It’s now time for the third (and last) deck difficulty article: Legacy. For a better explanation of what deck difficulty even means, why it’s useful to figure out, and how the system works in general, you can refer to the first article here. I also ranked the decks of Modern.
In this article, the grading follows the same system. I asked a group of professional players and the competitive community as a whole (on r/MTGlegacy, so people that play Legacy) to grade each deck based on how much practice/experience they feel is needed to take the deck to a tournament and perform adequately with it. Here’s the rank from lowest to highest:
#14: Red Prison
Community Rating: 1.76
Pro Rating: 1.3
My Rating: 1
There’s a subset of Legacy decks where you look at someone’s opening hand and you can already tell who is going to win the game, and Red Prison is one of them. Most of your games are short and you take very few actions, so there’s not a lot of complexity. You’re basically working with 7-9 cards throughout the game, and only 2-3 of them matter (because even though the game doesn’t literally end on turns 1 and 2, in reality it basically does, one way or the other).
Most of the difficulty in this deck is knowing which “lock” piece to go for. Should you play a turn-1 Chalice for 1 or a turn-1 Blood Moon, for example? This changes depending on what deck you’re playing against, but it’s hard to go completely wrong if you know your opponent (and if you don’t you can just decide which one is better and always lean toward that one).
#13: B/R Reanimator
Community Rating: 1.78
Pro Rating: 2.3
My Rating: 1
B/R Reanimator is very similar to Red Prison. You have a game plan that you execute basically every game (getting the best big creature possible from a tier list that rarely changes—it’s almost always Griselbrand first), and you have 7-9 cards to execute it with.
There are two challenges in B/R Reanimator—mulliganing and sideboarding. Sideboarded games in particular can be a bit challenging, as you now have to play around things like Surgical Extraction or Faerie Macabre, but the main way of beating anything with this deck remains “I hope they don’t have it” or “I hope I can brute force enough reanimation spells through it,” so I don’t think you’ll run into a lot of trouble if you’re a beginner.
#12: Eldrazi Post
Community Rating: 1.81
Pro Rating: 1
My Rating: 1
Their game doesn’t end as quickly with Eldrazi Post as it does with the previous two decks, but your game plan remains the same against everybody—play some lands and accelerate into the biggest Eldrazi you can cast. There are some potentially complicated cards in the deck (Endbringer gives you a lot of choices) but as a whole the deck is very forgiving because if you have access to those types of cards, then you’re probably going to win regardless of what you do. This is the easiest deck to play in Legacy in my estimation (and the more aggressive versions are also quite easy).
#11: Sneak and Show
Community Rating: 1.91
Pro Rating: 2.3
My Rating: 2
Sneak and Show is a blue deck, which by definition means that it’s at least a little complicated. Force of Will is not easy to play with, since it can be cast at basically any time, and Brainstorm is one of the hardest cards in Magic to play properly.
The only reason Sneak and Show doesn’t get a higher grade from me is because you don’t need to play it perfectly to win. You can just throw your hand at the table and win a lot of the time. Your game plan—getting a Griselbrand or an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in play—is pretty immutable, and something you’re trying to do every game. A lot of your Brainstorms are pretty easy since you have redundant lands or combo pieces too.
I think Sneak and Show is the best “introductory blue deck” in Legacy. You get to practice the trickiness of cards like Brainstorm, Ponder, and Force of Will, but at the same time you have some guidelines that will always be true in terms of what you want or don’t want, and you don’t lose much if you get it wrong. It’s also a deck that you can very easily play if you’re experienced with Magic or with blue cards in general. You don’t need any experience with Sneak and Show itself or even combo decks as a whole.
Community Rating: 2.74
Pro Rating: 2
My Rating: 2
I believe Legacy Dredge is simpler to play than Modern Dredge (sometimes you don’t even cast a spell the entire game), but it’s also more different than anything else. Regardless of how much Magic you’ve played, it’ll still feel like a shock when you pick up Legacy Dredge. In fact, I’d say that it might be even harder if you’ve played a lot. But once you get past that very initial barrier, then the deck basically plays itself every turn of the game, so I think it’s an easy pick up if you have at least some time to practice, regardless of how skilled or experienced of a player you are.
