How I broke Legacy

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If you were at the SCG Open in Philadelphia a few weeks back, there’s one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty — the deck my team registered in Legacy was better than yours.

The exact same 75 put both myself and Lucas Cruz into the Top 8. And to top it off Harlan Firer also played a somewhat bastardized version based on one of my old lists to Top 8 success as well. TLDR — we broke it.

This 75 card masterpiece was the best performing Legacy deck in the field:


Leading up to this event I tested a ton of different Legacy decks — both existing archetypes and new iterations — and almost all of them contained Wrenn and Six. A non-exhaustive list would look something like the following including a number of variations:

  • Death and Taxes
  • Four Colour Delver
    • With Arcanist
    • Without Arcanist
  • Four Colour Midrange
    • 0 Delver
    • 4 Tarmogoyf
    • 4 Arcanist
    • 0 Daze
  • Temur Delver
    • Nimble Mongoose builds
    • Hooting Mandrills builds
    • With / Without Stifle
  • Four Colour Control
    • With / without basics
    • With / without Baleful Strix
    • Mox Diamond variants
  • Maverick
    • Abzan
    • Naya
  • Lands*

*I did not test Lands. I think Lands is a fundamentally weak strategy and Wrenn does not solve any of the problems Lands currently suffers from in Legacy. In the section below I break down my interpretation of Wrenn and it will become obvious that none of its advantages are things a deck like Lands is looking to abuse. 

After working through all of these different decks I came to the conclusion that Wrenn was clearly a broken card and almost nobody was utilizing it properly. In order to truly break the card you’ve got to make all of its abilities shine in your deck. If you’ve been a Legacy player for a while then you’ll see the obvious deckbuilding similarities between working with Wrenn and with the now-banned Deathrite Shaman. It took a number of years of people playing Elves, Maverick, Shardless Sultai and Grixis Delver for it to become blatantly clear that Grixis Delver used Deathrite better than any other deck. It was able to make every single ability on the card back-breaking. The mana ability became much more powerful as Daze and Wasteland limited the number of mana sources each player had, the life drain could end the game on its own, the life gain could swing a race and the incidental graveyard hate meant Delver could trim sideboard cards for graveyard decks. Whereas Deathrite was obviously great in every deck — Delver was where it shined the most. 

In the same way that Grixis Delver broke Deathrite Shaman, I wanted to break Wrenn and Six. The three abilities on the card are all extremely powerful, but all affect the game uniquely so it seemed like a hard to fit Wrenn into some existing deck at random. The things that Wrenn encourages you to do were not currently powerful things in the Legacy format, so a new deck or complete overhaul of an existing strategy needed to occur. Breaking down Wrenn requires you to understand these four critical aspects of the card:

Manacost

Wrenn has a mana cost of RG — that means something different in Legacy. To me, if I’m playing in a Legacy tournament it takes an extremely unique deck for me not to play blue. This means that when I see Wrenn, I immediately think about Temur. There’s also the possibility to play four colours if Temur doesn’t have all the tools to compete. So that’s where I looked first.

+1: Return up to one target land card from your graveyard to your hand

The first requirement for this ability is obviously to have lands in your graveyard. The best ways to do this in Legacy are fetch lands and Wasteland. Recurring Wasteland is maybe the most obvious synergy the card offers to the format. It’s there where you see the power level of the ability really shine. You get to destroy all their lands one by one without being down a card and only need a single Wasteland to do so. We’ve seen this dominate games in the past with a much less versatile card in Life from the Loam.

Returning fetch lands is where I believe nearly every Wrenn and Six deck was doing it wrong before Philly. Having access to extra lands generally means that Brainstorm will be more broken than it already is in your deck and that you will be able to develop your mana without losing card advantage. So from where I’m sitting you want to be playing a deck that both has access to Wasteland and can also take advantage of some extra mana sources.

−1: Wrenn and Six deals 1 damage to any target

This one is pretty simple. Legacy has a lot of creatures with one toughness you can take out. Players have life totals and planeswalkers have loyalty which Wrenn can interact with if needed.

−7: You get an emblem with “Instant and sorcery cards in your graveyard have retrace”

Casting every spell in your deck any number of times is broken. I don’t have to explain that, but not all spells are created equal. Wrenn’s ultimate is always great, but is at its best in control decks where you have a diversity of spells to take over the game with.

If you look at the decks I tested containing Wrenn and Six I believe they all accomplish the outlined requirements to abuse Wrenn with one glaring exception. Delver of Secrets strategies do not take advantage of developing a land-drop on each of your turns when recurring fetch lands from your graveyard very well. They often do not need their fourth land-drop to fully carry out their gameplan. This means  that if your opponent is playing a deck that is immune to Wasteland you will find yourself with a planeswalker on the battlefield that has practically no use. It’s frankly ignorable some amount of the time. Ask any Delver player and they can tell you that the feeling of staring at three lands in your hand isn’t a great feeling. Scenarios like this led me to believe that we can do better, much better. Wrenn’s obviously great in a lot of decks, we know that now — but it’s at its very best in control decks, not Delver.

