Choosing your deck is often the most stressful aspect of competing in a Magic tournament. Nowhere is this more true than in Legacy, where making a poor deck choice can be so swiftly and painfully punished. The amount of effort needed to master a new strategy is enormous. And for most of us, budget and card availability issues make switching decks inconvenient or impossible.
A few years ago, I outlined what I believe to be the best approach to Legacy.
Things have changed a little bit since then, but the main idea remains the same: Legacy rewards the players who are experienced with their decks. Sticking with the same deck through multiple tournaments is the best way to improve, while switching decks frequently can leave you frustrated and wondering why nothing seems to be working.
Rather than repeat a lot of the content from my old article, I’ll simply highlight a few crucial points.
One risk that comes with sticking to the same deck is getting trapped with a deck that’s simply bad. Not only could your tournament results suffer, but your investment of effort and money wouldn’t be properly rewarded. I’ll offer two pieces of advice to help you protect yourself against being trapped with a bad deck.
First (from the above-linked article): “Choose a deck with Brainstorm... Brainstorm decks tend to have fewer weaknesses (or at least extreme weaknesses) and are very customizable, so you're unlikely to get locked into a situation where there's no way for you to improve.”
If a deck features a reasonable shell of Legacy cards and 4 Brainstorms, it probably can’t be that bad. These blue decks are the “safe” choices of the format. They’re also good examples of decks that reward practice and tuning.
My experience has taught me that Brainstorm decks are more resilient to metagame shifts than non-blue decks. Lands and Death and Taxes are two of the absolute best decks in Legacy right now, just to name two examples. But I would still hesitate to recommend that a new player buy into either of these strategies, because it’s difficult to say whether or not they will still be among the best decks two years from now. It’s possible for shifts in the metagame or the printing of new cards to dramatically change the effectiveness of these strategies. (Of course, the same thing could happen to a Brainstorm + Force of Will strategy, but history has proven those to be a bit more resilient).
Second: Choose a fast or proactive deck. Slow decks have a tough time in Legacy because the card pool is so large, and there are so many ways for your opponents to attack you. It’s hard to be prepared for them all. If you play a fast deck like Storm, Reanimator, or even Delver, you can always hope to simply win the game before your opponent presents a threat or combination that you can’t answer. But if you choose a slow deck like U/R Landstill or Nic Fit, you give up the chance to score easy wins, and open the door for too many things to go wrong. Personally, I draw the line of being “too reactive” somewhere around Shardless Sultai.
Note that there are ways to make slow decks more proactive. For example, you could include a way to lock your opponent out of the game like Counterbalance-plus-Sensei’s Divining Top or you could build in a way to kill your opponent out of nowhere like Dark Depths-plus-Thespian’s Stage.
Goldfish Decks and Metagame Decks
When you jump into a challenging format like Legacy, the difficulty level of your deck should be an important factor. Virtually all Legacy decks are complicated and skill-testing. But newer players should note the difference between strategies that require a specific skill set versus strategies that require general mastery of the format.
To put it simply, the faster and more proactive your deck is, the less you have to worry about what your opponents are doing. Piloting Storm combo at a high level is extremely difficult. But once you can do it, you’ll more or less be able to do it in any matchup, in any metagame, for as long as you don’t get rusty.
On the other hand, interactive decks like Miracles, Shardless Sultai, and Delver require you to know what your opponents are up to in order to effectively combat them. Which spells should you counter? What turns should you leave mana open? Should you protect your life total, or save your removal for more potent threats? You won’t be able to answer all of these questions the first time you play Legacy. But if you can put in the reps, these decks will greatly reward your growing mastery of the format.
When it comes to budget, I’ve already given you the most important piece of advice: try to switch decks as infrequently as possible. Beyond that, everyone’s resources and limitations are going to be different, and I won’t have the perfect answer for everybody. That said, I’ll try to go over a couple of the more common budget problems Legacy players might encounter.
Transitioning from Modern to Legacy
Maybe you’re a Modern player and you own either one complete Modern deck, or a larger collection of Modern staples. But you’re discouraged that you don’t own Legacy-specific cards like dual lands, Force of Wills, and Wastelands.
If this is you, don’t despair, because you’re in great shape! Most of the top strategies in Modern—with the exception of the ones particularly vulnerable to Wasteland—will be competitive (at least on some level) in Legacy. Infect is a fantastic choice, while Jund, Burn, Dredge, Affinity, Eldrazi, Merfolk, Elves, and Hate Bears can all work too.
