Partner Work Part 1: Legacy and Modern
- Robert Swiecki
Legacy is not perfect and other formats can teach it some lessons. In part one of "partner work," CabalTherapy looks at Modern's influence on Legacy.
"Not You, Counter Top"
"Wait, in response I'd like to spin the top and trigger my balance." Does this sound like a typical pre-banned Sensei's Divining Top sentence in Legacy to you? If you said yes, then you're absolutely correct. However, Extended players realized the huge potential of Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top before it ever came to Legacy and after its success in T1.X, it carried over to Legacy. Extended used to be a Pro Tour format back in the day and its player base consisted of highly skilled pilots, whereas Legacy, a format officially founded in 2004, still had to compete with Vintage as the premier eternal format. Nonetheless, Modern started to usurp Extended's throne in late 2011, shrinking its player base while Counter Top's reign of terror in Legacy was yet to come.
For someone like me, who started playing Magic in 2004 and Legacy in 2008, the Extended Counter Top story remains one of the most important and defining transitions in Legacy's history. It shows that formats should not be purely independent entities, as they often interact in various ways.
|Extended: Remi Fortier – Pro Tour Valencia 1st place, 2007|
|1Academy Ruins||4Dark Confidant||4Chrome Mox|
|1Breeding Pool||4Tarmogoyf||1Engineered Explosives|
|4Flooded Strand||3Trinket Mage||3Sensei's Divining Top|
|1Forest||2Venser, Shaper Savant||1Tormod's Crypt|
|1Hallowed Fountain||2Umezawa's Jitte|
|1Plains||3Threads of Disloyalty|
|1Seat of the Synod||2Stifle|
|1Steam Vents||4Thirst for Knowledge|
|3Ancient Grudge||2Engineered Explosives||3Engineered Plague|
|2Loxodon Hierarch||1Pithing Needle||2Putrefy|
Admittedly, Fortier's deck list does not have much in common with Legacy Miracles, but it does share similarities with another deck that has died out: Supreme Blue, a four-colour control deck that ran Tarmogoyf alongside Counter Top.
|Legacy: Yoshihara Satoshi – Hareruya Open Top 8, 2011|
|4Flooded Strand||3Rhox War Monk||4Sensei's Divining Top|
|1Mountain||4Force of Will|
|2Scalding Tarn||4Swords to Plowshares|
|2Volcanic Island||2Jace, the Mind Sculptor|
|1Energy Flux||2Enlightened Tutor||2Krosan Grip|
|3Path to Exile||1Pyroblast||2Red Elemental Blast|
|1Tormod's Crypt||2Vendilion Clique||1Wheel of Sun and Moon|
Comparing cards, archetypes, and strategies across formats is not an easy task. First of all, every format has its own limitations, developed independently from each other format. That's why there are multiple formats. New decks, for example, have to be approached differently in Legacy than in Modern. Legacy-specific questions, such as, "What does it do against Wasteland?" must be answered, where in other formats where Wasteland isn't playable, they can be entirely ignored. Similarly, matchup specific questions like "What are its chances against Storm decks, Miracles, or Sneak Show?" also pervade Legacy players minds. Basic card calculations like whether or not you can pitch a card to Force of Will or how you should split up your plethora of available cantrip spells create a very different environment for deck building. Other formats, like Modern, have their own questions like, "How fast can this deck win?" and "What does it do against Burn, Tron or Humans?"
It is rather obvious to realise that there is a difference in card quality in Modern and Legacy. For example, Cryptic Command is a key card in many Control decks in Modern but has not found a slot in Legacy decks because it is simply a bit too expensive and competes with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Supreme Verdict, and other strong high mana options for the most common Control decks. It should be said, however, that the blue instant could be a great top deck during the deciding turns of any Miracles deck. What is true for card quality is not always true for the power of respective decks. There are plenty of Combo decks in Legacy like ANT, Sneak & Show or Reanimator that could easily plow through the current Modern meta. Those decks generally do not care what opponents try to do but aim at carrying out their combo as fast and as well-protected as possible. Decks like Canadian Threshold prey on format-specific features like the heavy use of non-basic lands or generally low mana curves. Such a deck could not survive in a different meta let alone a format like Modern – this is of course an assumption based around the fact that Canadian wants to play against decks that follow Legacy's most popular strategies.
