Update: There’s a new version of this guide, here:
Part I: An Introduction to Legacy
Table of Contents
- Legacy Guide Part I: Introduction To Legacy
- Legacy Guide Part II: Overview of Legacy
- Legacy Guide Part III: Choosing Your Deck
- Legacy Guide Part IV: Combo Decks
- Legacy Guide Part V: Prison Decks
- Legacy Guide Part VI: Delver
- Legacy Guide Part VIII: Control Decks
I originally had a much different plan for Part VII of my Legacy Guide. But I find myself going off-script as a result of one of the biggest shake-ups in the history of the format—the banning of Sensei’s Divining Top. Previously in this guide, I’d referred to the Miracles deck as a “pillar of the format.” Now the weight is unbalanced and Legacy players will be scrambling to find the right decks to carry the load.
According to many experts, Miracles was the best deck in Legacy while Sensei’s Divining Top was legal. In an extremely diverse format, Miracles and Delver were the only decks you could be sure of encountering at every large Legacy tournament you attended.
Miracles was a clear best way to approach control. This meant that it crowded other control archetypes out of the format. It also sported Counterbalance and Terminus as two extremely unique and powerful cards, which invalidated some strategies that might have otherwise been competitive.
What Changed? (Generally)
It’s been over a month since the banning. So the bad news is that I don’t have an exclusive scoop on the big story. The good news is that I now have the writings and impressions of the entire Magic community to pair with my own instincts about how the format will change. Here’s what people seem to think:
Legacy will speed up.
When the best deck in the format is a control deck, it’s natural for a lot of games to go long. “Fair” decks—creature decks, midrange decks, and control decks—would often try to get an edge on Miracles by loading up on slow card advantage cards like Painful Truths, Sylvan Library, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
Importantly, Miracles was also strong against combo decks because of Counterbalance. Storm Combo is one of the fastest decks in the format, and benefits a lot from the banning of Sensei’s Divining Top. Fringe combo decks like Tin Fins, High Tide, and Cephalid Breakfast might become reasonable choices as well.
But I do have one counterargument to the theory that the format will speed up. Miracles played so well from turn 3 onward that sometimes the best way to beat it was to focus on turns 1 and 2. I believe that this is a big reason for the popularity of “all-in” combo decks like R/B Reanimator. You needed to pick a fight with Miracles before their best tools—Counterbalance, Counterspell, and Snapcaster Mage—could come online. With Miracles out of the picture, combo decks have the option to emphasize staying power instead of raw speed.
Similarly, midrange creatures like Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze, and Knight of the Reliquary had no place in a world of Miracles. You needed to stick a threat right away (see Delver of Secrets), and then sit back on it. Perhaps creatures like this can make a comeback as important players in those fair battles.
Combo decks will be more popular and more successful.
This will be particularly true for the combo decks that struggled against Counterbalance, such as Storm, Elves, and High Tide. I consider the banning of Sensei’s Divining Top to be a net neutral for a deck like Sneak and Show, since it was pretty strong against Miracles to begin with.
As always, the strength of combo decks is heavily impacted by how much players are gunning to beat them. Legacy players should react to an increase in combo decks by choosing decks with the right tools to beat combo, and perhaps by playing a couple of extra sideboard cards (use the sideboard slots that you used to devote to Miracles on combo matchups instead). If this happens, the format can eventually reach a healthy equilibrium again.
Creature decks will be viable options again.
If your plan was to put a bunch of creatures onto the battlefield, then you probably weren’t too happy about the most popular deck in the format playing four 1-mana Wrath of Gods. With fewer Terminuses out there, Elves and Death and Taxes will go from solid to quite strong, and other tribal decks like Merfolk and Goblins might see play again. The same goes for old creature strategies like Maverick and Abzan.
As a lifelong fan of creature decks, I’d like to believe this. But the reality might be that these decks go from the frying pan to the fire if the slice of the metagame that used to be Miracles simply becomes fast combo decks that beat creature strategies anyway.
Other control decks will try to do what Miracles did, but they will do it worse.
