With the impending release of Eternal Masters, and the mistakes that Wizards of the Coast have inflicted upon Modern over the last year, more and more people are getting interested in Legacy. And rightly so, it’s a great format!
The first, and most important reason to play Legacy, is the same as why we play any Magic at all. Fun. Players find fun in a myriad of ways while playing Legacy. Resurrecting old cards they used in previous formats that were banned, exploring interesting and unique interactions throughout 20+ years of magic history, collecting old and exotic cards, doing powerful broken things, playing archetypes that WOTC have removed from the game and experiencing some of the most consistently complex, interactive and enjoyable games of magic ever.
Only in Legacy do things like this happen. Watch the first game.
If that complexity and rigorous mental challenge is what you look for in Magic then Legacy is definitely for you. Unlike Modern where matches are generally defined by finding the hate card before your opponent, every game of Legacy will be different and the roles within games fluid. A great example of this is a match between Lands and Miracles. While both are primarily control decks, at the beginning of game one Lands can easily play like a combo deck. Making a swift Marit Lage token just to see if the Miracles player has the Swords to Plowshares. If the game goes past this point the Miracles deck has the upper hand because of the number of basics it plays and its ability to lock Lands out of any meaningful plays with Jace, Counterbalance and Top. After board the matchup becomes even more complex and the roles change. Now Miracles has a timing window while having to constantly play around Krosan Grip by floating a three drop with Top and Counterbalance so that the Lands player can’t remove the enchantments brought in that stop Lands dead. All the while the threat of a sudden combo turn early on looms large as does the inevitability of sideboarded lands Boseiju and Ghost Quarter.
The use of the stack is also more important. Free counterspells, cards like Stifle and Wasteland attacking your mana and blisteringly fast glass-cannon decks all interacting to great effect. For example Reanimator vs RUG Delver. Turn two. A sequence of Reanimate on the stack (targeting Griselbrand), the Delver player activates Wasteland targeting opponents Fetchland. They crack it in response and the Delver player floats a blue mana and uses Daze on Reanimate returning the land. The Reanimator player can’t pay now so has to use their Force of Will on Daze. The Delver player uses the floating blue mana to cast Brainstorm and hopefully find their own Force of Will! All on turn two!
Even the most seemingly minor decision in the first turn can lose you the game, and fortunately the power level of the format is such that minor mistakes or advantages can all build up to a memorable loss or victory. Turn one, a Miracles player has two options. Island – Ponder or Fetch – Ponder. They choose the first option and see Counterbalance, Snapcaster and Swords to Plowshares. If they have no other land in hand this route means they cannot play Counterbalance on turn two without Fetching first, thereby losing control over what is on the top of their deck. This can be crucial, for example, when facing storm. Here it would mean that if their Storm opponent goes off early, they will just have to hope that something relevant is on top after the Fetch shuffle.
Legacy cuts out one of the more frustrating sides of Magic, variance. It minimises the random chance that is built into the core of Magic through redundancy. With access to nearly every card printed, players can call upon multiple spells that are a variation on a theme and incorporate them into their deck to get largely similar effects; essentially having 8+ copies of a card. Fetchlands and Dual Lands combining to give the best mana fixing possible and the power of the best cantrips printed will churn through your deck looking for what you need. Mana screw and flood are lessened as is waiting to draw a specific card. A perfect example of this is Brainstorm and a fetchland combing to create a pseudo Ancestral Recall, drawing three new cards, putting back two unhelpful ones and then fetching and shuffling them away. A great illustration of all of this is one of Legacy’s most powerful and consistent decks for the last five years, RUG Delver (never Temur!). Eight cantrips, eight free counterspells, eight land destruction ‘spells’ and 12 creatures give unmatched consistency to the deck.
In a different format, decks playing out more consistently might become a problem over time, especially if that format is non-rotating. However, another great reason to play Legacy is the incredibly wide choice of decks and variation in their playstyle. You have myriad options in choosing what to play. Plenty of diverse combo decks win via the graveyard (Dredge, Reanimator etc), Storm mechanic (ANT, TES, High Tide) and odd combos (RIPHelm, Painter, etc). Or you could play a variant of Delver (RUG, BUG, Grixis, Patriot) and use tempo to your advantage. Perhaps you want to control an opponent (Miracles, Shardless) or even lock them out (Lands, Stax). Maybe one of the classic tribes is more your style? (Elves, Goblins, Merfolk and even Slivers all play very differently) The Axion tournament (Dec 13th 2015) you can read a report on here had 28 distinct decks in a tournament of only 68 players.
Or if you are unsure what to play, the chart below explains how most Legacy players decide on a deck……
The typical three demarcations of Aggro, Control and Combo all exist in Legacy but few, if any, decks truly stick in one camp and consequently have a varied playstyle. RUG Delver, while nominally an aggro deck can assume a control role depending on the circumstances. Lands is an even more extreme example of standing astride two camps. The prison lock of Life from the Loam, Wasteland and Exploration give the deck inevitability while Thespian’s Stage and Dark Depths give the capability of killing as early as turn two. The grouping and definition of Legacy decks is much more opaque than our classic rock paper scissors. Combine the large number of deck choices and the possible roles they can take in each game and you have a very deep format.
With a choice of decks so large, starting out is often daunting when facing down cards you have never seen on a regular basis. However learning the ins and outs of so many decks is an incredibly rewarding challenge. This hard won format knowledge will also be pertinent for longer in Legacy as opposed to similar knowledge in more volatile formats because bannings happen less often.
The fun, complexity, variety of decks, longer shelf life of your format experience and of cards invested in, all combine to create a format that is highly creative, rewarding and more resistant to vagaries of time.
Next week Part 2 !