“The Azorius Senate hates action. Action, they believe, leads to crime and disorder.” -First Sentence of the Azorius Senate MTG Wiki entry.
Legacy is a wonderful format. Before about a week ago, I hadn’t gotten a chance to play a ton of Legacy, at least not since the epic banning that tagged Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe, but I’ve found a local game and have become reacquainted with one of my favorite Eternal formats.
I plan to play my way through the format. The Legacy night at my LGS is “casual,” meaning proxies are allowed, which is a fantastic selling point for players like me who want to try out new things, and allows players who don’t own some of the older reserve list cards to experience a terrific gaming experience.
Various styles and flavors of U/W decks have always been my bread and butter in Legacy. While I’ve never shied away from playing an awesome broken deck when it presents itself, I tend to return to U/W whenever I think it’s either:
- A very good deck choice.
- I don’t know what else to play.
As it turns out, I think U/W is a fantastic choice, and with the format being so up in the air, it’s a great place for me to start learning about the new metagame.
Today’s article will cover three basic ideas:
- Basic metagame trends that suggest U/W is a strong choice.
So, we’ll be dealing with a discussion of two specific U/W-based decks, as well as an explanation of why I believe the available data suggests these decks are important fixture in the Legacy meta.
The Legacy Metagame
I touched upon a few pieces of information in my last article that suggested Legacy may have one of the most interesting metagames in Magic at the moment. In particular, this graph made from compiling metagame and winner’s metagame percentages from MTGGoldfish and MTGTop.
|DECK NAME||META %||TOP 8%|
|Death and Taxes||5%||7%|
|Sneak and Show||4%||4%|
I do a lot of these metagame breakdowns, and I was shocked by the distribution of data. There’s no established “best deck” according to the metagame that I’m looking at.
In Modern, Izzet Phoenix constitutes roughly 11% of the field and 13% of the Top 8 meta.
In Standard, Esper Control is 18% of the meta and 11%.
Even in my beloved Pauper format, Boros Monarch is over 10% of the field, and an absurd 22% of the winner’s metagame (uh-oh…).
The Legacy metagame is not driven by a best deck, which is kind of unique. Instead, the format appears to be a collection of strong decks all slogging it out. I suppose one could make an argument that the collective “blue decks” compiled together are like a best deck.
About half of your opponents are likely to be playing with blue cards, but I’d argue that there is a ton variation among the various blue archetypes. You can actually further break the blue decks down into three categories: aggro control (U/W Stoneblade, Esper Stoneblade, Sultai Midrange, Izzet Delver, Izzet Phoenix), control (U/W and Jeskai Miracles, 4-Color Control), and combo (Storm, Sneak and Snow, Reanimator, and Infect).
I’d also argue that each deck within each category is fairly distinct. When I’m playing U/W Stoneblade against Izzet Phoenix it doesn’t feel at all like a mirror match. So while there are a lot of blue decks, it’s important to stress they are distinct.
The last piece of info that I’d like to point out is the significantly higher Top 8 numbers for U/W Stoneblade and Miracles compared to the regular metagame percentage. Only two other decks in the metagame Top 10 have top 8 percentages that exceed their metagame share: Lands (3% Meta/4% Top 8) and Death and Taxes (5% Meta/7% Top 8).
If you are looking to make a stat-based decision about what to play in Legacy, U/W Stoneblade and Miracles are fantastic choices (hence, the article), and Death and Taxes and Lands are also appealing choices (probably what I’ll work on for next week!).
The first deck I’d like to talk about is Azorius Stoneblade. I dusted off my Tundras, headed out for Legacy night yesterday, and was not disappointed. I went undefeated for the evening despite playing some extremely close matches!
I started with Zach Allen’s first place list from the Cincinnati Classic and made a few slight modifications that were based on my preferences, which are either great or possibly make the deck slightly worse. It’s hard to say without playing more games, but I’ve been pleased with the list.
6 Island 2 Plains 4 Flooded Strand 2 Tundra 1 Polluted Delta 1 Scalding Tarn 1 Misty Rainforest 2 Arid Mesa 1 Windswept Heath 4 Stoneforge Mystic 2 Snapcaster Mage 1 Vendilion Clique 3 True-Name Nemesis 4 Brainstorm 4 Ponder 4 Force of Will 2 Counterspell 2 Spell Pierce 1 Spell Snare 2 Back to Basics 4 Swords to Plowshares 1 Batterskull 3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor 2 Council's Judgment 1 Umezawa's Jitte Sideboard 2 Containment Priest 2 Disenchant 1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar 3 Surgical Extraction 3 Flusterstorm 1 Vendilion Clique 2 Supreme Verdict 1 Hydroblast 1 Rest in Peace
I think Zach put together a great list. I typically start working on an archetype by making a composite deck from winning lists. I defaulted to Zach’s list because I thought his list was simply more focused.
