For this two-part article series, I’ll walk through today’s Legacy metagame, and my thoughts on where I see this format going forward. Instead of looking at metagame figures this time, I surveyed some of Legacy’s brightest minds. For each of them, I asked them to identify the Top 5 decks in the format. I received a variety of different responses, with some players classifying “Delver” as a macro-archetype, and some players going more into specifics.
|Daryl Ayers||Miracles||Lands||Death and Taxes||B/U/G Delver||Sneak and Show|
|Brian Braun-Duin||Mentor Miracles||B/U/G Delver||Death and Taxes||Lands||B/R Reanimator|
|Phil Braverman||Mentor Miracles||BUG Delver||B/U/G Midrange/Control||Lands||Legends Miracles|
|Angelo Cadei||4C Snapcaster Delver||Predict Miracles||OmniTell||Lands||Death and Taxes|
|Reid Duke||Miracles||Sneak and Show||Delver||Lands||Death and Taxes|
|Caleb Durward||Miracles||B/U/G Delver||Grixis Delver||Death and Taxes||ANT|
|Ben Friedman||Miracles||Delver||Lands||Death and Taxes||Sneak and Show|
|Bob Huang||Miracles||Delver||Sneak and Show||Death and Taxes||Food Chain|
|Wilson Hunter||Mentor Miracles||B/U/G Delver||B/U/G Midrange/Control||Lands||Legends Miracles|
|Julian Knab||Miracles||Sneak and Show||Lands||ANT||Delver|
|Dave Long||Miracles||B/U/G Delver||Grixis Delver||Death and Taxes||B/U/G Midrange|
|Joe Lossett||Miracles||Sneak and Show||Lands||Grixis Delver||B/U/G Midrange|
|Tom Ross||4C Snapcaster Delver||Miracles||Eldrazi||Infect||B/R Reanimator|
|Dan Signorini||Delver||Miracles||Death and Taxes||Lands||B/U/G Midrange|
|Rodrigo Togores||Miracles||4C Loam||Grixis Delver||B/U/G Delver||Elves|
|Jarvis Yu||Miracles||B/U/G Delver||Sneak and Show||Death and Taxes||Lands|
For people known to favor a certain archetype in their top 5, I marked them in green. It’s interesting to me that Dave, Julian and Rodrigo all chose to exclude their deck choice from their own ranking. Perhaps the grass is greener on the other side?
Here’s the breakdown of the consensus Top 5 archetypes:
- Miracles—13 first-place votes, 3 second-place votes (for non-Legend Miracles), and 2 fifth-place votes (for Legends Miracles).
- Delver Decks—3 first-place votes, 8 second-place votes, 4 third-place votes, 3 fourth-place votes, and 1 fifth-place vote. Of the bunch, B/U/G Delver was considered the best.
- Lands—1 second-place vote, 3 third-place votes, 6 fourth-place votes, and 1 fifth-place vote.
- Show and Tell—3 second-place votes, 3 third-place votes, and 2 fifth-place votes.
- Death and Taxes—3 third-place votes, 5 fourth-place votes and 2 fifth-place votes.
Honorable Mention: B/U/G Midrange
Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Miracles has been the best deck since the Dig Through Time banning, and has been a top tier deck since people figured out that they could play 4 Ponders. The main strengths of the deck are its flexibility, power level, and card selection. For my analysis, I’m going to take MzFroste’s (Topher Stitson) list that won the latest Legacy Challenge:
Flexibility – The deck can be built a number of different ways, whether it’s a card-advantage-based Predict list, an aggressive 4 Mentor build, or the legends build that has multiple tools for interacting with its opponents. Depending on the build you play against, removal may be useful or almost completely dead. This makes it difficult to sideboard against, and Topher’s list can easily board out Counterbalance against Abrupt Decay decks to strand their opponents with a dead card.
