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Legacy: A Brave New Format

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With the release of Innistrad, I was dreading my self-imposed third and final look at how Mental Misstep was shaping—or, rather, contorting—the Legacy metagame. The problem was not the massive workload that I was undertaking, but the monotony of seeing the number of decks in the format dwindle from around sixty well-represented archetypes in the pre-Misstep article, covering six weeks prior to the card’s being legal, to about a dozen well-represented archetypes in the article featuring the first six weeks of Misstep. Now, if I decide to write that article, I’ll have provided full documentation of many of the metrics that decks can be tracked by during the entire time that Mental Misstep was in the format. However, it seems like a moot point now that the card will no longer be the bane of so many Legacy players. This was all made possible by Wizards banning Mental Misstep in Legacy last week, which, if you managed to miss it, also reshapes Modern as a format.

So now, the entire face of Legacy is going to be reshaped—not because of the inclusion of the 264 cards from Innistrad, but because of the removal of one. SCG Open: Indianapoliswill be the first large event to show the new landscape of the format, and getting an early jump on it is going to be the key to mastering it. Today, I’d like to share some of my thoughts on decks as I prepare to start rigorous testing in the days before attending this first tournament in the post-Misstep world. I hope that you will find this to be a good reference guide over the next few weeks as to what decks you’ll want to be testing against.

Looking Back

What many people are doing to prepare for new events is looking at what the metagame looked like three months ago. Looking at some events before New Phyrexia, I see some Natural Order decks (Bant, not R/U/G), Caw-Blade (which eventually became Stone-Blade), The Rock, and Elves. While there are some familiar faces, there are a couple of decks that haven’t seen the light of day since Misstep; here I’m talking about The Rock (or Junk) and Elves, which were both powerhouses that fell either out of favor, in Rock’s case, or under the weight of Misstep, in the case of Elves. Let’s look at why.

Junk

The Rock/Junk was pretty solidly the aggro-control deck of choice ever since its appearance in the Top 8 of Grand Prix: Columbus; the disruption suite of Hymn to Tourach and Thoughtseize paired with some of the strongest creatures in the game and the catchall of Vindicate all adds up to a very powerful deck. I speculated at the time that most of the players who had been piloting The Rock went in one of two directions with Misstep. The first direction is to drop the White and play a build of B/U/G aggro-control or Team America, much like you see Gerry Thompson playing. In most of these decks, Thoughtseize was cut, over time in favor of Misstep, which was hitting most of what you cared to hit with Thoughtseize, but in a way that both pitched to Force of Will and was reactionary, not proactive. The other direction for Rock decks was to actually drop Green and play a build of U/W or U/W/b closer to what Edgar Flores had been playing. These decks make a pretty easy cut of Tarmogoyf for Stoneforge Mystic, which, if resolved, gives you a great threat for the entire game, while using many of the same card-advantage mechanics that Junk had been using.

It’s going to be difficult to say exactly in which directions Junk decks will be going, since there are now a lot of variables and different directions for the deck to go in. One must consider if the Stoneforge package is right for the deck, if Green Sun's Zenith is going to be better, or if you should play a traditional list that uses all of the old powerhouses and forgoes the new ones. Near the end of Misstep’s days, we were even seeing the success of the Junk Depths deck, which was using Misstep, and may continue to be a powerful choice in the future.

For the time being, I’d suggest that if you are testing against a Junk deck, you want to test against the one that has the highest disruption elements and the most efficient, fastest threats. In my opinion, that is more of a traditional list that looks like this:

Testing against this list will give you all of the standard threats that the Junk decks are known to play, along with a lot of disruption to fight against. If you’re concerned about playing against a slower build that plays GSZ or Stoneforge Mystic, I would suggest that the first cuts be one Vindicate, two Inquisition of Kozilek, or a pair of Tarmogoyf to accommodate whichever build you’d like to incorporate.

