Five Common Mistakes Inexperienced Legacy Players Make
- Robert Swiecki
In a format as complex as Legacy mistakes occur frequently. Many of those mistakes are easily dismissed as miscalculations on intricate game states. This being said, many of these mistakes are easily preventable and Robert has decided to tackle some of them here.
In this article, I focus on the five most common beginner mistakes that happen regularly at Legacy tournaments. This excludes play-specific mistakes like countering the wrong ritual or sequencing removal and cantrips in a wrong order. The answer to many newer player questions and uncertainties is experience and one cannot judge a player by their lack of knowledge about the format when they have just started to play Legacy.
The following five examples, however, demonstrate common errors that should not happen in a competitive environment but are yet the daily fare. Of course, players may encounter similar or the exact same mistakes in other formats as well.
Actions During the Cleanup Step
The cleanup step is the second part of the ending phase of a turn. Basically, two things happen during the cleanup step. The active player discards down to the allowed hand-size of seven cards if they have more in hand and damage gets removed from permanents in play. Players cannot play spells or activate abilities during the cleanup step since it is not a part of actual gameplay but rather – as its name explains – a means to reset the player state regarding damage and hand size to fall in line with the rules of the game for the following start-of-turn.
Now, the next issue might be the most common mistake among the five that I have chosen. Once the active player announces that they would like to go to the cleanup step in order to discard abundant cards, the opponent must react then, at the first part of the ending phase – the end step – and play instants as well as activate abilities of their permanents. If the passive player chooses not to, they cannot take action anymore. However, there are obviously exceptions to this rule, such as Emrakul, the Aeons Torn's trigger that forces the active player to shuffle Emrakul back into their deck. The opponent can respond to this trigger by getting priority with the trigger on the stack and play spells and activate abilities just like in any other phase of the game.
The crucial mistake here is to not wait until the cleanup step but to fire off spells before the active player gets to discard their cards. In Legacy, the classic example of this mistake evolves around Aether Vial and Stoneforge Mystic; two cards that mainly see play in Death and Taxes nowadays. Be aware of the fact that neither the artificer nor the vial are able to put a permanent into play after the active player has discarded to legal hand size if there is no other form of interaction available that would allow for another stack i.e. priority.
The Purblind Extraction
Surgical Extraction is a powerful disruptive spell granting the active player insight to their opponent's sideboard plan, their amount of possible answers to certain threats, and taking out key cards for one black mana or two life. There are numerous times where a well-timed Extraction wins games albeit there are at least as many situations where it simply does almost nothing.
The biggest difference between the Extraction and Extirpate in regard to its searching effect is that it contains the phrase "any number of cards," whereas Extirpate reads "all cards". In other words, targeting a card with Surgical Extraction does not require any active action from the opponent while Extirpate demands the passive player to be sure to have the targeted card and all of its copies removed. It is a common sight that the active player forgets to take out the actual card in the opposing graveyard because targeting it – or merely pointing at it or announcing the target – counts as Surgical Extraction being played according to the rulebook, thus going on top of the stack. While it resolves, the passive player has to reveal their hand and present their library because both areas are usually invisible to the active player.
The graveyard, however, is regarded as a readily accessible zone that can be examined by both players at any time. Consequently, some players tend to forget to extract the card in the graveyard quite frequently. If it has not been removed from the graveyard during Extraction's resolution, it will stay there.
Do Not Poke the Eye
Now this one is probably the all-time classic of beginner's mistakes in Legacy: Playing Pithing Needle and calling Lion's Eye Diamond. It happens at small local tournaments but it also occurs at GPs. Strangely enough Lion's Eye Diamond's ability is in fact a mana ability, which cannot be stopped by the needle – the same holds true for Lotus Petal.
Luckily, this Mental Misstep can be avoided by simply reading both cards and deciding that it just does not work that way. As a side note, I could see someone calling Lion's Eye Diamond with Pithing Needle and pray that the combo player is not aware of how the needle operates themselves; in such a case putting needle on the diamond is a neat next-level play, but in all honesty, also an extremely marginal one.
"Ok? Does it Resolve?"
Let us stay with Lion's Eye Diamond for another mistake. Its interaction with Infernal Tutor in Storm decks, with Breakthrough in Dredge, Ideas Unbound and Burning Wish in Doomsday, and its many other crazy applications in Legacy and beyond based on priority, which is a key factor in any game of Magic. Communication is everything in this example because passing and holding priority is – in contrast to Magic Online – a matter of talking to the opponent and reacting to their actions in real time.
The stack and priority are extremely important in Legacy where usually there is a lot going on in the first few turns of a game; cracking fetch lands at the correct time, holding back cantrips and counterspells or for example responding to the opponent's Wasteland activations with a proactive spell, floating mana with the targeted land, playing a spell, reacting to it with a Daze in order to protect the land from the Wasteland and for the Daze with the spare mana. Therefore, it is extremely necessary to know how priority and the stack work. There are even decks that have been built around specific cases of stack interaction, such as Solidarity, a blue combo deck that wins in the opponent's turn with the help of Reset and High Tide, and TinFins, which reacts to Emrakul's graveyard hating trigger with Shallow Grave and Goryo's Vengeance.
Some cards create major pitfalls for inexperienced players because of their wordings or their unique abilities. To put Cabal Therapy on the stack one only needs to target a player whereas naming the actual card is not part of this process. However, there are many players who reveal their hands with the discard spell still on the stack. Another problematic situation revolves around cards like the aforementioned Lion's Eye Diamond. The correct use was to abuse its potential is to crack the diamond in response to a tutor, a draw spell, or any other interaction that waits on the stack. Since it is a mana ability, the opponent generally cannot interfere with the diamond properly. Asking the opponent if a spell resolves before using the diamond is a huge mistake because in doing so the active player cedes priority and thus loses the momentum to activate their artefact.
Giving Away Too Much Information
It is not easy to play Legacy at a high level. Beginners have to learn many interactions and the ability to judge board states and certain plays properly. Having information about cards in the opponent's hand make things more straightforward – that is why Gitaxian Probe is such a powerful card apart from being a free spell.
Inexperienced players across all formats tend to play lands that they have just drawn instead of the ones they have already had in hand. Knowing about their hand cards and then seeing a new land enter the battlefield gives away easy information about the content of the opponent's hand. Such minor mistakes and strictly worse plays decide on win or loss more often than not.
Coming back to Surgical Extraction, it entices players to look at the opponent's graveyard immediately after having top decked it. While, on the one hand, it is totally acceptable and legal to go through the opponent's graveyard at some point of the game, such a move reveals information about the active player's hand. Even though Extraction is a back-breaking card, experienced players will play around it quite nicely when they suspect it in their opponent's hand.
Mistakes Don't Hurt
We all make mistakes and they are necessary for us to improve in a field as vast as Magic. The best advice for beginners in Legacy and any other competitive format is to remember mistakes, write them down, and do not repeat them. Even though I avoid beginner's mistakes by playing exceedingly focused, there are times where I wake up in the morning and my first thought – while still not fully mentally ready for the day – deals with a solution to a Storm line that I might have missed some days ago in a tournament. Such scenarios describe a rather complicated and advanced game play but there are many other situations where common mistakes can be avoided.
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