Eternal Masters is scheduled to be released on June 10, 2015. This set, made of only reprints, will put more Wastelands and Force of Wills into the hands of players. We don’t know many details about the set, but we know that it will increase interest in Eternal formats such as Legacy.
Legacy is one of the best formats, but it can be daunting to enter. There is some common wisdom about getting into competitive Legacy, which I will share with you today. This is how I built my first Legacy deck three years ago, and this will help you build a deck for your monthly Legacy tournament or, if you’re lucky, your Legacy FNM like the one held every week at Face to Face Games Toronto.
What is Legacy?
Legacy is a powerful format characterized by Brainstorm, Ponder, Force of Will, Wasteland and dual lands. The power 9 are banned, as are a dozen or so degenerate cards, but otherwise the whole Magic catalogue is available to you. We have access to fast mana like Ancient Tomb, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and Dark Ritual. We can cheat cards into play with Show and Tell, Sneak Attack, and Natural Order. We get to play with obscure cards like The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Chain Lightning, and Berserk.
There is a lot of deck diversity. It is actually surprising to sit down at a six round tournament and face the same deck twice. You can find high quality decks in whichever archetype you desire: traditional Draw-Go control (Miracles), spell-based combo (Storm), creature-based combo (Dredge, Elves!), Aggro-Control (Delver, Stompy), Aggro-Combo (Infect), prison control (MUD, Death and Taxes), midrange (Stoneblade, Jund), all-in combo (Belcher, Manaless Dredge), and value-town (Shardless BUG). All of the colours are represented; although decks are often characterized as being Blue or non-Blue due to the pervasiveness of Brainstorm, Ponder, and Force of Will.
Generally to be playable in Legacy a card must be free to cast, (Gitaxian Probe, Lotus Petal, Invigorate), or have a converted mana cost of one to two, (Swords to Plowshares, Ponder, Nimble Mongoose, Tarmogoyf, and Stoneforge Mystic). Three mana spells have to be overwhelming, (Liliana of the Veil, Trinisphere, Blood Moon, and Show and Tell), and four mana spells have to be completely game changing, (Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Natural Order, and Cataclysm). The two most popular creatures to cheat in to play are Griselbrand and Emrakul (with an honourable mention to Craterhoof Behemoth via Natural Order).
The format has access to some glass-cannon decks, (Belcher, Spanish Inquisition), that are capable of turn 1 wins. For the most part these decks are kept in check by Force of Will, Daze, and Spell Pierce. The most popular combo decks, (Storm and Elves!), usually aim to go off on turn 3 or 4 through disruption. Legacy is not the “Turn 1” format many think it to be.
The lands in a Legacy deck usually involve a mix of dual lands, (e.g. Volcanic Island, Bayou), fetchlands (e.g. Polluted Delta), basic lands, and some utility lands. Wasteland, Karakas, Cavern of Souls, Grove of the Burnwillows and some manlands are among the most popular utility lands. Rishadan Port sees play in two popular decks, (Lands, Death and Taxes). Most other lands are rare, or are only played in one deck. Shocklands, (e.g. Hallowed Fountain), Painlands (e.g. Yavimaya Coast), and Checklands (e.g. Glacial Fortress) are unseen. Basic lands remain important as Wasteland is a prevalent card.
The meta changes glacially. Each new set release offers fewer than two new cards of interest to Legacy. Bans are rare. This means that once you’ve acquired a deck you don’t really have to worry about it becoming dramatically worse. The yearly upkeep of a deck tends to be in the zero to one card range. This is in contrast to Standard’s rapidly shifting metagame and Modern’s toxic approach to banning format pillars.
Choosing Your First Deck – Proxy and Play
Your first deck is an exciting journey. You get to find a deck that reflects your playstyle and personality. Since price is a factor, you will also want to find a deck that you think you will enjoy playing for at least a year. The easiest way to do this is to find a couple decklists that you find interesting (maybe MTG Top 8, or our recent Legacy Sunday Showdown top 8) and print out some proxy decks. This will give you a feel for the format and its interactions. I suggest trying Shardless BUG, Miracles, Storm, and RUG Delver.
