Legacy is filled with sweet ones, but there's only so much room on a deck sheet. What cards are poised to take over the current metagame? What cards are powerful enough, but never seem to get their break?
I set out to answer these questions in this article, complete with a slew of lists and analysis, but it's by no means comprehensive. Despite thousands of players and hours spent, Legacy remains unsolved, and what is underplayed today might be common tomorrow.
It's rare that we see a diversity of spot removal in Legacy. After all, cards have to compete with Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares, the most powerful and efficient removal spells in the game. If a Smother is going to make it in the big time, it had better be an uncounterable answer to Counterbalance too.
Searing Blaze's stock is also at an all-time high. If you need a way to kill Stoneforge Mystic, Baleful Strix, or Shardless Agent without losing value, Searing Blaze is your card. Personally, I'm looking forward to making BUG Control players regret running Deathrite Shaman. If UW Miracle players lean towards the Stoneforge Mystic version, similar to Joe Bass's build, the card gets even better.
Credit goes to Joe Bernal for espousing this little gem. While it won't kill a Tarmogoyf or a Tombstalker, Disfigure is a Snapcastable black removal spell that kills most relevant threats on turn one, which is when you need it to. Opposing Deathrites, Dark Confidants, Stoneforge Mystics, Dryad Arbors, Goblin Lackeys, and so on need to be answered, and paying four life for Dismember gets brutal when you flash it back.
One of my all-time favorite cards, flavor-wise. The card still sees play in Pox, but has potential for much more than that. It is, after all, as fine of an answer to a turn one threat as Lightning Bolt or Swords to Plowshares. In the case of Nimble Mongoose, better. After that turn one, however, it worsens. Low-impact creatures litter the board, making indiscriminate, symmetrical removal less desirable than a simple Doom Blade. Pox gets away with it because that deck intends to kill each and every creature the opponent plays.
I suppose the main reason Innocent Blood is underplayed is because there are so few decks that aspire to kill everything, and even fewer that don't mind the symmetry.
There's an old theory/expression/adage that goes, “There are no wrong threats, only answers.” The statement is used by proponents of proactive strategies, but it's not fully true. After all, Tarmogoyf is a fantastic threat against a combo deck, but a miserable one against an abundance of spot removal, where a planeswalker, a Nimble Mongoose, or a Thrun would be a more correct threat. This is why people sideboard threats in order to fix their deck for the opponent's strategy.
In sealed, I often adjust my creature base depending on what my opponent is doing. In the mirror, that generally means upping my curve with larger guys. Against control strategies with lots of Horned Turtles, I'll scour my board for guys that can punch through.
Currently, Liliana is seeing more play, making Thrun a worse threat. Evaluations change with the times, and here are a few win conditions that are better than usual, and others that've escaped mass notice. They are the underrated, undervalued, and unconsidered.
Koth is one of those cards that, when mentioned, evokes a lot of raised eyebrows and PV-style “Really?”s. Yet, Koth still provides a fast clock without weakness to removal or sweepers. UW Miracles, for example, could straight up die to the card, or worse lose a Jace to it.
The archetypes where Koth shines usually want Blood Moon as well. Dragon Stompy, Imperial Painter, and a slightly bigger Burn deck are all strong possibilities, though I think MUD could work the card in. Given the MUD deck's vulnerability to Jace, this might not be a bad idea. I remember a version of Vintage Stax that ran Solemns, Welders, and Blood Moon that could reasonably be ported into the modern Legacy meta, if someone had the gumption.
Someone else, of course. I want to share this sweet burn list:
In LA I talked with a burn player who was splashing black for Deathrites and Bump in the Night, which gave me the idea of upping the curve a little. The idea of going turn one Deathrite Shaman, turn two Sulfuric Vortex, turn three Koth of the Hammer makes me as excited as turn two Liliana into turn three Jace. In fact, if everyone wasn't still jamming Wastelands and Dazes I'd be tempted to go even bigger with Demigod of Revenge (turn two Intuition... hmm).
Is the Burn deck still weak to Tarmogoyf? Sure, but the addition of Deathrite ups the curve and power level above what we've seen in past Burn lists, certainly enough to be worth exploring.
