I hope you’ve been eagerly awaiting this article as long as I have. I do my best to bring something fresh each article, but the format had become rather fixed until the release of Khans of Tarkir. Before we dive into Legacy though, I just have a few quick thoughts on Khans of Tarkir in Modern and Vintage.
Treasure Cruise should be banned in Modern. Enough has been said on this topic, so I won’t rehash all of the arguments, but it pushes the boundaries of power level to an insane extreme. I believe Treasure Cruise Burn to be the best deck in Modern, and a format where Burn is the top dog is not a format I enjoy. Jeskai Ascendancy is also very much on the chopping block. The deck is beatable, but a nightmare to sit across from as it takes ages to win. It should be banned for the same reason Second Sunrise got the axe. Dig Through Time is also insanely powerful, but is much harder to slot into Burn. Dig Through Time has done a lot to push the power level of slower combo/control decks, but I’m much happier if decks like Scapeshift or UWR Control are the de facto best decks. Even with Dig legal, I can still see Melira Pod or Affinity being premier tier 1 strategies.
Now, let’s move on to Vintage. I ended up placing 11th at Vintage Champs in Philadelphia this year, after starting off 6-0. While not making Top 8 was a bit of a letdown, I was very lucky to place so well in a format where many things are very unfamiliar. I played Rich Shay’s URg Delver list with 4 Treasure Cruises, and I can say for sure that Treasure Cruise also happens to be the nutter butters in Vintage as well. 5 Ancestral Recalls? Yes please! Out of the three formats where Treasure Cruise is making an impact, I think it is the safest in Vintage. Treasure Cruise slots cleanly into Delver and has improved the blue control matchups significantly. However, Oath of Druids is still a card, and Mishra’s Workshop and Bazaar of Baghdad aren’t going anywhere either. Furthermore, Dig Through Time is significantly easier to cast in Vintage than in other formats and is arguably more powerful than Treasure Cruise in a format of fun-ofs, so I’m sure the format will adapt to everybody’s new favorite Ancestral Recall.
Let’s talk some Legacy now.
Many things have changed since my last analysis, which you can find here.
For this analysis, I am defining “top finishing deck” as finishing in the top 5% of tournaments with 129+ players (8 rounds or more). This methodology means that we are looking at a winner’s metagame, not necessarily a complete metagame. I consider decks like Death and Taxes and DeathBlade 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” in scope 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.
Here are the top performing decks since the release of Khans of Tarkir:
1. Miracles (18.4%)
2. UR Delver (12.3%)
3. Elves (7.9%)
4. DeathBlade (7.9%)
5. ANT (6.1%)
6. UWR Delver (4.4%)
7. RUG Delver (4.4%)
8. Reanimator (4.4%)
These 11 decks each have at least a 4% share of the winner’s metagame. In total, they make up 66% of the winner’s metagame. There are a few notable absences from this list. I believe Shardless BUG to be invalidated by the printing of Treasure Cruise, as it’s much easier to simply get card advantage from casting cantrips and Treasure Cruise than hoping to have lucky cascades with Ancestral Vision. It is theoretically possible to still play Shardless BUG, but even that deck would probably want at least 2 Treasure Cruises. Finally, I would like to note that out of the RUG Delver decks, about half were playing Nimble Mongoose and half were playing Young Pyromancer and Treasure Cruise. Play Treasure Cruise.
One final note: many of these decks are from Europe, where ANT and Miracles are very popular. The European metagame is very different from the US metagame, so it will be interesting to see if the players from overseas come across the pond to show us up at GP NJ.
Now, on to the top decks and my thoughts on each.
When I last wrote about Legacy back in June, Miracles was the second best deck (9.9%) and I predicted a neutral outlook. Somehow, the deck began performing even better as US players caught on too. I always considered it the best deck against the top tier decks, and I honestly don’t think that has changed very much. Treasure Cruise is an excellent card and gives the Delver decks a chance to outgrind sweepers like Terminus, but Counterbalance + Top often invalidates over half of the Delver player’s cards. Furthermore, Stifle and Abrupt Decay are both at an all-time low. In the new metagame, CounterTop becomes even more important and I personally wouldn’t leave home without playing 4 copies of each. That being said, there are many divergent lists for Miracles, with the Rest in Peace–Helm version picking up some popularity in recent days due to the increased adoption of Treasure Cruise.
I would categorize Miracles into three builds: There is the European 4-Ponder build, championed by Phillip Schoenegger. This list put two pilots into the main event at a 476-person tournament in Italy. You can find the Top 16 of that tournament here.
There is the Joe Lossett build that runs Venser. This version is better against Sneak and Show, which is more popular over here in the US than it is over in Europe.
Finally, here is the RIP-Helm version that got 2nd at SCG Minneapolis.
