June 2014 Legacy Metagame Analysis

Hi all,

Sorry for being on hiatus from covering my favorite format for over three months. For a short time, Legacy felt kind of stale and I didn’t have much to talk about. Everyone’s favorite Merfolk Rogue continued to wreak havoc and I focused my attention to Modern. Now that I’ve gotten more into Modern, I can honestly say that I enjoy the format and will continue to cover it, but it is definitely not the ideal competitive format. Many matchups are too lopsided, and linear strategies tend to be overpowered. You can counter those linear strategies by playing extremely powerful hate cards such as Stony Silence, but a format that hinges on drawing critical sideboard cards is not as skill-intensive as a format like Legacy, where cantrips offer you unparalleled card selection and decision making.

Enough about Modern—let’s talk about Legacy. Many things have changed since my last analysis, which you can find here.

Methodology

For this analysis, I am defining “top finishing deck” as finishing in the top 5% of tournaments with 129+ players (8 rounds or more). I know that I have been inconsistent in choosing a definition for top finishing deck, so there are issues with comparing these analyses. However, I have decided that I will stick to this definition for this and all future analyses. Furthermore, this methodology means that we are looking at a winner’s metagame, not necessarily a complete metagame. Please note that I consolidated some decks for ease of presentation. I consider decks like Death and Taxes and Shardless BUG as the “control” decks of the format, although they obviously have many creatures. In general, I look at the deck and ask if the general philosophy is to play a controlling game or an aggressive game and then place it in its appropriate category. There are decks that are more “midrange” and can play both aggro and control roles, but I decided to stick to aggro, control, and combo categorizations to keep things simple. The percentages are the number of top decks in the archetype divided by the total number of top finishing decks.

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Here are the top performing decks since the release of Born of the Gods:

1.) Team America (BUG Delver) (11.9%)
2.) Miracles (9.9%)
3.) DeathBlade (6.5%)
4.) UWR Delver (6.2%)
5.) RUG Delver (5.9%)
6.) Elves (5.1%)
7.) Death and Taxes (5.1%)
8.) Sneak and Show (4.8%)
9.) Shardless BUG (4.0%)
10.) Reanimator (3.7%)
11.) ANT (3.4%)
12.) Imperial Painter (3.1%)
13.) Jund (3.1%)

These 13 decks each have at least a 3% share of the winner’s metagame. For reference, the top decks for the period between the release of Commander 13 and through the end of Theros were RUG Delver (9.4%), UWR Delver (8.9%), Team America (8.1%), Elves (7.2%), DeathBlade (6.8%), Sneak and Show (6.8%), UW/x StoneBlade (6.8%), ANT (6.0%), Death and Taxes (5.1%), Miracles (4.7%) and Shardless BUG (3.8%).

The new entrants into the top decks are Reanimator, Imperial Painter, and Jund. UW/x StoneBlade fell out of the top decks as StoneBlade players switched back over to DeathBlade, much like what happened after the printing of Deathrite Shaman. The first success of Imperial Painter came last August when people made the switch from UW/x StoneBlade to DeathBlade, and much like before, Painter is back into the top decks. Déjà vu much?

Now, on to the top decks. I’ve added my expectations for whether or not they will increase in metagame percentages.

Team America (from 8.1% up to 11.9%)
Outlook: Negative

I’ve been arguing for the #1 status of Team America for a while now, and it feels good to be vindicated. It’s the best blue Deathrite Shaman deck in the format, and the number of degenerate starts that the best creature in Legacy enables is absurd. One-mana spells, Daze, and Wasteland all combine with the half-mana dork, half-planeswalker to make this the best aggro-midrange deck in the format. With great catchall answers such as Abrupt Decay, and a fine midgame due to Tarmogoyf/Liliana of the Veil and cantrips, Team America is definitely one of the top decks to beat. Out of the top decks, it has a good matchup against DeathBlade, UWR Delver, RUG Delver, Reanimator, ANT, and Jund (if you play Tombstalker); is about even against Sneak and Show, Shardless BUG, and Imperial Painter; and is at a disadvantage against Miracles, Elves, and Death and Taxes. All of these can matchups change depending on how you build the deck. Personally, I love Golgari Charm against both Elves and Death and Taxes, so I wouldn’t leave without three. Playing Golgari Charm makes Dark Confidant and True-Name Nemesis more of a liability, so I prefer to play with Tombstalker and Vendilion Clique. While Clique is also an X/1, the flash ability makes it a lot easier to time the Golgari Charms so as to not kill your own Clique. Here’s my current build of Team America:

