Initial Technology – Pondering Legacy

Going from Standard and Extended to Legacy is a pretty big shift, and every time I watch people play Legacy I’m reminded of that fact. Legacy forces you to make pretty significant decisions that start with which land to play, and many of the more powerful cards take a little work to unlock their full potential. Understandably, people who haven’t played much Legacy (and let’s be real, even some people who have) might not be completely familiar with some of the common plays needed to really get full value out of their cards. With a bunch of big Legacy events on the horizon, now seems like a reasonable time to try and lay out a guide to some of the trickier (read: Blue) cards in Legacy. Most of this applies to Vintage also, and seeing as Ponder and fetchlands are both in Standard, there is even a little for those who don’t play Legacy at all.

Turn 1 Plays

The spells commonly competing for your first turn are Brainstorm, Ponder, and Sensei’s Divining Top. Which to play, and which land to play them with, vary wildly depending on your opening hand and the matchup, but there are some general guidelines. I’ll start general and try and get more specific, although there are many potential sequences available.

The main cards to consider on turn one are Force of Will, Wasteland, and Thoughtseize, with Force being your card and the latter two being wielded by the opponent.

Against an unknown opponent, you want to try and find Force of Will if you don’t already have it, which makes casting Brainstorm or Ponder safer than Sensei’s Divining Top. Between the turn 1 kill decks (Belcher, Ad Nauseam) and the decks that only play a relevant spell on turn 1 (43Land with Manabond or Exploration, Dredge with their first enabler, Merfolk or Goblins with Aether Vial), having access to Force of Will on turn 1 is extremely important. This also underlines the importance of scouting; your opening plays are vastly better when you know what you are facing. In the dark, you really want access to Force, but how to find it depends on the rest of your hand. Now that you have narrowed down the choice to Ponder vs. Brainstorm, let’s see why you might play one over the other.

In general, Ponder is better on turn one, because the ideal situation for Brainstorm is when you can immediately crack a fetchland, therefore shuffling away your two worst cards. This might seem obvious, but time and time again I see people not getting full value out of Brainstorm, which is exactly what this article is trying to prevent. I have often declined to cast Brainstorm, even to the point of not using my mana end of turn, since waiting until you can fetch is just that important. Still, there are reasons to cast Brainstorm over Ponder, assuming you are casting one of the two on turn 1. As I mentioned before, you primarily want to take into account both Thoughtseize and Wasteland.

Assuming you have a two-mana play, you want to maximize your chances of hitting two mana on turn two, which means playing around Wasteland. If you have the kind of hand where you can fetch or play a basic Island on turn one, that makes Ponder much more attractive, since you dodge Wasteland. If you must fetch a non-basic, that is a point in Brainstorm’s favor, since they will usually not play Wasteland into your uncracked fetch. On the other hand, if your only option is to play a non-basic turn 1 either way, that makes either option equal with regards to Wasteland.

Not as many decks play Thoughtseize as they used to, but it is something to consider. If your hand has only one good play, Brainstorm can hide it from Thoughtseize, but if your hand is awesome, there is really no need.


Here seems a good a time as any to run down common fetchlands/Ponder/Brainstorm interactions, just for completeness’ sake. Fetches are among your most powerful weapons, since they fix your mana, let you dodge Wasteland, and let you shuffle away unwanted Brainstorm/Ponder/Sensei’s Divining Top cards. Fetch + Brainstorm lets you ditch your worst two, fetch + Ponder lets you take whichever cards you want of the three you see and shuffle away the rest, and fetch + Top lets you see three new cards per fetchland. Be aware that artifact removal can target the Top in response to a fetchland, which makes you shuffle away the Top. The whole key here is to shift your perception. Fetchlands are more than just lands; they are spells. You should never use one “just because”, since they are way too valuable to waste. The amount of value you get out of manipulating your deck with fetchlands and Blue spells is directly correlated to your success in Legacy. When possible, use fetchlands last, since each one gains in value as the game progresses. Using one for no other reason but to “thin” is way worse then waiting until it shuffles away two dead cards, effectively drawing you two whole cards.

