Legacy Lessons: Tips From the Format’s Most Successful Players

I’m a huge lover of data, and for a while now, the good people from MTGEloProject have been gathering a large MTG database. Currently, the site has a whopping decade of data that includes all the Grand Prix and Pro Tours since 2007. A little while ago, they added a nifty list of statistics, including win rate by format. For the format specific data see here.

Now, I reached out to Adam Lizzi from MTGEloProject and he helped provide data for all 24 Legacy GPs (including pre-2007), as well as the 3 Eternal Weekends (2013 through 2015) that are on the Wizards website. This was an incredible data set, and many thanks to Adam for helping make this a possibility. Some quick stats: There have been 26,297 different people who played in at least one of these 27 events. 18,500 of these players only played in only one of these events, putting the repeat player count at 7,797. Reid Duke has played in the most events (15), followed by Brian DeMars (14), and Ben Friedman (13).

Let’s dive in to the rest. Here is the list of players who have played at least 50 matches and have a win rate of 65% or higher in Legacy. (Keep in mind the actual website does not have the data from the early Legacy GPs or Eternal Weekends, so their list is slightly different.)

1Calderon, Andrew50146478.1%
2Enevoldsen, Thomas49146377.8%
3Ayers, Daryl44145875.9%
4Dudognon, Yohan42145675.0%
5Schonegger, Philipp44155974.6%
6Tierney, Patrick41155673.2%
7Saito, Tomoharu873211973.1%
8Cesari, Paolo62238572.9%
9Keith, Jody67259272.8%
10Ross, Tom48186672.7%
11Damo da Rosa, Paulo Vitor61238472.6%
12Geeraerts, Jo39155472.2%
13Chilbert, Colin41165771.9%
14Ford, Jason41165771.9%
15Marcotti, Emanuele43176071.7%
16Martell, Tom55227771.4%
17Jordan, Daniel45186371.4%
18Walker, Noah37155271.2%
19Hunter, Wilson59248371.1%
20Schuetz, Stefan41175870.7%
21Vlcek, Tomas38165470.4%
22Corvese, Harry59258470.2%
23Yu, Jarvis733110470.2%
24Majors, Michael47206770.1%
25Lossett, Joe68299770.1%
26Dominguez, Javier63279070.0%
27Sui, Xin42186070.0%
28Takahashi, Yuta35155070.0%
29Sommen, Pierre58258369.9%
30Logan, Colin44196369.8%
31Braun-Duin, Brian46206669.7%
32Tholance, Nicolas39175669.6%
33Duke, Reid964213869.6%
34Schmaltz Tziritas, Mathew43196269.4%
35Pikula, Chris43196269.4%
36Coleman, Jason38175569.1%
37Walter, Royce42196168.9%
38Das, Anuraag46216768.7%
39Nelson, Brad37175468.5%
40Kesseler, Marco37175468.5%
41Bernat, Michael39185768.4%
42Ellingsen, Mats41196068.3%
43Le Briand, Loic58278568.2%
44Vidugiris, Gaudenis58278568.2%
45Pogue, James47226968.1%
46Friedman, Samuel49237268.1%
47Dagen, Pierre34165068.0%
48Malatesta, Nicholas34165068.0%
49Hatfield, Alix874112868.0%
50Signorini, Daniel763611267.9%
51Herrera, Marco38185667.9%
52Light, Matthew35175267.3%
53Stewart, Michael35175267.3%
54Herbig, Michael39195867.2%
55Levin, Drew45226767.2%
56Froehlich, Eric47237067.1%
57Turtenwald, Owen733610967.0%
58Ulanov, Denis52267866.7%
59Hinkle, Charles52267866.7%
60Ahmad, Anwar50257566.7%
61Gorzgen, Fabian50257566.7%
62Westlake, Jamie48247266.7%
63Saitou, Ryuuga38195766.7%
64Tenjum, Andrew38195766.7%
65Pasek, Maciej36185466.7%
66Markowicz, Eric36185466.7%
67Hayne, Alexander673410166.3%
68Sourcin, Christoph45236866.2%
69Friedman, Ben884513366.2%
70Yam, Philip43226566.2%
71Littman, Fai35185366.0%
72Donegan, Dylan33175066.0%
73Ravitz, Joshua58308865.9%
74Shay, Rich50267665.8%
75Merriam, Ross733811165.8%
76Wienburg, Ben48257365.8%
77Polzl, Tristan44236765.7%
78Folinus, Jeff764011665.5%
79Naidu, Akash55298465.5%
80Huang, Bob723811065.5%
81Smiley, Thomas36195565.5%
82Pakka, Esko34185265.4%
83Wescoe, Craig774111865.3%
84Jones, Kevin45246965.2%
85Togores, Rodrigo45246965.2%
86Durward, Caleb43236665.2%
87Anderson, Todd52288065.0%
88Bonaventura, Ciro39216065.0%
89Euser, Kasper39216065.0%
90Lybaert, Marijn39216065.0%

I reached out to as many people on this list as I could, and conducted a survey trying to get at the heart of the question: What do successful Legacy players have in common?

