Does Legacy Need a New Ban?

Last week, I went through the expert consensus top 5 decks in the format, discussing their inherent strengths and weaknesses. This week, I’m going to talk about where I think Legacy is today, and how the format—in particular the banned and restricted list—should be managed.

We saw that the experts almost unanimously dubbed Miracles the number one deck to beat, and I wholeheartedly agree. If we look at Magic Online results, the players with the highest number of League 5-0’s have consistently been Miracles players since the inception of the League structure. If we look at paper results, there are also a select group of players who have learned the ins and outs of the deck and repeatedly put up consistent finishes with it too. Some might argue that Miracles has a disproportionately large number of players with repeat high finishes because they are simply good players. While I think that argument has some merit, the fact that good players are making the switch is also a testament to how good the deck is.

In fact, I made the switch this past week and took Miracles to the finals of the $20k Eternal Extravaganza 6. My roommate Anuraag actually beat me in the finals and we played almost an identical list. He was on 4 Predict and 3 Snapcaster Mage, and I was on 3 Predict and 4 Snapcaster Mage. I made plenty of mistakes, but the deck was so powerful that I can safely say I’m not putting the deck down in large events anytime soon.


Now, let’s shift gears and look at some metagame snapshots. The first data set is deck lists since the release of Conspiracy 2, with 10% of top finishing decks with 75 players or more. The second data set is deck lists since the release of Conspiracy 2, with 2% of top finishing decks with 213 players or more.

  Total Percentage
Eldrazi 36 8.6%
Grixis Delver 34 8.2%
UR Delver 16 3.8%
4C Snap Delver 10 2.4%
BUG Delver 7 1.7%
Merfolk 5 1.2%
Bant Blade 4 1.0%
RUG Delver 4 1.0%
Red Stompy 3 0.7%
Affinity 1 0.2%
UWR Delver 1 0.2%
Spirits 1 0.2%
Esper Delver 1 0.2%
Total 123 29.5%
  Total Percentage
Miracles 71 17.0%
Death and Taxes 32 7.7%
Shardless BUG 21 5.0%
Lands 11 2.6%
Maverick 9 2.2%
4C Loam 4 1.0%
Jund 4 1.0%
4C Goyf Control 3 0.7%
EsperBlade 3 0.7%
DeathBlade 3 0.7%
Nic Fit 2 0.5%
BW Smallpox 2 0.5%
Tezzeret 2 0.5%
12Post 1 0.2%
UWR StoneBlade 1 0.2%
BUG Opposition 1 0.2%
Stax 1 0.2%
Enchantress 1 0.2%
4C Ninja 1 0.2%
Total 173 41.5%
  Total Percentage
Elves 18 4.3%
BR Reanimator 15 3.6%
Sneak and Show 15 3.6%
Infect 12 2.9%
ANT 12 2.9%
OmniTell 8 1.9%
Dredge 7 1.7%
Aluren 6 1.4%
Dark Depths 5 1.2%
UB Reanimator 5 1.2%
Big Red 3 0.7%
Tin Fins 3 0.7%
Food Chain 3 0.7%
Manaless Dredge 2 0.5%
Belcher 2 0.5%
Imperial Painter 2 0.5%
Burn 1 0.2%
Grixis Painter 1 0.2%
Eureka 1 0.2%
Total 121 29.0%
  Total Percentage
Eldrazi 12 8.1%
Grixis Delver 10 6.8%
4C Snap Delver 7 4.7%
Hymn BUG Delver 4 2.7%
UR Burn Delver 3 2.0%
UR Wasteland Delver 2 1.4%
Stifle BUG Delver 2 1.4%
Red Stompy 2 1.4%
RUG Delver 1 0.7%
Bant 1 0.7%
Total 44 29.7%
  Total Percentage
Miracles 37 25.0%
Death and Taxes 11 7.4%
Lands 7 4.7%
Shardless BUG 5 3.4%
4C Goyf Control 2 1.4%
4C Loam 1 0.7%
EsperBlade 1 0.7%
DeathBlade 1 0.7%
4C Ninja 1 0.7%
Noble BUG 1 0.7%
Total 67 45.3%
  Total Percentage
Sneak and Show 11 7.4%
BR Reanimator 5 3.4%
Elves 4 2.7%
Food Chain 4 2.7%
UB Reanimator 3 2.0%
Infect 2 1.4%
ANT 2 1.4%
BG Depths 2 1.4%
OmniTell 2 1.4%
Imperial Painter 1 0.7%
Dredge 1 0.7%
Total 37 25.0%