I did get a bit greedy and cut the 4th Underground Sea. In a lot of matchups, I was cutting the 2nd Bayou regardless, so I decided to just go ahead and trim a land. If you expect more Stifle decks, I would move the Vendilion Clique to the sideboard and add the 4th Sea back. Tombstalker is still an all-star against the non-white fair decks, but Clique is very strong against Miracles and combo.

I’m actually pretty lukewarm about the deck going forward. The deck was very good for me when it was relatively unknown, but now everybody is playing around my Dazes and the Team America mirror is fairly draw dependent. Still, the deck has the most free wins out of any fair deck in Legacy and also has game against everything, so I can’t really argue hard against it. I just don’t expect it to put up nearly the numbers it did earlier this year.

Miracles (from 4.7% up to 9.9%)
Outlook: Neutral

Miracles is in my opinion the best deck in the format against the top tier decks. There is one major caveat; the deck is extremely hard to play for a nine- or ten-round tournament. The sheer number of decisions dwarfs that of every other deck, and I would recommend putting a lot of practice in before playing it at a big event. I have the utmost respect for PV now, as he was able to Top 8 GP Paris without much recent experience with the deck. All of the other players who Top 8’d the Bazaar of Moxen and the GP have had significant experience with the deck. Joe Lossett, another consistent finisher with the deck, has also been playing it for a few years. I hadn’t been doing as well with Team America recently, and I went 5-0 with Miracles at Legacy weekly at Curio Cavern a few days ago, so I made the choice to play Miracles at SCG Somerset. While I went a disappointing 5-2-1 drop in Somerset, one of my losses was to 12 Post (a horrible match-up) and I only dropped three other games, all three due to my own punts. Here’s my list:

I decided to go with the more consistent European version rather than Joe’s build with Venser. Venser is a fantastic catch-all, but I really wanted to beat up on the Delver decks by playing the full set of Swords to Plowshares and Terminuses while keeping my curve low. Overall, the deck has good matchups against Team America, DeathBlade, UWR Delver, Elves, Reanimator, ANT, and Imperial Painter. It’s about even against RUG Delver, Sneak and Show, Shardless BUG, Death and Taxes, and an underdog to Jund. Of course, this is all assuming the Miracles pilot is playing well. I consider myself to be a fairly competent player, but there were definitely times where I let my concentration slip and made blunders. I’d recommend playing with Miracles if you expect a lot of the top tier decks and if you are a speed demon who doesn’t get tired.

DeathBlade (from 6.8% down to 6.5%)
Outlook: Neutral

DeathBlade was my early bet for the best TNN deck, and it appears that I was right about that. It plays the three most broken “fair” creatures in Legacy: Deathrite Shaman, Stoneforge Mystic, and True-Name Nemesis. The deck is the perfect choice for experienced Legacy players who don’t have a revulsion for TNN. It has game against everything, and all of the cards are strong on their own. I don’t think you can go wrong with Bertoncini’s DeathBlade list as he has been a consistent finisher with more or less the exact same list since the release of TNN.

I think DeathBlade has a good matchup against RUG Delver and Death and Taxes. All of the other matchups are extremely close and it should come down to playskill. DeathBlade has the tools to beat anything and I would definitely recommend playing it if you are confident in your own skills as a player as it’s a great choice for an open field.

