Recurring Nightmares – Heliocentrism

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Welcome all to this, the third installment of the History of Legacy series that I’ve been slowly unraveling over the past few months. In Part 1, we covered the origins of Legacy, its roots in the format formerly known as 1.5, and the earliest days of Eternal. In the second part of the series, we covered the first, second, and third Grand Prix events, which showcased some of the best (and worst) moments in the early history of the Legacy format. Today we’ll continue the steady march forward in time, and discover what the next set of Magic had to offer to Legacy, and how an innocuous bear changed everything.

In 2007, we witnessed the most broken period of Legacy’s history – the [card]Flash[/card] debacle – and breathed a collective sigh of relief as the format returned to normality when Flash was banned during the June B&R update. However, the focus of the format on this insanity allowed something rather important to fly under the radar – the Future Sight expansion.

Released on May 4, 2007, Future Sight was not legal for sanctioned play during Grand Prix: Columbus (1). During this period, sets were available for play on the 20th of each month of their release, and GP Columbus began on the 19th – meaning the set only became legal on Sunday. This meant that during the GP, the focus was not on the new set, but rather the broken combo.

In addition to the GP distracting the focus from the impending set release, the combo deck lasted an entire month after the release date of Future Sight – which meant the only cards that were sought out from the set were those which benefitted or helped combat the over-powered combo deck – cards like Pact of Negation, Summoner’s Pact, and Yixlid Jailer. The combination of the GP and the combo deck allowed for a number of “sleeper” cards, which were undervalued or underappreciated for some time after their release, but ultimately changed the way Legacy would be played in a fundamental way.

[draft]Bridge from Below[/draft]

As the centerpiece of the Dredge deck in both Standard and Vintage, Bridge from Below changed the way Magic was capable of being played entirely – not just in Legacy, but in all formats. This deck, as I’m certain you’re all aware, ignores most of the typical interactions of a Magic game and places the burden entirely on the opponent – do you have the hate cards, or do I just win? Much of the resiliency of the deck has to do with the recursion of Ichorid along with accumulating Bridge tokens, although these same tokens are the reason the deck has such explosive openings, as well.

[draft]Magus of the Moon[/draft]

Accessing the combination of Magus alongside the original [card]Blood Moon[/card], a few decks sprung up which tried to capitalize on the greed of the opponent’s manabase in order to get a free win out of these soft lock pieces. The duo of Moon effects are still found popping up today, and are a serious consideration for decks that try to cheat on basic lands to capture a more powerful selection of spells.

Dragon Stompy – Damon Whitby (Parcher) – Nov 2007

[deck]4 Ancient Tomb
4 City of Traitors
10 Snow-Covered Mountain
4 Arc-Slogger
4 Magus of the Moon
4 Simian Spirit Guide
3 Gathan Raiders
3 Sulfur Elemental
2 Rakdos Pit-Dragon
4 Chrome Mox
4 Chalice of the Void
3 Trinisphere
3 Sword of Fire and Ice
2 Umezawas Jitte
4 Seething Song
2 Demonfire
Sideboard
4 Pyrokinesis
3 Tormods Crypt
3 Blood Moon
2 Icefall
1 Trinisphere
1 Sulfur Elemental
1 Rakdos Pit-Dragon[/deck]

In addition to this “All-in Red” build, the combo of Magus and Blood Moon would see play in a Threshold shell developed by the Hatfields, as well as the Imperial Painter deck, which we will cover later on.

[draft]Narcomoeba[/draft]

As I discussed above with Bridge from Below, Narcomoeba was integral in the development of the Dredge deck that showcased the combination of the Ravnica block mechanic alongside the recursive graveyard elements from Time Spiral block. Narcomoeba provided a key element to the engine, in its unique capability to be an uncounterable creature coming into play during the critical turn, after the upkeep – meaning you don’t need to find an additional dredge outlet other than your draw step. Hitting a number of Narcomoebas during your dredging allowed you to use the flashback of Dread Return, or gave you fodder to clear the way for the game-ending spell with [card]Cabal Therapy[/card]. It is a tool that the Dredge deck uses to great advantage, but it isn’t the only deck that found use for the ‘Moeba.