Elves

Before Misstep, I had crunched a lot of numbers that were showing Elves to be among the dominant decks in the format, and this trend may pick up again with the deck’s major nemesis out of the picture. Elves is a great deck to test against because it has some positive numbers against many of the more popular decks. A powerful combo deck that has an alternate plan of attack makes it quite dangerous, yet unlike Storm combo, it’s not too difficult to interact with.

Prior to Misstep, we were looking at two different builds of Elves, one which was a bit more expected, Elf Combo, and the other, which surprised many people to see doing so well: NO Elves. Since Elf Combo is generally well-known, I’ll take some time to talk about Natural Order Elves. This deck is essentially an Elf aggro deck, which on its own is often enough to crush an opponent, especially now with the inclusion of Ezuri, Renegade Leader. These decks have access to nearly as many lords as Merfolk does. The Natural Order plan is nearly exclusively to find Progenitus; Elves doesn’t have many tools to try to find it, but its inclusion in the deck is a testament to the power of the combo.

For testing purposes, I think it’s best to test against a build of Elf Combo that has access to a strong aggro plan, such as Intuition into triple Vengevine or one that packs a couple of Lords, but it’s good to be aware that some builds may main-deck or even sideboard into a Natural Order plan. This is the list I suggest testing against:

Counter-Top

There are going to be two different builds of Counter-Top decks and a hybrid coming over the horizon. The first deck is going to be dedicated Thopter Foundry–based decks with Jace as the backup win condition and the other form of builds will look like the recent Stoneforge control decks we’ve seen since Batterskull (Stone-Blade.) The hybrid of these decks will play Stoneforge Mystic and use it to fetch either Batterskull or Sword of the Meek. All three configurations of this deck are going to be rather strong, but I think that it’s most important to test against the build that uses Stoneforge and Thopter Foundry to condense the number of decks you’re playing against. This is what my list would look like:

Merfolk

In many metagames, Merfolk has become a thing of the past. Whether players have moved away from the deck or it just isn’t performing the way it once did, Merfolk is no longer the dominant strategy, and one of the reasons is the existence of Mental Misstep, giving Blue decks too many answers to AEther Vial. I’m skeptical that Misstep was the problem and believe that Stoneforge Mystic may be the true culprit of the decline of Merfolk, but regardless, Merfolk is still a very powerful deck at a relatively reasonable cost that is capable of not only upsetting someone’s day but taking down an event with little notice. If you aren’t extremely practiced against Merfolk, I highly suggest refamiliarizing yourself, because in a format where people are going to be experimenting with new ideas, an incredibly stable deck like Merfolk will be able to thrive and punish opponents—make sure you’re not one of them by doing realistic and serious testing against the deck:

This is a pretty standard main deck that incorporates Dismember, which has been a popular choice over the last couple months. While I’m personally skeptical that Dismember is the card that Merfolk is looking for, it’s good to be aware that many players will be packing it in the main and if not, then likely in the board. The other thing to keep in mind is that Merfolk will likely be using Spell Pierce again, which is really going to cut into plans that involve Jace, Moat, Natural Order, and Green Sun's Zenith, where previously Mental Misstep was dead to those. If you tweak this list, I feel that it’s vitally important for testing purposes that you keep Spell Pierce in the deck, as it is a powerful tool that lets Merfolk escape many decks’ coupes de grace.

Storm

With or without Past in Flames, Storm decks are going to be coming back on the scene. Without Mental Misstep, there is a decreased incentive to play Blue, and that is the opening Storm decks needed to come back. T.E.S. is likely going to be the best bet to test against, as it is cheaper and thus more accessible than the Grim Tutor builds and has access to faster wins and will be able to nearly seamlessly incorporate Past in Flames, which, while it may not be most impressive card ever printed, will be a cool new trick to test, and SCG: Indy along with other events over the next couple of weeks will be its testing ground. This is a great list to field against your brews:

Goblins

Goblins has been the most anticipated deck to play again, and as a result, I can see it being a contender in the metagame if for no other reason than the sheer numbers of players with the deck. Goblins has a lot of new options in the form of Dismember, which may be a great option for the deck, especially considering that many builds already have a Black splash. The deck is going to have some new challenges in the form of Stoneforge Mystic, and the return of Storm decks is going to be rather problematic. I think the R/b/g builds are going to be ideal for the format and would highly suggest testing against them, as a Goblins player is going to need access to Black removal in the form of Perish and Warren Weirding and is likely going to need Krosan Grip to beat Batterskull and Jitte.

