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Choosing a Legacy Deck

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At the end of each year, I make three Magic-related New Year’s resolutions for the year to come. In 2015, I wanted to join the staff of a larger Magic publication (check!), save all my packs for drafting (so far, so good), and play Legacy every week (a natural follow-up to my 2014 resolution to build a Legacy deck). I only played Legacy a handful of times last year, so if I want to learn the format in time for Grand Prix Seattle–Tacoma in November, I’ll need a ton of practice. Fortunately, several shops in my area offer Legacy tournaments throughout the week due to our tight-knit, Eternal-format-supporting community, so I’ll have no shortage of opportunities to play.

Legacy is a daunting format, especially for folks who are like I am, who learned to play Magic post-NOW (New World Order). The card pool is huge, the staples are scarce and often expensive, and the smallest mistakes can cost you a game. I’m no Legacy master, but I hope to spend the next year learning the format and sharing what I’ve learned with others. That’s why I’ll be dedicating one article to Legacy each month, and I thought we’d start simple with this one: I’m going to help you choose your first Legacy deck.

Now, I’m not talking about choosing a deck for a particular tournament based on the metagame. The surest route to success in Legacy is to learn to play one deck well, so pick one, and stick with it! Of course, when you don’t know the format, even choosing a deck can be a difficult task. I suggest you turn to your local Legacy community for advice—or consider this advice that I received from mine.

Suggestion #1: Play Burn

Flame Rift
Burn players often get bad raps. Efficient red creatures and cheap, direct-damage spells are often so easy to come by that just about anyone can build a good Burn deck—and, people assume, just about anyone can play Burn. But there’s a huge knowledge gap between a competent Burn player and an expert. The best pyromancers in the game know when to hold their fire and when to strike; they’re more methodical than they are aggressive, for they realize that Burn is a tempo deck.

Just watch Patrick Sullivan play this Top 8 match against Ross Merriam at a StarCityGames Legacy Open in 2012. A great Burn player knows how to take advantage of opportunities, as Sullivan does at 13:54 and 15:21, casting Price of Progress while Merriam’s Wasteland and Savannah are tapped. Many players would be quick to remove Thalia, Guardian of Thraben from the board, but Sullivan intuits that the tenacious Human Soldier may be harming her mana-starved opponent and lets her stick around, choosing instead to send lethal damage to Merriam’s face. Sullivan fights through Thalia and Mother of Runes in the deciding Game 3, but he ends up in a jam: His opponent has a fearsome Knight of the Reliquary, an annoying Ethersworn Canonist, and a Qasali Pridemage threatening to destroy his Sulfuric Vortex. After dispatching the Canonist, Sullivan casts Flame Rift and patiently passes the turn to Merriam, who taps his Wasteland to sacrifice Pridemage. It was a moment Sullivan was clearly waiting for, judging by how quickly he slammed Price of Progress and a Fireblast on the table. If Red Mage’s Quarterly existed, this guy would be its editor-in-chief.

Burn is an affordable, uncomplicated, and formidable Legacy deck, which makes it an ideal first deck for a new player. A friend of mine built Burn, learned how to play it, and won enough store credit to build a second Legacy deck. Of course, if you enjoy slinging red spells in other formats, Burn isn’t a bad long-term investment; decks with proactive game plans rarely go out of style in Legacy.

Suggestion #2: Play a Tribal Deck

When approaching a format full of intricate combo decks and obscure card interactions, you should choose a deck that makes sense to you. That’s why many of the Legacy players I spoke to about the format last year advocated that I build a tribal deck. Tribal synergies are easy for newer players to understand (play a lot of small creatures that share a creature type, and they give each other neat abilities!), and there are three prevalent tribes to choose from, each of which plays entirely differently from the rest.

Merrow Reejerey
Let’s start with Merfolk, which is perhaps the most straightforward deck to explain and understand. Merfolk is an aggressive deck that takes advantage of “lords,” or Anthem-granting creatures like Lord of Atlantis and Master of the Pearl Trident, to bolster what would otherwise be a tiny army of sea urchins. You also get to cast Daze and Force of Will, two of the most powerful counterspells ever printed, and you can take advantage of Islandwalk in a format in which the blue mages are more common than the Lightning Bolts (which, by the way, are common). If you want to see a new Legacy player succeed with Merfolk, look no further than this video from a Seattle SCG Open in 2013, featuring two players from my local Legacy scene; the guy on the right, Chris Morris-Lent, had only been playing the format for a couple months at the time.

