With Grand Prix New Jersey just over a week away, Legacy is once again about to be thrust into the spotlight. There are only a couple Legacy Grand Prix every year, and since Legacy is such a fun format I always look forward to them. Legacy is a very diverse format with a ton of archetypes. In this article I’ll give you an overview of some of the most popular archetypes so you’ll have a better idea what to expect when heading into the Grand Prix next weekend.
Since the release of Khans of Tarkir, we have seen a surge in Legacy decks featuring Treasure Cruise, most notably U/R Delver of Secrets-based strategies. The deck has become so popular that it lead Pro Tour historian Brian David-Marshall to ask this question on Twitter this week:
Will #GPNJ have the most copies of one archetype ever in a single tournament? Over or under on 4000 Delver of Secrets in the room?
— Brian David-Marshall (@Top8Games) November 5, 2014
The fact that Brian would even ask shows the expected popularity of the deck, but potentially even more surprising was that many of the people who answered his question thought there would, in fact, be more than 4,000 copies of Delver of Secrets registered at Grand Prix New Jersey. Personally, I think 4,000 Delvers might be a little high, but I guess I wouldn’t be too surprised if more than 1,000 people showed up armed with four copies of Delvers of Secrets, depending on attendance.
The Legacy Championships at Eternal Weekend happened a couple weeks ago. Of the Top 8 decks, 6 were various Delver strategies. One copy of RUG Delver, one copy of BUG Delver, two copies of UWR Delver, and two copies of U/R Delver, including eventual winner Kevin Jones.
U/R Delver by Kevin Jones:
The U/R Delver deck has a clear and concise strategy: to cast cheap and efficient threats like Delver of Secrets, Monastery Swiftspear, and Young Pyromancer, while overloading on cheap, powerful instants and sorceries to gain incremental advantages, while producing 1/1 Elementals with Young Pyromancer, and rapidly filling up the graveyard to cast Treasure Cruise and start all over.
It is interesting to note some of Kevin’s choices. He chose to include two copies of Forked Bolt in his main deck. Part of the reason for this is almost certainly because he expected to play a lot of mirror matches, and Forked Bolt, for only one mana, would allow him to catch up to an opposing Young Pyromancer while cleaning up an Elemental token. Killing an unflipped Delver and another creature would prove to be completely game breaking. Also, Forked Bolt is particularly good in some other matchups, most notably Elves and Death and Taxes, where many of the opponent’s creatures will have 1 toughness, creating plenty of 2-for-1 situations.
Kevin also chose to include a copy of Pyroblast in his main deck. Usually, cards that interact with only one color from the opponent tend to be in the sideboard. In Eternal formats, Legacy and Vintage, when a metagame gets particularly out of control, like might be happening now with the massive rise in Delver and Treasure Cruise decks in Legacy, color hosers start making their way into main decks because they are so efficient and powerful against a large percentage of the field. (It is worth noting that in a deck with Young Pyromancer, Pyroblast is a much better choice than Red Elemental Blast, as Pyroblast is able to be cast on any permanent, even when it has no effect, netting a 1/1, whereas Red Elemental Blast is only able to target blue spells or permanents, and therefore cannot be turned into a 1/1 in the worst-case scenario.)
Here are some more Delver lists, all from Top 8 of the Legacy Championship at Eternal Weekend:
UWR Delver by John Grudzina
RUG Delver by Ralph Betesh
BUG Delver by Eric Da Luca
Given that I think UR Delver will be the most popular variant by far, and also that the decks have similar enough strategies, I’m not going to cover every Delver variant’s strategy in detail. However, one notable difference between U/R and the rest is that the three-color Delver decks all tend to be slightly slower. The top-end is at three mana for True-Name Nemesis, and there are more interactive cards, such as Abrupt Decay, Swords to Plowshares, more countermagic, or Thoughtseize/Inquisition of Kozilek. The decks also typically have more lands, in large part because most of the U/R Delver decks to this point have opted not to include Wasteland, which is, and has been almost exclusively a four-of in all the three-color Delver decks for as long as I can remember.
Elves by Nicholas Malatesta, 2nd place Worcester Legacy Open on 10/19/14
Some people consider Elves a combo deck, while others think of it as more of a creature deck. I think the truth lies somewhere in between. Elves is certainly a deck that is capable of winning the game out of nowhere. By combining the power of Glimpse of Nature with Gaea’s Cradle, the Elves player can draw through their entire deck, and use the combination of Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel(s) to create a nearly infinite supply of mana.
After amassing a board full of Elves, a Craterhoof Behemoth, either hard cast, or searched into play with either Green Sun’s Zenith or Natural Order will usually finish the job. However, Elves is also capable of winning games just by playing Elves and attacking. Using Elvish Visionary and Wirewood Symbiote to continually draw cards by returning the Visionary to hand and replaying it, the Elves deck can gain a lot of value over multiple turns. Against grindy decks, using card advantage to add more and more Elves to the the board, with other positive interactions like Deathrite Shaman and Quirion Ranger, is often enough to finish the job.
Although the Elves deck can attack in somewhat different ways, its weaknesses are pretty similar when executing both game plans. Cards like Forked Bolt, as we talked about above, Pyroclasm, Terminus, Supreme Verdict, or any other sweepers, are all very effective. Although it is capable of “going off” from scratch, it is relatively uncommon, and even in those games it usually needs to begin the turn with a couple of Elves in play. Any decks that can efficiently clear multiple Elves at a time from the board do very well against the Elves deck.