I’m a big fan of this card as a singleton in a U/W deck. It’s obviously great against the various Izzet, Burn, and Dragon Stompy decks. I also really like it as a sideboard card because I can use it to stop Pyroblast.
There’s a ton of Dredge in my local metagame, so I went with a Rest in Peace. To be fair, I don’t think that I’ve ever played white in Legacy without two copies of RIP in the sideboard, so defaulting to one might just be training wheels, but it’s been good. I don’t do much with my graveyard other than the two Snaps, so it’s an effective option.
The biggest selling point of this deck is that it is so focused and powerful. The threats are all A+. When they hit the board, the impact is huge. In addition, they work well together. Vendilion Clique and TNN are amazing at carrying a Jitte or Batterskull, for instance.
The other factor that makes this archetype so nasty is that it goes Back to Basics:
The deck features 20 lands and only two nonbasics that get locked down by B2B, which is a devastating card against the majority of the decks in the field. The deck doesn’t focus on messing with an opponent’s mana (Wasteland or Port), but it can make a single play that shuts down an opponent’s lands, which is a lot of bang for your buck!
The main deck is flexible. As I’ve said, the threats are pound-for-pound about as good as it gets. The deck can randomly shut down a nonbasic mana base by resolving B2B. The rest of the deck is made up of great card filtering, removal, permission, and 3x JTMS as a card advantage engine/win con.
The sideboard is primarily focused on transforming into a deck that is much better against linear strategies and combo decks. There are also two Supreme Verdicts to slam against against creature-heavy strategies.
I had a lot of fun playing Stoneblade this week, but I’m even more excited to continue working on my Miracles list! If you are considering jumping onto the U/W Bandwagon in Legacy, it’s easier to start with an aggro-control deck like Stoneblade and then move into playing a more pure control deck.
The reason for this is pretty straightforward. Stoneblade has a bunch of generic answers to creatures and spells, and a handful of awesome threats. In fact, with threats like Stoneforge and TNN backed up by removal and permission it’s reasonable to win a lot of games just by beating people down with superior cards.
A pure control deck, on the other hand, is all about tuning a deck to have the correct mix of the correct answers. It takes a little bit more familiarity with the format to understand the mix. It’s not rocket science or anything, but there are no wrong threats, only wrong answers. With that being said, a deck with all the right answers never feels too wrong.
There are two competing styles of Miracles at the moment: U/W and Jeskai. Either version is basically a base U/W Control deck. The key trade-off is the U/W version is a better Back to Basics deck, but lacks access to Pyroblast post-sideboard in the mirror. I’m going to focus on a straight U/W build, because Back to Basics is a power player in many of the most difficult matchups.
It’s also a decisive way to win the game against the majority of the field. You win one big exchange and catch the opponent tapped out, and Back to Basics locks up the game on the spot.
7 Island 3 Plains 4 Flooded Strand 1 Tundra 2 Arid Mesa 3 Scalding Tarn 2 Snapcaster Mage 2 Monastery Mentor 4 Swords to Plowshares 4 Brainstorm 4 Ponder 2 Portent 3 Predict 2 Counterbalance 1 Spell Pierce 1 Counterspell 2 Back to Basics 3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor 1 Supreme Verdict 4 Force of Will 3 Terminus 2 Council's Judgment Sideboard 1 Rest in Peace 2 Surgical Extraction 2 Containment Priest 2 Vendilion Clique 1 Spell Queller 1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar 1 Ethersworn Canonist 1 Stony Silence 2 Flusterstorm 1 Disenchant 1 Hydroblast
Every time I play with this deck, my idea about how exactly to build it changes, which seems like a reasonable place to be, considering I continue to learn about the various matchups and the metagame also continues to change.
The main deck feels agile enough to win a war of attrition against the majority of opponents. There is a pretty dedicated anti-creature/aggro package:
Which means that you should be great against creatures, but an underdog to many focused combo strategies, which is a good reason to consider a focused Back to Basics version. Back to Basics gives you a route to victory against a lot of decks that would be hard to simply “go into the long game” against.
