Hello everybody, I’m here for a little history lesson today. Adam Barnello wrote a very enjoyable series a few years back on the history of Legacy, and I’d like to pick up right where he left off, with the banning of Survival of the Fittest and the unbanning of Time Spiral in late 2010. My goal for this series is to reminisce about times past, as well as enlighten newcomers to Legacy about the development of one of the most intricate and skill intensive formats in Magic.
2011 was a tumultuous year for Legacy, with some of the most powerful printings and mechanics of all time. Wizards has repeatedly found “free spells” to be a broken mechanic, and New Phyrexia is the last time we saw free spells on that scale.
Innistrad was no slouch either, delivering format staples that still resonate in today’s Legacy. In addition, the release of the Commander product was the first time that we saw cards printed that were legal for Eternal formats, but not Standard. This would later have major repercussions as Wizards began to use some of these supplemental products as a way of introducing cards to older formats. Finally, 2011 was the first year that the SCG Open circuit was in full swing, with a whopping 29 Legacy Opens. The fact that competitive grinders had a reason to play Legacy now meant that the format got a lot more attention, and the streaming of the Open Series definitely spurred on the growth of the format.
Because I’m such a numbers guy, I simply couldn’t resist. Below is a table of all of the decks that either won an Open or Top 8’d a Legacy Grand Prix in 2011.
As some bonus data, here is Jesse Hatfield’s chart of the evolving 2011 SCG Open Metagame.
December 2010 – May 2011: The Time of the Tide
Sets released: Mirrodin Besieged
Cards unbanned: Time Spiral
Cards banned: Survival of the Fittest
Overall, the 2011 Legacy metagame was diverse and interesting. The early part of the year saw some dominance on the Open circuit by the Hatfield brothers as they each claimed a trophy in the early months with Spring Tide. A lot of the early development of the deck was made by Anwar Ahmad, and he simply lent the deck to Alix in NJ who managed to pick up a trophy.
The deck was excellent at making land drops, sculpting its hand and then initiating a counter war on turn 4. The few decks that could fight on the stack on turn 4 couldn’t outdraw Spiral Tide by turn 8+ because the Spiral Tide player could comfortably sit back, make land drops, and Meditate. Also, by running Merchant Scroll, High Tide effectively had 8+ Force of Wills for the combo decks. Furthermore, it also did well against the primary non-blue deck of the format, Junk (Abzan). Those decks often packed 8 discard spells, but never put up enough pressure or other interaction to beat Spiral Tide’s consistent cantrip draw engine. Finally, Cunning Wish gave the deck a variety of answers to troublesome permanents like Counterbalance.
Spiral Tide by Jesse Hatfield
1st at SCG Atlanta – April 2011
Another prominent deck from early 2011 was 4c CounterTop a.k.a. Supreme Blue. These decks were the precursors to the Miracles decks of today as they featured the CounterTop soft lock, but instead of closing the games out with Entreat the Angels, they typically relied on one of the best “blue” creatures ever printed, Tarmogoyf.
4c CounterTop by Ben Wienburg
1st at SCG Indianapolis – February 2011
Typically, these types of decks played some board control elements (Swords to Plowshares, Grim Lavamancer), and then tried to set up a CounterTop soft lock. Once the lock was engaged, they could leverage Tarmogoyf to quickly close out games. While these decks have fallen out of favor, they are an important evolution in the CounterTop macro-archetype as they demonstrated how potent the combination could be when most Legacy decks were constrained to 1- and 2-casting costs.
CounterTop did fall out of favor during the Mental Misstep era as Sensei’s Divining Top was an easy target. These decks couldn’t really play too many copies of Mental Misstep as they already had a variety of 1-drops that they needed to play to control the board.
May 2011-September 2011: Mental Misstep Mayhem
Sets released: New Phyrexia, Commander, M12
Stone Blade, aided by the printing of Batterskull in May, flexed its muscles for the first time as a deck to beat. Show and Tell also started putting up real finishes with Hive Mind and rearing its ugly head, even before the days of Griselbrand. Most of all though, 2011 was the year of Mental Misstep. Although it was legal for less than half the year, Mental Misstep defined Legacy for the period in which it was legal.
It was rumored that Mental Misstep was developed as a way to counteract the blue decks in Legacy, by allowing other colors to play a card that gave free interaction against some of the more degenerate decks in the format.
Whatever R&D’s original intentions, the card quickly became a 4-of in almost every blue deck and saw play in many non-blue decks as well. The card swiftly got the axe as Wizards once again realized the power of “free.” Mental Misstep began to push out many of the previous tier 1 archetypes as decks that relied on 1-drops were thwarted by a paltry cost of 2 life. Non-blue creature-based decks like Zoo and Goblins began their steep decline as they struggled to compete with free interaction, as well as the increase in degeneracy. Decks like Hive Mind began to thrive as they could rely on the free counterspell to buy time, while not being too affected by it—all they needed to do to win was resolve a 3-mana sorcery.
The American GP trophy was claimed by James Rynkiewicz and the European GP trophy was by Pierre Sommen. Both played Bant decks that were based around light permission suites and undercosted versatile creatures such as Stoneforge Mystic and Knight of the Reliquary. Both decks relied on Knight of the Reliquary to go over the top of their opponents, as it was essentially unbeatable on the ground and had the built-in functionality of being able to Wasteland an opponent out of the game singlehandedly. Let’s take a closer look at the first of the two GPs, GP Providence.
