Recurring Nightmares – Millenarianism

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It’s that time again, kids. We’re closing in on the home stretch with the history of Legacy, bringing us into the modern age, and the era fresh in the minds of many of us. Having passed through Time Spiral and Lorwyn blocks, we’ve witnessed the birth of many of the lists that seem familiar to us today. Merfolk exists, and has begun to establish a dominating presence in a field largely comprised of Threshold-style aggro-control. [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] has reigned on his gilded throne for over a year, and is astronomically expensive, contributing to a rising cost of entry to the format that seemed high then, but pales in comparison to contemporary trends.

Before we dive into the next block, beginning with Shards of Alara, it’s worth revisiting a point addressed in the second installment (which can, of course, be found above). Just before the release of Shards of Alara, Wizards decided that they had had enough, and removed all remnants of power-level errata on [card]Time Vault[/card]. Fortunately, they chose to do so in coincidence with the Banned and Restricted announcement of September 2008, and banned the card in Legacy simultaneously. While the card had, for a time, been legal in Legacy under a variety of iterations of errata, it was never legal in the format while it was an infinite turn combo with [card]Voltaic Key[/card]. Fortunately for us all, as can be seen with the dominating presence the combo has in Vintage – even with [card]Time Vault[/card] restricted. Much like preemptively banning [card]Memory Jar[/card] from Standard, this ban was (correctly) believed to be the only correct decision for the health of the game. Of course, since we never had the displeasure of dealing with the combo in Legacy, the banning of the card had a minimal impact on the overall format, aside from another drastic swing in the pricetag of the card.

Within a month of that ban, Shards of Alara hit the shelves, and along with it came a dramatic change in the face of the format, and the game itself. Working our way up to that point, we’ll mention a few cards that were of less relevance.

Affinity gained an artifact Lord in [card]Master of Etherium[/card] that represented an enormous threat that must be answered, while simultaneously bolstering the rest of your team. This did make Affinity more of a presence in the metagame, but did not actually make it a good deck.

Another artifact became the staple choice for anyone concerned with getting more value out of their grave hate than [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card] can provide. [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] was a strict upgrade to cards like [card]Scrabbling Claws[/card] and [card]Phyrexian Furnace[/card]. Like these two, it could operate while in play, allowing you to keep your opponent off Threshold, or to remove critical cards from the yard of decks trying to abuse them – if you could keep up with their attempts to refill the grave. On the other hand, if they ever managed to get ahead of you, you could pay a mana, blow up both graveyards, and draw a card to boot! In the era of [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] battles, this card was a godsend, complicating the decision trees for Goyf on Goyf warfare from the moment it was legal. The perfect combination of the marginal advantage of Scrabbling Claws and tactical nuke of [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card], it gave you more options in a smaller package than previously available, and became the de-facto grave hate in no time.

Threshold, now 100% sold on [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], was doing what it could to maintain its hold on the format, but regardless of how many Goyfs it could land, Merfolk was still Islandwalking past them and into the win column. As much as [card]Firespout[/card] was helpful, it wasn’t the be-all, end-all solution in the face of all those [card]Cursecatcher[/card]s and [card]Daze[/card]s. Fortunately, Shards provided a card that fit the bill. [card]Rhox War Monk[/card] was exactly what the once-Thresh, now CounterTop decks were looking for:

• It cost three mana, a slot that was critical for the deck in hoping to protect itself from [card]Krosan Grip[/card].
• It was a 3/4, making it large enough to win a fight with a Merfolk – even with a Lord in play – and having enough backend to survive a [card]Firespout[/card]. This gave it a distinct advantage over [card]Nimble Mongoose[/card], who sacrificed his slot to fit the Monk.
• It was Blue
• Lifelink meant that even when attacking with War Monk, you’re still providing a means to get ahead of aggressive starts from the opponent – he’s almost as good on offense against aggro as defense.

War Monk was a critical component that gave the Counter Top decks the ability to compete with the newfound dominant aggro deck – Zoo.

