It’s been over half a year since Deathrite Shaman was banned, and it’s a whole new world. We have seen several metagame cycles since the ban, and at the current moment, things have settled into balance. Immediately following the banning, Sneak and Show and R/U/G Delver were the default best decks. Later on at the PT, Death and Taxes and U/B Shadow began to flex their wings. Immediately after that, Miracles and Grixis Control had a period of sustained dominance. Since then, the best deck has changed from week to week, and have included decks like Eldrazi Stompy, Grixis Delver, U/R Burn Delver, Moon Stompy, Eldrazi Post, ANT, Slow Depths, Dredge, and Elves.
It’s getting increasingly hard to make sense of the Legacy metagame, as it appears wide open. Still, I will attempt to do just that, and we’ll start with a snapshot of the Legacy winner’s metagame since GRN, including both paper and online results. Paper results are taken from top finishers of 8+ round events, and online results are taken from MTGO Challenges only.
|UR Burn Delver||22||0||22||3.7%|
|UR Wasteland Delver||5||0||5||0.8%|
|UR Arclight Delver||0||2||2||0.3%|
|UB JVP Shadow||0||2||2||0.3%|
|Noble BUG Delver||1||0||1||0.2%|
|Death and Taxes||21||7||28||4.8%|
|UB Antiquities War||2||0||2||0.3%|
|Sneak and Show||25||8||33||5.6%|
|Mono B Reanimator||1||0||1||0.2%|
Brainstorm decks make up 57.6% of the winner’s metagame, which is by far the lowest I have ever seen it since I started tracking metagame results in 2013. PT Champion Ari Lax had an observation concerning blue decks in general:
After watching a fair amount of Legacy at team events lately, I think playing traditional blue decks is just a bad idea. Without Deathrite Shaman, you get mana squeezed by degenerate decks and don't have them close to beat on card quanity or hate.
— Ari Lax (@armlx) February 17, 2019
So, what’s going on? Is the best card in Legacy even being played in the best decks? Legacy is more balanced than it has ever been, and it’s because the non-Brainstorm decks have access to more broken mana plays than the Brainstorm decks. Fundamentally, Brainstorm is most powerful during turns 3+ of the game as you will be able to craft your game plan based on what you have seen and shuffle away dead cards. But many of the non-Brainstorm decks are trying to put the pressure on as early as the first turn, and force the blue decks to have the answers immediately or risk falling so far behind that it’s difficult to recover. In effect, if you’re playing a fair Brainstorm deck, most of the time you are hoping that your early turn interaction lines up with what your opponent is doing. If it does, great. You end up in a better spot in the mid-game due to the power of Brainstorm. If not, then you risk falling too far behind where it’s very difficult to recover. In many ways, Legacy has become a turn-2 format. Let’s look at the breakdown of top performing decks.
- Fair Blue Decks
- Miracles 9.8%
- Grixis Delver 8.1%
- Grixis Control 6.5%
- U/R Burn Delver 3.7%
- U/B Shadow 2.2%
- U/W StoneBlade 2.0%
- Unfair Blue Decks
- Sneak and Show 5.6%
- ANT 4.9%
- Fair Non-Blue Decks
- Death and Taxes 4.8%
- Eldrazi Stompy 3.9%
- Eldrazi Post 3.4%
- Burn 2.2%
- Unfair Non-Blue Decks
- Slow Depths 4.2%
- Elves 3.1%
- Moon Stompy 3.1%
- B/R Reanimator 2.2%
If we look at the non-blue decks here, outside of Burn, every deck is attempting to secure a critical mana advantage in the early turns of the game. Death and Taxes has Aether Vial and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Chalice decks play Ancient Tomb and/or Mox Diamond in order to come out blazing in the first couple of turns of the game. Depths decks and B/R Reanimator attempt to make an unbeatable creature as early as the first turn of the game. Elves, the “fairest” of the bunch, still has access to the absolutely broken Gaea’s Cradle. Blue decks simply have no equivalent since the banning of Deathrite Shaman.
But not all hope is lost. If you’re a blue deck, I’d suggest playing as many 1-mana early interaction spells as possible, while still having a coherent plan for dealing with Chalice of the Void and to a lesser extent, Choke/Trinisphere. Spell Pierce and Thoughtseize are better than ever, and allow blue decks to navigate early turns without falling too far behind. There are plenty of flexible answers to Chalice like Abrade, Council’s Judgment, and Engineered Explosives, but they are generally mana inefficient. Still, it makes sense to pack at least 3-5 of these kinds of effects to be ready in post-board games. In addition, threats such as Gurmag Angler and Monastery Mentor are incredibly powerful and difficult for Chalice of the Void decks to answer.
Stoneforge Mystic is also seeing a bit of a resurgence, but while they are excellent against Chalice of the Void, I’m a bit hesitant as they are somewhat anemic against artifact hate and discard. I would avoid decks that play too fair, e.g. Grixis Control, as it relies on Hymn for card advantage and often just ends up too far behind for Hymn to Tourach to really matter.
Finally, blue decks that pack the full playset of Thoughtseize are particularly interesting to me right now. ANT is inherently favored against almost every non-Chalice of the Void deck, and gets to pack upwards of 10 answers to the pesky artifact. Grixis Phoenix is an up-and-coming deck that gets to use Dark Ritual and Buried Alive to set up three quick Arclight Phoenixes, which should be enough to win almost any reasonable board state. Finally, Death’s Shadow variants are seeing a bit of a resurgence as well as they have access to the best 1-mana plays that are left in blue’s arsenal. But Shadow also has a number of structural weaknesses against Swords to Plowshares, True-Name Nemesis, Baleful Strix, and Dark Depths, which will need to be addressed. Delver of Secrets is not particularly great in the deck as there are no Bolts, but if you cut Delver then you are going to have fewer good 1-mana plays.
All in all, Legacy is in the most diverse place it has been since the printing of Delver of Secrets, and possibly ever. I expect we will look back on this time as an exciting era of Legacy where you can really play anything. Just be ready to interact as early as possible if you wish to continue slinging the best card in Legacy.