In just a few days, I’m going to Grand Prix Santa Clara. No player on the team (I’m playing with Ben Stark and Eric Froehlich) is a Legacy specialist, so it fell to one of us to learn and play it. Since I don’t really like playing Modern and Standard is a bit boring right now, I volunteered as tribute.
Throughout my career, I’ve played in high-level Legacy events—several GPs and Team Worlds—so I’m not exactly clueless, but it’s been a long time since I’ve played the format. Last time I played Legacy, Dig Through Time didn’t exist—it has since been printed and subsequently banned. I also played Sensei’s Divining Top in all of my decks. So, I figured I needed a refresher course, and for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been playing Legacy on Magic Online. While I haven’t actually figured out what I’m playing yet, I’ve at least learned, or relearned, a bit about the format.
Since I figure a lot of people are going to be in the same spot I am—designated the “Legacy player” even though they don’t normally play Legacy—I decided to write this guide. The goal here is not to go in depth about Legacy and its decks, or to teach you how to play a Legacy deck perfectly. It’s simply to highlight some things that you might not be aware of if you’re a Standard or a Modern player who ends up playing Legacy for your team.
If you’re one of those players, here are some tips to navigating Legacy:
Be Mindful of Wasteland
In Standard, your mana is usually safe. In Legacy, it’s not, because of Wasteland. You cannot operate under the assumption that because you have access to a certain amount of mana (and especially colored mana), you will again the following turn. This means that you have to avoid fetching a certain land until you need to use it. For example, if you fetch your Underground Sea before you need black mana, then it can get Wastelanded and you might not have any more black mana in your deck. Sometimes, it means that you have to cast a spell that would be your second choice, just because you only have one colored source and if your colored source is Wastelanded, then that spell will be stranded in your hand.
It also means that you have to tap your mana in a way that Wasteland doesn’t disrupt you too much. For example, imagine that you have a Spell Pierce in hand, and you’re going to tap 2 mana to play Young Pyromancer. Your board is:
In this spot, if you tap Island and Volcanic to cast Pyromancer, then you’ll leave Underground Sea up for Spell Pierce. If your opponent Wastelands you, they can deny you that Spell Pierce mana. Therefore, it’s better to tap both dual lands, and pass with Island untapped. You represent fewer spells, but your Spell Pierce is safe.
In this spot, you should cast Pyromancer, tapping Volcanic Island and Underground Sea (even ignoring the fact that Volcanic represents Lightning Bolt). This is because your most attractive Wasteland target here is the Underground Sea (it’s your only source of black, whereas red is redundant), so if you leave Underground Sea untapped, your opponent can deprive you of black mana and stop your Spell Pierce. If you leave Volcanic Island untapped, then they can only do one of those things.
Read (But Really Read) the Card
The card pool in Standard hovers around one- or two-thousand. In Legacy, it’s around fifteen-thousand. Not only can you play almost every card ever printed in a normal set, you can also play cards from supplemental sets that Standard and Modern players might never have heard of, such as Commander and Conspiracy. In Legacy, it’s possible for someone to play a card you never even knew existed. When they play that card, read it, and make sure you understand it completely before you move on.
This happened to me on Magic Online a couple of days ago. My opponent played Leovold, Emissary of Trest, a card that did not exist last time I played Legacy, but is prominent enough that I knew about it.
I then played Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I didn’t want to Brainstorm, because I’d draw no cards. I also didn’t want to bounce anything, because my opponent would draw a card from Leovold’s ability. So I used the fateseal ability on my opponent. Then they drew a card.
It turns out that Leovold’s ability also works when you target them. Huh, I never knew. Of course, I could have avoided my mistake by just reading the card completely and then targeting myself, but I assumed I knew what it did, because I always know what cards do in formats that I play (or, well, most of the time).
Another opponent played a card called Palace Jailer. It said “when it enters the battlefield, you become the Monarch.” No other explanation whatsoever. That sounded like something from Hearthstone: “Replace your hero with Lord Jaraxxus.” What’s a Lord Jaraxxus? I don’t know. Is it better than being the Monarch?
So, I went to Google and found exactly what the “Monarch” was. At the GP, you don’t have access to Google, but you have access to judges—use them. Every time your opponent plays a card you haven’t seen before, or a card you aren’t absolutely sure of, just read it thoroughly. Then, if you still don’t understand it, call a judge. Some old rules texts can be very confusing, and some aren’t even the real text anymore—there’s no shame whatsoever in asking a judge for help.