Furthermore, Snapcaster Mage is pure flexibility. Swords to Plowshares, Pyroblast, Surgical Extraction, and Flusterstorm are all premium interaction spells, not to mention the fact that Snapcaster Mage plays well with cantrips and Predict.
Nowadays, most Miracles players also run Engineered Explosives and Council’s Judgment to deal with Chalice of the Void and opposing planeswalkers. Most of the deck’s natural weaknesses are covered with these slots.
Power Level – The Counterbalance lock has been good for over a decade now, and nothing about that has changed. Somehow, though, that is one of the weakest parts of today’s Miracles lists. Abrupt Decay and Cavern of Souls are ubiquitous, so many of the best Miracles players have trimmed down to 3 Counterbalance. Still, the existence of Counterbalance forces many decks to contort themselves to answer it, or be cold to the lock.
Miracles runs the best creature removal spells in the format, and in a high pressure do-or-die format like Legacy, nothing beats being cheap. Terminus and Swords to Plowshares are nightmares for creature decks, and even match up favorably against the many graveyard-based cards of Legacy. One of the most frustrating things about playing against Miracles is they never actually put your creatures in the graveyard, which means options like Voice of Resurgence or Kitchen Finks from Modern aren’t a good way to attack Miracles. Furthermore, the removal spells make it harder to power out your Gurmag Anglers and grow your Tarmogoyfs. For decks that are based entirely on winning with creatures like Elves and Delver, it can be really difficult to recover after a Terminus.
Miracles also gets access to Mentor, Entreat, and Jace, which are basically the most powerful “fair” ways to end a game. B/U/G decks struggle great to remove a Jace, and Entreat is a way to come back from very far behind. The addition of Mentor gives the deck an additional “combo-esque” level of attack as Mentors and Sensei’s Divining Top can make quick work of an opponent once the Miracles player has stabilized.
Finally, Miracles also has access to some of the best nonbasic hate in the form of Blood Moon and From the Ashes. These cards really shore up the deck’s matchups against greedy nonbasic decks and can be used to attack B/U/G decks and Delver decks.
Card Selection – This is where I think Miracles’ greatest edge against the field lies. Although there are many different matchups in Legacy, the core game plan of Miracles is to cantrip, cantrip, and cantrip. You’re looking for different answers and threats in every matchup, and it’s up to the Miracles pilot to identify what to look for in every situation. The most important thing when playing the deck is to understand what cards the opponent will have, and formulate a plan to beat those cards and find a path to victory. In any longer game, fetchlands and Sensei’s Divining Top will mean your card quality far exceeds your opponent’s. This puts you in the control role in most Legacy matchups—you’re looking to survive and stabilize.
I see many players attempt to attack Miracles by playing the “value” game with cards like Hymn to Tourach and card advantage like Painful Truths. Unfortunately, the truth is that this is a fairly mediocre avenue of attack as Miracles is simply well-suited to playing longer games. Furthermore, in order to play a longer game against Miracles, you need to have ways to interact with Counterbalance, and the Miracles player gets to dictate whether or not they are even attacking you on that axis.
How to Beat It
My preferred plan of attack against Miracles is to beat them early, or negate a wide swath of their deck. For Delver decks, this means playing Winter Orb. That is the single most effective card against Miracles and I have had a lot of success playing 2 copies in my Delver lists to combat the menace. Winter Orb effectively shuts down Miracles’ cantrip engine and turns on your soft counters to make the matchup swing heavily in your favor.
In terms of negating their deck, very few decks are able to do this effectively. Chalice of the Void is strong game 1, but post-sideboard Miracles tend to have a lot of answers to the card. Other options include Cataclysm, Boil, and Choke, but those require some setup to be effective. If you are playing Show and Tell, Boseiju is a card that gives Miracles fits as most lists have no way of interacting with it.
A final avenue is to pressure Miracles with nonblue planeswalkers that generate value, as Miracles generally has fewer answers to them. I like Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Garruk Relentless, if your deck can afford to play them.
