The 20 Best Decks in Legacy: #5-1

Welcome back to the third part of the Top 20 Decks of Legacy series! In case you missed 20-11 or 10-6, be sure to take a look at what you’ve missed.

Here’s the quick summary:

20. Nic Fit
19. Merfolk
18. Burn
17. Infect
16. Dredge
15. Maverick
14. U/R Delver
13. Reanimator
12. Dragon Stompy
11. Sultai
10. Eldrazi Aggro
9. Show and Tell
8. Stoneblade
7. Storm
6. Death & Taxes

My Ranking System

Power Level – A combination of how quickly, easily, and effectively a deck can win a game of Magic. Slow decks can be powerful. Miracles for example, is capable of running an opponent out of gas with extreme efficiency, even if it won’t technically end the game for several more turns.

Consistency – How often does the deck draw hands that can execute a winning strategy? How high is the variance between a large sample size of games?

Resilience/Exploitability/Flexibility – Does the deck crumble to sideboard cards? Does the deck have a backup plan or transformational sideboard? It’s not just sideboard cards—a deck that struggles against major pillars of the format (fast combo or counterspells) will have scores that reflect these inflexibilities.

I’m going to give each deck a score of between 1 and 10 for each of the three categories and add them up. The higher the score, the higher the rank.

Another thing to keep in mind is that in Legacy there are a lot of hybrids of archetypes. Name a combination of colors that involve blue and there is some flavor of aggro-control. In the spirit of inclusion, I’m going to group some of these decks together rather than have fifteen different Deathrite Shaman + Brainstorm decks on the list.

Two cards that define many builds of functionally similar decks.

There are no doubt other factors at play but these are the big three for me. The dream deck is one that can quickly and consistently put itself into victory formation without being too vulnerable to cards and strategies people are likely to play. So, basically a deck that would typically be considered “broken.”


Remember, any deck on this list is capable of beating any other deck on any given day and the margin separating the 20th ranked deck from the first is fairly small.

At the end of the day, decks don’t win tournaments—players do. Always keep that in mind when selecting your weapon of choice. The actual “best deck” is always that one that you can pilot with the highest degree of efficiency.

#5. Elves (21/30 Points)

5% of the winner’s metagame

Power: 7
Consistency: 7
Resiliency: 7

Elves is one of the unique strategies in Legacy in that it can adapt and change role from matchup to matchup. The deck has an “all-in” Elfball angle, but can also get extremely grindy with Elvish Visionary and Wirewood Symbiote. Nearly every card is a creature or threat in addition to being a combo piece.

If that weren’t enough, the deck also has a potent “Tinker/Colossus” combo with Natural Order that can come out of nowhere and end games.


Kyle Kosmel, 1st place at SCG Milwaukee

Elves didn’t have a great showing in Seattle last weekend, but you can never count the deck out. It is simply too powerful and touches too many angles not to be a strong choice for an adept pilot. The deck basically does everything a deck can do—aside from playing Brainstorm and Force of Will, of course.

#4. 3-4C Control/Czech Pile (21/30 Points)

10% of the winner’s metagame

Power: 6
Consistency: 7
Resiliency: 8

It’s time to start talking about the elephant in the room:

The best threat in Legacy?

Deathrite Shaman is the glue that holds these “good stuff” decks together. It fixes mana, which is the primary job. It also provides incidental graveyard hate, unblockable damage output, and life gain. It is almost more useful to list the things it can’t do than the things it can!

Czech Pile

Juan Carlos Jara, 1st place at Axion Now Legacy for Goodies (62 Players)

People are entitled to complain: “The format is overwhelmingly defined by these decks that start with the same 16 cards.” In fact, it’s actually worse than that once you take into consideration that various fetches and keystone dual lands will typically up that overlap closer to 50%.

The downside is that a lot of decks start with the same 25 cards. The upside is that among decks that start with the same 25 cards, there is a lot of specialization within the other half of the deck.

Depending upon which cards the pilot prefers, it takes the deck construction and modification down some really interesting rabbit holes. Are you a Delver/Bolt deck? A Stoneforge Mystic/Swords to Plowshares deck? A Leovold/JTMS deck? Obviously, the influence of DRS extends beyond blue decks and into Elves, Nic Fit, Maverick, Pox, Jund, Rock, etc. as well. I always play DRS in my B/W Death and Taxes lists.