Prior to Shards block, Zoo existed, but it was not the deck we think of as Zoo today. In fact, most builds either did not play white, or barely played it, and resembled a burn deck much more than what we’d consider traditional Zoo. The only legitimate cards that pushed Zoo into white were things like Watchwolf, Goblin Legionnaire, Lightning Helix, and Isamaru, Hound of Konda. Beyond that, it was much more likely to see a “Goyf Sligh” deck, modeled after the Dryad Sligh decks using [card]Quirion Dryad[/card] and burn, than it was to see a Zoo deck.

Then they printed a 3/3 for G with no drawback, and things kind of went to pot.

Some people say [card]Force of Will[/card] is the defining card of Legacy. Some people say it’s [card]Brainstorm[/card]. Some even say the Dual lands are the glue. I think it’s really the combination of the Duals and Fetches that define Legacy, and they are, in fact the reason that Zoo is as successful as it has been in the format. Even in Extended (and soon, in Modern), Zoo can only be on top for as long as players allow it to be the most aggressive deck in the format – because its manabase will either slow it down or kill it. In Legacy, there is nearly zero drawback to cramming your deck full of Fetchlands and Duals, and going aggressive with [card]Taiga[/card], Nacatl, [card]Plateau[/card], Nacatl, [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card]. [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] was a game changer, and allowed a REAL aggro deck – because Goblins is only aggro when it wants to be, and Merfolk is aggro-control – back into the format.

In addition to the [card]Wild Nacatl[/card]s being added to the front of the curve, Shards added to the top end, as well. [card]Woolly Thoctar[/card], being one of the most efficient uses of Naya mana to date, immediately began replacing other beaters like [card]Troll Ascetic[/card] as the non-Goyf beaters of choice. The fact that the Thoctars would often lose a fight with Goyf was problematic, but in matchups where you were trading blows, it was bigger than everything else around.

Zoo circa 2009 (Pulp_Fiction on mtgTheSource.com)

[deck]4 Tarmogoyf
4 Kird Ape
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Watchwolf
3 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
2 Figure of Destiny
2 Woolly Thoctar
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
2 Cursed Scroll
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Windswept Heath
3 Taiga
3 Plateau
3 Savannah
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Mountain
1 Forest
1 Plains[/deck]

Zoo punishes bad players, bad deckbuilding, and bad draws. It is easily the most consistent deck in the format, and mulligans less than any other deck out there – and mulls better than almost all others. It completely decimates Merfolk, has a positive matchup against Goblins, tends to crush CounterTop, and nearly always packs it in to combo.

Oh right, Combo.

It’s my intention, once I’ve caught up with the march of time, to continue this type of article, only choosing an archetype and discussing the progression of it as it developed due to an influx of new cards over the years. I believe my first of these will be discussing Storm Combo, a deck that I’ve had an integral role in developing, and have had firsthand experience with throughout the life of the deck. In the meantime, Shards had some gems for Storm, too.

[card]Ad Nauseam[/card], from the moment the spoiler hit, was a card I couldn’t wait to try. It seemed tailor made for Storm – a card that drew an insane amount of cards for a few mana, one sided, and fit perfectly into this deck that already ran a massive amount of zero and one mana spells. The guys on The Source got to work, and almost immediately, a slew of builds popped up.

This was the first time [card]Angel’s Grace[/card] saw legitimate play in Legacy.

At this point [card]Mystical Tutor[/card] was still available, and as such, allowed the Storm players access to [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] without the pesky restriction of having to play more than one or two. Of course, as a five mana spell itself, running more copies of the card in your deck can be lethal if you’re forced to draw into a second or third copy during the resolution of the first. Along with some tricks that no longer work, Mystical gave the Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT) decks consistency that rivaled Zoo, and with the exception of decks like Belcher (which could race them), Merfolk (which forced them to interact while beating face) or CounterTop (Which basically steamrolled them), ANT and TES (its five color cousin) were rolling over nearly everything else.

[card]Yawgmoth’s Bargain[/card] was legal in Legacy, it was only playable in one deck, and it effectively negated your entire deck if you weren’t running blue cards or [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card] yourself.