The strengths of Delver are its consistency and ability to play haymakers. For this discussion, I’m going to focus on Grixis Delver as it is the Delver variant I have played most recently. Here’s my current Grixis Delver build:
Grixis is my preferred build of Delver because it has the best Miracles matchup (other than perhaps U/R Burn Delver, but that’s a totally different beast). The secret to winning the Miracles matchup is to tempo them out early and aggressively, as they have all the tools to win a longer game. The slower Hymn B/U/G Delver builds can almost never beat a Jace, and Miracles can answer anything B/U/G has to offer. Grixis Delver is proactive, and Pyromancer means you force the Miracles player to come up with a Terminus. Finally, as I discussed earlier, the Winter Orb plus countermagic plan is effective at making sure Miracles doesn’t get to enact its own game plan.
Consistency – Delver has consistently been the one of the top decks since the printing of the pesky blue Insect. The cantrip suite along with Delver’s proactivity mean that it’s usually always drawing into action, and it puts its opponents on the back foot early by having a strong mana denial plan and a fast clock. Furthermore, there are generally few dead cards in post-sideboard games, so those are the games where Delver decks tend to have the biggest edge. If your deck stumbles, Delver can be quick to capitalize with some Wastelands and the game will be over before you know it.
Haymakers – Delver decks have the best sideboards in the format because they can play haymakers while most other decks can only shrug and upgrade their removal suite. Most other decks have easily exploitable weaknesses, and here’s just a short list of haymakers I have played recently:
Delver decks are also strong against combo decks as they can apply pressure quickly and pair discard or hate bears with their mana disruption and counterspell suite.
How to Beat It
Step #1 is to establish your mana base and be able to cast your spells. Whether that’s playing basic lands or cards like Aether Vial, or even fast mana like Simian Spirit Guide, being able to operate while your mana is under duress is important. There has been an uptick in Simian Spirit Guide decks, whether it’s Big Red, Moon Stompy or B/R Reanimator. These decks often run a lot of extra mana sources like Chrome Mox and Simian Spirit Guide, and resolving one key spell like a Blood Moon or a Reanimate around Daze can steal a game. Similarly, the uptick in mana dorks like Noble Hierarch is also very annoying for Delver to deal with because their Dazes become weak quickly when you start hitting your fourth or fifth mana source.
Rule #2 is to have a lot of cheap, early interaction if you are looking to play a fair game. Most decks in the format have a better late game than Delver, so they will want to overload on cheap removal to survive the early turns and overpower the Delver decks.
A final tip is to know when to play around Daze and Stifle. I see many newer players stumble on these dimensions, choosing to play around Daze only to get Wastelanded or to play around Stifle only to play into Wasteland too. You have to pick your battles smartly against Delver decks, and it’s important to recognize which cards to try and play around.
Strengths – Lands plays well against most fair, creature-based strategies, and it’s resilient to Force of Will as it can simply cast Life from the Loams over and over again. It is also very consistent for a nonblue deck because it functionally plays 4 Tinkers (Crop Rotation) and 4 Demonic Tutors (4 Gamble). If you are trying to win the game via creatures, Maze of Ith, Tabernacle, and Glacial Chasm can make it very difficult, not to mention the recurring threat of Punishing Fire.
Jody Keith, 9th place at GP Louisville
How to Beat It
If you are playing a combo deck, game 1 should be fairly straightforward. Post-sideboard, you are likely to see Sphere of Resistance and/or Chalice of the Void, so simply plan accordingly and play the right answers.
If you are a fair deck, you can win by attacking their mana base via Blood Moon and Wasteland, or attacking their recursive effects with cards like Surgical Extraction. Lands plays surprisingly few green sources, and if you can destroy their Mox Diamonds, you can often color screw them long enough to steal a win. Surgical Extraction is a more likely route to victory, and Lands players often pack Tireless Tracker and Dark Confidants as an alternate avenue of card advantage in case their Loams are Extracted.
