Lessons from the Best Magic Decks I’ve Ever Played – Deep Dive

Today’s Deep Dive will be more reflective than usual, as I examine some of the most memorable and best Magic decks that I’ve played in my lifetime. Across hundreds of tournaments, it’s worth taking a moment to look closely at when things went right. What lessons can we learn? And how can we replicate those circumstances as often as possible?

Context is going to be key here. If you take best decks at face value, you might start thinking about decks with Oko, Thief of Crowns or Omnath, Locus of Creation – which got banned shortly after I played with them. You might think about the craziest turn-one-kill Vintage combo decks. But in fact, decks like this don’t always give you a huge advantage over the field, particularly if you’re mostly playing mirror matches! In other words, my list isn’t based on which decks would win in heads up matches against one another.

Instead, I’m asking, when did I know something that other people didn’t know? What were the times where I showed up to a Constructed tournament and felt like I had an edge over the competition due to the 75 cards I brought with me?



Header - A Note: Legacy

In preparing for this article, I noticed a clear pattern. The number of Legacy decks that I felt were among my best was completely disproportionate to the relative amounts that I’ve played each format. In short, Legacy has historically been the Constructed format where I’ve felt able to gain the largest edge over the competition. 

(To put the concept of edge in simplistic terms, imagine that an average player with an average deck is expected to win half of their matches. Maybe when I’m well prepared for a tournament with a top-tier Standard deck, I expect to win 60 percent of my matches. I think there have been lots of times when I’ve been able to exceed this 60 percent mark when playing Legacy). 

I think I knew this intuitively, since I’d tend to choose Legacy when entering StarCityGames.com events, and since I’d be willing to travel a little further to compete in a Legacy Grand Prix. However, when looking at the list of my best and favorite decks, it became crystal clear.

Here are a few reasons why Legacy might prove to be a higher-edge format.

  • Legacy is more complex. Subtle decisions in deckbuilding, sideboarding and gameplay add up more quickly.
  • The number of competitive games played is much lower for Legacy than it is for some other formats. This makes it slower to get “solved” and makes it less obvious what the best decks are, and the optimal ways to build those best decks (this effect may have been even more extreme in the old days). 
  • The pool of good cards is deeper. In Standard, if one player has an uncontested Embercleave or Goldspan Dragon, they’re extremely likely to win based on the dominance of that card relative to the rest of the format. Legacy tends to have more counterplay to individual cards and strategies. 

Should we care? Well, oftentimes the answer is no. If you’re playing in a Standard tournament, you should just bring your best Standard deck; there’s no point in comparing one format to another. However, there may be other times when you can choose what format you want to play and where you want to put your efforts. If you’re a poker player, you make the most money by choosing a table with a game you like, and with players that you can beat. And of course, in all cases, it’s simply a good idea to be tuned into what’s going on, and to what factors are causing you to win and lose games.

All of that said, I’ve tried to pull my list of best decks from a variety of formats. I’ll try not to inundate you with tons of talk about “Legacy in the Good Ol’ Days.”


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