Each list has its pros and cons depending on the expected metagame. The 4-Ponder list consistently finds Sensei’s Divining Top. Joe’s list is stronger against Sneak and Show due to the inclusion of Venser, Shaper Savant and Vendilion Clique. Finally, Rest in Peace–Energy Field is certainly excellent against aggro with the decline of Abrupt Decay. All in all, I expect Miracles to be a strong choice going forward. It doesn’t have many weaknesses, with the exception that it is rather clunky when Sensei’s Divining Top is not on the battlefield. The best ways to attack it are by countering Counterbalance with cards like Pyroblast or stopping Sensei’s Divining Top through cards like Pithing Needle or Null Rod. It also has a few bad matchups, such as decks that seek to go over the top (12-Post).
UR Delver (12.3%)
This deck has exploded in popularity recently. At both SCG Worcester and Eternal Weekend, the deck was by far the most popular deck in the room. People are always excited about new cards like Taylor Swiftspear, and the fact that this deck is relatively budget makes it even more popular. It is very good at producing damage output and creatures, and rarely runs out of gas.
However, it does have a few weaknesses. When the deck has no creatures on the battlefield, it can be pretty anemic. Furthermore, Swiftspear causes a fair number of design constraints. Wasteland is not very exciting, and neither are soft counters. The Sneak and Show matchup is not terrible because you can often generate enough tokens to take one hit from Emrakul and crack back for lethal or put them low enough that you can block a Griselbrand with a Delver, Lightning Bolt the Delver to stop the life gain and then kill them. But, other matchups like Reanimator and ANT are quite difficult because they are typically much faster and can fight through the relatively light disruption of UR Delver. In addition, Miracles is also a tricky matchup. It’s almost impossible to beat Counterbalance + Sensei’s Divining Top, so you need to stop it through cards like Null Rod or go over the top with Sulfuric Vortex. However, smart Miracles players will expect these cards and bring in Wear // Tear accordingly.
Finally, the mirror is fairly draw dependent. Kevin Jones tried Pyrokinesis, which looks fairly strong. Hydroblast is also probably fine. I’m not super high on Pyroblast, as it only answers Treasure Cruise and Delver, the latter which is easily answered anyways. Not answering burn spells or Young Pyromancer is a significant issue for the card. The best card I’ve found thus far has been Umezawa’s Jitte, so I would probably run 2 copies in the sideboard given how prevalent the mirror match is expected to be. This deck is essentially a fast Zoo deck that also gets to play overpowered blue cards. The creatures don’t do very much other than produce damage output, but when you have a consistent turn 4-5 goldfish backed up by cheap counters and removal, the deck is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Don’t be surprised if this is the most popular deck at GP NJ.
Elves has been the most consistent combo deck for a while now, and that’s due to having great matchups against midrange decks and decent matchups against Delver decks. The advent of Treasure Cruise has removed a lot of the midrange decks from the equation, while also making it more difficult to outgrind the Delver decks with Elvish Visionary + Wirewood Symbiote. Even more problematically, there has been an increase in fast combo decks like ANT and Reanimator, which are difficult matchups for Elves. Those decks are simply a turn faster and include more disruption, so the Elves player is typically on the back foot. The increase in fast combo decks stems from the trimming of Spell Pierces/Stifles/Wastelands in the Delver decks, so it will be interesting to see if those cards make a comeback if combo becomes too popular.
Elves also takes a fair bit of experience to play well. In addition to the plethora of on-board interactions, Elves also has to contend with combat math and creature sequencing when everything costs about the same. Furthermore, the new card Containment Priest from Commander 2014 shuts down both Green Sun’s Zenith and Natural Order at instant speed. Even Dryad Arbor is sad. It will be interesting to see how widely Priest is adopted at the GP.
Deathrite Shaman and Stoneforge Mystic have both become even better post-KTK. Deathrite Shaman is able to delay your opponent’s Treasure Cruises, while playing Treasure Cruise yourself means you are more likely to hit 5 mana to have never-ending Batterskulls. DeathBlade is definitely a force to be reckoned with, as it plays the most efficient utility creatures and removal spells.
Its weaknesses include its mana base and inability to destroy Counterbalance without playing slightly off-color cards like Abrupt Decay and Council’s Judgment. Like most UW decks, it can run Meddling Mage in the sideboard so the combo matchups are okay. But, I have a hard time believing the UR Delver matchup is good. Pre-sideboard, the UR Delver deck has plenty of removal for DeathBlade’s threats. Post-sideboard, the UR Delver player has access to Blood Moon and Price of Progress, both of which are devastating for the DeathBlade player.
Nonetheless, if you are able to keep UR Delver’s creature off the board through Swords to Plowshares and Thoughtseize, equipment can easily take over the game. Notion Thief is also a spicy 1-of that I like, as it also has applications against combo. Another playable from Commander 2014, Masterwork of Ingenuity, also has a lot of potential in the sideboard. The card is excellent in Stoneforge mirrors, and I’m eager to see the first time somebody gets a fully functional Batterskull for one mana.
