Recently I qualified for the SCG Invitational. As a result I have had to start learning Legacy. Since, we only have a few weeks left of the current Standard format left and don’t have enough of Theros spoiled yet to talk meaningfully about how things will be post-rotation, I figured now was a good time to share some of the things I’ve learned about this Eternal format. Through the research I’ve done so far, I gained a decent understanding of the format in part by thinking of it in terms of something else I know fairly well, College Football.

First and foremost, Legacy is a battle over resources. This seems like a rather obvious statement that applies to any match of Magic. However this is particularly true of Legacy as lands and mana are not guarantees. In Standard or Limited, one can count on having mana as long as one draws lands. You can play with five drops as you can expect the game to go long enough to have drawn five lands. The presence of Wasteland and Stifle fundamentally change this in Legacy. Games often last long enough for you to have drawn five lands, but there is a good chance one if not two of them have been destroyed along the way.

The impact these cards have on the format is to force everything to be incredibly efficient. This applies not only to decks trying to combat the mana denial plan of decks like RUG Delver, but the mana denial decks themselves must be very efficient. These are not the land destruction decks from 10 years ago that might cast Stone Rain on back to back turns then follow up with a four or five drop. The low casting costs that populate Legacy entail the mana denial cards never buy their users a full turn to deploy an offense, especially not as late as turn four or five. Instead one must be able to stick a reasonably sized threat on turn one or leave open the ability to disrupt the opponent while also deploying an offense.

The fact that RUG Delver has access to not only Delver of Secrets at one but also Nimble Mongoose has allowed it to be the primary deck of this category. This seems to be changing with UWR Delver featuring Geist of Saint Traft as well as Grixis Delver with Young Pyromancer putting up wins on the Open circuit in the last few months. The core of any of these decks are high impact creatures backed by Wasteland, Stifle, Daze, and Force of Will to ensure it only takes one or two threats to bring the game to a close. Brainstorm, Ponder, and less often Preordain allow the decks to make each game follow the same plan. Without access to these cheap card manipulators, the tempo decks would very easily fall into the problem of drawing the wrong part of the deck given the problems presented to it. It’s all well and good to destroy the first three lands an opponent plays, but it doesn’t mean anything if you cannot find a way to capitalize. Eventually your opponent will draw more lands and start casting spells. The best way to prevent that is to end the game before they get a chance.

I like to think of these types of decks as the powerhouse teams of the SEC: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, and South Carolina. These teams tend to be built around a strong running back or backs capable of grinding the ball down the field. Though capable of big plays, it is the consistent five and six yards a carry that the teams rely on to keep the ball moving. These backs are the Delvers and Mongooses of college football, slowly moving towards victory with each attack/carry.

The compliment to the power running games of such teams are stifling defenses that can completely shut down opposing offenses. The defenses are the equivalent of the counterspells and mana denial cards. They are both used to prevent the opponent from winning the game and allow a non-explosive but consistent offense to get the job done.

This type of game plan is obviously effective, as evidenced by the consistent finishes and wins by Tempo decks as well as the seven consecutive BCS national titles in the hands of the SEC, but it’s not the only one out there. Though less common, there are some Aggro and dedicated Combo decks in Legacy. Their goals are to produce a win a quickly as possible. They also utilize cheap, efficient cards that allow them to jump ahead of the disruption of other decks, thus minimizing the effectiveness of said disruption. A major difference between this category of deck and a Tempo deck is the sheer number of cards dedicated to winning the game with few if any relegated to defense. Goblins is the notable exception that makes use of its monochromeness to play Wasteleand and Rishadan Port to slow the opponent down just enough.

Within this category I include Belcher, Dredge, Storm, Goblins, and Elves. It may not seem like each card actively contributes towards a win in the Combo, after all the tempo decks play Brainstorm and Ponder, but I did not count those spells towards win conditions for those decks. This is because the spells function similarly in both decks in that they help to find whatever piece or pieces the pilot is missing, however with Storm each of those spells become two damage once a Tendrils of Agony is cast.

In addition to the high number of cheap spells each of these decks play, they all have a fair amount of mana acceleration. If the goal of the tempo decks is to keep the game in Flores’s Stage One of mana screw, the Aggro/Combo decks want to explode into Stage Three, the end game, as soon as possible. The mana acceleration allows them to do this while also mitigating the damage spells like Daze or Stifle can do. While at an extreme in some of these decks, mana acceleration is a common theme across the rest of the format’s archetypes both as a response to the Tempo decks’ mana denial but also as a way to deal with such a fast format.

On the gridiron, the Aggro/Combo decks would be in the PAC 12, home of the high flying offenses of USC and Oregon. These teams’ goal is to put points on the board every time they get the ball and often succeed at doing so. They want to amass as many points as possible, which is why it is not that uncommon to see Oregon try for two on the point after. Neither team is particularly known for their defensive capabilities.