In August of 2007, the Northern Virginia crew of Legacy regulars put together another DIY event in the meeting room of their local Fuddruckers restaurant. As part of our unwritten agreement to be wherever Legacy events were happening (to the best of our abilities), we packed a car load of nerds and headed south for the weekend. At the event, Alix and Jesse Hatfield, along with Jesse Krieger and (I believe) Dave Price managed to put four out of four players piloting the following deck into the top 8:

[deck]4 Force of Will
3 Cabal Therapy
4 Worldly Tutor
4 Brainstorm
4 Portent
2 Eladamris Call
4 Cephalid Illusionist
3 Nomads En-kor
1 Shaman En-kor
4 Narcomoeba
2 Phyrexian Dreadnought
1 Dread Return
1 Sutured Ghoul
1 Dragon Breath
1 Stern Proctor
4 Aether Vial
4 Polluted Delta
4 Flooded Strand
4 Tundra
3 Tropical Island
2 Underground Sea[/deck]

This was the first incarnation of the Cephalid Breakfast deck that occasionally rears its ugly head in Legacy. Based upon the combination of the En-Kor creatures and [card]Cephalid Illusionist[/card], which allow you to mill your deck at will, the Breakfast deck’s goal is to put your deck in your graveyard, which in turn puts three Narcomoeba into play (or four, if necessary). Then, [card]Dread Return[/card] is cast, targeting a [card]Sutured Ghoul[/card]. The Ghoul removes a pair of Dreadnoughts, becoming a 24/24 or larger – if you remove all of the random combo critters – and a [card]Dragon Breath[/card] returns to enchant the Ghoul, giving it haste. You then crush your opponent with a giant monster.

All of this is allowed because of the existence of Narcomoeba. The deck did exist prior to the printing of the flying illusion, but required something like [card]Krosan Reclamation[/card] for [card]Stitch Together[/card] in order to win the game. Narcomoeba/Dread Return cut out the middle man, and the reliance on mana to win.

[draft]Tarmogoyf[/draft]

No card has changed the format to the same extent as this inoffensive little green [card]Squire[/card].

During the spoiler season for Future Sight, the majority of the focus on this card had to do with its reminder text, rather than its statistics. As the first card that spoiled the existence of Planeswalkers and Tribal cards, it drew a ton of attention to itself. As one of the most powerful creatures ever printed? Hardly. Most people recognized it as “potentially big late game” but no one really understood how big that actually was, nor how early that “late game” was going to come.

At the release of the set, Tarmogoyf was a dollar rare. A friend managed to clear StarCityGames of the card at $1 each, getting 30 before he was finished. I personally grabbed a set of foils at $8 each, thinking the card “might get played in Threshold.” I wasn’t certain, however, because Werebear had fringe advantages over the Lhurgoyf – it could tap for a green mana.

This is really what people were thinking. I remember these conversations well.

Most of us are aware of what happened next. Over the course of the summer, Goyf was outed as the strongest green (and by green, I mean blue) creature in the history of the game, and spiked up to a $40 price tag within the first month of its print. Future Sight packs quickly became scarce, as the “Tarmogoyf lottery” made cracking them more financially worthwhile than the cost of the packs themselves. At its height, Goyf was $120 – singlehandedly pricing people out of playing tier 1 Legacy. The card was omnipresent. Every single deck that could play the card did. Even the combo decks were boarding him as an alternate plan to victory post-board. Some combo decks, like Breakfast, were finding room maindeck for the Goyf as a plan B. A slew of other creatures fell off the map of playability. My friend who bought 30 was paying his rent with the gains from selling his extra sets. The internet was crying out for something to be done, as the spike of the price of Tarmogoyf turned it into a target for all of the ban-happy pundits to lash out against.

Tarmogoyf set the bar to new levels in a number of categories. It was the new measuring stick to which all creatures were compared. It was the new high-water mark for chase rare prices. It was the definition of efficiency as a threat, to both your favorite deck and your wallet.

Threshold was now (and for the foreseeable future) the unquestioned Best Deck. It finally had a perfect creature – one that was a significant enough threat in the early game to make its tempo package relevant. It could land a turn 2 Goyf – possibly after a fetchland and a [card]Portent[/card] turn 1, and backed up with a [card]Daze[/card] on turn 2 (making the turn 2 Goyf a 3/4) – and protect it just long enough to defeat the opponent rapidly. Its package of [card]Daze[/card], [card]Wasteland[/card], and [card]Stifle[/card] kept the opponent on the back foot long enough for its serious threat – as opposed to the [card]Nimble Mongoose[/card] that were much less of a clock – to end the game.