Community Rating: 2.98
Pro Rating: 2.3
My Rating: 2.5
I think Maverick is a classic example of a deck that is “easy to play, but hard to play perfectly.” On the surface it looks like another creature deck (depending on which version of Maverick), and you’re just trying to attack them down to 0, which isn’t necessarily hard, but the deck has a lot of angles you can play and a lot of small decisions, including a creature toolbox with Green Sun’s Zenith and a land toolbox with Knight of the Reliquary. What makes it a 2.5 for me is that I don’t think you need to “master” it to do well. Like Sneak and Show, playing sub-optimally with Maverick is OK.
With Maverick, there are a ton of small things you can do wrong, but the best conceivable play is only a little bit better than the second-best play, and the second-best play is a little bit better than the third-best play. If you make the second-best decision every time in a game, you’re still very likely to win, as it’s not a deck that punishes you much. Because of this, I think it’s a good introductory deck. I also think it’s a deck that you can play if you have experience with the format, since you’ll already know what cards to tutor for even if you don’t have experience with Maverick itself.
#8: U/W(b/r) Stoneblade
Community Rating: 3.1
Pro Rating: –
My Rating: 3
(The reason this doesn’t have a pro rating is because I added it to the spreadsheet after I got the answers from the Pro group. This will happen with a few other decks down the line too.)
Stoneblade decks are the next step for blue players after Sneak and Show. You get the Brainstorm, Ponder, Force of Will trifecta of complexity, but unlike Sneak and Show, it’s not entirely obvious what you want and what you don’t want.
Overall, Stoneblade is very similar to Maverick. It offers many small decisions, but a lot of the time it’ll forgive you if you get them wrong. In that sense, it’s another deck where you could say “easy to play, but hard to master,” except it’s not actually that easy to play. Some games you just run over your opponent with cards like Batterskull, Umezawa’s Jitte, and True-Name Nemesis. Those games are very easy, but then in other games you have an absurdly grindy war where any mistake can make you lose, and with this deck you have the opportunity to make a lot of mistakes throughout a game.
As is the case with most decks in Legacy, if you’re a good Magic player who has played with the card Brainstorm before, you’re OK to play Stoneblade in a tournament with minimal practice. If you’re not a skilled player then I wouldn’t play it.
#7: Grixis Delver
Community Rating: 3.1
Pro Rating: 3.75
My Rating: 3.5
Grixis Delver has all the complications of a Stoneblade deck with fewer cards that can win the game by themselves. With Stoneblade, you can sometimes mess up several times and still just cast a Jace, the Mind Sculptor or a True-Name Nemesis equipped with Jitte, and that’ll bail you out of any situation. With Grixis Delver, you don’t have any card that’s individually as powerful.
Obviously, Grixis Delver has its free wins also—sometimes you play a Delver of Secrets, flip it, Wasteland your opponent twice, and counter everything they play. In general, however, these games are the minority, and the games where this doesn’t happen can be quite complicated.
Overall, I don’t think Grixis Delver requires specific knowledge of Grixis Delver or specific knowledge of Legacy, but I think you have to be a good player overall to be able to extract enough from the deck to take it to a tournament.
#6: Grixis Control
Community Rating: 3.39
Pro Rating: 2.6
My Rating: 2.5
People tend to overestimate how difficult control is to play, and I think it’s true here as well. Grixis Control is still a blue Legacy deck, so it’s never going to be easy, but like the combo decks, the game play is mostly immutable, which by definition makes it easier. You want to do the same against everyone every game. I actually think Grixis Control is a pretty good introductory point for both the blue cards in Legacy and control decks in general.
#5: Death and Taxes
Community Rating: 3.5
Pro Rating: 3
My Rating: 3.5
Death and Taxes is a more complicated Maverick because it requires some knowledge that is specific to “Death and Taxes” rather than just general Magic knowledge. A lot of the middle-level complexity decks in Legacy have the complexity they do because of the blue cards, and the blue cards require you to think. If you’re a good Magic player, you can probably think about things and handle them on the fly.
With Death and Taxes, things are different. Between Flickerwisp, Karakas, Aether Vial, and the tutors, both for creatures and Equipment, there is a lot of knowledge that you need to have that’s specific to that deck. I would much rather play a blue deck without testing than Death and Taxes, even though I gave them the same grade.
As a general rule, I think that to play the blue decks, you have to be skilled and experienced with the game, regardless of how much experience you have with the blue decks themselves. For Death and Taxes, you need to be overall less skilled and experienced, but you need some experience with the deck itself, so you can’t just “wing it” with no testing.
Community Rating: 3.78
Pro Rating: –
My Rating: 5
I think Elves is a pretty hard deck to play. Like most combo decks, it has free wins, but even your free wins are harder to execute than just getting Griselbrand into play.