Hold Lands if You’re Playing a Blue Deck
In most formats, we’re used to holding one extra land in hand in the midgame, and sometimes we hold more when we get to the late game. In Legacy, due to the presence of Brainstorm, Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Hymn to Tourach, we want to start this process much sooner. Several Legacy decks that play those cards operate with a small number of lands in play, and are better served by shuffling away the excess ones rather than playing them.
Take, for example, this Delver deck from TEAGANTIME:
With the exception of 1 True Name Nemesis and 3 Young Pyromancers, anything in this deck can be cast for 1 mana, so it simply doesn’t have many uses for lands in the mid- to late-game, and most of the time you want to start holding them very early for Brainstorm. In the Delver deck I was playing I had no True-Name Nemesis, so I often just didn’t play a third land until I drew a Brainstorm and had to crack a fetchland to shuffle. Some games would end on turn 8 and I’d still only have two lands in play and two more in hand.
There are some downsides to not playing your lands, such as if you draw Brainstorm into Ponder all in the same turn, but I’ve found that the pros of holding the lands in your hand outweigh the cons most of the time in those blue decks.
Be Mindful of Cabal Therapy
Cabal Therapy is heavily played in Legacy, and you should play slightly differently because of that. Given that it’s almost always played in decks with Gitaxian Probe or cheap creatures, it’s easy for an opponent to snipe away any duplicates you might have, so you should keep that in mind.
Imagine, for example, that you’re playing against Storm, which is a deck with Gitaxian Probe and Cabal Therapy. On turn 1, your hand is 2 Ponders and a Preordain. In this spot, you should always lead with the Ponder since you cannot afford to have two of the same card in hand. If your hand is 2 Preordains and a Ponder, however, then you should lead with the Preordain.
Mulligan Aggressively Against Combo Decks
Combo decks in Legacy are really, really fast—think Griselbrand/Goryo’s Vengeance for Modern except they always start with the nuts. There are decks like Belcher and B/R Reanimator that will kill you (or effectively kill you, in the case of the Reanimator deck) turn 1 or 2 almost every time if unopposed. There is a lot of cheap disruption in the format, which is why those decks aren’t broken, but you must have the disruption in your opening hand to be able to win.
Take, for example, this hand:
This is a perfectly serviceable hand against another fair deck, but if you’re on the draw post-sideboard against a B/R Reanimator deck, you can’t keep it. Your deck will have Force of Will, Surgical Extraction, Flusterstorm, Spell Pierce, Daze, and potentially discard spells in it—you need to have one of those cards in your opener. You can’t just “hope to draw them” because in a lot of the games, you will not have time to draw them before you die.
Sideboard Out Force of Will
One of the quirks of Legacy is that Force of Will is not a good card, but a necessary evil. There are decks that will kill you turn 1-2 almost every time if you don’t have it, so you need to have it, but you should feel very comfortable siding it out against most of the decks that can’t do that, because it’s just not a good card.
Force of Will comes with a heavy cost. Not only do you need another blue card (and a life point), but you also need to have Force of Will in hand when they cast the spell you want to counter. It’s a horrible topdeck, and it’s horrible against discard. For Force of Will to be worth it, you have to be countering something really good. If you’re countering a Goblin Charbelcher, an Infernal Tutor or a Sneak Attack, then it’s worth the hassle, because those cards will just kill you if they resolve. But if you’re playing against a fair deck, then you don’t want Force of Wills in your deck. Sometimes you trim two, sometimes you go down to zero.
Save Your Fetchlands
In Modern, fetchlands are mana fixers that happen to thin your deck a tiny amount. Most of the time, if you don’t want to draw a land, you should just fetch first, as to lower the number of lands in your deck. In Legacy, fetchlands are a lot more powerful, and should be saved until you can get something out of the shuffling.
Their best combo is Brainstorm and cards that work like it, such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Sylvan Library, but there are many other reasons to conserve fetchlands. If you have a card like Delver of Secrets or Counterbalance, for example, you can look at the top card of your library and shuffle it before you draw. Even if your deck has no cards that work with fetches, your opponent could play Deathrite Shaman and use that land from your graveyard.
Imagine, for example, the following Sneak and Show hand:
You don’t want to draw lands, so your inclination might be to fetch on turn 1 to play Preordain. In Legacy, this would be wrong—you should lead with Island, because if you draw a Brainstorm or a Ponder, you want to have access to the shuffle effect (and it also insulates you from Wasteland without you having to fetch a basic right now, but the Brainstorm is the main point).
That’s what I have for today! I hope it was useful for all of those poor souls who got stuck with Legacy, and see you in Santa Clara!