TES circa 2009 – Bryant Cook

[deck]4 Orim’s Chant
4 Lotus Petal
4 Lion’s Eye Diamond
4 Chrome Mox
4 Dark Ritual
4 Rite of Flame
2 Cabal Ritual
4 Brainstorm
3 Ponder
2 Mystical Tutor
4 Infernal Tutor
4 Burning Wish
2 Ad Nauseam
1 Ill-Gotten Gains
1 Tendrils of Agony
1 Chain of Vapor
4 Gemstone Mine
4 City of Brass
1 Undiscovered Paradise
1 Forbidden Orchard
1 Diminishing Returns
1 Ill-Gotten Gains
1 Tendrils of Agony
1 Empty the Warrens
1 Grapeshot
1 Duress
1 Wipe Away
3 Pyroblast
3 Shattering Spree
2 Vexing Shusher[/deck]

The dynamics of the format had barely settled before the next set arrived and shook things up once again. With a Grand Prix impending, it was time to get crunching on decklists, and a lot of development occurred in a short amount of time surrounding the release of Conflux. Set a month prior to the prerelease of Alara Reborn, Grand Prix Chicago was a return to what we all knew was a fantastic format, as the last Grand Prix had been tainted with the temporary tragedy that was Flash. With no broken combo in sight, we could all focus on what Conflux had added to Legacy, and how it effected the decks we had available.

Interestingly enough, Green was really the only color that benefited in a significant way from the addition of Conflux to the card pool.

[card]Noble Hierarch[/card] provided Countertop with a real incentive to go Bant – although even by the time the Grand Prix rolled around there was still some debate on whether it was the best use of that slot in the deck or not. My own build of the deck for Chicago neglected to run Hierarch, instead going back to Werebear as an additional beater and mana provider, for example. In hindsight, this was almost definitely a mistake, but so went the development of decks in the pre-Open years. We simply didn’t have the number of events necessary to sufficiently test our ideas, and objectively weigh the benefits of one reasonable card choice versus another.

Zoo gained a threat that quickly eclipsed its previous top-end beater, and so [card]Woolly Thoctar[/card] went out as fast as it came in, as it was replaced by [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card]. This was much before the concept of the “cute” silver-bullet lands came into effect, and so Zoo was the deck which benefitted the most from Knight – but it did cut down on Savannahs and boost the count of Horizon Canopies to adapt to the Knight’s ability. Along with the addition of KotR, Zoo managed to finally lose the game of “attack you for 18, Swords a guy, try to attack you for 10 more” as [card]Path to Exile[/card] was added to the pool as a superior replacement for Swords in its aggressive plan. Other decks would add Path as well, mostly as a sideboard option when additional Swords were needed.

The granddaddy of all Green cards, however, was [card]Progenitus[/card]. Once again, a single addition to the pool changed the dynamics of the format in a significant way – there was now a combo plan for otherwise mediocre aggro decks, and Countertop got a win condition that was nearly invincible. Jamie Wakefield couldn’t have dreamed up a better fatty to [card]Natural Order[/card] for, and the 10/10 Pro: EVERYTHING saw immediate inclusion in any deck capable of paying gg and sacrificing a [card]Tarmogoyf[/card].

And so, [card]Dryad Arbor[/card] became a real card.

[card]Natural Order[/card] went from a few dollars to forty dollars. The design of Countertop decks went in two very distinct directions – as they continue to today. Some of the decks began to run [card]Natural Order[/card] – and these decks were more aggressive, running more creatures (as was required by the combo) and were generally Bant in color. The more controlling versions (like the ones squaring off in the eventual finals of the Grand Prix) eschewed the combo for more controlling cards, access to [card]Firespout[/card], etc.

Of course, Countertop wasn’t the only deck running [card]Natural Order[/card] that weekend. At the time of GP Chicago, [card]Survival of the Fittest[/card] was both a powerful and legal engine, and was most often used at the time in conjunction with elves, of all things.

Survival Elves – Colin Chilbert

[deck]1 Anger
4 Elvish Champion
3 Elvish Spirit Guide
3 Fyndhorn Elves
4 Imperious Perfect
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Priest of Titania
2 Quirion Ranger
4 Sylvan Messenger
1 Viridian Zealot
3 Wirewood Symbiote
2 Wren’s Run Vanquisher
1 Progenitus
3 Natural Order
4 Survival of the Fittest
7 Forest
4 Taiga
4 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills[/deck]

Colin played a list within a few cards of this at the Grand Prix, missing day two by a single mana – the difference between pitching Anger to Survival and giving [card]Progenitus[/card] Haste, or losing the match for day two. Needless to say, he was inconsolable.