But DRS has become ubiquitous. We are getting to the point where DRS is in as many decks as Brainstorm. It’s the same principle: If your deck can play Brainstorm, it should.

The silver lining is that Deathrite Shaman seems to create a lot of diversity. It isn’t a card that just one type of deck can play. The fact that it interacts with graveyards is also a nice attribute, since so many powerful strategies run through the graveyard.

Here’s my issue with banning DRS. I don’t think it is as powerful as Brainstorm. I don’t even think it’s close. Brainstorm and DRS are neck-and-neck in terms of being the most played spells. All of the blue decks have both.

The decks that play Brainstorm and don’t play DRS are all the most unfair combo decks: Storm, Show and Tell, Miracles, U/R Delver, High Tide, and U/B Reanimator. The decks that don’t play Brainstorm but play DRS tend to be (with the exception of Elves) creature decks: Nic Fit, Jund, Death and Taxes.

Still, should Deathrite Shaman get banned?

Despite all of the evidence that it should or could warrant a banning, I will stand by my opinion: “No.”

I wouldn’t bat an eye if it did get banned and would understand the reasoning behind it. My issue is that every reason I accept as viable for a Deathrite Shaman banning also applies to Brainstorm: power level and ubiquity across the format. But I think that Brainstorm is a bigger offender on both charges.

If those are the criteria that necessitate banning DRS, I can’t get around the fact that Brainstorm deserves the axe more. I also don’t want Brainstorm banned under any circumstance.

It’s possible for cards like Brainstorm and Deathrite Shaman to shape and define a format and for that format to still be vibrant, interesting, diverse, and fun to play. While Deathrite Shaman and Brainstorm are both among the strongest in Legacy, they contribute to great and well played games of Magic.

These are not cards that players can just spam until the opponent dies to them like Survival of the Fittest or Sensei’s Divining Top. Rather, they are undercosted value cards that earn their spots because they are a great bang for the mana buck.

The inherent risk is that the format continues to be pulled toward decks that include both Brainstorm and Deathrite Shaman and diversity begins to suffer. I still see a vibrant and diverse format that is full of interesting games.

#3. Miracles (22/30 Points)

6% of the winner’s metagame

Power: 7
Consistency: 7
Resiliency: 8

The DCI bans Miracles’ best card, and the deck still comes roaring back with a vengeance.

It may have lost the unstoppable soft lock of Counterbalance + Sensei’s Divining Top, but it simply replaces those spots with more card advantage and redundant removal and counterspells.

The deck is super controlling and has good answers to everything. It wins by simply outlasting most opponents.


WEISS, 2nd place in an MTGO Challenge

Field of Ruin is a great utility card from a recent set. Miracles is also a great example of a clearly tier 1 deck that isn’t spamming Deathrite Shaman. In fact, Terminus is quite effective at sweeping them up for value.

Miracles is likely one of the decks that continues to get better as more deck builders gravitate toward pairing Brainstorm and DRS. An inherently powerful strategy that is poised to be a counter to the emergent metagame is another reason to take a wait-and-see approach to banning DRS.

#2. Lands/Depths (23/30 Points)

6% of the winner’s metagame

Power: 8
Consistency: 8
Resiliency: 7

Lands is a busted deck. It’s full of tutors, recursion, and game-winning combos. There are different angles to exploit. It’s truly a masterpiece of deck design.

The $2,000 question.

I believe that if The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale didn’t cost a zillion dollars this deck would be a much larger force in the IRL metagame, which makes it difficult to evaluate. It’s a deck that is extremely punishing but is simply inaccessible to most players.

With that being said, Lands is better than its results.


Sam Black, 3rd Place at Grand Prix Seattle

The deck is a strange combination of combo/control, which I believe to be in the abstract the most powerful type of deck (think Control Slaver, Splinter Twin, Thopter Depths).

The fact that Lands is able to pull this dynamic off without Brainstorm in Legacy is a true testament to the power of Life from the Loam and Wasteland.