Bring these proxy decks with you to play before FNM starts, between drafts or with a Standard player between rounds. Have an 8 person proxy tournament at your house. Play as much as you can before you commit to completing a deck.
Watch video replays. There are fewer Legacy tournaments now, but you can still find a lot of stuff on Youtube and South Florida Magic has a weekly stream on Sundays.
Read primers. Every deck has numerous primers which go into detail about the deck, its history, its matchups and its card choices. Well-written primers are fun to read even if you never plan on playing the deck. The Brainstorm Show and Legacy Breakfast are two podcasts that do great in-depth deck primers.
Goldfish. Playing the deck by yourself is useful for learning the interactions of your deck. This is especially useful for combo decks and decks that require good sequencing.
Don’t Play a Worse Version of Something That Already Exists
When choosing your first deck to play, don’t make budget substitutions. Every RUG Delver deck has 4 Tarmogoyfs. The deck wants 4 Tarmogoyfs. If that is the deck you want to play then you will need to buy, or borrow, 4 Tarmogoyfs. Don’t try to use Werebears or Boneyard Wurms as substitutes. Instead, choose a different deck. For example, you might want to play UR Delver, which doesn’t use Tarmogoyf. Play an established deck at 100%, rather than an established deck with substitutions at 80%. Early on in your Legacy career it is difficult to see the importance and value of specific cards. In most cases Ghost Quarter can’t replace Wasteland because the latter creates tempo, while the former doesn’t. In a tempo deck like RUG Delver, using Ghost Quarters in place of Wastelands would invalidate your mana-restriction plan of Stifle, Daze, and Spell Pierce.
You have some flexibility in your manabase, and you can start by including more fetchlands and basics. Having at least one of each relevant dual land and the rest basics or shocklands is an acceptable way to get into the format. The big problem with shocklands is that it plays very poorly with Daze. Entering the battlefield tapped is a serious restriction which means that battlelands (e.g. Cinder Glade) are never played in Legacy. In two colour decks you can get away with running more basic lands. Basic lands are very strong in the format of Wasteland. In three colour decks you will have more strict requirements from your landbase and will have a harder time making substitutions.
This may mean that you need to start with a deck that has a lot of basics in it. The 2013 article “A Gateway to Legacy” by Chris Stoyles showcases some potential starting decks. Belcher, Dredge (Manaless, Regular), Burn, and Infect are common starting places, although they are often seen as too linear for long-term players. Merfolk, UR Delver and Reanimator are less linear, but are definitely more expensive.
A shell is a collection of cards that are common to many decks. Brainstorm, Ponder, Stifle, Wasteland, Daze, Force of Will, Delver of Secrets are a blue tempo shell. Lion’s Eye Diamond, Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Infernal Tutor are a Storm shell. These two shells are common to many different decks, and the expensive cards can be ported to many different decks. The tempo shell can help make Delver variants (RUG, UWR, Grixis, BUG, 4 Colour) and Stoneblade. So you can start with UR Delver and eventually transition to RUG Delver. The Storm shell will help you with either popular Storm deck (ANT, TES) or Dredge. Buying a deck with a portable shell has the very real advantage that you can play different decks.
Buy something that will help you play, not generic lists of “staples”. Buying random staples is a good way to build a collection without the ability to play any decks. The major exception is having sets of fetchlands, which are very versatile. Most Legacy decks don’t need specific fetchlands, and most blue decks only need fetchlands that get islands.
Borrow cards and decks. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends to lend you cards for events. During the first year of my quest towards a Legacy deck of my own, I borrowed a Karakas, a Dark Depths, and some Dark Confidants. I would guess that most people playing Legacy are borrowing at least some of their deck.
Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think; I’d love to hear from you. What was your first Legacy deck? Are you excited to make the leap to Legacy? What prevents you from playing Legacy?
Catch me at Legacy FNM at Face to Face Games in Toronto, send me a message on reddit /u/mpaw975, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.