If you don’t care for counterspells but still want to have an interactive game with your opponent, give Goblins a try. Goblins is a resource-denial deck that relies on Rishadan Port and Wasteland to tap down lands or destroy them altogether. Alternately, you can have back-breakingly aggressive starts—if your Goblin Lackey makes it through on turn two, you can put a Siege-Gang Commander into play and cast a Goblin Piledriver post-combat, setting up a lethal swing on the following turn. If you’re looking for a deck with a lot of play—that can either go wide and beat down or be reactive and win the long game, depending on the draw—Goblins is the deck for you.

Finally, there’s Elves, which is probably the least new-player-friendly of the tribal decks—but that doesn’t stop new Legacy converts from investing in Gaea's Cradle and Glimpse of Nature. Unlike Merfolk and Goblins, which buff up small creatures or tutor up more of them, Elves uses its creatures to generate card advantage, make a ton of mana, and cast a game-winning Craterhoof Behemoth. (Bonuses: Access to Deathrite Shaman, one of the best creatures in Magic, and a solid sideboard plan against opposing combo decks.) The plan is simple, but like every other Legacy deck, this one is all about proper sequencing. If you want to train yourself to remember all your triggers, try Elves!

Suggestion #3: Play Combo

Combo decks may not be prevalent in Standard anymore, but they are among the most competitive decks in Legacy. In fact, I was so unfamiliar with combo decks that I was loathe to try to play one when I first started researching the format. However, as Reid Duke points out in his article “The Best Way to Win in Legacy,” combo decks aren’t the most difficult decks for new players to pick up. Combo decks punish players who don’t know their decks well enough—who sequence their cards incorrectly or aren’t sure which opening hands are worth keeping—but they do not punish players for not knowing a metagame. Anyone playing a so-called “fair deck” needs to know which spells to counter and which threats are most relevant; all a Dredge player cares about is dodging graveyard hate.

Two Legacy players I know started their careers by building Manaless Dredge, one of the most affordable competitive Legacy decks out there, so I recommend it to anyone who enjoys using the graveyard as a resource. Of course, there are so many combo decks out there—ranging from “a little wacky” to “completely degenerate”—that any interested parties can easily find one that suits his or her personality. Feline Longmore has become synonymous with High Tide; Cedric Phillips has been known to play Goblin Charbelcher. Here’s your chance to become [First Name] “Lands” [Last Name]!

Ignoring Advice

Scalding Tarn
If you’ve played Magic for any extended period of time, you probably know yourself and your play style well enough to listen to your gut and ignore other people’s advice. Only then did I realize that I wasn’t cut out to play Burn, or Merfolk, or Belcher. I’m a tempo player at heart, and I was determined to play a tempo deck, so I spent almost a year acquiring blue fetches and dual lands. I watched a lot of Legacy coverage and spoke to a lot of Legacy players before I played a single game. Eventually, I settled on U/R Delver, considered one of the best decks in post-Khans of Tarkir Legacy, and put it together.

My route to Legacy isn’t for everyone. Delver, Stoneblade, Miracles, Death & Taxes—these are all powerful decks, but they require you to invest a ton of time learning the format on top of the money you invested to build them. Plenty of folks I know built budget Legacy decks and earned enough prize money to acquire the cards they wanted to play with; I chose to sell my Draft rares to a local store and use the money to buy Legacy staples. Another option is to borrow a deck from a friend and play it in a tournament. Most Legacy players I know are enthusiastic about their format and happy to see it grow; many have gone out of their way to lend me cards on short notice, for which I am grateful.

I played in my first Legacy tournament of 2015 last Thursday, and it was much more difficult than I expected. I didn’t miss any Young Pyromancer or Monastery Swiftspear triggers, and most of my sideboarding decisions were on point, but I accidentally Brainstorm-locked myself a couple times and forgot to shuffle while resolving one of my Ponders. I came one turn short of killing my Storm opponent in Round 1, and didn’t figure out how best to break my Round 4 opponent’s Standstill until it was too late. I played against this unusual Junk deck, which seemed specially tuned to beat U/R Delver. For the next several weeks, I look forward to playing one of the best decks in the format against a field of more experienced players, all of whom are metagaming against me. I can’t think of a better way to become a good Legacy player.


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