UWR Delver (8.9% down to 6.2%)
Outlook: Negative

As a former UWR Delver player, I’m not surprised that the deck has been doing less well lately. Even Owen Turtenwald has said that he’s been moving away from UWR Delver. While it’s certainly a very consistent deck like the other Delver decks, I think it’s a bit underpowered compared to Team America, RUG Delver, and DeathBlade. Liliana of the Veil is a pretty huge beating for the deck, and now that all of the BUG decks are running the versatile Golgari Charm, Rest in Peace and TNN are a lot less scary. Nonetheless, UWR Delver is a fine choice for newer players as it isn’t hard to play. The removal spells are the most efficient ones in the format, and Stoneforge Mystic + True-Name Nemesis means that you will always have a chance against the other fair decks in the format. UWR Delver’s good matchups are Elves, Death and Taxes, Sneak and Show, ANT, and Reanimator.

RUG Delver (from 9.4% down to 5.9%)
Outlook: Positive

The king has finally been dethroned! Sort of. While Team America did much better than RUG in February, March, and April, May has been good for good old turn one Delver into Wasteland + Stifle. I don’t think this has anything to do with Journey into Nyx, but rather the fact that RUG Delver is much more prevalent in the American metagame than the European one. I think RUG is an incredibly strong deck, and there’s a reason it dominated Legacy for so long. Daryl Ayers recently finished building the deck on Magic Online and has been on a tear recently, adding Spell Snares to counter the pesky Stoneforge Mystics, Tarmogoyfs, and Rest in Peaces, while saving his Force of Wills/Dazes/Pyroblasts for True-Name Nemesis. RUG is always going to just get there sometimes. Here’s Daryl’s list:

While there are certainly some percentage of free wins from this deck, it can be very punishing as there are almost no real ways of winning when your opponents are ahead other than burning your opponents out. Daryl’s list also contains 2 Grim Lavamancers, which is a fantastic card against all of the opposing Delver decks as well as Elves and Death and Taxes. All in all, I think RUG definitely has what it takes to get better and become a top three contender again.

Elves (from 7.2% down to 5.1%)
Outlook: Neutral

I think Elves is a fantastic choice for the American metagame. Miracles is a lot less prevalent here, and I think the little green men have a good matchup against all fair decks that don’t pack a metric ton of removal (i.e. UWR decks). Combo decks are not doing very well lately because Team America, RUG, and Miracles are all good vs. combo, so its worst matchups are less common. Still, it is a deck that does take some time to learn. It’s very helpful to find a competent Elves player to help explain some of the math behind maximizing value through Glimpse chains, as well as a lot of the ways of generating extra mana through your special mana dorks. Make sure to maximize every point of damage, and you’ll be happy when you topdeck a Natural Order or Craterhoof for exactly lethal. Elves also has a variety of sideboard options, ranging from Gaddock Teeg to Ruric Thar to Swan Song. Which one you play depends on your expected metagame. I’m not a huge fan of Teeg as he shuts down two of your own key spells, but he is the most consistent if your goal is to beat ANT and Miracles. I would definitely recommend this deck in the US going forward, as your matchups against the fair decks are generally very good, with the exception of Miracles. If you live across the pond over in Europe, I’m a little bit more reserved. Things should improve when M15 is released though, as the new “Disenchant” Elf gives a maindeck out to the Counterbalance lock.

Death and Taxes (from 5.1% to 5.1%)
Outlook: Positive

Death and Taxes is weak to Elves and TNN based decks, but fine against the other decks in the format. I think the format has adjusted significantly to TNN, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the decrease in TNN corresponds to an increase in D&T. The matchups against Team America and Miracles are both quite close and very skill intensive, but I think D&T in the hands of a good pilot has a slight edge in both. Recently, a new Death and Taxes list has been making the rounds on Magic Online. It’s playing 4 Spirit of the Labyrinth, which gets me a bit excited as I’m a big fan of the card. More interesting still, it’s playing 4 maindeck Leonin Arbiter and 4 Ghost Quarters. With this kind of list, I think it’s almost impossible to lose to Delver decks as your mana denial plan is incredibly robust. You can find the list here:

