Feature Article – The Legacy of Brainstorm

I was sitting down viewing the document I had just created. It included a list of topics I wanted to write about for the coming articles, most of which didn’t have a time stamp on them, as they weren’t going to expire soon. Still, I had a hard timing picking one out, as there was a LOT I wanted to say and there’s only so much space before we start talking about a book instead of an article.

Then I read fellow ChannelFireball Writer and Legacy enthusiast Caleb Durwarld’s article. Normally I enjoy his articles and read them from start to finish. I don’t need to agree with all of his points to read or enjoy them. However, this time I had to stop reading after only a few paragraphs. I just couldn’t bring myself to finish it. I suddenly had a topic which I wanted to write about, which had to be done fast enough to make it a valid response (writing an article about not agreeing with somebody and publishing it months later is just stupid). So lets get down to it. Don’t worry, there will be decklists, some advice and some stories about GP: Amsterdam… for those who can’t wait, just CTRL +F for: DECKLISTS!… (seriously, you’re missing out on a lot if you do!)

Just a small aside here though:

I tend to stay away from arguing with people or taking a stance against the status quo. Not that I agree all the time or think that it’s pointless. But I’d rather let results speak more then words. This is going to be the first time I use my position as a writer to not only take an unpopular stance, but defend it against the community as well as one of my fellow writer. I’m no specialist in Legacy, I do however have an opinion and years of experience playing Magic.

A not so small aside, my not so popular stance.

In his article he spend only two paragraphs on the topic of [card]Brainstorm[/card] in Legacy. However, this is far to small a size to talk about something as hugely important as this. Let me split up everything he said and explain to you guys why I had to stop reading after all of it.

“As an aside, a few of my fellow writers have called out Brainstorm as the culprit for blue’s recent success. They note that the card is overpowered, and some have even called for its banning.”

[card]Brainstorm[/card] has been the base to Blue’s success in every format Brainstorm has been Legal. It’s banning in Vintage (2008, more on this later) was warranted and relegated Legacy (barring 1-ofs in Vintage and Commander and Block) to the single place you can play [card]Brainstorm[/card] as a 4-of. [card]Brainstorm[/card] as a card took off with the printing off Fetchlands during Onslaught block in Eternal formats. People started to realize that drawing 3 and putting 2 back at instant speed has almost an [card]Ancestral Recall[/card]-like powerlevel when combined with a cheap way to shuffle ones deck.

The powerlevel of cards in Vintage kept pushing [card]Brainstorm[/card]’s powerlevel to where it needed to go. The recent powercreep in Legacy (because of the powercreep in new printings) has been pushing its powerlevel in that format as well.

I strongly believe it’s only a matter of time before it gets out of hand enough for it to get banned. I also believe we’ve already reached and crossed that threshold.

I’ve read, heard and discussed with numerous pros that when you want to play Legacy and win you play a deck starting with 4x [card]Force of Will[/card], 4x [card]Brainstorm[/card] and then fill in the remaining 52. Not playing these cards (and arguably not playing [card]Jace, The Mind Sculptor[/card] and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]) is just plain wrong.

“The argument is without merit, however, as the banned list is designed to serve us players, to ensure the game stays fun.”

Being a Vintage player I’m very well aware of the numerous discussions regarding Banning and Restricting cards in the format. This statement by Caleb is not only totally unfounded and untrue, it also shows a bias towards what “he” thinks should be fun for everybody. This is not how the DCI or WoTC works. They’ve been printing less powerful spells and more powerful creatures, look at Modern for example; they banned just about every powerful spell in order for “creature decks” to take a hold of the format.

The banned list, first and foremost should be there to make a metagame diverse. Because a Diverse Metagame is what players enjoy the most. Legacy, at this point, isn’t diverse. It’s decks featuring [card]Brainstorm[/card] vs decks that don’t have [card]Brainstorm[/card]. It’s been that way for years, even though the players try their hardest (for whatever reason) to deny it, to live the illusion that not playing [card]Force of Will[/card] and [card]Brainstorm[/card] might be ok and [card]Brainstorm[/card] isn’t making blue an oppressive juggernaut.