The Top 8 of the 1,100-player event consisted of:
James Rynkiewicz – Bant
Bryan Eleyet – Hive Mind
Reid Duke – NO RUG
PV – BUG Landstill
Wilson Hunter – UR Painter
John Kubilis – Zoo
Alex Majlaton – Affinity, I mean Merfolk
Owen Turtenwald – UW StoneBlade
This Top 8 was incredible. While Legacy was more fleshed out than it had been in the past, the fact that these seasoned Magic players were able to make it to the top is telling of the number one rule in Legacy: “Play what you know.” Many of these players took a spin on some popular established archetypes, or in the case of Reid, invented his own archetype. NO Bant was a deck, but Reid’s innovative take allowed him to play the powerful aggro-combo-control deck that makes life very difficult for opponents as it has so many avenues to victory.
As an interesting side note, the printing of the Infect creatures in New Phyrexia technically allowed for current Legacy Infect to be played as all of that deck’s staples were in New Phyrexia or earlier. It’s interesting to see that it took about three years to catch on. It makes me wonder what other possibilities might be lurking out there in the Legacy card pool.
Although James won the tournament over Bryan in the finals, Bryan’s was really the deck of the tournament.
Hive Mind by Bryan Eleyet
The deck generally won one of two ways: getting Emrakul into play as early as turn 2, or getting a Hive Mind into play, either via hardcasting thanks to Sol lands and Grim Monolith, or via Show and Tell. Then, it could cast a red or green pact and force the opponent to copy the Pact and lose on their next upkeep. The deck was very fast, decently consistent and extremely difficult to interact with. It had been doing very well on Magic Online for a while, but most people still didn’t know about it. After breaking out in Providence, Hive Mind went on to do very well in the Open Series circuit, prompting calls for a Show and Tell ban for the very first time. Even after the banning of Mental Misstep, Hive Mind continued to have significant showings as it was still a very degenerate, fast combo deck.
Merfolk by Alex Majlaton
While I question Alex’s commitment to Sparklemotion, I mean Legacy, it is undeniable that Merfolk was one of the most played decks throughout 2011. The deck was low to the ground, fast and generally advantaged against most blue fair decks of the era. Giant unblockable, uncounterable and instant-speed fish were very difficult to race, and the deck also had just enough tools to fight combo. Modern day Merfolk does look significantly different now, as most list have been trimming on Wastelands and cutting Daze in order to play Cavern of Souls and the all-powerful Chalice of the Void. Merfolk is actually one of my favorite decks right now, and it will be interesting to see how much these new lists catch on and carry the mantle of their predecessors.
September 2011-February 2012: The Rise of RUG Delver
Sets released: Innistrad
Cards banned: Mental Misstep
R&D quickly corrected their mental misstep and we were on to the next era of Legacy that would more or less last a year until the printing of Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay in Return to Ravnica. RUG Delver, Stone Blade, and Maverick would quickly rise to the top tables and be the decks to beat starting with the release of Innistrad. The printing of Delver of Secrets was one of the very last nails in the coffin for aggro decks like Zoo. Why play Wild Nacatl when you can play the same card, in a better color, and with flying?
RUG Delver, in my opinion, became the default deck to beat and gave nightmares to all that stood in its path. The deck was alarmingly consistent, and had the tools to beat all of its “bad” matchups just by having a plethora of free wins built into Stifle + Wasteland. The earliest version of RUG Delver that I could find was by from Ciro Bonaventura and Ondrej Strasky (sound familiar? He was only 16 back then!) from GP Amsterdam.
RUG Delver by Ondrej Strasky
Other players before them had played similar RUG tempo lists, but theirs was the first to include the Holy Trinity of Delver of Secrets, Nimble Mongoose, and Tarmogoyf. The deck was low to the ground and had a great ability to outdraw opponents with its minimalistic 14 land mana base, and had enough reach to close out games. The deck truly was a work of art, and the fact that it is still putting up results today in a MUCH tougher metagame speaks volumes of its power. Finally, there is one last deck I’d like to highlight.
Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT) by Elie Pichon
Storm variants had been around for some time, but Innistrad’s Past in Flames was a hallmark printing for the archetype that began to replace other storm engines like Ill-Gotten Gains. Past in Flames had a number of upsides compared to previous storm engines.
First, it generally only required a couple rituals to “go off.” A typical sequence would be Dark Ritual (BBB), Cabal Ritual (BBBBBB), Infernal Tutor and while holding priority crack LED (BBBBRRR), find Past in Flames, cast Past in Flames (BBB), Dark Ritual (BBBBB), Cabal Ritual (BBBBBBBB), Infernal Tutor (BBBBBB), Infernal Tutor (BBBB), Tendrils of Agony.
Second, it allowed the deck a variety of options for fighting Force of Will. If you could cast Past in Flames twice in the same turn, the opponent would generally need additional countermagic to be able to stop you from winning. Finally, it was better against aggro decks because you didn’t need to use your life total at all.
To a lesser extent, Gitaxian Probe was also a very important printing from New Phyrexia that gave the deck an increased level of consistency, while also informing the storm player of which counterspells he’d need to beat. The one-two punch combination with Cabal Therapy was no laughing matter either, and you still see that combination today, both in storm decks as well as Grixis decks sporting Young Pyromancer.
That’s all for my deep-dive into 2011 Legacy. I truly enjoyed some of the research that went into this article, and it’s always exciting to relive a blast from the past. 2011 was a watershed year for the format, and you can point back to many of the emerging archetypes of 2011 as the ancestors of the decks that we see today. Modern Legacy wouldn’t be the same without Delver of Secrets and neither would I. As always, let me know what you thought in the comments!