The New Legacy Metagame: Where Do We Go Now?

Wow, what a seismic announcement from Wizards of the Coast. Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe are both banned in one fell swoop, right before the 25th Anniversary Pro Tour and Grand Prix Richmond. I am pleased with the announcement, and not just because I predicted it right after the Top ban. A whopping 60% of the Legacy metagame played one of the two cards and now those decks are either dead or weakened. The old format was stale and mostly solved, and the play patterns had gotten monotonous to the point that I no longer enjoyed playing Legacy. But out with the old and in with the new! The Guns N’ Roses song Sweet Child O’ Mine is stuck in my head, and all I’m thinking is: where do we go now? There are so many different directions for the Legacy metagame to go it’s mind boggling. Let’s look at the decks directly impacted and then the potential follow-up ramifications.

Level I: Sorry, your deck is dead

Grixis Delver, Czech Pile, begone! These two decks were arguably the two best decks in Legacy and are both done. While I believe a variant of Grixis Delver or Grixis Control can still be viable, I think they will be tier 2 options. Grixis colors were fairly weak to both graveyard strategies and Marit Lage, and the removal of Deathrite Shaman exacerbates the first weakness. Young Pyromancer strategies are also considerably worse without Gitaxian Probe in the format.

B/U/G decks are also significantly worse. These colors relied heavily on the presence of Deathrite Shaman, and I think they may be in even worse shape than the Grixis decks. Leovold is still a very powerful card, so I think some sort of B/U/G midrange deck that includes him will still be viable, but it remains to be seen. Decks like Food Chain and Aluren also fall into this category, as I think they will find Birds of Paradise a woeful replacement.

The next crop of decks were affected by the bannings, but I don’t think are significantly worse. Storm, Maverick, and Elves are arguably better than they were before. Storm is significantly less powerful, but I think the reduction in Grixis decks will correspond to a reduction in Cabal Therapy and the Storm deck should be much better positioned. Maverick and Elves played Deathrite Shaman, but they are more than happy to replace him with some combination of Noble Hierarchs/other mana dorks and can function just fine.

Level II: Hooray, your deck has lost one of its oppressors

Death and Taxes, U/x Stoneblade, R/U/G Delver, Reanimator, Tin Fins, and Dredge all are major beneficiaries of the two bans. Kolaghan’s Command was very popular in Grixis shells and really hampered Stoneforge Mystic to the point that D&T shells were testing out versions without the 1/2 Squire. Now, Stoneforge Mystic will probably reclaim its place as one of Legacy’s premier 2-drop threats. R/U/G Delver also used to be forced to play upwards of seven removal spells to kill Deathrite Shaman on sight, and now those slots will likely be freed up to address the anticipated rise in combo and control.

The elephant in the room though, has got to be the graveyard strategies. Dredge gets a healthy bump, but Reanimator is where things can get very scary. Entomb is by far the best tutor spell in the format, and it was held partially in check by the ubiquity of Deathrite Shaman. Now, the gloves are off and I think decks are either going to need to play cards like Swords to Plowshares main deck or heavy amounts of graveyard hate in the sideboard. I am hopeful that the presence of powerful hate cards like Surgical Extraction, Containment Priest, and Grafdigger’s Cage will help keep Reanimator at bay. But I wouldn’t be too surprised to see it easily become the most popular combo deck and the best performing combo deck even in hateful metagames. It probably has the highest game 1 win percentage out of any deck in the format, and post-sideboard there are a bunch of different strategies that can be employed to beat the hate cards. Time will tell if it’s simply too fast for Legacy and Entomb rejoins the banned list as another “broken combo card.”

With all that being said, I believe that Legacy is wide open. Miracles occupied the crown since the Dig Through Time banning, and Grixis Delver usurped the throne when Top was banned. Now who’s going to rule? I’m hopeful that we see a more balanced metagame without a single dominant tier 0 deck, but let’s look at what I believe to be the top contenders.

  • Tier I: Miracles, Reanimator
  • Tier II: Moon Prison, R/U/G Delver, Bant, Elves, Lands, Storm, D&T
  • Tier III: Grixis, B/U/G, Merfolk, Turbo Depths, Maverick, 4C Loam, Dredge, Sneak and Show, U/W/x Stoneblade, U/R Delver

Sadly, there are only two decks I feel belong in the tier 1 slot. I’ve already discussed Reanimator, but I do believe that Miracles is extremely well positioned. I think it goes over the top of the other control and midrange decks, while also having access to tools like Snapcaster Mage, Swords to Plowshares, and Pyroblast that will be important against both fair and unfair strategies going forward. But I am much less sure about where the metagame will head after these bannings. The whole format of Legacy feels unbanned as there are so many different things to explore now. I’m very excited about these changes and for the first time in years, it’s time to start brewing again.

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