A few people have reached out to me about this series lately, so I figured it was time to bring it back! I’ll probably tackle this series every other year or so to balance between learning from the past and not wanting to cover anything too recent.
February 2012 to February 2013
Sets Released: Dark Ascension, Avacyn Restored, Planechase 2012, Magic 2013, Return to Ravnica
GPs: Indianapolis, Atlanta, Ghent, and Denver
Unbans: Land Tax
Today’s Legacy format really coalesced with the printings of 2012. Thalia, Terminus, Baleful Strix, Abrupt Decay, Griselbrand, and of course Deathrite Shaman are some of the format’s defining cards, and their power level makes it likely that they will be staples for years to come. Indeed, the power level of these cards serves as a bellwether for Legacy in general, as cards more powerful than the ones on this list have usually been banned, but everything on this list has stayed. (I’m looking at you, Deathrite Shaman.) Funnily enough though, most Legacy players were way more hyped up about Temporal Mastery than they were about Terminus. Some went as far as to suggest an emergency B&R announcement because they thought the miracle Time Walk would warp the format by making the already dominant R/U/G Delver deck way too good. Hindsight is 20/20, and now we see Temporal Mastery has disappeared while Terminus is still going strong, with or without Sensei’s Divining Top.
Now, let’s take a look at all the decks that Top 8’d a GP or won a Legacy Open in this period.
|Death and Taxes||1||1.3%|
|Sneak and Show||3||4.0%|
|Show and Tell||1||1.3%|
This is a Brainstorm-dominance of about 59%, compared to about 65% today. It’s a fairly diverse metagame, but you can see hints of the coming dominance of blue-based decks. R/U/G Delver, Miracles, ANT, and Sneak and Show are all present, and continued to increase in share as 2013 and 2014 came around. Before we can get to those years though, let’s do a deep dive of the major events of 2012.
February 2012–May 2012: The Trinity
Sets released: DKA
This was a period with a clear top 3 decks in Legacy: R/U/G Delver, Esperblade, and Maverick. Here are lists from the Top 8 of GP Indy:
Tom Martell, 1st place
Of the bunch, R/U/G Delver played the most cantrips and was the most consistent and aggressive of the bunch. The deck’s longevity is impressive, as it’s still around today as a solid tier 2 option. Maverick and Esperblade are around as well, but are more tier 3 options as the format’s power level has gone up. There are some interesting deck construction choices here, as we see a bunch of these lists playing powerful haymakers and mirror-breakers. Castor includes the Countertop combo in his sideboard to beat the mirror, an innovation that would pop up years later when I made Top 16 of GP NJ with U/W/R Delver. Jordan’s list has a whopping 3 Gut Shots for the mirror and 3 Chokes for all of the blue decks. Too bad the dominance of Deathrite Shaman means that the card is no longer playable. Martell’s deck runs 2 Perish to punish the pesky green decks like Maverick and Elves. So the format was streamlined enough that playing these powerful but narrow hate cards was a reasonable choice.
May 2012–July 2012: Hello Griseldaddy
Sets released: AVR
Cards unbanned: Land Tax (Sorry nobody cares)
The major printing was Griselbrand, and combo decks like Reanimator and Show and Tell quickly became tier 1 options everybody had to prepare for. Here’s Turtenwald’s 10th place list from GP Atlanta.
Owen expected so much Reanimator and Maverick that he opted to play 2 Karakas main deck. Remember, at this point the legend rule was different. If his opponent had a Karakas on the battlefield, Owen could play his own and the legend rule would put both cards into the graveyard. So it was an innovation to both beat Karakas and win the mirror. In the end, though, Reanimator didn’t make it into the Top 8 as enough people showed up with sideboard cards. Instead, Vidugiris took the dominant R/U/G Delver all the way, cementing it as the best deck in the format.
July 2012–October 2012
Sets released: M13
M13 didn’t have too much of an impact, although the printing of Omniscience did spawn the OmniTell archetype. As a three-card combo, Show and Tell became harder to set up, but was better when it worked because you could often win on the spot and beat hate cards by winning at instant speed with Cunning Wish. Today, both Sneak and Show with Omniscience and Sneak and Show without Omniscience see play, but most people forego Omniscience in order to have an easier combo to set up.
The winner’s deck, however, was a different combo deck:
Timo is known for being one of the early innovators of “Quad Laser” Dredge, and knew he wanted to play a combo deck for Ghent. In his own words, after picking up ANT, he knew two things:
- The deck is ridiculously good
- You have to not be stupid to win with it
He executed his plan of playing ANT and not being stupid, and was rewarded with a big trophy at the end. ANT with Past in Flames has always been one of the top combo decks in Legacy because it is one of the fastest. More importantly, it is also one of the most consistent. A lot of the cards are interchangeable, and the presence of 12-16 cantrips also means that it actually has the inevitability of assembling enough discard with combo pieces to out grind blue decks in most situations. It still remains on the edges of tier 1, with the main thing holding it back being the fact that powerful hate cards exist and the fact that “you have to be not stupid” to win with it. I also want to call out the Miracles deck that made Top 8.
The deck was just beginning to take off, but it would take a couple years before people began playing the more powerful U/W/R colors and incorporate more cantrips like Ponder. Good early start though!
October 2012–February 2013
Sets released: RTR
And now we get to the current bane of my relationship with Legacy: Deathrite Shaman. I don’t find the card fun to play against anymore, and the fact that it is enabling non-green mana fixing and acceleration in decks like Delver and Czech Pile means that it fundamentally breaks the color pie. When I play Deathrite mirrors, I rarely lose matches where I establish a Deathrite advantage, and rarely win matches where I’m at a Deathrite disadvantage. I’m tired of the card, and really want it to go.
But enough about my vendetta against Deathrite Shaman. GP Denver was the very first Legacy GP that I attended, and it was a hell of a tournament. Multiple pros brought cool new innovations, and Jund and Elves emerged as solid non-Brainstorm deck choices. The printing of Craterhoof Behemoth paired with Natural Order brought a much-needed power boost to the little green men, not to mention the fact that Deathrite Shaman interacted very favorably with Wirewood Symbiote.
I also want to call out Dan Signorini’s B/U/G Delver list. This was one of the first major tournaments when Deathrite was legal, but honestly his main deck was so tuned that our play group would still be playing similar lists years and years later. At the time, his plan for beating Esperblade was to bring in 4 Sinkholes. Surprisingly, they were pretty effective against the deck because it had very few basic lands, and you could often screw them out of the game. In today’s Deathrite world though, Sinkhole unfortunately has no place. In the end, he fell to Pat Cox who fell to the winner, Vidianto Wijaya. Wijaya’s Esperblade list was tuned to beat the Deathrite decks, and he managed to grind through the competition to claim the first GP trophy of 2013.
Vidianto Wijaya, 1st place
That’s a wrap for this go! 2012 was a banner year for Legacy, and many of the innovations from those days are still around today. Esperblade has mostly passed the control torch to Czech Pile and R/U/G Delver to Grixis Delver, but all of these decks I covered are still around today in some form. I hope you enjoyed this trip back down memory lane, as I mentioned earlier, I’ll be covering the next year (2013) in a year or two!