Enter Four Colour Control:

Four Colour Control is one of the Legacy decks that most notably needs a lot of mana to fully utilize all of its spells and gain access to every colour of mana. It’s also able to answer nearly every type of permanent between Abrupt Decay and Kolaghan’s Command, doesn’t mind extra removal and has wanted an effect like Wasteland for its entire existence but was never able to fully justify it before. Wrenn checks every single one of these boxes, but I knew I had my work cut out for me since the Baleful Strix archetype had shrunk to three colours and fallen out of favour after Deathrite was banned. As a starting point I began with the following list from Tomáš Már, the creator of Czech Pile:


After a few leagues I found that the deck did a lot of what I wanted, but the mana was horrible and the numbers were a bit all over the place. I found that when I developed an early Wrenn or didn’t get Wastelanded off my mana, I was crushing. I just kept casting cards that were more powerful than all of my opponents and had the ability to clean up anything they could deploy. With Wrenn you don’t even have to worry about winning the game, the inevitability of the Wasteland lock or the ultimate are enough on their own.

With this version, when you enacted your gameplan things went great, but my goal was to fix the mana — that felt like the only way I was losing. Around the same time I was testing this Four Colour Control list the talk of the town online was whether or not the snow cards from Modern Horizons had any legs in Legacy. Icefang Coatl, Prismatic Vista and Arcum’s Astrolabe had everyone’s gaze, but the jury was still out. I figured it would be worth the time to try out a build if it improved the mana and protected me from Wasteland. After constructing it and doing well in my first MTGO challenge my list was posted:


I tested this build for roughly a week and found that Arcum’s Astrolabe is a completely busted card. Along with a few snow basics it turned your lands into Hearthstone mana crystals. Instead of caring what lands I had in play I simply just counted my mana and cast whatever spell I wanted. And if you’ve played any amount of Legacy you know exactly how good that feels. At that point the only thing left to solve was how the mana worked when I didn’t draw Astrolabe. Prismatic Vista came at the cost of consistently casting my spells on time. Vista would also run out of fetchable lands rather quickly if it was the only fetch land I was able to draw early on. At some point it clicked to me that not having access to my dual lands was too great a cost to endure. Vista needed to go. The manabase needed to be overhauled yet again to be able to cast Astrolabe while using a more traditional fetch land manabase to get duals when I needed them. After this things really clicked.

The deck was finally playing as smoothly as I’d hoped when the experiment started. I arrived at my SCG Philadelphia decklist with the help of Edgar Magalhães and Keith Capstick to iron out the kinks and come up with a coherent sideboard plan.

The last thing I want to break down before getting into the aforementioned sideboarding are other builds and why I’m playing certain numbers of cards that may not seem obvious. 

Tarmogoyf

Harlan’s list can be seen here, he played Tarmogoyf at the Open. The big difference in his list was Tarmogoyf in place of Baleful Strix. Tarmogoyf is a card I tested quite a bit and think is very powerful. It shines against Delver, Chalice of the Void and combo. I found that it could be a solid sideboard tool in the right meta, but was too vulnerable in game one to removal which is why I chose to exclude it.

Baleful Strix

I think the correct number of this card can vary from zero to four. Surprisingly, it can be quite ineffective against Delver these days in Legacy. It’s amazing to have in play, but the play pattern of having it die to removal, then taking a large attack from something like Tarmogoyf or Gurmag Angler could be too much to overcome. I ended up on three in order to not flood out on them, but still have access to a card that is just so powerful on rate alone.

Basic Lands

Obviously you need a few of these for your Astrolabe draws. Island and Swamp are the best basics without Astrolabe, so those were the only ones remaining after my testing process. These best cast your cantrips and removal spells if you don’t find Astrolabe. If I were to add another basic it would be Forest. Lists with four Wrenn and Six would likely look to a Forest in order to be able to cast Wrenn off two basics and one Astrolabe on turn two. When testing Mountain I often found that not casting Decay or Strix was just too much of a cost.

Plague Engineer 

This card is the truth. It is the cleanest answer to True-Name Nemesis and also just hoses certain tribal strategies completely. This card is absurd and I wouldn’t leave home without three in my 75.

Fatal Push / Lightning Bolt

Lightning Bolt is the better card and I’m not going to pretend it’s not. This deck can often have issues answering planeswalkers, but Fatal Push offered too much in the metagame while also being easier on the mana, which is why I chose to play it. Tarmogoyf is on the rise in Legacy and in a deck with a basic Swamp I found that Fatal Push is the removal spell a deck like this should be looking to.

Leovold / Narset

Both of these cards share a line of text, but Leovold is truly busted and massively disruptive even if it’s harder to cast. The recursion of Kolaghan’s Command shouldn’t be overlooked and neither should the fact that Leovold can attack. Narset is better against exactly Miracles, but I don’t believe that is a great enough reason to play Narset in this meta. Narset’s draw is that it can dig you deeper for answers, but that doesn’t outweigh what Leovold brings to the table.

Wasteland

I only have two. I started with three, but I was finding that it wasn’t something I wanted to do early on in the game. Developing your own mana is more important than disrupting your opponent almost always. Two Wastelands is enough to find later in the game and punish decks containing Ancient Tomb or Dark Depths while grinding fair decks into dust with Wrenn.