Death and Taxes
Wenzel Krautmann

Sneak and Show (from 6.8% down to 4.8%)

Outlook: Positive

It feels weird to say this, but I don’t recommend playing Sneak and Show going forward, yet I still expect it to increase in metagame percentage. The deck is extremely powerful and can nut-draw against anything, but is fundamentally inconsistent (despite being the most consistent Show and Tell strategy). It’s a deck that the hate cards exist for, but I don’t think people are going to be packing them in high numbers due to the relative scarcity of the deck recently. So, I expect it to do well. The deck is one of the easiest decks to pilot in Legacy (though not without its intricacies), so I would recommend it for those newer to the format. For more experienced Legacy pilots, you may be better off playing a more consistent deck that lets your playskill rather than your draw determine the outcome of the match. Its good matchups are DeathBlade, Elves, Shardless BUG, ANT, Imperial Painter, and Jund. The other matchups are tougher, but none of them are terrible. For the record, Blood Moon and Pyroclasm out of the board make the Death and Taxes matchup winnable, if not good.

If I were to play Sneak and Show, I would also suggest playing a “cheater” build, with maindeck REBs and Blood Moons. Delver decks are generally the worst game 1 matchups, and I don’t see anything wrong with having a few more dead cards against your better matchups.

Here’s where I would start:

I like playing the extra cantrips to increase consistency. ANT builds have played all 16, and I see no reason why Sneak and Show shouldn’t play more cantrips to reduce variance. The only downside to jamming more cantrips is that your Griselbrands will be worse because you will draw fewer counterspells, but I think a draw 7 means you can usually just go off again.

Shardless BUG (from 3.8% up to 4.0%)
Outlook: Positive

I really like Jean-Mary Accart’s new list that contains 2 maindeck Toxic Deluges. His thought process was that combo decks are Shardless BUG’s bad matchups, and combo is being pushed out by the top tier decks so now is a great time for Shardless. So, he sacrifices a significant game one percentage vs. combo in order to have a sideboard packed with hate, while beating up on all of the fair decks. Here’s his list:

The white splash for Meddling Mage is an interesting new innovation, and I like it going forward. Hatebears put a new angle of attack against the combo decks of the format, and they will need to adjust accordingly. Shardless BUG has good matchups against Miracles, and a fine matchup versus the various Delver decks if you are playing maindeck Toxic Deluges. I also like that he plays the full set of Wastelands for the combo decks, but I would try to squeeze in a Tar Pit or two if possible.

Reanimator (from 2.1% up to 3.7%)
Outlook: Negative

Reanimator is at its best versus other combo decks and decks that can’t interact with it very well (e.g. Elves), but neither of those make up a significant percentage of the metagame. People have an irrational fear of the graveyard in Legacy, so I don’t think the hate against Reanimator is going away any time soon. Along with that, it has a bad Miracles matchup, so I really don’t expect this deck to do very well going forward. Still, Cucunato has found a way to continue winning with his list:

One important thing to note about Reanimator is that it has the most varied sideboard plan depending on play or draw in the format. Delver decks often swap out Dazes for Forces depending on play/draw, but Reanimator has a completely different sideboard plan. On the play, the graveyard plan is far more viable because Daze, Deathrite Shaman, and other graveyard disruption come down a turn slower. So, be aware of that when making your own sideboard plans.

ANT (from 6.0% down to 3.4%)
Outlook: Negative

Until ANT finds a convincing answer for hatebears + counterspells (UW/x decks with Meddling Mage), or discard + counterspells (Team America), as well as more and more powerful and versatile hatebears, I don’t like its chances. Massacre comes close, but it is awkward with Ad Nauseam. I like Burning Wish in my ANT builds, despite the fact that it hurts the mana base. I think having more maindeck action spells, as well as access to Massacre without playing it maindeck is worth the shakier mana base. Here’s my list:

Storm is definitely one of the coolest strategies in Legacy, and I’m hopeful that R&D prints a couple cards for the deck to mitigate the obnoxious amount of hatebears printed recently.