I will note that Dave Long, Lands aficionado, did not have Lands in his top 5, but mentioned that he felt like it has been as high as #2 on his list in past years. According to Dave, it’s a combination of players figuring out which hate cards to play, as well as the fact that the popularization of the deck has led many to be familiar with how to combat it.
Show and Tell
Strengths – One of the most non-interactive decks in the format, Show and Tell tries to win the game by resolving one key spell and riding it to victory. Against the unprepared, it’s quite easy to steal a win. Show and Tell is typically favored game 1 as most decks are filled with dead cards that don’t interact well with the combo.
A recent trend has been to play Grim Lavamancer and Engineered Explosives in the sideboard of Sneak and Show. Grim Lavamancer is extremely effective against decks like Delver and Miracles because they typically side out Gurmag Angler and Entreat the Angels, as well as Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares. Grim Lavamancer is a nightmare to deal with for Delver, and it also answers Snapcaster Mage and Containment Priest. Going forward, I would expect this to pick up more.
Adam Jansen, 15th place at GP Louisville
How To Beat It
Hate cards like Ensnaring Bridge or Ashen Rider and Pithing Needle can be very effective. Otherwise, the classic counterspell-plus-discard-plus-hate-bear path is straightforward. Almost all combo decks can be beaten once they are popular and I think Show and Tell is no different, as you can simply load your sideboard with targeted hate.
Death and Taxes
Strengths – Death and Taxes is one of the most skill-intensive decks in the format, and in the hands of players like Thomas Enevoldsen and Craig Wescoe, it’s one of the best decks, period. But it can be very difficult to play, as you are constantly asking the question: How do I stop my opponent from doing anything meaningful? Games with Aether Vial are also very unfair as you can develop your board all while pressuring theirs with your mana base. Overall, Death and Taxes has a strong enough late game to contend with the other popular decks in the format, and a consistent mana denial plan that can make it hard for opponents to enact their own game plan early.
Craig Wescoe, 8th place at GP Louisville
How to Beat It
You want to make sure you can cast your spells, and things become a lot harder for them if you have answers to Aether Vial. In Grixis Delver, I’m currently running 2 Ancient Grudge and 1 Pithing Needle, and with these cards it is generally much easier stop the Death and Taxes player from going overboard too quickly with Vials or Stoneforge Mystics.
Artifact hate is effective, but you can get even more targeted with weenie hate such as Sulfur Elemental or Dread of Night. Both double as hate for Mentor and Lingering Souls too. Sweepers like Golgari Charm, Sudden Demise, and Electrickery can also be effective. To counter this, Death and Taxes often plays cards like Veteran Armorer or Wilt-Leaf Liege.
There are probably 5 or 6 distinct “B/U/G midrange” builds, ranging from Shardless B/U/G, Aluren, Food Chain to Dark Confidant midrange, or even Landstill. These decks all benefited from the printing of Fatal Push and Leovold. They aren’t quite in the top tier yet, but they have all the tools to beat any of the top tier decks. But I am somewhat skeptical that they can cover all of the necessary bases. The cards that are good against combo are usually poor against Miracles and Delver, and the opposite is true as well. Still, if you enjoy playing midrange, these decks are viable options. My personal favorite right now is Food Chain, as it has a favorable Miracles matchup, at least pre-sideboard.
Walking Ballista is a cleaner kill than Emrakul, and it has some good utility against Death and Taxes because it can answer Mother of Runes. If your opponent has Phyrexian Revoker on Food Chain, you can answer that as well. And if they Revoker your Ballistas, well then you can have recurring unkillable Griffins, which should be enough to win the game as well. Ballista is a smart addition, and I expect this list to pick up some steam going forward as it has the tools to beat the fair decks and a reasonable sideboard for combo.
Next time, I’ll be covering my own thoughts on the Legacy format as a whole, and some potential road maps for how I think Legacy should be managed in the future. I’ll be talking about banned and restricted list management, as well as the concept of a “best deck.” Don’t miss it!