Sneak and Show
Sneak and Show by Jonathan Betts; 7th place Oakland Legacy Open on 11/2/2014
This is actually a very similar Sneak and Show list to the ones that I’ve played in most Legacy tournaments that I’ve entered for the past couple years. The goal of Sneak and Show is pretty much what the name would imply—use Show and Tell or Sneak Attack to effectively “cheat” Emrakul or Griselbrand into play. I’ve always liked Sneak and Show because it effectively has two different two-card combos, and the combos are very cheap and efficient. You really only need to cast one spell to win the game, and at either three or four mana, those spells can be cast very quickly using Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors, or Lotus Petal. Because the deck doesn’t need to devote a ton of space to its combo, it is able to play a lot of permission, and cheap cantrips that find your combo such as Brainstorm or Ponder.
There are a couple things that work against Sneak and Show in Legacy as it stands right now, unfortunately. The first is the matchup against Delver decks. Before straight UR Delver was a popular matchup, one way that Sneak and Show could reliably win the games after sideboard was simply to resolve a Blood Moon. Most Delver decks were configured in such a way that after a Blood Moon resolved they simply couldn’t cast any spells at all. (With the exception of Pyroblast, Lightning Bolt, or Batterskull.) This effectively gave the Sneak and Show deck another three-mana spell that won the game.
Also, Death and Taxes was always a bad but still winnable, matchup. With the release of the new Commander set, Containment Priest has made its way into Legacy. This card really is a nightmare against Sneak and Show. While Containment Priest is in play, Show and Tell and Sneak Attack are both effectively shut off. It also has flash, so if an opponent is able to put it into play in response to a Show and Tell, for example, it effectively acts as a Counterspell, and a card that must be answered, which is particularly problematic coming from any deck that also puts you on a clock. Given that other decks, like Esper Stoneblade or Miracles or really any deck with white mana, if they were so inclined, could also put this in their sideboard, as it also has value against Dredge, Reanimator, or some fringe strategies like Birthing Pod, it will really keep the Sneak and Show player guessing as to how to sideboard. This is a major problem and might actually keep me from playing Sneak and Show in New Jersey.
Miracles by Joe Lossett, 5th place at Legacy Open in Oakland on 11/2/14
Miracles is the premier pure control deck in Legacy. It attempts to assemble the combo of Counterbalance and Sensei’s Divining Top in order to effectively lock out the opponent. Also, using Sensei’s Diving Top, and cards like Brainstorm, the deck abuses the miracle mechanic on cards like Terminus and Entreat the Angels. Part of what makes Miracles interesting is that unlike a lot of Legacy decks it actually plans to play long games. Although it is capable of assembling Counterbalance+Top as early as turn two, the long-term plan of the deck is to gain incremental value over a long game with Sensei’s Divining Top or Jace, the Mind Sculptor in combination with fetchlands to gain great card selection, or to pair Vendilion Clique or Venser, Shaper Savant in combination with Karakas to repeatedly use their comes-into-play triggers.
Death and Taxes
Death and Taxes by Momme Gruppe, 4th place Danish Legacy Masters on 10/12/2014
Death and Taxes is basically a white weenie deck that seeks to make everyone else pull their hair out in frustration (or maybe this is just how it makes me feel). It uses cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to make Legacy staples like Brainstorm and Ponder much less efficient and more difficult to cast. Spirit of the Labyrinth makes drawing extra cards impossible. Phyrexian Revoker can be used to shut off planeswalkers, Deathrite Shaman, or any other activated ability. Mother of Runes can be used to protect the most annoying creature at all times. The deck also has access to Stoneforge Mystic, one of the more powerful cards in Legacy, which can find Batterskull, Sword of Fire and Ice, and Umezawa’s Jitte. Karakas is a multi-purpose tool in Death and Taxes, used to bounce opposing legends as well as protect its own copies of Thalia or Brimaz.
Death and Taxes is a focused deck that has enough tools to combat most of the major strategies. As discussed above, the addition of Containment Priest will make many of Death and Taxes’s good matchups even better. Again, the fact that the Delver decks have begun to play Forked Bolts will weaken Death and Taxes’ standing a little bit, but it isn’t a nail in the coffin or anything. Death and Taxes always makes a moderate showing at Legacy events, and I’d expect the same in New Jersey next weekend.
Esper Stoneblade by Ben Glancy, 1st place at Worcester Legacy Open on 10/19/14
Esper Stoneblade is another deck that has been around for a long time. Previously, a lot of versions of this deck were much more grindy, often featuring cards like Snapcaster Mage and Lingering Souls. However, playing grindy games in a format full of Treasure Cruises is really not where we want to be. Trying to grind out very small advantages and 1-for-1s is just too difficult against a deck that effectively has four Ancestral Recalls in it. Also neither Snapcaster Mage nor Lingering Souls plays very well with their controller’s Treasure Cruises as they both exile a card from the graveyard. Snapcaster will exile whatever card it flashes back, and Lingering Souls, will of course, exile itself. Frankly, while I think Esper Stoneblade will still see some play in New Jersey, to me it just seems like an inferior version of the Delver decks.
I’m still undecided on what to play myself next weekend. Part of me really wants to play Sneak and Show, but like I said before, I have a lot of worries about going to battle with that deck right now. I love to play control decks, so will certainly consider Miracles, and of course maybe I could just go with the, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach and play Delver myself. I’ll hopefully get to practice some next week before making my final decision. Legacy is a very big format, and there are a ton of decks to choose from. Hopefully this article helped give you an overview of what the most popular decks are and how you can expect them to interact with whatever strategy you’re employing in New Jersey.