island for what should be one of the largest GP turnouts ever in North America. The format for the event is Legacy, which will mark the seventh time that a Grand Prix has utilized the enormous format that allows players to use cards from all eras of the game. The format is in the midst of a renaissance thanks to the regular StarCityGames.com Legacy Open Series, and there seem to be even more people writing about the format these days than there are writing about Limited.

Who better to turn to for a quick format primer than the people who write about it during the week and battle in the format on the weekends? I pulled together a cross-section of writers to get their thoughts on the top decks, the impact of Mental Misstep, and what to expect this weekend. Sitting down to the table were:

  • AJ Sacher is a 21-year-old Pro—who lists "The Road" as his hometown these days—with one Grand Prix Top 8 to his credit. He has been carving up both sides of the StarCityGames.com Open Series and writes a weekly premium column for SCG.
  • Adam Barnello is a 28-year-old engineer from Syracuse, New York who writes weekly about Legacy for ChannelFireball and is also an admin for the Legacy resource MTGThesource.com.
  • Caleb Durward is a 23-year-old writer from Chicago who writes a weekly column for ChannelFireball.com with a Legacy Grand Prix Top 8 on his resume. He is also credited with (or blamed for) getting Survival of the Fittest banned in Legacy.
  • Ali Aintrazi is a 24-year-old student from Matthews, NC who has gained a reputation as a rogue deck designer while battling in the ranks of the Open Series with Top 8s in Standard and Legacy.
  • Sam Stoddard is a 30-year-old administrator from Columbus, Ohio who has cashed multiple Grand Prix, played in seven Pro Tours, and is a vocal advocate for Legacy in his column on StarCityGames.com.
  • Drew Levin is a 20-year-old statistical analyst from Arlington, VA who has leveraged his success in the StarCity Open series into a premium Legacy column on that site.
  • Matt Elias is a 31-year-old manager from Lansdale, PA who has written more than 100 articles on the free side of Star City and focuses largely on the older formats like Legacy and Vintage.
  • AJ Kerrigan is a 13-year-old student from Manville, New Jersey. His age belies his grasp of the complicated Legacy format—he's a weekly writer for Star City and made his tournament debut back in 2009.

BDM: What is appealing to you about the Legacy format? Where does it rank for you in terms of competitive formats?

Sacher: It is by far my favorite format. It is the most skill-intensive format and rewards active problem-solving and general Magic knowledge more than any other format. The powerful card filtering and versatile answers that the format provides make every match-up winnable and every game intense. Each decision you make is important and the little things are consistently the difference between victory and defeat. I like that.

Barnello: Number 1 with a bullet, and has been for a long time. I've never really been interested in the smaller-pool formats, aside from an occasional PTQ when it was convenient here or there—for as long as I've been an active competitive player, I've been a Legacy player. It was initially appealing because I was active in the game in the early days, and when I returned to Magic after a break of some time, I had lots of older cards I wanted to play. I also had a lot of friends who were deeply rooted in the format from when it was still called Type 1.5. Because they were playing the format, it was a natural fit for me to play it as well.

While I've had the opportunity to delve further into the other formats, I keep coming back to Legacy. I enjoy its diversity and depth, and the fact that anything can (and does) win. As Legacy has grown in popularity, I've tried to be a cheerleader for the format, in the hope that I can help players who haven't had the same exposure to it that I've had recognize how much it has to offer.

Durward: I think Legacy has the most depth, and thus skill, of the competitive Magic formats. It rewards knowledge of Magic history, tight technical play, intricate metagaming, and the ability to brew and tweak lists. Standard feels easy in comparison, though not universally so. The easiest Legacy deck is more relaxing to pilot than the most complex Standard deck, for example.

Aintrazi: The decks are so diverse. Having around five (or more) Tier 1 decks makes for a very healthy format. Also in Legacy you truly have hate cards like the Elementalblasts, Back to Basics, Rule of Law–type cards, Pulverize or Reverent Silence effects, and graveyard hate like Extirpate / Leyline of the Void / Surgical Extraction. Old Extended used to be my favorite format hands down, but Legacy is slowly taking its place.

Stoddard: It is by far my favorite competitive Constructed format. The range of decks that can be played is enormous, and you get the side benefit of seeing strange and awkward cards from ten years ago or more suddenly coming into their own. As someone who is a real aficionado of the history of the game, it provides me with a constant stream of nostalgia, combined with a diverse, skill-intensive format.

Levin: Legacy is the intellectual center of Magic for me. It has everything: pure control, combo, and aggro strategies, plus all the possible permutations of mixed strategies. It rewards creative deckbuilding and a strong theoretical understanding of the game. Games are very decision-intensive. The best decks have (for the most part) skill-intensive mirrors. It's an incredibly open format where any strategy can succeed if it is well built and piloted by a competent player.

For me, it's easy: Legacy is better than all!