Things are of course different in football in that we only have to deal twenty, where they are playing until the end of sixty minutes. I am sure some of the teams that play this style of football would love to have it the other way around. Can you imagine how happy high scoring offenses would be if the NCAA decided to institute a mercy rule of sorts where the first team to forty points won? Luckily for us fans, that’s not happening.

Next up are the Midrange decks of BUG, Jund, and the various incarnations of Stoneblade. These decks were rather scarce a few years ago. The printing of Deathrite Shaman gave decks with mana curves higher than two a way to combat the barrage of Stifles and Wastelands. Now powerful trump spells like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Batterskull have a legitimate chance of hitting play.

The Midrange decks don’t have a particularly cohesive strategy. They play a rather generic collection of good cards, some of which can generate card advantage. The game plan is to allow the overall higher card quality to overcome the weaker, though faster, cards from the tempo and aggro decks. The problem with these types of decks are that not all good cards are good against every opponent. Storm laughs at the slowness of Jace or the uselessness of Swords to Plowshares. As a result these decks must choose their flex slots wisely based on predicted metagame as well as have a well tuned board that can allow them to make fitting substitutions.

I would place the Midrange decks in the Big 10. They behave similarly to the traditional national contenders like Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. Such teams rely on solid fundamental football. There is nothing exceptionally flashy about any of these teams historically, though there are Heisman Trophy winners who attended said schools. They tend to be well balanced with above average talent spread on both sides of the ball. Because of the rich history the teams are able to recruit that above average talent better than most of their competition. This is the backbone of the teams and midrange decks – strong individual performers that raise the overall caliber of the team/deck.

Lastly, we arrive at the type of deck for which I do not think there is a College Footaball equivalent. These are the Two-Card Combo decks that do not need to dedicate one hundred percent of their cards to getting and playing the combo. I group Show and Tell decsk as well as Imperial Painter in this category. These decks not only make game ending plays quickly, but can do so while still playing disruptive spells along similar lines as the Tempo decks. Storm can end a game very quickly, however it doesn’t get to play Force of Will. The Show and Tell decks can and do while being only slightly slower than Storm.

There are some games in which it seems as though these decks get to rewrite the rules of the game. Imperial Painter can make everyone’s lands Mountains, ’cause let’s face it hardly anyone is playing basics right now, as early as turn one. An attack from Emrakul, the Aeons Torn can make it seem like you are starting the game completely over while your opponent has things in play still, and that’s only if you can survive the attack in the first place.

The power behind these decks is once again mana acceleration. Though for most of them it is not spells like Dark Ritual or Deathrite Shaman or even Lion’s Eye Diamond, but the lands, City of Traitors and Ancient Tomb, that allow for the true game-enders to come online. The unsustainability of continuous use from these lands dictates that what is accelerated into are in fact game-anders. The cards chosen for this role do not disappoint.

There are of course more decks in the format that what I’ve covered here, but these seem to be the major players and strategies. For the past several months the two main strategies seemed to be Tempo and Midrange. In the head to head, if the Midrange deck could get out of the mana screw stage, it should be able to overpower the Tempo deck. With that being the case, the metagame started sliding into how to out grind the other Midrange decks with a Midrange deck. This led to the four color Deathblade list of Brian Braun-Duin that has access to the card advantage creatures of Dark Confidant, Snapcaster Mage, and Stoneforge Mystic.

What has happened even more recently is the realization that such maneuvering has left the Midrange decks vulnerable to the high power of the Aggro/Combo decks as well as the Two-Card Combo decks. Midrange decks thought they were safe from Wasteland and Stifle by playing Deathrite Shaman and a high land count, forgoing basics for more colors and more power. The return of Blood Moon to the format with Jonathan Suarez’s win in Baltimore has caused such players to reevaluate their position in the format. Braun-Duin was casting Blood Moon himself out of the sideboard of his Sneak and Show deck this past weekend in Philadelphia despite his hand in the creation and popularization of the aforementioned Deathblade list.

What this means for those playing in the SCG Legacy Open this weekend in Atlanta is until the format adjusts, power is where you want to be. With the exception of two Midrange decks, the top 8 in Philadelphia was full of Aggro and Combo decks, most of which could position themselves well against Blood Moon. I do not expect this weekend to be that different. If you want to try and get ahead of the curve, a deck that I have not discussed here though it should be capable of dealing with both an onslaught of spells or creatures is UW Miracles. With Midrange seemingly on the decline right now, there should be far fewer Abrupt Decays to break up Counterbalance with Sensei’s Divining Top and Terminus is one hell of a response to a lethal attack from a bunch of elves and a Craterhoof Behemoth.

Once again thanks for reading,

Grant Christopher
Hologram001 on MTGO