ANT is a popular choice over in Europe, and it is criminally underplayed here in the US. The deck is very consistent at presenting a turn 3 kill through Force of Will, and because it’s been off the radar so long, I think people have begun cutting sideboard hate for it. Hate bears like Meddling Mage aren’t particularly effective against Sneak and Show due to Pyroclasm, and also have issues against decks like Elves and Reanimator because it is often unclear what to name. With the printing of Containment Priest from Commander 2014, it is possible people will trim even more Meddling Mages, another good thing for ANT.
ANT also incidentally uses the graveyard for its preferred engine, Past in Flames. However, it isn’t too difficult to play around that either through a natural tutor chain or Ad Nauseam. ANT is definitely a deck I have my eye on for the GP, and I would not be surprised if some well-versed Storm aficionados show up and breeze their way through the Swiss against unprepared US players.
TES, the 5-color cousin of ANT, is also a deck to watch out for. TES is half a turn faster, but a bit less consistent due to the lack of Preordain and the often-used route of simply going for Empty the Warrens.
Jeskai Delver (4.4%)
Jeskai Delver is a great choice again. Treasure Cruise is simply excellent in this deck, as it packs many cheap spells to fuel it as well as cheap removal to regain tempo. Stoneforge Mystic is a happy camper when she has a lot of extra lands lying around, and it’s much easier to hit the 5 mana threshold now than ever before. Containment Priest is also an interesting new card, and I think it slots very well into the sideboard. Priest is excellent against both Elves and Dredge, in addition to being obviously insane against Reanimator/Sneak and Show. Furthermore, Priest also has some utility against decks like Death and Taxes because it stops their Vials from working. Be aware of their Flickerwisps though, as those become hard removal when Priest is on the battlefield.
Jeskai Delver still has all the tools to beat combo, and the cheap removal spells go a long way against other Delver decks too. Miracles is definitely an issue, so I would pack a healthy amount of Pyroblasts and Wear // Tears as a resolved Counterbalance can be very difficult to fight through. Treasure Cruise does even the odds a bit, as it becomes less painful if one or two spells are countered via Counterbalance.
RUG Delver (4.4%)
About half of the RUG decks ran Nimble Mongoose and half ran Treasure Cruise. I think the old Nimble Mongoose builds of RUG can rest in peace. It’s way too difficult to play a mana denial plan when your opponent can randomly Ancestral Recall into lands. Instead, I think the new builds of RUG Delver, which include Treasure Cruise and Young Pyromancer will set the new standard for the archetype. Overall though, I’m not sure what the real incentive of playing RUG Delver is. Tarmogoyfs are worse against fair decks than before due to both players having an easy way of shrinking the graveyard. By itself, that is not a huge issue, but there are times when delving for Treasure Cruise can put Tarmogoyf into Lightning Bolt range. Furthermore, Young Pyromancer generally trumps Tarmogoyf as the games go longer. The main draw to playing green is probably Krosan Grip and Sylvan Library against Miracles, but BUG has access to those as well, along with Deathrite Shaman. All in all, I’m not convinced that Lightning Bolt is better than Abrupt Decay, so I would probably steer clear of this archetype for now. Of course, if you don’t mind running something spicy, there is a certain old card that is pretty good against UR Delver that I just might be jamming at the GP in this shell.
Reanimator has had a bit of a resurgence lately. Traditionally, Reanimator has been excellent at preying on decks with low quantities of interaction, such as Elves. The Delver matchups were never great due to the ubiquity of cards like Stifle and Spell Pierce, but they have gotten a lot easier, at least pre-sideboard, as most Delver decks are lighter on countermagic. I think Reanimator is a fine place to be, until people start packing more cards like Leyline of the Void in order to combat Treasure Cruise. It’s hard to say whether decks like Zach Dobbin’s Helmerator deck from Eternal Weekend will catch on.
One important thing to note about Reanimator is that it has the most varying sideboard plan depending on play or draw in the format. On the play, the graveyard plan is far more viable because Daze, Deathrite Shaman, and other graveyard disruption come down a turn slower. On the draw, Reanimator might play more answer cards or cards like Show and Tell to dodge the graveyard hate. Be sure to adjust accordingly! Reanimator is definitely a fun archetype, and getting to play “I win” creatures like Iona and Elesh Norn is pretty sweet. For exactly one of the players involved.
I’m super stoked at what looks to be the largest Legacy GP ever. A 13-2 finish gets you invites to the Pro Tour, and I think this is one of the best shots for Legacy players to qualify as the field will be filled with newer players who have been itching to try the format. Treasure Cruise is definitely the break-out card from Khans so far, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some Dig Through Time control or combo deck also did very well, as the card has an even higher power level than Treasure Cruise.
Commander 2014 will be legal for the GP as well, and I think Containment Priest will definitely see some play. Being able to hose Sneak and Show, Reanimator, Elves, and Dredge all at once is fairly insane, as those are the most popular combo decks in the US. It’s been a while since combo has gotten some love, but something tells me they will do fine as there are simply too many different decks to be preparing for and limited sideboard space. All will be known in just two short weeks!
As always, let me know what you thought in the comments below.