By popular demand, I’ve decided to undertake something I really never expected to even want to do. Somehow, I’ve convinced myself that this is a good idea. Maybe you guys had something to do with it, or maybe I’ve just resolved myself to take this mantle of “Legacy Historian” and run with it. Play to your strengths, I suppose (I feel like I’ve said that before. Maybe in an article fragment I never finished. Note to self – finish it). Regardless of the reasons behind why this undertaking is going to occur, we may as well dive in, because this is going to take some time. Remember, you asked for it.
A History of the Format, Part 1.
The earliest memory of playing Magic that I have takes place in the back seat of a school bus when I was 12 or 13 years old. One of my friends, or rather, one of his friends, was showing us all these cards that he had in a plastic bag, and we were fairly awestruck. The artwork was really awesome, and as aspiring nerds, we were attracted to the dragons and demons and knights in shining armor. Here were the characters of the fantasy books I loved to read, playing out a game in front of my eyes! I can still remember going home and asking my parents if I could spend my allowance on some cards to learn how to play. They were hesitant, because they were adults, and had already seen me spend a bunch of money on POGS (oh man, POGS), which sat unused and unusable in a foot locker in my closet. I eventually convinced them, and my Dad took me to a flea market down the road that weekend to check out a guy he knew who he thought might have some cards.
I still remember my first Starter Deck, and how the Craw Giant it contained seemed much better than any of the other cards I’d seen to that point. I remember seeing Ice Age cards, and wondering if any would fit into my cool red/green deck. I remember showing my older brother the cards, and the two of us learning how to play the game together. I remember teaching my Dad how to play, and him grasping it far faster and better than I expected – and him easily beating me during the first game he ever played.
I remember playing in the lunch room in middle school. I remember being worse than any given high-schooler that played. I remember never being able to beat my friend Jim in a match of Magic, and not understanding why.
I remember my first tournament. At the ripe age of fourteen, Jim and I ventured to a local dirt mall where they held Saturday morning Magic tournaments. There was no Standard, there was no Legacy – there was just Magic. My first deck was a borrowed mono-black Royal Assassin deck that ran four Assassin, four Icy Manipulator (a pricey card for a 14-year-old at the time), and a one-of Rag Man. I don’t remember any of the other cards. Needless to say, I was walking into a shark den.
The first round I played against a guy named Joe Weber. Some of you might recognize that name. For a while, he was the highest ranked limited player in the world. He had a feature in InQuest magazine sometime in the 90’s. To me, he was just a “big kid” and I was going to play a game with him. He started with a Swamp. He was playing black, just like me! He cast a Dark Ritual. I know what that card did: it got out a turn 1 Royal Assassin! He played Necropotence. I had to read that one.
The game ended exactly how you’d expect it to. I was hopelessly outclassed by a player with more information, better cards, and infinitely more skill than I possessed, and it continued this way for the entire tournament. In fact, it continued for the next two years, as I somehow managed to be a total fish despite playing in the local testing grounds of one of the better teams of the day (Team Sped, for those keeping track at home). I had actual pros playing the game with me during its (and my) formative years, but I was just a casual-type kid who had no idea what the reality was around him. This was before the internet even existed, let alone was the monster of information it is today, so I can’t really blame 14-year-old me, but now I look back and wonder what could have been.
On the other hand, I had a lot of fun despite my lack of ability at the game. There were a few other guys nearer to my own age who I quickly made friends with, and we had a blast despite our performances. I didn’t know it then, but the friendships I made with that group would become important later on down the line.
Much like many other adolescent males, I found my interest in Magic waning as I got to about 17. I hadn’t taken it seriously enough to try and make it a focal point for my life – in fact, because it was so early in the development of Organized Play, I wasn’t even aware that the opportunity existed – so I let the game take a backseat to other things. I went to college, my cards stayed home. It wasn’t until 2003 when I picked them back up and started anew.
The summer of 2003 was one of the best of my life. For many unrelated reasons to the purpose of this story, I had a great time. I broke out of the mold of who I was as a teen, and really came into my own as an adult in the image of who I wanted to be. I made a ton of new friends, and rediscovered something that was missing for me, an interest that had faded, but never really died. I’ve told the story of rediscovering the game before, where I was invited to an invitational event by the TO who ran all those old events, and was re-hooked like the fish I used to be.
The important part is this – those friends I had made as a young padawan had been busy while I was away. None of them had quit the game, in fact, they had been delving deeper into the intricacies of the cards, and had become quite adept at it in my absence. There were a trio of players who were instrumental in the direction I took upon my return to Magic – Alex Zaranski (FakeSpam), Kevin Garvey (Garvman), and Mike Edinger (teeniebopper). The three of them, along with plenty of people I didn’t know, had been at work since the division of the game into separate formats. They were part of the core of Syracuse (and its surrounding suburbs) players who had been developing decks and strategies for the 1.5 format – the precursor to Legacy.
