Always the same but always changing: the paradox of Legacy
Legacy is a strange format; several factors (card availability, lack of premier events, huge card pool) make it have a unique structure. 95% of the players play the same decks for years regardless of metagame shifts and then the other 5% consists of players who actually try to ‘break’ the format and adjust to the metagame as they would for other Constructed formats. Looking at the top 32 results of a GP means that you are mostly looking at the ‘5%’ (pros, MODO grinders, Legacy ‘specialists’) and the work they did preparing for the event. But this usually doesn’t reflect the majority of what was going on in the GP as a whole. It is very likely that a vast majority of the players still played their Painter, Elves or Storm (or really anything) decks unchanged even though these decks don’t appear in the top32.
This means that this results analysis should be taken with a grain of salt, it doesn’t reflect the Legacy metagame as a whole and it might not even be relevant in your future Legacy Grand Prix as you will most likely face players from the ‘95%’ playing their same ol’ decks. But this might help you be a part of these ‘5%’ if you want to as it will show you how the Legacy metagame changes and how the players at the top tables are still able to innovate in this seemingly petrified format.
The top 3 decks of the event
1- Miracles with 7 copies in the top32
2- Sneak and Show with 6
3- 4c Snapcaster with 5
Seeing Miracles in first place won’t come as a shock to anyone as it has been the dominant deck of the format for a very long time now. However the two other decks of this list are quite surprising and deserve more attention.
Sneak and Show was very popular at GP Chiba and it took down the event in the hands of Kentaro Yamamoto, but I mostly saw this as some Japanese metagame specificity at the time. These results prove that this was not a fluke and that Sneak and Show is back and is here to stay. The reason for this spectacular comeback is definitely the fact that it has a great Miracles matchup as well as a good matchup against the other midrange decks. Given that this top32 consists almost entirely of Miracles and midrange decks it is not surprising that Sneak and Show performed above expectations. Get your Ensnaring Bridges out of your binders folks.
I labeled the 3rd deck ‘4c Snapcaster’ which is a little bit unusual but I am going to explain myself. This deck is usually called ‘4c Delver’ but I think this appellation is misleading. This deck is not a delver deck is the sense that we usually use it. Sure it runs four copies of the card, but it does not really operate as a tempo deck as Delver decks of the past. It is mostly a midrange deck with the most efficient threats and answers possible which makes it very close to a ‘delver’ deck, but there are still some key differences (higher creature count, higher curve, and higher land count) that make it different from a traditional delver deck. Since Ben Friedman has been the main architect of this new archetype let’s take a look at his 31st place decklist:
BEN FRIEDMAN’S FOUR-COLOR DELVER, 31ST PLACE, GRAND PRIX LOUISVILLE
4 Delver of Secrets 4 Deathrite Shaman 3 True-Name Nemesis 1 Leovold, Emissary of Trest 2 Gurmag Angler 2 Snapcaster Mage
4 Ponder 2 Thoughtseize
4 Lightning Bolt 3 Abrupt Decay 4 Brainstorm 4 Force of Will 4 Daze
4 Wasteland 4 Scalding Tarn 4 Polluted Delta 1 Badlands 3 Underground Sea 2 Tropical Island 1 Volcanic Island
1 Leovold, Emissary of Trest 2 Thoughtseize 3 Diabolic Edict 1 Spell Pierce 3 Surgical Extraction 1 Painful Truths 1 Kolaghan’s Command 1 Pithing Needle 2 Umezawa’s Jitte
With 3 True Name nemesis, 1 Leovold and 2 Snapcaster mages this deck runs no less than six three drops whereas traditional delver decks usually run zero. To show you the difference between these lists and ‘Delver’ lists let’s look at the deck I usually play: https://www.mtggoldfish.com/deck/526769#online
As you can see both these decks are 4 color (with no white), both run 4 copies of Delver of Secrets and yet these decks are fundamentally different.
With this little clarification out of the way it is still clear that 4c Snapcaster was the breakout deck of this tournament. The deck was the choice of several pros (Steve Rubin, Oliver Tiu) and performed quite well. The printing of Leovold seems to have given people an incentive to slow down their decks in order to incorporate the immensely powerful Conspiracy card. It wouldn’t make much sense to play a Nessan Courser in a focused tempo deck but the card fits perfectly in the slower BuG and 4c shells.
Speaking about Leovold and BuG…
Reid Duke wins the tournament with a homebrew.
Reid Duke took home a 5th (!) GP trophy, and he did so in style. While Reid has been known to play a lot of Miracles and Elves, he decided to take a brew to the tournament. This deck is based on a strategy that is as old as MtG itself: playing a mana dork on turn one in order to play a powerful three drop on turn 2. With 8 mana accelerants and 6 powerful three drops, the deck is very consistent at doing so. Add to that the best interactive spells of three different colors and a certain 4 drop planeswalker and you’ve got a winner.