There are two things that make Elves a hard deck. The first is that your combo is a bit different than any other combo, both in principle and mechanically, which means you need experience with the deck itself. You can’t just show up with Elves if you’ve never played the deck before regardless of how good of a player you are, which is something I feel you can easily do with the Griselbrand decks. You also have a lot of tutors and they don’t always get the same thing, so it’s not as easy as just getting the “missing piece” every time.
The second is that your plan B (or C if you consider Natural Order a plan in itself) is actually very viable, as opposed to almost every other combo deck’s plan B. This adds another layer of decisions to your game, since you have to constantly be asking yourself the question, “do I have to combo to win?” which is not present anywhere else because the answer is always yes. Sometimes, the best option is to just forget the combo and try to win a fair game, and sometimes it’s best to abandon hope of winning a fair game to try to combo people out. This changes constantly in the same game and impacts all of your decisions (for example, do you play a creature to advance your game plan or do you hold it for a Glimpse turn?).
The combination of a complicated plan A, the existence of viable plans B and C, and the multitude of tutors makes me think that you should not play Elves in a tournament unless you’re very experienced with Elves, regardless of your familiarity with Magic and with the format.
Community Rating: 3.95
Pro Rating: 4.3
My Rating: 5
Lands is deceptively hard to play because, like with any combo deck, it has free wins (quick Dark Depths or Wastelanding them to death). In reality, it’s a deck with a lot of tutors and choices that operates on a slightly different angle than any other deck in Magic. It’s almost like Dredge, except the complexity doesn’t end once you cross that initial barrier—each game is different from the next, and your priorities constantly shift. It’s also very easy to mess up some of the interactions that only show up in a match where Lands is involved if you aren’t familiar with them. Thespian’s Stage is a pretty complicated card and once you add stuff like Glacial Chasm, well, you’re off to the races. I would not recommend Lands to anyone who isn’t already experienced with Lands.
Community Rating: 4.05
Pro Rating: 2.25
My Rating: 3
Miracles’ difficulty level is overstated. Again, it is a blue deck in Legacy, so it can only be so easy, but being a control deck doesn’t automatically make it harder. In fact, I feel that the control elements make it easier to play than a deck like Delver because you always have a very clear direction (you need to control the game).
The hardest part about Miracles is setting up cards like Counterbalance and Terminus at the right time. Terminus is easier to see, but for Counterbalance you really have to know what’s going on. For example, it’s not uncommon to play a turn-1 Ponder, Brainstorm, or Ponder to set up for a turn-2 Counterbalance, and then you have to know which cost to leave on top, and that depends on what your opponent is playing, which means that you have to have at least a passing knowledge of the format so that you can identify the problematic costs you have to stop.
Overall I think Miracles requires a little of everything—you have to be experienced with the game, you have to be experienced with Miracles itself, and you have to know the format, but it doesn’t require a lot of any of these things (you only need a small amount of experience to not mess up, unlike decks like Elves or Lands). If you like playing control decks but you’re intimidated by Miracles I really recommend giving it a try. It’s not as hard as it looks.
Community Rating: 4.35
Pro Rating: 4
My Rating: 4.5
Legacy Storm is much harder to play than Modern Storm because the cantrips in Legacy offer so much more room for mistakes. In Modern, you usually have to choose between “do I want this card” or “do I not want this card,” whereas in Legacy you kind of have to grade your entire hand and decide which ones you want more or less.
Mechanically speaking, the deck takes a bit to get used to, but the combo is actually deterministic a lot of the time (meaning once you start comboing you’re guaranteed to kill, so you don’t have to adapt your thinking based on what you start drawing, like Elves), so that part is not so complicated. Deciding when to combo, however, is pretty hard, and the games that are not deterministic require that you see some very complex lines and might involve a decent amount of math.
The deck is also very hard to play against control decks, especially post-board. Most of the time you go all-in on comboing, so you only have one shot—it’s different than Reanimator or Sneak and Show where, if you mess up your timing, you can just try again next turn. It’s also different than a deck like Belcher because, if you’re playing Belcher, well, it’s not getting any better for you, you have to just go for it and hope they don’t have it, but with a deck like Storm you have the tools to beat counterspells, so sometimes it’s better to wait even if you theoretically could combo off.