Columbus was taken down by Gabriel Nassif, who defeated Andy Probasco in the finals and stole the dream of a non-pro winning a Legacy Grand Prix. On top of that, Nassif managed to make a mockery of decbuilding in Legacy by running a list of 15 one-ofs as his sideboard, much to the chagrin of players concentrating on the format. Fortunately, the trend didn’t take.

4C CounterTop – Gabriel Nassif

[deck]4 Sensei’s Divining Top
2 Vedalken Shackles
4 Dark Confidant
2 Sower of Temptation
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Trygon Predator
4 Counterbalance
4 Brainstorm
3 Daze
4 Force of Will
1 Krosan Grip
4 Swords to Plowshares
2 Ponder
2 Island
4 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
3 Tropical Island
3 Tundra
4 Underground Sea[/deck]

Given perfect hindsight, I think my own deck choice would have remained the same for that event – I still would have played the deck we now call “NO Bant.” However, I would have made some different deck building decisions, and I most definitely would have played better than I did that day.

The story is, as my final article for Star City, I “wrote” a primer of sorts on the important interactions seen in Legacy – things like [card]Stifle[/card] and [card]Standstill[/card], [card]Urborg[/card] and [card]Blood Moon[/card], etc. Most of the interactions were written out by a judge acquaintance of mine, and I probably didn’t edit them nearly enough, but that’s beside the point. The real point is that in round 9 game 3, with day 2 on the line, I messed up on one of the interactions that was in the article and lost the game and match because of it. Specifically, I didn’t allow the trigger from [card]Demigod of Revenge[/card] to resolve before countering it, and as my opponent raised his hand to call the judge I realized my error and put the 5/4 in play – and died to it two or three turns later. This was, at the time, the longest event I’d ever played in, and I was exhausted and sloppy, and punished for it. Let that be a lesson to us both.

Grand Prix Chicago stands out in my mind as one of the greatest and most pure events in the history of Legacy. It was a time where no strategy was dominant (if you exclude Counterbalance Top, although I don’t feel that it became truly dominant until after the Grand Prix), and the strongest players were winning the events. It was an open field, and although the decks were powerful – and [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] was still everywhere – decks which chose to forgo the Squire were certainly still viable. Unfortunately, nothing gold can stay, and we were teetering on the edge of a precipice that none of us could ever have imagined. While the rest of Alara block had a few offerings to the Legacy pool, Zendikar was just around the corner, and Legacy would undergo massive changes – never to be the same again.

Until next time, do as I say, not as I misplay, and remember – keep your stick on the ice!


16 thoughts on “Recurring Nightmares – Millenarianism”

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  2. Nice article. Been reeding all the history articles so far, but there is something I’ve noticed so far.

    Have the Magic sets, after Time Spiral, been more meaningful for the Legacy then were the sets before, or only the memory of the changes that are fresher?

    Aside for that, keep doing the good work! (can’t wait for reading about THE Survival deck, the one that made Survival being banned from Legacy).

  3. I second Chico’s question about the impact of new sets, and I wanted to say that this series is one of my favorite pieces of MtG writing in a while.

  4. Two quick notes:
    1. It was GP Chicago 2009 that was taken down by Nassif.
    2. I think it should be emphasized of how crazy Tendrils actually was when you could float your mana from upkeep to draw step for Ad Nauseam Tendrils decks (this was when it was right to call it ANT). Far less people were playing when this interaction existed, and while it was easier to disrupt with things like artifact removal on LED’s in play, it made for far more turn 2 nut draw combo hands.

  5. @Ghandi

    He and everyone else who read the article knows it was GP Chicago that Nassif won. There was one instance of Colombus as an obvious mistake but everything else refers to Chicago. Way to troll though. You win 9 internets, 3 eye for an eyes and 12 days of fasting for your amazing catch.

