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Recurring Nightmares – Tychonicism

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Welcome back everyone, and thanks for reading. This week we’re going to continue our journey through the annals of Legacy, marching through the storied past of a format rife with history. Sit back, put your feet up, relax and enjoy the trip down memory lane.

Grand Prix, the first

When we left off, Big Arse II had hit the books, and Legacy was starting to take shape as a format of its own, breaking out of the shadow of Vintage, its former parent. It’s late 2004, and an announcement goes live on Wizards.com, announcing that the next year will feature not one, but TWO Legacy Grand Prix events, one in the US and one in Europe. Players across the globe are ecstatic at the idea of playing their niche format in an event on the big stage.

Of course, at the same time, the steady march of set releases continued, and we were graced with one of the most interesting blocks of all time – Ravnica. The multicolored set gave us a multitude of new toys to play with, but at the time, the community of eternal Magicians was focused on one very specific mono-colored gem: Flame Fusillade.

The innocuous Sorcery was a two-card combo with an old, forgotten gem from Alpha – Time Vault. At the time, the card read as follows:

Time Vault comes into play tapped.
Time Vault doesn’t untap during your untap step.
Skip your next turn: Untap Time Vault and put a time counter on it.
T, Remove all time counters from Time Vault: Take an extra turn after this one. Play this ability if only there’s a time counter on Time Vault.

For those who don’t see the interaction, your Time Vault gained additional text of “T: Deal one damage to target creature or player.” This meant that you could repeatedly skip your next turn to deal an arbitrarily large amount of damage to any number of targets. Certainly, your opponent would take many turns in a row, but since they’re dead…

Spoiled early in the season, Flame Fusillade was immediately identified as the broken combo card of the set. Its appearance overshadowed much of what we would eventually consider one of the most Legacy generous sets in the game. Many writers of the day clamored to find the most broken way to abuse the combo, which was thought to be the most powerful thing in the format. With the Grand Prix looming, the Hype machine got to work. In Vintage, the combo was assembled into a Gifts Ungiven package. In Legacy, this was much too slow, and in order to assemble the win as fast as possible, while slowing your opponent down simultaneously, it was put into – you guessed it – a Stax Shell.

Ravnica – Flame Vault, 2005

This deck was supposed to break the format. It was hailed as the best deck we’d ever seen, and people clamored to spend hundreds of dollars on playsets of Time Vaults, in order to complete the deck prior to the Grand Prix. Others had tested the deck, and were certain that it simply wasn’t as good as the hype. The debate continued well into the weeks leading up to the first US Legacy Grand Prix, Philly, in November of 2005.

Meanwhile, another small, but rapidly expanding group of players were testing a blue deck of another kind – Solidarity. I’ve covered the nuances of this deck before, but it was this period of time when players were really focusing on the deck as a legitimate contender, and learning to pilot High Tides through a broad field of opponents.

GP Philadelphia (12–13 November)
1. Jonathan Sonne – MonoR Goblins
2. Chris Pikula – BW Rogue Deadguy Ale: A Homebrew
3. Pasquale Ruggiero – R/W Rifter
4. Tom Smart – Goblins/W
5. Paul Serignese – Gamekeeper/Salvagers
6. Pat McGregor – Ugr Thresh
7. Ben Goodman – Ugw Thresh
8. Lam Phan – Ugw Thresh

Decklists can be found here: http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/events.aspx?x=mtgevent/gpphi05/welcomea

Dave Gearhart, piloting Solidarity, placed 9th on tiebreakers.

Time Vault – an Aside

We’ll get to the results, and their subsequent impact, in just a moment, but first I’d like to finish the discussion of Time Vault.

As you can see, there were zero Time Vaults in the top 8 of the Grand Prix. Ultimately, the hype was no more than that, and the deck was basically garbage – although many people maintained that it had game, largely to defend their investments, rather than any honest assessment of the cards themselves. The fact that the paragons of Eternal writing had spoken so highly of the deck, only to fail with it at the Grand Prix, led to two very important lines of thought from the community at the time.

1) The people writing about this deck suck at Magic. This cannot be ruled out. Even today, without results to back up their opinions, many writers are only taken at face value, and their lists are subject to intense scrutiny before being accepted as viable. This is less of an issue in the modern era of SCG Opens, where there are plenty of opportunities to prove yourself, but at the time when there were less than one “big event” per month, credibility was hard to come by.

2) The people writing about this deck were intentionally misleading their readers in order to garner some advantage. This accusation was a severe one, and it was tied in part to this deck, and in part to the same authors claiming the validity of UR Trix as a deck prior to the spoiling of Flame Fusillade. The insularity of the community was still persistent, and with the exposure Legacy gained by becoming a Grand Prix format, the amount of decks that “broke the format” pioneered by people unfamiliar with the way Legacy worked was overwhelming. Every other day someone with a Name stopped by to tell the message boards about the next Best Deck, and how they were going to win the Grand Prix with their brew. It felt insulting, frankly, and by the time this hype monster came about, the community had had enough.

