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Recurring Nightmares – Fatalism

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Part 2
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Part 4
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Part 7

Alara Reborn, the third set in the Alara block, was released in the wake of Grand Prix Chicago. The set was a hit for Legacy, but most of the success of the release can be attributed to a pair of cards: [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card], and [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card].

The Pulse gave decks like Eva Green the ability to profitably interact with other types of permanents than creatures (for which it already had [card]Snuff Out[/card]) and artifacts (where it used [card]Seal of Primordium[/card], or sometimes [card]Putrefy[/card]). It also allowed decks like Deadguy Ale, which was already running white for [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card] and [card]Vindicate[/card], the ability to splash green and add [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] into the mix – bringing the new pseudo-[card]Pernicious Deed[/card] along for the ride.

By far the more important of the two cards, [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] allowed aggressive decks the ability to answer some of the more problematic permanents for them prior to sideboarding, while giving them access to additional threats, as well. A deck like Zoo, which could often be seen falling behind to Firespout + Countertop, could now resolve a Pridemage before the [card]Counterbalance[/card] comes down (or often even through it) and preemptively answer the threat. The [card]Watchwolf[/card] sized attacker excelled as both an individual threat and as part of a team, and provided plenty of tricks to gum up the combat step. He also became an important factor in the Countertop mirror, as having access to Pridemage as well as [card]Noble Hierarch[/card] turned what was once a stand off between [card]Tarmogoyfs[/card] into a race situation. By the time Alara Reborn was released, the days of [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] battles, with an army of Goyfs staring at each other across the battlefield, were long gone.

Pridemage was the first important step towards the actual dismantling of the hold that Countertop had on the metagame.

Despite its early adoption by the Extended metagame, [card]Thopter Foundry[/card]/[card]Sword of the Meek[/card] was slow to make an appearance in Legacy. At the time, there was no real home for the combo, as the Counterbalance decks which would eventually become its resting place were generally more tempo oriented, not willing to play the long game that the combo requires. Recall that the format still revolved around [card]Daze[/card] at this point, and tempo was where the fight was, much more than card advantage. It wasn’t until much later on that this changed. All the Thopter tokens in the world won’t save you from a [card]Lord of Atlantis[/card], so the combo was shelved for the time being.

In June of 2009, what would become one of the most important events for the future of the Legacy format was held in Boston. For the first time, Star City Games added a Sunday Legacy event onto their normal Standard 5K tournament. With an additional $5000 up for grabs, the first “Open Series” weekend was held. Over 100 players attended, and Star City was sent the message that this was a format players wanted to play. It would be a few months before the Sunday Legacy event would return, but each time it did, the number of competitors would increase.

September of 2009 brought the release of Zendikar – and with it came one of the more controversial, yet readily embraced additions, in the form of Enemy Colored Fetchlands. While many people didn’t believe that these would ever see the light of day, here they were. I had posted a mini article in mtgTheSource.com’s “Adept Q&A” forum describing the cycle (well before we knew they were coming) as “Cards which I don’t believe will ever get printed, but ones that would significantly promote the format to new players.” Having another set of fetches with which to find Duals would greatly reduce the need for a full playset of dual lands, and reduce the need for the Onslaught fetches, as well. This should create a reduction in the demand for duals, and make the manabases a bit more cost effective for players just starting to get introduced to the format. It was seen as a very good change. The fact that enemy color pairs now had fetches that could find either color was less important, since we had access to that kind of fixing anyway. However, having a fetchland that could find [card]Tundra[/card], Basic Island, and [card]Dryad Arbor[/card] was very good for the Blue Natural Order decks that had begun to take shape during this period.

Zendikar also included a number of role players and bit parts to the format – a slew of cards began to see a bit of play here and there, but weren’t as impactful as the fetches.

[card]Iona, Shield of Emeria[/card] – While it would be some months before Iona really took hold with Reanimator, [card]Survival of the Fittest[/card] decks began to use her in conjunction with [card]Loyal Retainers[/card] to get her into play as soon as turn 3. Having a turn 1 mana bird, a second turn Survival (finding Iona with the third mana) and using the third turn to find Retainers (pitching Iona to Survival) and returning Iona to play. This combo was a difficult one to break through, and was just beginning to pick up steam when the course of the format was changed. More on that in a moment.

[card]Spell Pierce[/card] – as a one-mana counterspell that had the capability of countering a powerful opposing spell on the draw – much in the same vein as [card]Spell Snare[/card], Pierce became a de-facto sideboard spell for the Control decks of the day, and has continued to see significant play throughout the ensuing years. It’s a strong player in the cheap counterspell market, and has only recently fallen out of vogue as better options have arisen.