My other vision for Koth involves a Jund shell. Jund has been seeing more and more play due to the popularity of Deathrite. In this deck, Koth has the potential to come down turn three and apply serious pressure without fear of over committing into a sweeper.
I designed this list as a thought experiment on my flight to LA, and I like how it plays. There are a ton of different decisions to make when designing Jund in this format. Maybe I want to get aggressive, including cards like Kird Ape and Skyshroud Elite. Maybe I want to get grindier and include the Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows combo. Since the archetype only recently burst into playability, everything from the selection of manlands to the correct ration of Thoughtseizes to Inquisition of Kozileks should be considered carefully.
I've had some small success with a Tezz list based around fast mana and piles of planeswalkers. Adam Prosak top sixteened an Open with a completely different list featuring Temporal Mastery. People have played the card with the Painter's Servant + Grindstone combo, and they've played it with Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek. The thread in the Source is growing.
I'm not sure how far this card can go, but it does a lot of great things, including eating opposing planeswalkers, selecting cards, providing incidental life gain against aggressive decks, and using the ultimate to kill without using the red zone.
I haven't lost to this card in far too long. Someone bring it back, please.
It's hard to respect this card until you've lost to it, but those stories are always incredible. Maybe your opponent flicked it into play off of an Aether Vial activation in response to his Oblivion Ring trigger, nabbing two of your permanents instead of one. Maybe you were playing UG Enchantress, and he blinked the land you were enchanting with all those Wild Growths. Maybe he reset your Aether Vial, Chrome Mox, Phyrexian Dreadnought, or planeswalker. Or maybe the Flickerwisp was merely a Lyev Skynight, removing a blocker.
Death and Taxes, by Thomas Enevoldsen
Thomas's list is excellent, though I recommend switching out the Relics for Rest in Peaces. I got to play Thomas in a semifinals, once, and the reason he top eighted was his approach to the archetype. Fortunately for us, Thomas did a write up on the deck, explaining the mentality necessary to pilot it.
The way I see it, this is not just some 'cute deck' that has some cool tricks to blow unsuspecting opponents out of the water. At its core, this deck should be labeled monowhite control. That's what it does, controls the game...
... It requires an able pilot. The skills you need to play this deck cannot, however, be learnt through just jamming a bunch of games and seeing all the interactions. This deck is not based on its own interactions. This deck succeeds because it can constantly adapt to the opponent's game plan, both from the start of the game (the overall strategy of his deck) and throughout the game, once it shapes into something different. That is why this deck is so great. Because it always has game, no matter what the opponent brings to the table. -Thomas Enevoldsen
You can find his complete thoughts on the source.
Thomas does a great job of explaining why the deck is viable, which relates to many of the fundamental weaknesses of Legacy decks in general. If you have any sort of interest in this format, you should read his post in full.
“What's the most underplayed card in Legacy?” I asked.
Joe Lossett's answer, Glimpse, surprised me the most. With Abrupt Decay as a solution to both Counterbalance and Engineered Plague, and Deathrite Shaman freeing up sideboard space that would otherwise be reserved for graveyard hate, Elves seems much better positioned than it did a month or two ago.
This is one of very few decks I'm considering for the GP in Denver. I've written about Elves a few times already, and am mostly just including my updated list, but if you have any questions feel free to ask in the forums.
Both Drew Levin and Adam Prosak played Storm at the Invitational, and both did well the archetype. I suppose that, if players are switching to BUG Control over Miracles, the amount of Counterbalance in the format lowers, and the more room for Storm to work its way back in. After all, discard and countermagic can be worked through with cantrips and discard of your own.
I haven't thought this deck was a good choice in a while, and it feels strange to recommend it right as Team America starts putting up finishes, but so it goes.
I mentioned this combo in the discussion of Jund, but the engine deserves its own section. With all the Deathrite hype, and Dark Confidant once again seeing mainstream play, I like having a recurring way of killing said threats as well as winning Tarmogoyf mirrors.
The design potential goes beyond simply making land drops and slowly burning the opponent's dudes and occasional planeswalker. You can dredge into both halves with Life from the Loam, discard extra copies of Punishing Fire to Faithless Looting, or Brainstorm them away.
I wrote about this interaction during the Return to Ravnica spoiler season and provided a sample list for its inclusion in UR Delver. The combo is powerful, and can generate a turn two 7/8 fairly consistently. What makes this exciting is how Flusterstorm is a strong card even without Nivmagus.