The problem is, Brainstorm (and therefore Blue) decks aren’t oppressive in the way other decks where (Affinity, Academy, Necro to name some of the most degenerate offenders) It’s very subtle, it gives players the illusion they can fight it, or use it to fight for them.

“It’s not just a safeguard against us casting sweet spells. And nothing is more enjoyable than drawing three cards and putting two back.”

The first part is actually true, the second, again shows a huge part of personal bias. A LOT of players hate drawing 3 and putting 2 back (because that means they have to play blue) but LOVE casting [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] and crashing in with [card]Goblin Guide[/card], some love playing Ritual into Ritual into Ad Nauseam into Tendrils. Others enjoy a casting Cats, Knights and other Humans.

So because I like Ritualing into Necro, drawing 10+ cards and winning on turn 2 and others would enjoy that as well it should be legal to do so? This is not a great way to have a healthy format. This once was how Vintage was run and look at what happened there?

“For a high percentage of legacy players, the most rewarding experience in the game is a well-cast Brainstorm.”

Is this even true? Could it be that, the most rewarding experience in the game is winning and because nothing enables winning more then blue, most players prefer that? Because Blue gives you a LOT of options to outplay weaker opponents it’s a favorite among good (and bad) players. It doesn’t mean the format would be any less fun with Brainstorm gone either. Blue would still be stupidly good.

“Off the top of my head, I can think of a number of repercussions of a banning, and none of them sound tolerable.”

Tolerable for who? Again with the personal bias… This gets even better… lets really take this next part apart.

“Discard gets better, and nothing is more disheartening than getting Hymned into oblivion.”

Having played with [card hymn to tourach]Hymn[/card] in recent events I know how hard this is to get back from… it gets even worse when the person playing the Hymns is also playing [card]Brainstorm[/card]s and [card]Force of Will[/card]s. I also noticed that when you can’t follow a hymn up with more disruption or a clock it’s quite easy to negate the entire thing. I’m not going to downplay the value of Hymn, it’s one of the most brutal things that you could be doing in the format (aside from casting [card]Brainstorm[/card])

“Mana screw becomes worse.”

How the hell is this even a true statement? If you were counting on [card]Brainstorm[/card] to fix your mana problems you’d do well to:
Review your manabase, maybe you’re playing too few / many lands in the first place. A common mistake among Legacy players is being way way to greedy with their manabases. 4 [card]Wasteland[/card]s, 4 Manlands, 5 duals, 8 Fetch (for example) and complaining how they’re not able to get their colors up soon enough is the number 1 reason most people fail to win.

I remember people calling me nuts for playing 23-25 lands in my decks AND [card]Brainstorm[/card]…. “You can cut 3-4 lands easy for spells” was the number 1 comment I got. The fact that I was never ever mana screwed was my rebuttal.

Review what hands you keep and mulligan, maybe you’re just banking on that 2 land, 1 brainstorm, all 4 drop hand to get you there… maybe you’re just not that good at math or calculating probability on the fly…

“Decks have a harder time finding answers to broken strategies.”

This isn’t even true in Vintage which is arguably the most broken format in existence barring the Belcher Format we saw at PT: Philly (that soon got nuked into oblivion) The same arguments came up when [card]Brainstorm[/card] was restricted in Vintage. Want to know what happend? Exactly nothing… you know what fuels broken strategies? (guess [card]Brainstorm[/card] and your a smart man). Is a ANT/TES deck going to be able to kill you on turn 1-2 if it doesn’t have [card]Brainstorm[/card]? Chances aren’t really that high.

“The format loses its greatest skill tester.”

Proper Deck Selection, Sideboarding, Metagaming and Solid Technical play are the only skill testers that should matter in any format of Magic. The fact that you KNOW how to resolve [card]Brainstorm[/card] reaping the full benefits doesn’t prove you’re more or less skillfull then somebody that knows how to maximise the full potentiall of his / her attack step in a way that leaves the opponent with a very small clock.

My Conclusion

Banning [card]Brainstorm[/card] would make Legacy players take a long and honest look at their own format and limitations. I know I was reacting the same way back in 2008 when they announced [card]Brainstorm[/card] was restricted in Vintage. How is this innocent little blue spell so broken it needs to be restricted? It’s not THAT good is it? It keeps the format honest in enabling me to find solutions to some of the most broken plays, how am I going to deal with those now?