In the end, all the hype was rather irrelevant, as the deck didn’t perform anywhere near expectation, and the prohibitive cost of a playset of Time Vaults meant that few players chose to risk playing the deck during the Grand Prix. The net result was little more than a blow to the credibility of some of the more visible voices in the Eternal writing scene, of which there were very few at the time. On the other hand, the combo was still seeing a great amount of play in Vintage, and ultimately WotC decided something needed to be done.

Time Vault text, 2004:

Time Vault
2
Artifact
Time Vault comes into play tapped.
Time Vault doesn’t untap during your untap step.
Skip your next turn: Untap Time Vault and put a time counter on it.
T, Remove all time counters from Time Vault: Take an extra turn after this one. Play this ability if only there’s a time counter on Time Vault.

Time Vault text, 2006
Time Vault comes into play tapped.
If Time Vault would become untapped, instead choose one — untap Time Vault and you skip your next turn; or Time Vault remains tapped.
T: Take an extra turn after this one.
http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtgcom/askwizards/0406
http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtgcom/daily/af127

During their quest to undo all of the Power-level errata on older cards, Wizards’ Rules Committee chose to manipulate the wording on Time Vault to maintain some semblance of the abilities while eliminating the combo with Flame Fusillade. Unfortunately, they chose a rather forceful and inelegant way to do so, and left the Vintage community in an uproar. The card went from a $100+ powerhouse to a $25 junk rare overnight, and people who had paid hundreds were pissed. Article after article went up on the major sites pleading for something to be done, and went largely unheard. The errata had been removed, but the wording had changed to something incomprehensible, and basically left the card useless.

The card remained largely untouched for the next two years, until the September Banned and Restricted list announcement in 2008, when the card was deemed Banned in Legacy, and Restricted in Vintage. At that time, the wording was returned to something resembling sanity, making it combo with Voltaic Key and Twiddle – the way it did when it was printed in Alpha. Since that time, it has become one of the main ways to win the game in Vintage, and returned to the combo-rific powerhouse it was during the Flame-Vault era.

Time Vault Text, 2008
Time Vault enters the battlefield tapped.
Time Vault doesn’t untap during your untap step.
If you would begin your turn while Time Vault is tapped, you may skip that turn instead. If you do, untap Time Vault.
T: Take an extra turn after this one.
http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/news/09012008
http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/other/092408

While this series of events seems only tangential to the history of Legacy, the ramifications of these decisions were integral to the way we address overpowered decks. This represented one of the first times that a card blew up in price, became part of a degenerate combo engine, and was soon banned in Legacy. It showed the players once again that investing into an old, hard to find rare – even when it could win you a lot of games in the short term – was a dangerous prospect, because there was absolutely nothing stopping the DCI from taking your new and shiny toy away at a moment’s notice.

Back to Philly

While Flame Vault turned out to be a dud, Threshold managed to maintain its grip on the format, putting three players into the top 8, although the event was taken down by Goblins. For what it’s worth, Goblins has played a major role in Legacy for as long as the format has been around, and nothing has really changed. The deck is fairly customizable and adaptable even within the Goblin tribe itself, and the deck has stuck around through even the most degenerate periods of the format.

Chris Pikula, the Meddling Mage himself, put up a second place finish with his Deadguy Ale deck, which was the first in a long line of disruptive B/x decks featuring Dark Confidant and discard spells. The grandfather of the Legacy Junk deck, Deadguy Ale was a staple of the format for a number of years after Philly. There is a type of player who loves them some Vindicate, Sinkhole, and Hymn to Tourach, and this deck was exactly what they wanted to be doing. The most interesting list in the top 8, to me at least, is Paul Serignese’s Gamekeeper deck – while the deck had certainly been around, it was not considered tier one by any means, but it had the power to be the only combo deck to make the top 8.

Lam Phan, for those not familiar with his name, is the Canadian behind “Canadian Thresh.” His work on the UGr version of Threshold, along with David Caplan, resulted in a string of top 8 finishes with a nearly untouched 75 across a number of years.

Dave Gearhart’s near-miss with Solidarity is still considered by the Legacy community to be one of the more heartbreaking tales of the format’s spotlight appearances. Had he made the single elimination rounds, it’s entirely possible that the next few months of Legacy would have looked much, much different, as the deck finally gained legitimacy despite many players’ disinclination at running the deck due to its complexity and volatility. Having a player like Dave, someone who had been a staple of the Legacy community from day one, make the top 8 would have leant some additional credibility to the work that had been done, as well, which was something very valuable that had been lost. Such is Magic and life, however, and it wasn’t meant to be.