The problem is that to make Nivmagus a relevant threat, you need to pitch the spells you would be using to protect it. The engine is competitive, but the explosiveness doesn't make up for its difficulty (how much do I commit?) and fragility.
Counterbalance has been used to protect Dreadnoughts in the past. Perhaps a Stiflenought list, including both Stifle + Phyrexian Dreadnought and the Nivmagus combo, could perform well. I recall Spellstutter Sprite being used to protect Tarmogoyfs from Swords to Plowshares, which is another option. A miser's Kira, Great Glass Spinner could also do work.
I first played these cards in Mono Green Stompy, which used a swarm of aggressive one drops, pump spells, and Kavu Predator to slaughter the opponent before he got the chance to adjust his life pad.
Today, Infect is the best Stompy build since the mechanic makes pump spells so much more powerful.
When it comes to repeal, your opponent is getting some edge on you in mana, but this is fine in a lot of cases. Maybe you're bouncing a Chrome Mox, or a flipped Delver of Secrets. Maybe you have more mana than the opponent every turn, and you can simply snapcast back Repeal to bounce their larger threats.
Tabernacle's price tag keeps a lot of people from playing the card. In fact, it only sees play in Lands these days, though there are a variety of control archetypes that might desire this effect at the expense of a land drop. Perhaps it could work as a one of in BUG, for example. The effect has synergy with edict effects, and it can be dredged into with Life from the Loam.
When Sneak and Show was the predominant combo Deck, that bricked Spell Snare. Now Omniscience plays Burning Wish.
If I had Snapcaster Mage in my deck, I would definitely run at least two Spell Snares, probably three, and even in lists without Snapcaster it's still a fine card. Think about it. Whether your deck is weak to Tarmogoyf, Counterbalance, or Rest in Peace, Spell Snare saves the day for a single blue.
Hating on Nonbasics
With Deathrite Shaman as another source of fixing, three and four color decks are at an all time high. The popularity of Loam also means that playing the Wasteland war is a losing proposition, making the following options more attractive.
Back to Basics hasn't seen major tournament play for a long time. Yet, with all the BUG decks floating around, this could be a great time to bring it out of retirement.
Perhaps it's best as another piece of disruption in regular UW. The last person I saw do this was Devin Koepke, to some reasonable results, though now it gains more value as a bullet against BUG Control.
Miracles is the perfect home for this card, as it wants to run a ton of basics anyway. I thought something similar with Dust Bowl, however, which I have sense cut.
One reason I like this list is because it can get away with maindecking the best graveyard hate in the format. In the Invitational, I ran an extra Relic of Progenitus in my Tezzeret list as a way of pressuring opposing Deathrite Shamans. This didn't work, mainly due to how fast graveyards fill up in Legacy. Meanwhile, Jonathan Job top eighted with my old Miracles list. Unlike Relic, Rest in Peace is a more permanent answer, and actually takes Deathrite/Tarmogoyf pressure off for more than a turn or two.
Blood Moon is one of the most powerful nonbasic hosers of all time, and it's a shame that it doesn't see more play. Part of the problem is that, as with Back to Basics, few manabases can support the card. Since Legacy consists of efficient, high-impact spells, Blood Moon works best in decks with mana acceleration such as Imperial Painter or Dragon Stompy.
Besides Wasteland, Price of Progress has seen the most play of all the nonbasic hate. Currently, the card is at a low point, and only sees play in mono red. UR Delver has fallen out of favor due to all the tempo decks in the format. No one wants to play a turn one Goblin Guide only to have it bricked by a Tarmogoyf.
Yet, if you're trying to attack BUG Control, Price of Progress is an absolute beating, and I almost sideboarded a couple in my RUG list this last weekend.
I could go on. I haven't even touched on value cards like Baleful Strix, Shardless Agent, and Ancestral Visions. I glossed over Goblin Welder shenanigans, and didn't even mention how well Lightning Greaves interacts with all the new activated abilities. I do have to end somewhere, however. Maybe I'll revisit the subject.
Over the past few week, I've been constantly quizzing both friends and strangers as to what they think the most underplayed card in Legacy is. What's your pick? Let me know in the forums, and feel free to share any accompanying brews!