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Sullivan Library: Legacy at the Pro Tour


If you know me, you may already know this: I love Legacy.

This has long been the case. Ever since I first began covering Magic: The Gathering Legacy events about a decade ago, I fell in love with the power of the format. It wasn't just that Force of Will, Birds of Paradise, Dark Ritual, and Goblin Lackey could live in the same format. It was that they could live in the same format where Mother of Runes was an important metagame card.

Mother of Runes
Force of Will

Dark Ritual
Birds of Paradise
Goblin Lackey

That's a pretty phenomenal state of affairs.

As I got to know the format, though, I became enthralled by the incredibly variability of the decks. With some creativity and wisdom, you could build nearly anything. Take this deck which I played in the "Hulk-Flash" Grand Prix in Columbus over 10 years ago:

I believe I would have done even better had it not been for a huge tilting that happened after losing a good matchup (Hulk-Flash!) because I messed up timing to stop the combo. After that, I lost several matches in a row, just completely mentally out of the tournament until I recovered.

Lord of Extinction

In addition to decks like this, I've done well with decks that include Lord of Extinction as a finisher in a BUG-Control list, more controlling takes on High Tide (similar to the old Extended build), and much more. Legacy has had a few different ways it has existed; sometimes, the world is your oyster, and nearly anything is possible. At other times, the world is closed off, and you'll soon see a ban coming.

This happened dramatically in 2010, when Survival of the Fittest was banned. It happened again, as I discussed on this website just last month, with the banning of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe. These changes made a huge splash on the format, taking an anemic Legacy and turning it again into a wildly interesting format at the Pro Tour 25th Anniversary up in Minneapolis.'

Thirty-one archetypes showed up. Only three took up 10% of the field or more (Grixis Control, Eldrazi decks, and Sneak and Show). This nearly caught it up to Modern, with thirty-six archetypes, but, in some ways it was far more homogenous in Modern, with four archetypes taking up 10% of the field or more (Humans, Tron, wu Control, and KCI).

I'm excited to see the Pro Tour Champions from Team HotSauceGames, Greg Orange, Allen Wu, and Ben Hull played Death and Taxes for their Legacy deck. While this is clearly influenced by us liking the same archetype, I love that Wu's deck is so similar to my own, minus my Mangara of Corondor and my second Sanctum Prelate in favor of a fourth Phyrexian Revoker and a 24th land in Mishra's Factory, while swapping my Cavern of Souls for a Plains.

Here is Wu's build:

There is a lot I love about this list that actually feels novel. First, is the choice of Walking Ballista. This is an incredibly intriguing card in this deck, capable of dying at will to take out Bridge from Below, fetchable by Recruiter of the Guard, and even able to be dropped out by an empty Vial if you need it to just quickly die (again to take out Bridge from Below). I have a feeling Wu might have been concerned about Dredge with not only this inclusion, but three Rest in Peace and a Faerie Macabre besides. At this tournament, he need not have worried about that deck, though nine br Reanimator and one classic ub Reanimator were in attendance.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has been a common sideboard slot for this deck, with most players, for example archetype groundbreaker Thomas Enevoldsen, running one. Wu went that extra mile for a second copy, no mean feat in such a variable format.

Serra Avenger

My favorite choice that Wu makes is one I've long since advocated for. He doesn't play Serra Avenger (nor the new cuteness, Brightling). I just don't see any purpose to this card at all other than in killing the Insectile Aberration side of Delver of Secrets. Contrary to popular belief, Death and Taxes is not a White Weenie deck; it is a Prison deck - the Dutch, for example, long-called the deck White Control until they finally gave in and went with Death and Taxes as a name because it had become so popular. Wu's build embraces this notion, and is all about shutting the opponent down rather than having a card which goes for the kill.

Serra Avenger really only served a few purposes. First, it could kill the aforementioned Insectile Aberration in combat; however, it could only do this if it wasn't hit by a Lightning Bolt, a Snuff Out, or some other card in the abundant removal suite of Delver decks. Second, it could provide a potential beatdown draw by hitting play on turn three via an Aether Vial; however, while this may be a good option, it isn't on plan, and it requires the support of other cards to pull off successfully, lest you fall prey to either role misassignment or simple poor performance because the deck is not a great beatdown deck. Third, it can fly over a True-Name Nemesis, and even potentially race it with some help; here, the problem is that this is still very unlikely to result in a win in that game since the sideboard is where the actual answer, Council's Judgment, lives, and Deathrite Shaman's banning reduces the actual viability of True-Name Nemesis.

Great job to Allen Wu and the rest of the Hotsauce gang on their finish! I have to believe a large part of it was due to Wu's astute choices with regards to his Death and Taxes build.

What did the rest of the Pro Tour metagame look like in Legacy?

