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Back in January of 2017, I wrote an eight-part Guide to Legacy here on ChannelFireball. Legacy is my all-time favorite Constructed format, and it’s one of the most challenging that MTG has to offer.
The world is different now than it was three years ago. New printings have changed Magic’s eternal formats forever. This was highlighted by War of the Spark, Throne of Eldraine, and Modern Horizons—sets rich in staple cards for Vintage, Legacy, and Modern play. The last few years have also seen the banning of Sensei’s Divining Top, Gitaxian Probe, and Deathrite Shaman. (As well as Wrenn and Six, which enjoyed a brief period of format-defining dominance). Add the new London mulligan rule, which has dramatically improved the consistency of the most powerful strategies, and we have a format that’s almost unrecognizable from the slow-to-change Legacy of 2009-2017.
As much as this is intended to be a “Beginner’s” Guide, Legacy is not exactly a “Beginner’s” format. My hope is that this guide will be a useful tool for anyone looking to cut their teeth in a new format, or for those transitioning from Pioneer or Modern into Legacy. However, it will be very-much geared towards tournament players, and will have plenty of content that long-time Legacy enthusiasts can benefit from.
In case this is your very first encounter with Legacy, it’s what we call an Eternal format, which means that all sets from the entire history of Magic are legal for play. However, a select few of the most powerful (or otherwise problematic) cards are banned. The list of banned cards can be found here.
The Speed and Power Level of Legacy
When diving into a new format, the first goal should be gaining an understanding of exactly what’s possible. How long do games last? What are the most powerful things you can do? What is the bar for what you ought to be accomplishing on each of your turns? What should you be looking for when you make your mulligan decisions?
One of the great appeals of Legacy is as the final resting place for everybody’s favorite cards that might’ve aged out of other formats. There’s a temptation to become attached to particular cards or strategies, which grows out of a wish that your favorite decks can live forever. However, if you anchor your Legacy career to playing with your favorite cards of all time–Sinkhole, Pernicious Deed, Huntmaster of the Fells, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, whatever they might be–it will hinder your chances to be competitive.
The fact is, Legacy’s gameplay is worlds apart from that of Standard, or of other formats you remember from the past. Games are often won–or otherwise decided–on the very first turn. This pounds decks into molds of hyper-efficiency, chock-full of Force of Wills, Dazes, and one-mana spells. Trying to resolve a spell that costs more than three mana will typically be folly unless it wins the game all on its own.
One concept that I’ll explore more deeply over the coming weeks is that there are few true Aggro decks in Legacy. Designing your deck to attack for damage on turn 3 is simply not a sensible strategy when the games are decided so much faster than that. Strategies that involve attacking with creatures must be either so fast that they take on qualities of combo decks–like Infect or Burn–or else they must play so much disruption that they become midrange or control decks–like Delver or Death and Taxes.
Diversity in Legacy
If there’s one thing that defines Legacy, it’s a staggeringly large, and ever-growing card pool. When I play Legacy, it’s still quite common for me to encounter a card I’ve never seen before, despite fifteen years of playing the format and twenty-five years of playing Magic.
Naturally, the incredibly large card pool leads to an incredibly large number of strategies. There are between fifty and one hundred decks that I wouldn’t be surprised to see at the top tables of a Legacy tournament. You could spend days preparing for an event only to encounter an entirely unfamiliar set of decks from the ones you practiced against!
In short, you must expect the unexpected. The best you can do is develop realistic expectations for the speed of the format, and the very rough archetypes your opponents might gravitate towards. Practice your own deck enough, in a wide enough variety of matchups that you’re able to handle yourself when you run into something unfamiliar.
Complexity goes hand in hand with diversity. The wider the range of cards, opponents, and strategies you might encounter, the more challenging it will be to play well against all of them. However, even beyond that, there are factors unique to Legacy that make its gameplay the most challenging of the commonly-played constructed formats.
For one, Brainstorm and other library manipulation spells are key in Legacy. These cards greatly multiply the options available to each player, and make the game about much more than just the cards in your opening hand.
For another, free spells like Force of Will, Daze, and a number of others are important features of the format. This means that what you see is not necessarily what you get when you glance at your opponent’s untapped mana. At all times, you must be ready to contend with just about any free spell ever printed in MTG! The possibilities are daunting.
Legacy’s gameplay is complex and unforgiving. Your opponents will be trying to win the game at blistering speeds. They’ll be pressuring your resources with cards like Wasteland and Hymn to Tourach all while throwing cards at you that you may never have played against before. It’s a format that rewards preparation and careful navigation.
But don’t despair! Stick with me over the next few weeks and I promise to give you the foundation you need to become competitive in the format. Pair my advice with a bit of honest practice and I believe that you’ll soon find Legacy as fun and rewarding as its thousands of die-hard fans do.
Sneak and Show by Matt Brown
While it’s not the most popular deck in the format, Sneak and Show stands as a prime example of the type of deck you’ll need to contend with in Legacy. It’s completely within the realm of possibility for a Sneak and Show player to win the game by casting a single spell. It’s completely within the realm of possibility for them to cast that spell on the first turn of the game!
Show and Tell or Sneak Attack are used to get gamewinning creatures–Griselbrand or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn–into play for an outrageously discounted price. The strategy is as simple as that. The rest of the deck is simply divided between fast mana, permission spells, and card drawing. In this way, the deck assembles the combo with dangerously high levels of speed and consistency. It can use its permission spells either to slow down the opponent, or to force through its own combo.
How do you beat it? It’s not easy. But it’s a question I’ll be attempting to tackle over the coming weeks.