At the time, circa 2003, the 1.5 format was the bastard step-child of Vintage. The people who played it were ridiculed and cast off from the teat of the mother format. While Vintage (at the time, called Type 1) had a healthy and thriving metagame and plenty of players, 1.5 was a wasteland where only the few people obsessed with it even knew of its existence. It didn’t even have its own banned list – it was just the Type 1 restricted and banned lists combined, meaning any card banned or restricted in T1 was banned in 1.5. The decks of the time were all super-powered compared to the decks of today. There were 1.5 “power” cards, which were all super expensive – in the range of $100 or more for a playset. These cards, Bazaar of Baghdad, Mishra’s Workshop, Mana Drain, etc, were the pillars of the format, and on the backs of these the format took shape:
Welder Mud, circa 2004 – Matt Pietarinen (Peter_Rotten):
Worldgorger Dragon combo, circa 2003 – Rick Argiro (Jander78):
Landstill, circa 2003 – (Jander78)
Food Chain Goblins, circa 2003 – (Carlos El Salvador)
As you can see, these lists are kind of insane by today’s standards. The format, kind of understandably, resembled Vintage much more than the old 1.x format that it was changed to resemble. Even the Goblin deck was more combo than aggro, as it often set up the Recruiter -> Ringleader plan by turn 3.
Things were going well in 1.5. As I said, there weren’t a ton of players playing the format, but those that were, were very dedicated to it. The people I’d left behind when venturing into the world of academia had been busy. Some of them had become moderators on TheManaDrain.com, and when differences of opinion on what was best for the 1.5 portion of the site had arisen, they left the site to found mtgTheSource.com, which was the first dedicated forum to the development of 1.5. The decklists shown above were all found in the archives of that site, which is still considered one of the best sources (npi) for information on Legacy out there, despite the changes that have occurred in the years since its inception.
For about a year after the divide between The Source and TMD, the format was a high-powered but healthy one, and the metagame was developing into a solid tier structure, largely on the back of player-run tournaments where dual lands and semi-power were put up for prizes. DIY was the name of the game, and there was almost a cult following to the format. That’s cult like “cult film,” not like “drink the Kool-Aid,” mind you. It’s not an overstatement that these DIY events were the backbone of the format, and the dedication of the players in the early years was much of the reason that the format still exists – without these events and players, Legacy probably wouldn’t have been established, and 1.5 would have ended in 2004.
When Wizards announced the changes to the banned and restricted lists in September of 2004, the ground shook, and mountains moved. It was the single most important event in the history of eternal Magic – the Type 1 and Type 1.5 banned lists were separated; with each being given a complete overhaul, nothing would ever be the same.
The intent was for a home to be created for players who would soon be feeling the effects of the impending Extended rotation. With the first rotation coming up, dual lands and the rest of the older cards would have no home other than the antiquated Type 1 format, or the expensive and overpowered Type 1.5 format. They wanted to solve a few problems in one swoop, and the result was Legacy.
“…with the impending rotation of the Extended format next year, we felt the need to make sure there was a reasonable format available where players could use their old cards (everything from dual lands to Ice Age cards to Rebels) that was not just a toned-down version of Vintage. We tried to strike the fine balance between accessibility and, well, balance of play.” – Aaron Forsythe (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=mtgcom/daily/af30)
Vintage players rejoiced, as this was a resolution to an issue that had been pressing concern for some time. With the T1 and 1.5 banned lists joined, the only way to solve issues with 1.5 was to restrict cards in T1. Because they felt certain cards were in no way dangerous to their format, but were still restricted for the purposes of managing another format, they were justifiably excited when that tie was severed. It showed that Wizards supported their format, something that was important to them. At the same time, Extended players – and at the time, there were actually Extended players – were also happy to have a home once the cards they enjoyed playing were no longer legal in the format they played.
1.5 players were pissed. The format that they’d worked so hard to develop – literally from the ground up – had vanished in the blink of an eye. The cards they had worked to earn or win or break were devalued, and were mostly just fodder for eBay or trades. They had pimped out versions of illegal decks, they had nowhere to look for tech, and they basically had to start completely new with a format that only barely resembled something familiar.
The first impression the world got of Legacy was a bunch of spoiled babies who were mad at everyone and everything. Needless to say, they didn’t start off on the right foot. It took years and years of PR campaigns on the paragons of Legacy to get the public opinion back on track. It took hundreds of articles from people all over the world discussing how amazing the format was and how “we aren’t elitist” to change the view created by that first impression. It took the entirety of the original 1.5 players basically falling off the face of the planet for the format’s “faces” to earn a reputation other than being whiners. It’s amazing just how much work was necessary to make up for that reaction to the “big change,” which was – in my opinion – only slightly an overreaction.
Think about how much damage banning a single card like Jace would do to Standard. Think about how much damage banning more than one card – say, Jace and Preordain – would do. Now imagine that there are no PTQs, no Grand Prixs, and no SCG Opens. Imagine that the only events you play in are your FNMs, but you play in them as though each was Sunday of the Pro Tour. Now imagine they banned not only Jace and Preordain, but Primeval Titan, Valakut, Goblin Guide, Stoneforge Mystic – and just for good measure, banned Fauna Shaman and Vengevine, too. Now you’re scratching the surface of just how devastating these changes were. The 1.5 players had every right to be upset.
