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Learning Legacy

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I mentioned in my Pro Tour: Philadelphia report that as I had been forced to look at some older sets, I may as well get into Legacy. Well, I didn’t really do much about that until this weekend, when I went to GP: Amsterdam. I did terribly, but I learned a huge amount, and I have decided to share my experiences of seeing Legacy from a new player’s perspective: what is different about it, what is good and what is bad, and whether I’ll be playing it again.

I had no time to prepare for the competition, so the first Legacy match I played was in a GPT on Friday. I had decided to play Zoo because it is relatively straightforward. In an unknown metagame (for me, at least), it is often better to play aggro since you present the clock and force your opponent to come up with the answers. I was kindly given a list and sideboard by Pat Cox. Here is the deck I played, for those interested:

[cardlist]

[Creatures]

3 Grim Lavamancer

4 Goblin Guide

4 Kird Ape

4 Loam Lion

4 Tarmogoyf

4 Wild Nacatl

2 Gaddock Teeg

[/Creatures]

[Spells]

3 Path to Exile

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Lightning Helix

4 Chain Lightning

[/Spells]

[Lands]

1 Forest

1 Mountain

1 Plains

1 Savannah

2 Plateau

2 Taiga

4 Arid Mesa

4 Windswept Heath

4 Wooded Foothills

[/Lands]

[Sideboard]

2 Qasali Pridemage

4 Ethersworn Canonist

1 Gaddock Teeg

1 Path to Exile

3 Mindbreak Trap

3 Price of Progress

1 Umezawa's Jitte

[/Sideboard]

[/cardlist]

Basically, the point of the deck is to make 3/3, 2/3, and 2/2 creatures for 1 mana and then go smash your opponent to death. However, at the GPT and the GP itself, I was in for a bit of culture shock. Did you know you can “play” Emrakul, the Aeons Torn on turn three? Or Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur on turn two? I did not. It makes your 3/3-for-1 look really stupid. This was my most important lesson in the format: Decks do really, really unfair things in Legacy. These plays do require a little luck, but Emrakul is still scary on turn four. You cannot play a fair deck. It will just lose.

I have heard people say you can play anything in Legacy. It wasn’t until this weekend that I understood what that means. They do not really mean “anything,” but rather any archetype that might take your fancy. I played one duplicate matchup in the main event, and the other seven rounds were entirely unique. I have to say, this was a breath of fresh air compared to my normal fare. Standard is much less varied and can become repetitive over multiple rounds (even if the decks aren’t the same, you see the same cards a lot). As I hadn’t found enough time to look into Legacy, I spent a fair amount of time every match watching what my opponent was attempting to do, even if it was very clear I had lost. For example, I played against an Enchantress deck, which I had heard of—but I had no idea how it actually won. So even once we got to the game state where my creatures could never do damage and I could never throw burn at him (Solitary Confinement is really annoying), I continued to watch, probably to my opponent’s amusement, to see how on earth he was planning to win. All he was doing was drawing cards, and his only creatures thus far were Argothian Enchantress, which does not double as a win condition. Eventually, he played Sigil of the Empty Throne and made many Angels. Watching Legacy decks is truly fascinating.

As a player new to the format, the wide variety of decks present makes it hard to imagine a time when I can make informed deck choices and sideboard decisions. The metagame is so diverse that you might not even play a given matchup all day. I did not, for example, play against any dredge or Merfolk decks, despite their being very popular. I’m guessing you can make metagame decisions, but it feels much more like you should take an unfair deck that you like and run with it. Sideboarding decisions seem even harder. Just fifteen cards to pack answers to every type of deck?! How is that even supposed to work? Everyone obviously has the same problems, and you can pack general removal to deal with certain problems, but it seems futile. I know that my deck and sideboard was cold to Dredge, and my strategy was to not play against it (which worked pretty well).

The card pool available to Legacy players is huge: 12,010 distinct cards, to be precise. Obviously, not all of those cards are good, but it makes the learning curve very steep. When I played my first ever Magic event (Worldwake prerelease), I didn’t know any of the cards, but by the end of it, I was familiar with around three-quarters of the cards and what they did. I am still a ways from this in Legacy. This makes play decisions very difficult for the newer player; you can’t actually guess what your opponent might have available to him. This is something practice and time will improve, but made the event rather overwhelming for me. It is especially difficult when half the cards played against you are in a language you can’t understand. My Combo Elves opponent had all the Elves I knew in English—and the rest in German! The correct solution here, by the way, is to call a judge for an Oracle reading each time; your opponent is not required to help you figure this out. Don’t forget to ask for a time extension, though, if you require several calls.

I am sure a significant number of players look at Legacy and the price of putting a deck together, and are put off. If you are an active member of your local play community, however, this needn’t be the case. There are lots of lovely people who play Magic and who can lend you cards. When I started playing Constructed Magic, I used to laboriously acquire every card I needed for a deck via trades and buying them, and couldn’t play the deck until I had all of them. I look back on that time and shake my head. Nowadays, I lend and borrow cards so that I can play decks for a short period of time before returning the cards. I did not have a whole Legacy deck. I had most of it (buying and trading to get there), but the rest was supplemented by friends’ cards. Without the awesome people in my community, I would not be able to play the diversity of decks and formats I love. If you are prepared to share, don’t be afraid to ask to borrow.

Legacy to a new player is bewildering in size, diversity, speed, and cost. It is also dazzling. Will I play again? I hope so. Should you try it out? Definitely! But be prepared to lose—at least, at first. I know I did.

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