What Will Legacy MTG Look Like After the Bans?

As of this past Monday (3/6/23), Wizards of the Coast finally pulled the trigger: Expressive Iteration and White Plume Adventurer have been banned. For many players, this was a long-time coming and it was met with great excitement. This week, I want to talk about these bans and why they were seen as necessary, how the decks affected by these bans might adapt and what the metagame will look like going forward. 


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What Led to This Decision

Technically, when Ragavan was banned at the start of last year, they included a tidbit in the announcement that they would continue to monitor the situation. The fact that time went on and Delver reached the pinnacle of the format left players convinced that this was nothing but an empty statement. While there may be no relevant connection between that statement and the recent ban, I’d like to believe that they were taking their time. While this may be naïve on my part, that doesn’t particularly bother me. 

While many members of the community would say this needed to be done early and anything but action was negligence, I don’t belong to that camp. Personally, I enjoyed Legacy during this period and while I may have been in a minority, I don’t think I was completely alone. Banning a card is a difficult decision that has a significant impact and I don’t think these decisions should be made lightly, nor in response to a vocal majority. That said, I would like to see more transparency going forward and the fact that this ban included a fairly well-thought-out statement demonstrates that they are capable of doing that.

With that said, I’m not surprised nor disappointed by the banning of Expressive Iteration. This card has more than proven itself to be an incredibly potent card advantage spell. It was not only a generally great way to get ahead on cards, it was the perfect card for Delver to take advantage of. Looking back almost a decade ago, Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time were not banned just because they were far too powerful for their relative mana costs. These cards enabled Delver decks to dominate both the early and the late games. While it initially looked silly to compare Iteration to either of these two delve spells, in hindsight it was a very apt comparison. Iteration meant that there was no axis of the game where decks could exploit Delver’s plan and this overall proved to be too much. 

This ban does raise the question: why not Murktide Regent? I was personally unsure of which one was the correct ban, if not both. I think leaving Murktide makes sense, since at the end of the day, it is just a creature. Its impact on the game cannot be overstated but creatures die in Legacy. It’s not like Dreadhorde Arcanist or Deathrite Shaman, which put a heavy emphasis on the first turns of the game. Players do have time to come up with an answer in the early turns or, alternatively, find a way to ignore it. It’s still a ridiculous creature, but I don’t personally think it needed to go.

As for White Plume Adventurer, it was pretty clear that Mono-White Initiative was too much relative to the rest of the format. As I discussed a few months ago, it was important to give the archetype some time to exist to see what kind of adaptations the players could make. To some degree, there were effective developments that helped keep the archetype from dominating every single event someone played it in. However, the core plan of the archetype was so unique and powerful that it warped the entirety of what you could play in the format. No longer could you play a slower deck without creatures, like Lands, since once the initiative was active, you would eventually lose. At the end of the day, this archetype was a bit too strong for the format as a whole and was overall not a particularly fun play experience. While I personally had some great games against the deck, that doesn’t blind me to the fact that many of the games were fairly lopsided with no possible recourse. 

What’s Next?

From my perspective, there are three questions that are most pertinent to the next steps of the format: what will Delver decks look like going forward? Are the remaining initiative cards enough to preserve the archetype without a three-mana threat? What will the metagame look like as a whole?

I plan on covering Delver more in-depth next week. There are a lot of different options and I definitely think it’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss that in depth. However, I do think Delver is still going to be among the best decks in the format and will maintain a very similar core. While you can expand into three-color variants, I’m still most interested in remaining Izzet. Here is one of my starting points, and there are a lot of questions that still need answering, which I will address next week (but I will say that I am very unsure about 18 vs. 19 lands):

Post-Ban Legacy Izzet Delver by Rich Cali


As for initiative, I think the mechanic is powerful enough to warrant exploration. Players like Max Gilmore (Maxtortion on Twitter) have been exploring the archetype under this very premise. Here is a recent list he posted:

Post-Ban Legacy Naya Initiative by Max Gilmore


While there are a lot of powerful things that are still going on in this archetype, not having a game-ending three-drop is a big deal for Ancient Tomb decks. The play pattern of turn one Ancient Tomb + Lotus Petal is crucial for the archetype since it’s far more consistent than relying on four-drops. This is part of the reason that Mono-Red Prison has been a great deck over the past few years, since the entire core is built around two and three-drops. I don’t think this will be the last we see of Initiative, and there are still a lot of untouched initiative cards in the format, but I do think the archetype will be a lot weaker than it was and won’t require quite as much format adaptation.

As for the metagame as a whole, that is a difficult question to answer week zero. There are a number of great decks that were not affected by this ban at all. Decks like Red Painter, Doomsday, Lands, Cephalid Breakfast, Painter and Elves were all unchanged by this ban. However, while there is no direct impact on these archetypes, it is important to note that the texture and context of the format will be changing, which is what makes it difficult to predict what will happen. While Breakfast and Painter are genuinely stronger decks now than they were a year ago, Mono-White Initiative was part of the reason they were so well-positioned. With that deck gone, those decks may lose some ground in the format. Conversely, Initiative was a major part of the reason that decks like Lands and Mono-Red Prison were not performing very well. The loss of that archetype in the format will likely be a significant boon for those decks. 

While decks like Delver and Control did lose Expressive Iteration, I fully expect those two archetypes to remain at the top of the format. Control can be built in a lot of different ways, ranging from four-color to Bant to Jeskai to Grixis. I don’t know which variant will still be the de facto best choice, but if I had to guess, I expect Bant and Jeskai to be the early winners. Jeskai did not always play Iteration, so it’s not a huge loss for the deck. Meanwhile, with Iteration gone, I expect Uro to be a huge winner and anticipate playing against the card a lot going forward. 

My expectation for week one is that Red Prison, Control and Delver will be three of the most popular decks. Red Prison was one of the best decks before initiative, and I fully expect it to return to that status. Beyond that, I would be preparing for Death and Taxes and Lands more than I was before, and continue to prepare for decks like Doomsday, Elves and Painter decks as I was, since they will still be present. Again, it’s difficult to get the pulse of the metagame without seeing how things are going to play out, but that’s what my gut tells me to expect.

Exciting Times

My perspective on Legacy over the past year or so has been a bit different than many of the people I have interacted with. Overall, I was still having a lot of fun and thought many of the games I played were both interesting and interactive. This means that the bans don’t quite evoke the same joyous response from me as it has for other people, since I still expect to have a similar degree of fun playing this new Legacy format.

However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t excitement surrounding a shake-up like this. I often talk about how I like sets like Modern Horizons 2 precisely because they introduce stark change into the format. It’s exciting to explore new territory and really begin to understand how to build decks in a new context. For me, that’s what this ban brings to the table. This builds into the excitement of seeing whether any archetype that has improved over the past few years (but hasn’t had the opportunity to shine) will pull ahead to the front of the format. Lands is one of the decks that stand out to me and it will be interesting to see how that develops.

Either way, it’s a very cool time to be a Legacy player. I think these bans were good and will hopefully keep the ban talk away for a good amount of time. Next week, I’m going to dive into Delver and discuss what I have been exploring, discuss any pertinent results and what I expect to be good going forward.

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