Consequently, determining factors for cards or strategies are extremely difficult to establish, but once a strategy becomes overwhelmingly powerful in one format, there is a potential that it could also work in another. It just has to answer a few more questions. Let us now look at three lessons Modern has taught Legacy.
Filling in the Gaps – Death's Shadow
With Deathrite Shaman gone, there was a gap that needed filling. Modern all-star Death's Shadow had the answer and got the job. The Shaman's life-draining ability and its mana ramp had prohibited the use of Modern's monster and the old Grixis Delver was simply too efficient against shadowy strategies. Even without Gitaxian Probe, U/B Shadow has become a solid choice for any Legacy tournament.
Played by a couple of players even during Shamans's era, many veterans had disregarded Death's Shadow decks; labeled as budget deck or simply a Modern deck, Shadow had to wait for the major ban announcement and the Legacy Pro Tour to finally get some positive publicity and screen time. In fact, the card itself is much better than the highly anticipated return of Nimble Mongoose, which couldn't really make an impact on a newer meta game.
|Modern: Marius Hausmann – Ovino Modern Main Event Top 8, 2018|
|2Blood Crypt||4Death's Shadow||4Mishra's Bauble|
|2Bloodstained Mire||4Gurmag Angler||2Inquisition of Kozilek|
|4Polluted Delta||4Street Wraith||2Dismember|
|4Scalding Tarn||2Fatal Push|
|1Steam Vents||3Lightning Bolt|
|2Watery Grave||3Stubborn Denial|
|2Temur Battle Rage|
|1Abrade||2Anger of the Gods||1Ceremonious Rejection|
|1Disdainful Stroke||1Duress||1Izzet Staticaster|
|2Kolaghan's Command||2Liliana, the Last Hope||2Nihil Spellbomb|
The biggest difference between Legacy and Modern lists is the lack of powerful cantrips in the Modern one. Therefore, Temur Battle Rage makes up for the missing consistency with a solid way to end the game with one attack. Thought Scour and Opt are decent second class cantrips as well and work well with Snapcaster Mage and Gurmag Angler.
|Legacy: Giacomo Lancini – Ovino Legacy Main Event Top 8, 2018|
|2Bloodstained Mire||4Death's Shadow||4Brainstorm|
|2Marsh Flats||4Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration||4Daze|
|2Misty Rainforest||2Gurmag Angler||1Dismember|
|2Polluted Delta||4Street Wraith||2Fatal Push|
|1Scalding Tarn||4Force of Will|
|2Underground Sea||1Snuff Out|
|3Watery Grave||1Hymn to Tourach|
|2Bitterblossom||1Diabolic Edict||1Dread of Night|
|1Flusterstorm||1Hymn to Tourach||2Liliana, the Last Hope|
|1Marsh Casualties||1Massacre||2Ratchet Bomb|
Sit down and Listen – Kolaghan's Command
Game-play wise Legacy has changed in Modern's direction. The once stack-based interactions of yore have been replaced by grind fests and value engines. It is not only about Force of Will, Brainstorm, Lightning Bolt, and Dark Ritual anymore. Now, Liliana, the Last Hope, Leovold, Emissary of Trest, and Baleful Strix have made their presence known; it's come down to the battlefield. This is a very "Modern" concept, one rooted at the format's core. Wizards wanted to establish a format where combat steps and permanents play a more important role than in their older eternal formats.