So you can see, the percentage of Miracles goes way up to 25% when you set a higher cut-off for the data, implying that Miracles does well in longer tournaments when variance is reduced. 25% is incredibly high, especially when I walk around most tournaments and estimate that less than 10% of the room is playing it. Furthermore, some of Miracles’ harder matchups like Eldrazi decrease when we set a higher cut-off. In my opinion, these Chalice-based strategies are reasonable against Miracles, but fundamentally inconsistent and tend to sputter out when playing longer events as they encounter more variance. Eldrazi has been a deck for well over a year, but it still hasn’t done better than 12-3 at any Legacy GP.

So, in my view, this is where we are. We have a best deck in the form of Miracles, and it is here to stay. It’s well set up to win a longer game against the vast majority of the field because it is consistent and has the best card-filtering and answers out of any other deck. In order to beat it, you want to negate large swaths of the deck through cards like Chalice of the Void, Cavern of Souls, or Boseiju. But those decks often under-perform against the broader field of Legacy, partly because they are less consistent or vulnerable to commonly played cards like Wasteland.

Furthermore, Miracles is malleable and can adapt to new metagame threats. Council’s Judgment and Engineered Explosives are fighting the uptick in Chalice of the Void and planeswalkers. REB is fighting the uptick in TNNs and Leovolds. If decks like Burn and Moon Stompy continue increasing their metagame share, Blue Elemental Blast is waiting in the wings. In any given tournament, Miracles can be beaten, as shown by Reid Duke’s performance at GP Louisville with Noble B/U/G, and Daryl Ayer’s innovation of Boseiju/Ghost Quarter. But, once Miracles learns the enemy, it can adapt to defeat it.

Where do we go from here?

I think there are a couple paths Wizards can go in terms of managing the B/R list for Legacy, and I’ll try to go through the pros and cons of each.

Option I: Stay the Course with No B/R Changes

There have been very few bans over the course of Legacy’s history, and it has proven to be remarkably self-regulating. Legacy didn’t even warrant a single sentence in the last Banned and Restricted announcement and that implies that Wizards considers the format to be relatively healthy. I’m skeptical that there are enough Legacy enthusiasts at Wizards who play the format firsthand, but I can see why they might have the view that Legacy is in a good spot. After all, GP Louisville included one B/U/G Midrange, 3 Delver decks, 1 Show and Tell deck, 1 Reanimator deck, 1 Death and Taxes deck, and only one Miracles deck.

I think Legacy is relatively healthy, from the standpoint of format diversity. Just look at all the wacky and crazy decks that have done well recently. From Red Stompy decks with Chandra, Torch of Defiance to Marit-Lage-based Dark Depths combo, there are a slew of relatively new strategies seeing play. Miracles might have the highest EV out of any deck in the format, but it is also one of the most difficult decks to play well. There are tons of decisions that go into every turn, and it’s nearly impossible to play a match with no mistakes, let alone a tournament. Instead, the deck is much more about playing on an intuitive level, formulating a plan and executing it, a skill that is more difficult to do when you have so many options.

Finally, there is a bit of a slippery slope if we choose to go down the path of a targeted ban on Miracles. There will likely always be a “best deck,” so it’s far better that a highly interactive, skill-intensive deck like Miracles is the “best deck” rather than an non-interactive combo deck or prison deck.

Option II: Format Shake-Up

In an ideal world, a best deck should emerge, and then other decks should adapt or surface to counter the best deck, and we should have a healthy metagame cycle. Excluding Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, which were a big blip, the metagame has been relatively stale where the top decks have been Miracles and various Deathrite Shaman and/or Delver decks.

If we look at it from that perspective, the format has been stale since the printing of Deathrite Shaman. Sure, we have had some blips here and there where a different Deathrite Shaman deck was popular, but for the most part, the 1-mana “planeswalker” has been ubiquitous across aggressive and midrange strategies. It simply does a little bit too much for too little, and would be a huge shakeup if it were to leave the format.

So here’s my proposal: Ban Sensei’s Divining Top and Deathrite Shaman.

Monitor the metagame to see if it remains healthy, but I would put Show and Tell and Delver of Secrets pretty high on the “watch list” for potential bans too.

