Legacy has a decent number of tribal decks, such as Elves and Goblins, which generally take the center-stage when people think about tribal archetypes. However, over the years, another tribe has begun to climb the ranks and put up some significant Legacy results: Humans. While this deck has been around for a few years now, its results have been a bit stagnant over the past few months. Over this past weekend, Gary Fox took an Orzhov variant of the deck to a Top 4 finish at the Leaving a Legacy Open. This isn’t the first time we have seen this version of the deck but I really like the way this deck is built and find it to be both consistent and resilient.
This week, I want to go over what makes this deck work and how it fits into the Legacy metagame as a whole. I’m not sure it’s perfectly well-positioned in general, but it’s definitely a powerful deck that has the capability to attack the format from a different angle if players aren’t prepared.
Legacy Orzhov Humans by Gary Fox
This is an Aether Vial-fueled beatdown deck that’s looking to apply a ton of pressure as quickly as possible. Just about every card in this deck is designed to overwhelm the opponent if they fall behind and it also gets to take advantage of some disruptive creatures, like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, which will further pinch their game plan. A fair amount of the cards remove something from the opponent while providing you with a creature, which contributes to this plan of pull ahead early. Despite being a fairly straightforward aggro deck, this deck has a lot of small tricks that it can take advantage of in order to maximize its position and overall make sure that your opponents won’t be able to overcome your early pressure.
This is a major reason decks like this exist. Aether Vial is an incredible card that allows you to generate a significant mana advantage every turn. It doesn’t take more than a few activations of this card for your opponents to be on the backfoot. On top of that, it comes with the additional benefits of making all of your key creatures uncounterable and able to come down with flash, so there’s no surprise that Vial is a show-in inclusion for the archetype.
The best disruptive creature in Legacy, Thalia is the glue that holds these white decks together. She has a relevant aggressive and defensive body that disrupts any opponent trying to cast noncreature spells (which is most opponents in Legacy). The combination of this deck’s fairly quick clock with meaningful disruption in the form of Thalia will make it really difficult for opponents to answer everything you present over the course of the game and leave them buried in creatures before they can stabilize.
This card has been at the core of Humans decks for a long time now and it is a significant part of what differentiates this from the other white creature deck, Death and Taxes. On turn one, Champion is a terrifying creature to face down as it won’t take long for it to grow large enough to take significant chunks out of your life total. On top of that, this deck has a lot of relevant creatures so you will often be faced with the decision to either kill this to preserve your life total or kill a more disruptive card, like Thalia, which might put you in a spot where you’re taking too much damage. Overall, this card is a crucial element to the archetype and a very impressive creature in many situations.
A relative newcomer (although Modern Horizons 2 was more than a year ago at this point), Esper Sentinel is a generally annoying card to play against. It doesn’t quite disrupt opponents in the same way that Thalia does but if it comes down early and your opponent trips up, it will sure feel like it as your opponent won’t want to start cantripping into your Sentinel. The downside is that it doesn’t actually disrupt them, so if they don’t care about you getting a card or two, they’ll proceed with business as usual. Still, it’s an annoying card that adds a bit of extra disruptive potential to the deck.
Kitesail Freebooter is a fairly innocuous card. It looks like it should be pretty easily to manage since it doesn’t actually take away the card forever. However, taking away a timely removal spell or, alternatively, taking away a key piece and forcing your opponent to draw a removal spell if they don’t have one can be really annoying. This is all assuming that they have removal to take care of it since if they don’t, it’s actually just a clean two-for-one. Being a flying creature is really relevant, as well, since getting this up to a 2/3 or 3/4 can be a big game. Overall, this is a great disruptive card that helps put your opponents in bad situations.
A mainstay of white creature decks, Mother of Runes is extremely annoying to play against. It’s not as popular as it used to be a few years ago, but it still has the ability to easily dominate any game that cards about creatures or removal. This is by far one of the most annoying cards that an all-creature deck can play and I would value it very highly in my opening hands.
One of the key payoffs for playing with exclusively Humans, Thalia’s Lieutenant lets the creatures in this deck get out of hand very quickly. Any board of one or two creatures is immediately going to become more intimidating after this comes down and it also threatens to get fairly large all by itself if given enough time. This card has been a key aspect of every Human deck across all formats since its printing and, despite being one of the most powerful formats possible, it still overperforms in Legacy.
General Kudro is a fairly powerful lord. Not only does it apply extra pressure to your opponent’s life total, but provides you with some incidental graveyard hate which can be very annoying to deal with. On top of that, the removal ability can be crucial at handling cards like Murktide Regent or even Emrakul, so even if the cost is high, the option is very valuable. Overall, this is a great lord here and I’m not surprised to see it show up in large numbers.
A new inclusion over the past few months, Brutal Cathar is one of the better versions of this effect that we have seen. While it is a bit fragile, mostly being open to any removal spell in the format, that’s not as big of an issue in this deck since that’s true for basically every card here. The goal is to overwhelm your opponent’s removal spells and disrupt them in just the right ways so that they will struggle to keep their footing. Cathar not only answers every creature in the format, but it also plays really well with Aether Vial, which makes it easier to transform and start beating down with a 3/3.