I don’t think Storm requires a lot of specific Magic or even Legacy knowledge, but it requires a lot of Storm knowledge. I wouldn’t play a tournament with Storm unless I had significant practice with it (and in fact I chose not to play a tournament with Storm a while ago because I didn’t think I’d be able to practice enough to play it at a satisfactory level). That said, once you do have the practice with it, I think it’s less complicated than both Elves and Lands, so I’m giving it a 4.5 to reflect that.
So, there you have it!
- #14: Red Prison (1.76)
- #13: BR Reanimator (1.78)
- #12: Eldrazi Post (1.81)
- #11: Sneak and Show (1.91)
- #10: Dredge (2.74)
- #9: Maverick (2.98)
- #8: UW(b/r) Stoneblade (3.1)
- #7: Grixis Delver (3.1)
- #6: Grixis Control (3.39)
- #5: Death and Taxes (3.5)
- #4: Elves (3.78)
- #3: Lands (3.95)
- #2 Miracles (4.05)
- #1: Storm (4.35)
I would sum it like this:
- Red Prison, B/R Reanimator, Eldrazi Post, and Sneak and Show are decks that don’t require a lot of experience and you can just pick up and take to a tournament.
- Dredge is a deck that makes you clear a bar, but once you do then all the games are very similar.
- Maverick and Death and Taxes are complex decks, but are also forgiving decks. Death and Taxes requires a lot more knowledge of Death and Taxes specifically.
- Stoneblade, Grixis Control, Grixis Delver, and Miracles are decks that require almost no specific knowledge of themselves or the format but will present you with tough decisions a lot of the time. If you’re a skilled player without any Legacy background, then you can just pick these up and do well with them. If you’re a less experienced player who wants to focus on one deck to master, then I don’t recommend any of these because it’s a lot more about thinking about the lines than knowing the lines (whereas I would recommend something like Death and Taxes).
- Elves, Lands, and Storm are all complex decks that require a lot of skill and knowledge about that particular deck. I would not register any of them for a tournament unless I had a ton of time to practice.
- It’s also worth mentioning that Legacy is the format where my personal grade might be the most skewed, because I’ve played the blue decks a lot, so I admit I might consider them easier than they actually are. I am pretty sure that they are mostly decks that care more about how good a player you are than how much experience you have with them, and getting experience with one blue deck will help you play all blue decks.
Some general considerations:
- The most difficult deck across all three formats was Modern KCI at 4.59. The easiest deck was Burn at 1.69 (though I personally don’t agree with this and think there are multiple decks in every format that are easier than Burn). The most polarizing deck was Standard Mono-Blue, which had almost a flat graph—almost as many people gave it a 1 as gave it a 5.
- As a whole, across the three formats, players tended to rate control as harder than I believe it is. Control mirrors are often pretty hard, and the best player will win the majority of the time, but playing control versus an aggro or midrange deck is not that complicated. Most of the time you just curve out answers and then you eventually win, and this is true across all of the formats. If you’re intimidated by control, I’d really recommend you give it a try.
- As a whole, across the three formats, players tended to not place enough importance in a shifting game plan. I think one of the hardest things in Magic is when you have to pick a direction—following a direction is much easier. Control decks and aggro decks always have a direction, and all you need to do is find the best way to follow it, whereas some other decks (like Grixis Delver, Stoneblade, Drakes, Elves) need you to figure out which direction you’re supposed to go multiple times in a game, and only then can you follow it. I think this is very overlooked as a source of complexity, and it’s also something that you cannot really “know.” No matter how many times you play a certain deck, you’ll always face new situations where you have to think things through—you can’t memorize every path. Because of this, decks with shifting game plans usually reward general MTG skill and experience rather than knowledge about the one specific deck, so they’re decks that you can pick up if you’ve never played them before if you have the necessary background.
- Combo decks come in three main ways:
- Very easy and straightforward (Scapeshift, Reanimator)
- You need to cross a barrier, but once you do it’s very easy and straightforward (Dredge)
- Insanely complicated (KCI, Storm)
Regardless of how hard they are to play, combo decks are decks that reward practice with that deck way more than practice with MTG in general. For example, if you tell me “I am starting to play MTG now and I have six months to dedicate to learning a deck,” then I think you are better served by playing a combo deck, no matter how complicated, than a deck like Grixis Delver that is much more nuanced and requires a wider variety of skills.
If you want to know more and see some different takes on deck difficulty, Siggy, Sam Black, and I also discuss this on our podcast.
Well, that’s it! Thanks everyone for participating in the surveys, and see you next week.