[card]Goblin Guide[/card]/[card]Steppe Lynx[/card] – both of these creatures have seen play in aggressive decks, mostly Zoo or burn types. Each of them has allowed these style of decks to become much better at chipping away at the life total of the opponent in rapid fashion, leaving the opponent at a low enough life total by the time they stabilize to have a minimal amount of “cleanup” left required. Having a combination of [card]Steppe Lynx[/card], [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card], and [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] allowed Zoo to go from stone dead to Counterbalance + sweeper, into a favored position due to the sheer speed the deck was capable of. It also allowed Zoo to have some form of game against the combo decks like Ad Nauseam Tendrils, where a super aggressive start could put the combo deck on the back foot early, possibly forcing them to use [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] at a low enough life total to make them fizzle or implode.

Zoo was also granted the gift of [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card]. For the first time, the non-blue decks were given the opportunity to actually blow out a storm combo deck after they had committed all of their resources to the stack, forcing a shift in protection from the storm decks, which began to run more [card]Duress[/card] type effects, and shift away from the all-in style builds.

The last deck that picked up some new tricks was Dredge, because somehow, Dredge always manages to get something, despite no new cards for the archetype actually being printed. [card]Sphinx of Lost Truths[/card] became a strict upgrade to the [card]Cephalid Sage[/card]s that some builds were including. As a much more potent threat, as well as a better discard outlet (and, not that it was normally relevant, but not requiring Threshold) it was a superior choice for the “didn’t quite get there, need more dredges” slot. They also gained [card]Bloodghast[/card] as another reusable Ichorid when paired with [card]Dakmor Salvage[/card] or the old gem [card]Undiscovered Paradise[/card], which could consistently return them to play.

On the flipside, Dredge haters also gained [card]Ravenous Trap[/card], another free way to stunt the growth of the unfair deck’s progress mid-combo.

Less than a month from the release of Zendikar, the DCI decided to shake things up, as a new banned announcement came out and said:

Unbanned – [card]Metalworker[/card], [card]Dream Halls[/card], and [card]Entomb[/card].

All the Johnnies in the room went wild.

The three of these cards would be played, 100%. They may not be tier 1 decks, they may break the format. We weren’t sure just what would happen, but we knew one thing – something was going to come out of these unbannings.

One of the most cliché statements that can be made of a new card for Legacy use is “This might see play in Stax.” As a moderator of a Legacy forum, this was generally a death knell for a card, because it meant it was too expensive, or low impact, for play in a “real” deck. Because Stax has the ability to run out 3 mana on turn 1, and 5 mana on turn 2, all of the expensive cards that would otherwise be too slow could potentially find a home here. [card]Metalworker[/card], on the other hand, would not only find a home in Stax, but revitalize the deck and possibly even make it a “real” deck once and for all. For those of us who remembered playing Stax in 1.5 all those years ago, we were excited to try our hand at busting out turn 1 Metalworkers into turn 2 lock pieces.

As it turned out, even Metalworker wasn’t enough, and Stax was still just Stax. In a format where actual one-drop creatures do things like power out turn 2 [card]Siege-Gang Commander[/card]s, or enable turn 3 [card]Progenitus[/card], a three mana guy who requires a nut draw and four cards to provide a possibility of 8 mana on turn 2 (again, with the absolute nuts) is only kinda threatening. It’s also a format where [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card], [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], [card]Snuff Out[/card], and [card]Path to Exile[/card] (along with our new friend [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card]) all see maindeck play, and are quite effective at answering the Worker before it gets online. In short, he was good, but not quite good enough.

[card]Dream Halls[/card] had us all thirsting to do uber-broken Vintage type stuff. We wanted to power this card out and start throwing [card]Time Reversal[/card]s, [card]Searing Wind[/card]s, and [card]Time Stretch[/card]es at our opponents. Someone, I’m at a loss to determine who, discovered the combo of [card]Dream Halls[/card] + [card]Conflux[/card], as a way to tutor for five cards – some of which could be used to fuel more combo shenanigans. One combo was to grab a bunch of [card]Cruel Ultimatum[/card]s, and ways to return them to your hand. Another was to grab [card]Beacon of Immortality[/card] + [card]False Cure[/card], and kill the opponent from any life total. Some players just dropped a [card]Progenitus[/card] into play and got there with a [card]Time Stretch[/card].

Although this combo was ultimately fragile and weak to a number of kinds of disruption available to other decks, it did put Show and Tell in the spotlight as a viable card to circumvent the high cost of powerful creatures and permanents. This became much more important later on.