Grixis Control, Esper Stoneblade, Standstill, and even some Sensei’s-Divining-Top-less Miracles decks are seeing play. But they’re not Miracles. Miracles had an incredible level of consistency due to its ability to see so many card in its library each game. The Counterbalance–Top lock also gave it a proactive way to win games, and an excellent plan for beating combo. These other control decks have to work a lot harder to get similar results. That said, it is possible!
Part VIII of the Legacy Guide will cover some of the control decks that are attempting to pick up where Miracles left off.
What Changed? (Specifically)
Delver of Secrets Decks
What happens to a format with two top decks when one of those decks gets banned? Well, it becomes a format with one top deck.
The Delver vs. Miracles matchup was close—common opinion was that Miracles was slightly favored, but this could change depending on the build of Delver. Delver players are probably reasonably happy with the banning—one less thing to worry about, after all—but it shouldn’t dramatically change their expected win rate.
What it will change is the popularity of Delver. It’s the default choice for anybody who doesn’t know what to play in Legacy, and we’ve just introduced a huge number of former Miracles players who will be looking for a new deck. I’m expecting Delver decks to be very popular choices at Grand Prix Las Vegas and other upcoming Legacy events.
Grixis Delver is the most popular version right now, with Sultai Delver being second.
Even before the banning, Lands was one of my most feared decks, and I believe it’s a huge winner from the banning. The Lands vs. Miracles matchup was fairly close, but Lands struggled with it even more than Delver did.
Lands is a stone-cold killer of the creature decks and control decks that will increase in popularity as a result of the banning. Elves, Death and Taxes, Delver, and control decks without Counterbalance are simply dead in the water against Lands. The only question is whether or not Lands can find a way to cope with the increase of Storm Combo and Reanimator, which are bad matchups.
Gearing your deck to beat Lands is always a tricky proposition. Because the deck is very expensive to build and challenging to play, it will likely never make up a large portion of the Legacy metagame. But I always expect the good players with Lands to make deep runs in large Legacy events, and you should be prepared to face it if you want to make the Top 8 of something like a Grand Prix.
Storm Combo can lose some games to Delver, Reanimator, or a fast Chalice of the Void. But the number one thing Storm players used to worry about was getting locked under a Counterbalance. Now the Legacy field will be divided, from Storm’s perspective, between “great” matchups and “fine” matchups. For anybody with experience playing Storm Combo, it’s going to be a great choice in the wake of the banning.
W0RDJUICEBOX, 5-0 in a Competitive Legacy Constructed League
Elves is another big winner from the banning, and it’s likely to be my personal deck of choice for Grand Prix Las Vegas. It’s a fast, powerful, and resilient combo deck. It’s excellent at beating the disruption that Legacy players normally turn to against combo, such as Force of Will, discard spells, and graveyard hate. What it wasn’t excellent against was 1 mana, instant-speed board sweepers.
Elves no longer has to worry about what used to be one of its worst matchups. It’s also poised to prey on any creature decks that might pick up steam in the absence of Miracles—Death and Taxes, Merfolk, Eldrazi, and Delver, for example. It has a bad matchup against opposing combo decks like Storm, Reanimator, and Lands, but at least the sideboard slots that used to be devoted to beating Miracles can now become anti-combo cards instead.
Death and Taxes
Death and Taxes players are probably happy to not have to worry about Miracles anymore, but they’re going to struggle against some of the other decks that are likely to increase in popularity—namely Storm, Lands, and Elves. They’ll be hoping that more players turn to Sneak and Show, Delver, or other fair decks instead.
Miracles was a pillar of the format, but I don’t believe that the ceiling is going to collapse on us. Legacy is a diverse and healthy format with an extensive card pool and talented players to find solutions to any problems that might arise. Even if things are unbalanced in the short term—perhaps in favor of something like Storm Combo—Legacy will soon return to an equilibrium where the major decks all have predators to worry about.
As always, the best way to win in Legacy is to know your own deck as well as possible, rather than trying to outguess the metagame and switch to the right deck. Regardless of which decks are the biggest winners and losers, I recommend sticking to a deck you know well and simply making some small adjustments for the new Legacy world we’re living in.