The Force is Strong With This One

What if you already have Force of Will? If you already have Force (and Blue cards), then Sensei’s Top is back in the running for turn one attention. It is almost always better to get out Top on turn 1 than cast Brainstorm, and usually better than Pondering. Top is crucial in Blue mirrors, and awesome against any Black-based disruption deck. Again, in the dark you would usually prefer to have Top out, assuming you have ample lands in hand. If you are lacking a good turn two play, sometimes Pondering is ok, but if your hand is Ponder, Force, Top, another Blue spell, and lands, you still should just play Top turn one, use it on upkeep, then Ponder to shuffle if need be.

Setting Up Turn Two

Now we move on to slightly more complicated matters. Seeing as you are probably hoping to cast something good on turn two, how can your Blue spells enable you to do so? The card that takes the most advance planning is, as usual, Counterbalance. I realize that Counterbalance might not be quite the feared enemy that it used to be, what with all these Zoo and 43land decks running around, but I don’t think it is out of the question for people to want to try and Cbalance a few spells. If that is your plan, you gotta know what to do on turn one.

The “obvious” play is Top into Counterbalance, but that isn’t necessarily the best plan. If you are on the play, playing turn one Brainstorm into turn two Counterbalance lets you make sure that your top card is a two drop, which ideally stops their turn two play. Of course, if they are a deck with a ton of 1-drops and few 2’s, turn 1 Top is better, so knowing the general mana curve of opposing decks is quite important. In the dark, you should assume that they will play a 1-mana spell on turn one and a 2-mana spell on turn two, so holding up Brainstorm is better than playing Top. Plus, if they are a deck with more 1-mana plays (Ad Nauseam or Dredge), you can always just put a 1-drop under the Counterbalance when you Brainstorm.

If your 2-drop is Tarmogoyf instead of Counterbalance (since every Blue deck plays 4 Goyfs at this point), Ponder will insure that Goyf lives through Lightning Bolt, whereas Brainstorm won’t. Against decks with Bolt, you really don’t want to play Goyf until he is tough enough to survive it, but luckily that doesn’t take long.

Don’t be afraid to simply play a turn 1 Top and use it on your second turn’s upkeep. With a good supply of fetchlands, this will increase your overall card quality greatly, and should set you up for a very strong midgame. If you aren’t being pressured, this is the best course of action, because it means that every Brainstorm or Ponder you cast is for full value, shuffling away every dead card and making sure your hand is awesome at all times. Of course, you often don’t have this luxury in Legacy, but when you do, you should take advantage of it. Again, since most Legacy Blue decks have no real card draw, efficient filtering of resources in this manner is really what divides successful Blue players from unsuccessful ones.

When you have the time, playing around Daze is also good. Most Threshold and Merfolk decks pack some number of Dazes, so if you can avoid getting your Goyf or Cbalance Dazed, by all means wait a turn. If your hand is full of 2-drops or short on lands, you can’t afford to play around Daze, but if they aren’t pressuring you much or you have a threat-light hand, you probably should.

I know I have barely scratched the surface of how to play with these cool spells, but hopefully this introduction will help start people on the path to efficient Magic. Legacy is often a battle of inches; there are no Ancestral Recalls or Yawgmoth’s Wills to pull your bacon out of the fire, so if you use your cards inefficiently, there is often no recourse. When you are down three cards in the midgame of the Blue mirror, that’s it. You are pretty much done. If readers have more interest in Legacy content, I will be glad to provide, but for now this concludes my brief foray into the land of Force of Will (and apparently Life from the Loam, judging from the last 5k results). I hope everyone has a chance to Ponder and Brainstorm with Misty Rainforest in play, since it is definitely awesome.


Scroll to Top