  • 20 - Grixis Control
  • 18 - Sneak and Show (with two Omni-Show)
  • 14 - Eldrazi Stompy
  • 12 - Death and Taxes
  • 12 - ub Shadow (with 3 Grixis Shadow)
  • 11 - Temur Delver
  • 9 - br Reanimator
  • 9 - Miracles
  • 9 - Stoneblade (8 wu and 1 Esper)
  • 7 - Mono-Red Prison
  • 7 - Eldrazi Post
  • 6 - Grixis Delver
  • 4 - 4C-Loam
  • 4 - Affinity
  • 4 - Infect
  • 3 - Storm
  • 2 - ur Delver
  • 2 - wu Control
  • 2 - Elves
  • 2 - Sultai Midrange
  • 1 - Esper Control
  • 1 - Jeskai Control
  • 1 - Lands
  • 1 - Maverick
  • 1 - Merfolk
  • 1 - ub Reanimator
  • 1 - Aluren

It is hard to know how any of these archetypes actually did. We don't have an actual breakdown of the results of matches as they were played by the Legacy players in each team. Was Eldrazi Post good? Was Miracles a dud? Did Lands do well?

Who knows?

This is a very bizarre limitation for understanding. We do know that the Top 4 teams included two Death and Taxes lists, one ub Shadow deck, and an Eldrazi-Stompy list. Let's take a quick peek at those two other archetypes.

This deck is most intriguing because of the ways in which it imports the Modern deck into the powerful space of Legacy.

From a classical perspective on Modern, one of the most incredible choices of this archetype is more Watery Grave than Underground Sea. No, this isn't about budget, but, it is, of course, all about feeding the Death's Shadow a bit of your pain. Reanimate also fits that game plan, along with being an awesome way to make something incredible hit the battlefield in any number of games. If you watched the coverage of the event, I'm sure you saw Reanimate take something amazing more than once.

The rest of the deck is classic aggro-control. Powerful creatures, most of which are basically of 1 mana to cast, even if that might not be technically true, backed up by Force of Will and Daze, as well as a smattering of Thoughtseize and creature removal to disrupt, and a pair of Stubborn Denial so that an opponent is always going to be struggling to maintain a game plan.

Perhaps the most exciting choice by Josh Utter-Leyton and the Channel Fireball crew was Throne of Geth. This card can make a Chalice of the Void on one go up to two, and free up a huge amount of spells that would otherwise be stranded. I don't know how often they employed this effect over the course of the tournament, but it is a novel answer.

Here was the lone Chalice of the Void deck in the Top 4:

In terms of Legacy decks, this is perhaps the closest to Modern that you're going to get. The only spell that isn't Modern legal is the absolutely insane Umezawa's Jitte. You might not understand why this deck is worth playing in a format as powerful as Legacy in that case, until you get to the lands.

Ancient Tomb
City of Traitors
Eye of Ugin
Mishra's Factory

The power in this deck is a power in the lands. Most of these incredible lands provide an actual or a virtual 2 mana each, an absurd payoff. Wasteland is very nearly Strip Mine in Legacy, and access to that card is always powerful, especially when, like Eldrazi Stompy, you are supplying a hugely fast beatdown.

Chalice of the Void - one of my favorite cards because I love it when my opponent is miserable - does a lot of work against so many decks, essentially turning their cards in hand into useless cardboard. With four Thought-Knot Seer and some Wastelands, this deck hopes it will be enough to end the game while the opponent stumbles. Of course, most dramatically, the deck can explode onto the table with Eldrazi Mimic in multiples off of an Eye of Ugin, and then do something absurd with it on turn two because of the mana acceleration; I wouldn't be surprised if the deck managed more than one turn two kill over the course of the tournament.

What makes this deck different from Eldrazi Post is basically the difference between Colorless Eldrazi and Eldrazi Tron in Modern: Eldrazi Tron and Eldrazi Post aren't afraid to reach for the stars with numerous Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Take this example from Five-Color Magic/Chromatic creator Kurt Hahn:

This deck eschews the explosive beatdown draws of the Eldrazi Stompy with the cruel nullifying effects of Trinisphere and four Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.

Is this deck better or worse than Eldrazi Stompy? Is this a good version of the deck? I don't know. I imagine I could do a great deal of data diving into the available information from the Pro Tour and still not know. I do know it was exciting to see Kurt Hahn's name in the Pro Tour coverage.

I'm excited to see how Legacy is going to play out now that we've seen a premier event at the Pro Tour level include it. From most accounts I'm aware of, it seemed like people absolutely loved the format, which is unsurprising - it is, after all, the best Constructed format; fight me in the comments if you disagree!

As for me, I'll of course be continuing on with Death and Taxes, but I'll certain tinker around with some of the lists from the Pro Tour. I hope I get a chance to see you at the next Legacy event I attend, rare as they are.

- Adrian Sullivan

@AdrianLSullivan on Twitter

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