Kerrigan: To me, Legacy is appealing because (except with Survival of the Fittest) there are usually no super-unbeatable decks. If there are, the large card pool available to Legacy helps people to find a variety of answers very easily. In competitiveness, I think it is first because there is really no Caw-Blade–type deck that wins every tournament, so people always need to play into expected metagames and scout. The large card pool also makes for a variety of decks and variations on decks.

Elias: Legacy is my #1 format right now. It's such an open format; over time, every archetype sees play. It runs the full gamut of what appeals to Magic players. As someone who is always out to play EVERY deck, and enjoys learning about as many interactions as I can, Legacy feels almost infinite in terms of depth, especially as compared to other formats. I like to tell people that anything you could imagine, no matter how non-competitive it sounds, is a competitive Legacy deck. A deck with mostly lands? We've got that. A deck that's mostly enchantments? We've got that. Graveyard combo, storm combo, mostly artifact deck (multiple versions), Burn, various beatdown decks, pure control, control-combo hybrids, ELVES!, you name it, you can play it.

BDM: How much innovation are you expecting for this event? Will we see any heretofore unseen decks in the Top 8?

Sacher: It wouldn't be Legacy if there wasn't a high likelihood of some awesome innovation.

Levin: I've heard of a lot of people brewing some spicy numbers for the GP. I think there will be variations on various themes, but part of Legacy is its cyclicality: the decks are the same, but the metagame changes and the card names are different. How different is Storm from Trix, Threshold from Turbo Xerox, or BUG from The Rock? Every successful deck in this format owes something to various predecessors. From one perspective, nothing is ever new. From another, every idea in Legacy is viable and is just waiting to be reborn.

Kerrigan: I do not expect a lot of major innovations, but like most Legacy tournaments, a lot of people will be trying that long forgotten card in their BUG decks or their Junk decks. I mainly expect to see a lot of copies of what the professional players do. I always learn the professional players' lists before an event so I get a major idea of the list a lot of people will be playing.

Stoddard: I think we will see quite a bit, even if it is mostly just new builds of old decks. Misstep's impact, once again, can't be understated, and we may see a lot of decks popping up that weren't possible without a good way to deal with an opponent's turn one play.

Aintrazi: I expect some innovation—maybe like two or four groups of people will be playing a new deck—and I'm almost positive some new deck or old combo people forgot about will make Top 8. That's just how Legacy is.

Elias: Honestly, I think Legacy is a much more explored format than it was even two years ago, thanks to tournament series like the SCG Open and Bazaar of Moxen. I think we'll see established archetypes at the top of this GP.

Durward: I'm expecting a code level omega purple level of innovation. In other words, I don't know.

BDM: How big a deal is Mental Misstep? What decks are most impacted by it?

Barnello: In short, it's a big deal. All the blue decks should be playing it, and it gives them game against decks that were previously difficult matchups. Cards like Wild Nacatl and Steppe Lynx were great at getting the damage in prior to the control deck stabilizing that would allow you to burn them out. That isn't as possible anymore. Æther Vial, which is aggro's best weapon against blue, is now a target. Even simple impacts like Mental Misstep on a Brainstorm are huge. It's changed the way the format is played on a fundamental level. Really, no decks are completely unaffected by it, because even decks like Metalworker, which lacks one drops, has Chalice of the Void—which may have gotten even better as players choose to play (or play into) Mental Misstep.

Sacher:Mental Misstep is just as good as hyped if not better. The combo and aggro decks that rely heavily on their one-drops are obviously going to be the most heavily affected. However, I think a key coming into this tournament is that some decks use Mental Misstep to better effect.

Aintrazi: I definitely think the card is overhyped. It's good but only belongs in blue-based decks, and even then it's by no means overpowered. I think the decks that suffer most are High Tide and Zoo-type decks.

Levin:Mental Misstep is absolutely format-defining. Brian Kibler asked me in Boston, "Where will people find the room?" I shook my head and said, "No, Brian, it's not that people will need to find room, it's that blue decks will have to be completely reimagined. Just as you don't 'find room' for Preordain in Standard, you won't 'find room' for Mental Misstep in Legacy. It'll be a four-of."

Durward: Like Stifle and Daze, the card needs to be built/played around, but since it's new people haven't figured out how to do that yet. As the format evolves, Mental Misstep will get gradually worse, but for now it's nothing but sauce. Goblins suddenly loses to Merfolk, which was previously its best matchup.

On a more subtle level, decks that can either bait a Mental Misstep or blank it entirely, like the Chrome Mox White-Black archetype that me and my buddy Joe Bernal recently Top 8'd an Open with, gain a lot in a field where Mental Misstep is being overplayed.

Stoddard: We're talking Krakens and Dreadnaughts for jewelry, big. It may not have been an auto-include in every deck like many people thought, but it has given true control decks the ability to shine for the first time in years.

