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What Does the Legacy MTG Metagame Look Like Now?

Over this past weekend, there were two decently sized Legacy events local to me at SCG Con NJ. I was unfortunately unable to attend, but it was awesome to see people show up and be excited to play Legacy with some real stakes on the line. This week, I want to review those events because it’s exciting to cover paper Legacy and this is a great opportunity to take a look at where the metagame is at right now. Since the Legacy Showcase Challenge occurred on Magic Online this past weekend, I would be remiss not to take a look at that event, as well. While this is not a comprehensive view of the format, I think it does help provide a snapshot of how the format looks at the moment. I will briefly go over each of these events and use that as a jumping off point to discuss some broader takeaways that I think are interesting.

 

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10k at SCG Con

  1. Izzet Delver
  2. Izzet Delver
  3. Mono-Blue Painter
  4. Izzet Delver
  5. 8-Cast
  6. Mono-Black Helm
  7. Cephalid Breakfast
  8. Reanimator

This event is going to be the first of a trend of seeing a lot of Delver. All three Delver decks made it to the Top 4, which is certainly indicative of the power and consistency of the archetype. This isn’t a particularly new trend, since Delver has been overtly putting up great results for years, but I do think the newer, narrower metagame does make Delver more well-positioned (more on that later).

Interestingly, there is no Initiative in this Top 8. However, this illustrates that Top 8’s don’t capture the whole picture. Despite having zero Top 8 finishes, there are three copies in the Top 16 and the difference between Top 8 and Top 16 is fairly minimal in the grand scheme of things. This is not the only event where we will see this trend and I think it’s crucial to note when evaluating the metagame at large.

The rest of the Top 8 is extremely diverse, which is really cool to see. I’m not surprised to see this smattering of decks since each of them are powerful, proactive and have the ability to present a plan that can beat any deck. Of these, Painter and Cephalid Breakfast are decks that you should get used to seeing since they show up somewhat consistently in these events. Mono-Black Helm would not have been at the top of my bingo card when predicting decks to succeed but the deck has been tuned a lot over the past few months and I think it’s a strong contender. 8-Cast and Reanimator are two of Legacy’s strongest decks and are excellent choices if the amount of hate you expect to face is minimal.

5k at SCG Con

  1. Izzet Delver
  2. Izzet Delver
  3. Mono-White Initiative
  4. Painter
  5. Cephalid Breakfast
  6. Boros Initiative
  7. Mono-White Initiative
  8. Painter

While Delver did end up taking the first and second slot of this event, here is where Initiative really enters the picture. To me, this Top 8 is almost completely representative of my expectations (minus a copy of Elves, which is another deck that appears to be doing quite well overall). Delver and Initiative are clearly the top two decks of the format and there are three or four other decks that I think begin to exploit that narrow metagame quite well, Painter and Breakfast being among them. Again, I will expand upon that a bit more in the takeaway section but for the most part, this 5k feels fairly representative to me.

Legacy Showcase Challenge

  1. Izzet Delver w/ Snuff Out
  2. Cephalid Breakfast
  3. Mono-White Initiative
  4. Izzet Delver
  5. Izzet Delver
  6. TES
  7. Izzet Delver
  8. Izzet Delver

Again, we see a ton of Delver, which is not a surprise. I think there’s a clear reason that Delver is succeeding in large numbers beyond the fact that the deck is extremely good, but I’ll talk about that a bit more in the takeaway section. Here we do see another event with only one Initiative deck in the Top 8 but four more in the Top 16, which is important to note, since I don’t think this Top 8 presents the full picture.

This event does end the trend of seeing Painter in all of the Top 8’s but still has the ever-reliable single copy of Cephalid Breakfast in the Top 8. If it wasn’t clear, I think Breakfast is a great choice right now and it will give you a solid chance of putting up a solid finish in one of these events. 

It’s certainly no fluke that TES put up a Top 8 performance here. The deck is explosive enough to go completely under Initiative (a deck that has started to trim/cut cards like Thalia and Chalice from the main deck) and resilient enough to power through Delver. TES is the type of deck that excels in metagames like this since not many people are effectively prepared for it, much like 8-Cast and Reanimator, so this result does not at all surprise me.

Broad Takeaways

When looking at these events, there can be no doubt that Delver and Initiative remain at the top of the format. While Initiative isn’t quite as represented in these Top 8’s, it’s close behind in these events, racking up a number of Top 16 finishes in the Showcase Challenge. When I discussed Eternal Weekend about a month ago, I mentioned a bleak view of the format where Delver and Initiative were the only decks you could find at the top tables. While that hasn’t quite become the reality, I don’t think it’s that far off. On Twitter, Bob Huang mentioned that these two decks make up approximately 55 percent of the winner’s metagame over the past month. That’s a significant portion of the top of the meta and some potentially significant evidence. 

While I have seen people talk about the Delver vs. Initiative matchup in equally hyperbolic terms (Delver beats Initiative vs. Initiative beats Delver), I think that matchup is extremely close. I have personally started to do much better against it now that I’m preparing for the matchup more. However, while Delver has consistently put up great results for the past few years, I think that the defined nature of the metagame at present is a major part of the reason that there has been a consistent dominance of Delver lately. As an archetype, there is no deck better suited for an event than Delver when you expect to play against two decks more than any other. Thus, Delver is more likely to succeed in a “two-deck metagame” than in any other circumstance because you can tune your deck so precisely. While the Initiative matchup is close, Delver has all the tools to naturally keep up with it. Once you start introducing dedicated sideboard cards, you can swing the percentages to be a bit more in your favor, which contributes to its excellent finishes.

There are two other clear winners in this current metagame: Painter and Cephalid Breakfast. Painter has been quietly putting up great weekend after great weekend and this is for good reason. Painter has all of the necessary tools to keep up with Delver and has a diverse enough game plan that it doesn’t just fold to their hate. Meanwhile, it’s a proactive combo deck with the ability to interact efficiently, which allows it to pressure Initiative decks in just the right ways. Cephalid Breakfast didn’t quite put up the same numbers, but did consistently place a single copy in all of the Top 8’s covered here today. This has been a trend over the past two months of Cephalid Breakfast having one or two copies show up week-in and week-out. Cephalid Breakfast appears to have an excellent Initiative matchup while maintaining a reasonable plan against Delver. 

This is one of the advantages to having a highly defined metagame: it’s far easier to target your hate and choose a deck that can exploit certain weaknesses. I think both Painter and Cephalid Breakfast have that capability and the fact that Delver and Initiative have such dominant results is a distinct positive for fans of those archetypes. As I mentioned, I think Elves is the other deck that has been doing this quite well and I’m actually a bit surprised to not see any copies here. I would recommend any of those three decks when choosing a deck for an upcoming event.

Limitations and the Future

Of course, I’m just evaluating three events from a single weekend (two of which happened in the same location). This does not lead to drawing any truly significant conclusions. However, the results of these events do appear to reflect the trends over the past few months, so I think that these events are nice to review. From one perspective, it does appear that the Legacy metagame is more constrained by its best decks than it has been in a long time. However, this has given the format a bit more room for other niche archetypes to break out and be top performers. It’s an interesting characteristic of this metagame that I don’t think should be ignored. Still, broadly speaking, the format does not appear healthy so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some changes coming down the pipeline. 

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