Dark Confidant doesn’t get as much love as it used to but this card is incredible. On turn two, it puts opponents to the test since if they cannot answer it, you will easily bury them in card advantage. It definitely falls off as the game goes on, which is why this deck doesn’t play four copies, but it also has a lot of value in a really grindy game where everything has traded and Bob stands alone. Dark Confidant is a great card for the deck and it’s cool to see it show up here.
While this might be a bit random as a one-of, it’s a very powerful effect in a lot of situations. Against any deck that goes wide, Night Clubber will threaten to completely dismantle their plan. If that isn’t relevant, it’s still a haste threat (with the blitz ability), which is something this deck wouldn’t have access to otherwise so I actually like including it here.
Another card that’s a bit random as a one-of, Adeline is a fairly clunky but very powerful threat. Drawing two at any point will generally be too awkward in this deck but if you find the single copy, it won’t take long for you to have an impressive force of creatures. The ability to make tokens is especially nice with Lieutenant and Champion since it will pump them mid combat and overall, I think one Adeline is a great fit in this deck.
The Mana Base
This deck has a lot of other nonbasics to help cast its spells, so it doesn’t need to run many fetchables. In general, I think I might want to play two Scrubland to help make sure you can always cast black spells but as it is, you still have 11 black sources, which is mostly sufficient.
These lands provide such incredible value in a deck like this. The life loss can be costly in some games, but for the most part, they’ll help ensure that you will flood much less often, which is what a deck like this really needs.
Cavern in an all-Humans deck? Sign me up.
While this deck isn’t maximally disruptive to opposing mana bases, it still has the ability to apply a lot of pressure, which makes Wasteland an excellent follow-up.
There is a cost to running too many of these, but for the most part, this is just an improved Plains. Being able to save a decent amount of your creatures while potentially disrupting your opponent is a big game and it’s a great inclusion as a three-of here.
These lands have proven to be excellent inclusions in many decks and this deck is no exception. An untapped white source early that has the potential to remove creatures if drawn late is perfect and two is a great number here.
This card doesn’t see a lot of Legacy play but it’s incredible against artifact-based decks. Additionally, you can use Cavern to name Spirit to cast it through opposing Force of Wills if you’re worried about 8-Cast stopping you.
I might be tempted to play more copies of these in the board since this is a heavy-creature format, but running at least a few copies will help you avoid getting crushed by a Murktide Regent.
Another card we don’t see often, this is mostly an anti-Lands sideboard tech that has some additional utility against other Wasteland decks, which makes sense since lands can be really difficult for decks like this to beat at times.
There are other options you can play here, but playing four Leyline is demonstrating respect for the graveyard decks and I like seeing it here.
A combination Disenchant + creature is often what the doctor ordered for a deck like this.
Fast combo can be pretty tough for this deck so having some Mindbreak Traps to keep them at bay makes perfect sense.
- You can use Kitesail Freebooter and Aether Vial to take away any noncreature spells they may draw for their turn by activating Vial on your opponent’s draw step.
- Day/night will track throughout the game, even without Cathar in play. Importantly, if it’s nighttime, Cathar won’t exile a creature upon entering the battlefield, so make sure you keep that in mind.
Being lean is far more important than anything else so I like trimming some more clunky cards for cards that interact in some way. Turning off Wasteland is nice and Tomik even has the ability to trade with Delvers, which is great. Dark Confidant is a great card but the life loss really matters in this matchup and it’s more exposed to cards like End the Festivities. In general, you want to be the aggressor and put them on the back foot as much as possible.
Out: 1 Night Clubber
There’s not too much you want to bring in here. Clubber doesn’t do much and Tomik can stop cards like Wasteland and Life from the Loam, which I think makes it a bit better. A minimal sideboard plan works out since for the most part your deck is well set up to take advantage of their strategy. They do have a decent amount of removal for your creatures, but the combination of disruptive creatures and significant pressures will force them to have it at just the right time. Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath isn’t that big of a deal since you have Karakas and Brutal Cathar, so overall I think this is a pretty reasonable matchup.
Death and Taxes
Disrupting their noncreature spells is not a winning line in this matchup. Bringing in all of your ways to disrupt their plan is very helpful and can allow you to stay ahead early. Overall, they can easily grind you down in a game that goes long so the goal should be to get on board fast and early and overwhelm them before they can set up with Recruiter of the Guard. Freebooter answering Stoneforge Mystic is very important, so definitely keep that in mind when considering your lines.
In: 2 Mindbreak Trap
You don’t have much to bring in here. Overall, this matchup is going to come down to a race. While BW Humans is definitely set up for that type of situation, they are very fast and efficient, so overall I’d say this is a tough matchup. If you can survive early, Freebooter and Thalia can really do some work so try to value those cards in your opening hands and set up as much disruption as you can.