I distilled that question into several questions:

Q1. Do you consider yourself a Legacy specialist or general Magic player?

A. Of the 40 players who replied, 23 considered themselves general Magic players while 17 considered themselves Legacy specialists.

I found this to be somewhat surprising at first. There has always been this idea floating around that “Legacy specialists” are better than “Pros” at Legacy because the format requires a significant amount of investment and understanding. I think there is some truth to that, but reality is more nuanced. For example, some players like PV play so well that they can “re-learn” Legacy at a fast enough pace and rely on MTG fundamentals to succeed at the highest level of Legacy. Others, like Thomas Enevoldsen, are well known for their Legacy finishes, but still consider themselves MTG generalists and perhaps a large part of their Legacy prowess comes from being well-versed in MTG fundamentals. On the other hand, there are a handful of players on this list that only play Legacy.

But even those who consider themselves “Legacy specialists” often are just solid Magic players who don’t play the other formats as much. Caleb Durward is an excellent example of a Legacy specialist who has branched out and achieved a lot of success. Recently, Wilson Hunter was able to Top 16 a Limited GP and qualified for the PT via playing a Standard RPTQ. I think the debate between “Legacy specialist” versus “pro” is perhaps the wrong question to ask. It’s interesting to think about and debate, but ultimately I believe success in Legacy is dependent on understanding the format and understanding your deck’s role in every matchup. For most people, this means playing and practicing a fair amount of Legacy. But for the gifted, they can probably translate a lot of their MTG knowledge to Legacy in a week or so of dedicated testing.

Q2. What’s your approach for deck selection in Legacy? Do you prefer to play what you know, or do you gravitate toward trying to learn and play the best deck?

A. 28 replied “familiarity” and 12 replied “best deck.”

Overall, I’m inclined to agree with “familiarity” over “best deck” as a strategy for success. Reid Duke wrote an excellent article outlining his answer to the question. There aren’t too many players talented enough to pick up a new Legacy deck and consistently succeed with it, and after exploring many different Legacy decks, I’ve concluded that I can play Delver well, but make tons of mistakes when I switch to other decks. There can be a few exceptions, such as when Miracles was the best deck. I played Miracles suboptimally, but it was enough better than other available options that I still did well with the deck.

My personal strategy going forward is to play a fair Brainstorm deck that I am comfortable with. Over the long horizon, Brainstorm decks have outperformed the field by a significant amount, and they are customizable to beat a known field. In general, they are also less susceptible to sideboard hate. Legacy sideboards are inherently powerful, and this power becomes magnified as you gain access to cantrips like Ponder and Brainstorm. Back in November, I wrote an article diving into sideboard construction in Legacy, and it expands further on why fair decks have outperformed unfair decks here.

Some insightful comments from the survey:

Jason Ford: “I am confident enough in my play that I think it’s more important that my deck choice is not handicapping me than exploiting some metagame hole. If I’m playing a tier 1 deck and that deck gives me room to navigate (as most tier 1 decks do, being blue and playing Brainstorm), I’ll be just fine.”

Rich Shay: “For deck selection, I use a blended approach. If there is a deck that is so much better than the rest of the field, I will play that. This is why I ran Miracles last year. Note that when this is the case, this usually indicates a problem with the format. If there is no such deck, then I’ll go with what I feel comfortable with.”

Chas Hinkle: “Chris Pikula pointed out to me years ago that there are some decks that especially reward knowledge of Legacy and others that especially reward knowledge of Magic.” (Knowing your strengths is half the battle right? The other half is knowing who to listen to and quote.)

Q3. For GPs, have you historically played fair decks, unfair decks, or both?

A. 29 people played only fair decks, 8 people played both, and 3 people played only unfair decks (2 Storm players, plus Tom Ross on Infect).

In my metagame analyses, I’ve noticed that as I increase the cutoff for “top finishing decks,” the number of fair Brainstorm decks tends to increase, while the number of Chalice of the Void and combo decks tends to decrease. For example, if I look at the top 10% of decks, combo usually is about 30-35% of the format. But if I reduce the cutoff to top 2%, it usually ticks down to ~25%. This trend has held true since 2013 when I first started tracking the metagame. This fact, plus the fact that successful players consistently favor fair decks, leads me to believe that the best strategy for deck selection/deckbuilding is to build your deck to beat the major fair decks, while having a coherent sideboard for combating the unfair decks in Legacy.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for this data. I’ll be revisiting the data and surveys that I sent out next month as I dive into what the experts think of the current Legacy metagame, as well as more detailed information on their deck selection over the years.

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