Then I realized [card]Brainstorm[/card] actually WAS as broken as they said and it IS that good (probably even better then you think) and nowhere near as innocent as you’d suspect, it’s also enabling most of the broken plays in the format.

The fact that Legacy got the boost that it did with everything that happened in it made the format jump instead of stumble forward. Swarms of people are pushing to find the most broken plays in the format for a chance at success at an Open or GP. The fact that most people end up playing Blue (with [card]Force of Will[/card] and [card]Brainstorm[/card]) isn’t a surprise. The cats out of the bag and there’s no stopping it. If legacy is going to be a healthy format (as far as you can call a format with severe issues regarding card availability healthy) it needs for blue to get tuned down. The best way to do so is go after [card]Brainstorm[/card]. They can’t print creatures that push other decks to the top (see what happened with [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] who’s at his best surrounded by Blue cards) as that would ruin other formats which are way more important to WoTC.

GP: Amsterdam

I can talk long and hard about this one, last time you guys heard from me I was preparing for the event. I ended up going 4-3 and dropping after round 7 playing the BUG list I mentioned in article.

I could go ahead and tell you guys all of the luck my opponents had, how horrible everything was, how my deck crapped on me etc etc. I just don’t think I’ve ever listened to my inner Larry….. Fact of the matter is, nothing like that even happened. In the end, I kept putting my opponents in a position to win games and even matches against me. I can’t blame them for taking those chances and exploiting them.
I could have easily had been 7-0 instead of 4-3. I learned more lessons from the entire ordeal than I could ever imagine. The biggest lesson though, was the fact that you need to want to win and good technical play IS giving your opponents as few shots at getting into a position to beat you as possible. The one part where I failed was exactly this. In the end, the non-MtG related stories are probably more interesting then me telling you a play by play. Since there are kids reading here I think it’s safer to state: “What happens in Amsterdam, stays in Amsterdam” and leave it at that ;).


I told you guys there would be decklists, I’ve got several tournaments coming up before the years ending. Including the Dutch Eternal Masters weekend where we determine the Dutch Legacy and Vintage championship. Both these events have been marked in my calendar for months in advance. They are extremely well run events and the people participating in them have a huge part of pride in claiming the title. Chances are very high that I’ll be sporting the same BUG list as I wrote about and used in GP: Amsterdam for the Legacy Championship

Here’s what I’m looking to bring into the Vintage Championship:

Nouveau Espresso

[deck]1 Black Lotus
4 Chalice of the Void
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Pearl
1 Sol Ring
4 Sphere of Resistance
3 Thorn of Amethyst
2 Crucible of Worlds
4 Tangle Wire
1 Trinisphere
4 Lodestone Golem
4 Phyrexian Metamorph
4 Smokestack
3 Karn, Silver Golem
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Strip Mine
1 Tolarian Academy
4 Ancient Tomb
4 Mishra’s Factory
4 Mishra’s Workshop
4 Wasteland
3 Dismember
4 Tormod’s Crypt
3 Nihil Spellbomb
3 Ratchet Bomb
1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Ghost Quarter[/deck]

If you guys are interested in what I’m using to battle in standard at the moment:

U/B Control

[deck]4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Frost Titan
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Bloodline Keeper
1 Batterskull
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Karn Liberated
1 Liliana of the Veil
3 Dissipate
4 Mana Leak
2 Doom Blade
2 Ratchet Bomb
2 Wring Flesh
1 Tribute to Hunger
1 Black Sun’s Zenith
4 Think Twice
3 Forbidden Alchemy
4 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacomb
2 Ghost Quarter
2 Nephalia Drownyard
1 Inkmoth Nexus
6 Island
5 Swamp
3 Spellskite
3 Flash Freeze
1 Bloodline Keeper
2 Nephalia Drownyard
1 Wurmcoil Engine
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Doom Blade[/deck]

That’s going to be it for now, like I said in the introduction to this article, there’s a LOT of stuff I want to write about, so expect to see more of me in the coming weeks!

Until next time,

Marius “Marske” van Zundert
Marske, on Modo (and everywhere else)
Marske1984 on Twitter


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