I’ve been a Legacy fan for many years, and it’s typically a format that’s slow to change. That said, Legacy has undergone some dramatic shakeups in the last two years. From the printing of Leovold, Emissary of Trest to the banning of Sensei’s Divining Top, and—most recently—the exit of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe, Legacy players have been forced to adapt to a lot quite quickly.
So what does the format look like now that the dust has settled? My teammates and I dedicated three solid weeks of Pro Tour preparation to finding out.
The number of combos available in Legacy is almost endless. But not all combos are created equal, and the banning of Gitaxian Probe was a big hit to some of them.
Storm Combo is not that great right now, and should be left to the experts who have played it for years. If you’re looking to choose a new Legacy deck, I’d advise you to look elsewhere.
In my mind, there are two top-tier combo decks: Reanimator and Sneak and Show.
Reanimator is the best game 1 deck in the format, and its good draws cut through just about anything, like a hot knife through butter. The problem is, there’s no reliable plan for fighting through sideboard hate. For example, if your opponent is going to have solid draws with a Surgical Extraction and a Snapcaster Mage in both of the sideboard games, you’re going to have a really hard time closing out the match.
Still, if you take a powerful and explosive deck that usually wins game 1, you don’t always need a great plan for the sideboarded games. You just have to hope to somehow scrape out one of the two. You could have a great draw with Chancellor of the Annex when you’re on the play, or your opponent could mulligan or stumble in one of the sideboarded games—it doesn’t take much.
I advise all Legacy players to take Reanimator very, very seriously. Surgical Extraction, Grafdigger’s Cage, Pithing Needle, Flusterstorm, and Containment Priest should be ubiquitous sideboard cards for any decks that can support them. If you have Snapcaster Mages, then three Surgical Extractions is a good baseline. If you don’t, then I recommend four or five dedicated graveyard hate cards, preferably ones that cost 1 mana or less.
Sneak and Show, while slower than Reanimator, is a great deck because of its consistency and resilience. It can win games where it only resolves a single spell (Show and Tell or Sneak Attack), and there aren’t auto-win sideboard cards against it. Containment Priest is probably the best one, but Sneak and Show has ways to work around it.
Delver of Secrets has been the face of Legacy for a long time. Delver decks are still fine, but with Deathrite Shaman banned, they’re no longer the gold standard for “fair decks.” Moreover, there’s not much agreement about the best way to build them.
The one version of Delver that you should familiarize yourself with is Temur Delver. This is a blast from the past that uses Nimble Mongoose as a resilient threat, and Stifle and Wasteland to mana screw the opponent. Temur Delver is very much about punking people out and stealing wins, and generally performs much better when it’s on the play than on the draw.
A couple other versions worth mentioning are Jeskai Delver with Stoneforge Mystic—another throwback deck that’s focused on winning creature mirrors, and U/R Delver—which is often heavier on burn, and can play Price of Progress, which is incredibly punishing for many archetypes.
Finally, there’s Grixis Delver. Part of me wants to say that Grixis is the best version of Delver, but that feels like an irresponsible claim when there’s so little agreement on how it should be built. The cards that you’ll always see are Delver of Secrets, Gurmag Angler, Brainstorm, Ponder, Lightning Bolt, Daze, Force of Will, and Wasteland. Past that, Grixis players can take their pick from Bomat Courier, Grim Lavamancer, Young Pyromancer, and True-Name Nemesis to round out the creature suite. Some will play Thoughtseize as additional disruption, and others will pick Spell Pierce or Stifle.
Legacy is healthy and balanced right now. Still, if someone was to ask me point blank for the “best deck,” my answer would be Eldrazi Stompy. It was popular and successful at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, and I was very close to choosing it myself.
Christophe Gregoir, Top 4 at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary
I can point to two things that make Eldrazi great. The first is Chalice of the Void, which is a card most fair decks and combo decks simply fold to. Chalice might be the most powerful single card in the format, but requires a lot of concessions in deck building to support it. You can’t play 1 mana spells of your own, and you want enough fast mana to reliably cast the Chalice on turn 1. Eldrazi is the least-gimmicky of the Chalice decks.
The second great thing about Eldrazi is the enormous built-in advantage it gets from its mana base. For starters, having lands that produce more than 1 mana is absurd. It gives you more explosive draws, and allows you to operate on a lower number of resources when you need to. Second, value-lands like Wasteland, Mishra’s Factory, and Karakas can put you over the top in close games. Finally, Eye of Ugin represents late game inevitability that gives control decks a major headache.