Imperial Painter (from 0.9% up to 3.1%)
Outlook: Positive

I think the relative scarcity of Imperial Recruiter has kept this deck from breaking too far into the mainstream. Jack Kitchen’s new build that splashes white for Enlightened Tutor is very strong, and the tutor package and Sensei’s Divining Top add consistency to what was once an extremely clunky deck. Here’s his list for reference.

In particular, the sideboard Firebolts are very strong against Deathrite Shaman and Delver of Secrets. Combo decks also used to be difficult matchups for Painter, but his tutor targets Trinisphere and Ensnaring Bridge are very strong against the primary combo decks of the format. The deck can be a bit painful to play sometimes, unless you’re someone who enjoys bashing face with 1/3s and 1/1s when your opponent is locked out.

The inclusion of three Goblin Welders is also very strong. With an active Welder, all of the opponent’s counterspells and artifact removal are worthless. Abrupt Decay is forced to kill the Welder instead of the Painter’s Servant, and that’s perfectly fine for the Painter player.

Jund (from 2.1% up to 3.1%)
Outlook: Negative

Jund has a theoretically positive matchup against the various fair decks in the format, but it rarely plays out that way. The deck sorely lacks card selection compared to every other top deck in the format (even D&T has Stoneforge Mystic and a lot of stalling tactics to survive until it finds the necessary cards), so it often loses matchups where it’s theoretically “favored.” Don’t play Jund.

I spent a few weeks trying to come up with a “Spirit Jund” build to punish others for playing the best cards in Legacy (Brainstorm and Ponder) by adding white for Spirit of the Labyrinth. I was doing fine with the deck, but it was ultimately inconsistent when I drew the wrong removal spells or creatures. Here’s where I ended up:

Surprisingly, the mana base wasn’t abysmal. But, it could probably be improved by cutting the Punishing Fire package and just adding regular Lightning Bolts. Please let me know if you figure out a good build.

Looking Ahead

I’m super excited about Legacy again, and I don’t see this changing in the near future. I’ve had the good fortune of having friends who own a lot of the more niche Legacy decks, so I recently went on a journey to play all of the aforementioned top decks in a sanctioned tournament. The most important takeaway I had from playing all thirteen decks was that Legacy is by far the most skill intensive Constructed format. Every deck is full of subtle lines of play that are not apparent from just looking at the deck list, and sideboarding correctly is paramount to success. Different cards are MVPs in different matchups, and I definitely agree with Reid Duke that one of the keys to winning in Legacy is learning a deck inside out.

Going forward, Miracles is the deck with the best matchup against most of the other top decks, so I expect it to continue doing well. However, the deck is quite difficult to pilot in a large tournament, so I don’t expect newer players to pick it up and crush with it (unless they are PV). To combat Miracles, there are a lot of specific cards that are strong (e.g. Null Rod, Vendilion Clique, Stifle, Aether Vial and Creeping Tar Pit), as well as a few decks that have solid matchups against it (Death and Taxes, RUG Delver, and Shardless BUG). Or if you really want to go big, 12 Post absolutely annihilates Miracles. Out of these, Shardless BUG is the easiest to play, so if you are thinking of switching decks, it is a very solid option in a combo light metagame. Imperial Painter is also a great choice, and I think the white splash adds a lot of consistency and play to what was once the “herp derp Blood Moon.deck.” Death and Taxes is also a fine choice going forward as it has the tools to beat the combo decks, Miracles, and the various BUG variants in the format. The Ghost Quarter version is weaker against decks with basics, but much stronger versus decks without any basic lands, so I think it’s a viable choice depending on your metagame.

Please let me know what you thought in the comments section below!

Bob

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