  6. Having been crushed by Bryant Cook playing that list at roughly that exact time, I can confirm that TES was a pretty fearsome deck back then.

  7. I’m wondering if there were more changes for multiple reasons:

    a) some power creep
    b) more tourneys for faster evolution

    Thanks for the article Adam. Love these!

  8. Adam,

    Love these articles, they seem to always come out on wednesdays, which is the day I an on site with clients. Every wednesday I go to this great little deli and sit outside enjoining my lunch, and ok the weeks you post an article, its doubly awesome!

    Also, I saw you name drop jamie wakefield, and it took me a few minutes to recognize him. I read his tournament reports book many years ago, and loved it! Did he end up becoming a big player in the legacy scene?

    Keep up the great work, love the articles!

  9. @Nightmare: “While the rest of Alara block had a few offerings to the Legacy pool”

    At least one card from Alara Reborn should get a separate mention in this article – I mean Qasali Pridemage, a staple card in all these Zoo and Bant decks you’ve just writtten about. Maybe Thopter Foundry could get a few words as well.

    @Chico: “Have the Magic sets, after Time Spiral, been more meaningful for the Legacy then were the sets before, or only the memory of the changes that are fresher?”

    Well, creatures definitely have been more meaningful since Time Spiral block. Basically every good Legacy creature is also Modern-legal (barring some goblins and maybe Mother of Runes) and the real power creep in this category started from Future Sight onwards.

  10. Hey all, just want to take a sec to address the comments so far.

    @ Chico – I don’t think that’s the case, actually. Most sets have at least a few cards that see Legacy play, although it varies a bit from set to set. I didn’t address it the same way in the first few articles because the timeline was more expanded due to a smaller number of players working on the decks and a larger amount of discovery to go through to find them. With more events, more attention, and more players, the real changes came from new cards, not re-evaluating old interactions.

    @ Ghandi – 1) Typos happen. 2) I think that’s more important in the context of that deck specifically, rather than the format as a whole, so I will address it with the rest of the “history of storm” article.

    @ Kattahn – Wakefield is namedropped more for being the inventor of Secret Force than any ties to the Legacy format.

    @ Spike – Those two would be the “few offerings.” I wanted to end this part with the GP, rather than Reborn, so I’ll get there with the next installment. Pridemage in particular was important, so don’t worry, he’ll get his spotlight.

    Thanks again for the comments!

  11. Thanks for the clarification Adam! After reading this, i googled his name and I was pretty surprised, I didn’t realize he was so well known. Tournament Reports was an amazing read, and apparently a lot of people out there agree lol. Here I just thought it was some random book I found at a discount at borders that no one had ever heard of…

  12. Would it be possible for CF to reformat the 4 part series into a combined single-page article for Instapaper shenanigans? That would be really awesome!

  13. @xxxbretweedxxx and @Nightmare I didn’t mean to come off as trolling; it did, and I apologize. Typos do happen.

  14. First off, love the series. Second off, I’m not sure Nassif’s one-of SB really made as much of a mockery of the legacy format as you seem to think. My guess is it started off as a joke/challenge, but I doubt if it would have gotten him that far if it wasn’t actually really good. For those who are curious:
    1 Blue Elemental Blast
    1 Burrenton Forge-Tender
    1 Darkblast
    1 Energy Flux
    1 Engineered Plague
    1 Enlightened Tutor
    1 Hydroblast
    1 Kataki, War’s Wage
    1 Krosan Grip
    1 Perish
    1 Planar Void
    1 Relic of Progenitus
    1 Threads of Disloyalty
    1 Tormod’s Crypt
    1 Umezawa’s Jitte

    Granted the cards are all technically different but many of them fill the same role. Relic/Planar Void/Tormod’s crypt for graveyard decks, jitte/darkblast for creatures. Kataki/energy flux for artifacts. Blue Elemental Blast and Hydroblast are functionally almost the same card. Add to that the fact that he is playing top and brainstorm to see a large amount of cards and I could see the diversity of the SB being a huge advantage. The more I play legacy the closer I get to having an SB of 1s and 2s, I think it speaks to the diversity of the format (and the fact that I play blue to find them of course).

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