Thinking about Grand Prix Philly has me feeling nostalgic. Here’s the most awesome deck no one ever got to play, brewed 10 minutes before decklists were turned in and piloted by Colin Chilbert:

Taking infinite turns is pretty awesome. Drawing your deck is pretty awesome. Man, I loved Turboland, but it is NOT viable anymore, at all. Still have my set of Korean Explorations, though.

On the Other Side of the Pond

While Philly was a success, Lille was a resounding victory for the format. Almost doubling the US Grand Prix’s attendance, the French event was a giant signal that Magic players want to play Legacy. The event was similar in metagame to GP Philly, as the few months between events did not represent a large metagame swing the way they would today. The top 8 of Lille was strikingly similar to that of Philadelphia, featuring nearly identical decks – although one lone Survival of the Fittest player managed to secure a top 8 birth, despite the decks relative non-success up until that point on the GP stage.

At the European Grand Prix, Landstill finally broke onto the main stage, as well, demonstrating that the control deck was actually as good as people had been saying for over a year. At the time of these events, Goblins, Landstill, and Threshold were considered the best decks by the masses, with Solidarity being a cult favorite of the format regulars who were “in the know.” To this day, I’m not positive the deck was actually as insane as it was made out to be, but it was fairly strong, for certain.

The title in Lille was claimed by Helmut Summersburger, who piloted a four color threshold build completely devoid of Swords to Plowshares. I distinctly recall the list being hailed as genius, as his lack of StP allowed him to name the card with Meddling Mage at zero risk to his own removal suite. Oh, the halcyon days of youth, when Meddling Mage was seeing maindeck play, and making Grand Prix finals (Solid run at London last week, Chris).

The next year went on, and the format continued as it had prior to Philly and Lille, with little tweaks and metagame decisions being harnessed and run with as the sets were released. Planar Chaos was released. Unwittingly, utter chaos was released along with it.

Flash. The entire story

As I mentioned before, this era of Magic was defined by a policy change at WotC to remove all of the Power-level errata on older cards, to make the functionality of the card better line up with the printed text. For many of these cards, this was a small change. Cloud of Faeries now untapped two lands if it entered play via Aether Vial, etc. One card, which had previously been dollar bin fodder, was altered in a much more serious way.

Flash

Prior to its errata, Flash was used (although never in a tournament setting) to put Academy Rector into play, immediately sacrifice it, and find a Yawgmoth’s Bargain. The power-level errata prevented this play by making the Rector go directly to the graveyard without ever entering play. Once this errata was removed, this play was legal again, although without Bargain legal in Legacy, it was thought to be safe. The team in charge of the safety check didn’t realize how wrong they were.

By using Protean Hulk rather than Academy Rector, you got to use Flash to tutor for any number of creature cards with total converted mana cost of 6 or less. The initial combo associated with this included 4 Disciple of the Vault, and a combination of Shifting Walls and Phyrexian Marauders that would result in lethal damage from Disciple triggers. This was a two card, instant speed kill that cost a mere two mana.

In the next evolution of the kill, the Hulk found Body Snatcher, Carrion Feeder, and Benevolent Bodyguard. The Feeder would off the Body Snatcher with its EtB trigger on the stack, reanimating the Hulk. (If you happened to draw a combo creature, the Body Snatcher let you discard it at this point.) The Feeder would then off the Hulk, getting Karmic Guide, which again returned the Hulk. The Feeder would off the Hulk again, getting Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. In the next step, you would use Kiki’s ability copying Karmic Guide, and retaining priority, you would feed the Kiki to Carrion Feeder. When the Kiki ability resolved – putting a copy of Karmic Guide (with haste) into play – the copy would reanimate the Kiki-Jiki. You could repeat this Kiki-Karmic loop ad nauseum, netting an infinite of 2/2 fliers with haste. You then attack.

I know. It’s kind of complicated. On the other hand, it goes to show you how incredibly complex and intricate this game can be.

The advantage of this kill mechanism was in its compactness. The entire combo only required five slots in the deck, which allowed plenty of space for protection. The disadvantage was the need to attack, which meant the combo was no longer instant speed. As the Flash itself was blue (and the only card you actually pay for in the entire combo), you were already in the best color to play the combo. The rest of the list would feature tutors like Mystical Tutor and Merchant Scroll, discard spells like Duress, and counters like Force of Will and Daze.