The reality was, in the format of 2007/2008, Tarmogoyf was the best win condition available to Legacy, and also the best answer to an opposing Tarmogoyf. If you weren’t running them, you needed a real answer for them, and it was one of the periods of the format when you were required to have a legitimate excuse for running another threat in its place. This was a problem for a lot of people. They hated the fact that cards like [card]Troll Ascetic[/card] were no longer valid. Cards like [card]Ravenous Baloth[/card], [card]Werebear[/card], [card]Quirion Dryad[/card], [card]Exalted Angel[/card], etc were just bad now, because any time you spent playing or growing one of these creatures would have been better spent by saving yourself time/energy/mana, and just playing a Goyf instead. Even decks like Survival, which were previously an amalgamation of “cool stuff” and silver-bullet answers to problematic situations, were cutting all the crap and just running out Tarmogoyf – because the best answer to anything was to tutor up more Tarmogoyfs and play them. This represented one of the few times in the game when Goblins was nearly unplayable – because the cards being played in that specific metagame were not capable of beating turn 2 or turn 3 Goyf. In fact, some Goblin players went so far as to splash green in order to play Goyf in their Goblin decks! When I said omnipresent, I meant it.

At this stage of the game, much of the fuss over Tarmogoyf has passed. Today, you can find copies online in the range of $65. In a world where [card]Underground Sea[/card]s cost upwards of $120 each, this pales in comparison – but consider that a mere three years ago, those same Seas were selling at less than half that price. The supply of Tarmogoyfs were limited, as many were tied up in Extended or even Standard players’ binders. The Future Sight set was the small third set from the block, and as such was underdrafted, as well as being part of a notoriously short print run. The outcry for the banning of Tarmogoyf was strikingly similar to that of today’s hot button issue, [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card]. Both were the stand-out card of a small set, and both peaked at well over $100. At its height, Goyf was nearly as played in Legacy as Jace is in Standard today. As the dominant threat in the format, it invalidated a host of inferior strategies, and while some would argue that this also created other viable decks, the fact that nearly every other similar creature was no longer playable was an enormous loss for the format overall. While I don’t believe Goyf ever deserved banning – it is, after all, a vanilla creature – I do long for those days prior to its printing, where there was at least some debate around which threats were your first choice.

[draft]Tombstalker[/draft]

I separated Tombstalker out a bit, getting to the “more important” cards in Future Sight first, because this card requires a bit of back story to showcase how it came to be a format staple.

Tombstalker can really thank Tarmogoyf, in a way, for getting it shoehorned into Legacy. Prior to the printing of Future Sight, there was a creature that everyone loved; a creature that saw play in most of the creature-dominated formats it was legal in. This creature was [card]Flametongue Kavu[/card], and to this day we all miss FTK.

Because of FTK’s nearly guaranteed 2-for-1, it was a common four-drop in many Legacy decks that were playing red. In fact, for some time, it was a legitimate reason to splash red in decks that weren’t naturally looking for the card. It dominated green decks, due to it killing off any number of Werebears, trading with Mongeese and Ravenous Baloths, and picking Birds and Elves off at will.

There was one creature, however, that absolutely hated FTK and all that it stood for. If you cast the Kavu, this creature just folded. The poor, unfortunate soul was [card]Phyrexian Negator[/card].

A staple of the “Suicide Black” archetype for its entirety, Negator was simply the biggest game you could get for a [card]Dark Ritual[/card]. Usually, you were fine with trading a land or two in the process of beating the snot out of your opponent with a turn 1 5/5. Of course, should said opponent make it to turn 4, you’re looking at losing your whole board, including big Negs, because the FTK represented 8 damage pointing at that Negator.

Prior to Tarmogoyf, this was the Suicide Black player’s greatest fear. For what its worth, Anwar Ahmad eschewed this fear and decided to fight fire with fire, splashing red into his Suicide build, and dubbed it “Red Death.” A Landstill slayer like few others, this deck met some success in the format during the pre-Flash era.