Monastery Mentor is a solid way to win the late game. I see a lot of lists that play three copies, but I really don’t want to draw the card until I’m in the driver’s seat. It’s pretty sad to plop him out on 3 when you have no other impactful play and see it get eaten up by a Bolt.
There are two competing lines of thought on the draw engine for the deck. All versions are going to play two or three JTMS. But Miracles has seen success with both Accumulated Knowledge and Predict as the draw engine.
I’ve played a little bit with both, and to be honest I think that no matter which option is chosen that it’s likely to feel like the stinkiest 3-4 cards in the main deck. Granted, these cards both feel great once the game is under control and you are simply spinning the wheels of victory, but the reality is that they can be awkward in tight spots. 2 mana to cycle is not an efficient Legacy play on turn 2 or 3!
Both have upside and downside. AK scales into a powerful card in the late game, often netting multiple cards for 2 mana. My biggest issue with AK:
One of the big strengths of the deck is that it isn’t vulnerable to graveyard hate and makes me not want to play with cards like Rest in Peace, which are great in this deck. It’s also such a blowout to get the second Accumulated Knowledge sucked out of your hand by a Surgical, which is pretty common considering every blue deck has SE in the sideboard right now and will bring it in if they see the AK engine in game 1.
While these are not the flashiest or most exciting slots in the deck, the card advantage is an important part of how the deck wins. I’m currently on Predict, but I’m open to considering other options. I do like that I don’t need to play four copies of Predict and I’m open to shaving down to two.
You also want to be a little bit less reactive after sideboard, since your opponents will be prepared for your “do nothing” strategy and have better options for going long against you. I love Vendilion Clique and Spell Queller, as well as Gideon.
Non-blue is at a premium because Pyroblast is so outstanding against U/W based control. Stoneforge is a big game out of the Blade version, and Mentor is also a big game here since it has immunity to blast. Gideon is actively fantastic in these blue mirrors since, once it has resolved, there are limited ways of actually killing it outside of Council’s Judgment or attacking it in combat. It’s also nice that Gideon is an answer to opposing planeswalkers. Just be cautious not to turn Gideon into a creature against Swords to Plowshares mana!
Why I Believe U/W Has a Chance to Emerge as the New “Best Deck” in Legacy
The elevated win rate of these U/W decks of various flavors stems from a couple of generalizations:
Brainstorm + Ponder + Force of Will
There’s a reason lots of decks start this way! It’s because these cards are outrageously great.
Swords To Plowshares likely has the highest W.A.R. of any card in Legacy outside of the big 3.
While I’ve already pointed out that decks dipping into blue for some combination of Brainstorm, Ponder, and/or Force of Will are around half the field, only 20% of the metagame is able to utilize Swords to Plowshares (Stoneblade, Miracles, and Death and Taxes).
With that being said, Swords to Plowshares is (in my opinion) every bit as absurdly powerful as the big 3. I would also throw a card like Wasteland (which I don’t have a U/W build for, yet), into that category.
In most decks, there will be similar cheap removal spells (Bolt or Fatal Push), but all pale in comparison to STP, which can take down Marit Laige, Eldrazi, and most Reanimation targets for 1 mana! Not to mention, it stops recurring creatures like Arclight Phoenix and Ichorid by sending them into exile.
Back to Basics
One of the biggest trends among these U/W decks is to push the Back to Basics angle hard. It’s a “free win” card smooshed into two shells that really don’t need “free wins” to be effective. Not only is B2B a super punishing card, but building around the card also makes these strategies inherently resilient to Wasteland and other nonbasic hate.
You have great mana and a great depth of powerful focused spells in U/W to punish other 3+ color and/or Ancient Tomb mana bases at the same time.
Depth in the Main and Board
U/W “control” cards are deep and plentiful. There are more great/focused options for these U/W Control and Aggro Control decks than can actually be played in one 75 card configuration. You could easily fill 100+ slots with cheap, efficient, and useful Stoneblade or Miracles cards.
The real challenge isn’t having access to amazing cards that solve challenging problems… you have too many excellent cards! The challenge is to narrow down those cards into a focused strategic shell and figure out how to narrow down the sideboard into the most efficient use for each spot.
It’s pretty telling that the core of the U/W deck (cantrips, FOW, Swords, B2B, JTMS, and the mana) actually facilitate a tier 1 control and aggro-control 75.