Normally, a deck like this would be well beyond the power level of the rest of the format, and be banned or nerfed in some other fashion before much damage was done. The issue here was the fact that this change in errata came a mere three weeks before the Grand Prix in Columbus in May 2007. Here we were, with a combo that invalidated enormous chunks of the format, with no time to do anything about it. Suddenly, the last two years of work were gone in a flash, and the Legacy community was outraged.

This was the second time that a spotlight had shown on the Legacy community. In the first, there was backlash due to the entire format being thrown out the window and replaced with something new. Three years later, with just enough time for that first impression to start dying down, the same thing happened again, and the results, I’m afraid, were basically the same.

The articles went up. The forums went wild. The mudslinging began. Legacy was no longer the open and interesting format it had been just a week ago. Now, you were left with two real, viable choices. Play Flash, or play Fish and try to beat it. Of course, the people who hadn’t been exposed to Legacy seemed to think that the sky wasn’t falling, and the deck wasn’t that good. Let the Grand Prix dictate how the situation should be handled. If it dominated, obviously there was a problem. Besides, Legacy was full of crybabies and xenophobes who didn’t listen to anyone who wasn’t part of the “in crowd.” If they were good enough at the format to be able to say when it was or wasn’t broken, why wouldn’t they be playing real formats? Why should anyone care what they think?

There was a lot of friction between the Legacy community and the rest of the Magic world at the time, and the people who were the major ambassadors of the format did very little to help ease that tension. Both sides of these debates were filled with strong personalities with even stronger opinions, and neither did very much to sway the other side from their own. Unfortunately, this situation caused any goodwill by those trying to promote the format to be undone, and brought the outside opinion of Legacy and its apologists right back to 2004. Just as the first time, it took years to undo the PR damage done during this period.

Three weeks. That’s all the time that we had to discover the combo, brew, and perfect our lists for the biggest event in the history of the format. With no idea what the metagame would look like, aside from the last few GPTs here and there. As the change was so close to the event, nearly the entire trial season was over, leaving just a handful of opportunities to even play the deck, let alone tune it, or try to beat it. Most people didn’t even have time to get the cards for it, since every copy of Flash suddenly vanished from every store both online and in person, as people hoarded sets to sell at the GP. This was well before the required sets were available on Magic Online, so even that testing was impossible. The lists people did show up with were unrefined, untuned, and largely untested, and it showed. Grand Prix Columbus was essentially a virgin format that somewhat resembled the old Legacy format, but was really a Vintage wolf in a Legacy sheep’s skin.

By the end of the event, Steve Sadin walked away with the trophy, after piloting Flash through two days. He was joined by two players in the top 8 playing the combo, which was by no means a show of domination. He claimed victory in the finals over ChannelFireball’s own Owen Turtenwald, playing – wait for it – Goblins, and featured a turn 2 kill in the third game to secure the win.

Sadin’s deck, designed by Billy Moreno, was without a doubt the best deck in the room. It was light years ahead of the rest of the builds in the event, featuring Counterbalance and Top in addition to the combo, to both protect itself from the hate as well as break open the mirror, and it also packed a transformational sideboard into Quirion Dryad beatdown.

With the Future Sight set release impending, and along with it two very specific and threatening cards – Pact of Negation and Summoner’s Pact – entering the format (and entering the Flash deck along with it), Wizards decided that the deck had to go. We never really got to experience Hulk Flash as it could have been with those cards included, basically giving it 12 free counterspells, 12 Hulks, and 12 Flashes. Given that additional time to develop, there is no doubt in my mind that Legacy would have become a 2 deck format, and Flash would have been completely and utterly dominant.

Despite the results of Columbus (immediately dubbed GP: Flash), the Legacy community still suffered public critique of its Chicken Little response to the change in the format. In the eyes of the rest of the greater Magic community, nothing really went wrong. Of course, I happened to be one of those Chicken Littles, and my personal opinion is that the DCI handled the situation as best they could, given the unfortunate timing. It’s a shame that one of the few Legacy GPs had to be wasted in that fashion, but at least the story is cool, right?

X-0wen becomes a pro. Billy Moreno gives Steve Sadin the best deck in the history of the format. Game three of the finals is over on turn 2. Nothing wrong with that, right?

http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtgcom/daily/bd279

http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtgcom/daily/af170

Once again, Wizards eventually does the right thing, and chooses to ban Flash in Legacy and restrict it in Vintage. All is right with the world, and the format goes back to where it was. We all live happily ever after.

Oh wait, Future Sight was just released? I seem to remember something important being in that set. I think if I try, I might be able to dredge it up from the memory banks somewhere…

Be sure to tune in next time as I walk you through the beginnings of modern Legacy – much of which takes place in the graveyard – and into today. We’re almost there folks, and I hope you’re enjoying the ride. Until then, go buy your mom some flowers, and remember – keep your stick on the ice!

Adam
@AdamNightmare

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