The real All-Star of the unbanning class of 2009 was [card]Entomb[/card]. Paired with its best friend [card]Reanimate[/card], both of which were searched up by [card]Mystical Tutor[/card], Reanimator became a powerful metagame contender almost instantly. This was caused by a few things all coming together at once.

1) [card]Entomb[/card] was unbanned.
2) [card iona, shield of emeria]Iona[/card] was printed, giving the Reanimator deck the ability to create a soft lock as early as turn 2.
3) [card]Mystical Tutor[/card] was available as a tutor for either part of the combo, along with being able to find answers to anything that would prevent the combo from firing, or to find [card]Show and Tell[/card] if you draw a fatty or need to play around graveyard hate.
4) The Star City Games Open Series was just beginning to find its wings. This meant players like Gerry Thompson were actively being encouraged to break Legacy, and given a weekly (or nearly weekly) opportunity to do so on a large stage. The “best decks” were quickly exposed and fine tuned, and when a deck like Reanimator was providing the best players the opportunity to defeat all comers, it wasn’t long before it was everywhere.

It wasn’t long before Reanimator mirrors were the most common matches in the format. These were boring games, where both players would stare at one another for a looooong time, and more games were won via Reanimating a [card]Faerie Macabre[/card], or attacking with a [card]Dryad Arbor[/card], than were won via [card]Entomb[/card]/[card]Reanimate[/card] on a fatty.

In January of 2010, the best card in the game was printed. True to form, the reactions of the Legacy community ranged from “Does anyone else think the new [card jace, the mind sculptor]Jace[/card] is all hype? Looks like garbage to me,” all the way to one person calling the price tag at $100+ without the loyalty costs fully confirmed. It did take a bit of time, but I would say that in the end, Jace lived up to the hype in Legacy.

Much of this had to do with the [card]Brainstorm[/card] ability of the card, but at the time it was released, Jace was also used quite often as a four mana [card]Unsummon[/card], since the deck of the day was Reanimator. He gave the control decks of the time the ability to interact with Iona in multiple colors, a much needed function when locked out of half the cards in their deck as early as turn 2 or 3.

There isn’t a whole lot to say about [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] that hasn’t already been said, and as the card is banned in several formats and played heavily in those where he isn’t, it’s not worthwhile to drone on and on in praise of all the things Jace does. Suffice to say, it’s a good card, and despite being home of a number of other solid cards, the Worldwake set was all about the Planeswalker.

Meanwhile, despite the presence of Jace, Reanimator continued to tear it up.

Players began to find new and obscure ways to interact with Reanimator. [card]Maze of Ith[/card], [card]Karakas[/card], and other lands which had abilities were beginning to crop up in lists, as the sole way of interacting with the deck that couldn’t be disrupted by Iona. Other players were maindecking [card]Sower of Temptation[/card], hoping to back the Reanimator deck into a corner where [card]Show and Tell[/card] was necessary, and stealing whatever threat the Reanimator deck would drop. It was a battle that was being lost on all fronts, because Reanimator was still winning, and only a few decks (Merfolk, Ad Nauseam, Counterbalance) really had a shot at keeping up.

In February of 2010, the largest tournament in the history of the game (at the time) was held in Madrid, Spain. The Grand Prix format was Legacy.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived.

This event proved to Wizards of the Coast, and to many others around the world that Legacy was a format that people wanted to play. They were excited to play. They loved to play. It was the final message that said “take this format seriously, because you can make a LOT of money from it.” Companies like SCG took notice, and Legacy began to boom.

The event came down to a finals match between Reanimator (surprise) and Ad Nauseam Tendrils. In a twist of events which seemed like the stuff of legend to all who aren’t familiar with the format, but rather typical to those of us who are used to this kind of thing, Tendrils killed itself with Ad Nauseam in game 3 of the finals, and Andreas Muller was crowned king of Legacy.

The top 8 from that event:

Bant Counterbalance w/Progenitus
Bant Counterbalance w/Progenitus
Reanimator
Zoo
ANT
Zoo
ANT
Zoo

Our champ beat Zoo, Zoo, and a seppuku’d ANT player to take the trophy. Our ANT finalist beat Zoo and Tomoharu Saito in the mirror prior to losing to Ad Nauseam in the finals. The key to success in this top 8 was to play against the fair decks, and not be playing a fair deck yourself.