The primary benefit to this move would be shake up the top tier list, as well as maybe breathe life into the long dead aggro archetypes like Zoo. Overall, the above four cards each place unique design restraints on the format as their respective decks have a high level of consistency and power. Removing them would create a brand new format, and I know many deck builders who would salivate at the opportunity to innovate once again. The way things stand, you may be able to beat Delver or Miracles or combo, but it’s a tall order to beat even two of three.

Yet, the problem with the above approach is that we are tiptoeing around the elephant in the room.

Option III: Ban Brainstorm

I’ve covered the topic before here, but I think it’s interesting to revisit now that Dig Through Time has been banned, and the format is somewhat less blue than before with the rise in Death and Taxes, Eldrazi, and Lands.

Before I delve too far into it though, let’s take a look at a couple key points within Legacy’s B/R history:

September 2004: Legacy separated from Vintage and given its own B/R list.
November 2004: Legacy christened via online poll. Note to self: I’m glad we dodged some bullets there.
September 2005: Imperial Seal is banned.
June 2007: Flash is banned.
September 2007: Shahrazad is banned.
September 2008: Time Vault is banned.
June 2010: Mystical Tutor is banned.
December 2010: Survival of the Fittest is banned.
September 2011: Mental Misstep is banned.
June 2014: Cards with conspiracy card type are banned.
January 2015: Treasure Cruise is banned.
September 2015: Dig through Time is banned.

Since the official naming of Legacy, these are the only bans that have occurred. If we dig a bit deeper into the bans:

Bans from Brainstorm Decks

Bans from Brainstorm and non-Brainstorm Decks

Bans for Cards for Reasons Other Than Top Finishes

So really there have been only 6 traditional bans: Flash, Mystical Tutor, Survival of the Fittest, Mental Misstep, Treasure Cruise, and Dig Through Time. This is remarkable when you compare it to formats like Standard or Modern, and despite Wizards’ nonchalance when it comes to Legacy, I’d give them an A- for their bans (still some unbans waiting *cough* Mind Twist *cough*).

Now if we take a look at those 6 cards, Flash is an instant-win combo that only requires 2 mana, Mystical Tutor would be absurd in combo decks and Miracles, Survival of the Fittest is a one-card engine, Mental Misstep is Mental Misstep, and Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are heavily under-costed blue card advantage. They each cause substantial problems that constrain the format, and I’m good with all of them staying on the B/R list. Although none of them (except Misstep) reached the ubiquity of Brainstorm, they are potentially more likely to restrict format strategic diversity. Brainstorm, on the other hand, is more likely to restrict format color diversity, which I think is a lesser evil.

But still, the power of Brainstorm can’t be denied. Much like Miracles, Brainstorm decks all tend to outperform over longer tournaments, and it’s the most compact “late game” engine in the format. Furthermore, the card has been consistently the most played card even though the decks that play Brainstorm keep getting hit by bans and many decks without Brainstorm have received favorable unbans. Until the card gets the axe, I’m going to be playing Brainstorm at every high-level event I attend because the power level and variance reduction are very valuable. A lot of Legacy players share my view, and I doubt that will change any time soon.

It’s also going to be impossible to argue that Deathrite Shaman or Sensei’s Divining Top are close to Brainstorm’s power level. So, banning either card makes no sense, if we are banning cards for “power level” reasons. Yet, Wizards has indicated that “power level” is generally a secondary concern to “format diversity” and “player enjoyment.” Many people love their Brainstorms, and I don’t expect a ban at this point in time, especially when there are more viable non-Brainstorm options than ever before. While a Brainstorm ban would certainly shake up the format, and make nonblue decks more viable than before, Legacy’s “blueness” has more or less been accepted as an inherent trait.

I still stand by my previous conclusion, that I would prefer to see more cards printed that give other colors consistency, or that pressure Brainstorm (e.g., Thalia, Leovold, Green Sun’s Zenith, Recruiter of the Guard) than see Brainstorm banned. I would also like to see some new cards printed that finally push Miracles and Deathrite/Delver decks out of being #1 and #2. Eldrazi briefly did do that, but since the format has adapted, it’s no longer a worthy challenger.

In the end, I’m okay with the course Wizards has set for Legacy, but I would like more communication around what they are seeing and thinking about. I’d love to get their take on Miracles being the best deck and if they view that as a problem. If they have a view on Brainstorm, I’d love to hear that too. We care a great deal about our format, and seeing the last two large Legacy GPs without any official English video coverage was disappointing. Here’s to hoping for more Wizards support for Legacy. I’m going to the Legacy event at GP Vegas, and I hope to see you there!


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