Legacy is my favorite format. If I am ever experiencing burnout from Magic a quick match of Legacy will remind me why I love this game so much. With a North American Legacy Grand Prix in November I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to play to do so, regardless of experience. Legacy is not truly more difficult format to play than Standard or Limited, but it is different. Without fail, every Legacy tournament brings a situation I have never encountered before and something new to consider. I have much to learn; nevertheless certain aspects of Legacy come naturally to me that I am eager to share.
Wasteland is the foremost card to play around in Legacy. If you are not careful, Wasteland can be the death of you. Besides leading to some un-fun games, Wasteland creates intriguing scenarios to outmaneuver your opponent. If you and your opponent are each playing decks with Wasteland it is usually the case that one player should be keeping his/her Wastelands as colorless lands, almost never using them proactively—while the other player should aim to Wasteland at the first opportunity.
An example of this relationship is Blue/White Miracles vs. Delver Aggro. The control deck desperately needs all of its lands. A neat play I have made is to intentionally skip a land drop when I am flooded and my opponent has a Wasteland that I would like them to use, this effectively makes me the one using the Wasteland.
Never use Wasteland in your opponent’s end step, your draw step will yield more information as to whether you want to use the Wasteland as land destruction or as mana. If you use Wasteland in your own draw step on an opponent’s untapped land the mana pool will empty before your main phase. The other time to use Wasteland is in your opponent’s upkeep step: this will cause your opponent to make decisions before drawing a card and use mana on his/her turn rather than on yours.
Wasteland is not purely an aggressive land destruction card, it can be used defensively on an opposing Wasteland that is tapped in order to protect your other lands. Stifle is capable of destroying or protecting lands just as well. Stifle’s interaction with Wasteland only magnifies the complexity of playing with it. The best way to play around Stifle is to activate your least important activated ability first, while attempting to convey that it is in fact important to your opponent, and then use the most important one after the coast is clear.
An under-utilized play of Wasteland is to use it on an opponent’s uncracked fetchland. This can be effective in conjunction with a card like Daze: if your opponent casts a key spell with only a fetchland untapped you can first Wasteland the fetchland and then respond to him/her activating the fetchland by Dazing the spell before the opponent has a land in play. In rare scenarios you will want to use Wasteland on your own lands in order to facilitate Tarmogoyf/Deathrite Shaman/threshold, or to counteract Price of Progress (Wasteland can target itself).
In my first Legacy tournament I played a fetchland on turn one in my Delver deck and used it immediately, solely to thin a land out my library without casting a spell that turn. Guided by luck, I defeated Dave Shiels in this match. Afterward, he kindly explained to me why I should not do that in the future. If your deck contains any card that allows you to know the top card of your library (Brainstorm, Ponder, Sensei’s Divining Top, Delver of Secrets, Courser of Kruphix) you should rarely use a fetchland to thin your library. Any of these cards will let you have a fresh random draw rather than a card you do not want to draw—shuffling away an unwanted card is way more likely to have an impact than thinning your deck.
A common feature of Legacy decks is a nearly one-to-one ratio of fetchlands to lands you may find with them, try to pay attention to which lands are left in your library in longer games. Never activate a fetchland in your opponent’s end step if any of your lands are tapped, this is not Modern where you need to find a tapped shockland. If you wish to fetch before your drawstep, do so in your own upkeep. Fetching in your upkeep allows you to have the maximum mana available if your opponent chooses to respond to the activation of your fetchland (e.g. Stifle or Vendilion Clique).
The power level of cantrips is deceptively high, they inherently reduce the variance of the game by decreasing the chances of mana flood and screw. In my opinion the biggest edge you can gain in Legacy is first to include cantrips in your deck and then optimally cast them. If your opening hand has a blue land and a cantrip you can almost always keep the hand, mulliganing fewer times than your opponent is a superb advantage to have before the game even begins. As a rule of thumb, cantrips become better later in the game as your access to information grows.
Early in the game you generally would like to draw a mix of lands and spells, thus filtering your draws is not particularly important. Once you have enough lands a cantrip is at its fullest potential. Imagine that you are flooded and dejected about the prospect of a game as you stare at two lands in your hand and three in play including a fetchland, then you draw Brainstorm! You now have the potential to draw three spells, put back two lands and then shuffle them away.
It is possible to execute a similar play with Ponder in which you keep one or two good cards on top and then shuffle your library with a fetchland once you have drawn the desired card(s).
Consider in advance that your opponent may see your hand via Thoughtseize or a similar card on their turn when you are setting the order of Ponder or Brainstorm. It is often best to hide key or potentially surprising cards on top of your library protected from discard spells.
Occasionally you will intentionally want to cantrip a card into your hand in order to make your opponent see it rather than hide it. A tricky play I made in the Top 8 of GP Strasbourg was to Brainstorm a Rough // Tumble to the top of my library and reveal it to Delver of Secrets when I had the option to reveal other instants/sorceries against my Merfolk opponent. The commentators immediately noted that I had made a mistake and that my opponent was unlikely to play any more creatures into my Rough // Tumble, unbeknownst to them and to my opponent I only had two Tropical Islands and no red mana.
4) Soft Counterspells
Daze may be the most powerful card in Legacy. I once played a Japanese language Daze against someone who was unfamiliar with the card. He asked me what it did when I cast it in response to a four-mana spell while I was tapped out. I hesitated to say what Daze did and decided to call a judge for an oracle text because I thought it was likely that my opponent simply would not believe me. You can counter my spell for free, one-for-one?!
In addition to sometimes being an unbelievably good card, there are situations where Daze has no impact on the game. If you are behind on the board, in terms of creatures or lands, Daze can be quite weak—heaven forbid that your opponent ever reaches five or more lands. Daze and similar cards (Spell Pierce, Mana Leak) synergize well with pressure, mana denial, and supplemental soft counters (multiple Daze/Spell Pierce). When playing with counterspells it can be tempting to never let your guard down and always hold up a counter; however it is essential to find an opportunity to apply pressure before you put up all your defenses. I always play Delver on turn one if available and never dream of leaving up Spell Pierce in any matchup.
When playing against soft counterspells it can be tempting to play around them by not casting your spells for a turn or two. This play can be correct if you are under little pressure and generally have a powerful late-game, but too often you play into your opponent’s strategy by giving him/her a free turn off. Most often you should just respect soft counters as legitimate cards and trade one-for-one with them. What I mean by this is that if your opponent had multiple removal spells in hand and you had creatures you would probably just play out your creatures until your opponent’s resources were exhausted—often you should do the same against soft counterspells.
I regularly hear people complain about Legacy because of losing to combo on turn one, failing to combo against multiple Force of Wills, or being on the losing end of multiple Wastelands. Legacy is a powerful format. Sometimes you will draw well and have a “free” win, sometimes your opponent will do the same—accept it. You will keep one-land hands with Ponder, whiff on lands and lose to Wasteland—accept it. You will get turn-one combo’ed with discard or counter backup—accept it. Acceptance of variance is important in all forms of Magic but especially so in Legacy. Generally, you will play awesome, deep, interactive matches.
Thank you for reading