REID DUKE’S TRUE-NAME NEMESIS SULTAI
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Deathrite Shaman 4 Noble Hierarch 1 Tarmogoyf 4 True-Name Nemesis 2 Leovold, Emissary of Trest
2 Ponder 2 Thoughtseize
4 Brainstorm 3 Daze 4 Force of Will 1 Murderous Cut 3 Abrupt Decay
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Sylvan Library
1 Forest 1 Island 2 Tropical Island 1 Bayou 3 Underground Sea 4 Misty Rainforest 4 Polluted Delta 2 Verdant Catacombs 3 Wasteland
1 Umezawa’s Jitte 1 Thoughtseize 2 Submerge 2 Pithing Needle 2 Flusterstorm 2 Mindbreak Trap 1 Surgical Extraction 2 Dread of Night 1 Painful Truths 1 Nihil Spellbomb
You don’t always see things like one Tarmogoyf or two Ponders but who are we mere mortals to question the Duke? I’m not sure this deck is going to stay in the metagame as people might try it and not have as much as success with it. But it is still a great testimony of how great players who know the way Legacy works are able to play their own decks and have success with it. This reminds me of Sam Black’s top8 in Atlanta 5 years ago with a completely unexpected deck: http://mtgtop8.com/event?e=2779&d=217987&f=LE
Sure the Zombie Bombardment deck didn’t end up being a Tier one deck of the format (not even a Tier 2 deck) but it doesn’t mean that this wasn’t a great performance, in fact, it makes it even better. Concerning Reid’s deck, we will have to wait and see.
True Name Nemesis is back
With 19 copies of the card in the top32 (including 4 in the winning deck!) True Name Nemesis has made an incredible comeback. This card has always been very hit or miss, it is either the best card in your deck against other fair decks, or a bad Limited card against the faster combo decks. However given the fact that the metagame is becoming more and more ‘midrangey’ it is no surprise that the powerful Merfolk is back at the top tables. If you plan on playing a fair strategy at an upcoming Legacy event, I would strongly recommend your deck has answers to this card (Diabolic Edict, Pyroblast, Golgari Charm, Marsh Casualties, Holy Light, Council’s Judgement etc…)
The Notable absents
With this amount of Delver decks and Miracle decks in the top32 it is surprising to see no Shardless BuG decks there. Sure there were a ton of Bayous and Abrupt Decays but for once they weren’t paired with Ancestral Vision and Shardless Agent. This might seem strange but this probably comes from the fact that Shardless BuG doesn’t actually have such a good matchup against these decks (good Delver and Miracles players will most likely tell you that they actually feel favored against Shardless BuG).
Decks like Eldrazi or Elves did quite will at GP Chiba but didn’t have great success in Louisville (once again take this with a grain of salt as the top64 decklists were not posted). Storm seems to have definitely become a Tier2 deck as decks keep getting better against it (Sanctum Prelate, Leovold) while it doesn’t get anything new.
Death and Taxes was supposed to have become a Tier one deck with the Conspiracy cards that made him significantly better but it did underperform a little bit with only one copy (of course piloted by Craig Wescoe) in the top32. Yet it seems that its great matchup vs Sneak and Show as well as its fine matchup against the fair blue decks might still make it a good choice for future events.
I don’t think any Legacy analysis right now would be relevant without mentioning a new card from Aether Revolt…
Fatal Push will change Legacy forever
This card is the most impactful printing for Eternal Formats since Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. It used to be that when building a black Legacy deck I would always have to pay lackluster and conditional removal spells (Diabolic edict, Go for the throat, Ghastly Demise, Disfigure). Now black has access to its ‘own’ Swords to Plowshares and this is going to completely redefine the color pie and the way decks are going to be built. A color combination like UB might now be viable because it has access to quality one mana removal. As we saw with Louisville’s results, BUG decks were already a dominant force in Legacy. But one of their main weaknesses was that their removal spell of choice (Abrupt Decay) did not kill one drops on the draw. This means that if you played a turn one Deathrite Shaman, Aether Vial, Mother of Runes or Goblin Lackey against a BUG deck you would actually get to untap with it on the following turn. Given the quality of these cards this would often mean victory. Now that BUG colors have access to a quality maindeckable (Disfigure could be maindecked but was still a little bit narrow) one mana removal spell, this color combination might truly become the most dominant one in Legacy.
With recent metagame shifts, old archetypes that become great again (Sneak and Show), new archetypes that we are still unsure how to evaluate (4c Snapcaster, BuG ‘Duke’) and now the printing of Fatal Push, this is an exciting time to be playing Legacy.