Eventually, people started playing Legacy. Certainly, not in the numbers we’re seeing today, but some did seek out the format, as Wizards truly did succeed in creating an excellent format. We saw the first of the pros begin to dip their toes in the eternal pool. We saw discussion boards spring up across the net, on sites that had never cared in the slightest about 1/.5 before. We saw a lot of people who had no idea of the history of the format offer opinions on what they felt it should be, or how it should look, and we were offended. These people hadn’t been in the trenches, traveling 10 hours or more for a 30 player event. They hadn’t risked their paychecks to put up prizes for events that may not even break even. They hadn’t helped develop the lists that were winning these tournaments – they simply took a stock list from our site and changed a few cards, and had the nerve to call it “better.”
There was a lot of arrogance, and a lot of ego involved in the first few years of Legacy. The old guard had been integral in the establishment and sustain of 1.5 – but they didn’t fit into the new paradigm that was Legacy. Many of them quit. Some of them decided they wanted to keep playing their old format (obviously this didn’t last very long. It never does). Some of them decided to adapt, and to focus their attention on the new format with the same vigor they did the old. At some point, a tipping point was reached, and we got the ball rolling in the right direction once again. Enough new had mixed into the old, and the DIY atmosphere took off.
We began holding events monthly across the Eastern US, split between Upstate NY, Massachusetts, and Northern Virginia. Europe began to develop as a metagame hub, and had large events at regular intervals as well. Some of the former Vintage players on the West Coast in California and the Portland/Seattle areas began holding smaller events, and the format began to gather momentum. Despite all the controversy and in-fighting that plagued the earliest days, a format was born.
The metagame of the time developed primarily from the decks that had existed prior to the Bannings, but had made it through unscathed. Landstill, the control to the previous format’s combo, had lost only Mana Drain, but replaced it with Counterspell and continued to dominate:
Landstill, circa 2004 (Jander78)
Another menace to the early format, Goblins had also made it through relatively unscathed. Losing only Recruiter, and along with it the Food Chain combo, Goblins developed into a list that resembles something we’re still familiar with today:
Goblin Sligh, circa 2004 – Pat Maeder (Zilla)
The third major deck of the day, which was criminally overrated at the time – something Colin Chilbert will surely chastise me for saying – was the only deck left completely unchanged by the shift of the format. Known as ATS, or Angry Tradewind Survival, it was the initial Legacy incarnation (npi) of the combo/control Survival deck:
ATS, circa 2004 – Colin Chilbert (Di)
Colin’s deck was one of the more… ambitious Survival builds, basically admitting that without a resolved Survival, the deck would be no more than a steaming pile, completely incapable of winning the game. Somehow, he managed to convince the players of the time that this was acceptable, largely by drawing multiple copies of Survival and Enlightened Tutor in every game – unless he had already resolved one, in which case he only drew creatures. Masterful, for sure.
Because of the removal of certain cards previously banned, the play focused on these cards for some time. Fact or Fiction was considered one of the most powerful things you could do, and players tried incredibly hard to break the combination of 4 Mox Diamond, 4 Chrome Mox, 4 Lion’s Eye Diamond to no avail. Ultimately, the fear of the broken Long.dec subsided, and players got down to business. Things lasted this way for about a year, until the first genuine “big event” took place – lovingly dubbed “BIG ARSE II.”
Fortunately for you, I found the top 8 decklists from that event.
1st – UGw Gro – Ian MacInnes (Cavern Ninja)
2nd – Dryad Sleigh – (Xenoq)
3rd – Uwr Landstill – (RayD3)
4th – Vial Goblins – Matt Carl
8th – Red/Green Survival Advantage – Jeff
8th – Survival Junk – (Watcher 487)
8th – UW Landstill – (BoTs)
8th – Angel Stompy – Phil Stolze (legacyplayer0)
FYI – I had to get these off a site blocked by our firewall (I’m at work right now), and used my phone. It was hell typing out these lists. You’re welcome.
This was also the time when Solidarity, the format’s first honest-to-goodness innovative archetype was slowly working toward dominance. During this period, it was still only being piloted by a few enthusiasts, but it was climbing through the ranks with tenacity.
Is anyone still wondering why we played Legacy? Look at these lists, and tell me they don’t look fun as hell. Honestly, I’d trade all the Jaces in the world to go back to those days and play in this metagame again.
At this point in history, we’ve come into our own. The format is being taken seriously by even the greatest of naysayers from the format of old. They’ve jumped on the bandwagon, because even they could recognize how much fun we were having. It was a wide open metagame, where basically anything in the world was viable – check out Watcher487’s list for plenty of examples of that. We were off in a corner, doing our best to break a format that was an absolute blast to play, and trying our best to stay out of everyone else’s way. Then, again, everything changed. Ravnica was spoiled, and we got our very first taste of something slightly different – the hype machine struck its first chord, and we were in the spotlight once again.
That’s all I have the energy for this week, guys and gals. I’m having fun with this, it’s a great stroll down memory lane for me. Tune in again next week, and I’ll give you the next installment of the format as it was, once upon a time way back when. Until then, happy birthday to me, see you in Beantown, and remember – keep your stick on the ice!