Red Death – Anwar Ahmad
[deck]4 Hypnotic Specter
4 Nantuko Shade
4 Phyrexian Negator
3 Rotting Giant
1 Wretched Anurid
4 Dark Ritual
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Chain Lightning
4 Duress
4 Hymn to Tourach
4 Sinkhole
7 Swamp
3 Badlands
3 Bloodstained Mire
4 Polluted Delta
4 Wasteland
Sideboard:
4 Dystopia
4 Engineered Plague
1 Darkblast
3 Umezawas Jitte
3 Cabal Therapy[/deck]

The concept was simple – use a combination of hand disruption and burn to clear the way for your undercosted fatties to smash through. It relied on a tempo game, accelerating its threats out via Dark Ritual, and then Hymning, Wastelanding, and Sinkholing to keep the opponent from being able to answer the threat. Anything that did slip through was incinerated on the spot.

In the post-Flash era, Anwar once again found success with the build – largely due to the absence of FTK in the new metagame. However, he rapidly found another natural predator of all things Negator – Tarmogoyf.

Once again, the Goyf reared its ugly head and invalidated an otherwise powerful creature. This time, the size of the Goyf, paired with its ability to come down early – slipping past the hand disruption of the B/r deck – allowed it to adequately defend against all of the major threats the Red Death deck could produce. It wasn’t afraid of a Negator, and could take a large number of permanents down with it. It was fine with trading for a Nantuko Shade, as it represented a significant swing in tempo for the Goyf player – it often required four or five mana sunk into the Shade just to trade. None of Red Death’s burn-based removal spells would remove the Goyf, unlike most of the former defensive creatures it had been trying to kill out of the way. It was exactly the kind of roadblock the Red Death player did not want to see, and it was everywhere.

Forced to abandon the deck or adapt, Anwar imparted the help of Dan Signorini, fellow Sui Black aficionado and brewer, to solve the issue. The result was Eva Green, an evolution of Suicide black which splashed green, rather than red.

Eva Green – Anwar Ahmad and Dan Signorini

[deck]4 Tarmogoyf
4 Nantuko Shade
4 Hypnotic Specter
4 Tombstalker
4 Dark Ritual
4 Thoughtseize
4 Hymn to Tourach
4 Sinkhole
4 Snuff Out
3 Seal of Primordium
4 Wasteland
4 Polluted Delta
4 Bloodstained Mire
3 Bayou
6 Swamp
Sideboard
4 Choke
4 Leyline of the Void
4 Engineered Plague
3 Umezawas Jitte[/deck]

Of course, many players lauded that one of the few decks that appealed to those players who were not playing Goyf now splashed specifically for that card, but that argument is neither here nor there. The real focus was on the tag team combo of Goyf and Tombstalker, which combined to make one of the most powerhouse duos of the era. While Goyf was the real replacement for Negator in this list, the addition of Tombstalker gave the deck a kind of reach that the Negator-less creaturebase otherwise lacked. While many games were devolving into a battle of Goyf-on-Goyf warfare, the Tombstalkers would simply come down on turn 6 or 7 and blow past the whole mess. Their imperviousness to Pernicious Deed would later become extremely relevant, as players adapted to the lower mana cost of the threat base in the format with cards like Deed and Engineered Explosives.

This article was not meant to be a Future Sight set review. However, the release of this set fundamentally changed the face of the format – to an extent that has seen no duplicate to date. When Future Sight was released, Legacy was in the midst of a combo summer (well, Spring) that altered the course of the format and of the game. Despite all expectations that the format would return to “normal” once the combo was banned, Future Sight had other things to say about that, and the reality was that nothing would be the same again.

The next Legacy Grand Prix would not be for nearly two years – 2008 was devoid of Legacy on the big stage – and during this time, significant metagame development would occur. The format had shifted to adapt to the presence of Tarmogoyf, as well as the addition of Tribal powerhouse sets from Lorwyn and Shadowmoor blocks, as well as a game changer from Shards of Alara. The modern face of Legacy started to emerge, and the antiquated decks of old were holding their white-knuckled grip on their position in the format. A two-card combo spiked the value of an old junk-rare (again), and another pair of cards has the format on lockdown.

In our next installment of the history of Legacy, we’ll bridge the gap from Columbus to Columbus, and bring the wayback machine into the modern era. Until then, may you never sleep on a chase rare, and remember – keep your stick on the ice!

Adam
@AdamNightmare

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