Zoo

As the number of different configurations of Zoo increases, Zoo’s share of the metagame falls. I don’t imagine that Zoo is of the highest priority to test against, considering that it fared relatively well during the Misstep era (Zoo is all about redundancy anyway). I would have a hard time offering a Zoo list to test against, but I’d ideally suggest you test against a slower, more controlling build if piloting an aggro deck, and playing a faster build if testing with control or combo.

Looking Around

A lot of people are looking solely to four months ago to get a feel for what the format is going to look like, but that would be a folly because New Phyrexia offered a few other cards that have had significant impact on the format. Case in point here is Batterskull, which has changed the dynamic of how aggro and aggro-control decks need to play. These are some of the decks that have been big in the current metagame that you should be paying attention to.

NO R/U/G

NO Bant will also fall under this category; the decks are much alike and differ mostly in sideboard plans. The Natural Order decks have been around for years now and only seem to do poorly when slow control, like Landstill, is very well-positioned. Considering that most people anticipate the format to be speeding up, the NO decks may be out-raced, but they are still going to be putting up a fight for at least the next few months. There isn’t a lot written about the direction for the deck post-Misstep, but I feel that this list looks pretty good:

Although Reid Duke has stated that he isn’t a fan of a utility creature in the main, I think in this new metagame that is potentially filled with Vials and Counterbalances, an exception can be made.

G/W Maverick

For those of you who aren’t familiar, Maverick is a G/W equipment-based aggro deck, evolved from the Green and Taxes builds that were doing well over the winter and spring. These decks either play with Vials or Green Sun's Zenith, with a leaning toward AEther Vial now that Misstep isn’t a factor. The deck has had a plethora of placings just about everywhere except at Star City Games events and for that reason has been largely unnoticed by the general public. The deck stands to gain a lot, considering that the deck is stretched fairly thin and often leans on its 1-drops. G/W does quite well against opposing aggro decks, except Zoo, where it tends to need some help and plays a lot of disruption creatures post-board to help attack control and combo decks. The deck has many different configurations, but I highly suggest testing against a build like this:

Dredge

Dredge has been creeping around, taking new forms to prey on the slower, control-heavy metagame that Legacy has been experiencing. Of course, without Dredge’s worst enemy lurking about, Dredge players can once again resurface and play fully powered builds of their decks with little fear. Test against Dredge should be rather low priority, and is especially useful for creature-heavy decks or those with Stoneforge/Batterskull, to familiarize yourself with the motions necessary to win. This build of Dredge is fairly common and rather powerful:

Other Decks

There are a slew of decks like Lands and High Tide that will be either resurfacing or emerging for the first time in the wake of the Misstep banning. These decks will require a specific skill set and familiarity for many players to properly play against, but at the same time, make up such a small portion of the metagame that it’s unlikely to encounter one, so for players who don’t have an abundance of time, it isn’t worth testing against every fringe deck, even if those decks have powerful interactions. Your time is going to be much better spent being able to angle a few more percentage points against a deck like Stone-Blade or Merfolk than it is to have a deep understanding of how your deck needs to play against High Tide.

Closing Thoughts

These are many of the lists that I’ll be testing with and against to prepare for the first wave of tournaments for the new Legacy, and I hope that you’ll get use from them. I wish I had a better idea of what I was going to be playing this weekend.

Speaking of which, if you’re in Indianapolis this weekend, I’ll be attending SCG: Indy, arriving midday Saturday. I’ll play in the Legacy Challenge, and for the main event, I’ll be dressed all in green, so if you see me, come on over and say hello. I would love to see what you’re working with in the new Legacy.

~ Christopher Walton in the real world

im00pi at gmail dot com

Master Shake on The Source

@EmperorTopDeck on Twitter

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