The Art of Building a Legacy Deck
- Robert Swiecki
Legacy has always been a playground for innovators. However, one does not need to reinvent the wheel to build a proper Legacy deck. In fact, it's often impossible to do. Instead, just as with most formats, it's more about working within an established framework.
Musings on Brewing
Many of the thoughts contained in this article apply to other formats as well, especially to those with an established metagame. Legacy is extreme in this regard, as certain patterns have established themselves over years, and thus makes for the ideal example.
Looking at the most recent sets having impacted Legacy, there are quite some crazy things going on. The archetype triangle is dead; and well it died many years ago, but it has never been that obvious. Nowadays you get tempo decks, formerly classified as aggro, transforming into midrange control decks whereas control decks summon powerful beaters postboard that close out games in zooesque fashion.
Yet it is difficult to argue that the format is a brewer's paradise because people might misunderstand what brewing means in terms of Legacy. Just imagine someone who, by accident, finds a long-forgotten card in their binder or an overlooked mythic rare from a newer set and comes up with a neat interaction between said card and some others. They stir the metaphorical deck soup with a huge cooking spoon while adding all the spice Legacy has to offer. Well, that is not how brewing in Legacy works, normally.
There is no reset button in Legacy as there is in Standard to some extent. One has to follow certain prescriptions that limit the brewer's freedom significantly. A strong starting point is the most common way to brew in Legacy. One needs to have a basis that has proven itself in competitive play to work with. And while it may not be brewing in its purest definition, changing some slots in an already established deck can be regarded as Legacy's equivalent. In the end, it is a game of big numbers. There are plenty situations where playing one card over another affects the board state little to not at all. Hooting Mandrills usually close out the game as fast as Tarmogoyf when uncontested, but there are times when one is vastly superior to the other.
Of course, exceptions exist that do not share a common basis with other decks and look like extraordinary brews—just look at Ruby Storm, which combines the power of Ruby Medallion, red rituals, and powerful payoff spells. But even those decks capitalize on the meta knowledge of other decks. Ruby Storm's lines of play share features of Belcher and The Epic Storm for example.
What Makes a Deck New
There is an understanding that "new" decks have to include a certain amount of newer or resurrected cards to be classified as such. This is not quite the case in Legacy. Take the classic RUG Delver build, or Canadian Threshold, and compare it to the so-called "No Bad Cards RUG" (NBC RUG). Someone new to the format would not be able to distinguish the decks because they differ in only a handful of cards. The biggest factor is Stifle, completely omitted by NBC RUG in favor of "better" cards that aren't situational.
What really makes NBC RUG another deck is its playstyle. Classic Canadian wants to be as reactive as possible and then strike back with cheap creatures. On the other hand, NBC RUG plays proactively and uses cards that have a higher late-game value, such as Hexdrinker and Dreadhorde Arcanist. While RUG Delver with Stifle still exists and puts up decent tournament results, NBC RUG has become the weapon of choice for many. It allows them to play a different game of Magic and that is what makes it a new deck.
Question the Established
A metagame is stacked with answers. It does not matter if it is a complex card game or a highly strategic video game like League of Legends that has a large pool of playable options at the ready. Picking up a certain strategy, a certain deck refers to wanting to answer a particular meta game. Do people play a lot of Dark Depths? Then the correct answer is to adapt one's strategy to theirs or play a deck that is traditionally quite strong against them.
What really sparks new ideas is to question established notions. Do you have to play four Lightning Bolt because everyone does so? Well, look at Tomasz Mar's Four-Color Czech Pile list from 2017:
|Tomasz Mar's Four-Color Czech Pile, 2017|
What appears to be a wants list at first glance, is in fact a highly tweaked version of a very successful deck that ran rampant during the last years of the Deathrite Shaman era. Who plays a singleton Lightning Bolt, one Fatal Push, and one Thoughtseize? These numbers are not random but based on exact calculations of card choices. Command, Push, Bolt, and Decay share a field of applications, although every card does its unique thing.
In this case, Mar did not want to have two Bolts in hand but rather a widespread variety of removal spells. Two Wasteland main and one in the sideboard gives away this player's approach to certain matchups as well. Czech Pile was a well-built construct that tackled the metagame in its own way.
|Maraxus_Of_Nl's Blue-Black Delver, October 5, 2019|
There is no need to play the full set of Ponder when Thought Scour already is a decent cantrip that can manipulate either player's library. The singleton Spell Snare works great against Rest in Peace and Baleful Strix and Tyrant's Scorn and Brazen Borrower share applications against Reanimator and Depths decks.
The Thing About One-Ofs
Singletons are a useful way of diversifying one's tools. Lightning Bolt and Kolaghan's Command both kill Noble Hierarch, but the Bolt is capable of destroying Leovold, Emissary of Trest while Command takes care of Chalice of the Void or disrupts the opponent by making them discard a card at instant speed.
That is why Legacy decks take up a lot of space on the registration sheet sometimes, and rightly so. Let us look at Grafdigger's Cage, a unique card, that has the potential to shut down multiple decks on its own. Apart from being a great tool against Dredge, Reanimator, Elves, and Storm, however, Cage suffers from being completely useless as a pair. It does not have an activated ability and its effect does not stack. Now, running one Cage prevents one from having that problem, but at the same time makes one draw it in fewer games. That is why spreading out answers is a big deal in Legacy. Do you want more graveyard hate? Play Nihil Spellbomb if your deck allows it for, a Tormod's Crypt, Relic of Progenitus, or go full hate mode with Leyline of the Void.
In the end, in most cases the risk of being stuck with two Cages outweighs its power.
Go Big or Go HomeAll in or nothing. Building or tweaking a deck is pretty risky stuff but at the same time extremely rewarding. There is always room for improvement and bringing something unknown to the table benefits from a surprise factor. Take a look at Jean-Mary Accart's Sylvan Plug list, which he built for GP Paris in 2014:
|Jean-Mary Accart's Sylvan Plug, 2014|
Based on a classic Stompy list, he paired massive critters with extreme lock pieces. The combination had quite a favorable matchup against the up-and-coming Miracles decks of the time. I mean just look at that Stingerfling Spider—that was some serious spice back in the day.
The lesson is: Be brave and try out things that might look strange at first. There are many people splashing Force of Negation as a fifth Force of Will. But what about going all in and playing eight Forces in a control deck that can recoup card disadvantage with Accumulated Knowledge and Predict?
However, never fall victim to the "danger of cool things." Every card in a competitive environment needs to be tested and proven worthy of occupying a slot. There are many cool cards that most likely will never make it on the bigger stages and will forever fall short of making an impact.
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