Lonely Sandbar

This is a card I didn’t have time to test before SCG Philadelphia, but wish I had. I would try to play one or two moving forward in the spot of Jace or another spell. Converting Wrenn to real card advantage when extra lands aren’t needed is real. I slept on this card and won’t be doing so moving forward. 

The last thing I’ll be doing today is giving a rough sideboard guide to what I did at SCG Philadelphia. I’m still learning this deck so my sideboard isn’t perfect and I’m still developing my plans in each matchup. At the event itself I had to play a split of different versions of each blast  because Edgar Magalhães wouldn’t allow me to only play my FBB copies of Red and Blue Blasts to which I will never forget or forgive. 

Four Colour Delver:
Jace is better here as they have a clunky deck and the unsummon can buy multiple turns to take over the game.

+1 Plague, 2 Blue Blast, 1 Triumph, 3 Red Blast

-4 Force, 1 Jace, 2 Thoughtseize

Traditional Delver:
Leovold is better to defend and attack than Jace. Name “Rogue” with Plague Engineer against Grixis as it catches both True-Name and Bitterblossom.

+1 Plague, 2 Blue Blast, 1 Triumph, 3 Red Blast, 2 Leovold

-4 Force, 3 Jace, 2 Thoughtseize

Miracles: 
Lists will vary if they have Accumulated Knowledge, Predict, Red Blasts ect. 

I would change my plan accordingly but this is a rough outline to what you can expect to start at. 

+3 Reb Blast, 1 Thoughtseize, 1 Negation, 2 Leovold, 2 Spellbomb

-3 Push, 1 Triumph, 4 Force, 1 Wasteland

Storm:
Graveyard hate is powerful against stock storm, but much weaker against lists with Chrome Mox and Rite of Flame. If you’re playing TES I would bring in two Blue Blast while leaving Spellbombs in the sideboard. 

+2 Spellbomb, 1 Plague, 1 Negation, 3 Red Blast, 2 Surgical, 2 Leovold, 1 Thoughtseize

-3 Push, 2 Decay, 3 Wrenn, 1 Triumph, 2 Kolaghan’s, 1 Astrolabe

Sneak & Show: 
This matchup is not as scary as it seems. Leovold is very powerful against them while a combination of five blasts is effective against them. 

+1 Negation, 3 Red Blast, 2 Surgical, 2 Leovold, 1 Thoughtseize, 2 Blue Blast, 1  Triumph

-3 Push, 2 Decay, 3 Wrenn, 2 Plague, 2 Kolaghan’s

Elves: 
Cast Plague Engineer. They’re playing ELVES which is about the biggest invitation I’ve seen to get blown out yet. 

+1 Plague Engineer , 1 Force of Negation, 2 Leovold, 1 Thoughtseize

-1 Triumph, 3 Strix, 1 Astrolabe

Lands:
Thoughtseize is better the better they are at playing Lands. It’s still not amazing, but catching a crucial Crop Rotation or Gamble can make or break games. Watch out for Choke. 

+2 Spellbomb, 1 Negation, 1 Triumph, 2 Surgical, 2 Leovold

-3 Push, 2 Plague, 2 Kolaghan’s Command, 1 Strix

Rakdos Reanimator: 
Don’t be afraid to mulligan to competitive hands. They’re fast and you need to interact quickly. Decay can be used to stop Animate Dead before the creature enters the battlefield so it stays in. 

+1 Negation, 2 Surgical, 2 Leovold, 1 Thoughtseize, 1 Triumph, 2 Spellbomb

-3 Push, 2 Plague, 2 Kolaghan’s, 2 Wrenn

Grixis Control/Mirror: 
Don’t use your resources to try and snowball advantage. Both decks answer things so effectively that I would squeeze the maximum value out of every card you can and look to grind them to dust. Engineer can be important to clear Strix without putting you down a card, but can be cut if your opponent isn’t playing Strix. 

+2 Spellbomb, 2 Blue Blast, 3 Red Blast, 2 Leovold, 1 Thoughtseize

-3 Push, 1 Triumph, 4 Force, 2 Astrolabe

Death & Taxes:
You could leave more Forces in your deck if need be because Cataclysm is the most important card in the matchup.  Thoughtseize on Cataclysm or equipment is pretty important. Be careful to not lose to Palace Jailer. 

+1 Engineer, 1 Triumph

-2 Force

Stoneblade: 
This match is very good. K Command + Engineer is extremely effective against their entire strategy. Save Thoughtseize for equipment or Jace. Play around Back to Basics and look to use Abrupt Decay on that in game one. 

+1 Engineer, 3 Red Blast, 2 Leovold, 1 Thoughtseize, 1 Triumph

-3 Push, 4 Force, 1 Wasteland 

I’d like to make one last comment before I leave you:

The snow as a mechanic is stupid.

I don’t think it’s over-powered or that it limits design space too much — I just hate being forced to play these stupid basic lands. 

My beautiful, well-loved Unhinged lands have been laid to rest and that’s a true crime from my point of view. 

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