Kolahan's Command is the perfect card for grindy decks like Grixis Control and Czech Pile – even though it is much more difficult to play nowadays. It is yet another Modern classic that has been a staple in many Delver and midrange strategies. However, it took a while for Legacy to realize its potential. Now, it is a feared spell that has great applications against Combo, Aggro, and Control decks alike.
|Modern: Sandstar - 5-0 Competitive Modern League, Oct. 2018|
|1Blood Crypt||4Snapcaster Mage||1Countersquall|
|2Creeping Tar Pit||2Tasigur, the Golden Fang||4Cryptic Command|
|3Field of Ruin||1Vendilion Clique||1Dismember|
|4Polluted Delta||4Lightning Bolt|
|4Scalding Tarn||2Logic Knot|
|2Steam Vents||1Pull from Tomorrow|
|1Sulfur Falls||1Spell Snare|
|2Watery Grave||4Thought Scour|
|2Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin|
|1Countersquall||1Ceremonious Rejection||2Disdainful Stroke|
|1Izzet Staticaster||2Young Pyromancer||2Anger of the Gods|
|2Collective Brutality||1Dispel||3Surgical Extraction|
Here again, the main difference between Modern and Legacy are the powerful blue spells and the game-changing Hymn to Tourach.
|Legacy: Nathan Steuer – SCG Team Open Top 8, Nov. 2018|
|3Bloodstained Mire||2Gurmag Angler||2Diabolic Edict|
|2Island||3Snapcaster Mage||2Fatal Push|
|4Polluted Delta||4Force of Will|
|2Scalding Tarn||3Kolaghan's Command|
|3Underground Sea||3Hymn to Tourach|
|2Volcanic Island||1Inquisition of Kozilek|
|3Jace, the Mind Sculptor|
|1Liliana, the Last Hope|
|2Flusterstorm||1Liliana, the Last Hope||1Marsh Casualties|
|3Pyroblast||3Surgical Extraction||1Toxic Deluge|
Copy your Partner's Work – Splinter Twin
This one might be a bit odd, since it hasn't really entered the Legacy scene with much fanfare. Apart from actually winning the Eternal Weekend 2015 in the USA, Splinter Twin waits for its breakthrough. Banned in Modern, it is a powerful mechanic that unfortunately has a couple of strong antagonists in Legacy; mainly Sneak & Show. Both decks try to play a controlled game and win with one or two powerful spells. One might argue that Splinter Twin's creatures, namely Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch, are slightly more useful waiting for the combo than Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Griselbrand but on the other hand Sneak & Show can run up to eight almost equivalent business spells, whereas Splinter Twin is forced to rely on four.
Nevertheless, I am positive that out there is a possible and good list either straight in U/R, using a stompy shell, or in some three-color combination.
|Modern: Brian Braun-Duin – GP Oklahoma City 2nd place, 2015|
|1Cavern of Souls||4Deceiver Exarch||1Roast|
|2Desolate Lighthouse||2Pestermite||4Serum Visions|
|4Island||4Snapcaster Mage||2Cryptic Command|
|4Misty Rainforest||1Vendilion Clique||3Dispel|
|4Scalding Tarn||4Lightning Bolt|
|1Stomping Ground||1Spell Snare|
|3Sulfur Falls||1Twisted Image|
|2Ancient Grudge||2Blood Moon||1Grim Lavamancer|
|2Jace, Architect of Thought||2Keranos, God of Storms||1Negate|
|1Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir|
|Max Ansbro – NA Legacy Championships Top 8, 2015|
|1Arid Mesa||3Deceiver Exarch||4Ponder|
|1Mountain||2Vendilion Clique||3Dig Through Time|
|1Plateau||4Force of Will|
|4Scalding Tarn||4Lightning Bolt|
|4Volcanic Island||1Spell Snare|
|2Jace, the Mind Sculptor|
|2Ethersworn Canonist||2Flusterstorm||1Izzet Staticaster|
|2Misdirection||2Pyroblast||2Relic of Progenitus|
|2Sulfur Elemental||2Wear // Tear|
Follow-Up: Do Your Homework
All in all, Legacy can learn quite a lot from Modern. Its game plan tends to be "Modern-esque." It's not easy to admit that listening to the younger sibling could potentially improve the own format but Modern has been evolving greatly over the last couple of years and looks like it's in a healthy place at the moment. Watch out for its staples because it is only a matter of then when the next Modern playable will strike Legacy. Maybe you'll find the next big carry-over, in Urza Lands, in creature-based aggro, or maybe even in janky artifact combos – who knows!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.