Partner Work Part 1: Legacy and Modern


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"

Counterbalance Sensei's Divining 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.

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.

Determining Factors

Risk Factor

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

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.

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.

Sit down and Listen – Kolaghan's Command

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.

Here again, the main difference between Modern and Legacy are the powerful blue spells and the game-changing Hymn to Tourach.

Copy your Partner's Work – Splinter Twin

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.

Follow-Up: Do Your Homework

New Perspectives

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!

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