The aggro decks in Legacy have to have very powerful first-turn plays to keep up with the card quality in midrange, control, and combo decks. This usually meant Æther Vial, Wild Nacatl, or Goblin Lackey. Even if one of those was Force of Willed, the card loss for the other deck was usually a fine trade-off, and gave the aggro decks more time to compete. Not anymore. Mental Misstep has pretty much pushed Goblins out of the format, and Zoo will probably need to adjust its list to stay at Tier 1. Getting your first turn play colded just puts you so far behind. In addition to just those, the blue decks that used to use Ponder and Brainstorm to cheat on lands have a much harder decision to make when keeping one land hands. The card is really changing the format to one that is more controlling and plays more lands, which has also pushed Jace, the Mind Sculptor up from a two-of in a few decks to a three- or four-of in multiple lists.

Kerrigan:Mental Misstep impacts combo mostly. Against Storm, they counter your starting mana spells, your Duress effects, and your Silence effects. It is in a lot of decks right now, but I think that it will begin to settle in decks like Merfolk that like tapping out and still being able to counter things.

Elias: Mental Misstep is a huge deal, just not in the way expected. There were a lot of people that fell into the trap of imagining Mental Misstep in Zoo, Goblins, Dredge, and so on. In reality, every deck where it excels is blue, and can pay for it, and already plays counters. The key thing that has happened with Mental Misstep is the return of non-Counterbalance control decks, and a huge level-up for Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Standstill. Goblins and Zoo appear to have taken the worst hits.

BDM: It has been impossible to discuss the Legacy format lately without having people talk about Mental Misstep. Is that distracting attention from any other cards from New Phyrexia that are going to have a significant impact on the Legacy metagame?

Aintrazi: I honestly believe Dismember is underplayed. I believe overall it's better then Go for the Throat in Team America and the Junk decks. I also think Gitaxian Probe will slowly see more play in the combo decks; that card is really good. Knowledge is half the battle for combo decks, and Gitaxian Probe does it for free.

Stoddard: I'm a big fan of Reanimator—I played it last week at the Louisville SCG Open—which uses Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite as reanimation targets. Other than them, Dismember is a good Snuff Out alternative, and I think that the more people play Stoneforge Mystic, the more Batterskull will show up in sideboards, maybe even main decks.

Sacher:Surgical Extraction is seeing some marginal sideboard play, and one Batterskull has been incorporated into most Stoneforge Mystic packages, but that is all that I have really seen.

Barnello: I think we're at a point where Stoneforge Mystic is on the brink of being a "real" card. Because of this, I think Batterskull has real potential to be a threat in the format. I think Torpor Orb is teetering on the verge of playability; there have been some brews with Phyrexian Dreadnought and Hunted Horror that aren't terrible. There are a few other corner cases, but I feel like none with the weight of Mental Misstep.

Durward: As Jace, the Mind Sculptor gets better, Sword of War and Peace does as well, but most people haven't noticed that yet. Batterskull is receiving some hype, but the card is worse than Umezawa's Jitte, except against some archetypes in which the Jitte is too slow. Trading a Germ for a Myr Enforcer can steal games that Jitte would not.

Phyrexian Obliterator is a Tombstalker-like card that plays nice with Dark Confidant and Dark Ritual. I can see the card seeing some serious play, as it is borderline impossible to deal with in combat. Gitaxian Probe fits in Cephalid Breakfast, as the deck runs Cabal Therapy as well as a Vampiric Tutor-like search package, which works well with cantrips.

Finally, my buddy Craig's Puresteel Paladin deck has been testing well, though I die a little inside every time I see him cast a Bonesplitter in Legacy.

Elias:Batterskull is already seeing play. Note that several key Standard cards—Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Stoneforge Mystic, and Batterskull—are also becoming key Legacy cards. I don't think Gitaxian Probe is going to have an impact. Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur has potential.

Kerrigan: In my opinion, there aren't any cards outside of Mental Misstep that will make a hefty impact on Legacy, but there are cards that might see some small play in a deck or two. First of all, Surgical Extraction will go in decks that need an Extirpate effect in a color other than black. Dispatch may or may not go into Affinity, but Galvanic Blast can hit players and planeswalkers, so it might just be better. Gitaxian Probe will replace Street Wraith in Belcher, and will possibly go into combo decks that do not have access to Duress and Inquisition of Kozilek and the like. Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur will fit into Reanimator quite nicely, though it doesn't have shroud, so it isn't the prime target against decks with removal.

I have seen Phyrexian Obliterator in some white-black–based decks, but I'm not 100% sure if they are actually good or not. It is essentially a 5/5 unblockable for a hard-to-make four mana. Glistener Elf will go into some All-In Infect decks to go from a possible turn-three kill to what can now be a turn-two kill.

Levin: Yes. There's an artifact from New Phyrexia that I'm almost certain I'll be playing on Saturday. Check the coverage to see which one it is!

Tune in for Grand Prix Providence live coverage here at DailyMTG.com starting Saturday morning for more thoughts from these writers, including decks to watch, why the previous six Legacy Grand Prix have been won by established pros, and the answer to the question "What is your favorite Legacy deck of all time?"

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