This message was received by the DCI, loud and clear. While no action was taken in the March announcement for banned list changes, another four months of Reanimator, CounterTop, Ad Nauseam, Zoo and Merfolk was enough. Action was decided upon, and [card]Mystical Tutor[/card] was given the axe.

This decision sat poorly with the vocal minority of Legacy players/writers/enthusiasts. Simply put, justification was needed for the act of banning a card in a format that was considered to be open, and sufficient reason was not given. The DCI may have been correct to ban [card]Mystical Tutor[/card], and many players thought they were – however, the reasons for doing so were not because it was particularly dominant (the numbers showed that it wasn’t) or because it was a critical component of an overpowered deck (the recent success of Reanimator, along with the consistent performance of the Storm archetype should be proof that it wasn’t critical). Instead, it was backed by a discussion of a “gentlemen’s agreement” of players choosing not to play the best decks, but preferring to demilitarize, play fun cards, and enjoy the format more because of it. In short, the existence of Mystical Tutor was, in the DCI’s opinion, a negative influence on the Legacy metagame, and despite not being overly powerful or dominant, was detrimental to the health of the format enough to be banned.

In reality, it was none of these things, and yet the format was still better off without [card]Mystical Tutor[/card] than with it. I can honestly empathize with the position that the card put the DCI into – it wasn’t doing anything particularly wrong, but the card was never going to get more fair, and things could only get worse, not better. It certainly wasn’t to the point of requiring banning at the time it was banned, but what it did do was bottleneck the creativity and variety of decks in the format – as long as Mystical was around, it would be the first card in a list full of broken things. It’s hard to capture this feeling of foreboding into succinct language, which is why the discussion of the justification behind the banning floundered.

Coincidentally, just before this banning would take place, Rise of the Eldrazi hit the shelves, and with it came the most insane fatty that ever walked the Multiverse.

[draft]Emrakul, the Aeons Torn[/draft]

Take a minute, read that card, and just remember what you thought when you saw it on the spoiler. Me, I thought “Holy shit. This thing is insane,” and immediately began brewing how to get it into play on turn 2. I came up with a few options, but this was my Emrakul claim to fame:

Aeon Bridge – by Adam Barnello

[deck]4 Show and Tell
2 Worldly Tutor
4 Lim-Dul’s Vault
4 Force of Will
3 Daze
4 Brainstorm
3 See Beyond
4 Stifle
4 Thoughtseize
1 Wipe Away
4 Phyrexian Dreadnought
4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
2 Chrome Mox
4 Mosswort Bridge
3 Tropical Island
3 Underground Sea
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Polluted Delta
1 Island
1 Forest
Sideboard
3 Krosan Grip
3 Pithing Needle
2 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Faerie Macabre
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
1 Blazing Archon
1 Progenitus
2 Duress[/deck]

You may remember this from a dech tech with Conley Woods at a SCG Open when he and Mike Poszgay played a similar list. I cried foul, and the Legacy community backed me up – to a much greater extent than I had expected. It was kind of odd that my obscure deck had been picked up by a pro with the deckbuilding prowess of Conley, or if it were a case of parallel evolution, that I had hit so close to the same build as his. Either way, it was an interesting way to be introduced to the general public, especially considering the fact that the community at large was protesting far more than I was myself. We got over it, and needless to say, that hatchet is more than buried.

The deck was pretty awesome, though, and the very first game I ever played with it in a tournament, I pulled off a turn 1 [card]Mosswort Bridge[/card], Turn 2 [card emrakul, the aeons torn]Emrakul[/card].

Despite the coolness of that deck, it ended up being just a strictly inferior version of Reanimator, and died to all the same things Reanimator died to, while replacing a vulnerability to graveyard hate with a vulnerability to Wasteland.

Along with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Rise gave us [card]Coralhelm Commander[/card], the newest and greatest Lord of the Merfolk. As a 2 mana creature, it played much better with the [card]Aether Vial[/card]s than [card]Merfolk Sovereign[/card], and became a much bigger threat when leveled to maximum. In addition, the flying ability gave the deck an actual answer to [card]Moat[/card], something it otherwise sorely lacked. Sovereign became one of the greatest threats in the Merfolk deck almost from the day it was printed, and for once, the Legacy community did not sleep on a card that turned out to be the stones. I’d say more, but let’s be honest – no one is all that excited to hear about yet-another-creature-type-merfolk.

The final card worth mention from Rise of the Eldrazi is, of course, [card]Vengevine[/card]. The little Elemental that changed the world, this innocuous four mana 4/3 would become part of one of the greatest controversies of Modern Legacy. That story, however, will have to wait for next time.

Fear not, weary traveler, our journey is almost at an end.

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