#1. Grixis Delver (23/30 Points) 14% of Winner’s Metagame

Power: 7
Consistency: 8
Resiliency: 8

One of the least dramatic reveals of all time… Grixis Delver is the best deck in Legacy. I wasn’t about to go contrarian and pick something else. The results and the numbers pretty clearly confirm what my eyeball test already told me.

Simply put, Grixis Delver is the most efficient package that gets the most out of playing the two best cards in the format. The deck is focused, streamlined, and has a combination of pieces that make it not only inherently powerful, but also flexible and adaptable in a wide array of matchups.

The deck can kill you quickly and has a great cast of cards to stop opposing decks from going over or underneath. To create a football analogy, Grixis Delver has an offense that can put up a lot of points and a defense that is great at getting critical stops. It’s a championship pedigree.

To complete the “Tron” of metagame percentage, eyeball test, and winning a big event, it is also worth noting that Grixis took down GP Seattle last week:

Grixis Delver

Daniel Duterte, 1st place at Grand Prix Seattle

Everything is cheap and effective. The damage output is high while also maintaining a thick density of counterspells. Grixis Delver doesn’t need to control the game for very long in order to win. It simply needs to keep an opponent off balance for a couple of turns while its high-power threats: Delver, Gurmag, and Pyromancer, chunk away hit points in the red zone.

The biggest argument for banning Deathrite is that the winner’s metagame percentage continues to grow for Deathrite Shaman + Brainstorm decks.

Fuzzy math time:

Grixis Delver: 14%
4c Control (Czech Pile variants): 7%
Sultai Midrange: 3%
Esper Stoneblade: 3%
Alluren: 1%

It looks like Brainstorm + DRS decks account for roughly between 25-30% of the winner’s metagame based on the information I have available to me. I would estimate that it makes up at least 1/3 of an expected field. Is that too much? Is that oppressive? Does it matter that the pairing slots into several distinct archetypes and provides a high degree of customization?

It’s complicated, and I don’t have a clean answer about what should or shouldn’t be done in order to preserve the health and viability of Legacy. On a personal level, I enjoy Legacy the way it is and find the quality of the games I play to be high. For that reason alone, I’d err on the side of caution and say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The other side of the coin is that I would also be sympathetic to a person who believes that 1/3 of the metagame is doing the same thing and it seems broken…

The other thing to consider is that while Grixis Delver may well be the “best deck,” it isn’t by a wide margin. There are many viable decks and they are all very close in terms of overall stats—he difference between Grixis Delver and the 15th best deck is very small.

I also believe that gigantic price tags on cards like The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale unfairly advantage a deck like Grixis, which is easier to assemble in paper. Lands is a solid foil to many of these metagame whales that simply isn’t an option to the average Legacy player. If card availability were not a constraint I would predict that Lands would have a larger metagame share that would be taken almost directly from Grixis Delver.

Before I leave you to explore the comments section, I have a few last “food for thought” ideas to throw around.

The first is that the metagame is always changing. Players never play against last week’s field, as everything is always in a state of change.

I will predict that the coupling of Deathrite Shaman + Brainstorm decks will continue to trend upward. I think that the numbers are convincing enough that the average player will be more incentivized to jump in than jump off.

If the metagame continues to push toward these types of decks I also see the value of playing the known foils, Lands or Miracles, to increase. There is a legitimate chance that Miracles and Lands trend upward as a retaliation to Grixis’s rise to the top and keep those decks in check or even push them back down. While this is a possibility, I think it is less likely than Grixis Delver staying the same or continuing to trend up.

At the moment I feel confident that the picture I’ve painted of Legacy is of a format that is dynamic, diverse, and fun to play. But if these trends continue to play out in a predictable way, format diversity could suffer.

I’m not a fan of banning cards because something might happen. Show me the money. Yet, if that is the trajectory the format ends up taking, I wouldn’t hesitate to change my position and jump on a ban-wagon.

All things considered, I don’t feel strongly either way. I enjoy Legacy how it is now and I’ll enjoy Legacy regardless of what they add or subtract from the format. I’m an Eternal fan through thick and thin.


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