But I didn’t choose Eldrazi for the Pro Tour. Instead, I went with Grixis Control, and loved it. Here’s the list I used.
Grixis is slow, but its ability to dismantle opposing decks is remarkable. Outside of Brainstorm and Ponder, nearly every card generates two-for-one card advantage. Kolaghan’s Command solves a lot of problems for this type of deck (Chalice of the Void being a big one), and the Snapcaster Mage-plus-Kolaghan’s Command engine is as strong in Legacy as it is in Modern.
One of the important decision points in building a fair Legacy deck is whether or not you’re willing to go deep enough into black to support double-black casting costs. Delver decks can’t easily do it, since they want all of their lands to produce blue mana. Even for Grixis and Sultai, the impact on your mana base is a big cost. But getting access to Hymn to Tourach, Liliana, the Last Hope, and Marsh Casualties is also major payoff. These are cards that, in the proper matchups, skyrocket your chances of winning whenever you’re able to put them onto the stack.
Grixis was actually the most popular Legacy archetype at the Pro Tour, but I believe that was a bit of an anomaly. It’s a great deck, but its slow speed and lack of easy wins will make it an intimidating choice for someone just getting into the format.
The other important control deck in Legacy is Miracles. In some ways it’s a shadow of its former self now that Sensei’s Divining Top is banned. In others, it remains a powerful and consistent deck with a great plan for beating most opponents. My teammate Andrew Cuneo settled on U/W Miracles for the Pro Tour.
The cards you’ll always see in Miracles are Brainstorm, Ponder, Portent, Terminus, Swords to Plowshares, Snapcaster Mage, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Force of Will, and lots of basic lands. You should also be prepared for them to have a way to punish nonbasic lands—usually Back to Basics or Blood Moon—and permanents that generate long-term advantage like Search for Azcanta or Counterbalance (which is still remarkably annoying, even without Top).
Death and Taxes
Death and Taxes, like Eldrazi, is a non-blue creature deck that gives a major headache to everybody that’s trying to smooth their draws with Brainstorm and Ponder (which, by the way, is just about everyone).
Death and Taxes
Allen Wu, 1st place at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary
Death and Taxes doesn’t look like much on paper, and it’s chronically underestimated. But the combination of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Karakas, and other disruptive creatures is very hard for combo decks to fight through. Swords to Plowshares and the Stoneforge Mystic package give D&T a lot of game against fair decks. Finally, there are a lot of tricks involving Aether Vial, Flickerwisp, and Recruiter of the Guard that might not be obvious the first time you look at the deck, but that expert players can leverage quite well.
A Diverse Format
Although I covered a lot of ground in this article, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Legacy. There are Marit Lage decks, Blood Moon decks, Cloudpost decks, Life from the Loam decks, and home brews that exist in any combination of two or three colors.
The best way to approach Legacy is not to focus on beating particular decks, but to master whatever deck you choose for yourself, and be prepared to face the unexpected.
Legacy is usually slow to change. A lot of the decks that are around today have been around for a long time. The two relative newcomers to focus on are Eldrazi and Grixis. (They’ve been around too, but not at this level of popularity.) There’s a good chance that cards that excel against these decks are going to be at their relative best right now.
Against Eldrazi, this means cards that cost more than 1 mana and are strong against ground creatures. Stoneforge Mystic, Death’s Shadow, and Tarmogoyf are stone-cold killers against Eldrazi, which doesn’t play much removal, and lacks good ways of punching through larger creatures. Ensnaring Bridge and Moat are also great (you may have noticed an out-of-place-looking Ensnaring Bridge in my Grixis sideboard). Finally, cards that punish nonbasic lands like Back to Basics, Blood Moon, Price of Progress, and even Wasteland are at relative highs in terms of value.
The more normal your game plan, the better Grixis Control is going to be against you. Therefore, you don’t want to look toward creatures and removal spells—you want to look towards permanents that generate long-term value like Sylvan Library and Search for Azcanta, or ones that use the graveyard like Life from the Loam and Punishing Fire.
I hope this has given you some food for thought about your next moves in Legacy. It’s a format I absolutely love, and I’m thrilled with the balance and possibilities that exist today. Legacy is a blast to play right now, and I’m hopeful that it will have a bright future.