Legacy for the Uninitiated, Part 1: Core Decks

Posted in GRAND PRIX LILLE 2015 on July 4, 2015

By Craig Jones

Legacy is not used very often for Grand Prix events and poses some interesting challenges for players. In Standard players are working with a constrained card pool consisting of all the sets released over the last couple of years. There are a small number of "top" decks and the metagame evolves from week to week as players react and adapt to current trends. Modern has a larger card pool stretching back to the introduction of the modern card face with Mirrodin/Eighth Edition. Legacy has an even larger card pool stretching back to the very dawn of Magic: the Gathering itself. That's over twenty years of cards!

Building a deck from a card selection that includes nearly every Magic card ever printed (minus a small banned list) is a daunting prospect. Because of this the Legacy metagame tends to be fairly stable (new cards don't change things a great deal, with the occasional exceptions) but has a wide variety of possible deck archetypes. As Legacy isn't a format we cover very often I thought I'd do a little advance homework and write some primers on what to expect this weekend.

I should add the caveat that this is intended as a basic primer. I'm not a Legacy expert, although I have been around long enough to open most of these cards out of boosters when they first appeared.

First up, there are two cards that have a massive influence on Legacy: Force of Will and Brainstorm.

My own personal opinion is that Force of Will is powerful and ubiquitous enough that under normal circumstances it would be banned ... if it wasn't the safety valve of the format. There are many card combos capable of ending the game very quickly, in some cases before the other player has even had a chance to play a land. Force of Will, for the cheap alternate cost of 1 life and pitching a blue card, gives players the ability to say, "Nope, we won't be having any of those shenanigans this game, let's play normal Magic instead." For a format stretching over as many years and sets as Legacy, that's an important tool to have.

Brainstorm is more subtle. It says draw three cards, but you have to put two of those back. What that does do is provide enormous consistency to draws. Draw too many or too little lands? Brainstorm will smooth that out. It becomes even more powerful combined with an ability to shuffle the unneeded cards away from the top of the library such as any fetch land.

The following decks can be looked at as the core decks in Legacy. They pursue different strategies and have different win conditions, but they all lean on the power of Brainstorm and Force of Will.

To start with we'll look at Yuta Takahashi's winning deck from the last Legacy Grand Prix, GP Kyoto in April of this year.

Yuta Takahashi's Miracles

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The deck is called miracles and does feature the miracle mechanic, but the real business card is Sensei's Divining Top. Not only does the Top give the player some control when the miracles happen, it also teams up with Counterbalance for a nasty soft lock capable of locking some decks out of casting most of their spells. If you like saying "no" a lot while playing Magic, this is probably the Legacy deck for you.

Also from that same Grand Prix Top 8 is a combo deck piloted by Shota Yasooka that also utilizes the power of Brainstorm and Force of Will.

Shota Yasooka's Omni-Tell

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In theory Show and Tell seems like a fair card. You get to put a card into play without paying the mana cost, but so too does your opponent. What actually happens is the other player gets a free "fair" card while the Show and Tell player puts an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn onto the battlefield.

No, that isn't very fair, is it.

Even scarier than Emrakul is Omniscience. Once that enchantment is in play, everything is free. That also includes Emrakul. If the player finds themselves in a situation where they don't have Emrakul in play, a free-mana Dig Through Time or three will quickly remedy it.

Moving toward the aggro side of things we have the many flavors of Delver. The following is the version piloted by Kevin Jones to win the Legacy portion of the Eternal weekend back in October of last year.

Kevin Jones's Delver

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This list is a little out of date as Treasure Cruise has since been deemed to be a little too good for the Legacy format and has earned itself a spot on the banned list. The overall strategy is still the same, though.

These decks are named after Delver of Secrets, although it's usually the Mr. Hyde side, Insectile Aberration, that gets the job done. There are a lot of variations of Delver decks spread across various two and three color combinations. The basic game strategy is always the same though: mana-efficient hard hitters (Delver of Secrets, Tarmogoyf, Young Pyromancer, Nimble Mongoose) backed up with efficient counterspells to tackle opposing combos and efficient removal (Lightning Bolt) for opposing creatures.

The low mana curves coupled with library manipulation make these decks very reliable and efficient. I'd be very surprised if some form of Delver deck isn't the most popular deck in the room this weekend.

Slightly higher on the mana curve and taking the fourth option of our Force of Will/Brainstorm core are the various Stoneblade decks. As with Delver, there are a number of options and color combinations for this strategy. Here's an example list in the Esper colors!

Esper Stoneblade

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These decks are centered around Stoneforge Mystic. Stoneforge Mystic allows the player to tutor for powerful equipment such as Batterskull and Umezawa's Jitte and put these cards directly into play (circumnavigating both mana costs and counterspells). The deck also makes use of Jace, the Mind Sculptor, probably the most powerful planeswalker card printed.

Also present in the list is the two-card combo of Sword of the Meek and Thopter Foundry. Another feature of the Legacy format is that seemingly innocuous cards printed years apart can combine to form devastating combos. Sometimes they will form the centerpiece of a deck. Other times a deck will employ them as an alternate strategy depending on both the opposing deck and draw. You'll see this in the other decks I mention in parts two and three of this primer.

Yes, there's more. A lot more decks ...