It’s not the end of the if you have to use a Modern-style mana base in Legacy. For example, a W/G mana base in Legacy usually consists of Savannahs and fetchlands. But Razorverge Thicket and Horizon Canopy are still totally fine cards in Legacy. You could even fetch for Temple Garden at only a minor disadvantage compared to Savannah. If you can get your hands on even a single copy of your appropriate dual land, you’ll be in even better shape.
Missing Dual Lands
Maybe you’re the type that really doesn’t want to play with Watery Grave, simply on principle. But you also can’t shell out for Underground Seas. Here are some strong decks in Legacy that can be built without the fetch/dual mana base:
- Death and Taxes
- Elves (use Forests)
Here are some strong decks that can be built without Wasteland.
- Storm Combo
- Sneak and Show
Missing Force of Will
Here are some strong decks that can be built without Force of Will.
- Storm Combo
- Death and Taxes
- R/B Reantimator
Starting From Scratch
Maybe you don’t have access to much of a collection at all, and are looking to buy into Legacy in the most affordable way you reasonably can.
Note that Belcher, Dredge, and Burn are examples of decks that don’t require dual lands, Wastelands, or Force of Wills. Personally, I believe that Burn is the perfect intersection of being affordable while also being highly competitive.
I played Burn at a recent Legacy tournament—not for budget reasons or because I wasn’t taking the tournament seriously, but because I think it’s simply a good deck. Price of Progress is one of the best ways to punish greedy mana bases, and Eidolon of the Great Revel is one of the best main-deck cards you can play against combo decks.
Burn’s weakness is fast combo decks that aren’t particularly vulnerable to Eidolon, like Show and Tell decks. If you don’t expect to face a lot of those, then Burn is a good, well-rounded deck choice.
Vieko, 5-0 in an MTGO Competitive Legacy League
Manaless Dredge is another fun and competitive budget option, and even has some overlap with Modern Dredge.
R/B Reanimator is a relatively new player in Legacy, but has already had quite a lot of success. What it gives up in card selection and permission spells of blue it gains in the explosiveness of Dark Ritual and Unmask. With those spells—often alongside Lotus Petal and Chancellor of the Annex—R/B Reanimator will compress the game into a battle over a reanimation spell on the first or second turn of the game (a battle it’s very well suited to winning).
R/B Reanimator is a strong deck, and a solid budget option for Legacy. Some of the expensive cards, like Badlands and Blood Moon, are even a bit expendable, and could be replaced with other options at only a minor disadvantage.
How to Practice Legacy
Practicing Legacy should be much different from practicing Standard. When I practice for a Standard tournament, I’ll sometimes sit down at the kitchen table with a friend and play 10 games each of the most popular matchups in the format. If you tried to do the same thing in Legacy, you’d play for dozens of hours and wouldn’t even scratch the surface.
Legacy is simply too diverse to engage in complete and thorough testing, no matter how much you might want to. Instead, the key is to learn your deck in a wide enough variety of situations that you’re comfortable confronting the unknown.
By all means, play some games against whatever decks your friends are interested in. This will be both helpful and fun. But if you really want to improve, you’ll want to branch out and face as broad a range of opponents as possible.
There’s no substitute for tournament experience. In fact, you should make an effort to play out all the rounds of the Legacy tournaments you attend, even when you’re already out of contention.
As always, Magic Online is a great way to face a variety of opponents in a compressed amount of time. Similarly, you can show up to your local store and challenge anybody who happens to have a Legacy deck. Variety is the key.
Once you have a solid foundation in the format, you can use focused testing to answer specific questions you might encounter. For example, you’re not sure whether or not to sideboard out Counterbalance against an Abrupt Decay deck? Maybe now’s the time to build (or proxy) Shardless Sultai and have your friend play 10 games against you.
If you do want to maintain a small Legacy gauntlet for practice, the most important decks right now are Miracles, Grixis (or 4-color) Delver, and Death and Taxes. Make sure to emphasize sideboarded games in your practice, since the presence of a few sideboard cards can make a big difference in Legacy.
I wish there was an easy answer for the question of, “What deck should I play in Legacy?” Personally, I’ve devoted countless hours to this question, and will surely spend a lot more before I have an answer. More importantly, everybody is different when it comes to their collection and resources, the amount of practice and experience they’ll be able to amass, and what decks they find fun and engaging. If you’re like me and you’re still searching for a deck, I hope this article has set you on the right track.